61 posts categorized "Hampstead Theatre" Feed

Review: The Art of Illusion, Hampstead Theatre (Downstairs) - the magic doesn't always translate

The Art of Illusion won several awards when it opened in Paris in 2014. Now it gets its London premiere at the Hampstead Theatre but will this play about magic and illusion conjure up some English awards?

Martin Hyder  Kwaku Mills  Norah Lopez-Holden & Rina Fatania in The Art of Illusion_credit Robert Day smll
Martin Hyder, Kwaku Mills, Norah Lopez-Holden & Rina Fatania in The Art of Illusion, Hampstead Theatre Jan 2023. Photo: Robert Day

It is a play with two timelines. In 1984 a man named December (Brian Martin) meets a woman named April (Bettrys Jones) in a cafe to return her bag, which he 'found'.

He tells her how he was obsessed with magic as a child and the famous 19th Century illusionist Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. They set out to find what would have been Houdin's basement theatre.

Then in the second timeline, we follow the story of Houdin's life, career and what followed at his theatre. 

We switch between the stories at an increasingly rapid pace all the time with unsubtle reminders about illusion and reality. But there are also questions about chance and fate. The coincidence of December and April meeting and both being named after months is just the tip of a very big iceberg.

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Theatre best of: Stan's top 10 plays 0f 2022

Best of theatre 2022
This feels like a moment; I haven't been able to do a best-of theatre list since 2019 because of 'you know what'. It's been huge fun revisiting the plays I've seen - nearly 50. And while that total is down on pre-pandemic levels, it was still tricky to narrow down my choices, but here goes.

1. The Collaboration, Young Vic

Synopsis in a sentence: Andy Warhol's star is waning, and young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat's star is rising; they have nothing in common but are persuaded to collaborate.

From my review: "I was gripped in the presence of two great artists and gripped by their stories. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, and if I felt compelled to tap my toes at the start, by the end, I was on my feet, and that's something I rarely do."

The play is now on Broadway, and look out for a film version (an actual film, not a filmed stage version).

2. Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

Synopsis in a sentence: The wayward Prince becomes King and has to prove himself to his country and foreign powers.

Not going to lie, Kit Harington surprised me with his performance in this.

From my review: "This is a powerful production of Henry V. Harington's nuanced, often quiet and considered Henry V perfectly highlights the complexity and often contradictory nature of the character and the role of leadership.

3. The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A woman has a final phone call with her lover, who is getting married the next day.

From my review: "It hasn't gone down well with all the critics, but I thought it was mesmerising and gripping. Hats off to Ruth Wilson."

4. Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A lesbian choir get a coveted spot on the main stage at Pride, mainly because they are the only lesbian choir to apply.

From my review: "It is a funny, interesting and occasionally challenging play that had me walking out of the theatre with a big grin on my face. And that is a big win."

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Review: Mary, Hampstead Theatre - politics and patriarchy in this tight historical thriller

There's a line towards the end of Rona Munro's play, Mary, that changes your perspective of the central character, Lord Melville, played by Douglas Henshall.

Douglas Henshall (James Melville) and Brian Vernel (Thompson) in Mary at Hampstead Theatre_credit Manuel Harlan
Douglas Henshall (James Melville) and Brian Vernel (Thompson) in Mary at Hampstead Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Set during the turbulent reign of Mary Queen of Scotts, Melville is her most loyal advisor. But, with a string of scandals and seemingly bad choices threatening her position, Melville is under increasing pressure to turn his back on the Queen. 

The play is a series of increasingly tense conversations between Melville, Thompson (Brian Vernel), who has risen rapidly up the ranks at court and Agnes (Rona Morison), a maid and vocal Protestant.

Thomspon and Agnes have little sympathy for the Queen and believe Scotland would be best served if she abdicated.

Can Melville win them around to his way of thinking and onto the side of the Queen, or will they convince him that putting the infant prince James on the thrown with a regent is the better path?

Queen Mary (Meg Watson) makes only two brief appearances and says very little, but her presence is a constant throughout as every decision, every look and smile is analysed and interpreted.

Simply staged with a wood-panelled backdrop, two chairs and later a desk, the focus is firmly on a debate about the Queen's suitability to rule.

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Review: The Fellowship, Hampstead Theatre - missing in detail and nuance

Roy Williams' play The Fellowship centres on a small family unit, but there are a lot of big things going on.

