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September 2018

All about the must see plays of 2019: All My Sons and All About Eve

Tickets went on sale this week for what must surely count as two of London's must-see plays of 2019: All My Sons, Old Vic and All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre. 

All About Eve: Gillian Anderson and Lily James. Photo: Perou

The new production of Arthur Miller's All My Son's has big Hollywood star casting with Sally Field and Bill Pullman and British favourites Colin Morgan and Jenna Coleman joining them.

Let's just pause for a moment and think about that casting, I mean Sally 'life is like a box of chocolates' Field alone.

Headlong is co-producing with Jeremy Herrin directing and we all know how impressive and eclectic his CV is.

Genius writing

Arthur Miller's writing is genius, the way he slowly strips away the narrative layers to reveal something raw underneath.

The last production of All My Son's I saw was in 2010 and starred Zoe Wanamaker, David Suchet, Stephen Campbell Moore and Jemima Rooper and was one of my favourite plays of that year.

But as if all that wasn't quite enough we have Ivo Van Hove directing Gillian Anderson and Lily James in All About Eve at the Noel Coward Theatre.

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Review: The Other Place, Park Theatre - finding truth in imagined memories

Karen Archer's performance gives the impression of someone who has run off a cliff and is still running, her sarcasm and sharpness serving to emphasise her vulnerability in those moments she begins to realise she's falling.

Karen Archer & Neil McCaul in The Other Place at the Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet. C31B0305
Karen Archer & Neil McCaul in The Other Place at the Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet.

If you believe it happened does that make it true?

Karen Archer plays Juliana, a scientist in pharmaceuticals who is trying to arrange a meeting with her estranged daughter and divorcing her philandering husband Ian (Neil McCaul).

She also can't understand why there is a woman in a yellow bikini in the audience at her presentation.

Convinced she has brain cancer

These are Juliana's narratives, her reality, her history and memories. But her reality is also that after 'an episode' she is convinced she has brain cancer and won't hear her doctors say otherwise.

The Other Place is a play about dementia which reminded me a little of the 2014 film Still Alice for which Julianne Moore won an Oscar. Both show cognitive degeneration through the eyes of the sufferer.

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From the archives: Colin Morgan's stage debut in Vernon God Little, Young Vic Theatre

It's a play I still remember fondly and I was right to think that Colin Morgan was 'one to watch'

Vernon god little young vic theatre colin morgan mariah gale
Colin Morgan in Vernon God Little, Young Vic Theatre, 2007

It's 10 years since the BBC's Merlin first aired, which I loved, but one of the reasons I started watching was because I'd seen Colin Morgan on stage a year earlier.

It was his stage debut as Vernon in Vernon God Little at the Young Vic in 2007. He was still at drama school when he was cast.

Rufus Norris directed (what happened to him ;0) and Mariah Gale was also in the cast and went on to play Ophelia opposite David Tennant's Hamlet.

There was no Rev Stan's Theatre Blog then but I did have a 'general thoughts' blog where I wrote about the play which I've reposted below. (Like to think my theatre writing has developed a bit in the past 11 years.)

It's a play I still remember fondly and I was right to think that Colin was 'one to watch' - my review may not come across overly enthusiastic but I was more restrained back in those days.

Reposted from Rev Stan's Other Stuff 8 June 2007:

Loved DBC Pierre's book when I read it a couple of years ago as it is clever and thought-provoking black comedy and thoroughly deserving of the accolades it received.

So I was curious to see how it was translated for the stage in this production at the Young Vic.

The book has many characters and many locations which must have presented a challenge for the production which ended up with just 10 actors. The stage sets and props were fairly minimal but imaginatively used.

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Review: The Sword of Alex, White Bear - power and violence overshadows identity debate

Meaningful debate, clever thought and persuasiveness get overshadowed by ego manifested as sneering, sarcasm and physical violence.

The Sword of Alex (c) Valeria Coizza (6)
The Sword of Alex. Photo: Valeria Coizza

Power and identity are at the heart of Rib Davis' play The Sword of Alex.

A confrontation between leader Antonio (Patrick Regis) and Karl (DK Ugonna), one of his ministers who is trying to get independence for the region of Nikal, interweaves with scenes of their own domestic problems.

Antonio's mistress Calantha (Kate Terence) wants to leave him while Karl's wife Gina (Georgia Winters) has similar plans.

The confrontation between the two leaders occurs during a ceasefire when they meet to try and persuade their opponent to back down from hostilities and violence.

Are ego and aggression the problem?

Antonio is arrogant, dismissive, sarcastic and grows aggressive easily. Karl, by comparison, has the demeanour of an underdog but has more fight than first appears.

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Review: Hear Me Howl, Old Red Lion - a fun and considered exploration of female stereotypes

Great to see a play challenging gender stereotypes but doing it in a way that is both fun and considered

Hear Me Howl (c) Will Lepper (1)
Hear Me Howl. Photo: Will Lepper

Jess (Alice Pitt-Carter) is nearly 30, lives with her boyfriend Taj and has an unstimulating office job.

It's an ordinary life, one she feels she is sleepwalking through and frustration grows about the question of when she and Taj are going to get married and have children.

Taj has leanings in that direction (it's not that play) the problem is that Jess doesn't.

Life changing decision

And while she is wrestling with that conundrum, she decides to join a post-punk band but before her first gig, she has to make a life-changing decision.

Written by Lydia Rynne, Hear Me Howl is peppered with references to culture contemporary to the 30-somethings and bubbles with quips and funny observation while handling issues such as pregnancy and abortion with sensitivity and insight.

