Review: Cruise, Apollo Theatre - an explosive, energetic delight

There are two types of standing ovation: The ones where there is a slow trickle of people getting to their feet and the rarer ones where the entire audience leaps up en masse. Jack Holden's Cruise at the Apollo Theatre was in the latter category.

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Jack Holden and John Patrick Elliott in Cruise, Apollo Theatre 2022. Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

Written and performed by Holden, this hour and 40-minute explosive, energetic delight of a play is primarily set among the gay community in 1980s Soho. It's about having one last night when you think you won't be around for tomorrow. But to set up that night, the play looks back at the four preceding years.

Aided by musician and DJ John Patrick Elliott, Holden takes the audience on a journey evoking the sounds, atmosphere and characters of this colourful but less than salubrious part of central London.

And what characters, some only in the story for a few lines, others who weave in and out throughout, but each is richly painted. Holden doesn't put on costumes or use props; rather, he brings each vividly to life in the way he describes them and with subtle and not-so-subtle mannerisms. 

He switches effortlessly but with almost dizzying speed between each, and as a result, the play feels like it has a huge cast. The tonal shifts are also effortless. Wit, humour, fun and uplifting moments mix with the grimier, grimmer and heartbreaking, all of which are set against a backdrop of music that matches and enhances each moment.

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Review: Monster, Park Theatre - shocking and powerful

There was a point while watching Monster at the Park Theatre when I realised I had my hand over my mouth. What was unfolding on stage was shocking, and I haven't had a reaction like that to a play for quite a while.

 

Monster credit Ben Wilkin-7741
Caitlin Fielding and Abigail Hood in Monster, Park Theatre Aug 22. Photo credit: Ben Wilkin

 

Abigail Hood's new play is set in Glasgow in 2006 and follows teenager Kayleigh 'Kay' Grey (played by Hood) and her best friend Zoe (Caitlin Fielding). Zoe is quiet and shy and gets bullied, and Kay is prone to retaliate on her behalf. However, the retaliations tend to get her into increasingly serious trouble.

One teacher, Mrs Hastie (Emma Keele), thinks Kay is at heart a good person, but something is going on to make her act up. She is trying to build trust so Kay will open up.

But before Mrs Hastie can find out if her hunch is right, events start to spiral out of control with horrific consequences.

(I'm being deliberately vague as I don't want to spoil anything.)

The structure of the play means it builds to a critical event, but rather than that being towards the end, it allows time to deal more fully with the consequences. And that's what makes this really interesting.

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Review: Freud's Last Session, King's Head Theatre - a compelling watch

Mark St Germain's play Freud's Last Session at the King's Head Theatre in Islington is a compact yet powerful play which imagines a clash of intellect and reasoning between two famous minds.

Freud's Last Session King's Head Theatre
Consulting couch on the set of Freud's Last Session, King's Head Theatre July 2022. Designer: Brad Caleb Lee

It's England on the day that World War II will be declared, and Freud (Julian Bird) has invited Oxford Professor CS Lewis (Séan Browne) to see him at his London home. The founder of psychoanalysis is in the later stages of painful mouth cancer, while Lewis is yet to become a famous writer.

Freud, an atheist, is fascinated with Lewis's sudden re-adoption of Christianity, having lost his faith as a teenager. With the threat of war looming, the two debate the existence of God, religion, sex and relationships.

St Germain's tight script allows the interrogation of both men's arguments, yet the conversations' seriousness also has flashes of wit and humour. It is not so much a case of one winning over the other but what they discover about themselves during the conversation.

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Review: Closer, Lyric Hammersmith - a sad and sordid tale of love, lust and lies

The Lyric Hammersmith's circle was steaming hot, but can the same be said about Closer, Patrick Marber's play about love, lust and lies?

Closer Lyric Hammersmith programme
Closer, Lyric Hammersmith July 2022

Two men and two women form a love 'quadrangle': Dan (Jack Farthing) is an obituary writer, Anna is a photographer (Nina Toussaint-White), Larry (Sam Troughton) is a dermatologist, and Alice (Ella Hunt) is sometimes a waitress, sometimes a stripper.

The play opens with Dan and Alice meeting in a hospital. The latter has been knocked over by a taxi, and Dan, a witness to the accident, has accompanied her to get checked out.

