283 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

Review: Spy Plays, Above The Stag - sophisticated gay spy thrillers

Spy plays by David Thame are two pieces based on real events, 55 years apart and linked by themes of espionage and gay liaisons.

Spy Plays programme

The first, London/Budapest, is set in 1955 where successful gay author Adam (Guy Warren Thomas) picks up handsome young airman Reg (Max Rinehart) at a sauna and takes him home.

Adam is erudite and eloquent, quick and observant but perhaps not quick enough - or maybe he doesn't want to see?

Flashbacks reveal more about his background, including a friendship with Guy Burgess who defected to the Soviet Union, which give the authorities enough grounds to be suspicious of his loyalties.

But while Adam may not be as innocent as he claims to be, is Reg being equally honest?

The tension mounts, is the sex functional, a ruse or is there something more, will this liaison end in the usual way?

Kompromat, which was first performed at the Vault Festival last year, has similar tensions although the narrative is reversed starting with final events so the question is how it got to that point.

It is set in 2010 and inspired by the death of GCHQ employee Gareth Williams whose body was found in a sports bag in his Pimlico flat while he was on secondment to MI6 in London. 

Tom (Warren Thomas) is the brainy country bumpkin for whom the freedom and accessibility of London's gay scene have made him joyously wide-eyed, naive or purposefully unobservant?

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Review: Scenes With Girls, Royal Court - intelligent, fresh and funny, I want more theatre like this please

I want to see more plays like Scenes With Girls. While women talking about sex and talking about liking sex, isn't as unusual as it once was, what I particularly enjoyed about Miriam Battye's play is how it moves the discussion into the context of feminism.

Scenes with girls ticket

Tosh (Tanya Reynolds) and Lou (Rebekah Murrell) are best friends.  While boyfriends and other friends have come and gone their friendship has endured.

They are feminists, eschewing conventional stereotypes of what women should and shouldn't do.

For Lou, this means subverting what she sees as society's prescribed narrative of women needing to be in a relationship.

Badge of honour

She is determined to create a new narrative, enjoying sex but nothing more. She sees the increasing number of sexual partners she's had as a badge of honour.

Tosh meanwhile hasn't had sex for a long time.

When their old friend Fran (Letty Thomas) turns up engaged to her 'boring' boyfriend it seems to confirm everything they believe about the 'female narrative'.

Cracks appear

But in dissecting Fran's relationship and everything they perceived to be wrong about it, it challenges their principles and exposes cracks in their friendship.

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Review: The Co-op, White Bear Theatre, Kennington - fun, if sometimes clunky comedy

Make It Beautiful Theatre's first production, The Co-op, is about three actors who have set up their own acting agency.

The Co-op Make It Beautiful Theatre
They spend their day, drinking and trying to get auditions for each other, being supportive and barely hiding jealousy and rivalry.

But a crisis is looming for the agency and it isn't just that Caza is skint.

The narrative thread is more of a vehicle for a series of sketches that are part homage to famous films and different genres and part gentle satire on the fickleness of the acting industry and audition process.

Don't look for too much coherence and consistency in the story because there isn't much.

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Review: Lullabies For The Lost, Old Red Lion - emotionally vivid and powerful but a problem ending

Lullabies For the Lost is one of two plays by Rosalind Blessed about mental health that are being performed in rep at the Old Red Lion.

Rosalind Blessed and cast  Lullabies for the Lost  courtesy of Adam Trigg
Rosalind Blessed and cast Lullabies for the Lost, Old Red Lion Theatre. Photo: Adam Trigg

It starts with Larry (Chris Porter) agonising about going out to dinner with his friends, as the clock ticks closer to the time he needs to leave.

His dilemma is nothing to do with the company but his anxiety about social situations and he tests out excuses for why he isn't able to go - which raise a few laughs - but it is nonetheless heartbreaking to see the pain his anxiety causes.

And there is a lot of that in Lullabies for the Lost as it cycles through 8 stories of different mental health conditions - depression, anorexia, bulimia, chronic low self-esteem, hoarding, among others.

Lighter moments

Some of the stories are harrowing but some show a more humorous side bringing lighter moments. 

Blessed has the sufferers stuck in a white room, doomed to retell their stories until they can find the key that will unlock their condition - let them back out into the world.

'We have to solve our riddles.'

The room feels like a slightly clunky device and the conversations between its occupants - a mixture of bickering and encouragement - adds little to the overall narrative or tension.

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End of year review: My favourite theatre of 2019, a year of dazzling performances, wit, drama and tears

It's been tough but I've managed to whittle down my 'best theatre of 2019' list to 10 plays, well, one isn't actually a play but deserves a place nonetheless. So here goes, in no particular order:

Jon-tyson-1Mq4QQaVhis-unsplash
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

1. Downstate, National Theatre

A challenging, difficult play with humour and wit inflected with wisdom that carefully balanced entertainment without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter.

2. Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre

I wasn't that enamoured with Jamie Lloyd's season of Pinter shorts and then came along Betrayal and it was utterly breathtaking.

The sparse script was layered with nuanced performances from Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox. What wasn't said screamed loud.

3. Seven Methods For Killing Kylie Jenner, Royal Court upstairs

This made a lot of what is on stage in London look stodgy and staid. A fresh and achingly contemporary play that cleverly and boldly tackled social media and what it reveals about modern society.

4. Hansard, National Theatre

One of those plays that get mentioned a lot in theatre conversations, this was an extremely witty and acerbic political drama/comedy which had an unexpected emotional punch.

I loved it also for its balance approached in scrutinising both left and right-leaning politics.

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Interview: "It's a bit like being in an episode of The Thick of It... set in 1979" - Owen Kingston on his new immersive show.

