Review: Tree, Young Vic - spectacle and atmosphere but I wanted more digging around the themes

When it opened at the Manchester International Festival last month, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah's highly anticipated immersive production Tree was marred in controversy over authorship credits - to which both have responded.

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Cast members in Tree at Manchester International Festival. At the Young Vic from 29 July to 24 August. Photo: Marc Brenner.

It's now in residence at the Young Vic and interest remains untarnished if the long queue of people waiting for the doors to open is anything to go by.

Tree tells the story of London-born Kaelo (Alfred Enoch) and his journey to scatter his white mother's ashes in her South Africa homeland.

There he meets his white grandmother (Sinead Cusack) and black half-sister (Joan Iyiola) for the first time and sets out to discover what happened to his father.

Dance with the cast

The play opens with a club DJ playing music from Elba's own album and the audience is encouraged to dance on the low circular stage among the cast.

I did see one couple getting a selfie with Alfred Enoch - not sure if that is in keeping with the character of the piece or not.

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James McAvoy is back on stage but it's not 100% good news

Love James McAvoy. It was only yesterday I was reminiscing about his knockout performance during a rehearsed reading.

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So any announcement that he is returning to the stage is exciting. Except that Martin Crimp, writer of two of my least favourite plays, is involved.

The silver lining is that it's an adaptation, not his own play.

I'm still reeling from having endured When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other earlier this year, not least because that will forever be the first (maybe only) play I've seen Cate Blanchett in.

Minimal harm?

The vehicle for McAvoy's next stage outing is Edmond Rostand's classic play, Cyrano de Bergerac. How much harm can Crimp do?

Jamie Lloyd is directing which is definitely a plus. He and McAvoy have worked together a number of times before. 

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What has happened to rehearsed readings? And 3 of my favourites

Rehearsed readings have never been common but they were an occasional feature of the London theatre calendar.

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Poly and Rev Stan's moment of fame in the audience of the Almeida's Iliad Live

I say 'were' because the practice seems to have disappeared or at least become a rarity in recent years.

Rehearsed readings, for the unfamiliar, are one-off play readings usually done with a day or less of rehearsals.

The actors perform, script in hand on a bare stage, often seated - but not always.

All-day reading

I've seen rehearsed readings for new plays before they go into production but usually, they will mark an anniversary or reflect a theme or season of plays.

The last one I remember going to was Iliad Live* in 2015 when more than 60 actors took it in turns to read the entire Iliad starting at 9 am, at the British Museum before moving to the Almeida for the evening, finishing at 1 am.

What notable rehearsed readings have there been since?

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Review: The Actor's Nightmare, Park Theatre - a few giggles but it needs more bite

The Actor's Nightmare is six short plays, linked by themes of acting, theatre and performance and brought together for the first time at the Park Theatre.

The Cast of The Actor's Nightmare. Photo credit - Ali Wright
The Cast of The Actor's Nightmare. Photo: Ali Wright

It kicks off with a monologue, Mrs Sorken, which is in part a lecture about the etymology of words such as 'theatre' and part reflection from a theatre-goer.

While observations about the ancient origins of the language around theatre and performance elevate the importance of the medium, the theatre-goer brings things down to earth with a bump, talking about the practicalities of outside theatre and wanting to be home by 10.30.

The irony of the arts perceived lofty importance pitched against mundane reality is refreshing and I'd have liked to have seen more of the audience perspective explored.

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Three ways to see Fleabag in the West End (and beyond) for less than £20

If you weren't lucky enough to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge's play Fleabag before it became a TV series and really famous then there is another chance.

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Fleabag: Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Photo: Jason Hetherington

Tickets for the West End run at the Wyndhams in the Autumn are going like hot cakes but there are other ways to get tickets - and at a more palatable price.

1. Online lottery - 50 seats at £15 will be available for every performance via TodayTix
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2. Standing tickets - A limited number of £10 standing tickets will be available from the Wyndham’s Theatre box office on the day of each performance

3 Live broadcast - Fleabag will be broadcast live to cinemas around the UK and internationally on 12 September with National Theatre Live.  


Fleabag is at the Wyndhams Theatre from 20 August to 14 September.

And yes, I can smuggly say, I did see Fleabag before it was famous. Not at the Edinburgh Fringe but upstairs at the Soho Theatre when it transferred and I remember it vividly and fondly.

My thoughts on it can be found here.


Review: Equus, Trafalgar Studios - A thoroughbred production?

Equus holds a special place in my theatre-going past because it was seeing the 2007 production with Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths which reignited my love of the theatre. Would this production live up to its predecessor?

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

Peter Shaffer's 1973 play is based on a real incident in which a teenage boy blinded six horses. 

In his play, he explores possible reasons for the horrific act through 17-year-old Alan Strang's (Ethan Kai) sessions with his psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla).

Dysart has to build up trust with the troubled teen before, detective-like, he can unearth what motivated him to carry out such a violent and abhorrent act. 

Scenes from the past

Scenes from Alan's past are re-enacted during his conversations with the psychiatrist.

We see his early encounters with horses, his passionately religious mother and atheist, straight-laced father and his growing pathological obsession with horses. 

It is Alan's zeal and fervour which makes Dysart question his own life and the purpose of what he does - what is he saving the boy from?

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Quick review: Wife, Kiln Theatre - smart, vibrant and with a delicious sly dig at theatre

Saw Wife at the Kiln Theatre a few weeks ago but it was a really busy time with work and I got distracted from writing my review - which I now want to quickly rectify because I really enjoyed it.

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Karen Fishwick (Daisy) and Sirine Saba (Suzannah) in Wife © Marc Brenner

Samuel Adamson's play spans 60 years and while there is a connection between the different generations it isn't as simple as parents, children and grandchildren.

You have to pay attention as it time jumps, seeking out the connection when it isn't always immediately obvious, starting with an encounter in 1959 between a married woman and an actress.

The actress is starring as Nora in Ibsen's A Dolls's House and that first scene sets out the stall for the key themes - gay relationships and the changing role of women within the structure of marriage and family.

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Coming soon klaxon...a fringe play you should see

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One of the highlights of my trip to the Edinburgh Fringe last year was Nouveau Riché's Queens of Sheba.

It was an exhilarating watch and sparked a strong emotional response so I'm chuffed to see that it is touring the country in the Autumn.

Details of the tour can be found here and if you are London-based, like me, then Queens of Sheba will be at the Battersea Arts Centre 18-23 November.

It's a show I can't recommend enough and if you want to know more, you can read my review here.


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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