Review: Hymn, Almeida Theatre - brotherly love, eulogies and symbolic savings

The 'Chekhov's gun' in Lolita Chakrabati's Hymn is £10,000 in savings. When it gets mentioned early on, the warning light started flashing in my mind.

Hymn Almeida danny sapani adrian lester photo marc brenner
Hymn, on stage via the screen (Danny Sapani and Adrian Lester, photo Marc Brenner)

It belongs to Benny (Danny Sapani), hard-earned and put by bit by bit over the years.  But it is a victim of the story rather than the driver of the narrative.

Benny has recently found out his father is - or was - a local businessman and turns up at his funeral, where he meets his half-brother Gil (Adrian Lester).

The narrative quickly strides forward to when a strong bond has formed; they share a love of music and, in particular, the music of their youth.

There is a celebratory feel to their friendship - helped by some serious dancing and cool 80s beats - as if making up for the decades of missed shared experiences.

But Benny and Gil's relationship contrasts with that between Gil and their father.

Truthful eulogies

Two eulogies bookend the play. The first is revealed to be not quite truthful in how it represents a relationship while the other we'll never know if it was or not. And that made it a slightly problematic device for me.

Continue reading "Review: Hymn, Almeida Theatre - brotherly love, eulogies and symbolic savings" »


Sunday theatre questions: Which play have you seen the most?

Theatre-land is a mixture of new plays and revivals, but there are certain classics which regularly get staged - which have you seen the most? Is there a particular reason why you've seen one play more than any others?

Which play have you seen the most

The hands-down winner for me is Hamlet. I think I've seen 17 or more different productions, but I confess it was less than literary reasons that got me hooked initially.

Yes, Hamlet was one of the set texts in my final year at Uni but that year also saw the release of a film version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

He was one of my teen crushes so; naturally, I ran to the cinema to see it and then went back to see it again... and again.

I have no idea if it was well done - I wasn't really watching it for the play - but it helped me get really familiar with the key speeches. Handy when exam time came around.

The very first production

The first stage production of Hamlet I saw was on a student trip to Theatr Clwyd. It was memorable for several reasons no least because one of the actor's costumes caught fire  - it was all fine, quickly stamped out by another actor without even a pause in their speech.

But it wasn't until I saw it again years later - in 2008 - with David Tennant as Hamlet that it really sparked my interest/obsession. The speeches were still familiar, and the production just opened up the play in different ways.

Continue reading "Sunday theatre questions: Which play have you seen the most?" »


Lockdown London theatre walks: Hampstead Theatre - comedy conversions, velvet and Ben Whishaw

I don't want to turn this lockdown theatre walks series into Ben Whishaw stories, but I do have a Ben Whishaw story connected to Hampstead Theatre, but I'll come onto that.

Hampstead theatre Dumb Waiter
Hampstead Theatre Jan 2021

Normally I'd get the tube to Hampstead as the Santander Cycle docks don't stretch that far but having the time, I cycled into town and met up with fellow blogger Maryam (Cultural Capital) for a socially distanced walk to the theatre.

At the end of last year, we had tickets to see The Dumb Waiter, but then theatres had to close, again, so it was bittersweet seeing the posters.

I think my relationship with Hampstead properly started with Propeller Theatre and two particular productions: Richard III and A Comedy of Errors.

Richard Clothier's portrayal of Richard III is still one of my favourites and Propeller's 'Errors' was the first time a Shakespeare comedy had really made me laugh so it was a bit of a revelation.

Velvet trip hazards

Another play that really 'stands out' is The Judas Kiss for reasons of impressive velvet backdrop which proved to be a teeny trip hazard and, well, if you've seen it you'll know the 'other' reason. 

Continue reading "Lockdown London theatre walks: Hampstead Theatre - comedy conversions, velvet and Ben Whishaw" »


Sunday theatre question: Favourite play or production with an all-female cast

This week's Sunday Theatre question is about girl-power on stage - what is your favourite play or production with an all-female cast?  Theatre's gender balance still has a way to go, but it feels like it has improved in recent years. Do you think?

