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April 2023

Review: Jules and Jim, Jermyn Street Theatre - Alternative lives and love but the effect feels muted

Alex Mugnaioni  Samuel Collings and Patricia Allison in Jules and Jim_Jermyn Street Theatre_photography by Steve Gregson
Alex Mugnaioni, Samuel Collings and Patricia Allison in Jules and Jim, Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo by Steve Gregson

Jules and Jim is an exploration of love and friendship told through the lens of three people living an unconventional lifestyle. Jules (Samuel Collings) is a German poet who meets Frenchman Jim (Alex Mugnaioni) in Paris.

They share a love of art and travel together until Kath (Patricia Allison) arrives with an enigmatic smile that mirrors the one they saw on a statue of a Goddess in Greece. Naturally, they both fall in love with her.

Jim has a history of falling for Jules' girlfriends, but when Jules says Kath is out of bounds for him, you can easily guess what is going to happen.

Over 90 minutes, we follow the trio across the decades that straddle the first world war. They move about, live in Paris, Berlin and rural Germany, visit each other, marry, take lovers, they have children and miscarriages.

Solid friendships

But all the time, they are open with each other about their relationships and feelings. There are flares of jealousy, but nothing seems to rock the foundations of their friendship and love. 

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Review: Dancing at Lughnasa, National Theatre

Dancing at Lughnasa National Theatre
Dancing at Lughnasa, National Theatre, April 2023

Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa is a memory play told from the perspective of Michael (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), nephew to five sisters living in a cottage near the fictional town of Ballybeg. 

He recalls a particular childhood Summer which shaped the future of the family.

His narrative isn't always linear, sometimes he tells you what is coming before it happens, injecting a layer of melancholy and foreboding underneath the laughter, hope and dancing that breaks out when the wireless decides to work. 

Kate (Justine Mitchell) is the 'matriarch' and breadwinner, a teacher and a strict follower of social and religious values. Maggie (Siobhán McSweeney) is the homemaker and fun-bringer who loves riddles.

Chris (Alison Oliver) is the unmarried mother of Michael, a romantic prone to depression after the fleeting and unplanned visits of Gerry (Tom Riley), Michael's father.

Agnes (Louisa Harland) and Rose (Bláithín Mac Gabhann) knit gloves to sell in the town earning very little, and the latter has a simple, child-like naiveté despite her age.

The sisters are a tight affectionate unit, each with their particular chores. Teasing, jokes, gossip - and the dancing - cement the narrow landscape of their lives. 

It is pertinent that the central narrative drivers are the arrival of men into the story. There are Gerry's sporadic visits and the return home of Jack (Ardal O'Hanlon), the sisters' brother.

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Review: Snowflakes, Park Theatre - dark but flawed

Snowflakes Production Images Park Theatre April 2023 (c) Jennifer Evans (49)
Robert Boulton, Henry Davis and Louise Hoare in Snowflakes, Park Theatre, April 2023 (c) Jennifer Evans

Robert Boulton's play Snowflakes takes cancel culture to the extreme. A start-up business metes out 'justice' for offences and offending on social media. Live streamed, the 'defendant' is given a chance to put their case and the audience votes on whether they can walk or are killed on camera.

The 'hitman/hitwoman' decide on the style of death. Yes, it is dark.

Waking up in a hotel room having spent the night with a woman that isn't his wife, Tony (Henry Davis) is ambushed and drugged by Marcus (played by Boulton) and Sarah (Louise Hoare).

The former is an old hand at this 'work' and relishes it. Sarah is on her first job and wants to do everything by the book, but that seems to include riling Marcus by accusing him of disliking women which had me jumping ahead of the story.

Setting up the equipment while discussing the job, their route into it and the pros and cons turns into rather a long preamble to the actual 'trial'. It stretches the tension of the first half a little too thin.

But when Tony is conscious, and events truly kick off, it is not the most relaxing watch having events unfold in such close proximity (this is in the Park's studio theatre).

Having an unseen digital audience voting on the 'defendant's' fate is an interesting idea. Keyboard trolling is taken to the extreme; it highlights the ease with which people can separate themselves from the real impact of their actions if viewed via a screen.

And our two assassins carry out the audience's will; it's a job like a judge handing down the results of a jury trial.

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Review: Private Lives, Donnmar Warehouse - odd choices make for difficult watch at times

Private Live Donmar Warehouse April 2023

The first thing I said to my friend during the interval of Private Lives at the Donmar Warehouse was, 'I don't remember this being a play about domestic violence'.

We'd just witnessed Elyot (Stephen Mangan) and Amanda (Rachael Stirling) having a physical fight which included Elyot grabbing Amanda by the throat and throwing her onto a sofa.

This wasn't slapstick violence which you might expect in a comedy of this type but vicious, and it wasn't funny.

A woman was overheard asking an usher why there wasn't a content warning. There is one, but it's tucked away on the website to avoid spoilers.

And it's not a play I'd think to look for content warning.

You expect verbal cuts and bruises as bitterly divorced couple Elyot and Amanda find themselves in neighbouring rooms while on their respective honeymoons. But the physical fighting feels like an odd choice.

The play is, in essence, about a couple who can't live without each other but equally can't live with each other - despite agreeing on a 'time-out' word when they are bickering.

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Review: Sea Creatures, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs - a strange and unsatisfactory mix

Grace Saif with Tom Mothersdale in Sea Creatures_credit Marc Brenner
Grace Saif with Tom Mothersdale in Sea Creatures, Hampstead Theatre, April 2023, Photo: Marc Brenner

Cordelia Lynn's play is set in an old fisherman's cottage, which has been extended over the years and now includes a glass-fronted kitchen area from where you can take in the view of the sea.

The cottage and its contemporary extension are a bit like its inhabitants: A modern family with a love of old stories and myths full of sea creatures like mermaids and selkies.

It's a holiday retreat owned by Shirley (Geraldine Alexander), a professor who doesn't like anyone in her office unless invited.

Her partner Sarah (Thusitha Jayasundera), is an artist who paints urban landscapes when she is in the country and the country when she's in the city. Toni (Grace Saif) is Shirley's youngest daughter and 'consciously naive' (she behaves like someone much younger), and her sister George (Pearl Chanda) is unhappily pregnant.

Then there is the third sibling Robin, whose whereabouts is unknown. Her boyfriend, Mark (Tom Mothersdale), is staying in her room in the hope that she turns up.

And that's kind of the play, the wait and the whereabouts of Robin.

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Review: A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre - a tough but compelling watch

A little life harold pinter theatre
A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre April 2023

A Little Life, the adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara's tome of a novel, is not an easy watch. It's taken me two days to feel able to revisit it because of the subject matter and ultimately how the story made me feel.

I couldn't record my usual 60-second review because I was too emotionally raw, as the video below captures.

It's a play with severe content warnings and it isn't a one-off event that earns the label; this is a play that is challenging throughout. It explores sexual violence and self-harm, among other things, and it is explicit in its descriptions and depictions - little is implied.

But it's also a play of enduring friendships, love and support.

Jude St Francis (James Norton) is a brilliant lawyer. He was orphaned as a young child, brought up in care and has problems with his legs, which means he sometimes uses a wheelchair.

Solid friendships

He has three very good friends: Willem (Luke Thompson), an actor, JB (Omari Douglas), an artist and Malcolm (Zach Wyatt), an architect. He is also loved by his old university professor Harold (Zubin Varla), who wants to formally adopt him and is diligently cared for by his doctor Andy (Emilio Doorgasingh).

The latter knows more than the others about Jude from treating him, but the details of his early life are still scant.

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