142 posts categorized "West End" Feed

Review: Skilfully crafted entertainment that poses interesting questions - Quiz, Noel Coward Theatre

Just like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Quiz is a skilfully crafted piece of entertainment, the difference is that the questions it asks don't have simple multiple choice answers.

James Graham is proving to be one of the best contemporary writers of plays based on modern political history - Angry Brigade, Ink and This House to name just three.

QUIZ-447X792Part of that is his exceptional talent for turning potentially dry topics into gripping and entertaining theatre.

In Quiz he focuses on the ‘coughing Major’ scandal that enfolded the popular TV quiz Who Wants to Be A Millionaire in 2001 and the subsequent trial in 2003.

Cheating

The Major - Charles Ingram -  walked away with the £1m prize on the night but was later accused of cheating and taken to court together with his alleged accomplices.

Performed on a set styled to look like the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire studio, complete with onstage seating to mimic the studio audience, the play is structured like a court case.

The first half plays out what happened from the viewpoint of the prosecution and the second half is the turn of the defence.

Audience vote

With electronic devices, the audience can vote on whether Ingram (played by Gavin Stokes), his wife Diana (Stephanie Street) and the other 'conspirators' are guilty or not guilty.

Votes take place at the end of the first half and again at the end of the play after which the results from the previous 10 plays are displayed for comparison.

The style and structure is a reference to the subtler themes and subtext of the play, something that becomes more evident when audience opinion is canvassed.

Continue reading "Review: Skilfully crafted entertainment that poses interesting questions - Quiz, Noel Coward Theatre" »


Round up: That was April in London theatre - Monster casting and A-list actor spots

MTNEW* I'm excited and nervous about the forthcoming stage adaptation of Patrick Ness’s novel A Monster Calls (the book is a favourite) but I couldn’t think of a better actor than Matthew Tennyson to take on the lead Conor. The production will have a run at the Bristol Old Vic from May 31 and the Old Vic from July 7.

* David Haig’s play Pressure (in which he also stars) is transferring from Park Theatre to the Ambassadors following a successful run at the Finsbury venue. Malcolm Sinclair and Laura Rogers co-star.

* Stan-fav Adam Gillen has been cast in Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios, which stars Orlando Bloom and I'm really looking forward to seeing him in something very different to Amadeus. You can see photos of the cast in rehearsal over at What's On Stage and previews start on May 18.

* Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre has been renamed the Kiln Theatre post refurbishment with a new season that includes the UK premiere of Florian Zeller’s The Son.

* In a new twist on role swapping (recent role swaps: Mary Stuart, Almeida; RSC's Doctor Faustus and NT's Frankenstein to name just three) Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden are to alternate playing Isabella and Angelo in Measure For Measure at the Donmar Warehouse.

* There is part of me that is excited and really curious and part of me that thinks: 'Gimmick to get repeated visits'. There is one version I'd particularly like to see but no way of knowing, having booked at ticket whether I'll get it. Previews start September 28.

Continue reading "Round up: That was April in London theatre - Monster casting and A-list actor spots" »


Why we need more plays like Nine Night and less like Absolute Hell

It was a delight to be part of such an engaged audience and one which is more reflective of London's diversity. And it doesn't happen anywhere near as much as it should do.

I saw Absolute Hell and Nine Night on consecutive nights and seeing the latter served to highlight all that I felt was wrong with the former.

Nine-night-mobileherospot-2160x2160pxAn unfair comparison you might say but there are parallels between the two plays and they also represent where theatreland is at the moment and where it should be moving.

First, a bit about Nine Night, although if you want to read a full review I suggest starting with Ought To Be Clowns which is spot on.

Family tension

It is a new play by Natasha Gordon set in the London house of a Jamaican family where they are observing the traditional nine nights of mourning after mother, grandmother and great-grandmother Gloria dies.

This traditional way of mourning involves inviting friends and family over for food, drink (lots of drink) and dancing.

