Previous month:
November 2018
Next month:
January 2019

December 2018

2018 theatre review: Favourite moments from the surreal to the emotional and some awards

110+ plays and my first visit to the Edinburgh Fringe (15 plays in 6 days), 2018 was quite a year...

Magic and memorable moments:

Patsy Ferran in My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court. Photo: Helen Murray.

Feeling part of the set:  Sitting on a bean bag on the carpet in Patsy Ferran's 'bedroom' for My Mum's a Twat at the Royal Court (and she said hello to me).

Audience reaction #1: The audience gasping at the 'snap' during a scene in the RSC's Julius Caesar where a little boy's neck 'was broken’. Obviously, no child was harmed etc.

Audience reaction #2: Finding myself stood up singing Amazing Grace with the entire audience at the Royal Court during 'Notes From The Field'.

Actor interaction: Kia Charles winking at me and grinning during Quiz, Noel Coward Theatre (benefits of on-stage seating).

Surreal moment #1: Alex Hassell introducing himself to me and Poly was a bit surreal (stopped myself from blurting out 'I know, I saw you play Prince Hal/Henry V etc.)

But what made it more surreal is that we were in a church hall in Pimlico and after the meet and greet we sat in a circle to watch and sometimes be part of a production of Macbeth.

Continue reading "2018 theatre review: Favourite moments from the surreal to the emotional and some awards" »

2018 theatre review: My favourite plays of the year (and my first six star play)

So I've published my favourite fringe plays list and my least favourite plays list, time now for my best plays of 2018 overall, gleaned from everything I've seen - large productions and small, commercial theatres, subsidised and fringe:


Misty, Trafalgar Studios

A play which put the pulse back into the West End and as a result was a breath of fresh air.

A Monster Calls, Old Vic

I was nervous about seeing a stage adaptation of a much-loved book but the creativity with which it was staged combined with the performances meant I was an emotional wreck by the end. So much of an emotional wreck, I had to walk around for a bit afterwards to compose myself.

Queens of Sheba, Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe

A play about the dual prejudice of sexism and racism encountered by black women that succeeded in being both angry, uplifting and empowering.

It left me feeling teary in a happy/sad/exhilarated way and ready to march if the call came.

There is another chance to see it at the New Diorama Theatre, Jan 30-Feb 3 as part of the Vault Festival.

Notes from the Field, Royal Court

It was an uncomfortable, seat-squirming, horrifying joy to sit and experience and I gave it an unprecedented six stars. Yes, six stars.

Continue reading "2018 theatre review: My favourite plays of the year (and my first six star play)" »

2018 theatre review: My least favourite plays of the year

Not all the plays I see are brilliant. Some are 'OK' and easily forgotten but then there are those that haunt but not in a good way. Seeing 100+ shows a year it's inevitable that some will disappoint and these are the ones that did just that in 2018.

Allelujah Bridge Theatre sign1. A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre

I love Martin McDonagh's writing and his dark humour and was stupidly excited to see a new play but this wasn't going down as a favourite. 

It feels like a play that should have had another few months of development and it is the wasted opportunities and clunky moments that have stayed with me rather than the good bits.

2. Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre

A play and production that couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a surreal comedy or a thriller and failed at both. All the more disappointing because it had a great cast.

3. Allelujah, Bridge Theatre

Second entry for the Bridge on the list, this time a new Alan Bennett play which had me ducking out at the interval. It was too wrapped up in whimsey to carry any punch and by the interval getting an early night was more desirable than finding out what happened. 

4. Absolute Hell, National Theatre*

I found the plot too peripheral and with so many characters there was little depth. It felt very long.

Continue reading "2018 theatre review: My least favourite plays of the year" »

2018 theatre review: My 10 favourite fringe plays

Edinburgh Fringe media pass2018 was my first year at the Edinburgh Fringe which produced a bumper crop of excellent plays (look out for transfer details) but London has delivered some gems too.

Out of the 50-odd fringe plays there are 10 that really stand out but what strikes me most when revisiting them is how many evoked such a strong emotional reaction.

Yes, some are on the list for being highly entertaining but others made me feel angry or empowered or rebellious, some even a bit teary.

The other thing that strikes me is their diversity in ethnicity and gender balance tipped away from male dominance but I'll be writing more about that in another post.

So, in no particular order:

1. The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall

Based on research into Home Office procedures this exposes the farcical system that asylum-seekers encounter but more than that, how incompetence endangers people's lives. It made me very angry.

2. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Upstairs

It's been an incredible year for Patsy Ferran, kicked off in fine style with this solo performance in a play about a girl's relationship with her mother who has joined a cult. Funny and spirited it also had dark edges.

3. Coconut, Ovalhouse

An effervescent love story and a coming of age story that challenged stereotypes.

4. Flesh and Bone, Soho Theatre upstairs

Shakespeare-esque lyricism combined with East End vernacular cleverly takes you on a revealing and entertaining journey that elevates the stories of those that often overlooked. Shakespeare would, no doubt, have approved.

Continue reading "2018 theatre review: My 10 favourite fringe plays " »

Review: Circus 1903, Royal Festival Hall - joyous, thrilling and fun

Circus 1903 is a joyous show it brings wonder, thrills and humour back to the circus.

