Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Review: Spring Offensive, Clapham Omnibus

"The sheep are closing in"

Victoria Willing's Spring Offensive is a spikily fresh take on the First World War and its enduring legacy, a bold move for the Clapham Omnibus and one which does pay some dividends. The theatre has been transformed into April's Bed and Breakfast, 'the best on the Somme' it would have you believe, and Grace Smart's clever design of cosy but threadbare furnishings instantly lets you know this is a somewhat idle boast.

Expat April has spent more than 20 years in Northern France, having identified her niche and capitalising on the never-ending stream of tourists who visit the battlefields of the Somme to pay their respects. Familiarity has bred contempt though and as the customers have disappeared, her frustrations have turned onto two long-term guests of her establishment, Tom and Pam, and things finally bubble over the course of a long spring evening, a Spring Awakening if you will...

Review: Showstopper, Lyric

"You can't let the pipes play you, you play the pipes"

After their residency at the Apollo, the Showstopper team have skipped along to the Lyric where they have been performing their brand of improvised musical on a random selection of Mondays, roughly every three weeks. If you're new to their work, Showstopper is created anew on the night, suggestions garnered from the audience for the title and the various styles of musical theatre in which the songs will be improvised. And it is always extremely good fun and frequently hilarious, hence my multiple visits over the years.

This evening we saw Greece!, a tale of aspiring thespians, goats, mischievous demi-gods, mysterious rambling women and some impressive pipes, set at the base of Mount Olympus and other assorted ancient Greek venues. And musically we went from Gilbert and Sullivan to West Side Story to Andrew Lloyd Webber, though the highlights were the Hamilton-style love duet (big up to Andrew Pugsley and Pippa Evans) and a truly lovely Waitress-inspired number which although ostensibly a comic number about Dionysus, possessed a strikingly powerful musicality (led by the divine Ruth Bratt). The perfect way to liven up a Monday evening.

Running time: 90 minutes (with interval)
Future performances: Monday 15 May 7.30pm; Monday 5 June 7.30pm

Review: The Braille Legacy, Charing Cross

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité"

The uninitiated might take the existence of braille for granted but Sébastien Lancrenon and Jean-Baptiste Saudray's The Braille Legacy dramatises the fascinating and moving true story behind its invention. Translated by Ranjit Bolt, the musical slots neatly into Thom Southerland's takeover of the Charing Cross Theatre and supported as it is by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, it makes for an interesting piece.

Blinded in a childhood accident, Louis Braille's keen intelligence saw him ruffle feathers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth where he resided, mainly because prevailing societal attitudes considered the blind to be untrainable. Frustrated by the limits of the opportunities open to him and his schoolmates, he began to develop the tactile code which would unlock the key to reading text - it would be, however, a far from simple journey.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Review: Radieuse Vermine, Leicester Square

"C'est la réponse à nos prières"

Philip Ridley's 2015 play Radiant Vermin was a vibrant and vivid response to the housing crisis that resonated strongly in both the UK (at the Soho Theatre) and the US (in its transfer to 59E59 Theaters), perhaps tapping into something of the societal dissatisfaction that has led to such political turbulence. So it is rather appropriate then that as l'élection présidentielle looks set to shake up French politics, its next move has been to be translated into French (by Louis Bernard) as Radieuse Vermine. 

Directed once again by David Mercatali, assisted here by Flore Vialet, the play is currently previewing at the Leicester Square Theatre in their lounge space, ahead of playing the French Fringe Festival in Avignon in the summer. And these previews offer a striking opportunity - not just for the Francophone population in London, but for any fans of Philip Ridley (albeit with a certain proficiency in French, there aren't any surtitles here) to revisit this play in a same but different way. 

Review: Carousel, London Coliseum

"The crowd of doubtin' Thomases
Was predictin' that the summer'd never come"

The English National Opera have had great success with their move into semi-staged revivals of classic pieces of musical theatre. Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson lit up the Coliseum with Sweeney Todd in 2005, Glenn Close received an Olivier Award nomination for last year’s Sunset Boulevard, and so this year, we’re being treated to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 classic Carousel. I say treated...but with singers Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins cast as the show’s ill-fated lovers, this production is a bit of a challenge for musical theatre lovers. Read my three star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th May

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review: Escape the Room, Namco Funscape


Escape-the-room games can become addictive, as one particular circle of my friends have found out to our cost, and every time a new one comes to our attention, off we trot. Even when one is to be found in the raucous surroundings of Namco Funscape, the amusement arcade/entertainment centre in County Hall which is filled with the likes of slush puppies, techno bowling and even a set of dodgems.

