106 posts categorized "West End" Feed

Re-review: Has Kit Harington's performance blossomed in Dr Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre?

Jenna Russell and Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus. Running at the Duke of York's Theatre London until 25 June 2016  CREDIT Marc Brenner
Jenna Russell and Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus. Photo: Marc Brenner

When I saw it during preview, I had very mixed views about director Jamie Lloyd's Dr Faustus, starring reborn Game of Thones hunk Kit Harington. It was very much in 'suck it and see' mode - I described it as "trying very, very hard" - so I was curious how it would bed in. The £15 Monday ticket sale gave me the opportunity to have a second look and re-evaluate.

The production didn't get great press reviews but I still don't think it really matters in terms of the audience pull - Kit is one of the stars of the world's most popular TV show after all and there is still a crowd at the stage door afterwards.

At the curtain call the first time, Kit looked wary and relieved and Jenna Russell was obviously watching out for him. On Monday he looked relaxed and happy and so he should, the show is better, albeit still with some flaws.

The biggest differences are the pace and performances. First time around it set off at a gallop and never slowed, losing the nuances of the story and performance amid a cacophony of mud, music, magic, blood, vomit and dance. Only the strongest performances - Jenna Russell, Forbes Mason and Colin Teevan - stood out. Kit just melted into the background, at least when he was fully clothed he did.

The production has calmed down a notch. Now rather than Faustus throwing a can of drink over himself and sticking pencils up his nose before he even speaks his first lines, the opening is more simply done moving from watching TV to delivering the soliloquy. There is more light and shade in the pace and in the performances and as a result I noticed Kit more. He felt more like the lead rather than part of the ensemble.

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Review: Blood, vomit, karaoke and Kit Harington in underwear, Dr Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre

6a0133ec96767e970b01b7c80f05da970b-320wiJenna Russell's (Mephistopheles) is sat on the stage, her legs intertwined with those of Kit Harington's (Dr Faustus). Her face is inches away from his: "I'm in hell," she says. "I'll bet you are," I think.

She is the genius casting in Jamie Lloyd's production of Dr Faustus. A woman, an older woman, with short cropped hair, dressed in an old lady's nightie seducing and tricking the pretty young Dr Faustus into damnation. Not that he is difficult to trick of course which more acutely exposes his human weaknesses. She is the strength of the play as is Forbes Masson who is a white-vest, white-pants wearing Lucifer. They make a brilliantly evil pair but I'm not sure it should be quite so much fun watching them toy with Faustus.

And this, perhaps, is part of the problem. The production puts its marker in the sand within minutes. The bored Faustus throws a can of drink over himself before delivering his first lines about how law, religion and medicine no longer hold any interest or intrigue for him. The chorus, all dressed in dirty white underclothes, with dark shadows under their eyes, watch ghoul-like from doorways and cupboards. Within minutes one of them has vomited up black stuff and another is foaming at the mouth and spitting it everywhere. Then a bucket of dirt comes out and then another with white powder both of which end up poured all over the floor of the living room set.

It continues with this level of destruction, mess and blood throughout. Which is probably why I found the ending a little disappointing but I'll come back to that. Like Kit Harington's performance (see below) there is very little light and shade, little subtlety and nothing to build towards. It is full on with snippets of music-video like dance routines, magic tricks and karaoke and it just feels like it is trying very, very hard.

There are some great set pieces. Jenna Russell does the karaoke which is a superbly cheesy montage of Kylie's Better the Devil You Know, Cliff Richard's Devil Woman and Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell (she locked eyes with Poly at one point). Tom Edden does a brilliant human embodiment of the seven deadly scenes and Forbes Masson miming Happy Birthday Mr President in the style of Marilyn Monroe (Jenna Russell does the vocals) is something you have to see.

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So who's been cast as female Mephistopheles in Jamie Lloyd's Dr Faustus? I was almost right. Almost.

