223 posts categorized "West End" Feed

Review: The Constituent, Old Vic - promises, promises

Old Vic The Constituent

There's been a lot of buzz on social media about The Constituent at the Old Vic, and on paper, it holds a lot of promise. But did it live up to expectations?

Anna Maxwell Martin plays Monica, a back-bench opposition MP who is having new security cameras and a panic button fitted at her constituency office. The person doing the work, Alec (James Corden), happens to be a constituent and has gone to the same school.

Monica is a politician with a lot of empathy. Ex-army Alec's marriage has ended, and he is fighting to see his kids. He thinks laws need to change, and Monica can help with that.

The play starts with an almost jovial comic tone, with funny quips and ripples of laughter. But the story starts to take a darker turn.

Monica receives rape and death threats, and her office is smashed up. The name Alec means 'defender of men', which is the position Alec, the character, takes when it comes to father's rights.

Is this a comedy or a dark drama? It is difficult to discern. The comedy is too cheery in tone to make it a black comedy, and given the subject matter, it gets harder and harder to laugh. 

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Review: Romeo & Juliet, Duke of York's Theatre starring Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Romeo and juliet duke of yorks theatre

Director Jamie Lloyd is behind this new production of Romeo & Juliet with Spider-Man Tom Holland as the star name. He's a director whose work I love, particularly for the way he takes familiar plays and makes you see them differently.

Could he work his magic on this Shakespeare classic and make me like a play I've started to avoid?

I've seen a good handful of productions of Romeo & Juliet, and my main problem has been believability. There has rarely been sufficient chemistry between the star-crossed lovers to make their teenage 3-day meet-fall-in-love-marry-die story feel genuine.

It doesn't help that the 3-day tragi-romance begins with Romeo moping because he's so in love with another girl. (Fickle youth.)

But watching Jamie Lloyd's production, it's like he's asked a mate to hold his pint while he throws an emotional punch.

The staging is stripped back and still. There are a couple of mic stands and a step-down near the front of the stage where the actors sometimes sit.

Jamie Lloyd has embellished this sparse, prop-free backdrop by mixing in live video. A camera projects particular scenes on a huge screen above their heads, creating a cinema-screen-sized close-up.

The handheld camera also allows the actors to roam and break away from the traditional performance space. (At one point, Tom Holland's Romeo goes up onto the roof for a quiet cig.)

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Review: Player Kings, Noel Coward Theatre - a vehicle for Ian McKellen at the expense of something richer

Player Kings at the Noel Coward Theatre is Henry IV parts 1 & 2 squished together to create just under four hours of Shakespeare with one interval.

Ian McKellen is the big star name, playing Falstaff with Richard Coyle as Henry IV and Toheeb Jimoh as Hal.

Prince Hal's behaviour is presented as influenced by his spending so much time hanging out in taverns and with thieves, and I really liked that.

It is particularly notable in the way he fights. There is one moment when his actions towards Hotspur, whom his father admires, are certainly dirty and dishonourable. It puts both characters in a different light.

Richard Coyle, as Henry IV, has such a commanding stage presence that you could hear a pin drop every time he appeared. He presents a formidable and slightly scary King.

Robert Icke, who has adapted and directed the play, leaves little room for guilt about the means by which Henry came by the crown.

Although the fact that Henry was able to leap out of bed and wrestle with his son when he was supposedly dying did feel a little comical.

Ian McKellen is going to be my favourite Falstaff. This production felt like it was a vehicle for him to do a series of comic turns.

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Review: For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, Garrick Theatre - seamless theatre

D) For Black Boys... (ensemble)
For Black Boys... (ensemble). Photo: © Johan Persson

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is a play of experiences told as a seamless stream of stories.

But the play itself has its own story. This is the second West End run for Nouveau Riche's production in just over 12 months, but it started with a sell-out run at the bijou New Diorama Theatre in Euston back in 2021. It then transferred to the Royal Court before securing its first stint in the West End at the Apollo Theatre. 

It is a dream come true for any theatre production and a much-deserved success. This is an exceptional piece of theatre.

Written by Ryan Calais Cameron, the play is divided roughly into two main acts with a third shorter concluding act.

The first half is served up with a rap soundtrack focusing on black boy experiences from school, among friends and peers and at home.

It's like an informal therapy session, different characters sharing different experiences which get picked over by the rest of the group.

