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.
On a professional level I worked for twenty-five years as a librarian, and also am a published writer 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.
2019 has been my first year as a proper professional theatre blogger, and I had several aims at the start of January:
To visit as many London theatres as possible, particularly West End and fringe
To link up with at least three new PR companies to increase my review range
To increase my Twitter following, and expand my Pinterest presence
To utilise Instagram and YouTube to support my blog
So far all is going to plan, which is very gratifying. I am enjoying exploring new venues and seeing shows which may not have been on my radar.
Without more ado, here’s a look back to my theatre-going for the first three months of 2019!
Show count: 9 | Plays: 1 | Musicals: 8 | Venues: 9 (new venues: 0)
The first month of the year always means “Get Into London Theatre” and the New Year sale, and this year was no exception. Although there may be more lucrative discounts available, if you like to save a bit of money and plan your trips in advance, I’d recommend this.
I managed to catch Dreamgirls shortly before it closed at the Savoy, caught up with the long-running Matilda at the Cambridge, and experienced the joy of Olivier-winner Sharon D Clarke’s performance in Caroline or Change at the Playhouse. The first two really stand on one song each, but are enjoyable enough: I wouldn’t recommend paying full price.
The year began, though, with my first trip to the Almeida, Islington, for five years, to see Simon Russell Beale in Richard II, or as it was titled here, The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. Utilising a small enclosed box set and buckets of water, blood and soil, the King’s dilemma was reduced from the trappings of majesty to the fundamentals of man.
Reviews for Bernadette Robinson’s performance in Songs for Nobodies, in which she impersonated Garland, Piaf, Cline, Holiday and Callas, persuaded me to go along to the Ambassadors. This talented singer managed to evoke the memories of all those great stars with a minimum use of props and settings.
The National Theatre’s production of Hadestown was coming close to the end when I saw it, and I was impressed and amused to see the parallels with last year’s Mythic at the Charing Cross. Hadestown, though, is a fine musical with some excellent voice work and songs created by Anais Mitchell.
The cult hit of regal girl power, Six, was a pleasure to attend at the Arts; an old favourite, Aspects of Love, briefly stopped in the intimate setting of the Southwark Playhouse; and one of my favourite theatres, the Menier Chocolate Factory, provided a fine revival of Fiddler on the Roof – which has now deservedly transferred to the Playhouse.
Show count: 7 | Plays: 2 | Musicals: 2 | Other: 3 | Venues: 7 (new venues: 0)
The final show in my “Get Into London Theatre” crop of discounts was the new musical Come from Away, at the Phoenix. This fine one-act piece of theatre, about the Canadian town of Newfoundland which welcomed several displaced planes and their occupants on 9/11, is one of the best new works to come to the capital for quite a while, and I was glad to see it obtain a number of awards at the Oliviers.
I also saw a preview of Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre, which was the show where one of the famous pies went missing. Although it has done well on Broadway, Sara Bareilles’s musical version of the film by Adrienne Shelly is simply servicable, with few memorable songs despite the hard-working ensemble cast.
The two plays I saw were Cougar, at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond (first visit since 2011), and the much-hyped When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, starring Cate Blanchett, at the National Theatre. There were definite parallels between the two, but I found the National’s production somewhat overblown, and perhaps not worth the trouble of the ballot and high ticket pricing.
Show count: 11 | Plays: 7 | Musicals: 3 | Other: 1 | Venues: 11 (new venues: 5)
March began with a trip to see Stephen Rea in the much-lauded Cyprus Avenue, at the Royal Court, which was certainly an uncompromising watch, but performed brilliantly. It was my first visit to the theatre, which is an old-fashioned wooden structure with a modern stage, and it felt quite the right space for this disturbing play by David Ireland.
Gently Down The Stream, over at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, was written by Martin Sherman and starred Jonathan Hyde, in a tender and waspish look at gay history and an age-gap relationship in 1990s London.
All About Eve, at the Noel Coward, was a quirky but not entirely successful adaptation of the famed Bette Davis film, with Gillian Anderson and Lily James in the lead parts, but Monica Dolan and Stanley Townsend stealing the acting honours. There was a bit much too reliance on video work for me, but I will continue to support the stage work of Ivo van Hove, which is rarely boring.
A trio of musicals were all enjoyable – Showstopper! brought a fun form of improvision back to The Other Palace; Violet let us take a ride on the Greyhound bus at the Charing Cross; and the 60s classic Hair made a welcome stop on its 50th anniversary tour at the New Wimbledon Theatre.
The interesting new venue in North Kensington, the Playground Theatre, hosted a revival of My Brother’s Keeper, a sharply observational dramedy about family relationships and the NHS; and a new play, Alys Always, starring Joanne Froggart, ran at the Bridge Theatre.