It is the first random event that will eventually link the four and starts them on a journey of love pursuits and broken hearts (and egos).

Throwing away love

The problem Dan, Anna and Larry have is that they convince themselves they are chasing love and happiness, only to throw it all away when they get it.

Certainly, in the case of the men, it is quickly apparent that sexual desire is the driving force with infidelity never far away. Larry even likes to visit prostitutes and strip clubs and spends time in internet sex chat rooms while at work.

It is quite sad to watch them make the same mistakes over and over while kidding themselves they are being honest and truthful.

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Review: Tom Hollander in Patriots, Almeida Theatre - star performance and penny drop moments

Confession: I sat down to watch the Patriots at the Almeida, not realising that the central character Boris Berezovsky (Tom Hollander) was based on a real person. 🤦🏻  The penny drop moment came when a character previously referred to as 'The Kid' was introduced as Roman Abramovich (Luke Thallon).

Patriots poster
Poster for Patriots, Almeida Theatre July 2022

Peter Morgan's play follows Berezovsky from his position as an influential oligarch who helps to put Vladimir Putin (Will Keen) in power to public enemy and exile.

He has a clever mind, a sharp tongue and is not shy of dropping f-bombs. While his primary motivation, he tells us, is doing what is best for his country, his arrogance says something slightly different. And that arrogance blinds him or skewers his judgement and leads to his downfall.

Tom Hollander plays Berezovsky with wit and swagger; it is a star performance (he got a standing ovation at the end) but not a surprising performance.  

Putin is the only other character that has some traction in the play and is expertly played by Keen. He really embodies the character presenting an uncanny likeness that is quite disconcerting.

Wasted character

It's similar for Thallon, he does bear an uncanny resemblance to the man he is playing. However, his character feels wasted, with little for Thallon to really get his teeth into, particularly given the meatier roles he's had recently (Camp Siegfried and After Life).

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Review: The Seagull, Harold Pinter theatre - understated performances amplify the tragedy

Jamie Lloyd is a genius. There I've said it. How else would you describe a director who has his cast seated for most of the play while giving understated performances that somehow manage to amp up the emotion to 11 on the dial?

The Seagull  Harold Pinter Theatre July 2022
The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre July 2022

In fact, the performances are so understated it makes previous productions of The Seagull I've seen seem brash and showy. There is no hand-wringing and sweeping gestures, swooping onto the stage or storming off. It's the opposite: contained, subtle and still, and that supercharges the feelings and subtext.

You can almost hear the inner monologue of the characters.

It's a blank plywood stage with green plastic chairs of the type you get in community centres and church halls. Conversations are mostly pitched at 'private' and 'casual' making it an almost voyeuristic watching experience.

Hanging on every word

You don't need huffs and sighs and characters flopping around to indicate lethargy and boredom it is in their stillness and subtle movement. And that stillness sharpens the focus on what is being said. You hang on every word.

Occasionally there are bursts of energy but it somehow magnifies the subtle emotions of the quiet conversations.

Anya Reiss' modern adaptation makes the play feel completely at home in the 21st century: Carriages have become Land Rovers and Jeeps and Trigorin tells Nina to call his agent.

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Review: The Fellowship, Hampstead Theatre - missing in detail and nuance

Roy Williams' play The Fellowship centres on a small family unit, but there are a lot of big things going on.

The Fellowship Production Image 1 L-R CHERRELLE SKEETE  SUZETTE LLEWELLYN © Robert Day
The Fellowship, Hampstead Theatre, June 2022 L-R Cherrelle Skeete and Suzette Llewellyn © Robert Day

Dawn (Cherrelle Skeet) is grieving the loss of a child while caring for her terminally ill mother with little help from her high-flying lawyer sister Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn). She can tell her teenage son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) is lying to her, and if it's about what she suspects, she will be fuming.

Marcia, meanwhile, has got herself into a relationship with a married politician, which could potentially end her career, and Jermaine has rekindled ties with someone at the heart of a past tragedy.

Dawn and Marcia's mother was tough with her love, and the sisters were once close, fighting on the front line for justice but lead very different lives now. Jermaine has taken the path of least resistance and is drifting away. Tony (Trevor Laird), Dawn's husband and a touring musician, drifts in and out offering little support for any of it, just getting angry. 