They discuss how it has shaped their outlook and approach to life. It isn't formal but rather a dialogue peppered with revealing banter and teasing. There is agreement and disagreement, empathy and sometimes fights.

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Review: A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre - truth and lies in theatre

Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi for A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner
Tanya Reynolds and Samuel Adewunmi in A Mirror at the Trafalgar Theatre - photo by Marc Brenner

The wedding between Layla and Joel is back on, having found a new venue at the Trafalgar Theatre.

Sam Holcroft's play A Mirror, which won rave reviews when it opened at the Almeida Theatre, has brought its lies to the West End.

That isn't a spoiler, it tells us the play is a lie in a tagline. And we, the audience, are complicit; we play along as wedding guests, standing for the bride and later to take an oath.

But for which lie are we complicit?

Inspired by Sam Holcroft's visit to North Korea, this is a play about culture in a repressive regime. What theatre is suitable for public consumption in the eyes of the state? Who is it for, and what does theatre mean in that scenario?

It is also about the truth and lies of theatre arts.

Layla and Joel's wedding is a performance, not so much a play within a play but a play to hide a play. 

That play follows Čelik (Jonny Lee Miller), the director at the Ministry of Culture, who believes he is a connoisseur of the arts and wants to improve the quality of what gets approved for performance.

When a play written by car mechanic Adem (Samuel Adewunmi) lands on his desk, it contains so many infractions of what is 'acceptable' theatre that Čelik should report him to the Ministry of Security.

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Review: The Unfriend, Wyndham's Theatre - Frances Barber elevates every scene she is in

Lee Mack  Frances Barber and Sarah Alexander in The Unfriend - photo by Manuel Harlan
Lee Mack, Frances Barber and Sarah Alexander in The Unfriend. Photo by Manuel Harlan

If you like sitcom-style comedy, then Steven Moffat's  The Unfriend at the Wyndham's Theatre could be the show for you. It centres on an unwelcome house guest whom the hosts are too polite (or British) to ask to leave despite discovering said guest's suspected murderous past.

Brits Peter (Lee Mack) and Debbie (Sarah Alexander) meet American Elsa (Frances Barber) on a cruise. Elsa is not afraid to share her opinions and vocalise her observations. And she makes for amusing and harmless company while on holiday.

However, when a polite rather than serious post-holiday invite is taken up, suspicion grows about who Peter and Debbie will have staying under their roof.

Attempts to curtail Elsa's stay are hampered by farcical and awkward ineptitude and the unexpected impact of Elsa on their two teenage kids, Alex (Jem Matthews) and Rosie (Maddie Holliday).

Peter and Debbie seem unable to deal with anything head-on, as the situation with Elsa, recurring visits by a boring neighbour, and attempts to parent their children demonstrate. It is in stark contrast with the direct and persuasive Elsa.

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2023 theatre round up - top 10 favourite plays (and 4 least favourite)

Best of theatre 2023 montage

It feels like theatre returned with a splash in 2023 after the dark days of Covid. I saw 62 and a half plays (64 and a half, including second viewings) across London's plethora of theatres, from tiny pubs to big West End stages.

Here are my favourite 10 plays - in no particular order (links are to the full review).

1. No One, Omnibus Theatre

This was a fun, lively and inventive storytelling, with brilliant fight scenes.

2. Linck and Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre

Based on a real same-sex couple living in the 18th Century Prussia, this was a witty, effervescent and heartbreaking play.

Mediocre white male king's head theatre

3. Mediocre White Male, King's Head Theatre

Subtle shifts and throwaway remarks build to make a powerful point.

4. A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre (and Savoy Theatre)

A harrowing and compelling play that utterly flawed me and I had to go back and see it again.

5. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre and Noel Coward Theatre

Superb performances in this sharp, funny and interesting play. So good, I had to see it twice.

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Review: The Motive and the Cue, Noel Coward Theatre - sharp, funny and delicious to watch

Mark Gatiss as John Gielgud and Johnny Flynn as Richard Burton in The Motive and the Cue in the West End. © Mark Douet
Mark Gatiss as John Gielgud and Johnny Flynn as Richard Burton in The Motive and the Cue, Noel Coward Theatre 2023. © Mark Douet


There's a scene in Jack Thorne's play The Motive and the Cue when Johnny Flynn is playing Richard Burton, doing an impression of Sir John Gielgud's Hamlet.