My first visit to the Tristan Bates Theatre, just off Seven Dials in the Actors’ Centre, was to see the showcase Character Solos, a number of variable solo performances from young writer-actors which deserved a little more attention and attendance.
The Old Vic’s building work may be obvious, but the revival of Arthur Miller’s The American Clock (a play with music), was a good primer to what will prove a mini-season of the playwright’s work at a variety of London venues this year, and I applaud the venue for continuing to offer excellent discounts to regular patrons.
Closing off the month was one play I had waited for ever since the collaboration with the Barbican Centre was announced: Enda Walsh’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, starring Cillian Murphy. This inventive mix of physical comedy, technical trickery, and a touching and terrifying central performance made this worth the delay in bringing it into London.
Coming up in the second quarter of 2019
Bed Peace: the Battle of Yohn and Joko | Mouthpiece | Tartuffe | Legends Live | Tony’s Last Tape | The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time | Trial by Jury | The Price | Man of La Mancha | Broken Wings
The King and I | Funeral Flowers | Little Miss Sunshine | Top Girls | The Crucible | King Hedley III | Dead Dog in a Suitcase | Admissions | Beats on Pointe | Rutherford and Son
All My Sons | Emilia | Woman to Woman | This Island’s Mine | Bernadette Peters | Death of a Salesman | Operation Mincemeat | After Dark | Pictures of Dorian Gray | Amour
The award-winning stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel is in its final weeks in the West End, doubtless making plenty of money for the National Theatre, where it originated in 2012.
Sam Newton as Christopher. Photo from the UK tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Christopher Boone (Sam Newton) is a fifteen year old boy on the autism spectrum, a maths genius who finds it hard to function with the chat and metaphors of daily life.
In our glimpse into Christopher’s world, we see and hear how overwhelming everyday activities are to him (act two’s train and tube journey’s are especially evocative).
His father (Stuart Laing) struggles to cope with his clever and challenging child, sometimes overboiling with frustration he instantly regrets. His decision to tell a catastrophic lie leads to the events which close the first half (as sounds, lights, collapsing numbers and falling letters contribute to the boy’s reaction to a shock), and into the adventures of act two.
Newton, adaptor Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott create a powerful and believable depiction of the complexities of autism, with a cohesive balance between the comic perception of everyday statements (“the apple of his eye”) and the pathos of emotional attachments (father, mother, neighbour’s dog. pet rat, new puppy).
Emma Beattie as Judy. Photo credit Brinkhoff/Mogenburg
The supporting cast are uniformly good – Emma Beattie as the mother who couldn’t cope stood out, but I must note them all. (Sadly the lack of a programme leads me to struggle a bit to assign names to roles).
Bunny Christie’s set is a box which displays material drawn on the floor and generated text and adverts, and utilises hidden doors and storage space very well, plus an inspired use of the front of the stage as a platform on the London Underground.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo by Brinkhoff/Mogenburg.
The technical wizardry on display has rightly gained plaudits but ultimately this is a show with heart, starting with that curious incident of the dog and the garden fork, and ending with a post-curtain call maths equation.
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Where did your love for theatre start? Was it a live experience or a movie musical?
I’ve always liked plays and musicals. The first show I can recall seeing live was Our Gracie, at Oldham Coliseum, with Polly Hemingway in the lead. We went with school when I was about twelve, in the mid-80s; soon after I started attending theatre with my auntie or my mum, then eventually on my own in London and Stratford.
We were lucky at that time to have many classic movie musicals shown regularly on TV (on our four channels!), and theatre was very much a part of TV, with the last few Play for Todays, and the Performance season into the 1990s. I also did my GCSE and A level in English Literature which gave me a love for Shakespeare, Beckett, O’Casey, Caryl Churchill, and many other playwrights.
One of my favourite books is the Heath Introduction to Drama, which I acquired in the 1990s and which has the full text of plays like ‘night, Mother, Mister Harold and the Boys, Fences, Bent, and many more which I read before I saw them. Oh, and radio plays – although these days I have got out of the habit of following those.
Why did you decide to start blogging/vlogging?
I’ve always written. I had poems published from 1989 onwards, my first academic article in 2000, and many reviews on IMDb through the 1990s.
My blogging journey began on LiveJournal, then Blogger, and eventually WordPress. I had two blogs, one personal and one professional, but the latter has now closed. My reviews blog recently celebrated its seventh anniversary.
How do you share your work?
Until this year via Twitter (@loureviewsblog) and my Facebook page (facebook.com/loureviews). Recently I have linked my Pinterest and YouTube spaces with my blog, started sharing to LinkedIn, and this week I joined Instagram.
I have also joined a number of blogging groups and now have my blog listed on the UK Bloggers list and on londontheatre1.com, and participate in Feedspot. I write film reviews on letterboxd.com which sometimes link back and forwards to the blog. Occasionally other bloggers and even venues/shows share my posts, which is nice.