Here, the escape-the-room concept has been tailored down to a trim 765 second, just under 13 minutes in which you and your team of up to six need to hunt down clues, figure out a set of puzzles, and save the day if you can. There's a code of silence as with all these games which means I can't say too much because - spoilers! but I don't think it is too much to reveal that you take on the role of policemen.

What I can say is that this actually works as a good introduction to the genre. If you haven't done one of these before, it is short and sweet (and crucially not too expensive) and captures much of what works about these games. The lateral thinking that is needed, the inventive challenges it poses, the sense of fun that comes as your team works together effectively (or not!). Definitely worth a try.

Round-up of (international) news and treats and other interesting things


Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller, Tony nominee Joshua Henry, and Grammy-winning opera star Renée Fleming will headline a Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The production, helmed by Tony winner and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory director Jack O’Brien, is scheduled to begin performances Friday, March 23, 2018 at a theatre to be announced.


Mueller, a Tony winner for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and recent star of Waitress, will take on the role of Julie Jordan, with Henry—currently playing Aaron Burr in the touring company of Hamilton—as Billy Bigelow. Fleming will play Nettie Fowler; the Grammy-winning soprano can be seen on the Metropolitan Opera stage this season in Der Rosenkavalier—a production that is said to mark her retirement from her traditional operatic repertoire.

The revival, produced by Scott Rudin and Roy Furman, will feature Amar Ramasar and Brittany Pollack—both of the New York City Ballet—as Jigger and Louise, respectively. New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck will choreograph the new staging on the 1945 musical. The resident choreographer promises “an even more dance-and-movement-focused production.”




The Lyric Hammersmith has announce the full casting for the UK premiere of Ferdinand von Schirach’s thrilling courtroom drama Terror, directed by Artistic Director Sean Holmes and designed by Olivier Award-winner Anna Fleischle. Emma Fielding plays Prosecuting Counsel Nelson, John Lightbody plays Christian Lauterbach, Forbes Masson plays Defence Counsel Biegler, Tanya Moodie plays the Presiding Judge, Shanaya Rafaat playsFranziska Meiser and Ashley Zhangazha plays the pilot on trial, Lars Koch.


Guilty. Not Guilty. You Decide.

Enter the courtroom. Hear the evidence. Make your judgement. A hijacked plane is heading towards a packed football stadium. Ignoring orders to the contrary a fighter pilot shoots the plane down killing 164 people to save 70,000. Put on trial and charged with murder, the fate of the pilot is in the audience’s hands.




The story has been told before, but never like this.

An occupied desert nation. A radical from the wilderness on hunger strike. A girl whose mysterious dance will change the course of the world. This charged retelling turns the infamous biblical tale on its head, placing the girl we callSalomé at the centre of a revolution.

Internationally acclaimed director Yaël Farber (Les Blancs) draws on multiple accounts to create her urgent, hypnotic production of Salomé on the Olivier stage.


Salomé is designed by Susan Hilferty with lighting design by Tim Lutkin, music and sound by Adam Cork, movement direction by Ami Shulman, fight direction by Kate Waters and dramaturgy by Drew Lichtenberg. Cast includes Philip Arditti, Paul Chahidi, Ramzi Choukair, Uriel Emil, Olwen Fouéré, Roseanna Frascona, Lloyd Hutchinson, Shahar Isaac, Aidan Kelly, Yasmin Levy, Andrew Lewis, Anna Lindup, Theo T J Lowe, Isabella Niloufar, Lubana al Quntar, and Raad Rawi

Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.




And last but not least, Broadway bares for Broadway Cares!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Review: Guards at the Taj, Bush

"Was it fucked up? Yes, it was. But I don’t have to feel terrible about it"


Opening up the newly-refurbished Bush Theatre is Rajiv Joseph's 2015 play Guards at the Taj. Allocated seating and dynamic pricing have been introduced, accessibility addressed and terraces built, we've come a long way from the intimate room above a pub that was its original home. And it's a fascinating piece of writing to go with, an unexpected move perhaps but enjoyable nonetheless.

