Welcome to loureviews.blog!

About this blog

I started this blog in 2011 to report back on shows I have attended, mainly theatre but also some concerts and sporting events.

It has also become a vehicle for some film, television (current and archive), book reviews, and some more personal pieces.

About me

On a professional level I worked for twenty-five years as a librarian, and also am a published writer – academic articles, poetry, popular culture – and spent five years editing a journal for a major publisher. If you would like to know more, see my LinkedIn profile.

As of 2019 writing and editing has become my main job, and I am very keen to engage with productions, outlets, and arts organisations to expand my coverage and my reviews.

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Please feel free to browse through my work on here or via my Twitter feed (@loureviewsblog). I am also developing my YouTube channel | Pinterest | Instagram | Facebook and will be launching a sibling blog to this one to concentrate on DVD releases during 2019.

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You can contact me at louise@loureviews.blog and I will respond to you as soon as I can.

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Velvet (Above the Stag, Studio)

In the present climate of #MeToo it is easy to forget that there are predatory men who prey on other men, and this is the premise of Tom Ratcliffe’s hard-hitting piece of theatre, Velvet, which has transferred from the Edinburgh fringe to Vauxhall.

Our first thought when we enter the Studio space is that we are seeing the props of seduction, 21st-century style: a screen, a chaise longue, a floor set up like a chessboard. The character of “Tom” enters to canned applause to make a speech on his success … and the story begins.

Tom Ratcliffe in Velvet
Tom Ratcliffe in Velvet

Tom is a jobbing actor in fringe theatre “earning maybe three thousand a year”. His partner, Matthew, has a steady job outside of the business, money, and “an amazing dick”. It’s clear that Tom is a bit flirty, a bit up for a laugh, and when his agent suggests he uses Grindr as a marketing tool he steps into ever murkier waters.

Predatory producers and casting agents who prey on young females regularly make the headlines since the Weinstein scandal: less so those who manipulate young men who dream of stardom and have an air of desperation.

In Ratcliffe’s tale, there are two such manipulators. Damien is there in person, asking for a drink and a hook-up, no strings (but as we see, there are always strings). “Daniel” is a face on a screen issuing commands under the guise of the power of the life-changer.

The audience is present at every stage of the journey, a witness as the online chats go from standard pic-swapping teasing to something far more sinister. Tom the character is likeable and naive, and we want to stop his blundering into an area which will cause professional suicide.

Tom Ratcliffe in Velvet

Velvet is a powerful piece about one man’s survival from sexual harassment and abuse. With its squarely digital focus in that we never see “Daniel” (even suspecting at one point he may be Damien), the tale gains more power and empathy.

Stories of revenge porn, of the sharing of private pics and videos, now seem commonplace, and no less devastating than physical abuse. Velvet has an important message to deliver, with a powerful coda on the nature of online traction and celebrity.

Ratcliffe is a performer to watch for in the future. Velvet is directed by Andrew Twyman and continues at Above the Stag until 27 October – book at http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/whatson/velvet/

Photo credits Lidia Crisafulli

Femme Fatale (The Common Room, Omnibus Theatre)

When I visited the Omnibus for the first time earlier this year, it just had one theatre space and an old-fashioned bar which harked back to its time as a public library.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived for my first press engagement of the day to see that the theatre now has three spaces: the Theatre, the Studio (upstairs) and the Common Room, where Femme Fatale was playing. Why there hasn’t been a lot of publicity about the changes I’m not entirely sure, but I’m impressed.

Polly Wiseman and Sophie Olivia
Polly Wiseman and Sophie Olivia

Femme Fatale imagines a meeting between two real figures who may well have been in conflict: SCUM manifesto founder and would-be Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas and supermodel songbird Nico. We are in the late 1960s, and although the sexual revolution is a reality and feminism is on the rise, men still have the upper hand.

The set design is dominated by large Brillo pad boxes, which make up part of the Chelsea Hotel’s plush suite in which Valerie finds Nico, asleep and wanting her morning fix. Nico exists in a half-world of personal and professional disappointments,dismissed by Valerie as a “daddy fixation”.

As the ladies bond through a shared experience of being female, male audience members are emasculated and commanded, female audience members extolled to take to the streets and fight for women’s rights.

Polly Wiseman and Sophie Olivia
Polly Wiseman and Sophie Olivia

Polly Wiseman’s play – she also plays Nico – shows an understanding of the plight of a refugee in 1960s New York, but loses traction in Solanas’s textbook dismissal and distrust of all men, and in its rushed final chronology.

Better are the early scenes between the women, trying to explore common ground in desirability, creative careers, and as mothers who have walked away ftom their children. The use of film projections is effective and sometimes at odds with what the characters are saying, as if a layer has been pulled back to see into their hearts.

Sophie Olivia is a vibrant Valerie, totally devoted to the cause even though she is its only follower; she contrasts well with Wiseman’s brooding Nico, who is a romancer who uses sex as a power lever. Neither woman is a victim, as we see in their final chat on the balcony of the Chelsea Hotel.

Femme Fatale is directed by Nathan Evans and is a production by Fireraisers, who specialise in “stories of outsider women”. Their work is valuable in a space where there should be much more tolerance of all women. It runs at the Omnibus Theatre’s Common Room until the 28 October.

Photo credits: Justin David and Pau Ros

Out of Order by Forced Entertainment (Queen Elizabeth Hall)

Forced Entertainment return after gaining several awards for their work with a new show, Out of Order, which is running until 14 October at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre.

Six performers – Tim Etchells, Robin Arthur, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, Terry O’Connor – dress identically in pastel shirts, tartan jackets and trousers, and painted clown faces. They sit at a table, and a song plays. They start a fight. This repeats three or four times, with increasing violence and intensity, until all but Etchells are prone on the floor.

The cast of Out of Order
The cast of Out of Order

A sequence with balloons of different colours follows, then a table and chairs follow-my-leader which went on just a bit too long. Marx Brother-style horns cause havoc before the song from the beginning returns, with all hell breaking loose.

Then, to finish, the Blue Danube. I felt the evening was funny and entertaining, but slightly too long and just a little bit forced in places: as a comment on the current “state of the nation” it has something to say about blind following, quick reactions, and simple inertia.

That song, too, is quite an earworm, and the burst balloon which ends the evening is more than a bit cathartic.

The Ice Cream Boys (Jermyn Street Theatre)

Jacob Zuma was the President of South Africa, but now he isn’t, and he’s in hospital unable to urinate. His old ally and adversary Ronnie Kasrils is across the whole, having a suspicious skin blemish checked out.

The Ice Cream Boys speculates on what might happen if these two old men have a conversation again: whether old scores will be settled or soothed, whether political points will be scored, whether old wounds with raw edges will be ripped open.

Bu Kunene and Andrew Francis
Bu Kunene and Andrew Francis

Zuma and Kasrils both appear confident men on the surface, trading insults and barbed observations with an indulgent smile. Both snakes, circling for the kill with a smile, except neither now has power or relevance unless to needle each other.

Andrew Francis is Zuma, Jack Klaff is Kasrils. Their portrayals are intelligent, expressive, feisty and never weak. They spar like tired old animals who have spent years walking together then pacing around seperate cages.