I changed the URL of my blog this year and have tried to link all my social spaces to it, with the same photograph (of me – eek!), etc.
What came first? A love for writing (blogging or vlogging) or a love for theatre?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I wrote a novella based on the classic film
The Seventh Veil when I was about six (I’m sure, looking back, it was dreadful). So the two fit together, but I now love
blogging and sharing my thoughts. It’s a
logical progression in many ways from the old Deja News/Google Groups message
boards, in which I used to be very active.
Do you have a favourite theatre? Just the building, not the show inside it.
The Grand Theatre, Leeds.
There is something about the architecture of the place which inspires
me. I lived in Leeds for twelve years so
saw a lot of good shows though, and before their renovation around twelve years
ago there was an open day which allowed me to explore backstage, the pit, the
stage, the flies, and so on, which was even more fun.
Do you find that talking to other bloggers helps you with your own work?
I’m rather shy and socially awkward, so talking and networking face to face is not easy for me; however online is a godsend and I find the community as a whole very supportive and helpful.
I know we are all finding our own niche and evolving in subtly different ways, but I don’t sense any resentment out there, which is something I find very attractive in the blogging world.
Why do you think theatre is such a good inspiration for blogging/vlogging?
It’s creative, and one creative medium inevitably inspires another. I find it interesting though that some professional critics and performers view bloggers as a “fan” community rather than peers within the same industry.
I think given time the lines will blur, especially with vlogging (something I’d love to try), and that blogging may well become an inspiration for writers bringing work to the stage.
Is theatre your niche, or do you talk about other things as well?
Theatre is the main thing, but also film (classic and
modern), archive television, books, local interest, exhibitions, concerts, and
mental health (where it is relevant).
Has blogging led you down a new path for your future, or is it just a hobby?
I had to give up my day job as a librarian after twenty-five years last December because my mental health could no longer withstand a regular commitment or the pressures of a senior role in the business; I’d been very active in the field and so it was not an easy decision.
I see blogging as a potential way forward to help me continue in my recovery, as well as (maybe) a small money-earner in the future. But right now I am concentrating on producing posts that appeal to other people, making connections in a more professional manner, and gaining the support and trust of PR people who can work with me to get my blog to its next stage. So it was a hobby, but now it isn’t.
Do you have a favourite type of music to listen you whilst you write, or do you prefer another source of background noise?
I like silence, or I have Judge Judy on the television. White noise!
I do like all sorts of music, but rarely have it on when I am writing.
Here’s the tricky one! Do you have a favourite show?
That is a hard question! A show becomes a favourite when it gives me a reaction I wasn’t expecting, an emotional connection, or something I didn’t expect. Every production of a play or musical is different, and every production of a particular show is different.
I’m trying to think of my first “wow” moment in the theatre; I know what it was in the cinema, but I’m struggling to pin-point one theatre experience.
So I am going to cheat and say the ballet Romeo and Juliet, with music by Prokofiev, and choreographed by Kenneth McMillan. I’ve seen it live in two different productions and have four versions on DVD. If you haven’t seen it and get a chance to, do go.
All these are worth a look and a follow, in my opinion. And all are active on Twitter etc.
A first trip to the former Clapham Public Library, which has been causing a stir as the Omnibus Theatre for the past few years.
I was sad to pass on an invitation to review the recent Lipstick, but this combination of politics, light comedy and affectionate imitation tempted me south of the river to buy a ticket.
Philip Bretherton as Tony Benn. Photo credit Robert Day.
Tony’s Last Tape was first performed in 2015, shortly after the death of Labour veteran Tony Benn and hot on the heels of Skip Kite’s documentary Tony Benn: Will and Testament.
In this stage play, written by Andy Barrett and directed by Giles Croft, actor Philip Bretherton inhabits the persona of Benn at the end of his long life – still the democratic socialist firebrand, but also an elderly man with shaking hands and dodgy legs.
Philip Bretherton as Tony Benn. Photo credit Robert Day.
It’s an affectionate portrait and depiction of a man who may have polarised opinion, but left nobody neutral. A leader-in-waiting destined to become a sidelined backbencher and a thorn in the side of PM Tony Blair, who represented everything the Bennite philosophy was not.
Bretherton’s Benn is found late at night, unable to sleep, shuffling around in his dressing-gown and ‘say no to the Poll Tax’ t-shirt. Smoking his pipe, eating bananas, rifling through his published diaries to remember words he has already said, he is documenting his last days on the fringes of politics.
Philip Bretherton as Tony Benn. Photo credit Robert Day.
The room is cluttered with a lifetime dedicated to social change – desk with books, tape machine, dictaphones; filing cabinet with letters (‘dear arsehole …”, and news clippings); chair; gadgets. Rachael Jacks and Martin Curtis have created and lighted a space which feels right for this ageing left-winger to exist in.