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Review: Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre - signs and symbols but lacking in thrills

Metaphors aside it is difficult to determine whether Foxfinder is supposed to be an atmospheric thriller or a surreal comedy

Iwan Rheon and Paul Nicholls in Foxfinder. Photo: Pamela Raith.

The Foxfinder of the title is William (Iwan Rheon) sent to examine the farm of Judith (Heida Reed) and Sam (Paul Nicholls) where the crop yield is below target.

In this parallel world of writer Dawn King's invention, it is a time of food shortages and foxes are the bogeyman, the 'source' of all the troubles being creatures with supernatural powers preying on the weak and wreaking havoc wherever they go.

But has William, who has trained for the job since a child, actually seen a fox?

Brexit metaphors

King wrote Foxfinder seven years ago but you can't help but see Brexit metaphors - a threat of food shortages and outsiders to blame for a multitude of ills.

Judith and Sam have had a run of trouble stemming from one date but, despite the obvious, they are fearful of the consequences of questioning the logic behind the Foxfinder's theories.

Who dares question the logic?

There is one person who does question the logic, their neighbour Sarah (Bryony Hannah), but getting caught denouncing the fox propaganda is extremely dangerous.

The set is cleverly designed overlapping interior and exterior to give the scope of the play's setting (see production photos below).

Paul Nicholls is particularly good as a man grasping an idea as a path to personal salvation and Bryony Hannah is fiery as Sarah.

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Review: Misty, Trafalgar Studios - Putting the pulse back into West End Theatre

A play that stimulates, entertains and enlivens and leaves you feeling like you've been at a gig

IMG_0079Arinzé Kene's play Misty has transferred to the Trafalgar Studios from a sell-out run at the Bush Theatre giving more people the opportunity to see a play that is unlike anything else you'll see in the West End at the moment.

Mixing form, media and performance style, there is a fictional tale told in verse - accompanied by Shiloh Coke on drums and Adrian McLeod on keyboards - about an incident on a night bus that has bigger consequences.

Recollections of a creative journey

This story is intercut with a series of conversations, voicemail messages and narrated emails that illustrate Arinzé's creative journey with amusingly blunt commentary and opinion from friends and family.

His creative journey is further coloured with comically surreal moments, juxtaposing voices, images and performance in unexpected ways that reminded me of the style of filmmaker Charlie Kaufman - think Being John Malkovich, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind etc.

Struggles with orange balloons

All I'll add is that when you are encased in a body-sized orange balloon, the struggle is real.

Peppered with humour and witty observation the play questions storytelling - what is the right story to tell and for whom - examines the impact of gentrification on communities and culture's place in society.

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Review: Brendan Coyle in St Nicholas, Donmar Dryden Street

Seductive and sad, it revulsed, chilled and gripped.

Brendan Coyle in St Nicholas. Photo: Helen Maybanks

The Donmar has set about making this production of Conor McPherson's monologue St Nicholas an exclusive, intimate and atmospheric experience.

Performed by Brendan Coyle at the theatre's rehearsal space in Dryden Street, the temptation must have been to squeeze in as many seats as possible.

Seats feel part of the set

However, with only 50-odd tickets per performance, there is a generous amount of space which makes the seats feel part of the set.

The space is dressed to look like a faded drawing room or study with an old-fashioned desk, manual typewriter and a leather, swivel chair; the audience is drawn around in a sweeping arc as if invited in for a social gathering or recital.

The carpet is threadbare and dotted with water-filled buckets. Newspaper covers the windows, the lighting is dim; later you'll feel like you were part of a seance, watching Coyle conjure up dark demons.

Courting a response

He starts by drawing a kind of barrier, throwing handfuls of dried rice at the feet of those on the front row - his look as he meets your eye courts a response.

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Review: The Political History of Smack and Crack, Soho Theatre - witty, blunt and poetic

Edward's writing has the wit and bluntness of the Manchester vernacular but is inflected with a sugar-free poetry.

The Political History of Smack and Crack - courtesy of The Other Richard (3)
The Political History of Smack and Crack. Photo: The Other Richard

It's Manchester in the 1980s. Neil (Neil Bell) and Mandy (Eve Steele) are kids, too young to be out at night when they get caught up in the Moss Side riots that were to change the landscape and their futures.

We learn all this later on as the narrative flits back and forth revisiting pivotal moments in their relationship.

Based on writers experiences

Writer Ed Edwards, who has based The Political History of Smack and Crack on his own experiences with narcotics dependency, has his protagonists speak in the third person, telling their own story as if observers.

First and foremost it is a love story, two friends in love with drugs and getting a rise from shoplifting and thieving but also in love with each other in their own way.

A life of drugs and crime don't make for a healthy relationship creating a toxic cocktail of blind camaraderie, encouragement and destruction.

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Review: Life after being a child star in That Girl, Old Red Lion

That Girl manages to be both a unique character study and easily relatable in the way it examines early adulthood.

That Girl is Hatty (Hatty Jones) plucked from obscurity to play the lead in what would become a cult children's film. Now grown up she works in advertising and we find her struggling with adult life transitions.

That GirlHer comfortable routine of work, Turkish takeaways and reading fan mail is under threat as her flatmates are moving out and on with their boyfriends.

Hatty isn't the easiest of people to live with she's needy, self-centred and manipulative - you do wonder how her friends haven't run out of patience with her.

Glimpses of vulnerability

But there is also a vulnerability to her, you get glimpses of it when she talks about her coping mechanisms, in her anxiety attacks and the way she grasps for the familiar.  

There is an immaturity in her behaviour as if she has not been allowed to grow up or perhaps she is trying to reclaim a lost childhood?

It leads her to inappropriate behaviour that doesn't endear her to her friends, isolating her further.

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