Set around the rehearsal for the Gielgud-directed production of Hamlet on Broadway starring Burton, there are plenty of delicious moments like this.

When it opened at the National Theatre in May, The Motive and the Cue garnered stunning reviews and is now enjoying a much-deserved transfer to the Noel Coward Theatre.

And, having seen it at the National, it was an opportunity to reflect on it anew because, as that Burton-Gielgud-Hamlet impression highlights, there are a lot of layers to this play.

To recap the plot, Gielgud (Mark Gatiss) finds his star status waning and directing this production of Hamlet on Broadway is the best offer he's had for a while.

It's an opportunity to reinvigorate his career, working with Burton on an edgy, modern, stripped-back version of the play. The idea is to present it as if in rehearsal, wearing ordinary clothes.

Burton is a big-screen star who is newly married to Elizabeth Taylor (Tuppence Middleton) and wants to return to his stage roots.

Gielgud represents the past and Burton the future, and it's an unlikely pairing, as the tensions in the rehearsal room illustrate. 

But this is more than a clash of creatives, this is about two men trying to prove themselves. Can a great actor be a great director? Can Burton pull off Hamlet on Broadway?

How, when they are so different, do they find a way to help each other and themselves?

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Review: Kenneth Branagh's King Lear, Wyndhams Theatre - pacey, fresh and youthful production sometimes loses its heart

Web Doug Colling (Edgar as Poor Tom)  Joseph Kloska (Gloucester)  Kenneth Branagh (Lear)  and Dylan Bader-Corbett (France) for the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's King Lear at Wyndham's Theatre - photo by Johan Persson
Doug Colling (Edgar as Poor Tom), Joseph Kloska (Gloucester), Kenneth Branagh (Lear) and Dylan Bader-Corbett (France) for the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's King Lear at Wyndham's Theatre - photo by Johan Persson

I'm calling this production the Wildling King Lear. The costumes, which involved fur and animal skins, lots of belts and tunics, reminded me of the tribe in Game of Thrones.

It's possibly not what Kenneth Branagh was going for in this production in which he stars and directs, or maybe it was because there is something tribal in its tone.

Sharpened staffs are the weapons of choice and an instrument to stamp the ground in an approving or threatening manner. 

The stage is wrapped in a semi-circle of large flat stones. These stones, coupled with a doughnut-shaped disc hanging above the stage, are a palette onto which planets, the moon, clouds and sometimes faces of characters are projected.

It enhances the otherworldly/ancient England feel, which is probably why the doughnut when lit a certain way, reminded me of another fictional reference: The Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings.

When we first meet King Lear, staffs are held aloft to make a canopy above his head, and for a moment, he looks up to where they all connect—a symbolic and ironic gesture, knowing what will happen next.

Branagh's production is an extremely pacey 2 hours straight through (King Lear normally clocks in at over 3 hours). It satisfyingly zips through the story with enough to give you the gist. 

You do lose some of the subtle detail and character development in not dwelling, which makes some characters appear overly fickle in their choices.

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Review: Vanya, Richmond Theatre - Andrew Scott does it all but does it deliver?

Vanya Richmond Theatre andrew scott poster

Chekhov's Uncle Vanya - 'Vanya' - adapted by Simon Stephens and starring Andrew Scott playing all the characters? Well, of course, I had to buy a ticket, it's ANDREW SCOTT, but I was equally curious about the concept and what it would add to the play.

I've seen a few productions and am familiar with the story. Note: If you are not, it's worth glancing over a plot summary in prep, but more on that later.

Chatting to the woman sitting next to me, she had never seen a production before and asked if it was a comedy. "It depends on how it's done", was my reply. Chekhov's plays can be funny.

I followed up with: "Are you familiar with classic Russian literature? Tragedy of inaction, that sort of thing?"

"Yes, love that", was her reply.

Vanya is part unrequited love story, part exploration of a life's purpose. It's about those toiling away on a rural estate to support the 'genius' professor who came into possession of it via his first marriage.

His daughter Sonia, brother-in-law Vanya and mother-in-law work hard to generate funds for his city life. When he visits with his new young wife, Helena, it throws the estate in turmoil.

Simon Stephen's adaptation sees a more naturalistic and modern dialogue. The setting is transported to Ireland, which allows Scott to use his natural accent.

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