Previous month:
December 2013
Next month:
February 2014

January 2014

Review: Red Velvet at the Tricycle Theatre

Charlotte Lucas and Adrian Lester in Red Velvet at the Tricycle

Red Velvet garnered rave reviews the first time it played at the Tricycle Theatre and quickly sold out leaving me only to wonder what I had missed. But nearly two years on and its back and so I headed to north west London, ticket clutched in my hand, full of anticipation.

Written by Lolita Chakrabarti, Red Velvet tells the true story of American Ira Aldridge, who in 1833 was the first black actor to grace the stage at a patent theatre in Covent Garden. He played the role of Othello for two nights when popular actor Edmund Kean was taken gravely ill. At the time the repeal slavery laws were sparking riots in the street and dividing opinion about the threat to economic prosperity, human rights and equality.

At the start of the play we meet an old Ira who is still performing in New York. Through the contrivance of a junior reporter who has snuck into his dressing room in order to interview him we learn of his success as an actor performing all over Europe but the question over his two performances in Covent Garden hangs in the air.

Red Velvet turns out to be an emotionally gripping story of prejudice and racism but it also a fascinating look at theatre and acting at the time. Aldridge's style of performance contrasts with his English cast members leading them to debate the purpose of their art and what is and isn't acceptable.

Continue reading "Review: Red Velvet at the Tricycle Theatre" »

Review: Juliet Stevenson in Happy Days at the Young Vic

Juliet Stevenson plays Winnie in Happy Days at the Young Vic

The inspiration for Samuel Beckett's play Happy Days came from him imagining his worst scenario possible - being very slowly buried alive in blazing hot sun with no shade while a loud noise sounded every time he dropped off to sleep.

"And I thought: who would cope with that and go down singing? Only a woman."

And so Juliet Stevenson takes up the role of Winnie who, in the first half, is buried up to her waist with only her handbag nearby for a distraction. Well that and husband Willie (David Beames) who is more heard than seen, being closeted in a little hollow from which you get the occasional glimpse and hear the occasional grunted response.

Winnie survives by making the most of what she has, her routine and reminiscing.  In someways it felt very English almost as if she was ignoring the horror in the same way we'd ignore an unpleasantness or embarrassment. Winnie is stoic dividing her time with various activities like cleaning her teeth but relishing each one as if newly performed and rationing each activity so as to have something to look forward to. She is romantic in her recollections, practical and optimistic never giving in to despair.

Meanwhile Willie flounders around almost animal-like, masturbates and reads the paper. His motivation for his final, strained crawl towards Winnie the topic, no doubt, of literature student essays.

Happy Days does feels like an homage to women and to actresses; there can't be many, if any, other parts that offer such an acting opportunity particularly in the second half when Winnie is buried up to the neck. But it also feels much bigger than that, a statement on the human condition and the mechanisms for coping with and enjoying life.

Continue reading "Review: Juliet Stevenson in Happy Days at the Young Vic" »

Review: Russell Tovey in The Pass at the Royal Court

Russell Tovey as Jason in The Pass, Royal Court Theatre

I have to confess that the visual feast of last night's trip to the theatre has been a little distracting. I'm not immune to a fine male form running around the stage in just pants and there is plenty of time to admire in John Donnelly's new play The Pass. Russell Tovey who plays footballer Jason doesn't wear much more than a pair of Calvin Kleins for half of its two hour and 20 minutes, including interval, running time. 

Through three scenes, set in three different hotel rooms over a twelve year period we follow Jason's career from rookie 17-year-old player to end-of-career football superstar and what he does or doesn't do to get there. Key to this is his relationship with his friend Ade (Gary Carr).

The play opens with the two sharing a hotel room the night before a big game, neither can sleep with the anticipation. Tomorrow could be a turning point in their careers for good or bad as their contracts are coming to an end. But underneath the banter there is a hint of sexual tension. What ultimately happens that night doesn't become clear until the end of the play and is revelatory in more ways than one.

What is obvious as Jason's story plays out is how corrupting fame and and the pursuit of success becomes for him. In the second hotel scene he springs a honey-trap and talks of the impact it could have on his earnings through endorsements. Ultimately he sacrifices family to preserve his image and quieten rumours about his sexuality.