Circus 1903, Royal Festival Hall. Photo Manuel Harlan

Circus 1903 is a journey back in time to the huge travelling shows of early 20th century America which unearths new levels of thrills and entertainment.

Who would have thought that good old-fashioned knife throwing acts, balancing, acrobatics and contortionists could be quite as breathtaking to watch?

Ringmaster Willie Whipsnade is the guiding force, he introduces the acts with a classic flourish, filling interludes with magic, humour and audience interaction which mostly involves children who have volunteered to go up on stage and help.

These segments are important moments of bubbling frivolity and laughter, a touch of lightness before the next thrills begin.

Continue reading "Review: Circus 1903, Royal Festival Hall - joyous, thrilling and fun" »

Can we move beyond gender-swapping roles on stage and write better characters for women?

Bernhardt_Hamlet2A theatre announces that a classic male role will be played by a woman and gets a plethora of headlines as a result.

While giving a woman a meaty, lead role is something to be applauded, it exposes the shortcomings in onstage equality in theatre-land.

Gender swapping characters isn't fresh, new and exciting, it's starting to feel overused, calculated and like lip-service. 

Progress in Hollywood

Given the progress Hollywood seems to be making on equality and diversity theatre land needs to up its game.

In fact, recent research shows that films with a female lead have bigger box office takings than those with a male lead so there is also a business case.

Part of the problem is the reliance on regurgitating classic plays which tend to be male-dominated. 

Continue reading "Can we move beyond gender-swapping roles on stage and write better characters for women?" »

Review: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse - Globalism, the American Dream and human drama in Lynn Nottage's superb play

There is slow growing tension and tense personal drama in Sweat but it is also inconspicuously provocative.

ImageSeven years ago, playwright Lynn Nottage started spending time in Reading, Pennsylvania, one of the poorest towns in America and wrote Sweat based on her experiences there.

Set among a group of factory workers, what you get is in many ways a classic drama of friendship, jealousy and tragedy born out of a moment of madness. 

But globalisation and immigration beat at the heart of this story as, when the workers' way of life is threatened by layoffs, they are pitted against each other and big business.

Job for life ideology

This is a community brought up on the idea that a factory job is a job for life, where the reward for decades of hard, physical work is a good pension.

It is also a community where union cards are the key to the lucrative factory jobs but they are like elusive golden tickets if you aren't local or the right sort of local.

Two families form the centre of the narrative. Cynthia (Clare Perkins) works at the factory and her son Chris (Osy Ikhile) works there too but has longer-term plans to go to college.

Cynthia works with her friend Tracey (Martha Plimpton) and Tracey's son Jason (Patrick Gibson) who is happy to have his factory job and his life mapped out.

Friendships challenged

Tensions in their friendship first appear when there is an opportunity to apply for a promotion - the first person to make it off the factory floor into a management position.

Continue reading "Review: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse - Globalism, the American Dream and human drama in Lynn Nottage's superb play" »

Is it time for theatres to reward loyal ticket buyers and how should they do it?

When tickets went on sale for the concluding play in Jamie Lloyd's Pinter at the Pinter season - Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston - those who had already booked tickets for other, arguably less commercial plays, were given 24-hours priority booking*.


Tom Hiddleston is a big draw, Hollywood level stardom with a large fan base and demand was going to be high for tickets, so it felt like a genuine reward was being offered for those who are theatre fans first and foremost.

And I don't think I've seen a theatre do anything quite like this before.

Recognition for loyalty

The gesture and recognition for loyalty felt all the greater when a few days later the National Theatre sent out emails about the results of a ticket ballot for another play with a Hollywood star in the cast.

Cate Blanchett is taking to the Dorfman stage next year in a play directed by Katie Mitchell and, anticipating high demand, the National asked people to apply to go into the ballot for a chance to buy tickets. 

Continue reading "Is it time for theatres to reward loyal ticket buyers and how should they do it?" »

Theatre recommendation for the festive season: Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre

It's not a Christmas-themed show but Orpheus by Little Bulb Theatre is a such a joyous experience to watch it is perfect for the season.

I saw it twice when it had its first run at the Battersea Arts Centre back in 2013 and I'm so glad it's back so more people get to enjoy it.

The theatre is decked out like a French jazz cafe from the 1930s with tables so that you can sit back and enjoy a bottle of wine and perhaps some food. 

Describing what it is about and like is difficult - read my attempt here - but I was grinning throughout.

See it at BAC as part of the Phoenix Season until December 30


Review: Ellie Kendrick's play of female anger - Hole, Royal Court

It feels long, primarily because it's not so much one note as one emotion.

You'd be forgiven for thinking London's theatre scene had been taken over by Game of Throne's actors in the past month or so.

First Maisie Williams made her stage debut at Hampstead Theatre in I and You, then True West starring Kit Harington opened at the Vaudeville Theatre and now we have Hole, not starring but written by Ellie Kendrick.

Hole is a mixture of speech, song, movement and music exploring female anger through a series of stories, themes and metaphors.

Continue reading "Review: Ellie Kendrick's play of female anger - Hole, Royal Court" »