209 posts categorized "West End" Feed

Theatre best of: Stan's top 10 plays 0f 2022

Best of theatre 2022
This feels like a moment; I haven't been able to do a best-of theatre list since 2019 because of 'you know what'. It's been huge fun revisiting the plays I've seen - nearly 50. And while that total is down on pre-pandemic levels, it was still tricky to narrow down my choices, but here goes.

1. The Collaboration, Young Vic

Synopsis in a sentence: Andy Warhol's star is waning, and young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat's star is rising; they have nothing in common but are persuaded to collaborate.

From my review: "I was gripped in the presence of two great artists and gripped by their stories. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, and if I felt compelled to tap my toes at the start, by the end, I was on my feet, and that's something I rarely do."

The play is now on Broadway, and look out for a film version (an actual film, not a filmed stage version).

2. Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

Synopsis in a sentence: The wayward Prince becomes King and has to prove himself to his country and foreign powers.

Not going to lie, Kit Harington surprised me with his performance in this.

From my review: "This is a powerful production of Henry V. Harington's nuanced, often quiet and considered Henry V perfectly highlights the complexity and often contradictory nature of the character and the role of leadership.

3. The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A woman has a final phone call with her lover, who is getting married the next day.

From my review: "It hasn't gone down well with all the critics, but I thought it was mesmerising and gripping. Hats off to Ruth Wilson."

4. Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A lesbian choir get a coveted spot on the main stage at Pride, mainly because they are the only lesbian choir to apply.

From my review: "It is a funny, interesting and occasionally challenging play that had me walking out of the theatre with a big grin on my face. And that is a big win."

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Review: Emma Corrin in Orlando, Garrick Theatre

 

Orlando Garrick Theatre Dec 2022
Orlando, starring Emma Corrin, Garrick Theatre, Dec 2022

 

Twice during Orlando at the Garrick Theatre, Emma Corrin says 'gosh' and to my ear, it was her Princess Diana in The Crown saying it. I'm hoping it was intentional as it would fit with the contemporary references which are peppered throughout Neil Bartlett's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel.

Some of it is subtle, some less so, but it's part of what makes this a fun and playful production of a story with serious themes.

Corrin plays the eponymous Orlando, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, whose story spans from the 16th century to the second world war, all the time remaining in their 20s or 30s.  

They are a character that is forever searching: Who am I? But in essence, it's a search for the freedom to be themselves, to express who they are and openly love who they love.

There is a chorus of 'Virginias', all dourly dressed, who step in to play additional characters. The casting is ethnicity and gender-blind, something that wouldn't normally raise an eyebrow, but here it feels particularly smart; the fluidity of gender and roles in the context of the story nails the point.

Clothes as labels

As Orlando passes through the centuries, they work their way through a dizzying array of costumes, but these become symbolic of society's labels and expectations of binary genders.

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Review: David Tennant in Good, Harold Pinter Theatre - "there is a brutal and uncomfortable honesty in the absence of bravery and action"

A victim of rescheduling because of theatre lockdowns, Good, starring David Tennant, finally gets in front of an audience but is it worth the wait?

Good Harold Pinter Theatre Oct 2022
Good, Harold Pinter Theatre Oct 2022. Photo: Rev Stan

Tennant is a household name because of his screen work, but he is also a seasoned stage actor, taking on an eclectic mix of roles from Hamlet to Don Juan in Soho, so expectations are high.

Good is set in Germany during the rise of Nazism and the Second World War. Tennant plays John Halder, a literature lecturer, novelist and liberal. His best friend Maurice (Elliot Levy) is Jewish.

John has a busy life; his elderly mother has gone blind, his wife can't cope with the day-to-day, and he suspects a mutual attraction between him and one of his students (all played by Sharon Small).

He is a mild and ordinary man in many senses; he works, he visits his mother, cooks for his family, is a hands-on dad and spends time with his friend.

Through his verbalised internal monologues, we see his human flaws; the lapses of attention and care when he's talking to others instead focusing on himself. And he falls into an affair with his student.

He's not a perfect human but what you might describe as good at heart.

However, Cecil Philip Taylor's play puts the idea of 'good' under the spotlight exploring the slow and subtle indoctrination into Nazi ideas.