When Jamie Lloyd announced he was casting a woman as Mephistopheles opposite Kit Harington in Dr Faustus I came up with a wishlist:

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 18.15.14Well today it was announced that Jenna Russell is to take the part. So not someone on my wish list but that doesn't mean I'm not excited to see Jenna - I've only seen her in one play - Mr Burns at the Almeida - as she tends to do musicals.

But someone on my wish list has made it on the cast list and that is Jade Anouka - yay! No news on which part she'll play but I'm taking credit for putting her name in the mind of Jamie Lloyd. Of course I did.

Review: Hand to God, Vaudeville Theatre or what would happen if satan visited Sesame Street

Harry Melling (Jason) and Tyrone
Harry Melling (Jason) and Tyrone in Hand to God, Vaudeville Theatre

There is a scene in Hand To God that had me laughing so hard it hurt. It's also one of those scenes that you just can't unsee... and it involved puppets.

Robert Askins' irreverent, irreligious play started out 'off off Broadway', its success eventually propelling it onto Broadway-proper, a parallel journey to The Play That Goes Wrong here in London. Hand To God arrives at the Vaudeville in the West End with a new, British cast and perhaps fills a gap for a much needed rib-tickler on a dark, cold, winter evening.

It makes Simon Russell Beale's humourous profanity in Mr Foote's Other Leg seem so innocent but it also a play that has a heart. Jason (Harry Melling) is a dispirited, doleful teenager helping out his mum Margery (Janie Dee) with a church puppet show. His fellow 'Christketeers' are the dowdy and meek Jessica (Jemima Rooper) and the foul-mouthed, bully Timothy (Kevin Mains) who only attends because of his lascivious feelings towards Jason's mum.

Margery is also the object of Pastor Greg's affections (Neil Pearsons) who has been supporting her after the loss of her husband and Jason's father. Margery is clinging on by her finger nails and just needs Jason to be 'her rock'. To say Jason finds comfort in his sock puppet Tyrone sounds a bit wrong but he does and in return Tyrone turns into the devil and wreaks havoc.

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Review: Adrian Lester returns as Ira Aldridge in the excellent Red Velvet, Garrick Theatre

Red Velvet (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company) Adrian Lester (Ira) Credit Johan Persson_00737.jpg
Adrian Lester is Ira Aldridge. Photo Johan Persson

Four years after it was first performed at the Tricycle Theatre Lolita Chakrabati's play about 19th century black actor Ira Aldridge gets its West End opening. Adrian Lester reprises his role as Ira, who finds himself standing in for the famous Edmund Kean to play Othello in Covent Garden.

The narrative arc is bookended by two scenes in which we see Ira as an old man; grumpy and irascible but still much in demand as a performer. Fame has given him a diva-ish attitude. A visit by a young Polish journalist hints at events surrounding his Othello performance that are obviously painful to recall. And it is those events from his early career that form the heart of the play.

It is a multi-layered story. Ira is no doubt a creative actor, dedicated and driven to succeed to the point where it blinds his judgement with almost tragic consequences. But this is also a story about culture and racism. At the time the play is set the campaign to end slavery is in full swing and while there are those in the Othello acting company who support abolition (others don't), liberal attitudes are tested when Ira turns up. The vicious strength of prejudice at the time is revealed in the reviews of the production. It isn't an easy part of the play to watch.

The role of theatre in society is also explored. When Ira turns up there is much discussion among the company about whether the audience is ready for such 'realism'. Once again the company fall into two camps those that think theatre should reflect true life and those that think it shouldn't be quite so 'provocative' when people just want to be entertained. It is here that director Indhu Rubasingham really brings out the humour of the piece, the acting style of the 19th century 'actors' is somewhat different to what we are used to and Ira further rattles some cages by suggesting a different approach.

Ira's story is a fascinating one and it is easy to think that attitudes towards black performers have moved on by some great distance and yet, with all the controversy surrounding the Oscar's white-dominated nominee list, it still has some resonance today.

Red Velvet is funny, shocking and moving and Adrian Lester gives a gripping performance. If you didn't catch it at the Tricycle then go and see it.

It's 2 hours and 15 minutes long including an interval and is getting five stars from me.