In between the flashes of bombast and anger at the likes of Thatcher and Kinnock, this Benn has real regrets about his shortcomings as husband and father, and about his thwarted ambition – and in one powerful sequence there’s a flash of pride in the old man to see he’s on a banner at the Durham Miners’ Gala.
Philip Bretherton as Tony Benn. Photo credit Robert Day.
For Barrett to evoke such a complex character (the play is a hybrid of his own words, and Benn’s) when this politician is so clear in recent memory is quite a feat. When we can laugh at the squeaky toy megaphone Benn has purchased from Oxfam for his granddaughter, and then later feel moved by his recollection of dropping off his late wife’s clothes (‘bring them back … bring her back’), that’s clever work on everyone’s part.
Current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gets a brief mention too, as Benn’s comrade-in-crime putting up unofficial plaques across Parliament. Tony Benn did not live to see his friend’s success but I suspect he would have been both delighted to see the return of Democratic Socialism, and amused to reflect on the media’s response to it.
Philip Bretherton as Tony Benn. Photo credit Robert Day.
He was nothing if not pragmatic, this man, who renounced the peerage he inherited (the second son, the heir died in wartime, and the younger Benn replaced his own RAF wings with his) so he could serve the people as an MP.
Philip Bretherton has clearly grown into the role and evokes memories of the veteran statesman (and oddly enough at times, Benn’s cousin the comedy actress Margaret Rutherford) without settling into caricature. It is an enjoyable and accomplished performance (and very different from his smarmy TV roles such as the literary agent in As Time Goes By).
Tony’s Last Tape continues until the 20 April at the Omnibus, which is a short walk from Clapham Common station.
I’ve been to quite a few concerts on the nostalgia tours for both the 1960s and 1970s, and for this decade, the 1970s, I have seen Showaddywaddy, The Rubettes, The Sweet, and others.
Tonight, it was the turn of four artists bundled together under the Legends Live label – Smokie, Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers, David Essex (I’ve seen him before in musicals, Aspects of Love and War of the Worlds), and Suzi Quatro.
First we were treated to a half-hour appearance from Smokie, a band which has had several member changes and its fair share of tragedy (second singer Alan Barton, who had previously sung for Black Lace, died in an accident on tour in the 1990s). Their biggest hit remains Living Next Door To Alice, a cover of the song by Australian band New World, and they closed their set with it.
The current band is Mike Craft (vocals), Michael McConnell and Terry Uttley (lead and bass guitars), Martin Bullard (keys) and Steve Pinnell (drums).
The Bay City Rollers were huge for a couple of years in the mid-1970s, and Rollermania covered the country with tartan. Singer Les MacKeown now fronts his version of the band, while an alternative tours utilising the name ‘The Bay City Rollers’.
No matter, as MacKeown still has his fans, and classic bubblegum pop like Shang-a-lang and Be My Baby retain their ability to transfer memories to more innocent days, and get audiences on to their feet.
David Essex, now in his 70s, white-haired and still retaining hints of his Plaistow accent, has attained huge success on record, in the theatre, and on film. His fifty-minute set has quieter moments (It’s Gonna Be Alright), theatrical bombast (Oh, What a Circus from Evita), biker chic (Silver Dream Machine) and pop fun (Gonna Make You a Star). Essex cuts a fine figure in a neat suit, waistcoat and shirt, and his voice eases back into the confidence he had as a blue-eyed idol back then.
The little girl rocker from Detroit, Suzi Quatro, is celebrating fifty-five years in the business this year, and before she took to the stage we were treated to a trailer for her “Greatest Hits” album.
She’s still recording, and in performing to her recent single No Soul/No Control‘s music video as back-drop at one point, she’s happy to acknowledge the passing of time. Whether dancing in her leathers, offering solos on her bass guitar and on the drums, or conjuring up memories of her early hits Can the Can and Devil Gate Drive, Suzi Q remains first and foremost an entertainer.
This was a decent concert, over three hours, and able to please fans of a range of ages. My husband betrayed his knowledge of Rollers lyrics, and even though I was a mere baby at the start of the decade, the 1970s are a time of some great music on the cusp of rock and punk.
Legends Live 2019 continues until the 16 April, taking in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bournemouth. Attendees can be assured of a good time.
Photo credits Colin Penn. Short videos (which hopefully give a bit of flavour!) by Louise Penn.
John Donnelly’s new translation of Molière’s classic 17th century satire shoehorns in contemporary references and profanity, and sets the action in wealthy Highgate, but falls short of truly capturing the spirit of either farce or barbed social commentary.
Tartuffe is the story of a well-heeled family man, Orgon, who finds meaning in life when he meets a vagrant who seems to have religious purity and an insight into his soul: in fact, he has met a trickster who means to alienate his children, seduce his wife, and relieve him of home and fortune.