John is an inert character in that he doesn't seek out change or advancement in his life and career. He responds to what comes his way but doesn't challenge or resist. He believes that the Nazi's abhorrent policies will be short-lived - something to 'distract the masses'.

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Review: Silence, Donmar Warehouse - filling the silence, a play that left me wanting more

Silence is based on a non-fiction book by journalist Kavita Puri who interviewed people who lived through the partition of India in 1947 and subsequently settled in the UK.

Silence Donmar Warehouse
Silence, Donmar Warehouse Sep 2022

The play is co-authored by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood and is structured as a series of individual stories joined loosely by the thread of a journalist trying to coax her elderly father into talking about his own experiences.

Partition is not an event in history I know much about, which is what immediately drew me to the play, and for that, it is a good introduction. These are real experiences of trauma from a country suddenly divided on religious grounds. Friends turned enemies overnight because of a line drawn on a map and the atrocities and violence that result when people are othered.

The staging is simple, with large panels of cloth hanging towards the back of the stage, onto which there are projections. These can be turned at different angles.

Simple but devastating divide

A piece of string is used to denote how the country was carved up with religious groups designated to certain areas. And chalk lines depict train tracks now dissected by the 'border'.

However, the staging is such that it pushes the actors towards the front of the stage, and the production doesn't make the most of the Donmar's thrust with much of the performance played forwards, neglecting those sitting to the sides.

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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.

033_Cruise 2022_Pamela Raith Photography
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: 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: 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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Review: The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre - Ruth Wilson is transfixing

You know those times you are watching a play utterly transfixed by what is happening on stage? Yep, well, that's how I felt watching  Ruth Wilson in The Human Voice.

The Human Voice Harold Pinter Theatre poster
The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre Mar 2022

The signs were good. She's a fabulous actress, and she's partnered with director Ivo Van Hove before - in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre, which earned five stars from me.

An adaptation by Van Hove of Jean Cocteau's challenging play, The Human Voice is not just a monologue; it's one side of a telephone conversation. In the wrong hands, it could be awful. 

The conversation is between a woman (Wilson) and, as we learn, her lover. They have been together for five years, but he is leaving her and marrying another woman the following day, so this will be their last conversation.

There is nothing obvious or affected in Ruth Wilson's performance. We watch her through a large window as if observing her apartment from a neighbouring building. She occasionally walks out of view while talking, and there is something voyeuristic about the whole thing, a feeling which heightened by how oblivious she is to being viewed - or overheard. 

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Review: The Mousetrap, St Martin's Theatre - frothy, fun entertainment

Are you allowed to call yourself a theatre fan if you haven't seen The Mousetrap, the West End's longest-running play? Possibly. But I've ticked that box now.

The Mousetrap sign
Photo by Rev Stan

So what was it like? Well, it's a fun, frothy West End play that is in part carried by its status of being long-running and a West End institution.

It's an Agatha Christie, which means everyone acts in a way that puts them under suspicion.

And I don't know if you are like me, but thoughts about characters always cross my mind early on, which I then put to one side but inevitable prove true.

Of course, I never verbalise my suspicions in the interval, so can't prove that I was kinda on the right track. But I was, so there. Not that I guessed everything because I didn't.

There are some nice little twists, as you'd expect from Christie.

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Review: Wonderville Magic & Illusion, Palace Theatre - fun and entertainment (for all the family)

Wonderville Magic & Illusion is, as its title suggests, an evening of (family-friendly) magic and illusion but with the occasional bit of variety thrown in - think roller-skating hula hooping. 

Wonderville 1 Multi-award-winning mind reader and TV star Chris Cox Photo by Pamela Raith
Wonderville: Multi-award-winning mind reader and TV star Chris Cox. Photo by Pamela Raith

And while much of it is a variation of stuff you'll have seen before, you can't help but be awed by a lot of what you are apparently witnessing.

Mindreader Chris Cox both performs and comperes, marshalling the mixture of acts who take it in turns to do short stints.

While some acts lend themselves to quick switches, the different pace of some performances makes the transitions a little clunky at times. But it does mean that you never linger on any one act for too long. 

Edward Hilsum does traditional sleight of hand tricks. Occasionally you can see how he does it, but then he'll immediately wow you with the seemingly impossible. There is a particularly cute moment with a young volunteer from the audience.

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