A few thoughts on Kenneth Branagh's weepy The Winter's Tale via encore screening

Tom Bateman and Jessie Buckley in The Winter's Tale, Garrick Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

I'm told by my friends on social media that this doesn't technically count as my first theatre trip of 2016 but that doesn't mean I can't write a bit about it as I won't get a chance to see it live at the Garrick Theatre before it finishes on January 16. Seeing it on a cinema screen is a good substitute and while you don't get the thrill of seeing the live performance you do get to appreciate the performances close up.

So what was it like? Well I've always been a bit 'meh' about The Winter's Tale mainly because it feels, tonally, like two very different plays separated by an interval. Kenneth Branagh's productions doesn't quite manage to erase that feeling but it did something other productions haven't, it made me cry. Several times.

Dame Judi Dench's Paulina, defender of the innocent Queen, Miranda Raison's Hermione, the innocent victim of her husband's personal misjudgement and Jessie Buckley's Perdita, who is divided from her lover, were such touching performances. I've never been quite so consistently moved by Shakespeare.

I've seen funnier productions - although perhaps the smallish cinema audience on a Sunday morning didn't help - but this certainly tugged on my heart strings. It was also great to see Theatre Hottie Tom Bateman (moustache notwithstanding) and there was great chemistry between him and Jessie Buckley as the two lovers which probably helped provoke the tears when things started going wrong for them.

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That was my year of theatre-going 2015: The StOlivier awards

89050759_9b7a9cb884_mThere are awards and then there are the StOliviers...

I'm only human award: This goes to Ben Whishaw who, during the Iliad live reading, mispronounced a name did a delightful giggle at his mistake before slipping straight back into character and carrying on. You can see the reading here (roughly 26 mins in for the giggle).

Best food fight: Cast of Rules for Living, National Theatre, who not only managed to mess up the stage but trod and smeared mashed potato into the carpet and on the drapes at all the exits from the Dorfman stage.

Scariest prop: For Carman Disruption at the Almeida I was sat on the front row not far from the life-sized, prone but visibly breathing bull. It was so realistic it freaked me a little bit. If it had moved its head or a leg you wouldn't have have seen me for dust.

Most accident prone production: Ah Wilderness! Young Vic. Props went flying and actors fell over, I wrote a post about it.

I didn't know you had that in you surprise performance award: Lots of surprises this year Tom Sturridge in American Buffalo, David Dawson in The Dazzled but the award goes Johnny Flynn in Hangmen for a performance that meant the first two words I said to Poly after the curtain call were 'Johnny Flynn' to which she replied 'I know'.

The bloody play of the year: The single stream of blood slowly rolling down the stage towards the audience at the end of  Macbeth, Young Vic, was great but the bloody highlight goes to the Almeida's Oresteia. Agamemnon is murdered and his spilled blood slowly seeps out in a growing pool from beneath his corpse.

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Review: Janet McTeer and Dominic West, the Machiavellian seductors in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse


The many candles flickering in the chandeliers above the Donmar stage don't hide the faded grandeur of the set. The aristocracy in 18th century France, beautifully and opulently turned out and yet the walls of the salon in which they congregate are peeling and the art is packed away. Given the amoral nature of the protagonists, the Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer) and Vicomte de Valmont (Dominic West), it feels like a physical embodiment of moral decline.

Christopher Hampton's play is based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' novel written in the years before the French Revolution and is set in the world of ex-lovers Merteuil and Valmont who use seduction as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others. They do it for revenge, they do it to challenge and amuse each other. They have no remorse.

Merteuil wants Vicomte to seduce young virgin Cecile (Morfydd Clark) in order to spoil her for her future husband who is an ex-lover of Merteuil's on whom she wants to take revenge.  Vicomte thinks the task to easy for his skills and instead sets his sights on married Madame de Tourvel (Elaine Cassidy) who is staying with his aunt and has a peerlessly virtuous reputation. Merteuil request written proof of his success with de Tourvel and in return she agrees to sleep with him again. When he realises that de Tourvel has been warned about his own, less than virtuous, reputation by Cecile's mother it is game on.

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