The result is a lot of tension and drama, which highlights a whole raft of interesting themes. However, the result is a play that is over-stuffed and missing in detail and nuance.

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Review: Jitney, Old Vic Theatre - great acting but a slow and frustrating play

About halfway through the first half of Jitney at the Old Vic, I had set my mind on leaving at the interval. I couldn't connect with anything or see any signs of what it was building towards.

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Jitney, Old Vic theatre 2022

The rapid pace of the opening scene, where the drivers at Becker's (Wil Johnson) jitney office are introduced, is a series of arrivals and departures punctuated by banter. No one character is around long enough to get familiar with, and I struggled to find the depth in the jibes and jokes.

It didn't seem to be leading to anything, and it went on too long.

It wasn't until Rena (Leanne Henlon), the girlfriend of Vietnam vet Youngblood (Solomon Israel), turned up that I felt myself properly tuned in - and I decided to stay. Rena is the only female character and has two of the play's most interesting scenes.

The jitney office is under threat from redevelopment. It's in a deprived area but provides a vital service for the community as licensed cabs avoid the area.

War vets and gossip

Aside from Youngblood, for whom driving is one of three jobs he has, the other drivers are Fielding (Tony Marshall), who is an alcoholic, Doub (Geoff Aymer), a quiet, cautious Korean War vet and Turnbo (Sule Rimi) the volatile gossip.

Shealy (Nnabiko Ejimofor) swaggers in to use the office for his betting operations, and the weary Becker tries to keep everyone in line between drives.

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Review: Britannicus, Lyric Hammersmith - toxic family power struggles and misplaced sympathy

At its heart, Britannicus at the Lyric Hammersmith is a drama about a toxic family who happens to be the ruling class. Agrippina (Sirine Saba), Claudius' fourth wife, persuaded her husband to adopt her son Nero (William Robinson) and make him his heir, passing over Britannicus (Nathaniel Curtis), his son by his third wife.

Britannicus Lyric Hammersmith poster

Nero has spent the early part of his reign as an inspiring leader, but he is suffocating under the control of his mother, so he starts freezing her out, which triggers a power battle between the two. Then he falls in love with Junia (Shyvonne Ahmmad), Britannicus' fiancée, and things get really nasty.

The play might be called Britannicus, but it's really about Nero and his mother.

Robinson's Nero is like a hormonal teenager at times, petulant and peevish. At others, he is dangerous and erratic; his mood turns on a dime in behaviour that reminds me of more than one comic book villain.

Little boy lost

But there are also faint signs of a simple desire to be loved, which emerge in rare moments of tenderness with those around him. When pitted directly against his mother, he can appear like a little boy lost—someone who wanted hugs rather than being groomed for power.

And as a result, despite the terrible things he does, I did feel sorry for him on occasion.

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Review: Amy Adams in The Glass Menagerie, Duke of Yorks Theatre - bright sparks but too many questions

Director Jeremy Herrin has chosen to have two actors playing Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie so that when he is acting as narrator, it is an older, maturer Tom.  

The Glass Menagerie Duke of York's Theatre poster

This older Tom, played by Paul Hilton, sets a reflective, melancholy, almost listless tone to the play, but while he hovers around the edges of the stage during certain scenes, where he is absent, it serves to emphasise that this story is his interpretation of events and sometimes conjecture. Tom Glynn-Carney plays the younger Tom.

Amy Adams' Amanda is the antithesis, a matriarch full of bustle and bristle and constantly needling her children.

She is an irritating spark to her despondent and bored son and pushes her shy, nervous daughter Laura (Lizzie Annis) further into her own world. And, she is such a spark that you feel Amanda's absence when she is on stage.

As the play progresses and the prospect of a 'gentleman caller' gets closer, a youthful coquettishness comes out. Adams' Amanda is less a mother concerned about her daughter's future and more someone living out a fantasy rooted in much happier times.

Problem scene

For me, the problem scene was when Laura was alone with her gentlemen caller Jim (Victor Alli). It feels, tonally, as if it's from a different play. Is that the intention? Not having been there, this scene is very much from the imagination of Tom or what the quiet and mentally fragile Laura chooses to relay.

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