Hot on the heels from playing Pentheus and Pentheus' mother in Bakkhai at the Almeida, Bertie Carvel will soon be seen as the muscular and fiery ship stoker Yank in Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape at the Old Vic. Can't wait.
Sarah Waters' best selling novel of a lesbian love affair set in the musical halls of late Victorian London has been adapted for the stage by Laura Wade. Its setting naturally lends itself for the theatre, the production, directed by Lyndsey Turner, has milked the music hall-variety act theme adding in numerous flares and flourishes.
There is a live band (who double up as extra's on stage) and a compere/narrator (David Cardy) in top hat and tails who knocks a gavel to end a scene or pause the action to give a commentary. It's primarily a device to allow time for scene changes.
The heroine of the story (and production) is Nan (Sally Messham) who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty (Laura Rogers) and follows her on a journey through London's vibrant and less salubrious districts; magic tricks, puppetry and acrobatics are all weaved into the story. It is a spectacle and some of it works brilliantly but not all of it.
A man is standing on a dimly lit stage which is bare except that it gently slopes towards a large square drain cover in the middle. He's wearing a stained and ripped parka: Hood up, sunglasses, bushy beard, no trousers, white y-fronts. Occasionally he does press ups or shadow boxes, otherwise he just stands. He's part funny, part strange, part intimidating. This is Pomona summed in a character.
Alistair McDowall's play is set in Manchester. The Pomona of the title is a real place, an abandoned island in the docks. He's taken something real and twisted it with something that feels dystopian, inflected with fantasy.
Ollie (Nadia Clifford) seeks out the help of our hooded man (Guy Rhys) to find her twin sister who has disappeared and may or may not be in some sort of trouble. The warning is there right from the start in hooded man's comic description of the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark - some things should just be left hidden.
All the roads lead to Pomona a place which wears a shroud of mystery that chills before you even get there. It isn't a linear journey but peopled with jigsaw pieces that gradually fit together to reveal something horrific and strange. It is a journey that threads together the darkest sides of society with dungeons and dragons; myth and grim reality.
Review: Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King from the back of the stage and a bit of unscripted drama
Love on stage seating; up close to the action, often there is no view quite like it. So when a batch of on stage tickets were released for Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's for £30 a pop I snapped up a pair.
Now the seating plan didn't really prepare us for where we would be sitting - which was good and bad. Ours were two of eight seats on the musicians balcony above the back of the stage accessed via the back stage area. Squeezed on a cushioned bench, lean back too far and you'd fall on a musician. They are a chatty bunch while waiting to perform.
Getting a quick peek back stage is also fun, particularly when Mark Rylance says 'hello' as you return to your seat before the second half. You also get to hear the mechanics of the performance, bits of set being moved around and the stage manager speaking to Rylance when the performance was stopped. Yes, second time this year I've been at a play when this happened.
Gone are the dog collar and respectful black and in are bouffant wigs and dresses with faux buxom bosoms. Simon Russell Beale follows up his subtle and serious turn in Temple with a raucous comedy Mr Footes Other Leg at Hampstead Theatre.
Written by Ian Kelly (who also plays Prince George) the story is based on real life Samuel Foote (Simon Russell Beale) a lawyer turned actor and satirical comedian who ended up running the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 18th century, securing its royal warrant along the way. After a bet goes wrong Foote loses his leg which he turns to his advantage.
Set primarily back stage in Footes' dressing room, he enjoys fame and notoriety and his life is populated with colourful characters. Among them are his friend and rival David Garrick (Joseph Millson) the Brummie obsessed with Shakespeare; Peg Woffington (Dirvla Kirwan) actress and mistress to the rich who's not afraid of a bit of titillation to bring the punters in; Mrs Garner (Jenny Galloway) the no nonsense, loyal and occasionally mischievous stage manager; and Frank Barbour (Micah Balfour) the freed slave from Jamaica who does all the odd jobs and is therefore indispensable.
We follow his battle with the censors, the squabbles back stage, desperate tactics to make money and rivalry with other theatres. Intertwined are scenes with Foote's friend, failed actor John Hunter (Forbes Masson), who together with Benjamin Franklin (John Stinton) has an interest in the science of the brain and questions whether fame makes you mad.
Tonight I'm Gonna To Be the New Me is an intriguing title for play as it immediately raises a myriad questions about the 'me' of the piece. Is it Jessica Latowicki performing under her own name or is it her boyfriend (in real life too) the 'writer' of the piece Tim Cowbury who also controls the lighting and who is occasionally teased into the performance.
