215 posts categorized "West End" Feed

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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Review: Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Theatre Royal Haymarket - satirical farce carries a lot of punches

Accidental Death of an Anarchist_TRH_Helen Murray_72 window
Tom Andrews, Tony Gardner and Daniel Rigby in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photo: Helen Murray

If this Tom Basden-adapted, Daniel Raggett-directed production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist was a comic book, it would have Blam! Boof! Kapow! written on every page.

Verbal punches come thick and fast in what is a satirical farce aimed squarely at the police.

It is set in a police station where scandal is brewing after the death of an anarchist who was being questioned. Did he jump from the window, or was he pushed?

Enter Maniac (Daniel Rigby); in and out of mental institutions, he is a self-professed actor with a broad repertoire of characters he can (and will) play.

Believing him to be a judge, he encourages the police to re-enact the 'accident' for the benefit of an enquiry. Lies, dodgy procedures and sheer stupidity emerge.

The pace and energy of Rigby's delivery never let up as Basden's script pokes fun at the police, simultaneously exposing the boys in blue's flaws, prejudices and injustice.

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Review: The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre - abuse of power in the spotlight

Milly Alcock as Abigail Williams  Brian Gleeson as John Proctor and the cast of The Crucible west end. Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Milly Alcock as Abigail Williams, Brian Gleeson as John Proctor and the cast of The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre 2023. Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

What struck me most about the National Theatre's production of The Crucible, which has transferred to the Gielgud Theatre, is the focus on the abuse of power.

Arthur Miller's play is set around the Salem witch trials but was written as an allegory for the McCarthy purge of communists in the 1950s. I've seen productions which highlighted 'otherness' and suspicion of strangers, but here it's about the power imbalance and the misuse of that power.

The Salem community at the centre of the story is a theocracy with little scope for individual freedom. It's a point emphasised in the first church-set scene where Abigail Williams (Milly Alcock) is roughly pulled out of the congregation for 'messing about'.

We then move to the home of Reverend Samuel Parris (Nick Fletcher), where his daughter Betty (Amy Snudden) is in a cold faint, having been 'startled' by her father, who discovered her and her friends dancing in the woods.

The girls have little agency; they are shouted at, ordered around, shaken, pulled and pushed - mostly by men.

Parris' sermons, we learn, focus on fire and brimstone, and so you get a devastating combination of self-preservation and desire.

Rumours and suspicion of witchcraft are rife in the extended community. To protect herself and her friends and cover up what they were really doing, Abigail claims witches made them dance.

The spark of suspicion quickly takes hold, fanned by a community burdened by grudges and petty squabbles.

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Review: Private Lives, Donnmar Warehouse - odd choices make for difficult watch at times

Private Live Donmar Warehouse April 2023

The first thing I said to my friend during the interval of Private Lives at the Donmar Warehouse was, 'I don't remember this being a play about domestic violence'.

We'd just witnessed Elyot (Stephen Mangan) and Amanda (Rachael Stirling) having a physical fight which included Elyot grabbing Amanda by the throat and throwing her onto a sofa.

This wasn't slapstick violence which you might expect in a comedy of this type but vicious, and it wasn't funny.

A woman was overheard asking an usher why there wasn't a content warning. There is one, but it's tucked away on the website to avoid spoilers.

And it's not a play I'd think to look for content warning.

You expect verbal cuts and bruises as bitterly divorced couple Elyot and Amanda find themselves in neighbouring rooms while on their respective honeymoons. But the physical fighting feels like an odd choice.

The play is, in essence, about a couple who can't live without each other but equally can't live with each other - despite agreeing on a 'time-out' word when they are bickering.

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Review: A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre - a tough but compelling watch

A little life harold pinter theatre
A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre April 2023

A Little Life, the adaptation of Hanya Yanagihara's tome of a novel, is not an easy watch. It's taken me two days to feel able to revisit it because of the subject matter and ultimately how the story made me feel.

I couldn't record my usual 60-second review because I was too emotionally raw, as the video below captures.

It's a play with severe content warnings and it isn't a one-off event that earns the label; this is a play that is challenging throughout. It explores sexual violence and self-harm, among other things, and it is explicit in its descriptions and depictions - little is implied.

But it's also a play of enduring friendships, love and support.

Jude St Francis (James Norton) is a brilliant lawyer. He was orphaned as a young child, brought up in care and has problems with his legs, which means he sometimes uses a wheelchair.

Solid friendships

He has three very good friends: Willem (Luke Thompson), an actor, JB (Omari Douglas), an artist and Malcolm (Zach Wyatt), an architect. He is also loved by his old university professor Harold (Zubin Varla), who wants to formally adopt him and is diligently cared for by his doctor Andy (Emilio Doorgasingh).

The latter knows more than the others about Jude from treating him, but the details of his early life are still scant.

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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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