The Fellowship Production Image 1 L-R CHERRELLE SKEETE  SUZETTE LLEWELLYN © Robert Day
The Fellowship, Hampstead Theatre, June 2022 L-R Cherrelle Skeete and Suzette Llewellyn © Robert Day

Dawn (Cherrelle Skeet) is grieving the loss of a child while caring for her terminally ill mother with little help from her high-flying lawyer sister Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn). She can tell her teenage son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) is lying to her, and if it's about what she suspects, she will be fuming.

Marcia, meanwhile, has got herself into a relationship with a married politician, which could potentially end her career, and Jermaine has rekindled ties with someone at the heart of a past tragedy.

Dawn and Marcia's mother was tough with her love, and the sisters were once close, fighting on the front line for justice but lead very different lives now. Jermaine has taken the path of least resistance and is drifting away. Tony (Trevor Laird), Dawn's husband and a touring musician, drifts in and out offering little support for any of it, just getting angry. 

The result is a lot of tension and drama, which highlights a whole raft of interesting themes. However, the result is a play that is over-stuffed and missing in detail and nuance.

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Review: The Breach, Hampstead Theatre - a slow burning, perplexing play

There is a stillness that descends over a theatre audience when they are gripped and fidgeting when they aren't. In the first half of The Breach at Hampstead Theatre, the audience was fidgeting.

The Breach Production Image 10 L-R STANLEY MORGAN  DOUGGIE MCMEEKIN  JASMINE BLACKBOROW  SHANNON TARBET © Johan Persson
The Breach, Hampstead Theatre, May 2022. L-R Stanley Morgan, Douggie McMeekin, Jasmine Blackborow, Shannon Tarbet. Photo © Johan Persson

Naomi Wallace's play is a slow burn. And this is despite it switching between younger and older versions of the same characters so that you know some of what ultimately happens, just not what triggered it. That comes in the second half and is where it gets interesting.

The younger versions of the characters inhabit 1977. Jude (Shannon Tarbet) is very protective of her brother Acton (Stanley Morgan), who is very clever but bullied for his perceived strangeness. Their mother is struggling to pay the bills after the death of their father in an industrial accident.

Frayne (Charlie Beck) and Hoke (Alfie Jones) both come from comfortable backgrounds. They want Acton's help with their school work and agree to keep the bullies at bay in return.

Jude is suspicious and doesn't brook any nonsense. Despite this, Frayne, Hoke and Acton form a tight but toxic friendship of dependency and power. They begin to challenge each other to make sacrifices to prove their loyalty.

These are sacrifices with increasingly dark consequences.

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Review: The Fever Syndrome, Hampstead Theatre - witty remarks amid a cacophony of themes

Modern families, money and the morals of genetics are just a few of the narrative tensions in Alexis Zegerman's play The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre.

The Fever Syndrome Image 1 Ensemble Photo © Ellie Kurttz
The Fever Syndrome, Hampstead Theatre April 2022. Photo © Ellie Kurttz

The family at the centre of the story is that of Richard Myers (Robert Lindsay), an eminent geneticist who now has Parkinson's Disease. He lives in a brownstone in Manhatten with his third wife, Megan (Alexandra Gilbreath), who does her best to care for him.

His grown-up children have returned home to see him presented with a prestigious science award.

His eldest child by his first wife is Dot (Lisa Dillon), who has her husband and 12-year daughter in tow. She is sharp, driven and highly protective of her daughter, who has a rare auto-inflammatory condition called the Fever Syndrome.

Then there are the twins Anthony (Sam Marks) and Thomas (Alex Waldmann) by his second wife. Anthony is charismatic, charming, and an opportunistic investor in Silicon Valley - his latest venture is cryptocurrencies. He's the favourite despite his rare appearances at family gatherings.

Thomas is an artist and has his boyfriend with him. He's the odd one out, not being adept at science and desperately wants approval.

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Review: The Forest, Hampstead Theatre - marriage, masks and our darker side

Florian Zeller's new play The Forest is like looking at broken mirror pieces, it is you, yet the angle is a little bit different in each piece. It follows Pierre, a successful surgeon who's married and the father of a grown-up daughter, as he juggles his professional and family life with having a mistress.

The Forest Production Image 1 featuring TOBY STEPHENS  GINA MCKEE © The Other Richard
The Forest, Hampstead Theatre, 2022: TOBY STEPHENS & GINA MCKEE. Photo © The Other Richard

The first inkling you get that he is duplicitous is his reaction to the news that his daughter has caught her partner cheating. He is sympathetic but doesn't think it's that big of a deal.

It's a stark contrast to what unfolds when his own affair threatens to be exposed. Or at least what he fantasises.