Sunday theatre question all female cast

My choice for this makes a thing of having an all-female cast. Emilia, which I saw at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2019 (review here) is the story of Emilia Lanier, the first feminist poet and a possible inspiration for Shakespeare.

And while it is a story with feminism at its heart, having an all-female cast allowed plenty of humourous digs at the fact that women weren't allowed to perform on the stage in Shakespeare's time.

It was brilliantly done and was such a joyous production; I loved it. So what is your choice and why?

Looking for inspiration? Here are some other all-female cast productions that spring to mind:

Queens of Sheba, Battersea Art Centre - Saw this at the Edinburgh Fringe then again when it transferred the Battersea Arts Centre. It's one of those plays that doesn't shy away from looking at the difficult subjects - sexism and racism - but also feels like a celebration and a rally - a call to arms. I loved it very much.

Continue reading "Sunday theatre question: Favourite play or production with an all-female cast" »


Lockdown London theatre walks: Soho Theatre and the Ben Whishaw and Phoebe Waller-Bridge connection

Headed into town for my weekend lockdown exercise and visited the Soho Theatre - we go back a long way, to pre-blog days and pre-fame days for two notable names.

Soho Theatre lockdown Jan 2021
Soho Theatre in January 2021

It was at the Soho Theatre I first saw Ben Whishaw on stage. He'd just come to my notice in the film Perfume and when I saw that he was doing a play I bought a ticket out of curiosity to see what he'd be like on stage.

The play was Leaves of Glass, by Philip Ridley and he co-starred with Maxine Peake.

I actually saw him in person the week before, passed him on the stairs at the theatre as I was heading to see some comedy (Soho has more than one performance space).

Whenever I'm walking up those stairs with @polyg I point out the spot where we passed - it never wears thin. For me, anyway.  Poly is very good at humouring me.

Seeing Leaves of Glass cemented my opinion of Mr W, and I've tried to see everything he's done on stage and screen ever since.

But this wasn't the only 'early in their career' spot at the Soho Theatre.

Continue reading "Lockdown London theatre walks: Soho Theatre and the Ben Whishaw and Phoebe Waller-Bridge connection" »


Sunday theatre question: A screen/book adaptation that worked surprising well on stage

Going to see a much-loved film or book that has been adapted for the stage can conjure up a mixture of feelings from excitement to nerves. Sometimes there is an element of curiosity about how it will be adapted.

So have you seen a screen or stage adaptation that has particularly surprised you in how it was staged?

In the video, I explain my top choice, the National Theatre of Scotland's adaptation of Swedish horror film Let The Right One In which I saw when it transferred to the Royal Court.

I loved the film but never in a million year would have pegged it as a stage adaptation. I approached it with trepidation but was completely blown away by the inventiveness of the staging and how the tone of the film had been captured.

Here are some of my other favourite adaptations for stage, tell me about yours in the comments.

Let the Right One In, Royal Court Theatre

A Monster Calls, Old Vic Theatre - the book, written by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd, held a particular place in my heart because I read it not long after my Mum died. There had already been a film version which used CGI to great effect to render the tree-like monster - or is it monster-like tree - of the title and I'd been relieved when that version was reasonably faithful to the book.

Continue reading "Sunday theatre question: A screen/book adaptation that worked surprising well on stage" »


Lockdown London theatre walks: White Bear Theatre, Kennington and two very different memories

I should have thought of this back in March but better late than never... I've started using my lockdown weekend walks (or cycles) to visit some of my favourite London theatres.

White Bear Theatre in lockdown Jan 2021
White Bear Theatre, Kennington in lockdown Jan 2021

The off-the-top-of-my-head list I drew up has 18 non-West End theatres (well not the big West End Theatres anyway) so let's see how many I get to between now and, well, having something else to do at the weekends other than walk or cycle.

First up is the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, which is about a 30-minute walk from home.

Now I have to start with a question. Did the theatre at the White Bear use to be downstairs at the back of the pub before they moved it into swisher space upstairs? Or am I getting it mixed up with somewhere else?