Inspired by the legend, for which there is no factual basis, that seventeenth century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered that the hands of all the craftsmen who were involved in the construction of the Taj Mahal should be cut off. He commissioned the mausoleum for his favourite wife and the mythos behind the story is that he wanted to ensure that they could never build anything of equal beauty.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Re-review: Kinky Boots, Adelphi

"I am freedom, I'm constriction
A potpourri of contradiction"

A cheeky trip back to Kinky Boots (my third time) - here's my review from last time. I'll just say Matt Henry continues to be fiercely amazing, the wholesome David Hunter is perfectly (re)cast as ol' Charlie boy, and Elena Skye manages the not-inconsiderable feat of stepping into Amy Lennox's shoes as the hilarious Lauren. It's still a lovely, lovely show and I'm really pleased that it appears to still be doing really well. Now put the nose on the Charlie!



Bridge Theatre new season - excited by new writing or disappointed by lack of diversity?

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr have announced the opening programme for their The Bridge Theatre venture – the 900-seat commercial venue near to Tower Bridge which marks their re-entry into the London theatre landscape. The first three productions, all booking now, are:
  • Young Marx - Richard Bean and Clive Coleman's new play about German philosopher Karl Heinrich Marx which will star Rory Kinnear in the title role alongside Oliver Chris as Engels. Directed by Nicholas Hytner it will have designs by Mark Thompson and music by Grant Olding;
  • This will be followed by Julius Caesar directed by Hytner in promenade, starring
    Ben Whishaw (Bakkhai, Skyfall) as Brutus, David Calder as Caesar, Michelle Fairley as Cassius and David Morrissey as Mark Antony;
  • a new play from Barney Norris called Nightfall, directed by Laurie Sansom.

Further ahead from Summer '18, we can expect:
  • a new play by Lucinda Coxon based on the novel Alys, Always by Harriet Lane;
  • a new play by Nina Raine about JS Bach, played by Simon Russell Beale; 
  • flatpack, a new play by John Hodge; 
  • The Black Cloud, a new play by Sam Holcroft from the novel by Fred Hoyle; 
  • Carmen Havana, a version of Bizet's opera by Lucy Prebble with choreography by Miguel Altunaga and directed by Nicholas Hytner.

The focus on new writing is something exciting, all but one of these are new works. And if we count them altogether, there's pleasing gender parity in their number. And that's good enough to get luminaries like Sarah Crompton and Michael Billington fawning over the season ahead.

But looking at all those playwrights, there’s not a person of colour among them. And delving into the cast and creatives of the opening three shows, all of them are being directed by white men. Furthermore, of the headline casting announced, six out of seven of them are white men. We can cling to Michelle Fairley’s cross-casting as Cassius as a sole beacon of hope but let’s not forget that Robert Hastie is already doing this much better and bolder in Sheffield.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Octagon

"I often cry when I am happy, and smile when I am sad"

Anne Brontë might not be the most heralded of her sisters but that is to underestimate the different way in which she expressed herself. The striking feminism of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall remains as powerful as ever and in Deborah McAndrew's adaptation, directed by Elizabeth Newman for the Octagon Theatre in Bolton of which she is the artistic director, it couldn't find a better place to reassert those feminist credentials.

Even in these allegedly more enlightened times, the idea that a woman might stay in an abusive relationship is one that many people struggle with. And so as the story of Helen Graham unfolds, as the events of her past inform what happens in her present, McAndrew's contemporary dialogue keeps a real modern urgency to the action. Alcoholism and abuse in marriage, gender equality and duty, the struggle for independence - this is timeless stuff.

Casting announced for All The President's Men?

Photo: Gage Skidmore
All The President's Men? is a singular theatrical experience for the politically engaged on 24 April, 7.30pm at the Vaudeville Theatre. 

A staged reading edited and directed by Nicolas Kent and presented by the National Theatre, London and The Public Theater, New York, it features scenes from the U.S. Senate's Confirmation Hearings

In January, one week before the president’s inauguration a fierce fight erupted in the Senate between Republicans and Democrats over the confirmation of the key figures for President Trump’s cabinet. These four powerful men lead the Trump administration’s policy on Russia, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, on human rights worldwide, on the Paris Climate control agreement, as well as on the civil rights and the health of millions of Americans.