109 posts categorized "West End" Feed

Quick review: The Truth, Wyndhams Theatre

The really quick review of The Truth is: It's great, go and see it and hurry because it finishes next weekend. I made a spur of the moment decision to see it this week and now I feel like I'm late to the Florian Zeller party as I didn't see The Father or The Mother. 

Christopher Hampton has translated the contemporary French playwright's story and it is difficult choosing what to say about the plot because of spoilers. I think it is play best seen knowing as little as possible so I'll just say there are two couples, they are friends, there is deceit and there is the truth.

It is brilliantly written and the cast don't waste a word. It is a witty, sometimes sharp comedy of marriage and friendship that manages to be both familiar and surprising.  And it is very funny, the laughs building as the plot unfolds. I'll say no more, just go and see it if you can.

The Truth is on at the Wyndhams Theatre until September 3 it is 90 minutes long without an interval and I'm giving it five stars.


Review: Shrieks and scares in The Woman in Black (touring cast), Fortune Theatre and then on tour

Woman In Black-Recast-26-07-16-Fortune-2096
Matthew Spencer as young Kipps in The Woman In Black, touring cast

The Woman In Black is one of the stalwarts of the West End and it's celebrating 27 years by going on a UK tour. Based on Susan Hill's ghostly novel of the same name, Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation tells the story of a lawyer who wants to unpack the terrifying events of his past by telling his story with the help of an actor.

It is a slow but occasionally amusing set up as the actor (Matthew Spencer) tries to tease some sort of performance out of Mr Kipps' (David Actor) as he recites his tale - it is the ghost story we are all interested in after all. But once we are on that path is when the long standing appeal of this play is evident.

A dark theatre, with its nooks and many entrances and exits proves to be the perfect place to watch a ghostly tale - although the auditorium could be even darker for an even more chilling effect. Kipps' story is of his visit, as a young solicitor, to the isolated and lonely Eel Marsh house. The house gets cut off from the mainland at high tide but can also get cut off by dense sea mists which appear without warning. The house belongs to the recently deceased widow Mrs Drablow and Kipps' job is to put her affairs in order.

The odd behaviour of the locals in the nearby village adds to the spooky atmosphere but it is at Mrs Drablow's funeral that we get a first glimpse of the past and what is to come as the woman in black makes her first appearance.

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Review: Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios and why I was a very slightly disappointed

Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Oliver Rosser

Jesse Eisenberg's background is in theatre - acting and more recently writing - but I've only ever seen him on the big screen so I was naturally curious about his play The Spoils. 

It's set in the modern Manhattan apartment of Ben (Jesse Eisenberg) a drinking, weed-smoking wannabe film-maker from a privileged background. He shares the apartment with Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar) who is a Nepalese immigrant studying business on a scholarship.

At one end of the spectrum Ben is the sort of show off that casually feigns indifference at the other he is narcissistic. He won't take rent from Kalyan but it isn't an altruistic move, it is something he does to elevate his own status, something he can hold over him or throw back at him. Kalyan is someone he can parade, show off about, look down on and just occasionally confide in. Us Brits would call Ben a tosser or a C-word - if we used it - Americans would probably call him a jerk.

When Ben discovers that his school crush Sarah (Katie Brayben) is going to marry straight-laced banker Ted (Alfie Allen), he is determined to woo her away from him.

Like most characters from this mould,  Ben's behaviour is all puff, part of the wall he's built to protect himself not just from the outside world but also from himself.  He constantly seeks approval while rebutting it. He seeks connection and yet pushes it away. The more desperate he gets the more painful and cringe-worthy his behaviour becomes.

At first the script crackles with a quick-fired wit tinged with black humour but as Ben spirals downwards, so the humour gets darker until you reach a point when it difficult to laugh any more and it is at that moment you start to pity him and how messed up he really is.

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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.