71 posts categorized "Hampstead Theatre" Feed

Review: Visit From An Unknown Woman, Hampstead Theatre - Mystery and chemistry

Natalie Simpson as Marianne and James Corrigan as Stefan_credit Marc Brenner
Natalie Simpson as Marianne and James Corrigan as Stefan. Photo: Marc Brenner

It's curious that the play description on the Hampstead Theatre website for Visit From An Unknown Woman focuses on the male character, Stefan, played by James Corrigan, while the story firmly revolves around the mysterious Marianne (Natalie Simpson).

Based on a short story by Stefan Zweig and adapted for the stage by Christopher Hampton, the 1930s Vienna-set play opens with Stefan arriving at his sparse apartment with a woman he's just picked up at a nightclub.

Or at least he thinks he just picked her up. Marianne, it seems, is more familiar with Stefan than he is with her. The clue is in the younger version of Marianne (Jessie Gattward), who haunts the edges of the stage.

The source short story is a letter Marianne writes to Stefan, a successful novelist and her former neighbour.

In the play, she has the majority of the dialogue, which means that Marianne becomes the main conduit through which we learn about Stefan and how her life is linked to his. 

A childhood crush on him has developed into an obsession in adult life. She's been a keen observer/stalker of him ever since, to the point where she understands him probably better than he understands himself.

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Review: The Divine Mrs S, Hampstead Theatre - Moments of sparkle and laughter

Anushka Chakravarti  Rachael Stirling and Dominic Rowan_The Divine Mrs S_credit Johan Persson
Anushka Chakravarti, Rachael Stirling and Dominic Rowan in The Divine Mrs S at Hampstead Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

As The Divine Mrs S opens, we see brother and sister actors John Kemble (Dominic Rowan) and Sarah Siddens (Rachael Stirling) performing on stage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

John gives a booming, stilted performance in comic contrast with Sarah, who is far more natural and emotionally charged. In delivering her final line, she faints from the effort and is carried off stage, a common occurrence we later find out.

The audience laps it up. Mrs Sarah Siddons is a celebrated actress guaranteed to pack out the theatre in late 18th-century London. John believes himself to be a great actor and, as the manager of the theatre, chooses the plays and casts himself in the starring roles.

Not that there are any lead roles for actresses.

Sarah might be adored for her stage performances but that doesn't stop the newspapers and gossip rags tearing into her for not being at home with her husband and children.

When one of her daughters gets sick and dies, she is accused of neglect.

Rachael Stirling's Mrs S is commanding and effervescent. She is sharp and witty character, which alongside her acting talent become her weapons - the only weapons she is afforded in a male-dominated society.

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2023 theatre round up - top 10 favourite plays (and 4 least favourite)

Best of theatre 2023 montage

It feels like theatre returned with a splash in 2023 after the dark days of Covid. I saw 62 and a half plays (64 and a half, including second viewings) across London's plethora of theatres, from tiny pubs to big West End stages.

Here are my favourite 10 plays - in no particular order (links are to the full review).

1. No One, Omnibus Theatre

This was a fun, lively and inventive storytelling, with brilliant fight scenes.

2. Linck and Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre

Based on a real same-sex couple living in the 18th Century Prussia, this was a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play.

Mediocre white male king's head theatre

3. Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre

Subtle shifts and throwaway remarks build to make a powerful point.

4. A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre (and Savoy Theatre)

A harrowing and compelling play that utterly flawed me and I had to go back and see it again.

5. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre and Noel Coward Theatre

Superb performances in this sharp, funny and interesting play. So good, I had to see it twice.

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Review: Rock 'n' Roll, Hampstead Theatre - less talk more feeling, please

Nathaniel Parker & Jacob Fortune-Lloyd_Rock 'n' Roll_credit Manuel Harlan
Nathaniel Parker & Jacob Fortune-Lloyd in Rock 'n' Roll, Hampstead Theatre 2023. Photo Manuel Harlan

Cards on the table, I don't always get on with Tom Stoppard's plays. I love Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead but have yet to find another of his plays that resonates or connects with me. Would Rock 'n' Roll at the Hampstead Theatre be different?