Parabolic Theatre’s immersive theatre show Crisis? What Crisis? cracks open the government machine and gives the audience the chance to get hands-on with the levers of power.

Owen Kingston
Director Owen Kingston

I spoke to director Owen Kingston about the show, what immersive theatre adds to the audience experience, how the company prepare for the unexpected and advice for those who are shy about getting involved?

Crisis? What Crisis? Is an immersive experience - how does it work?

All the events of the show take place in a Government office building in 1979.

The country has just been through the “winter of discontent” where strikes brought the country to its knees, and now Jim Callaghan's government is facing a vote of no confidence.  

In our shows, the audience is firmly in the driving seat narrative-wise.

We don't go as far as giving our audience specific roles, but we do give them a reason to be present in the world of the show.

In “Crisis? What Crisis?” our audience members are special advisors to government ministers, and they have been gathered together to try and solve some of the big problems facing the country while all the MPs are in parliament debating in advance on the no-confidence vote. 

The audience as a whole has to actively engage with these problems and try and solve them.

This can involve negotiating with Union representatives over the phone or in person, persuading MPs to try and vote in a particular manner, or choosing financial policies to enact to try and stabilise the economy.

The whole thing feels like a cross between a theatre performance and a board game, where the decisions taken by the audience affect the direction of the story.

Tackling problems affecting one part of the country might worsen problems in another part, and it is down to the audience to prioritise what to fix and how, and to try and work out what will have the biggest influence on the no-confidence vote, which is the ultimate metric of success or failure.

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Review: Hansard, National Theatre - exceptionally witty, acidic and punchy drama

Simon Woods' debut play Hansard, a political drama, is set in 1988 but feels like it was written for now. Certainly watching it on the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he was going to prorogue Parliament added an extra frisson of meaning to some of the lines.

Hansard poster national theatre

Set in the Cotswolds home of Tory MP Robin Hesketh (Alex Jennings) he is reunited with his wife Diana (Lindsay Duncan) having returned from working in London for the week.

Thatcherism is in full swing, the UK economy is riding high on an economic boom and the Poll Tax is on its way but all is not right in the Hesketh house and it's not just the foxes digging up the garden or Diana's hangover.

A two-hander it starts off as the sort of bickering long term couples almost enjoy, the familiar digs and quips but the comments become increasingly barbed and weighted.

Diana isn't the traditional Tory wife, she doesn't like the Tories for a start and isn't shy about it but Robin doesn't hold back in his opinion of her more liberal, left-leaning views either.

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Review: A Very Expensive Poison, Old Vic - feeling conflicted about this

I haven't felt this conflicted about a play for a long time.

A Very Expensive Poison running times

Lucy Prebble's' new work is based on a book by Luke Harding about the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

The play opens with Marina Litvinenko (MyAnna Buring) talking to a lawyer about getting justice for her husband in the face of a British Government reluctant to damage diplomatic relations with Russia.

We then jump back to when Alexander (Tom Brooke) first got sick, then back again further to his life in Russia. It threads together how the Russian ended up as a British citizen, a target for the KGB and the investigation into his poisoning

Gripping yarn

It's a gripping yarn but where I'm conflicted is in different styles of storytelling employed.

By turns, it is an edge of the seat thriller, witty satire and a Vaudevillian style farce and is the latter which sits uncomfortably.

The fact is a man died a prolonged, drawn-out unpleasant death in a state-sponsored assassination but many of the Russians of the play are presented as a mixture of 'Carry on the KGB'  and an Austin Powers movie villain.

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Review: The Colours, Soho Theatre - quiet ordinariness is this play's secret power

Harriet Madeley's The Colours is a verbatim play based on interviews with people with life-limiting illnesses and those working in palliative care.

Morfydd-Clark-and-Mark-Knightley-in-The-Colours-Photographer-Hannah-Anketell
Morfydd Clark and Mark Knightley in The Colours: Photo: Hannah Anketell

While researching the play, Madeley herself was diagnosed with a potentially life-limiting illness but rather than fraught emotional meaning-of-life drama this a piece of quiet ordinariness - which is its secret power. 

It starts in darkness projecting the audience by way of a soundscape to the seaside but what it is, in reality, is a therapy session at a Welsh hospice.

Sands of time

Sand is a physical motif throughout. It represents the shoreline, the beach from patients' therapy sessions but also the flowing sands of time as seen from the bucket at the back of the stage.

We are introduced to two cancer patients and another with motor neurone disease, getting snatches of their conversations with family, doctors and their thoughts through diagnosis, initial treatments and then palliative care.

The tone, for want of a better comparison, is like animation series Creature Comforts which is voiced by ordinary people.

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Review: Tree, Young Vic - spectacle and atmosphere but I wanted more digging around the themes

When it opened at the Manchester International Festival last month, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah's highly anticipated immersive production Tree was marred in controversy over authorship credits - to which both have responded.

Cast-members-in-Tree-at-Manchester-International-Festival-runs-at-Young-Vic-from-29-July.-Credit-Marc-Brenner-12-Custom
Cast members in Tree at Manchester International Festival. At the Young Vic from 29 July to 24 August. Photo: Marc Brenner.

It's now in residence at the Young Vic and interest remains untarnished if the long queue of people waiting for the doors to open is anything to go by.

Tree tells the story of London-born Kaelo (Alfred Enoch) and his journey to scatter his white mother's ashes in her South Africa homeland.

There he meets his white grandmother (Sinead Cusack) and black half-sister (Joan Iyiola) for the first time and sets out to discover what happened to his father.

Dance with the cast

The play opens with a club DJ playing music from Elba's own album and the audience is encouraged to dance on the low circular stage among the cast.

I did see one couple getting a selfie with Alfred Enoch - not sure if that is in keeping with the character of the piece or not.

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