Monday, 22 May 2017

Review: BLUSH, Soho

"Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock, non-bio.
Cock."

Charlotte Josephine's BLUSH makes its way to the Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and ahead of a tour across the South of England (and Birmingham). And it's a play that manages to hit two of my bugbear phrases in theatre writing, in that it is both 'darkly comic' and 'extremely timely'. But though reviewers and publicists may desperately overuse both terms, it doesn't make it any less true here.

BLUSH is concerned with revenge porn, weaving together five stories of people who have found themselves swept up in this most modern of afflictions. An older sister looks on helplessly as her 18 year old sibling has intimate photos published online by a boyfriend, a father struggles with his porn addiction, a jilted lover is surprised at the reaction she gets when she posts her ex's nudes, Josephine and her co-performer Daniel Foxsmith show us the many ways in which the issue can impact our lives.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Hope

"There is no God
There are no miracles"

Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle marks its 40th anniversary this year and so it's as good a time as any to revive this dark drama that was so controversial on its release that the BBC banned it from its original Play For Today slot. It eventually played at Sheffield Crucible a year later and though it received a powerfully acted production (Tessa Peake-Jones, Rupert Friend) at the Arcola in 2012, Matthew Parker's revival for his Hope Theatre feels perfectly poised to capitalise on its relevance to our fractured society.

Though written and set in the late 70s, Potter's depiction of far-right politics, racism and homophobia, religious intolerance feels horribly recognisable. The way in which one character rationalises his decision to join the National Front has chilling new currency in this post-Brexit world and the supercilious smile that another character occasionally bares to the audience reflects nothing so much as the arrogance of Nigel Farage. Potter's dramatic form of evil is naturally much more timeless but you can't help but draw the parallels here. 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo

"I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary"

I wasn't intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn't the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there's no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.

And I'm glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End's early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada.

Film Review: Their Finest

"He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won't remember you"

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God's sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it's a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Comedy Review: Adam Kay - Fingering A Minor On The Piano, Soho

"I'm like a medical Anne Frank"

The title of Fingering A Minor On The Piano apparently stems from former doctor turned comic Adam Kay trying to ensure that none of Nicholas Parsons' audience stayed on to watch the show when the two were programmed back-to-back at Edinburgh last year. It gives nothing away about what the show actually is, a fast-paced hour of journal readings from Kay's hospital diary interspersed with musical punchlines, building to a gut-punch of a climax that flies the flag for our beleaguered NHS.

It's a strong combination - there's endless dark humour in the snippets of life as a medical professional, climbing the ranks from inexperienced house officer to registrar in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, as he deals with any number of complaints from eye-wincing penis injuries to spots on the tongue (taste buds!) whilst acknowledging the strains it puts on trainee doctors with their 16 hour days and the struggles it imposes on trying to maintain a normal life and relationship at the same time.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon

"Hold your decaying
Hear what we're saying"

Sad to say, what I'm saying is that I was not a fan of The Addams Family at all. After a cracking opening number which promises oh so much, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice's book grinds to a juddering halt in a first half which does nothing but interminably set the scene. And Andrew Lippa's score offers little respite as it fails to really nail any definitive sense of identity and ends up really rather forgettable. Things do pick up a tad post-interval but it's too little too late by then.

It all could have been so much better. The Addams Family are an iconic set of characters, previously immortalised on cartoon strip, on television and on film, a legacy which goes some way to explaining the commercial success of the show on Broadway in the face of a scathing critical reception. But classic characters need classic storytelling and here, they're marooned in a schmaltzy neverland which captures nothing of the golden age, nor has anything to say to audiences today.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

"When that I was a little boy"

Even with the best of intentions, it can be a little too easy to forget that there's more to LGBT+ than just the G. Representations of gay men are increasingly common in our theatres but pickings are slim if we look towards the lesbian, bi, and transgender characters and stories. So it's interesting to see directors turning to Shakespeare, and specifically Twelfth Night, to address that in a couple of high profile productions this year. Simon Godwin shifted the nature of Malvolio's illicit passion by casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, and now Jo Davies has moved along the acronym by casting transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O'Donnell as Feste at the Royal Exchange.

And far from any suggestion of a gimmick, it's a deeply sensitive, nuanced take on the role that breathes a real sense of contemporary life into the show. Her experience on the cabaret circuit shows in the ease with which she entertains her audience, whether onstage with the text or bantering off-book with the stalls crowd in the interval, but as funny as she is, there's a depth to her stage presence too. An extra-textual moment where she clocks the cross-dressed Viola in the dark with a hint of recognition, the gorgeous melancholy with which the resonance of her final song grabs you - "when I came to man's estate...", this is the verse sprung to life anew.

Review: Winter Hill, Octagon

"Heroism is danger and risk, and frankly, until now, it’s been male"

Plays set in places I knew well as a child unexpectedly looks like it might be one of the theatrical memes of the year - Years of Sunlight explored the history of the neighbouring town where I learned to swim and now we have Timberlake Wertenbaker's new drama Winter Hill, named for the West Pennine peak that was the location of many a childhood walk. 