Andrew Francis and Jack Klaff
Andrew Francis and Jack Klaff

Old men talk of the past (and with lower lighting and the hard work of third cast member Bu Kunene, we see those shadowy figures from years previous), of health, food, sex, ambition, and the future – even if that seems uncertain. We see that despite appearances and assertions, these two have some common ground: the last good Communist and the capitalist tribesman.

In a set with black and white squares which reflect the chess game they start to play, we see the fuzzy edges of the political game, the seeds of resentment which come from both white privilege and the black African sense of entitlement.

Jack Klaff and Bu Kunene
Jack Klaff and Bu Kunene

Gail Louw”s play deftly brings the bigger picture down to two men and their nurse (“a good Zulu woman”) in a room. It’s an engrossing game of cat and mouse where the winner perhaps doesn’t matter.

The Ice Cream Boys runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 2 November. It is directed by Vik Sivalingam. Photo credits Robert Workman.

Negative Space by Reckless Sleepers (Purcell Room)

You see a white box, panels screwed together, made of plasterboard. It doesn’t have a roof. There are chairs and a ladder.

A cast of six. No music, no dialogue. Coats, flowers, trapdoors, hammers, hacksaws, and a lot of dust and flying debris. Reckless Sleepers, a company formed thirty years ago, have been developing this show for four years, playing with the boundaries of stagecraft and audience expectations of what theatre might be.

Scenes from Negative Space

Negative Space is many things. Slapstick and vaudevillian. Dangerous and dynamic. Witty yet dark. Pointless yet complex. The cast display an impressive level of agility, timing and trust in each other: scaling walls, crawling below and through small spaces, dodging the hammer blows and kicks which decimate the set.

Shows like this have many stories (and let’s face it, falling over and a bit of cartoon violence is always funny), but audiences must find their own meaning in what they see.

Negative Space reminds me of the absurd mimes of Samuel Beckett, the thrill of the circus, and the danger of the building site. With a hint of a love affair, a bit of drama, and quite a few bruised bodies, this certainly delivers something very different to a usual night out.

Mother of Him (Park Theatre)

A woman, Brenda, is in a grey house. Outside there is a group of reporters, furiously snapping photos at any sign of activity. We wonder what she’s done: some financial irregularity, perhaps? We’re in America in the 90s.

She has a small son, Jason, who doesn’t want to go to school, and another, Matthew, who we don’t meet for a while. We know something’s wrong within those grey walls with the flashbulbs outside, and we’re intrigued.

As Mother of Him unfolds, we discover that Matthew is the one causing catastrophe within the family, perpetrator of a criminal act which has fractured and split apart any veneer of normality.

Scott Folan, Hari Aggarwal, Tracy-Ann Oberman in Mother of Him
Scott Folan, Hari Aggarwal, Tracy-Ann Oberman in Mother of Him

He’s an affable teenager, wearing a much-loved hooded sweater, given to moments of petulance. A role model for his younger brother, yet the newspaper headlines and radio bulletins we hear paint him as a monster.

Although the lead character on paper is the mother (Tracy-Ann Oberman), the emotional pull is with her boys. Jason grows from innocence and incomprehension to a sense of frustration. His formative influence becomes the returning father, not the older brother. Matthew is all cocky bravado until reality hits, when we see the child within.

Both parents see their older son as lost to them. A scene where Brenda snatches the hoodie from Jason as if it is contaminated (only to then bury her face in it as if to savour the smell of her elder child) is powerfully done, as is the final scene with Hanukkah candles.

Scott Folan and Hari Aggarwal in Mother of Him
Scott Folan and Hari Aggarwal in Mother of Him

This is a moral minefield with, as Lee Newby’s design suggests, shades of grey. Matthew’s crime disturbs both audience and characters, throwing into sharp relief our perception of what makes a “monster”.

The mother’s vacillating emotional state – at one point engaging the media in what they want as bait, at another recounting a store meeting with the mother of one of the victims, sisters in grief – is well-portrayed, but left me a bit empty.

Hari Aggarwal and Scott Folan are superb as the boys. Neil Sheffield has a couple of strong scenes as the father who blames the media circus on his absence as Matthew grew up.

Tracy-Ann Oberman in Mother of Him
Tracy-Ann Oberman in Mother of Him

Anjelica Serra’s dual role as angry girlfriend and sympathetic cleaner with Simon Hepworth as the lawyer friend give voice to those outside the tight family nucleus.

Evan Placey’s play is at its best when it concentrates on Brenda and her sons; when trying to anchor this family drama to real events (the President and the intern) it seems a distraction. I also felt uncomfortable at the use of one particular snatch of a song during a scene change, given the subject matter.

Mother of Him continues at the Park Theatre, and is directed by Max Lindsay. Photo credits – Bronwen Sharpe.

Amelie (The Hexagon, Reading)

Prior to a run at The Other Palace, Amelie has been on a UK tour and this week stopped off in Reading.

Based on the popular French film and directed by Michael Fentiman, this musical teams Audrey Brisson and Danny Mac in the roles of Amelie and Nino, with a company of actor-musicians.

Audrey Brisson as Amelie.
Audrey Brisson as Amelie.

The show has a sense of the absurd, with puppets (child Amelie, a fish), a garden gnome, three giant figs, and a bizarre dream sequence which brings Elton John out of reports of the Princess of Wales’s funeral into a celebration of Amelie herself.

The score by Daniel Messe, with lyrics by Nathan Tysen, is richly constructed, the playing of the lead role delightful. A clever set (by Madeleine Girling) utilises the pivotal photo booth where Nino collects offcuts from customer’s lives, making it the main entrance and exit plus the route up to Amelie’s circulat haven.

Audrey Brisson as Amelie.
Audrey Brisson as Amelie.

We first encounter Amelie as a child, shielded from social intercourse by her mother and utilised by her doctor father ,(Jez Unwin) as a patient of curiosity. Slowly she retreats into a dreamworld where real life is kept at arm’s length, even when she leaves home and takes up a job as a waitress.

Like Jane Austen’s Emma, Amelie is about a girl who makes a difference to people’s lives: the owner of a box of marbles, a lonely widow, a grocer’s assistant, her father, and ultimately, herself.

Audrey Brisson and Danny Mac in Amelie.
Audrey Brisson and Danny Mac in Amelie.

Amelie has vibrant colours, Parisian streets, shops and stalls, and even electronically projected words. It is endlessly inventive and the company of sixteen gels well together – as well as Brisson, Mac and Unwin, I’d like to single out Sophie Crawford (Gina, the widow), Johnson Willis (the priest and grocer), and Faoileann Cunningham (big-hearted Suzanne).

Amelie may make you laugh, smile or bewilder you, but you’ll fall in love with the young gamine who has more of a hint of Leslie Caron, and you will never be bored.

Photo credits: Pamela Raith.

Tokyo Rose (New Diorama)

Three ladies stand, frozen, with microphones poised on a raised bit of stage as the audience takes their seats in the auditorium of the New Diorama. Two others sit, one each side of the stage area, still and quiet.

It’s 1949, and Iva Toguri (Maya Britto) is on trial for treason, but is that her crime or is her birth country the USA looking for someone to blame “who looks Japanese” after a bruising and demoralising war?