Grief coupled with having extended family in such close proximity for an extended period inevitably means tension. Secrets are unearthed, prejudices and hurts are revealed.

Rich and vibrant characters

Rodney Ackland's Absolute Hell (see my review here) is similarly set in one location and both plays have rich and vibrant characters but from here the two diverge.

Continue reading "Why we need more plays like Nine Night and less like Absolute Hell" »


Review: Absolute Hell (or absolute heaven?), National Theatre

The play itself feels peripheral in plot and depth of characters; there's a lot of it and a lot of them and as a result it lacks substance and tension.

Absolute Hell is a big play. It has a cast that when stood in a single line barely fits across the vast Lyttelton stage and in early previews its running time was 3 hours and 40 minutes including two 15 minute intervals.
The running time has been substantially cut to 3 hours partly helped by replacing the second 15-minute interval with a 5-minute pause.

Absolute-hell-whatson-1280x720And you know what I'm going to say: It could still be shorter.

That isn't a reflection of the cast, who are superb but the play itself which feels peripheral in plot and depth of characters; there's a lot of it and a lot of them but it lacks substance and tension.

It is set in a seedy private members club in Soho immediately after the second world war where regulars spend night after night drinking, flirting and bickering themselves into some sort of numbness. 

They are certainly a colourful bunch of characters - writers, servicemen, artists, journalists, filmmakers, heiresses - and headed by the glamorous, needy, alcoholic owner of the club Christine (Kate Fleetwood).

The war is over, a change of Government is on the horizon but their partying is more about escape and routine than anything joyful.

Little meaningful interaction

And this is the problem. You spend 3 hours with a bunch of people drinking, bitching and lying and occasionally making merry but there is little by way of meaningful interaction between them.

If the lack of meaningful interaction is the point, then it is a point firmly made.

Continue reading "Review: Absolute Hell (or absolute heaven?), National Theatre" »


Review: The arresting, immersive #NationalTrust Suffragette City Experience

If you want to learn a little of what it was like being a suffragette in a more experiential way then this is fun and informative hour

I'm walking down Jermyn Street trying to look casual while being vigilant. I've got a package to post in my bag and if found with it I could get arrested - I'm a suffragette and this is about 'deeds not words'.

Suffragette City experience national TrustKeeping to the opposite pavement before double backing towards the post box, all seems clear so I deposit the parcel and head back to HQ via a different route, checking to see if I'm followed.

HQ is the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) beneath a café just off Piccadilly Circus and this is an immersive theatre/exhibition experience, produced by the National Trust and National Archive, in which you get a taste of what it was like to walk in the shoes of a suffragette.

It's hands on, no sitting and watching, you might find yourself making rosettes, painting banners or learning new protest songs.

You might also find yourself on a protest march or taking part in other forms of direct action but there are fellow suffragettes on hand to brief you on what to do, particularly if you do get 'arrested'.

There is something exhilarating about marching down a street in central London with a banner, singing - our small but vocal group got a few rounds of applause as well as stares.

While only a small flavour of the suffragette experience, it does give you a sense of what they were up against and how far they were prepared to go to get equality.

Continue reading "Review: The arresting, immersive #NationalTrust Suffragette City Experience" »


Review: Brutal, cold, dystopian Macbeth, National Theatre and a Children of Men comparison

You don't walk away feeling any sense of tragedy merely that you've watched a bunch of unsavoury characters killing each other.

The first time we see Macbeth (Rory Kinnear) in Rufus Norris' production at the National Theatre, he is committing a brutal act of violence on an enemy. It sets the play down a path that doesn't necessarily lead to satisfactory conclusions.

Macbeth-mobileherospot_2160x2160-sfw-5The setting is some point in the future when society seems to have broken down.

It's a landscape of generators, machetes, chest armour held together with parcel tape and clothes and buildings patched-up using whatever is available - mainly polythene it seems.

Only King Duncan (Stephen Boxer) wears a smart, intact, red, tailored suit.