Wertenbaker's play is set on the Winter Hill of the near future, as opposed to the not-so-near past, where a chunk of the land has been sold to developers who are constructing a luxury skyscraper hotel there, set to completely alter the way that the hill dominates the landscape and the town of Bolton below it. As a local women's reading group sneaks onto the building site to have their meetings, hidden agendas bubble to the surface to make matters a little more serious than whether they've got enough wine to get through the evening.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review: The Philanthropist, Trafalgar Studios

"I'd much prefer to have honest criticism than your, if you don't mind me saying so, negative remarks"

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays has proven quite an interesting one to keep to hand as it has often made me choose to see things I wouldn't necessarily normally have gone to (with both good and bad results). The result of consultation with 800 playwrights, actors, directors, theatre professionals and arts journalists, the list purports to give us the 100 most significant plays of the 20th century, a subjective exercise at the best of times and one which throws up some real curveballs, like this play.

Written by Christopher Hampton in 1970, The Philanthropist was conceived as a response to Molière's The Misanthrope, it's the lead character's unflappable amiability that causes havoc around him here. But for all the intertextuality, it feels a horrendously dated piece of writing that you can scarcely believe has had revivals in 2005 at the Donmar and 2009 on Broadway. With the likes of Simon Russell Beale and Matthew Broderick at their helm, they may have been better acted but in its gender politics, in its treatment of sexual abuse and suicide, how this play has got the reputation it has is beyond me.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

"Household rules and small decrees
unsuspecting bring us these
secret little tragedies"

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre's longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is...). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst's direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven't quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she's a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it's a difficult one to resist despite - or maybe because of - all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Over in Canary Wharf, The Space Theatre might not necessarily be one that is on the radar of many London theatregoers but the announcement of their summer season ought to tempt the theatrically curious out East as it is full of goodies, not least a revival of Mike Bartlett's excellent Contractions.

Find a selection of some of productions that have caught my eye below

  • The UK premiere of MAD MAN SAD WOMAN by award-winning Chilean playwright Juan Radrigán is a haunting piece giving voice to the voiceless; finding beauty, laughter, and dignity in lives amongst the rubble.
  • Employing elements of visual and physical theatre, live folk music, and a design inspired by the Scandinavian landscapes, UK/Swedish company Romantika explore men’s reluctance to express their emotions in WHAT LIES BENEATH. Tormented by grief, a man flees to the mountains. Suffering from hypothermia, he descends into a hallucinogenic state.
  • Hippana Theatre’s frantic and twisted version of Molière’s THE MISER is a multi-lingual production explodes with acrobatics, slapstick, mask and mime to show the descent of a family provoked by the tyranny of a greedy father.
  • A Summer double bill sees Liver & Lung Productions present contemporary, topical new work. SARAH, SKY AND 7 OTHER GUYS is a raw exploration of love, life and libidos in which Sarah and her Indian gay best friend Sky embark on a journey of sordid sexual encounters and hilariously painful events. SUBMISSION is a new play about identity, sexuality and ideology as Sameer, a young British Pakistani, struggles to reconcile his sexual desires with his Islamic roots and values.
  • Caroline Buckley’s bold and sassy musical, GRAB ‘EM BY THE PUSSY, is set in a world where women are objectified daily. Join outcast Maisy on her quest to be fondled, with plenty of unusual musical numbers along the way...
  • False accusations also feature in THE WITCH’S MARK, winner of the Festival Spirit Award at the 2017 VAULT Festival. Agnes Sampson is accused of witchcraft, tortured, beaten and forced to confess her guilt. But Agnes has powers she was not aware of. Timothy N Evers’ play is a graphic, haunting tale of one woman’s resistance against the forces determined to destroy her.
  • Formed at the National Youth Theatre, all-female company the Wonderbox Collective make their Space debut with A WOMB OF ONE’S OWN. 18 yearold Babygirl struggles with unsympathetic hospital receptionists, newfound independence, uncertain religious beliefs, and the hidden grief that comes with making a difficult choice. This ambitious new production uses humour and sensitivity to shine a light on the still-taboo theme of unwanted pregnancy.
  • Filthy COW Theatre present ECLIPSED - first staged in 1992, Patricia Burke Brogan’s debut play was one of the first dramas to show the real life plight of the women incarcerated inside Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries.
  • And all new female collective VOLTA take a darkly comic look at the employee/employer relationship in Mike Bartlett’s critically acclaimed play CONTRACTIONS. First staged at the Royal Court, the play arrives at the Space for a well-deserved Off West End revival.

Album Review: Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording (2017)


"The time has come for my dreams to be heard"

That it took so long for the UK premiere of Dreamgirls to arrive (35 years after its original Broadway opening), it is little surprise to see that it has taken a mere few months for the Original London Cast Recording to appear, released by Sony Masterworks Broadway today (Friday 12th May). Capitalising on the show's extraordinary success at the Savoy (read my review here) and the two Olivier Awards wins for Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) and Adam J. Bernard (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), this double-album was recorded live in the theatre over four performances in February 2017 with no additional studio re-recordings or musical overdubs.

The choice to go for a live recording is an interesting one. There's an undoubted raw energy that comes from the material not just being sung but being performed that makes certain numbers really pop. And then there's the double-edged sword that is the audience reception - on the one hand it can be spine-tingling effective to hear how enthusiastically the work is being received but on the other, it doesn't always translate without the accompanying visual and let's be honest, the recording doesn't gain anything from having Amber Riley's entrance applause so volubly present.