338 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

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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Review: For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, Garrick Theatre - seamless theatre

D) For Black Boys... (ensemble)
For Black Boys... (ensemble). Photo: © Johan Persson

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is a play of experiences told as a seamless stream of stories.

But the play itself has its own story. This is the second West End run for Nouveau Riche's production in just over 12 months, but it started with a sell-out run at the bijou New Diorama Theatre in Euston back in 2021. It then transferred to the Royal Court before securing its first stint in the West End at the Apollo Theatre. 

It is a dream come true for any theatre production and a much-deserved success. This is an exceptional piece of theatre.

Written by Ryan Calais Cameron, the play is divided roughly into two main acts with a third shorter concluding act.

The first half is served up with a rap soundtrack focusing on black boy experiences from school, among friends and peers and at home.

It's like an informal therapy session, different characters sharing different experiences which get picked over by the rest of the group.

They discuss how it has shaped their outlook and approach to life. It isn't formal but rather a dialogue peppered with revealing banter and teasing. There is agreement and disagreement, empathy and sometimes fights.

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Review: 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, Soho Theatre - pink sequins and wipe-clean rubber flooring

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals  credit to Arabella Kennedy-Compston (11)

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals at the Soho Theatre sets out its stall as you walk into the theatre and are asked to spit in a cup. It's a request that certainly sets you thinking.

Once inside, writer/performer Laurie Ward dances to a bouncy track in a pink sequined, halter-neck jumpsuit. The stage is covered in a pink, rubbery, wipe-clean tarpaulin.

It manages to be both frothy fun and slightly sinister at the same time.

The show is a montage of styles and stories. Snippets of verbatim theatre are woven between dance and movement segments and lip-syncing.

Trans women talk candidly about their experiences and feelings around love, sex, intimacy and their bodies. It reveals a heady mix of experiences, from the joyous to those that are much darker.

Sometimes, it is hard to keep up as the conversations weave tighter and tighter, and one story blends into another.

You also get Charli and Laurie's story, how they met and became best friends and their relationships with their parents. It is frank and honest, full of laughter and love, but as with all the stories, there is a darker edge.

There is a sense throughout of not knowing what will come next, which is exciting but also gives a sense of foreboding.

52 Monologues For Young Transsexuals is a play that fizzes with the light and shade of trans experience; it is pink sequins and certainly needs the wipe-clean rubber tarpaulin.

52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, Soho Theatre

Written and performed by Charli Cowgill and Laurie Ward

Movement Director Naissa Bjørn

Director Ilona Sell (she/her)

Running time 60 minutes without an interval

Booking until March 16; for more information and to buy tickets, visit the Soho Theatre website

Recently reviewed:

Macbeth, Dock X ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until March 30.

A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 20 April

The Unfriend, Wyndham's Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 9 March

The Motive and The Cue, Noel Coward Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 23 March

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Review: A Family Business, Omnibus Theatre - smartly performed but connection issues

A Family Business by Chris Thorpe. Photography by Andreas J. Etter. Designer & Costume Designer Eleanor Field. Lighting & Video Designer Arnim Friess 7
A Family Business by Chris Thorpe. Photography by Andreas J. Etter.

A Family Business is based on conversations with academics, activists and diplomats, and is part interactive educational lecture on nuclear weapons and part drama about the campaign for nuclear disarmament.

Writer and performer Chris Thorpe takes the part of the educator. He greets people as they arrive to take their seats, asking names, which he squirrels away for later. (A skill that I'm always hugely impressed by as someone who finds names skim through my brain at an alarming speed.)

He throws questions out to the audience to test knowledge and hands out biscuits for correct answers. He asks other questions too about where people live, favourite places etc. When a Google map is projected on the back wall, the direction is pretty clear.

However, woven between lecture segments is the story of some campaigners trying to get a treaty on nuclear disarmament signed and ratified by enough countries. 

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Review: 10 Nights, Omnibus Theatre - well-paced, funny and warm

10 nights omnibus theatre poster Feb 2024

The 10 nights of the title of Shahid Iqbal Khan play refers to itikaf, spending the last 10 days of Ramadan at the Mosque. The idea is to cut yourself off from worldly affairs, focus on prayer and read the Quran.

Yassar (Azan Ahmed) is always on TikTok, gets drunk with his friends and is generally a disappointment to his father.

When he half-seriously volunteers for itikaf, seemingly out of grief for his dead friend Aftab, it is the first time his father has been proud of him, so he can't back out.

Isolated from the distractions of social media and 'life' and with a strict routine of prayer, reading and breaking fast, it forces introspection.

Yasser has to confront some harsh truths about his behaviour, his faith and the death of his friend. 

Azan Ahmed deftly gives voice to Yasser's thoughts and conversations with the few people he encounters in the Mosque. From his frenemy Usman to the itikaf expert assigned to guide him.