Stylistically it reminded me of parts of Alfonso Cuarón's film Children of Men (which I love), thematically there are similarities too.

The film is about an infertility crisis which leads to societal breakdown and of course Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) and her husband are childless.

It could be argued that they seek out self-fulfilment in a desperate and increasingly brutal pursuit of power.

I liked the dark tone of the setting, even the Back to the Future, Doc Brown-esque porter played by Trevor Fox.

And I really liked the witches who were all different in their movements and energy levels and seem to haunt the dark corners of the stage. 

But the characters are nearly as unrelentingly cold and brutal as the landscape they live in and it is easy not to care.

There is no charisma to Rory Kinnear's Macbeth and how can you sympathise with a man - and the woman who spurs him on - who is capable of such horrific acts from the outset?

In this video interview, Rufus Norris describes them as in one sense 'Shakespeare's most happily married couple' but this is no love story or crime of passion.

Continue reading "Review: Brutal, cold, dystopian Macbeth, National Theatre and a Children of Men comparison" »


Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse or why 2 men flirting is sexiest thing on the stage

Sexy, funny, full of heart and great characters with the added comfort of one of them always putting the kettle on

There is a moment in The York Realist which reminded me of that shower scene with Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus.

It involves Yorkshire farmhand George (Ben Batt) stripped to the waist and washing in the kitchen sink after a hard day's work but while Hiddleston's shower scene was calculated to show the weary and battle-injured Coriolanus, this scene was all about the look on the face of an observer. 

Ben Batt (George) and Jonathan Bailey (John)  in The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse  directed by Robert Hastie. Photo by Johan Persson
Ben Batt (George) and Jonathan Bailey (John) in The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo by Johan Persson

John (Jonathan Bailey) is the assistant director on an amateur production of the Mystery Plays in nearby York who has come to persuade George to return to rehearsals.

When he catches a glimpse of George's damp, muscular torso it leaves you in no doubt about his feelings.

Another parallel that sprung to mind was last year's film God's Own Country which was also a gay love story set in rural Yorkshire.

The York Realist is far less explicit than God's Own Country, it is all flirtation, all expectation but boy is it sexy. The invisible chemistry is electric. Lines about Vaseline got extra laughs, I'm sure, to ease the tension. 

 

Continue reading "Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse or why 2 men flirting is sexiest thing on the stage" »


January theatre round up: Big (big) name castings, highs, lows and lots of actor spots.

The Inheritance Young Vic
Vanessa Redgrave joins the cast of The Inheritance, Young Vic

Theatre gets me through the dark days of January, here are my highlights from the new play and casting announcements, favourite things I saw (and the low moment).  And, thanks to the Julius Caesar press night, there was a bumper crop of actor, director and writer spots too...

* Forbes Mason, who will forever be known as the Lucifer in pants, thanks to Jamie Lloyd's Doctor Faustus, has been cast in the Almeida's Summer and Smoke which opens later this month. Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to seeing Patsy Ferran, who also stars, in that?

* Josie Rourke announced she is stepping down as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse next year after eight years in the role. My highlights of her tenure, if you were to ask me for the first things that spring to mind, would be the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus (incidentally my review of that is my most popular post and has been viewed nearly 15,000 times), the all women Shakespeare series and James Graham's Privacy. There are plenty of others but those are what stick most in my mind.

* Vanessa Redgrave (yes Vanessa Redgrave!) has been cast in The Inheritance at the Young Vic which opens next month. I could listen to her voice for hours. Also announced in the cast are Stan-fav's Kyle Soller, Michael Marcus and Luke Thallon plus a whole bunch of new names I’m looking forward to getting to know over a double play day.

Continue reading "January theatre round up: Big (big) name castings, highs, lows and lots of actor spots." »


Review: It's rock and roll and riot with Ben Whishaw, David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley in Julius Caesar

I'm in a crowd watching a band play rock tunes, it's getting lively and animated.

