Review: Did the star-studded cast shine in mid-life crisis comedy drama The Starry Messenger, Wyndham's Theatre?

His voice has that soporific tone and pace that bring back shuddering memories of classrooms where time stands still except that writer Kenneth Lonergan has gifted Mark with a dry humour delivered by Broderick in such a deliciously understated way you can't but admire his comic timing.

Matthew Broderick (Mark) Starry Messenger by Marc Brenner
Matthew Broderick (Mark) The Starry Messenger by Marc Brenner

"I've said it before and I'll say it again, life moves pretty fast and if you don't stop and look around once in while you could miss it." So said Matthew Broderick's Ferris Bueller in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

If only his character Mark in The Starry Messenger had heeded Ferris' warning.

Mark finds himself middle-aged and teaching astronomy classes at a planetarium which is hardly the space-related career he imagined when a young man.

Instead, he is a tweed jacket and waistcoat-wearing tutor and any laughter and jollity during his lessons are what drift through the walls from the neighbouring classroom.

Dry humour

His voice has that soporific tone and pace that bring back shuddering memories of classrooms where time stands still except that writer Kenneth Lonergan has gifted Mark with a dry humour delivered by Broderick in such a deliciously understated way you can't but admire his comic timing.

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No re-admittance vs permitting latecomers - a story of missing the plot

What's the difference between a no-readmittance policy and letting in latecomers?

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Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

It's not a joke waiting for a punchline, rather it's something I've been puzzling over ever since I had my view and enjoyment of a play disturbed not once but twice by latecomers.

On entering the auditorium the usher had taken pains to tell everyone that there was strictly no-readmittance if you decided to leave for any reason.

Someone getting up to leave is disturbing for the rest of the audience and potentially the actors which, presumably, is why there is no re-admittance.

No less disturbing

But latecomers are no less disturbing, particularly if the seating is such that people have to stand up to allow access.

The play I was watching was short, about 75 mins straight through and there was very little room for pause.

I was sitting in the circle and about 20 minutes in two people were allowed to their seats in the row in front which meant a completely blocked view and jolted me away from the play. 

About 10 minutes later the same thing happened.

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Review: Anna, National Theatre - a thriller in which sounds tell the story

This is a taut thriller and an interesting and different play watching experience.

Anna National Theatre poster

At the curtain call of Anna, the cast hold up a series of cards which spell out 'No Spoilers' so I'm going to attempt to write my review without giving anything away.

It's set in East Berlin in 1968 and centres on married couple Anna (Phoebe Fox) and her husband Hans (Paul Bazely) who are having a celebratory party but there is an underlying tension to the convivial atmosphere.

Staged in a unique style, the apartment is set is behind a glass screen and each audience member has a headset through which to hear the dialogue.

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Equus returns to the London stage - the play that reignited my theatre obsession

A blast from my theatre-going past landed in my inbox today: A production of Equus at the Trafalgar Studios this summer.

Ethan Kai as Alan Strang in Equus. Photographer Credit - The Other Richard
Ethan Kai as Alan Strang in Equus. Photo: The Other Richard

It's a transfer of English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East's production and the play holds a special place in my heart because it is responsible for reigniting my love of theatre.

The Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffith's starring production of 2007 was the first piece of theatre I'd seen in about 15 years and it reminded me why I loved going to the theatre.

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Review: Small Island, National Theatre - "a cracking piece of theatre"

I enjoyed the book, admired the TV adaptation but did the stage adaptation of Andrea Levy's Small Island at the National Theatre hit the mark?

Small Island poster
Small Island is an epic story both in scope and subject. The narrative straddles Jamaica and England before, during and after World War II, exploring colonialism, racism, love and identity.

The novel tells the story from four different characters perspectives but Helen Edmundson's stage adaptation pares it down making the two women Hortense (Leah Harvey) and Queenie (Aisling Loftus) the primary focus.

Hortense and Queenie have very different personalities - the former is well-mannered to the point of being uptight and has a tendency to look down her nose at people while the latter is more convivial, open-minded but, initially at least, easily led.

Both want to escape their lives and the identity that has been prescribed for them.

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Review: F*ck You Pay Me, Bunker Theatre - lifting the lid on life working as a stripper

Backstage there is camaraderie among the strippers and 'office' politics, personal dramas and worries just like any place of work.

Fuck You Pay Me  The Bunker (Credit David Monteith Hodge) Joana Nastari (2)
Joana Nastari  F*ck You Pay Me The Bunker. Photo: David Monteith Hodge

There's a DJ deck and DJ (Charlotte Bickley), faux fur walls and palm trees and three mini circular stages. This is a strip club, Holly's (Joana Nastari) place of work and she'll take us behind the scenes to her world as a stripper to see the good, the bad and the ugly aspects.

Holly isn't student who needs the cash, neither is she paying for a drug addict, she likes the work, the flexibility of it and can earn good money.

Her job title maybe stripper but that means she is also in sales, marketing, PR, acting and dancing but she doesn't have the same level of workers rights.

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Review: Class, Bush Theatre - classroom and class tensions

Class layers marital tensions with social class tensions and the pressures of being a teacher and learning.