Despite a clever set by Robert Jones which has numerous hiding places for an underused cast, it takes a long time for us to get the measure of the piece and the atmosphere Donnelly and director Blanche McIntyre are trying to create. References to Russell Brand and resting actors who are happy to act as cut-throat murderers when they are not “in Holby” feel forced, and the contemporary setting loses something of the power of the original play.
Susan Engel’s matriarch encountering the nude champagne socialist poet gives initial amusement, but Kevin Doyle’s Orgon comes across as foolish and blinkered from the start, and Denis O’Hare’s Tartuffe is a comic creation who seems to sit awkwardly in a discussion of 21st century money problems (although I loved some of his comedy routines in the broad sense, dropping trousers and wrangling with ladies’ underwear).
Much better is the shorter second half, in which whiny and pampered Mariane (Kitty Archer) weighs up the ills of marriage for convenience against the need to go out and work, and Tartuffe and Elmire (Olivia Williams) engage in a pantomime for the benefit of the blinkered husband.
However, I disliked the ending which seemed to wander into a realm where it is OK to cheat, connive and corrupt if you’re rich, despite the final speech in which the homeless crowd the stage and seem to ask for our empathy.
Tartuffe continues at the National Theatre, having just announced additional performances.
Kieran Hurley’s hard-hitting, earthy play makes its London debut at the Soho Theatre, and I was pleased to be invited to review it – it proves to be a quite brilliant piece of theatre; one of the best so far this year.
Lorn Macdonald and Neve McIntosh in Mouthpiece
A two hander, it starts when Neve McIntosh’s Libby sits at a table, speaks into a microphone, and tells us how a stage play is constructed. From this point, she is rescued from the top of Salisbury Crags by Lorn Macdonald’s young and troubled Declan, who has sought a quiet corner to draw in.
Libby, the writer, sees fresh material in Declan, the artist. Building his trust through bacon rolls, gallery trips, and a fumbled hand job on his young sister’s bed, she forms a new play about him, called in a meta way, Mouthpiece, but she makes his ending tragic, his life bleak and hopeless.
Lorn Macdonald and Neve McIntosh in Mouthpiece
Utilising the rough speech of the poorest parts of Glasgow, the story pulls these two misfits together. She, mid-forties, with writers’ block and unsettled thoughts; he, teenage, given to anxiety and rages, carer for his small sister (‘the wee yin’).
With Libby’s conspiratorial addresses to the audience at key points in the narrative, and Declan’s heart-rending speech from within the very space from which we watch, the last drop is wrung from this strange and powerful piece.
Neve McIntosh in Mouthpiece
It’s a tough play, a hard watch, and a piece of brilliant stagecraft. If you experience this with a dry throat and a damp eye, you will have engaged with Hurley’s world and understood the price both protagonists had to pay to make the Mouthpiece within the Mouthpiece come to life.
Directed by Orla O’Loughlin, designed by Kai Fischer with music by Kim Moore, this play did well last year at the Traverse Theatre. Both characters are pervasively and believably portrayed by the actors, who command the small stage throughout.
One of the hot tickets at the BFI kicked off the Kubrick season with an appearance from the lead actor in his most divisive film, A Clockwork Orange.
With more than forty years residence in the USA, Malcolm McDowell (slighter than I expected, bespectacled, balding, and swarthed in a showy scarf) has a Yankee twang alongside his original flat Yorkshire vowels.
In conversation with scholar and broadcaster Sir Christopher Frayling, the topics ranged from Kubrick and McDowell’s early mentor, Lindsay Anderson (director of 60s classic If…), to Caligula, the best relationship between actor and director, the high-pitched sarf London voice of HG Wells, Peter O’Toole’s joint chain-smoking, and glittery Nazi underwear.
We were treated to clips from “the big hits” – If…, A Clockwork Orange, Caligula, plus Time After Time (in which McDowell met wife number 2, Mary Steenburgen, and relocated across the pond permanently), and the underrated Gangster No 1.
It is always a privilege to listen in to our senior actors, and this one proved a charming and fun raconteur. I can’t help wondering, though, whether A Clockwork Orange has its cult status through years of oppression, and what would have happened to McDowell’s career trajectory had his first film been Ken Loach’s Poor Cow, as planned.
My personal favourite of his performances are quieter films – The Raging Moon and Aces High, and his showy return to television in Our Friends in the North in the mid-90s, when there was still such a thing as “event TV”.
The Kubrick season continues at the BFI Southbank, in tandem with a visiting exhibition on the filmmaker at the Design Museum which opens mid-April.
It’s been fifty years since John Lennon and Yoko Ono married and took to their bed in a Montreal hotel in the name of peace.
Craft Theatre’s latest production, devised and directed by Rocky Rodriguez Jr, takes some original recordings, some verbatim scripts, and adds artistic license, physical theatre, and a couple of songs to bring the summer of love back to life.