This play is set in Cambridge and Czechoslovakia. It covers 20 or so years in the life of Marxist professor Max (Nathaniel Parker), his wife Eleanor (Nancy Carroll), daughter Esme (young Phoebe Horn, older Nancy Carroll) and post-grad student and rock music fan Jan (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd).

At the start of the play, Jan is returning to Czechoslovakia but has a falling out with Max about Communism. The younger is disillusioned with the Soviet version of communism, which involves restrictions and censorship, while the older remains a stalwart of the party.

Jan's obsession with music and his prized record collection become a symbol of freedom and resistance and something for which he gets into trouble when communist controls tighten in Prague.

Meanwhile, Esme is obsessed with Syd Barrett and claims to have seen him once (he lived in Cambridge). Barrett appears in references throughout the play.

Eleanor is a classical literature tutor, which becomes another cultural thread to be debated.

There are some passing romantic relationships, but the love story here is primarily about communism, music, and culture.

Stoppard's plays are deeply intellectual, often involving extended, densely worded debates. My problem is that the specific scientific/political/historical/cultural period in focus is usually unfamiliar, so I don't have any points of reference.

As such, I find myself distanced from the topics under discussion and hankering after the threads of human story.

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Review: To Have And To Hold, Hampstead Theatre - funny moments but lacks consistency

Marion Bailey and Alun Armstrong as Flo & Jack Kirk in To Have and To Hold_credit Marc Brenner
Marion Bailey and Alun Armstrong as Flo & Jack Kirk in To Have and To Hold, Hampstead Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner

Is Richard Bean's new comedy To Have and To Hold at the Hampstead Theatre as funny as One Man, Two Guv'nors? Comparison, when you've had such a big hit, is inevitable.

This has a very different setting; it's loosely based on his own family and centres on nonagenarians Jack (Alun Armstrong) and Flo (Marion Bailey).

They are getting to the point where living independently in their Humberside village of Wetwang is more tricky. Retired policeman Jack isn't very mobile and no longer drives, and Flo's eyesight and memory aren't great.

The couple rely on 'Rhubarb Eddie' (Adrian Hood) and Pamela (Rachel Dale) for shopping and help around the house and garden. Jack and Flo have been married for 70 years, and while parts of them might not work as well as they used to, they are still sharp enough mentally to bicker and argue constantly.

Grown-up children Rob (Christopher Fulford) and Tina (Hermione Gulliford) have taken time out from their busy lives and jobs to visit and try and sort out their situation.

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Review: Octopolis, Hampstead Theatre - Academics, an octopus and David Bowie

Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller in Octopolis_3_credit The Other Richard
Jemma Redgrave and Ewan Miller in Octopolis, Hampstead Theatre 2023. Photo: The Other Richard

Princess Diana's famous line: 'there were three people in my marriage' is given an eccentric twist in a line from Marek Horn's Octopolis: There were three people in my marriage... and 12 legs.

The legs refer to Frances, an octopus living in a tank in the home of Professor George Grey (Jemma Redgrave). She and her recently deceased husband have been studying Frances.

Anthropologist Dr Henry Giscard (Ewan Miller) is sent to stay at George's University-owned home and immediately clashes with the prickly, grieving Professor.

George continues to write papers on Frances, and Henry has his research to gather information for, but they find begrudging respect for each other in their mutual love of David Bowie - and debates about Frances.

Henry believes he can prove that Frances believes in a God, but George thinks that is nonsense and has her own ideas with which to dismiss his theory.

Their heated discussions about animals, humans, feelings and souls are peppered with asides, little observations of each other often delivered with deadpan wit.

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Review: Song From Far Away, Hampstead Theatre starring Will Young

Will Young in Song From Far Away at Hampstead Theatre. Photo Mark Senior-6
Will Young in Song From Far Away at Hampstead Theatre 2023. Photo: Mark Senior

Yes, I voted for Will Young on Pop Idol, but I've never seen him on stage as he's mainly done musicals, so I was excited to see him in Song From Far Away.

The fact that I loved the play the first time I saw it at the Young Vic back in 2015 added to the excitement.

It’s told in the form of letters Willem (Will Young) has written to his dead brother Pauli, recalling the trip home to Amsterdam for his funeral after 12 years away living in New York.

Willem is a sharp observer of the people he encounters and his family. His comments are arch. And yet he retreats from any meaningful connection, avoiding family engagements.