Then there are all the questions about why the desire or need to be 'new'.
The play is a mass of contradictions as it explores Tim and Jessica's relationship. Is it an honest portrayal of a dishonest relationship? Is the dishonesty with the audience? Is it Tim's perspective, his fantasy, likes and dislikes, needs and annoyances? Is Jessica his puppet serving his whims - she wears sequined hot pants and a bra top and performs in a cube?
Are Jessica's conversations with the audience her breaking away from the script or has Tim put them there? Are her long free-form dance sequences her own invention? When she has Tim go and get her a beer in the middle of the performance is that her or is he exposing an aspect of their relationship?
Struggling to remember the last time I saw a play set in the countryside and about rural life. Three Days in the Country doesn't count.
Bea Roberts' new play And Then Come the Nightjars has the foot and mouth outbreak as its central axis but is essentially a piece about friendship and the changing countryside economy.
Set in a barn on a Devon farm, brilliantly designed by Max Dorey, Michael (David Fielder) is watching over a cow due to calf. Local vet and friend Jeff (Nigel Hastings) is keeping him company.
They banter and bicker as old friends do; talk about the farm and their respective wives - Michael is widowed and Jeff's marriage is strained.
The threat of foot and mouth hovers in the background, the call of the Nightjar - in superstition a harbinger of death - heralds the future fate of Michael's prized and much loved herd.
Jumping forward in time to the day of the slaughter, Michael is resisting the MAFF-sanctioned orders to let his 'girls' be destroyed and Jeff is trying to persuade him to co-operate offering to ensure they have a humane end. We learn that with slaughter on such a large scale not all cows have a pain free death.
When the lights came up in the auditorium at the end of A Song From Far Away, all I could say to Poly was 'fuck'. It's not a bad thing, far from it. It was a symptom of how Simon Stephens' new play left me feeling emotionally fragile and struggling to articulate just how it made me feel.
Talking to Simon Stephens afterwards (she writes casually like it wasn't a big thing when it was a massive thing) he described it as a sketch and was worried that as a result it wasn't powerful enough. It's what gave it power for me: it's a haunting, emotional ghost of a story about a man whose life is haunted, who is himself a metaphorical ghost living a hollow, disconnected, gossamer existence.
Eelco Smits plays Willem who buys and sells things for a bank in New York. During a Sunday work meeting he gets a phone call from his mum to say his brother Pauli is dead and he needs to come home to Amsterdam.
The story of his journey home, facing what he left behind many years earlier and dealing with the emotional carnage of bereavement is told in a series of letters he writes to Pauli. There are hints of Willem's past and his relationships but when everyone is grieving can anyone be deemed a reliable narrator?
Matthew Warchus' tenure as artistic director at the Old Vic kicks off with a new comedy about education and has a cast of many. Rob Brydon is the star name being touted on marketing material but in reality this is an ensemble piece.
Tamsin Oglesby's Future Conditional is essentially three plays in one, each with a separate cast, the action swapping between the stories with only two characters crossing over (one seen and one referred to).
In Brydon's segment he plays a teacher at a secondary school telling the story in a series of conversations with his class but for the most part you have to imagine what the pupils are saying because you only hear his side.
Through the teachers eyes we see some of the challenges of the classroom. Juggling the ultra bright and eager to learn Pakistani refugee Alia (Nikki Patel) with the disruptive Jordan who's got problems at home.
It is skillfully written and performed so that it is not just Brydon's physical and verbal reactions that are funny but also the imagined comments from the kids.
And while Brydon is no doubt a draw, for me at least the excitement mainly came from seeing Ben Lloyd-Hughes (see additional 6DS below). He features in a segment set around a Government think tank which is supposed to be advising on educational policy.
The group is a mixture of people from different backgrounds, state and private education with Joshua Maguire (another Stan fav) playing an Oxbridge graduate and ex-Etonian. The debate here is about equality in education and how you maximise the potential of children from poorer backgrounds so that they are on an level playing field with those from affluent backgrounds.
An embarrassment of riches in August. Benedict Cumberbatch did look quite cute as hoodie Hamlet at the Barbican but then there was F*cking Men at the King's Head theatre and most of the cast were contenders. Indeed it's been tough just choosing one person but after lots of painstaking photo research (ahem) I've chosen Ruben Jones as my August theatre hottie.
And here he is in, er, action in F*cking Men: