189 posts categorized "West End" Feed

Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre - Richard Armitage 'magnetic', Toby Jones 'endearing', Aimee Lou Wood 'adorable'

Richard Armitage's Astrov is looking at Aimee Lou Wood's Sonya, a wave agony and confusion on his face. It is approaching the culmination of what is a charged, layered and yet very funny Uncle Vanya, a production in which not a character is wasted.

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Richard Armitage and Aimee Lou Wood in Uncle Vanya. Photo: Johan Persson

Rarely has Chekhov made me laugh this much and yet equally been heartwarming and sad. 

Conor McPherson's adaptation, as directed by Ian Rickson, elevates the piece into an ensemble tragi-comedy without detracting from the protagonist Vanya played by Toby Jones.

I cared about the characters in a way that I haven't before. I confess, I generally find Chekhov's characters difficult to care about veering far towards the self-pitying for my sympathies.

But this production of Uncle Vanya balances humour and pain, despair and stoicism, laugh out loud moments with those that tug the heartstrings. The woman sat behind me was sobbing all the way through the final scene.

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Review: Ben Elton's Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre - a serious comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously

It doesn't matter if you've never seen Ben Elton's TV comedy series, Upstart Crow, (I hadn't) as the stage play is a stand-alone piece.

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David Mitchell and  Gemma Whelan in Upstart Crow the play. Photo: Johan Persson

Having some familiarity with Shakespeare's plays helps although I confess I couldn't tell you the plot of Measure for Measure or Alls Well That Ends Well.

Upstart Crow (the play) centres on Shakespeare's search for inspiration for his next hit but along the way has a rich vein of commentary on gender inequality, immigration, religion and the acting profession.

There are also a lot of cod-piece jokes and a brilliant dancing bear.

Elton cleverly weaves strands of Shakespeare's actual plays into the plot while simultaneously ridiculing them.  King Lear, Othello and Twelfth Night are mixed with nods to Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, A Comedy of Errors, The Tempest and more all of which have the more outlandish and suspect aspects of their stories exposed.

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Review: Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe in Endgame, Old Vic - stuffed dogs, ladders and a performance that resonates

I know when Alan Cumming was talking about crossing his character's 'wasted' legs on the Graham Norton Show a few weeks ago it was a joke but there was a small part of me that was waiting for it to happen when I went to see Endgame. 

Old Vic Endgame sign

There is humour in Beckett's play about master and servant locked in an endless routine of acid dialogue and 'activity', some of it physical some of it in the words.

But this isn't a roll-around in the aisles funny comedy. It's a Beckett play after all.

It's like an abstract, absurd Chekhov play about people who can see the escape route to their problems but can't seem to follow it.

There's an inevitability but Endgame's narrative is circular rather than linear.

Opposites attract?

Hamm (Alan Cumming) and Clov (Daniel Radcliffe) are opposites (who attract?) and it is something that is particularly apparent in this production.

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Production photos for Uncle Vanya starring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage (Harold Pinter Theatre)

Excited about this production of Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre?

It's currently in preview and due to officially open this week but in the meantime here are the official production photos to whet your appetite.

Toby Jones and Richard Armitage lead a starry cast which also includes Aimee Lou Wood, Ciaran Hinds, Rosalind Eleazar, Anna Calder-Marshall, Dearbhla Molloy and Peter Wight.

It's directed by Ian Rickson, for more details and ticket information head to the official website.

All photos by Johan Persson.

 

 

 


In pictures: Toby Jones and Richard Armitage in rehearsal for Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre

Uncle Vanya starring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage (who was brilliant in The Crucible) is one of the hot theatre tickets of 2020 and the rehearsal images landed today.

The cast also includes Aimee Lou Wood, Ciaran Hinds, Rosalind Eleazar, Anna Calder-Marshall, Dearbhla Molloy and Peter Wight.

It's directed by Ian Rickson it opens for previews at the Harold Pinter Theatre on 14 Jan, for more details and ticket info head to the official website.

Excited? Moi?

 


End of year review: My favourite theatre of 2019, a year of dazzling performances, wit, drama and tears

It's been tough but I've managed to whittle down my 'best theatre of 2019' list to 10 plays, well, one isn't actually a play but deserves a place nonetheless. So here goes, in no particular order:

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

1. Downstate, National Theatre

A challenging, difficult play with humour and wit inflected with wisdom that carefully balanced entertainment without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter.

2. Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre

I wasn't that enamoured with Jamie Lloyd's season of Pinter shorts and then came along Betrayal and it was utterly breathtaking.

The sparse script was layered with nuanced performances from Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox. What wasn't said screamed loud.

3. Seven Methods For Killing Kylie Jenner, Royal Court upstairs

This made a lot of what is on stage in London look stodgy and staid. A fresh and achingly contemporary play that cleverly and boldly tackled social media and what it reveals about modern society.

4. Hansard, National Theatre

One of those plays that get mentioned a lot in theatre conversations, this was an extremely witty and acerbic political drama/comedy which had an unexpected emotional punch.