Helen Foster acts as narrator for this piece, hopping with hippy energy. She returns now and then to push the story along, engaging directly with the audience, doing acrobatics, donning a moustache to play ‘Peter from Apple’.
Craig Edgley and Jung Sun den Hollander in Bed Peace
Craig Edgley portrays a flawed Lennon, quick to anger, masking his Scouse accent, strumming his songs (“In My Life”, “Across the Universe”). The woman behind the Beatle, the slight and delicate Yoko Ono, is played by Jung Sun den Hollander, and her quiet energy centres this piece.
The staging in this small and intimate theatre in the round is made up of candles, slogans, rugs, and suspended white flowers. The Lennons are first encountered when they lose their baby in hospital, and their first act after their Gibraltar wedding is to call a press conference which is hijacked by hacks who simply want Beatles gossip.
Jung Sun den Hollander in Bed Peace
We hear the tape of the students from Berkeley who gave their lives, put their flowers down the barrel of a gun. We hear from those opposed by racism, sexism and homophobia who dismiss Lennon as a privileged man who cannot truly understand them.
Lyna Dubarry, Amelia Parillon, Thomas Ababio and Joshua McGregor act as various voices throughout – Dubarry (who co-produces with Foster) is both sarcastic feminist and free spirit Krishna; McGregor is a cautious driver who encounters the spirit of friendship; Parillon gives her impassioned speech on civil rights alongside Ababio’s angry depiction of the abusive n word and the danger of having black skin.
Amelia Parillon in Bed Peace
The successful pieces to me were the joy of newlyweds and their appropriation of art for peace, but what really clicked was Yoko’s assessment of Lennon as “only a man”, who could only do so much. I liked the depictions of stylised violence but they were crowded out by trivia.
With an unnecessary intermission which dilutes some of the setting and power of the piece, Bed Peace returns to pull in the audience as both observers and participants in the performance of “Give Peace a Chance”.
Lyna Dubarry in Bed Peace
Sadly, for me, this play was too long, not blackly comedic enough, and suffered from too much hero worship of both John and Yoko. Edgley’s singing is vulnerable and open, and the small cast are surely impassioned, but when productions set in similiar times like Hair still pack a punch, this failed to fully move or inspire me.
Bed Peace continues at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone until the 28th April. My thanks to Premier PR for arranging the tickets.
This is the fourth collaboration between director Enda Walsh and actor Cillian Murphy, and after seeing Ballyturk a few years ago I knew this play would be a “must-see”, despite knowing little about the book it is based on, Max Porter’s debut novel of the same name.
We meet Dad and his two young sons (all are nameless) in the flat which is now somehow too big and sparsely furnished for them. Every step, every surface speaks of the loss of Mum, who has died and left them bereft. People call with sympathy, but nothing concrete, nothing useful. “They say we need time but what we need is nit cream and batteries.”
Then one day the doorbell rings and there is Crow, a monstrous, visceral, all consuming being who is terrifyingly dark, coating the stage walls with words and inky blackness. Dad and Crow become one, obsessional, the yin and the yang, the Jekyll and the Hyde, the introvert and the extrovert, the inward cry and the primal scream of grief.
Murphy plays both Dad and Crow, shape-shifting into the protective yet destructive bird by pulling up the hood of his dressing gown, tucking his elbows out and hands in to form wings, standing spread-eagled to form webbed feet. Crow’s vocals are rough, deep, primeval, utilising different microphones and voice gymnastics. He drinks from a straw in a rabbit’s head, roughly masturbates against Dad’s writing desk, rips out the bloody heart of “I miss my wife” and tosses it into the void.
Dad is consumed by thoughts of Crow. He draws him, inhales him, rages against the dying of the light. Yet for all Crow’s bombast and power, there are the small moments too – Crow becomes Dad on a tumble down the stairs, with the boys asking “Dad, are you dead?” as he lays supine on the floor; a recording of Mum recounting a pilgrimage by Dad to see his hero, Ted Hughes, in Oxford.
The boys are mostly mute, not quite sure what to say to Dad, blinded by Crow, missing Mum, staying in the routine of loss. Their TV surrogates are evoked by projections of entertainers, presenters, newsreaders and mums in adverts; home movies of Mum project in huge height over the tiny Dad and boys who remain without her.
This is mainly a one-man performance, and Murphy is staggeringly good. A fearless actor who engages completely with both the grieving Irish widower and father and the gigantic, overbearing presence of Crow. He leaps and bounds around the stage, spits and snarls, stomps and watches. A dynamic and physical performance which is as scary to watch as it must be exhausting to do, night after night.