Yuki Sutton, Maya Britto, Hannah Benson in Tokyo Rose
Yuki Sutton, Maya Britto, Hannah Benson in Tokyo Rose

Based on a true story, Tokyo Rose is a brave and powerful new musical from Burnt Lemon Theatre written by Maryhee Yoon and Cara Baldwin, and directed by Hannah Benson. It is female-led and fuses rap with more traditional solos, duets, trios and ensemble songs (composed by William Patrick Harrison).

Iva Toguri finds herself an enemy alien in Japan when she is stranded looking after her aunt just as Pearl Harbor is bombed. Her choices: give up her US citizenship, which she cannot do, and broadcast on a propaganda network, which she does, lead to exploitation first by a British major loyal to the allies (Cara Baldwin, also playing the prosecutor) and then by an unscrupulous American journalist (Benson, also playing the judge) sniffing out a scoop whether true or not.

Cast of Tokyo Rose
Cast of Tokyo Rose

A huge hit at this year’s Edinburgh fringe, this show boasts impressive vocals and harmonies from its cast of five, and a plot which gives Iva and those around her (mother – Yuki Sutton, aunt – Lucy Park) real heart. By the courtroom scenes we are firmly on her side seeing an injustice done: her only crime her naive belief in patrotism.

Tokyo Rose does not shy away from the impact of war on anyone involved – the native Japanese, the American citizens with Jaoanese heritage, the American military, the displaced Americans in Japan. Any thought of victory is a hollow one when families die in camps or are vaporized by an atomic bomb.

Iva becomes “little orphan Ann” but her broadcasts are pitched as satire, not sedition: her words aimed against the country in which she is alien, not against the flag.

I found Tokyo Rose a vibrant piece of theatre which takes a little-known piece of history and gives a voice to its protagonist. In real-life, Toguri (as we are told in an ending round-up) was eventually cleared of her alleged crime, the Rose having been an allied invention appropriated by an opportunist hack and fuelled by xenophobia. She remained a loyal American and died in 2006 at the age of 90.

Tokyo Rose runs at the New Diorama until 12 October. It’s practically sold out, but you could try the returns queue. Production photo credit – The Other Richard.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Union Theatre)

I attended the final day of previews for this revival, and was thoroughly entertained by the story of Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, at sea and on land.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was written in 1949, taking inspiration from the flapper-era novel by Anita Loos. It’s a traditional book musical, composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by Leo Robin, and is inevitably living in the shadow of the 1953 film (in which Marilyn Monroe played Lorelei).

Abigayle Honeywill and Eleanor Lakin in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Abigayle Honeywill and Eleanor Lakin in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The Union Theatre has a reputation for punching above its weight with musicals, with creative use of their small performance space. Even the bar-cafe gets into the act in the interval, with a pianist, high kicking dancers and Parisian waiters enticing you back for the act two floor-show.

Lorelei is dating “the button king” heir, Gus Esmond, but he has to let her board a ship without him, and with her being a stereotypical bubble blonde, complete with Boop-a-Boop voice a la Helen Kane. When she is aboard, temptation is high with rich men and diamonds around – “Diamonds Are Girl’s Best Friend”, after all.

Ensemble of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.b
Ensemble of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Of course, Loos’s book is dated, and her female characters are eother looking for a meal ticket, a drink, or a quick route to fame. The men are either ambitious but dysfunctional, or decorative dancers, and they are effective alone (Aaron Bannister-Davies as Gus, George Lennan as Gage “the zipper king”, Freddie King as idealist Henry, Tom Murphy as opportist rover Sir Francis) or as a team.

This aside, all the women in this show are played well, and I liked Eleanor Lakin’s laconic Dorothy and Virge Gilchrist’s tipsy Mrs Spofford in particular. Ashlee Young is a fine mover as serial “practiser” Gloria, and Maria Mosquera’s long-suffering Lady Beekman is a picture of English restraint.

Abigayle Honeywill, as Lorelei, has big shoes to fill but navigates the expectation without falling into imitation of her screen predecessor, with a winning “I’m Just a Little Girl From Little Rock” and a wisp of wide-eyed innocence.

Eleanor Lakin and Abigayle Honeywill
Eleanor Lakin and Abigayle Honeywill, via Union Theatre Instagram

This show sets out to be entertaining, and it does so with competence and a bit of naughty fun (there’s a hint as to how Lorelei, Dorothy, and Gloria might have clawed their way into the society set).

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is directed by Sasha Regan, choreographed by Zak Nemorin, and designed by Justin Williams, with Henry Brennan as musical director.

It continues at the Union Theatre until 26 October. Production photo credits by Mark Senior.

Poster image for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Poster image for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. (Royal Court)

Saturday night was a trip to Sloane Square and the Royal Court, to see four new pieces by Caryl Churchill. Churchill was responsible for the wonderful Top Girls, revived at the National Theatre earlier this year, and her play Far Away is to be revived at the Donmar next year.

The new pieces were originally planned and advertised as a trio of short plays: Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Later, an additional, and longer, play called Imp was added, making a night of shows which link together large themes and small considerations. There are even circus acts (a juggler, and a balancer) which entertain between set changes with a sense of the vaudeville, and are worth the admission price in themselves.

Rebekah Murrell in Glass.
Rebekah Murrell in Glass.

Glass concerns a girl who is literally made of glass (we never know why, and the piece is so short, we don’t have time to question). She’s first introduced as a sort of parlour trick, standing in front of a window, then as a freak, wrapped in bubble-wrap, prone to cracking.

Whether this is a metaphor for physical or mental weakness (her boyfriend has to deal with a difficult home life), or simply a commentary on superficial beauty (the second scene has the glass girl displayed on the mantelpiece with other objects chosen for their sentimental or aesthetic value), is unclear.

Glass – the substance – is beautiful. It catches the light. It is sharp, fragile, and quickly shatters. It holds mysteries, like this short play intrigues and opens the quartet.

Cast of Kill.
Cast of Kill.

Kill involves a god sitting on a cloud (Tom Mothersdale), and a child sketching (Leo Rait on the night I saw it, not Caelan Edie who is pictured above). Neither acknowledges the other, and the child occasionally shouts out words while he draws. The god goes through a variety of myths and revenges, deadpan, slowly building from a position of curious interest in the people below to an outburst pleading for the bad things done in the name of religion to stop.

I found this piece the weakest of the four, both in writing and execution, bordering on pretension, although as part of a sequence it fits well. The effect is more frustrating than anything else, and I could not really see why the character of the boy was there (the sins of the father?).

Cast of Bluebeard.
Cast of Bluebeard.

Bluebeard is a much stronger piece: a group of friends discuss the ramifications of finding out their friend isn’t just a serial widower (“all those weddings”) but a brutal serial killer who has left the bodies of previous wifes hanging in their blood-stained dresses in a locked room.

Quickly, they move from horror at the murders and slight sadness at the plight of the brides, to a modern take on opportunism, tourism, voyeurism, and profit. One friend (Toby Jones) buys the dresses, which hang oppressively at the back of the stage. One (Sarah Niles) muses on the potential of the castle as a holiday destination experience. One (Deborah Findlay) wonders whether models of the dresses should have the option of having stains, or not.

It’s a cool and well-paced piece, which toys with issues of female vulnerability and primal human impulses.

