75 posts categorized "Off West End" Feed

Tom Stoppard's Travesties, Menier Chocolate Factory - great acting, not sure about the play

TravestiesREVIEW Tom Hollander's Henry Carr has just shuffled onto the stage. 'Oh it's him!' says the old lady sat behind me loudly, so loudly he could probably hear her from the other side of the stage. I stifle a laugh.

This is a play of Henry Carr's reminiscences from his stint at the British consular in Zurich during the first world war. Zurich has become a magnet for artists and political exiles and his acquaintances include James Joyce (Peter McDonald), Tristan Tzara (Freddie Fox) - one of the founders of Dadaism - and Lenin (Forbes Mason) but, as his forgetfulness suggests, his recollections may not be accurate. While Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia explores maths and science, here he explores art, war and revolution.

There is a farcical love story of sorts. Tzara fancies Henry's sister Gwendolene (Amy Morgan) but she doesn't like his radical, anarchic art movement so he's pretending to be Jack, a less radical fictional brother of Tzara's. Meanwhile, Henry fancies Cecily (Clare Foster) a librarian who is helping Lenin with research for a book. All the while James Joyce admires Lenin from afar and is trying to manage a production of The Importance of Being Earnest in which Henry will take a leading role.

Travesties is performed with such energy and verve, the delivery gunfire quick and clipped it is a skill in its own right. The performances I enjoyed very much, particularly Freddie Fox who was on fine form but I have a problem with the play. It's not the first time I've had this problem with a Tom Stoppard play in fact I'm starting to think Stoppard and me just don't get on.

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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.


Review: The gently moving Pianist of Willesden Lane, St James Theatre

17197494-mmmainMona Golabek's mother Lisa was born in Vienna and dreamed of being a concert pianist but as the clouds of the second world war loomed she was ripped from the family and city she knew and the piano lessons she loved.

Herself a pianist, Mona tells her mother's story* of a lucky escape from Vienna on the Kindertransport to life in the blitz in London with other refugees. The narrative is beautifully interwoven with piano pieces performed by Mona that are either pertinent to the story or beautifully capture the moment.

As war stories go this is gently told; there are horrors but you feel that somehow you are protected from most of it. Instead the heart of the story is Lisa's love of playing and her determination not to let her mother down and carry on learning. The power of music to uplift is the plays soul.

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That was August in London Theatre-land (with a late addition)

9383745446_a248156e8f_zAugust always used to be a quiet month for theatre; it was as if everyone decamped to Edinburgh for the fringe. But even though the Royal Court still shuts up shop, elsewhere it just seems to get busier and busier. There is more fringe - and not just pre-Edinburgh shows - and more productions opening at the bigger theatres. As a result I ended up seeing 12 plays and yes I know there are people that see more than that each month but it's above my average.

* The 'hold the front page' story for the month (and possibly the year) was the announcement of funds to be made available to theatres to improve the ladies toilets. There is general under provision in the older theatres which means long queues and they are often so cramped and badly designed you have to be child-sized to get in and out the cubicles.

* The month was also notable for having only one steamy theatre watching experience and by that I mean the 'joy' of sitting in a non-air conditioned theatre on a hot summer evening with sweat trickling down your back while feeling sorry for the actors because at least you can wear shorts and T-Shirt. Yep thanks to Found III for that one.

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Review: In the mood for The Maids, Trafalgar Studios?

ImageI think I have to confess straight away that I don't think I was quite in the right frame of mind for The Maids. It had been a really hectic, demanding day at work - it's been a hectic and demanding few weeks in fact. I felt frazzled as I sat down in my on stage seat.

Described on the Jamie Lloyd Production company website as a 'full-throttle production' it is performed with a heightened tension and energy throughout, there is no first, second or even third gear.

The Maids is a translation by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton of Jean Genet's 70-year-old play which was based on real events in 1930's Paris when a maid killed her employer. In this version the action is transferred to America and in casting Zawe Ashton (Claire) and Uzo Aduba (Solange) as the sisters who work as maids it becomes a play not just about class prejudice but also racism.

In the opening scene, Claire is wearing a blond wig and a slip, stomping around the stage like a queen bitch, ordering Solange about who simpers, flatters and pampers.  It becomes quickly obvious that this is a game they play, a role-play that gets repeated but which always ends up with brutal revenge being enacted.

The role-play is slowly revealing and about the only thing that is slow. How much of what is revealed by the maids is real and how much is fantasy is unclear until you realise that their game is actually a rehearsal. If only their mistress (a fantastically un Lady Edith-like Laura Carmichael in knicker-skimming short skirt, shoulder pads and fur gilet) would return.

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Review: The hilarious and inventive A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton

From the moment Peter Quince (Ed Gaughan) steps out from behind the curtain and says 'you'll have a great evening but it probably won't be this one' you know this isn't going to be A Midsummer's Night's Dream like you've seen it before.

Filter Theatre has added its own play within the play (within the play - "it's meta"), Peter Quince and the mechanicals are re-imagined as a house band but with Bottom otherwise occupied, a replacement has to be found. 

The key scenes of Shakespeare's story of love, jealousy and fairies are extracted and performed with disregard to the fourth wall, without any pretence that it is real and with a liberal sprinkling of popular references and ad-libbing.

Oberon (Jonathan Broadbent) is a Lycra clad, asthmatic super hero or super villain depending on his mood. He doesn't hide his in-vain attempts to fly although he does come up with one rather amusing solution.

Puck (Ferdy Roberts) is dressed as a Lyric Theatre handyman with a tool belt in which he also keeps equipment for sound effects. He likes nothing better than an excuse to take the weight off and swig from a can of Fosters.

