24 posts categorized "Non-plays" Feed

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:

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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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Review: Crisis? What Crisis? Colab Factory - Parabolic Theatre's political role-playing in the winter of discontent

It's 1979 and the Labour Government is facing a vote of no-confidence, out on the streets there is civil unrest, lorry drivers are on strike and more industries threaten to follow. Can you save the day?

Crisis What Crisis  Courtesy of Russell Cobb (3)
Crisis? What Crisis? Photo: Russell Cobb

Parabolic Theatre's latest immersive experience is more of a role-playing game than theatre thrusting the audience into decision-making, negotiation and media interviews.

'Staged' on the floor of an old office building near The CoLab Factory in Borough, the space is divided up with clusters of furniture either desks and chairs or sofa's set around coffee tables or TV.

The walls have Labour campaign posters and charts on which to monitor industrial unrest and economic performance - inflation, FTSE, Government spending power etc - this is the pre-computer, pre-digital world.

Telephones ring, a fax-machine hums, the door buzzer sounds and there is general hustle and bustle.

Players in a crisis

There is no introduction, you are thrown straight into the world of the Winter of Discontent and it is up to you and your fellow 'players' to defeat the no-confidence vote and get the unions back on side without pushing the economy over the edge.

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Review: The Illusionists, Shaftsbury Theatre - thrills, laughs and magic fun for grown-ups and kids

The Illusionists are back in London for the summer season with their mix of illusion, thrilling feats, humour and family fun.

The Illusionists programme

Seven illusionists with seven different styles of 'magic' from the nail-biting and seat squirming to the awe-inspiring and gasp-inducing make up an exciting and varied evening's entertainment.

And while you won't find rabbits being pulled out of a hat there is still a lot that is familiar - sleight of hand, female assistants sliced up in boxes, objects disappearing and death-defying escapes.

But The Illusionists has the slickness and gloss of 21st-century sophistication - Paul Daniel's magic show this isn't - mixed with a new style of  'magic' making the most of digital technology for something that you may not have seen before.

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Review: BalletBoyz, Them/Us (Vaudeville) or being moved to tears watching a piece of contemporary dance

It's a mercurial piece of so many breathtaking contrasts - fluid, floaty, tender, strong, angular and jovial. Their leaps, holds and shapes reflect and foster the individual while celebrating the strength, power and support of the collective.

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BalletBoyz: Them/Us (Them). Photo by George Piper

Full disclosure: I don't know anything about dance. I'm a novice who has only ever seen two ballets (one of which I reviewed).

So I'm writing this review not as someone who can critique the technique and style but as someone who sat in a theatre to watch and experience contemporary dance for the first time.

For a newbie to dance, BalletBoyz's Them/Us at the Vaudeville Theatre is a great show to start with.

A good introduction

At the start of each of the two pieces, they show video clips of interviews with the dancers and creatives talking about how the two pieces have been created together with rehearsal footage.

It not only helps to set the scene but gives you a brief introduction to and an appreciation for the art form as well as a glimpse of the BalletBoyz's sense of fun.

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Review: Grace rather than gasps in Pirates of The Carabina's: Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine, Roundhouse

...it is in many ways an entertaining show but it is also a show that feels more about grace than gasps and I missed those nerve-jangling, pulse-raising moments you normally get with acrobatics.

Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine - Photographs by Ollie Millington - 159
Relentless Unstoppable Human Machine. Photograph by Ollie Millington

Pirates of the Carabina are more than acrobats they are also clowns, singers and musicians.

So while one of them is hanging spectacularly by their feet from a hoop that is being spun above the stage another is singing or playing guitar in the onstage band.

As well as the band the lights sometimes fall on a group of singers up in the balcony.

The rhythm and tone of the music and singing introduce the pace and style of each sequence of acrobatics and clowning.

There are graceful pieces, that are almost balletic when combined with the music where artists are swinging in circles from ropes or bolts of fabric - or hoops - while creating amazing shapes or performing incredible holds.

More uptempo music denotes a faster pace to the acrobatics or some clowning around.

And there is some great clowning around with chase sequences on roller skates and a 'novice' attempting a wobbly walk along a tightrope - I'm sure it is more difficult to look bad when you are actually really good.

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Review: The arresting, immersive #NationalTrust Suffragette City Experience

If you want to learn a little of what it was like being a suffragette in a more experiential way then this is fun and informative hour

I'm walking down Jermyn Street trying to look casual while being vigilant. I've got a package to post in my bag and if found with it I could get arrested - I'm a suffragette and this is about 'deeds not words'.

Suffragette City experience national TrustKeeping to the opposite pavement before double backing towards the post box, all seems clear so I deposit the parcel and head back to HQ via a different route, checking to see if I'm followed.

HQ is the WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) beneath a café just off Piccadilly Circus and this is an immersive theatre/exhibition experience, produced by the National Trust and National Archive, in which you get a taste of what it was like to walk in the shoes of a suffragette.

It's hands on, no sitting and watching, you might find yourself making rosettes, painting banners or learning new protest songs.

You might also find yourself on a protest march or taking part in other forms of direct action but there are fellow suffragettes on hand to brief you on what to do, particularly if you do get 'arrested'.

There is something exhilarating about marching down a street in central London with a banner, singing - our small but vocal group got a few rounds of applause as well as stares.

While only a small flavour of the suffragette experience, it does give you a sense of what they were up against and how far they were prepared to go to get equality.

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My favourite plays of 2017...so far #midyearreview #theatre

via GIPHY 

2017 is already the year that brought us Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman and my introduction to playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and it's only six months in. There are a further nine plays I couldn't not include in my 'best of so far' list and that was with the bar set very high. I've still got Angels in America, Ben Whishaw in Against, Rory Kinnear in Young Marx and the awarding winning Oslo to come later this year, among many others potential theatre treats - the end of year list is already looking tricky to narrow down.