Anyway, it's one of my favourite pub theatres, and I'm not just saying that because it's close to home. It's a nice size, has some raked seating (important when you are 5ft 2in tall) and puts on an interesting mix of new work.

I'm all for pub theatres being the proving ground for new talent and to be quite frank; I'm long over pub theatre productions of classics by Shakespeare and Chekhov. 

Going to a pub theatre is about the chance to see a spark of new talent or something different and inventive.

Two particular plays I've seen at the White Bear Theatre stand out for very different reasons:

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd by Keith Stevenson

This was one of those productions which had me grinning and feeling full of life. It came at a dark time - Trump's inauguration and Theresa May spouting hard Brexit speeches - so was a very welcome diversion on a cold January evening.

As I said in my review, it was a reminder that there is some good in the world.

Continue reading "Lockdown London theatre walks: White Bear Theatre, Kennington and two very different memories" »


Review: Overflow, live stream via Bush Theatre - toilet drama makes for clever and powerful storytelling

Travis Alabanza's play Overflow is set in the toilet of a club from where transgirl Rosie (Reece Lyons) has locked herself in.

Overflow bush theatre reece lyon
Overflow, Bush Theatre. Photography by Elise Rose. Art direction by Mia Maxwell

She talks about the power of a 'pre-emptive pee' but it isn't just about being organised enough to empty your bladder knowing the facilities, later on, will be less than ideal for a comfort break.

As she talks there is the possibility that she might want to avoid public toilets for reasons other than queues and cleanliness.

The toilet setting is the literal backdrop for stories of her past experiences from primary school to more recent club visits but each is revealing, peppered with revelations about life as a transgirl, how friends and society views her.

At first, the club toilet experience is about acceptance and friendly camaraderie where the girls bolster each other with compliments and rally to help out when one of them is in need.

Continue reading "Review: Overflow, live stream via Bush Theatre - toilet drama makes for clever and powerful storytelling" »


Sunday theatre question: Favourite Winter play

This week's theatre question is inspired by the wintery weather. The weathermen forecast snow for this weekend here in London but instead, it's peeing it down with rain. Not that I mind too much snow is just a pain - on those rare occasions we get it in the city.

Anyway, the prospect of snow got me thinking about plays that either have a wintery setting or remind me of the winter. Watch the video to find out my choice of favourite winter play and let me know your snowy-set play choices in the comments.

If you are looking for some inspiration, here are some other plays that have wintery connections:

The Red Barn, National Theatre - Mark Strong and Elizabeth Debicki starred in this intriguing and tense play in which a snowstorm throws a group of people together.

On Bear Ridge, Royal Court - The mountain setting, the snowy stage, the actors wrapped in layers against the 'cold' - a beautiful play with a bleak future setting and the weather to match.

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic - The one starring Rhys Ifans had everyone in the audience so giddy that when it started 'snowing' over the stalls there was spontaneous applause. It was such a joyful moment.

And my review of Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios starring James McAvoy which had a distinctly wintery feel.


Sunday theatre question: What combo would be your nightmare theatre production?

If you had a theatre-watching nightmare, one where you were forced to sit an watch something and it was everything you hate, what would that look like for you?

Sunday theatre question

For me, it would be a musical, written by Tom Stoppard and starring Ben Whishaw for reasons I explain in the video below.

There is one Tom Stoppard play I really like and that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead but I've realised over the years that the only reason I like that play is because I love Hamlet and crucially I'm familiar with it.

And that's the problem with Stoppard he relies on a lot of existing knowledge and if the references and ideas aren't familiar then it doesn't make much sense. Which has been the case with all the other plays I've seen.

I'm not one for dumbing down but I find them alienating because I don't have the prerequisite level of knowledge to adequately appreciate them.

And I've tried quite a few - I've seen Arcadia more than once - but after these years of testing, I've come to the conclusion that Stoppard isn't for me.

Here's a couple of reviews of Tom Stoppard plays I've seen:

The great: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Old Vic starring Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire

The tedious: The Hard Problem, Dorfman Theatre