L-r Sarah Morris  Stephen Jones and Will O'Connell   in 'CLASS' photo by_Helen Murray 73B&W
L-r Sarah Morris, Stephen Jones and Will O'Connell in 'CLASS'. Photo: Helen Murray

Brian (Stephen Jones) and Donna (Sarah Morris) are separated but having to put on a united front for the sake of their 9-year-old son Jayden who is having problems at school.

They've been called in to see Jayden's teacher Mr McCafferty (Will O'Connell) but classrooms hold bad memories for both of them.

As Mr McCafferty nervously broaches the subject of Jayden's learning difficulties feathers are ruffled and someone shows they have a chip on their shoulder.

Set entirely in Jayden's classroom, the walls a tempting chalkboard, sitting on the little chairs literally and figuratively brings the adults down to a child's level. 

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Review: The Half God of Rainfall, Kiln Theatre - Battling deities, basketball and a god for modern women

In the same way that the Marvel Universe mixes superpowers with mortal flaws, the scope of The Half God of Rainfall stretches to another galaxy but all the time remains profoundly human.

Kwami-Odoom-and-Rakie-Ayola-in-Inua-Ellams-The-Half-God-of-Rainfall-c-Dan-Tsantilis-2
Kwami Odoom and Rakie Ayola in Inua Ellams' The Half God of Rainfall. Photo: Dan Tsantilis

Inua Ellams' play The Half God of Rainfall at the Kiln Theatre is an epic battle of gods from Greek and Yoruba myths anchored in contemporary culture by the sport of basketball and a bit of girl power.

Given the god-like status afforded sporting stars - if you are a fan of basketball there are plenty of nods - it's not a huge leap from battles on the court to battles among deities.

#metoo and mythology

And neither is it a leap from the #metoo campaign to the abused women of Greek mythology.

Straddling the realms of gods and humans is Demi (Kwami Odoom) born out of the violent rape of his mortal mother Modupe (Rakie Ayola) and thunder god Zeus.

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Rakie Ayola in Inua Ellams' The Half God of Rainfall. Photo: Dan Tsantilis

Demi's emotions can make it rain to the point of flooding and he also has a god-like knack for scoring basketball hoops.

However, he lives in times when the gods feel easily threatened by powers beyond their own and status.

Protection from jealousy

His fiercely protective and devoted mother takes him from his small village in Nigeria to the US to keep him out of the way but when Demi becomes a star basketball player Zeus's jealousy puts him in danger.

Ellams script paints a vivid picture that is both intimate and epic and it wouldn't work as well if not for the skilful performances of Odoom and Ayola.

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Kwami Odoom in Inua Ellams' The Half God of Rainfall. Photo: Dan Tsantilis

They effortlessly mix the stature of ancient myth with a contemporary inflection.

Demi is, for the most part, a kid with innocent wonder, sometimes petulant, sometimes cheeky but with a good heart.

However, it is Modupe who, in channelling the power of a mother's love and female exasperation at the male ego, the violence and abuse, proves the hero.

She is a god for modern women.

Powers and flaws

In the same way that the Marvel Universe mixes superpowers with mortal flaws, the scope of The Half God of Rainfall stretches to another galaxy but all the time remains profoundly human.

It is one hour and 20 minutes without an interval and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

See it at the Kiln Theatre until 17 May.

You might also like to read:

Interview: Libby Liburd and Cathy Tyson talk about writing and performing in women's boxing drama Fighter.

From the archive: How the theatre obsession started as explained in my first Rev Stan's Theatre blog post.

 

 

 


Review: Little Death Club, Underbelly - flaming nipple-tassels, dick pics and drag queens

Little Death Club is a cabaret of the late night variety, a kind of seductive circus of misfits and certainly not for the prudish.

Bernie Dieter and the Band in Little Death Club at Underbelly Festival Southbank - Credit Alistair Veryard Photography
Bernie Dieter and the Band in Little Death Club at Underbelly Festival Southbank - Photo: Alistair Veryard Photography

Introduced by the catsuit and feathers-wearing Bernie Dieter the club, we are told, is all about looking up from our phones, really seeing each other and throwing inhibitions to one side.

To demonstrate she heads into the audience to be stroked and touched, in a cringe-a-long experience that perhaps goes on a bit longer than its entertainment value justifies.

Bernie reappears between acts with bawdy songs - one is themed around a dick pic she was sent (which she shares). 

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Review: Fighter, Stratford Circus Arts - A single mum steps into the ring to fight for equality

Fighter's message is punchy and it's an important story to be told.

(c) Alex Brenner  no use without credit  Libby Liburd - Fighter (_DSC1109)
 Libby Liburd and David Schaal in Fighter. Photo: (c) Alex Brenner


Set in a boxing gym, Libby Liburd's play Fighter opens with girls and boys (from Fight for Peace's Newham Academy) training alongside each other.

The year projected on the wall at the back of the stage slowly dials back to 1998 and as it does the girls slip away. When single mum Lee (Libby Liburd) enters the gym, she is stepping into a man's world.

At this point in time, women have only been allowed to box as amateurs in the UK for two years and Tommy (David Schaal), who owns the gym, says he only trains men. 

He points Lee in the direction of the nail bar down the road.

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