Toby Jones and Louisa Harland in Imp.
Toby Jones and Louisa Harland in Imp.

Imp is a collection of scenes in a suburban living room, in which two middle-aged cousins, a widower and a divorcee, live together, with not much going on. She sits in poorly matched and garish clothes, he occasionally goes out to run.

When their distant cousin arrives from Ireland, they see it as their destiny to take her into their lives, but attempts to meddle with her friendship with a local homeless man backfires when magic is invoked.

I enjoyed the Shakespeare references about local characters (“that lad whose uncle killed his father”), and it was good to see the chemistry and camaderie between co-stars Toby Jones and Deborah Findlay.

Imp is pleasingly dark and pulls together what we saw in the first half of the evening: a glass bottle holds a secret, an old woman has the impulse to kill, there are discussions of failing marriages, there’s an intelligent boy (unseen) whose future is unknown.

Deborah Findlay in Imp.
Deborah Findlay in Imp.

If I could change one thing, I’d remove the interval, which would leave the evening at a palatable two hours, and keep a bit of continuity between the pieces.

Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. continues at the Royal Court until 19 October 2019, directed by James Macdonald and designed by Miriam Buether. Photo credits Johan Persson.

Shida (The Vaults)

There are one-person shows, and there is Shida. I went in fresh to this, knowing only it was a musical devised, written and performed by Jeannette Bayardelle.

The story of Shida, one character of many in this short (75 minute) piece, is a familiar one of innocence and knowing, rise and fall, ambition and pain, and ultimate survival.

Jeannette Bayardelle in Shida.

When we first meet her, she’s a child, playing hopscotch, a whirlwind of energy which her mom, her teacher, and new best friend Jackie have to keep grounded. Her destiny as a bright and precocious child is to be a writer.

Men mistreat her. Daddy has another four children with a wife, with Shida and her mom as “the other woman/the other girl”. Uncle Steve stands too close and ignores pleas not “to touch me like that”. White boyfriend Joe gets her hooked to her crack pipe.

Shida tells its story through song and characters, with the intensity of being right there in the room as events happy and traumatic chip away to reveal the vulnerable core beneath.

There in the room with Uncle Steve. There in the hospital three pivotal times. There on the streets, as Bayardelle breaks the fourth wall twice: one as Jackie, rubbishing Shida’s dalliance with a butch lesbian, then as Shida herself, begging tricks.

Jeannette Bayardelle in Shida.

Shida is an incredible piece of writing, years in the making and developed by the leading lady with her director Andy Sandberg. Accompanied by MD Noam Galperin and a small band, there is nowhere to hide in this boutique venue. The music is loud. The singing is jaw-dropping. The plot is emotionally devastating, in the end.

I’m glad this made the transition from New York, although I still find the venue a bit odd and definitely laidback (the matinee started fifteen minutes late and no reason was given). The use of props for characters: patterned skirt, dress, grad cap, beanie hat, specs, a box, a bracelet, a shawl, a book, brings the women to life. The men are voiceless.

But it was worth it. As Ms Bayardelle herself said in a brief break of character for a pause and water, “Jesus, this is hard work!”. It shows in every sinew, every bead of sweat and every big, big note.

True stories: Jackie/Jeannette did become a great singer, and her friend Shida conquered her demons.

Shida continues at The Vaults until 13 October.

A Doll’s House (Lyric Hammersmith)

It’s been quite a year for Ibsen in London. First, a fairly standard, if accomplished, version of Rosmersholm in the West End. Then, a radical version of Peer Gynt which moved to Scotland in David Hare’s hands to become Peter Gynt at the National. Now, one of the most performed and well-known titles in Ibsen’s oeuvre, A Doll’s House, gets a revival and reinterpretation at the Lyric in Hammersmith, directed by Rachel O’Riordan.

The basic story is of a young couple, married for just short of a decade, bringing up their young children. The husband has just been promoted. The wife, younger, pretty, is referred to as a “little skylark” and indulged for her spendthrift ways. This has not been tampered with in Tanika Gupta’s version, but Nora has now become Niru, Torvald is now Tom, the blackmailing moneylender Krogstad becomes lowly clerk Kaushik Das, and Christine becomes Mrs Lahiri.

Eliot Cowan as Tom, Anjana Vasan as Niru in A Doll's House.
Eliot Cowan as Tom, Anjana Vasan as Niru in A Doll’s House.

The place is no longer chilly Norway, but the heated setting of Colonial India, where Tom Helmer is retired military and now a tax official. The political implications are hard to escape, and when Das (a telling performance from Assad Zaman) makes his move to bring down the idyllic Helmer home we realise the plight of the indigenous Indians: oppressed by those who see them as illiterate, immoral and beyond redemption.

Niru’s act of committing fraud to save her husband’s life and spare her dying father unnecessary worry threatens to cause catastrophe at Christmas-time (a Christian festival, celebrated as Niru converted from her childhood religion on her marriage). Meanwhile, a childhood friend and poor widow (Mrs Lahiri, played by Tripti Tripuraneni with some sensitivity), becomes her willing confidante.

Dr Rank (Colin Tierney, playing the sick friend of Tom and devoted admirer of Niru with tact and tenacity) is the willing recipient of Niru’s teasing with her dancing bells (“can I put my foot in your lap?”) but he is more radical than her husband with regard to the rights of the Indian natives. He represents the future of the white man in India, even if he will not be there to see it.

Anjana Vasan as Niru in A Doll's House.
Anjana Vasan as Niru in A Doll’s House.

Placed within a marvellous set from Lily Arnold which traps Niru within her large and beautiful garden, with lights pinpointing the letterbox and walls allowing a site of refuge, A Doll’s House proves to be a perceptive and interesting take on the traditional play. It retains the plot and the sense, but adds something more.

In particular, in making Tom Hellman such an unpleasant character. He takes umbrage at Army comrade Das addressing him “as if he were an equal”; he behaves less than gentlemanly to both Mrs Lahiri and to Niru’s faithful maid Uma (Arinder Sadhra). As for Niru, he treats her as a literal possession, moving from trying to force his affections on her (“no? but I’m your husband”) to showing his full distaste for her race, religion and culture when the calamity is revealed. No “miracle of miracles” here, and not a hint of redemption. Eliot Cowan has a tricky task to pull this role off, but he eventually makes us recoil at the lack of understanding Tom has of his own plight and the position he now holds.

As Niru, Vasan is incredible, whether dancing around the space, girlishly giggling as she hides her forbidden sweets, glowing with pride as she describes her husband’s good fortune, clutching the walls in desperation, and finally, all grown up and full of fire, delivering her final speech to a Hellman who cannot believe his doll is not the docile and devoted pet he thought her to be, but an independent woman who just won’t take the abuse he doles out.

Eliot Cowan as Tom, Anjana Vasan as Niru in A Doll's House.
Eliot Cowan as Tom, Anjana Vasan as Niru in A Doll’s House.

A Doll’s House continues at the Lyric Hammersmith until the 5 October. Photo credits Helen Maybanks.

London Horror festival preview: Him Indoors

The London Horror Festival is taking place from 8 October to 2 November 2019 at two venues in Islington, the Old Red Lion Theatre, and the Pleasance. The festival markets itself as “the UK’s original & largest festival of live horror performance”.

Him Indoors

One of the shows which caught my eye, although I am unable to accept the invite to review it, is the horror comedy Him Indoors. Described as The Mighty Boosh meets The Wicker Man meets The Exorcist, with eels, this promises to be a very silly show mixing the absurd with alt-comedy, the high school with the horrific. And it has a northern slant, and I’m northern, so that’s a mark in its favour before we even dig deeper.

Poster image for Him Indoors by cheekykita at the Pleasance

What’s it about?

I’ll quote directly from the press release: “In the quaint Northern town of Tittitutar, something’s not quite right, and a very serious journalist is determined to get to the bottom of it. A scary spooky girl has a small man inside her, so they say. A tiny little man trapped in her belly. Don’t believe it? Meet the town’s many strange inhabitants, and find out for yourself”.

This show is the most recent from Cheekykita (also known as Sonja Doubleday), taking her stand-up characters out of that space and into a play format, breaking the fourth wall and bringing a bit of heavy metal sass and Gothic chill to the Pleasance. Cheekykita is joined by Nina Atesh (lots of supporting characters) and TiberiousChris (as the journalist).

Sounds good?

Where and when can I see it?

Him Indoors runs at the Pleasance, 19 and 20 October, at 9.45pm, in the StageSpace. It runs for an hour, and promises to be a stellar piece of absurd comedy horror. You can find the theatre on Carpenters Mews, just a short walk from Caledonian Road tube station.

If you want to see some of the other shows in the festival, there is plenty of choice – more than thirty shows in total. (I am clearing space for this in 2020 for sure). The Old Red Lion is showcasing three shows in the festival, including Last Orders, a haunted pub piece.

Credits

My thanks to Chesca Forristal, producer of Him Indoors, for info and image. You can find out more about Cheekykita/Sonja on her website, or follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cheekykita1.

Booking link for Him Indoors.

The Mix: that matinee feeling

Welcome to The Mix, an occasional pot-pourri about London theatre.

In this instalment I want to talk about matinee performances, a godsend for those of us who don’t want to travel too far in the evenings, those who want to double up shows, and vampires.

That matinee feeling

My favourites are midweek, followed by Saturdays then Sundays.

A bit of judicious planning can mean a really dedicated theatre goer may be able to see a massive fourteen shows in a week; more if morning shows for children are available.

That’s the possibility of 728 shows in a year. And yes, there are that many available, with over 250 performance spaces in London alone.

Theatre curtains

The matinee audience

Matinee audiences differ from theatre to theatre: in the West End you’ll find American, Japanese and Korean tourists, coach parties from the North of England, school parties, and senior citizens.

Elsewhere you’ll find students, resting actors, the local regulars, flexi workers and a melting pot of interesting characters.

It’s easier to chat at a matinee, I find, perhaps because there is something subversive about sitting in a dark auditorium during the day watching people pretending to be other people.

There’s a feel of the night time about it, as if afternoon audiences are all complicit in the feeling of “bunking off”.

It’s also rather nice and civilised not to have the pressure of rushing for the last bus or equivalent.

That matinee time

Times vary. I’ve been at The Yard at 1pm, Southwark Playhouse at 3.30pm, the Orange Tree at 4pm, the Etcetera Theatre at 12.30pm.

Above The Stag does early shows (matinee-ish) on a Sunday at 6.30pm. The Omnibus Theatre is often at 4pm.

Some theatres insist on 2.15pm which seems perverse. I’m not even going to mention the midnight “matinee” at the Globe.

Play your cards right, synchronise your watches, and hope the trains and buses are running, and you can have many a cultural day around London. You might even save a bit of money!

Image of tickets

The matinee and me

I like matinees because they allow me to get to, or consider going to, corners of London like Clapham, Camden, Highgate, Islington, Hornchurch, Bromley, Honor Oak and Penge.

If I’m truthful, theatres which are strictly evenings only are a pain, and in some cases I may never visit. Much better for me to be a daytime traveller, where possible.

I appreciate some theatres cannot afford the expense of opening their spaces for daytime visitors, and that sometimes it just isn’t practical. I’ll come to you if I can (The Hope in Islington, the New Diorama in Camden are just two examples), but if you’re out in the far corners of outer London, it’s harder.

I’d like to shout out to all the theatres big and small which have been so welcoming in afternoons and early shows during this year of theatrical adventures. It’s been a blast.

I hope to visit many more of you in 2020, and to meet many more interesting people who like to spend their daytimes watching stage shenanigans (and the companies who perform for us). People like Alison and Yvonne, Julie and Mark, Howard and Gwen, Malcolm and Mark, Judy and Laura, Toby’s mum, Jenny and Sue …

Applause

What do matinees mean to you?

Have a think about your own experiences!

Why I don’t use star ratings

I understand that star ratings can make or break a show. They make good visual copy for a poster or a draw on social media.

They even make critics and bloggers more visible because the more four and five star ratings they give, the more publicity they get. Shows don’t tend to quote without little icons on their publicity.

And yet, I can’t bring myself to use that five star scale.

What is a star rating, anyway?

The star rating is supposed to be a mark of quality: a 1 is not worth your time, and a 5 means you must sell all your worldly goods for a ticket (often not that far from the truth).

Worryingly, three stars or below seems to constitute failure. Every show must be brilliant, fabulous, magnificent, remarkable. It’s just not possible.

Recently, I’ve been adding short reviews to the Stagedoor app to try it out, and there you have to add a star rating. Four and above and you are recommending a show: for me that causes a problem, because I might like a show but don’t see it as very good (****) or exceptional (*****).

There are plenty of solid, enjoyable shows out there which do not really deserve those top star ratings. They are not bad, either. They are the average, three star shows which I don’t feel particularly strongly about; and there will always be lots of them.

But we are not all the same!

It is also difficult to rate one show’s worth against another: the big budget musical, the difficult new WE play, the fringe revival, the experimental work watched by one man and his dog. If I gave something from each of these categories the same star rating, I am not saying they are the same thing.

Chalk and cheese, apples and oranges, a 2,000 seater and a budget of millions against a 40 seater and a budget of tuppence. To me, theatre is theatre. It is about celebration, informed and honest opinion, constructive criticism, and not about a show’s chart position.

If I rave about a show (a silent four- or five-star verdict), I’ll say why I genuinely love it. But mine is just one opinion of many.

Exploding stars via UIHere

Who are these ratings for?

To be honest, I’ve seen lazy reviews that say nothing of interest but have a big fat star rating at the end.

I want to know what a show has to offer me and what the cast, creatives and crew have conjured up together to bring their work to the stage. That’s far more valuable than just saying “this is the best thing since …”.

I do glance at star ratings, and they often surprise me.

But I don’t take them as the gospel truth: even a poor show has something to recommend it or can have something highlighted from kindness to make the failure not quite so acute.

Those one-star ratings can be unnecessarily crushing, just as full marks can make a company complacent.

And then there’s creative marketing, like this two-star Guardian review for a film made to look that little bit different.

The star rating and me

Star ratings should not be the only way to assess and promote theatre quality. In fact, they can be quite decisive and problematic at times. I note that the lack of higher star ratings for some shows caused issues at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Stars illustration via ClipartAndScrap

You won’t see star ratings here on LouReviews.