Merchandise and refreshment sellers weave their way through the rhythmically nodding heads and shuffling feet.  Hands have started clapping along to the music and flags are being waved.

Centre Abraham Popoola - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo credit Manuel Harlan
Centre Abraham Popoola - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo: Manuel Harlan

It's like a gig except it isn't a band name emblazoned on the banners, T-Shirts and posters, it is the face of Julius Caesar (David Calder). This is a political rally and it feels celebratory.

Given the mix of edgier and popular tracks on the band's play list, Julius Caesar is a lot more popular in music circles than President Trump, with whom we are obviously supposed to draw parallels.

When the man himself appears, we are quickly herded to one side with shouts of 'Get out of the way!' by serious-looking, ear-piece wearing security.

This is to become a common occurrence throughout the play - the tone of the herding reflective of whether it is part of the action or to make way for parts of stage rising up out of the floor we are standing on. But more on that later.

Ben Whishaw (Brutus) - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo credit Manuel Harlan
Ben Whishaw (Brutus) - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo: Manuel Harlan

Calder's Julius Caesar is a commanding presence or perhaps the circus around him makes him so.

Ben Whishaw's Brutus is a politely muted form on the periphery of the hullabaloo; afterwards he sits at a café table, drinking red wine and deep in a book which he has to wear glasses to read. This is obviously more his comfort zone.

In fact he is often seen with a book, playing with the glasses in his hand when he has to leave off reading.

He is incongruous to his name: he thinks, he considers, he lacks the brutality of mind and personality that perhaps would mean a different fate.

When he does get angry - the verbal fight between him and Cassius (Michelle Fairley) crackles with tension and there is some superb angry eating by Ben - it is out of frustration that his carefully thought through plans are not quite the success he envisioned.

Mark Antony (David Morrissey), by comparison, is a far more brutish - dangerous - character in many ways. Turning from Caesar's supportive 'yes' man into a Venus fly trap.

Ironically, he uses words far better than the bookish Brutus and crucially he seems to understand the crowd better - another fatal flaw in Brutus and his co-conspirators well-meaning plan.

I've seen the 'Friends, Romans, countrymen...' speech delivered with obvious irony even borderline sarcasm. Morrissey's delivery is the perfect blend of grief, passion and reason - you don't realise cleverness of it until after the crowd has dispersed. From there he is merciless compare to Brutus' mercy. 

Continue reading "Review: It's rock and roll and riot with Ben Whishaw, David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley in Julius Caesar" »


My best of theatre list for 2017 - with some rom-com, Chekhov and Christmas surprises

If you'd told me at the start of the year that there would be a rom-com, a Chekhov and a Christmas play on my best of list, I'd have laughed in your face. Just goes to show you should always expect the unexpected...here are my favourite plays of 2017, in no particular order and links are to my reviews.

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard
An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard

Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

Let's face it most rom-coms are a bit rubbish - they generally aren't that funny - but this tale of modern romance had me guffawing with laughter and I wasn't on my own.

An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre

This is a play that reminded me why I love going to the theatre and I could write pages on it. Thought-provoking, sometime uncomfortable to watch and yet it was still entertaining. It's transferring to the National Theatre in June and I'll definitely be getting a ticket.

Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

In my review I said: "Apologia is a play of sharp humour and depth that slowly breaks down the defences to reveal something raw and emotional. You will laugh and you will have a lump in your throat." It was also a great play for female characters.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios 2

This odd-ball, misfit comedy was a breath of fresh air and it got a much deserved transfer so I got to enjoy it a second time.

Hamlet, Almeida

Up there as one of the best Hamlet productions I've seen, it made me see the play anew.

BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

Writer Stuart Slade took real testimonies from terrorist attacks around the world and used them to create a story around a fictional attack in London. The result was an honest, awkward and funny piece that was also really clever.

Continue reading "My best of theatre list for 2017 - with some rom-com, Chekhov and Christmas surprises" »