Continue reading "Review: Russell Tovey in The Pass at the Royal Court" »

Review: Sam Mendes directs King Lear at the National Theatre

Simon Russell Beale plays King Lear in the National Theatre production

King Lear isn't a favourite Shakespeare play of mine. It's probably sacrilege to say but I find it a bit meandering and frustrating and never really engage with the tragedy as I do in his other plays.

I persist in watching though in the hope that one day something will click and this particular production had the draw of Sam Mendes directing and Simon Russell Beale in the lead, supported by the likes of Anna Maxwell Martin, Tom Brooke, Stanley Townsend, Sam Troughton, Kate Fleetwood, Adrian Scarborough and Richard Clothier.

Mendes has chosen to give the play a contemporary setting hinting that the King has been dictator-like in his rule. There is a large additional company of soldiers whose presence is a formidable backdrop, the numbers diminishing as Lear's power fades only to reappear supporting his daughters Goneril (Kate Fleetwood) and Regan (Anna Maxwell Martin).

Continue reading "Review: Sam Mendes directs King Lear at the National Theatre" »

Review: Cuckoo at the Unicorn Theatre

Jennifer is the straight-laced, hard-working, shy girl who melts into the background at school while Nadine is the sassy, drinking, smoking bad girl who constantly gets herself into trouble but despite their differences they become firm friends.

It is a voyage of discovery for both. Jennifer knocks some of the rougher edges off Nadine and Nadine brings Jennifer out of her shell. Jennifer's mother Erica, a Guardian-reading, hippy who spent years working in Africa before reluctantly returning to the UK, takes Nadine under her wing, sees a spark in her to be nurtured. She becomes both mentor and a surrogate if liberal parent to Nadine, drinking and smoking with her and soon Jennifer is jealous of their relationship which doesn't end well.

Written by Suhayla El-Bushra, whose play Pigeons at the Royal Court Weekly Rep impressed me last summer this is equally an impressive piece. It examines the nature of friendship and parenting with a crisply written script and pacey production. The 75 minutes rattle by with swift scene changes and the heavy beats of pop.

This is a play of dilemmas and moral questions and it was refreshing to watch something that was contemporary but didn't go in for big shocks and emotional trauma. Cuckoo runs at the Unicorn Theatre until the 25 Jan.


As soon as I've nabbed the cast list off Poly I'll come up with one. Promise.

And here's a little behind the scenes vid about the play:



Suhayla El-Bushra
Suhayla El-Bushra

Review: Gemma Arterton is the Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Gemma Arterton, Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

First trip to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse which Poly described perfectly as "like being in a doll's house" to which I would add "and about as comfortable" but I won't dwell on that here.

I'm not sure whether she was also thinking of the theatre's likeness when she later described Gemma Arterton's Duchess of Malfi as like a porcelain doll - Poly is very clever so she probably was and it is an entirely appropriate description on both accounts.

In this traditional production of John Webster's play of jealousy and revenge Arterton is a beautiful and sweet Duchess, whose pursuit of happiness with the one she loves is almost innocently blind, so much so that the audience couldn't help but gasp when she unwittingly reveals her husband's identity to her brother's spy.

Against such a Duchess Alex Waldmann makes a perfect Antonio, he too being so sweet and un calculating. It also creates a beautiful white back drop against which the Duchess' two evil brothers can play the blackest of baddies.

Continue reading "Review: Gemma Arterton is the Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse" »

Who do you want to see play...Iago

IagoIt's a topic that comes up frequently among us theatre nerds, who we'd like to see play certain characters, so thought I would start an occasional series. Inspired by a report that Nigel Lindsay has said Iago is the next character he'd like to play (he'd be brilliant btw) I thought the Othello villain would be a good place to start.

So this is my list, who is on yours?

Ben Whishaw is my first choice, obviously. Have written before about how I'd love to see him play a real out and out baddie and we've got closer with Baby in Mojo but Iago is still on the to do list I've written for him. I think he could do a wonderful job at Iago's duplicitous persona caring and concerned friend of the butter wouldn't melt sort while gripping the bread knife firmly behind his back.

