191 posts categorized "West End" Feed

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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New production photo for next year's Uncle Vanya...what a cast

A new production photo of the principal cast of next year's Uncle Vanya has landed in my inbox. And what a cast:
 
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Uncle Vanya – Toby Jones
Astrov – Richard Armitage
Yelena – Rosalind Eleazar
Sonya – Aimee Lou Wood
Nana – Anna Calder-Marshall
Grandmaman – Dearbhla Molloy
Telegin – Peter Wight
Professor Serebryakov – Ciarán Hinds
 
Particularly excited to see Aimee Lou Wood who was brilliant in Downstate at the National Theatre and Sex Education on Netflix.
 
It's a new adaptation by Conor McPherson directed by Ian Rickson and you can see it at the Harold Pinter Theatre from January 14 Jan.
 
 

Review: The Man In The White Suit, Wyndhams Theatre - Does this Ealing comedy adaptation revive the laughs

Foley has injected the odd contemporary quip about proroguing parliament, Brexit and capitalism which landed well with the audience.

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Stephen-Mangan in The Man in the White Suit. Photo: Nobby Clark

The woman sat behind me at Wyndham's Theatre for The Man In The White Suit, last night, had a very distinctive laugh. It was the sort of laugh that is infectious, it made me chuckle more than once.

She was obviously enjoying Sean Foley's adaptation of the 1950s Ealing comedy which stars Stephen Mangan as clever but hapless scientist Sidney and Kara Tointon as Daphne, a posh, mill owner's daughter.

The physical comedy and slapstick, in particular, made her guffaw as did the way Daphne walked with an exaggerated, seductive swagger.

Loud chuckles

Sidney's 'farting' lab equipment, explosive experiments and the way food and drink seemed to gravitate towards crotches were also afforded loud chuckles.

The story centres around his invention of an indestructible, dirt-proof cloth. Unable to absorb coloured dye, Sidney has the cloth made into a white suit to demonstrate its unique qualities.

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Review: A Day In The Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios - old attitudes and familiar struggles

Peter Nichol's 1967 comedy A Day In The Death of Joe Egg demonstrate both how far we've come in our treatment of and attitudes towards disability but equally how the moral dilemmas and struggles remain.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - (L2R) Lucy Eaton  Claire Skinner  Storme Toolis  Patricia Hodge  Toby Stephens  Clarence Smith. Photographer Credit - Marc Brenner
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - (L-R) Lucy Eaton, Claire Skinner, Storme Toolis, Patricia Hodge, Toby Stephens and Clarence Smith. Photographer - Marc Brenner

Fifteen-year-old Joe (Storme Toolis) has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair-bound and can't communicate. 

To cope, her parents Bri (Toby Stephens) and Sheila (Claire Skinner) use humour, creating a persona for Joe but it is putting a strain on their marriage.

Bri and Sheila (and later other characters) break the fourth wall telling the audience their thoughts on each other and their life, revealing not only the history of their relationship and raising Joe but also their inner struggles.

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Booking for James McAvoy's Cyrano de Bergerac - and a warning

Priority booking opened today for James McAvoy's next stage outing and the first of Jamie Lloyd's new season - Cyrano de Bergerac.

Good news is that there are thousands of tickets for first-time theatre visitors, key workers and under 30s.

Bad news if you don't fall into either of those categories, the ticket prices are particularly steep.

I ended up booking restricted view in the upper circle for £32 because anything closer was just too pricey.

The Playhouse has a reputation among regular theatre-goers for bad sightlines which doesn't make the 'cheaper' seats much better value but it is better than nothing and I'm hoping there might be some rush tickets or day seats so I can get a better seat.

Oh and this notice popped up before you buy the tickets, so you have been warned...ahem.

Cyrano de bergerac warning

Cyrano de Bergerac opens for previews at the end of November, for more details on dates and booking head to the ATG website.


Review: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Appropriate, Donmar Warehouse - family drama that hits a nerve

An Octoroon was the first play of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins I saw and it blew me away.

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He has such an imaginative and bold approach to difficult themes I rushed to get tickets to another of his plays, Gloria, at Hampstead Theatre. Again I wasn't disappointed.

So I had great expectations as I walked into the Donmar to see Appropriate which is receiving its UK debut.

Set in a crumbling plantation house in Arkansas, the Lafayette family has gathered to sort out their late father's belongings and sell the estate.

Emotional baggage

They all bring emotional baggage and scars of past events.

Older sister Toni (Monica Dolan) is recently divorced, has a teenage son who has been in trouble for dealing drugs, was close to her Dad and executor (and chief visitor) of her father as he became a recluse and required day to day care.

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