342 posts categorized "New plays" Feed

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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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: Boy Parts, Soho Theatre - a refreshingly unstereotypical female character

Aimée Kelly in Boy Parts at Soho Theatre (c) Joe Twigg Photography web
Aimée Kelly in Boy Parts at Soho Theatre (c) Joe Twigg Photography

When I interviewed director Sara Joyce about Boy Parts, how she talked about the central character in Boy Parts immediately piqued my interest. She describes Irina (Aimée Kelly) as not immediately likeable but that her story is nonetheless compelling. 

This 'pitch-black psychological thriller' is adapted from Eliza Clark's novel by Gillian Greer, Boy Parts tells the story of how photographer Irina has a chance at making it in the art world when a London gallery expresses an interest in her work.

She persuades ordinary men she meets to model for her in increasingly erotic photos. Irina subverts the idea of the male gaze and enjoys her power over the men from behind the lens, getting them to do what she wants and being in control. 

But there is something darker lurking beneath, which is drawn out as the door of opportunity begins to close. She can be charming and intimidating, controlling and unpredictable.

There is something broken and twisted in her. She gets into fights and into situations where her laughter response isn't really about humour.

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Review: The Boy, Soho Theatre - Light touch story of refugees

The boy soho theatre poster

On a bus carrying people fleeing a war-torn country, a man (Jerome Ngonadi) takes a boy (Eve Von Elgg) under his wing. When they arrive in the country where they seek refuge, the assumption is they are father and son, and the man plays along, deciding it is better they stick together.

Joakim Daun's play follows the two through the process to get refugee status - the man can't work until he has the official paperwork - and afterwards when their path crosses that of a woman (Shereen Roushbaiani) who has recently lost a baby.

The early scenes touch on the trauma of refugees and the impersonal process of applying for refugee status.

It also explores the tension between assimilating into a new country and culture without losing your own. The boy's youth means he picks up the new language quickly, but the man is keen that he doesn't lose the language and culture of his home country.

Eve Von Elgg's performance brilliantly captures the energy and innocence of the boy, and where the play is at its best is in its exploration of the struggles of refugees in their adopted country - albeit it does it with a light touch.

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Review: As We Face The Sun, Bush Theatre - energic, fun and tinged with the bittersweet

The Bush Young Company in As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre. (Photo by Harry Elletson) 6
The Bush Young Company in As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre. Photo by Harry Elletso

As We Face The Sun at the Bush Theatre is part coming-of-age drama, part exploration of the impact of grief on a group of school friends. The story centres on a group of 14/15-year-old classmates at a West London school after the death of one of their friends and how that shapes them and their friendships over the next 10 years.

Performed by the Bush's 18-25 Young Company, we first meet them loud, energetic and excited for a school trip. There is joking and joshing with individual personalities coming through from the quiet to the loudest and most confident.

However, this energy gets overshadowed as each deals with loss in their own way and starts to grow into adulthood and life after school. In one poignant scene when they forget and let loose, their fun is pulled up sharp when the mother of their dead friend is spotted.

The group's annual get-together in memory of their friend's birthday, held at the same venue with the same food, playlist and dance routine, starts to look more like nostalgia than a memorial.

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Review: Dumbledore Is So Gay, Southwark Playhouse

Charlottte Dowding  Alex Britt  Martin Sarreal - Credit to David Jenson
Charlotte Dowding, Alex Britt & Martin Sarreal in Dumbledore Is So Gay, Southwark Playhouse Aug 2023. Photo: David Jenson

Fans of Harry Potter will no doubt enjoy the references to the Wizarding World, but Robert Holtom's play Dumbledore Is So Gay is, in essence, a gay coming-of-age story.

It starts when Jack (Alex Britt) is 12 and joins in with his friends' homophobic name-calling out of fear of being on the receiving end. Meanwhile, his dad (Martin Sarreal) insists the TV is turned over when Graham Norton comes on because of his sexuality.

Jack's relationship with his parents and best friends Sally (Charlotte Dowding) and Ollie (also Sarreal), on whom he has a crush, plays out through his teen years, culminating in a devastating event.

But what if, like Hermione, you could use a time-turner and go back and change certain events in your life, make different decisions based on hindsight and experience? Would the outcome be different?

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Review: A Mirror, Almeida Theatre - a play that continually surprises

A Mirror Almeida promo poster

I was intrigued about A Mirror before I even got to my seat. Its description on the website doesn't give much away (and I don't like to read any interviews until afterwards).

The Almeida foyer is decked out ready for a wedding celebration. But alongside pink ribbons and pastel balloons, there is a huge Oath of Allegiance on the wall and notices from the Ministry of Culture reminding you of the rules and regulations.

That contrast in tone - celebration and authority - is emblematic of Sam Holcroft's play which has you thinking you are watching one thing, only for the curtain to be ripped back to reveal something else.

A Mirror is about making theatre when the state decides what is and isn't suitable to be put on stage. And from the moment you step into the decorated foyer, you are part of the narrative.

Inspired by Holcroft's visit to North Korea, Adem (Michael Ward) submits his first play to the Ministry of Culture for approval.

It ends up in the hands of Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), a slightly sinister senior official who happens to have a love - and knowledge - of theatre. He doesn't want to necessarily follow a check list of suitability, but he does have firm ideas about what theatre should and shouldn't be.

He sees talent in Adem if only it can be channelled into material appropriate for public viewing.

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