Nor will you see favourable reviews in lieu of press tickets – unless I really do love the show, that is, and then you’ll hear all about it.

If I don’t fall in love with a show, you’ll know, and I will always try to explain why.

I might hint at a show’s worth, but you can fill in the gaps. And that’s a lot more fun as a consumer … isn’t it?

Thoughts?

Clapham Fringe preview: Mercy

Mandi Riggi’s play Mercy, produced by Writers and Anglers, comes to the Clapham Fringe at the Bread & Roses Theatre on 27 September in the form of a rehearsed reading.

My thanks to Kevin Corner for facilitating this piece.

Publicity for Mercy
Publicity for Mercy

So what can we expect?

MR: Mercy is a dark comedy with a spiritual twist, centering on a headstrong matriarch of a Persian family and her unyielding decision to break tradition. The story unfolds in non-linear fashion and is told through the prism of an end-of-life decision, bringing into question the very nature of the soul.

How did the story begin?

MR: The journey of my story begins as a murder mystery and then takes comedic, unpredictable turns, eventually blooming into a redeeming love story. Through biting humour and tender moments Mercy explores an emotionally complex portrait of a man and woman facing mortality and their tumultous state of a crumbling marriage.

What is the USP of Mercy?

MR: I aspire to connect audiences to a universal need surrounding questions about mortality on both a personal and political level. What is unique about Mercy is although it centres on a British-Iranian family, it is universal in its transformative language as it delves into matters of life and death – what troubles us all as humans on a global level.

Who are the cast and creatives?

MR: It was very crucial to cast as authentically as possible. We (myself and director Nicky Allpress) held a week of auditions and were blessed to find Mandana Jones, a British-Iranian actress well known for her role as prisoner Nikki in the TV series Bad Girls. She takes the leading role of the family matriarch. Peyvand Sadeghian joins us as the daughter, Yasmine, and Adam Sina plays the son, Danny. The very talented Andy Lucas, who has a Greek background, plays the conservative and traditional husband.

Publicity for Mercy
Publicity for Mercy

Mercy plays at the Clapham Fringe on 27 and 28 September. You can buy tickets for £8 at https://www.claphamfringe.com/mercy.html and the reading runs for 1 hr 50 minutes.

For more information on Writers and Anglers visit their website which lists all their social media links.

The Life I Lead (Wyndham’s)

James Kettle’s delighful character comedy The Life I Lead ran at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park in the spring of 2019, and now makes a quick stop in the West End following a short UK tour.

The character in question is that of David Tomlinson (1917-2000), a quintessentially English actor who was once described in a review as “looking like an old baby”, who mourns the disappearance of “the drawing room” and who, to generations of filmgoers, was Disney’s favourite father, Mr Banks in Mary Poppins.

In the personage of Miles Jupp – who catches every Tomlinson mannerism – he is polite, affable, and somewhat waspish other actors (“if you think all actors are attention seekers, you have had the misfortune to meet Alec Guinness”). He finds the word “lounge” disappointing, moustaches “caddish”, and Los Angeles “too bloody hot”.

At the start of the show, our hero steps into the room in which he will tell his story with an apologetic air, at first hiding at the side of the stage when a flourish of music begins with “what is it, and when does it start?”.

Soon, though, he’s settled enough to talk about his war service (in the air), his Napoleon-obsessed father CST (“which he preferred to the less formal ‘Daddy'”), his marriages – the tragedy of one, the satisfaction of the other, his children, his stage work, his films.

As we get to know the man behind Mr Banks, we get to know more about fathers and sons. CST has a family secret; the youngest Tomlinson boy is unreachable until diagnosis of autism in the 1950s.

The first act ends on a sombre note in wartime, but the second has two amusing set pieces with a fictional American agent declining plum jobs on his client’s behalf (“an advertisement for the Racing Post? How exciting!”) and CST’s attempt to get David of charges of reckless flying of a Tiger Moth.

There are nuggets galore of good humour in the piece, and a sense that Kettle has really dug deep to get under the skin of the man. Miles Jupp is consistently delightful, and the cheer of recognition when he dons the fake moustache to caper about singing the song that gives this show its name is lovely.

Selina Cadell and Didi Hopkins share direction duties, with Lee Newby’s set bringing to life the sense of an English country house, with honey still for tea. The show may be more suited to a smaller auditorium (I saw it from the grand circle) but it is a sweet show full to the brim with pathos and affection.

The Life I Lead closed at the Wyndham’s on 21 September 2019. On the final matinee at which I was present, Tomlinson’s wife Audrey was in attendance, and the applause for her surely proved our lifelong affection for Mr Banks and his interpreter.

Photo credits by Piers Foley.

Call Me Fury (Hope Theatre)

My first visit to the fifty-seater Hope Theatre (situated above the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington), and I’m here to see Out of the Forest’s production of Call Me Fury, a play written by Sasha Wilson and further devised by the company with Hannah Hauer-King.

We probably all have our own perceptions about witchcraft in general, and the Salem witch trials in particular, something that Wilson blames on Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (admittedly a favourite of mine, which I have reviewed in productions at The Yard and at the Old Vic).

The company of Call Me Fury
The company of Call Me Fury

Call Me Fury reclaims the voices of Abigail, Tichiba, Sarah Good and Bridget Bishop, in a blend of song, anecdote, comedy, and historical explanation which gives voice to “our fallen sisters”.

Along with Wilson, a chatty American who starts off proceeedings by dismissing the myth of the Abigail-Proctor affair and goes on to reclaim the place of women, the cast consists of Mairi Hawthorn (a chilling Abigail, plagued by memories of seeing her village pillaged and family massacred), Gracie Lai (measured and confident as Sarah Good, effective as a royal handmaiden killed for her spells), and Olivia Kennett (a regal Tichiba and a calm yet coiled storyteller).

The company of Call Me Fury
The company of Call Me Fury

This is a bold feminist take on The Crucible, interspersed with real stories of supposed witches across the world: one at the end brings us up short and into the present day, evoked with a sense of sadness, shock and silence.

The stage is strewn with autumn leaves and dominated by a wooden cross, which even lights up at one point. The set by David Spence is deceptively simple, the lighting design by Holly Ellis hugely evocative of oppression, small spaces, darkness, fear and prejudice in the dark, hope and courage in the light. Our characters brush past the audience, hold eye contact, whisper in ears, crouch down close-by, and challenge us to be complicit in the story.

The company of Call Me Fury
The company of Call Me Fury

Abigail, a child of twelve, afflicted by trauna, lies to protect herself and to be noticed: as she says at one point, “boy cries wolf, girl cries witch”. Women know their place in history but go down fighting. Speak, says Wilson, and you will be heard, even if you are not seen in black clothes and the details we have on you are sketchy.

For the sake of our fallen sisters, do better, comes the message. Call Me Fury gives a voice to the poor, the odd, the bitchy, the frightened, the misunderstood of womankind everywhere. It is dark, funny, moving and brave.

Publicity image for Call Me Fury
Publicity image for Call Me Fury

Call Me Fury continues at the Hope until 5 October, and tickets are available at http://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/call-me-fury/ for £15.

All photos courtesy of Out of the Forest.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Ambassadors Theatre)

Set for The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

Sue Townsend’s series of books about spotty teenage intellectual Adrian Mole were hugely successful in the 1980s, as were the two TV adaptations starring Gian Samarco as the eponymous hero.