I confess that there is a moment in the play when the train jumps tracks, and it nearly left me behind. If you've seen The Father, you know that Zeller can play with timelines, and he does something similar here with the same scenes played out with subtle differences.

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Review: Peggy For You, Hampstead Theatre - an entertaining snapshot of a theatre star

Peggy Ramsay (Tamsin Greig) is a play agent, but she is more famous than the playwrights and the work that she represents. Written by Alan Plater, a client of the real Peggy, the play is set in her office in the late 1960s and covers a day in her life.

Peggy For You Production Image 4 featuring TAMSIN GREIG © Helen Maybanks
Peggy For You, Hampstead Theatre 2021 starring Tamsin Greig. Photo © Helen Maybanks

It opens with Peggy reposed on a chaise lounge, reading play scripts. As she reads them, she makes a series of phone calls through which we learn it is early morning, and she's been up all night bailing out one of her clients who has had a brush with the law.

We also learn that Peggy has little regard for the hour and the disturbance that her early calls cause.

As the day progresses, there's the arrival of a promising young playwright Simon (Josh Finan), who, when told what he has written isn't a play, asks: 'What is a play?' It becomes a running theme as Peggy asks various clients for their answers.

Then there is her golden boy playwright, Philip (Jos Vantyler), who arrives announcing that he is getting married, much to Peggy's chagrin - she believes it will kill his creativity. And a disgruntled ex-golden boy Henry (Trevor Fox) visits to tell Peggy he is tired of her interference.

To add to the office bustle, the phone regularly rings. Her secretary Tessa (Danusia Samal), handles calls and other demands, like buying an atlas so Peggy can see where two Yorkshire based playwrights live.

Peggy For You is a character piece where the activity is designed to show who Peggy was and how she was rather than taking her on a journey.

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Review: 'Night, Mother, Hampstead Theatre - drama without drama

There's a moment right at the end of 'Night, Mother which tugged on my heartstrings and that surprised me.

The play is set in rural America, where a mother (Stockard Channing) and daughter Jessie (Rebecca Night), who has epilepsy, live together. It's quickly apparent that Jessie is the household organiser, making sure her mother has enough of her favourite sweets and biscuits.

Stockard Channing and  Rebecca Night. Photography by Marc Brenner.
Stockard Channing and Rebecca Night in 'Night, Mother, Hampstead Theatre 2021. Photography by Marc Brenner.

In some ways it reminded me of the premise for Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane which, coincidentally, I saw earlier in the week at the Lyric Hammersmith, except this relationship has far less hatred and vitriol.

Just what their relationship is, like Beauty Queen, is slowly revealed, but in Marsha Norma's play, it's through the lens of a limited time frame. Very early in the play, Jessie tells her mother she is going to kill herself that evening.

Despite the fact that this will be their last evening together, there is a sort of calm activity.  Mother and daughter talk about the 'why', going over the past, but all the time Jessie is organising and tidying.

There is a confident and steady control about everything she does, but we've not seen her before tonight, so there is nothing to compare her behaviour to; instead, we rely on what she tells us about her feelings. 

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Review: The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre - siblings spar over childhood memories

In the bedroom set on the Hampstead Theatre stage, three grown-up sisters are arguing or is it bickering? Even that becomes a point of contention. It will be a scene familiar to many with siblings, the shared upbringing that can be a comfort but equally provide all the right triggers to arguments.

The Memory of Water Production Image 7 Sitting Front L-R Lucy Black  Carolina Main Back Laura Rogers © Helen Murray sml
The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre 2021. Front L-R Lucy Black Carolina Main Back Laura Rogers © Helen Murray

The three sisters in Shelagh Stephenson's play The Memory of Water - Teresa (Lucy Black), Mary (Laura Rogers) and Catherine (Carolina Main) - have gathered at their mother's home ahead of her funeral.

Teresa, the oldest, runs a herbal remedy business with her solid husband Frank (Kulvinder Ghir), always organising and making lists but tired of taking all the responsibility.

Mary is a doctor and having an affair with married TV doctor Mike (Adam James). She's the 'successful' one, perceived as the golden child who had an easy ride. But she's haunted by her mother Vi's resentful ghost (Lizzie McInnerny) and finding something from her past.

Catherine is the youngest. Over from Spain, where she lives with the latest in a string of unfaithful boyfriends. She's a hypochondriac, irresponsible ("broke doesn't mean you can't buy stuff") and feels overlooked, which makes her self-centred and needy.

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