221 posts categorized "West End" Feed

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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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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