Now, the musical version has been enjoying a West End residency, following a run at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2017. It utilises a small cast: four children who appear on rotation, and six adults.

Michael Hawkins and Cuba Kamanu in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
Michael Hawkins and Cuba Kamanu in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

Using a set by Tom Rogers of sliding walls, hidden cupboards, and doors, plus a wash of lighting tricks by Howard Hudson that evoke the shapes and colours of 1980s confectionery, this show pulls us right back into young Adrian’s formative decade. It’s a feeling underlined by the cheesy mixtape played as the audience are taking their seats.

Adrian is the only child of slovenly parents George and Pauline, and they live in Leicester. He drinks, she drudges, and their son writes poetry and obsessively worries over the size of his “thing”: around the stage prosenium are rulers spelling out that fact in glorious centimetres.

Company of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
Company of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

While Adrian’s heart starts to flutter at the sight of posh new pupil Pandora (“daddy is an accountant, and a socialist, who sent me to comprehensive hell”), his home life breaks apart as mum Pauline is seduced by sleazy neighbour Mr Lucas.

The songs, by personal and professional partners Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, not only capture the time in which the show is set, but also the feeling of navigating confusing feelings as a growing child.

Through seventeen songs, a year progresses and everyone has a chance to join in – Mum Dad, Mr Lucas, Grandma, Bert, Nigel, Barry, dirty Doreen (who isn’t a million miles removed from Nigel Slater’s stepmum in Toast), and even despicable schoolmaster Mr Scruton and scatty Miss Elf.

Andrew Langtree and Aaron Gelkoff in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
Andrew Langtree and Aaron Gelkoff in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

I enjoyed Michael Hawkins as Adrian, a mass of confusion mixed with fake bravado whether sending a poem off to the BBC, standing up to bullies, or watching with bewilderment as his mum and dad behave badly without him.

Matilda Hopkins (Pandora), Cuba Kamanu (Nigel) and Charlie Stripp (little bruiser Barry), also excelled and were ably supported by the adults – Amy Ellen Richardson (Pauline), Andrew Langtree (George), John Hopkins (Lucas/Scruton), Rosemary Ashe (Grandma), Lara Denning (Miss Elf/Doreen, displaying a fun range), and Ian Talbot (Bert). All six adults also portray school pupils where required.

The small band, hidden above the action most of the time, are led by MD Mark Collins with the songs (perky but unmemorable) accompanied with a spark and a flourish. It was fun to see them revealed during one section, and they are certainly a hard-working group. Director Luke Sheppard proves that working with children and animals – albeit a puppet dog – can sometimes be a success.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole hits the spot for both 80s nostalgics (who may cringe at shell-suits and deely boppers) and those new to Sue Townsend’s amusing books. I enjoyed its spirit and its sense of fun; it’s no classic, but two and a half hours flew by and – one little technical mishap aside – everything flows quickly while still retaining time for chsracter development.

Production photos by Pamela Raith.

What’s coming up for the rest of the year and into 2020?

I can’t quite believe we are well into September already! It’s been a whirlwind year here at LouReviews: as you may know, I am a solo blogger so do all my visiting, reviewing, promotion and admin without help.

It’s my full-time job now even though as yet no income opportunities have presented themselves. All reasonable offers considered!

It does mean I get invited to shows and events (indicated below by the *) – much appreciated – but sadly have to pick and choose wisely because my diary does get full quickly (plus I have to factor in days off!), and travel and time factors are always a consideration.

Although I would welcome opportunities to write for other sites, that has not happened yet: if you have such an opportunity, get in touch and let’s talk about it. As a reminder, I review theatre shows big and small (whether I have purchased a ticket or not), but full immersive shows are not really for me due to social anxiety and claustrophobia.

So, what’s on the list?

In the West End

Of the larger shows, my next is Big – the Musical which has just officially opened. I vaguely remember the film on which this is based, and early buzz suggests this show is fun, colourful, and just a bit weird. I’ll be there in mid-October.

In early November I’ll be catching Mischief Theatre’s new show, Groan Ups, which promises to be a very silly evening. This is my first booking through the Theatre Express discount service, so I’m interested to see how that goes.

I’ll be catching the transfer of the backstage comedy Noises Off in mid-December at the Garrick Theatre (in the Grand Circle).

Also in November I am making my first trip to Hamilton (in the cheap seats), having resisted its allure thus far. Whether I will rate it as highly as everyone else is a question I can’t wait to answer, and of course I am very interested in the renovations which have taken place at the theatre.

Mary Poppins returns, and I must admit to being rather excited to see it again. I’ll be there in November, flying my kite with my supercalifragilisticexpialidocious tuppence a bag. Will the special effects that wowed us last time be turned up a notch?

At the start of December I will be seeing Austentacious, which I’ve wanted to experience for some time. As a fan of both Jane Austen and theatre improvisation, I really want to assess if this show is as good as it sounds. My ticket for this is via TodayTix.

Then there’s the new smash musical, & Juliet, currently going down a storm with the tough audiences of Manchester. This promises to do for Romeo and Juliet what Six did for Henry VIII and his six wives. With a pop soundtrack, a touch of irreverance, and a great premise of “what if”, this sounds like a hit.

For Christmas fun for the kids, I’ll be following up my earlier visit to The Gruffalo to see The Tiger Who Came To Tea *. This will form part of a special December feature on theatre for children with a couple of fringe shows I’ll tell you about a bit later.

My final West End show of 2019 will be the return of Girl from the North Country, the musical which uses Bob Dylan songs to stunning effect. I really enjoyed this at the Old Vic and look forward to seeing it with a brand-new cast.

At the National Theatre

I have three shows planned for the remainder of 2019. First, Translations, by Brian Friel, in the Olivier, which returns following a successful run a couple of years ago; then political play Hansard, by Simon Woods, in the Lyttelton (which I should have seen already but for transport problems); and finally a return to the Dorfman to see The Antipodes, an unusual storytelling play which sounds a bit like The Weir. We will have to see.

At the Barbican Centre

I will be seeing all three plays in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s residency towards the end of the year: As You Like It, Measure for Measure and The Taming of the Shrew. All these are plays which lend themselves to invention and I look forward to seeing how they are produced this time around.

I’ll also be paying a visit to the Barbican’s Pit Theatre in early November for Superfan: Nosedive. It promises to be a show that mixes dance, theatre and the circus. I’m sold.

Off-West End and fringe – women’s voices

Early October brings a number of shows in which women take centre stage.

Hammersmith

At the Lyric in Hammersmith is a new and exciting take on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, directed by Rachel O’Riordan, continuing the unofficial London season of his work which also included Rosmersholm and Peter Gynt. Review from 2 October performance now available.

Waterloo

Currently playing at The Vaults is the vibrant Shida – the Musical to which I got an early bird discounted ticket. All indications are that this – coming to London from Off-Broadway success, written and performed by Jeannette Bayardelle – will be something very special. Review from 3 October now available.

The Union Theatre, meanwhile, is reviving the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, about “two little girls from Little Rock”, which promises to sizzle and sparkle like those diamonds coveted by Lorelei Lee. Review from 6 October preview now available.