Anyway, here's what I've enjoyed the most in 2017 so far. Feel free to agree/disagree...

(In no particular order, because that would be too traumatic to do.)

1. Amadeus, National Theatre  This was supposed to be a 2016 play but I gave up my ticket for the early part of the run because of work pressures, good words from @PolyG made me rebook for January and I'm so glad I did. It was a play that unexpectedly floored me. It's returning next year and yes I've got a ticket.

2. Out Their On Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Fringe theatre kicked off in fine style with this brilliantly warm, funny, odd, dark, misfit comedy that was the antidote to everything disturbing that was going on the world at the time. It transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2 and I got to enjoy it all over again.

3. Hamlet, Almeida  I've seen a lot of Hamlet's and there is usually something new in each but Andrew Scott's prince in Robert Icke's production made me look at the play with completely new eyes. Sorry Sherlock but this was a battle that Moriarty definitely won. It's transferred to the West End.

4. An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre  Was tipped off about American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and this is the first of his plays I've seen. It's a play I could write reams and reams about and reminded me why I love going to the theatre. Gloria, another of his plays is currently on at Hampstead Theatre, it didn't quite make this list but it is still really good.

5. Rotterdam, Arts Theatre  This was in my 'best of' list last year but after a stint off Broadway it's come back to London to the bigger Arts Theatre. It made me laugh, it made me gasp and it made me cry - all that even though I've seen it before and knew exactly what was coming. That's why it's back on the list. It's on until 15 July.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic  It's possibly the only Tom Stoppard play I really like and this was a great production that was lively, entertaining, profound and melancholic . There was a brilliant rapport between the two leads - Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire - and David Haig as The Player was worth the ticket price alone.

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Review: Princess, Lost Theatre, Stockwell or when Stan watched a contemporary dance piece for the first time

Well this is new for me: A dance piece. And by that I mean I'm coming to this having seen a ballet once and that's it when it comes to dance as a form of storytelling. There is a synopsis for Princess in the programme and I wonder if I'd read it beforehand whether it would have made a difference because I'm not sure I gleaned much of what is described there from what I was seeing on stage.

Stuart Saint is the writer/director/choreographer of the piece which, apparently, shatters the illusion of the happily-ever-afters, banishing the storybook fairytale and finding the feminism in Disney. Maybe it's my lack of familiarity and knowledge of dance but what I got from it was a toy rabbit carrying, dungaree wearing 'princess' who is seduced by a group of more scantily-clad dancers including a man wearing a rabbit mask. At some point, she changes into a dress that is more Alice in Wonderland-style and eventually she rejects the man-rabbit.

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Review: The hilarious and hot Naked Magicians, Trafalgar Studios

Christopher Wayne & Mike Tyler
Christopher Wayne & Mike Tyler

The blow up doll on the stage is a clue. If you don't get that, there is a warning before The Naked Magicians show starts that if you are easily offended then you should 'probably f*ck off now'. And that is the tone of the show: it is rude, irreverent, a little more than suggestive and brilliant fun.

Lets be honest, the suggestion of nudity is probably what makes most people buy the ticket and that doesn't come until the end but it doesn't matter, the show is so good you forget that's what is promised.

It is part comedy part magic, full of laughs (my face was aching by the end) and while the magic tricks aren't the most sophisticated they are nonetheless impressive.

Stand up Maureen Younger gets the audience warmed up ready for the Naked Magicians - Australians Mike Tyler and Christopher Wayne. There is plenty of audience participation. If getting dragged up on stage to 'help' with some magic is your idea of a nightmare then make sure you choose seats towards the middle of the row and at least few rows back from the front.

There was one woman 'volunteer' who brilliantly flawed the magicians with a comment - she saw where they were going and got there first. They took it brilliantly and it added to the fun.

A couple of the tricks the whole audience can get involved with - one of which is particularly impressive but I won't say any more because it will spoil it if you go.

They are only around until the end of this week so if you fancy something silly, funny and with adult themes then hurry along to the Trafalgar Studios.

The show is roughly two hours long including an interval and I'm giving it 5 stars. If you hadn't worked it out already it has an 18+ age restriction.

 


A few thoughts on Kenneth Branagh's weepy The Winter's Tale via encore screening

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Tom Bateman and Jessie Buckley in The Winter's Tale, Garrick Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

I'm told by my friends on social media that this doesn't technically count as my first theatre trip of 2016 but that doesn't mean I can't write a bit about it as I won't get a chance to see it live at the Garrick Theatre before it finishes on January 16. Seeing it on a cinema screen is a good substitute and while you don't get the thrill of seeing the live performance you do get to appreciate the performances close up.

So what was it like? Well, I've always been a bit 'meh' about The Winter's Tale mainly because it feels, tonally, like two very different plays separated by an interval. Kenneth Branagh's production doesn't quite manage to erase that feeling but it did something other productions haven't, it made me cry. Several times.

Dame Judi Dench's Paulina, defender of the innocent Queen, Miranda Raison's Hermione, the innocent victim of her husband's personal misjudgement and Jessie Buckley's Perdita, who is divided from her lover, were such touching performances. I've never been quite so consistently moved by Shakespeare.

I've seen funnier productions - although perhaps the smallish cinema audience on a Sunday morning didn't help - but this certainly tugged on my heartstrings. It was also great to see Theatre Hottie Tom Bateman (moustache notwithstanding) and there was great chemistry between him and Jessie Buckley as the two lovers which probably helped provoke the tears when things started going wrong for them.

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