I loved it also for its balance approached in scrutinising both left and right-leaning politics.

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End of year review: My 5 least favourite plays of 2019

I always go to the theatre expecting something good, hopefully amazing, but it doesn't always work out that way for a variety of reasons. Here is a list of what hasn't impressed me, my 5 least favourite plays of 2019.

National theatre nudity and violence warning

In no particular order (links through to my reviews):

1. When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre

My first chance to see Cate Blanchett on stage and she had to choose this tedious play which rendered potentially interesting themes cold, unengaging and, well, boring.

Despite the warnings (see pic) it was emotionally flaccid and about as exciting.

Still disappointed and a bit angry.

2. Admissions, Trafalgar Studio

It's a play about white privilege, told entirely from the nice, safe perspective of a white middle-class family. Oh, the irony.

Admissions failings are particularly stark given the swathe of powerful and clever plays we've had this year about race and prejudice for example Fairview, A Kind of People, Queens of Sheba and My White Best Friend.

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10 plays from the past 10 years that stand out - for a variety of reasons (not necessarily overly worthy ones)

Here is a snapshot of my favourite theatre from the past 10 years. I say 'favourite', I've tried not to overthink it, these are simply the plays that stand out most in my memory, the ones I talk about if people ask.

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Stan's growing pile of theatre tickets


The list is not about plays that broke new ground or changed the theatre landscape - there are plenty of those lists around already - rather these plays just had something in them that I remember fondly.

To say that it has been tough narrowing it down to 10 is an understatement but I get another go next year because my blog is 10 in April. (There, I spoilt the surprise.)

In no particular order (the links are through to my reviews):

1. After the Dance, National Theatre

This is a play that gets talked about in 'theatre circles' a lot. It had a uniformly standout cast and I can still remember Nancy Carroll's snot crying.

But it has a particularly special place in my memory for being the play which turned Benedict Cumberbatch into 'one to watch' for me.

I'd seen him plenty on TV but this catapulted him from jobbing actor to leading man potential in my eyes.

This was before Sherlock hit the screens and as a result, means I can smugly say 'well I've been a fan since before he played Holmes'.

2. Hamlet, Stratford and Hackney Empire

I've seen a lot of Hamlets, more than one a year, and while technically I did see Ben Whishaw's Hamlet for the first time in 2010, it was a recording rather than the live performance so it doesn't count.

Paapa Essiedu's Hamlet for the RSC was the first, since Whishaw's, where I really felt he was a student and acting his age, he was also the most likeable which made the play all the more tragic.

Setting the play in an African country and having Rosencrantz & Guildenstern as 2 of only 3 white characters was also genius because it put them out of their depth in so many more interesting ways.

When I saw it for the second time, in Hackney, a group of teenagers were so swept up in it they leapt up to dance at the end. I don't think there is higher praise than that really.

3. The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

It's the play in which director Jamie Lloyd had James McAvoy unicycling around the stage wearing just his pants. Have no idea why that sticks out in my mind. Ahem.

The play was brilliantly bonkers too. Wish I could see it again.

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Review: Teenage Dick, Donmar Warehouse - a fun, sharp, black comedy

Teenage Dick is one of those play titles you have to be careful mentioning or googling, a bit like Cock at the Royal Court - but it is wholly appropriate for Mike Lew's play. 

Teenage Dick official marketing image
The Dick of the title is Roseland high-school student Richard Gloucester (Daniel Monks) who is based loosely on Shakespeare's machiavellian King.

Hemiplegic Richard is fed-up of being bullied, ostracised or worse, ignored, so with the elections for senior year president looming, he decides he will scheme his way to the top enacting revenge along the way.

However, matters become complicated by Anne Margaret (Siena Kelly) who starts to be more than a pawn in his game.

Decisions

Richard has to decide what he values and what is worth sacrificing.

Lew's play is a black comedy full of witty one-liners and verbal battles of scathing put-downs.

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Review: Jamie Lloyd exposes James McAvoy in the raw, emotional treat that is Cyrano de Bergerac

The last time Jamie Lloyd directed James McAvoy in a play, he had him riding around the stage on a unicycle in nothing but his pants.

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In Cyrano de Bergerac, their latest collaboration, the trousers stay on (sorry) instead it is deep, raw emotional pain which is laid bare for all to see.

It is a tragic tale of unrequited love. Cyrano has gained acclaim and respect as a skilled soldier but is also beloved as a clever wordsmith baiting the authorities with his biting wit and writing beautiful romantic verse with equal aplomb.

Convinced that the woman he loves - Roxane (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) - will never see past his looks he accelerates his own heartache by helping her and her lover Christian (Eben Figueiredo), a good looking cadet.

Fresh approach

Lloyd's modus operandi is to take a fresh approach to classic plays, adding a contemporary spin while drawing out the deeper emotions and nuances and Cyrano is no exception.

The stage is plain and simple with just a mirror or sometimes a couple of chairs.

Cyrano is reborn as a performance poet. While the actors all have head mics, there are two traditional microphones - a reminder of the 'performance', one of several nods to it in the production.

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