Sloane Square and Gloucester Road

Over at the Royal Court, there are four new plays by Caryl Churchill in one show: Glass Kill Bluebeard Imp. Together with the revival of Top Girls, which ran at the National earlier in the year, and Far Away, which comes to the Donmar early in 2020, this puts Churchill firmly in the forefront of living female dramatists. Review from 5 October now available.

I’ll be revisiting the Drayton Arms to review Dora Versus Picasso * by Fractured Time Productions in late November, which continues a 2019 theme of fictional meetings between real-life figures – this time Pable Picasso and Dora Maar.

Islington

Laura Crow’s new play, Clouds *, makes its London debut at the King’s Head in November and focuses on the story of Winifred Baxter and her 1913 attempt to enter an air race. With Queen of the Mist and Beryl looking at similar “firsts”, this should be an interesting show.

Camden, Finsbury Park and Clapham

The theme continues through the month, with Tokyo Rose coming down from Edinburgh to the New Diorama (Japanese DJs and spies), Mother of Him * (Jewish mother holding her family together) opening at the Park Theatre, and Femme Fatale * (Nico and Valerie Solonas) at the Omnibus. I look forward to reporting back from all of these.

Reviews now available for 8 October performance of Tokyo Rose, 10 October performance of Mother of Him, and 13 October performance of Femme Fatale.

In early November I’ll be at Sydney and the Old Girl, * with the end of the year spent at Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis. Both are running at the Park Theatre.

London Bridge, Dalston and Seven Dials

Later in the month I’ll be at the Bridge Theatre watching Two Ladies (the First Ladies of France and America), at the Arcola hearing the story of top female cyclist Beryl Burton in Maxine Peake’s play Beryl, and looking at women in the criminal justice system in [BLANK], celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Clean Break theatre company, at the Donmar Warehouse.

In November I will be at the Bunker watching i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) * (bringing an estranged mother and daughter back together).

Brentford, Kilburn and Wimbledon

In November I will catch up with the Nina Simone play written and performed by Apphia Campbell, Black is the Colour of My Voice (+ Soul Sessions) when it stops off at the Waterman’s Art Centre. I’m delighted to finally see it having missed it at other venues earlier in the year.

Ibsen again comes into the capital, with When The Crows Visit at the Kiln Theatre, a piece suggested by the play Ghosts, but transposed to modern-day India, written by Anupama Chandrasekhar. 

Meanwhile, Chekhov goes to the New Wimbledon Studio in a production of Uncle Vanya from Theatrical Niche.

Off-West End and fringe – men’s voices

The voices of men haven’t been disregarded, with Richard Gadd’s solo piece about stalking, Baby Reindeer, coming to the Bush Theatre from the Edinburgh Fringe; a political chess game, The Ice Cream Boys, on at Jermyn Street Theatre; and issues of gay sexual harassment in theatreland in Velvet * at Above the Stag’s Studio.

Reviews now available for 12 October performance of The Ice Cream Boys, and 13 October performance of Velvet.

The tour of Frankenstein, with its male creator and creation, and in a new adaptation by Rona Munro, pauses at Richmond Theatre and promises to bring Mary Shelley herself to the stage.

Musicals

A couple of sparkling musical revivals come later in the year: in Highgate, Upstairs at the Gatehouse is host to the marital comedy I Do! I Do!, while at the Menier, their end of year show is Sandy Wilson’s frothy flappers in The Boyfriend.

The new Boulevard Theatre in Soho is opening with Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet. This will be my second of his musicals in 2019, following Preludes at the Southwark Playhouse.

I’m also looking forward to the premiere of Soho Cinders * (a “deliciously naughty musical update of Cinderella”) at the Charing Cross Theatre, which will feature Luke Bayer alongside Millie O’Connell, following her successful run in Six.

Over in Victoria at the Other Palace Studio, classic Hollywood will be brought to life in the new musical Reputation * by Alick Glass, and the new family musical Terror at the Sweetshop is bound to be fun with a score by Gavin Brock.

And in the just re-opened Fairfield Halls in Croydon, I’ll be catching Friendsical on a tour stop. Word on this musical parody has been mixed, but I’ll let you know all about it.

Physical theatre, concerts, showcases, and panto

I have three concerts in planning for the rest of 2019. Cassidy Janson is appearing at Bush Hall, Kelli O’Hara at Cadogan Hall, and the Chamber Philharmonic Europe (boasting musicians from 18 countries across the continent) at Conway Hall. I also have a December date with the ravishing Fascinating Aida.

The Southbank Centre plays host to two pieces of physical theatre in October – Out of Order by Forced Entertainment, and Negative Space by Reckless Sleepers. These sounded intriguing. Stay tuned for opinions.

Reviews now available for the 12 October show of Out of Order and the 11 October show of Negative Space.

Kneehigh bring the bizarre Ubu! A Singalong Satire to Shoreditch Town Hall, described as “a deliriously unhinged improvised promenade musical. The Place at King’s Cross will be my destination for The Little Prince on Christmas Eve, a “magical dance adaptation” by Luca Silvestrini’s Protein company.

The Other Palace plays host to showcase performances of new musical Zombies * in October. I will combine thoughts on the show with a piece on the gestation of the show featuring writer Daryl Griffith.

The Ovalhouse is having its demolition season, so I’ve been invited to cover a show (I’ll be seeing Kissing Rebellion *), as well as doing a feature on their closure. The Park Theatre is the venue for The Snow Queen * in December.

I will be looking at two shows in the Maiden Speech festival * at the Tristan Bates Theatre. The festival is now in its third year and brought to life by a group of Mountview graduates, and produced by Lexi Clare.

Finally, two pantos are in the diary so far. I’ll be reviewing Battersea Art Centre’s Goldilocks and the Three Musketeers *, and my local theatre the Questors Playhouse’s production of Robin Hood.

Out of town

Just one trip outside London, and that’s next month to see Amelie at the Reading Hexagon. This show will spend Christmas and beyond at The Other Palace, where I may see it a second time!

Review of the 9 October performance is now live.

Film

I’ll be seeing titles in both the London Film Festival and the BFI Musicals season, and in 2020 I am attending the Renown/Talking Pictures TV Film Festival in St Albans.

In 2020 …

Confirmed so far for musicals are Once, in Croydon; Be More Chill at The Other Palace; Dear Evan Hansen in the West End; Cabaret in Wimbledon; Singin’ in the Rain at Sadlers Wells; and Local Hero at the Old Vic. I’ll also be out of town in the summer when West Side Story returns to Manchester’s Royal Exchange.

Plays include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Bridge; Endgame (with Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming) at the Old Vic; The Incident Room (Yorkshire Ripper) at the New Diorama; Teenage Dick (a modern Richard III) and Far Away (by Caryl Churchill) at the Donmar Warehouse; Uncle Vanya (with Toby Jones and Richard Armitage) at the Harold Pinter; Kunane and the King (from the RSC, with Antony Sher and John Kani) at the Ambassadors; The Welkin and The Visit at the National Theatre; and Hamlet with Cush Jumbo at the Young Vic.

Concerts at the opposite end of the music spectrum are also planned – Bryn Terfel at the Royal Albert Hall, and the Pet Shop Boys at the O2 Arena.

What are you looking forward to seeing?