Someone else I think would be very good is Kyle Soller and probably influenced by his performance in Edward II I could see him being quite an excitable, kinetic and slightly nervous Iago.

I also fancy a charming blond bombshell Iago, someone who is beautiful on the outside but cut through with blackness on the inside in an almost surprising way. And again, because I've just seen him on stage in Ghosts, I think Jack Lowden would be interesting at this.

A curve ball and because I think gender swapping shouldn't just be the preserve of men playing women (so looking forward to Maxine Peake playing Hamlet later this year) I'd like to see Andrea Riseborough as Iago. She doesn't do enough stage work in my book and I think she could play a beautifully bitchy Iago opposite Cush Jumbo as Othello.

My longer list would include: Harry Melling, Sam Troughton, Jamie Parker, Daniel Mays, Mark Gatiss...I could go on but it has to stop somewhere




Review: Keepsake at the Old Red Lion Theatre

American playwright Gregory Beam's new play Keepsake made its debut at the Old Red Lion Theatre this week and certainly packs a lot of story into its two hours (with interval) running time.

Samara has returned home on the eve of her adopted father's funeral after a two years absence. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since she left but that doesn't stop the flotsam of her childhood growing up with her adopted sister Abra bobbing to the surface. 

Beam classically challenges your initial perceptions of the sisters through a slow release of revelations about their past and what has happened during their two years apart. So many revelations in fact it almost feels like he has left no stone unturned. Racism, mental illness, rape, alcoholism, suicide, infidelity, jealousy - it all features, and more, in some shape or form.

Beam succeeds in generating enough intrigue to carry the play and when it is working best the script is crisp, well-observed and the story gripping. However, it does at times veer a little towards the contrived and clunky. There are some genuinely shocking revelations but in trying to cover so much ground the impact starts to diminish.

Points awarded for not seeing a lot of it coming but points deducted for just taking it a little bit too far. Worth a punt Keepsake is a nicely staged kitchen-set drama and runs until 25th January.


Lou Broadbent who plays Samara was in Land Girls with Danny Webb who was in 13, Mike Bartlett's play at the National Theatre and Mr W has also worked with Bartlett, appearing in his play Cock.


Review: The gobsmackingly good Ghosts at Trafalgar Studios

Lesley Manville and Jack Lowden in Ghosts

Had a ticket for Ghosts when it was at the Almeida but transport problems meant I didn't make it to the theatre in time, so it was a sign from the theatre gods when some front row seats appeared in the ATG  Boxing Day ticket sale.

And, it was certainly worth the price of the second ticket. Ghosts is an emotional train wreck of a play that had me not so much holding my breath but holding in my emotions to the point where I felt almost overwhelmed at the release of the curtain call.

Richard Eyre, who also directs, has pared down the original Ibsen play to 90 minutes and while intimate in its timeline and plot it covers big and powerful themes such as class, patriarchy, moral hypocrisy and even euthanasia.

The Ghosts of the title are an idea protagonist Helene (Lesley Manville) refers to in that you can never truly overcome the trials and tribulations of the past, they inevitably circle back to haunt you.

Continue reading "Review: The gobsmackingly good Ghosts at Trafalgar Studios" »

If theatreland was to have a list of New Year resolutions...

...this is what I think they should be:

1. Introduce loyalty schemes

The Young Vic and Southwark Playhouse sort of do this already with discounts when you buy tickets for a certain number of plays in one season or pay a lump sum up front and get so many tickets. Maybe it would encourage people to try something new or see more or make those of us who go regularly feel appreciated.

2. Make better use of social media accounts

There are only so many tweets asking if you are coming to see [insert name of play] and it is such an opportunity missed when there is a massive audience hungry for tidbits. It's obvious that a lot of these accounts are set up with little thought to what content they are going to contain as the ideas seem to run out very quickly.

3. Be less media and more social

Related to number 2. the clue is in the name, too many theatre social media accounts don't engage with their followers a lot of whom are potential paying audience members. Without engagement most feeds quickly become one-sided and boring. Social media isn't merely a soap box for theatre marketing departments, there is so much potential there that isn't being utilised.

Continue reading "If theatreland was to have a list of New Year resolutions..." »