Rather he opts for casual sex in the hotel he is staying at and yearns for a relationship he had when he was younger that he ran away from.

His emotions, in part, reflect the stages of grief; he is in denial, he gets angry, he bargains, and he is depressed, but it is also driven by introspection sparked by the loss.

The sudden absence of his brother and the return home forces him to reflect on his life and his actions.

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Review: Re-Member Me, Hampstead Theatre - the funny and not so funny

Dickie Beau in Re-Member Me - photo credit Sarah Lewis
Dickie Beau in Re-Member Me. Photo: Sarah Lewis

You know when you are about 10 minutes into watching a play and think: 'I'm really enjoying this; it's going to be great'? That's how I felt watching Dickie Beau's Re-Member Me at Hampstead Theatre.

It starts with Beau lip-synching over interviews with actors who've played Hamlet in the past. The body language and facial expressions are exceptionally skilful and precise; it is like the voice has a body or the body a voice. 

The dialogue reveals more than insight into what it is like playing the much-coveted role of the 'The Dane'; it illuminates a vanity and pretension. It is laugh-out-loud funny in places.

Re-Member Me then focuses on Richard Eyre's production of Hamlet at the National Theatre in 1989, which initially starred Daniel Day-Lewis. Clips of interviews with those involved or who saw it get a similar lip-sync treatment, and again, it's a fascinating and often amusing behind-the-scenes look at a production of Hamlet.

The focus then stays on Ian Charleson, who ultimately took over the role of Hamlet after Day-Lewis pulled out. Interviews with Eyre, friends and actors who knew Charleson are lip-synched over video footage of four Dickie Beau 'talking heads' projected above the stage.

Joking and digs are put to one side as Charleson was very ill with AIDS when he took on the role. But the extended use of the video talking head's device means it starts to lose its power.

I found myself watching Beau moving the many shop mannequins around the stage and folding up the costumes that had been scattered around. Charleson's story is tinged with tragedy, a talent and career cut short, but I hankered after the fun, frivolity and insight of the earlier parts of the play.

Once the interviews are finished, there is a very long montage of scenes from Chariots of Fire of Charleson running; it felt like a laboured way to emphasise the vitality he once had.

Re-Member Me starts as an interesting yet light-hearted play about actors playing Hamlet and morphs into a sort of homage to Ian Charleson.

As a result, the opening section was tonally very different to what the play ultimately becomes, and while interesting and technically brilliant, I left with mixed feelings.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.

Re-Member Me, Hampstead Theatre

Written and performed by Dickie Beau

Directed by Jan Willem Van Den Bosch

Running time: 75 minutes without an interval

Booking until 17 June; for more information and to buy tickets, visit the Hampstead Theatre

Recently reviewed:

The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 16 July

A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 16 June, it then transfers to the Savoy Theatre for 5 weeks.


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: Linck & Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre - witty, effervescent and heartbreaking

Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn_ Credit Helen Murray_53
Helena Wilson and Maggie Bain in Linck & Mülhahn, Hampstead Theatre, Feb 2023. Photo: Helen Murray

Writer Ruby Thomas was in the British Library when she came across a reference Linck and Mulhahn, a same-sex couple in 18th Century Prussia who'd been living as husband and wife.

Using what information she could find as starting point and imagining the rest, Thomas has written a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play about their relationship, secret life and the subsequent outing.

It starts with Linck (Maggie Bain) living as a man - Anastasius - so they can be a soldier and Catharina Mulhahn (Helena Wilson) fighting her mother's attempts to match her with a suitable husband.

Anastasius is a skilled soldier and well-respected. Catharina is rebellious, constantly pushing against the boundaries society places on her sex. A chance encounter at a dressmakers shop sees the two verbally sparring; they fizzle and spark in each other's company.

There is an honesty in their biting, yet playful, exchanges that ignites something. When Catharina, with typical forwardness, proposes marriage Anastasius has to reveal that they aren't all they seem.

But Catharina is undeterred, and the two marry and set up a home together. Anastasius, who has now left the army, works as a dressmaker's apprentice and encourages Catharina to write.

It is a blissful existence built on a foundation of love and equality until Catharina's bored mother starts to dig into her 'son'-in-law's past.

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