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April 2013

Theatre: best of 2013 so far...and Peter and Alice isn't number one *shock*

As Spring has finally got a hook around Winter's neck and is dragging it kicking and screaming towards the wings it seems appropriate to reflect on the first three months of the year in theatre land. I've clocked up 23 plays which is slightly less than usual but there is plenty of time to catch up and this is my top five:

1. Di and Viv and Rose, Hampstead Theatre

Loved it when I saw it in the downstairs space and loved it all over again on the bigger stage with a slightly different cast.

2. Peter and Alice, Noel Coward Theatre

Why not number one you ask, it's got Mr W in it after all? Well it was close, very close, but I saw the first performance and it no doubt will have benefited from a bit of bedding in. Will find out next month for my second viewing. Can't wait.

3. Twelfth Night, Apollo Theatre

It was the last performance I saw, hence why it didn't make it into my 2012 list but it was worth the wait, great fun. Will forever have the image in my head of Johnny Flynn being pushed across the stage. And Stephen Fry's curtain call speech was worth the ticket price alone.

4. Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

Again an early performance that needed a bit of bedding in but James McAvoy proved once again what a flawless stage actor he is with an effortless performance. April is project 'see Macbeth again' month and where there is a will...

5. Trelawny of the Wells, Donmar Warehouse

Joe Wright's first attempt at theatre and pretty fine it was too. Just good old-fashioned, fun entertainment.

And the worst? Well I haven't seen anything terrible yet this year, which is a good sign or bad if you think that by the law of averages there will be at least one rotter and it is still to come.

OK, so those are my favourites, what are yours?

Review: The bittersweet Third Finger, Left Hand at Trafalgar Studios 2

Third-Finger-Left-Hand-010Thanks to @mereplebeian for alerting me to this one, it's written by her friend Dermot Canavan, someone I remember meeting back in the last century, when we were at University.

Canavan is an actor and Third Finger, Left Hand is his first full length play which is making its first appearance in London at the Trafalgar Studios 2 having won awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. It is a two-hander that sees feuding sisters Niamh (Imogen Stubbs) and Grace (Amanda Daniels) reminiscing about growing up in Preston during the 1970s. But could the trip down memory lane and Niamh's terminal cancer reconcile the sisters?

This is a bittersweet tale that has you laughing one moment and crying the next. Flitting backwards and forwards from their childhood and adolescence to adulthood with a mutual love of dancing and the Northern Soul scene as the back drop; there is a lot of dancing.

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Review and production pics: Before the Party, Almeida Theatre

With a casting call sheet that includes Katherine Parkinson, Stella Gonet and Michelle Terry expectations were high for Before the Party at the Almeida and it didn't disappoint. Rodney Ackland's play based on a Somerset Maugham short story is a perfect marriage of middle class snobbery and general silliness and something a little more serious.

Laura (Parkinson) has returned home to England from Africa following the death of her husband eight months earlier. The 1949 country home of her parents is in the grip of post war rationing which causes all sorts of dilemmas for snobby mother Blanche (Gonet), who wants to keep up appearances and father Aubrey (Michael Thomas) who wants to go into politics and needs to avoid any sort of scandal. Not that sister Kathleen (Terry) would allow any sort of scandal, she wears a scowl and a disapproving look like a favourite item of clothing.

Into this world Laura introduces her fiancee David Marshall (Alex Price) but that is only the start of the drama she will introduce into the Skinner household on one hot, sunny day.

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Review: Caryl Churchill's The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution at the Finborough

Hospital-topA world premiere of a play written more than 40 years ago? It does immediately raise the question of why it took so long - was it too controversial for the time or just not good enough?

The play is set in a psychiatric hospital in 1950's Algeria during the struggle for independence from France. The hospital treats patients from both sides of the struggle and the play is presented as a series of medical cases: A teenage daughter of a French Algerian civil servant is brought in because she has started behaving out of character and insists she is dying, a group of revolutionaries are shell-shocked and suffer from paranoia and a policeman wants to stop his work spilling over into violent behaviour at home.

Through these cases it paints a picture of a country that is itself sick with racism, fear and violence, a country that is diseased by colonialism. Each case is presented from one perspective, the psychiatrist remains impassive and nothing is challenged or guided by the professional. It works in leaving the audience to debate the rights and wrongs, who are the biggest victims but equally it leaves the audience to be psychoanalysts which I found a little frustrating. I suppose I wanted some sort of deeper explanation of what was mentally wrong, particularly with the teenage daughter, or maybe I wanted a slightly different play.

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