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Rehearsal photos: A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith

Jonathan Broadbent as a silver cape wearing Oberon? Yes please and if the trailer (below) and rehearsal pics are anything to go by this looks fun. I'm also hoping to make up for missing him in Stratford last year. Cast also includes Ferdy Roberts, Hammed Animashaun, John Lightbody, Victoria Mosely and Clare Dunne. It runs at the Lyric Hammersmith from February 19 to March 19 and the trailer featuring Jonathan is at the bottom of the post. Click on the thumbnails for bigger versions.


  • Jonathan Broadbent & Ferdy Roberts - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • L-R Victoria Moseley, John Lightbody, Hammed Animashaun & Clare Dunne - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • L-R Hammed Animashaun, Jonathan Broadbent & Clare Dunne - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Cat Simmons - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Jonathan Boradbent & Clare Dunne - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Hammed Animashaun - A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Ferdy Roberts - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ferdy Roberts - A Midsummer Night's Dream


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Review: Simon Stephens' poetic and pregnant Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

Sophia Decaro, Billy Matthews, Max Gill, Moses Adejimi and Ella McLoughlin. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Sophia Decaro, Billy Matthews, Max Gill, Moses Adejimi and Ella McLoughlin. Photo by Tristram Kenton

The more Simon Stephens plays I see the more of the poetry I see in them. His most recent, A Song From Far Away, completely disarmed me last Autumn. Herons is a revival of an early work and probably sits more with the likes of Port and Blindsided in tone.

It is a short, pregnant piece where Stephens tells you just enough to let your imagination run wild. The set is part urban canalside with a lockgate and partially submerged playground with a roundabout and one of those spring mounted rocking-horses where the school kids hang out. A screen at the back of the stage loops a wildlife film showing monkeys living in the wild and suggests watering hole.

Scott (Billy Matthews) is the leader of a gang and the school bully. He has a message for Billy (Max Gill) to pass onto his dad (Ed Gaughan) from his brother Ross who is in prison. A message that is blantantly passive aggressive and makes Billy scared. Something happened to a girl at their schoool, something to which they are all directly or indirectly connected, something that haunts the school ground and all their relationships.

But Billy has other problems, family problems. His dad spends his days at the canal and can't get a job. His brother and sister live with his mum and the threat of being taken into care hangs heavy in the air.

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Review: The funny and shocking Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Trafalgar Studios 2

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Kate Maravan as Di photo Ikin Yum
Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, Kate Maravan as Di photo Ikin Yum

Reputation or rather loss of it has been a common theme in English literature for hundreds of years but James Fritz's new play has a distinctly modern take on the subject.

David (Jonathan McGuinness) and Di (Kate Maravan) have a 17-year old son Jack who is about to take exams and has a life full of promise and opportunity ahead of him. We never see Jack, this is his parents' story about how they deal with something he has done something that can't be undone because it is on the internet. Something that could damage his reputation forever.

It is a parents nightmare but not one David and Di ever imagined having and to make matters worse, as the full extent of what Jack has actually done is slowly revealed, their view of their son is challenged.

Fritz's play is brilliantly written, sharp, funny and dark. At first David and Di seem like typical parents. They disagree, Di overreacts, David says the wrong thing and from the guffaws among the audience there is plenty that can be identified with. But it isn't just Jack's reputation that is threatened, his parents marriage is put under great strain by the events.

At first they will do anything to protect their son against what they see as an injustice and juggle the pro's and con's of official channels versus more direct action. But revealing conversations with Jack's friend Nick (Anyebe Godwin) and his ex-girlfiend Cara (Ria Zmitrowcz) put their son in a different light. David and Di's response to the revelations and strategy for dealing with the situation are revealing in themselves. Fritz raises important questions about teenage attitudes towards sex and the internet. He also challenges class stereotypes revealing how prejudice can lead to injustice.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds deftly weaves humour with some of the darker aspects of society creating a piece that is funny, shocking and thought-provoking. It is 90 minutes long and well worth a look. You can catch it at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until 5 December. It transferred from the Hampstead Theatre where it enjoyed a sell out run.


Review: Tom Hughes is on death row in Ticking, Trafalgar Studios

Niamh Cusack and Tom Hughes in Ticking, Trafalgar Studios. Photo by Bronwen Sharp

My second execution-themed play of the week (Measure for Measure was the first) was a tense and emotional affair.

It's set in a far eastern prison where Simon (Tom Hughes) is visited by his parents (Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head) on the evening of his execution. He's waiting to hear whether he has had a last minute reprieve from the firing squad.

Trafalgar Studios bijou theatre 2 is simply set up as prison waiting room. Institutional, grubby, there is a wooden bench and a chair and a guard always on view. A small hole in a frosted glass and barred window gives Simon a view of the gathered press and crowds outside the prison.

Simon swings from terrified, to resigned, to resentful and it is into this heady mix of heightened emotions he has what could be his last conversation with his mum and dad. Something is eating at him; something has eaten into his relationship with his dad, something that might just get vomited up at this crucial hour. Facing death his life, and that of his parents, come under the spotlight.

Tom Hughes's Simon is at times a brattish, spoilt, entitled, stretching your levels of sympathy. He can be cruel and cutting but also funny, vulnerable and ultimately tragic.

It is Niamh Cusack who really pulls at your heart strings, the mother being ripped to emotional bits and desperately trying, and sometimes failing, to keep it together. The small performance space and proximity to the actors intensifies the emotions as the clock ticks towards Simon's fate. You feel like you are locked in the prison with him.

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