Dad won’t find one of Mum’s hairs around again. She’ll never finish that Patricia Highsmith novel. He’ll engage with other bodies which are not like hers, on the sofa she bought, in the flat where she died. He’ll finish his critical opus on the work of Ted Hughes, bluff and huge Yorkshire poet, when not doodling or daydreaming, or trying not to wake the boys.
In one scene Dad and boys go to a bird sanctuary where crows and eagles fly while the sons eat chips from packets which fall down to them. The boys will grow, and teach their children to shout “Crow”, and feel protected by the feathers which enveloped them in the wings of sorrow and pain.
Hattie Morahan, in film and audio form, plays the memory of Mum, and four boys share the role of the two sons (David Evans and Taighen O’Callaghan, Leo Hart and Adam Pemberton). Although on the periphery, the boys are ever present, and their performances must be commended – but this is Murphy’s show, and he’s magnificent.
Do not miss this – you’ll shudder, you might have to duck projectile props if you’re near the front, and you will most definitely have a tear in your eye when Dad and his sons walk away, hand in hand.
Welcome to the second instalment of The Mix, in which I’ll look at some of the things in London theatre which have caught my eye.
A is for Admissions
Alex Kingston stars in Joshua Harmon’s new comedy at the Trafalgar Studios, where it runs until 25 May, after which it has a run at Richmond Theatre until 1 Jun.
Described as a “bold new comedy” this both takes a knock at the status quo and, timely enough, reflects some of the corruption going on overseas over fixed university and school places. I will be reporting back from this show soon. For information see https://trafalgarentertainment.com/shows/admissions/
B is for Bunker and Boulevard
The Bunker Theatre was converted from an underground car park into an ambitious, artist-led space with two resident companies, Damsel Productions and Pint-Sized. Now in its third season, The Bunker presents an interesting mix of productions in an eclectic space underneath the Menier Chocolate Factory. I’ll be visiting to see Funeral Flowers later in the year.
The Boulevard Theatre has been announced as Soho’s newest playhouse, due to open in autumn 2019. Built on the site of the legendary Raymond’s Revuebar, this vibrant arts venue will host theatre, comedy, cabaret, music, film and literature with a seated capacity of 165.
C is for the Canal Cafe
The Canal Cafe Theatre celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Based on the edge of the Regent’s Canal, above the Bridge House Pub, the 60 seat theatre (arranged as table seating) presents comedy and drama, and helped to launch acts such as Miranda Hart and the League of Gentlemen. It is the home of the NewsRevue, the world’s longest running comedy show.
Mobile phones, takeaways, sing-alongs, photography, heckling, late comers, drunk audience members, coughing, noisy sweet wrappers, putting drinks or bags or yourself on the stage, you name it. It’s a tough old world out there and theatre is a nice escape for many of us, so if you’re guilty of any of the items in the list: just stop!
A few things you may want to bear in mind if you want to be a model audience member – put your phone away (switched off) during the performance, keep your singing in your own head, don’t snap pics, don’t interrupt or talk, don’t stagger in late, don’t stagger in drunk, suck a cough sweet and sip on a bottle of water (or if you’re coughing badly, stay at home in bed), bring loose sweets only, respect the performers’ space even if it is just literally that rather than a conventional stage.
Simple, isn’t it?
F is for Frozen
If you’d been on the Theatre Royal Drury Lane backstage tours last year just before the theatre closed for renevation, you will have known that Frozen was set to be the first new show on re-opening in autumn 2020, but it is now official, and you can sign up for information and pre-sale of tickets. No news yet on whether any of the Broadway cast will transfer with the show but you can read the rave review of the New York production at https://www.newyorktheatreguide.com/reviews/review-of-disneys-frozen-on-broadway
The film of Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time, and the stage production, directed by Michael Grandage, has already won a Tony Award nomination for best new musical. The Drury Lane production will feature set and costume design by Christoper Oram, lighting design by Natasha Katz, choreography by Rob Ashford.
G is for Groan Ups
Mischief Theatre (The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery) have announced their new show, set to open at the Vaudeville Theatre in September 2019. Groan Ups is a brand-new comedy about growing-up, asking whether we are really that different at 30 than at 13, this is being pitched as “a lesson not to be skipped”.
The Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester is proving to be a rich source of musicals transferring into the capital, with Pippin, Aspects of Love, Yank, and Hair.
Based in Ancoats, the company is a joint venture for creative couple William Wheldon and Joseph Houston, and producer Katy Lipson. Together they are Hope Aria and their current musical project is Rags.
Over at the Hope Theatre in Islington, a new production is underway. Thrill Me: the Leopold and Loeb Story centres on the murder popularised in the Hitchcock film Rope, this time made into a musical by Stephen Dolginoff. The show runs from 2-20 April. More information at http://www.thehopetheatre.com/
I is for the Iris Theatre
The Iris Theatre is one of London’s award winning theatre companies, performing each summer in the grounds of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden (known as the ‘Actors Church’).