This was an interesting insight into a world I'm not familiar with. Naturally, there were references and jokes that went over my head, but there were plenty that did land.

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Review: A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre - truth and lies in theatre

Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi for A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner
Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi in A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner

The wedding between Layla and Joel is back on, having found a new venue at the Trafalgar Theatre.

Sam Holcroft's play A Mirror, which won rave reviews when it opened at the Almeida Theatre, has brought its lies to the West End.

That isn't a spoiler, it tells us the play is a lie in a tagline. And we, the audience, are complicit; we play along as wedding guests, standing for the bride and later to take an oath.

But for which lie are we complicit?

Inspired by Sam Holcroft's visit to North Korea, this is a play about culture in a repressive regime. What theatre is suitable for public consumption in the eyes of the state? Who is it for, and what does theatre mean in that scenario?

It is also about the truth and lies of theatre arts.

Layla and Joel's wedding is a performance, not so much a play within a play but a play to hide a play. 

That play follows Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), the director at the Ministry of Culture, who believes he is a connoisseur of the arts and wants to improve the quality of what gets approved for performance.

When a play written by car mechanic Adem (Samuel Adewunmi) lands on his desk, it contains so many infractions of what is 'acceptable' theatre that Čelik should report him to the Ministry of Security.

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Review: Afterglow, Southwark Playhouse - passionate and poignant

Afterglow_011_Victor Hugo_James Nicholson_credit The Other Richard
Victor Hugo and James Nicholson in Afterglow, Southwark Playhouse, Jan 2024. Photo: The Other Richard

Afterglow at the Southwark Playhouse is a modern love story and a modern family story. Married couple Alex (Victor Hugo) and Josh (Peter McPherson) have an open relationship within certain boundaries.

The play opens with them having a steamy threesome with Darius (James Nicholson). Both are taken with the younger man and agree that they can meet up with him alone.

What starts as mostly about sex develops into something more for two of the men.

All this plays out against the backdrop of a soon-to-be expanded family as Alex and Josh are expecting a baby via a surrogate. It adds an extra layer of jeopardy to the relationship as there is more at risk than their marriage.

The staging is fairly simple, with shiny black surfaces that scream bachelor pad or nightclub. Although at one point, it is lit up and glitters beautifully to represent a clear starry sky.

A square framed platform makes up a bed or is dismantled and arranged into seats or a massage table to transport the narrative from apartments to workplaces and bars.

The centre of the stage is also cleared away to make way for a shower. Although how many shower scenes does one play need before it looks like an excuse to merely show off naked male bodies?

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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: One Whole Night, White Bear Theatre - good performances but the play runs out of ideas

ONE WHOLE NIGHT White bear theatre
Tracey Ann Wood as “Marisa” and Charlie Buckland as “Victor” in One Whole Night, White Bear Theatre. Photo: Rebecca Rayne 

Ana-Maria Bamberger's play One Whole Night, White Bear Theatre, could easily be subtitled 'Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown'. It centres on Marisa (Tracey Ann Wood), a stage actress of note whose director boyfriend of 10 years has just dumped her for a young actress they are both working with.

She's not in a good state and is drinking heavily, having heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts, so she calls a doctor. By the time Victor (Charlie Buckland), the doctor, arrives, she's in a state of self-pity and watching herself cry in the mirror.

While Victor is checking over Marisa and administering calming drugs, she recognises him as someone she was at school with. So they end up reminiscing and comparing notes on their lives.

It turns out Victor has work and relationship stresses of his own. 

But this isn't a story of two people at a low ebb coming through together rather, the friendly conversation leads Marisa to believe that Victor is the answer to all her woes and they are meant to be together.

It results in some very awkward moments.

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Review: Flip!, Soho Theatre - lively, fresh and face-paced

Jadesola Odunjo and Leah St Luce in FLIP!  © Tristram Kenton
Jadesola Odunjo and Leah St Luce in FLIP! © Tristram Kenton

One of the challenges theatre has when it looks at life for Gen Z (and Millenials) is how to represent the digital world on stage. Modern communication is often embedded in texts, Whatsapps and DMs. Commentary is in social media posts and comments.

Racheal Ofori's play Flip! focuses on two friends and wannabe social media influencers, Carleen (Leah St Luce) and Crystal (Jadesola Odunjo), who make funny, sassy videos and are growing a following - but not enough to generate an income. 

In the pursuit of more clicks, they start pushing the boundaries with their content, which results in getting cancelled. They decide to have another go and join the controversial new social video channel Flip!, which promises quick growth and money per play (flip).

You are thrown straight into 'CC's' fast-paced world of fun, funny and catchy videos as they pose and perform for the camera. Jadesola Odunjo and Leah St Luce also play the 'commenters' and other influencers delivering reactions in a dizzying range of different voices.

There is only a slight shift in gear when the friends are talking 'off-camera'. The lines between video performances and the real Carleen and Crystal sometimes blur, but that's the point.

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