This year’s summer season runs from 19 June-1 Sept and comprises Hamlet and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If the classics don’t appeal, try a ticket for a new musical Parenthood runs on the 3 May or Cleopatra runs on the 11 May.
Approaching its 30th anniversary in a former Barclays Bank branch in Camden, this ecletic nightspot offers a wide range of music and dance events. For listings and information visit https://thejazzcafelondon.com/
K is for Katzpace
Katzpace is a new 50 seat theatre based at London Bridge, under the German Bierkeller. Billed as “London’s coolest theatre” it showcases theatre and comedy with an edgy and intelligent feel, hosting scratch nights, queer theatre, improv and more.
At the start of April it becomes on of the venues for the 2019 London Pub Theatre Festival. Its resident theatre company, Exploding Whale Theatre, is made up of recent graduates. Keep an eye on the venue and its work at https://www.katzpace.co.uk/whats-on
L is for LIVR
LIVR merges live performance, streaming and virtual reality to provide access to theatrical experiences via a mobile phone and a headset. It is the first VR platform dedicated to theatre, to offer “the best seat in the house without leaving the house”.
With a monthly subscription and a growing library of content, this may revolutionise how we access our theatre spaces and productions. I hope to offer a full feature on how this works later in the year.
Over at the Finborough Theatre, musical Maggie May is enjoying a revival in its first London production in half a century. Lionel Bart’s show is a hard-hitting celebration of working-class life on Merseyside and runs to the 20 April. It also commemerates the 20th anniversary of Bart’s death.
The National has announced its new season and it is entirely made up of male playwrights, which is a little disappointing. However, I will be attending to see Hansard, featuring Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan, and I am intrigued by their new musical show for children and the young at heart, Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear.
The Open Air Theatre in Regents Park is often a martyr to the English weather, but unfailingly presents a summer season to shout about. This year the American perennial Our Town goes shoulder to shoulder with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while musical and opera fans are served by revivals of Evita and the ENO’s Hansel and Gretel.
London is chock-full of pub theatres, intimate and exciting spaces which generate new work and give a sideways slant on old favourites. They often have left-field or evocative names – The Hen and Chickens, Etcetera, Tabard, Katzpace, Bread and Roses. They may be small, but they are an essential part of London’s theatreland.
London’s theatreland is a safe and energising space for LGBTQ+ shows, with venues such as Above the Stag, the King’s Head, Soho Theatre, Hackney Showroom, Arcola Theatre, Park Theatre, The Glory, The Yard, Camden People’s Theatre, and more showcasing new writing, queer seasons, or even entire programming with the rainbow flag prominently in focus, the metropolis can certainly hold its head up with pride.
R is for the Rose
The Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames celebrated its tenth birthday last year and shows no signs of slowing down. As well as some excellent upcoming shows including Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and The Snow Queen, the theatre now has an Emerging Artists Fellowship in honour of its founder, Sir Peter Hall.
There is also a second Rose in London, the Rose Playhouse on Bankside. Billed as “Bankside’s first Tudor theatre”, this was the site of the Save The Rose campaign in 1989, and what has since been uncovered enjoys English Heritage Scheduled Monument status. Events taken place regularly, and there is a 30th anniversary gala planned in May. The Rose is still in desperate need of support – visit http://www.roseplayhouse.org.uk/experience/events/ to find out more.
S is for Shapeshifting
If you move quickly and get across to the Barbican Centre you can catch Cillian Murphy’s astonishingly physical and visceral performance as the Crow in Grief is the Thing With Feathers, which runs until 13 April. It’s sold out, but returns might be available on the day.
T is for Tributes
Over in Clapham rehearsals are underway for Tony’s Last Tape, a transfer from Nottingham in which Philip Bretherton plays Tony Benn, at the Omnibus Theatre. Presented by Excavate, this is based on the diaries of one of Britain’s seminal and most divisive politicians, and is accompanied by an exhibition – Tracey Moberley’s audio diaries of Tony Benn.
It’s British Summer Time so it must be time for return of the Underbelly Festival at the South Bank. Running from 5 April-29 September 2019, you can enjoy family-focused shows, comedy, cabaret, and the circus across 31 seperate shows. Now in its 11th year, there is also a large outdoor bar, street food, and a truly festival atmosphere with shows which are short (less than an hour), cheap (less than £20), and cheerful.
V is for Violet and Vincent River
Two shows to highlight this month.
At the Charing Cross, Jeanine Tesori’s musical Violet continues until the 6 April. This award-winning tearjerker set on a greyhound bus and its environs benefits from an excellent set and some very good performances.
Meanwhile, over at the Trafalgar Studios 2, Vincent River is a one-act play focusing on hate crime in Dagenham. It previously ran at the Hampstead Theatre in 200, and in the West End in 2007. It plays from the 16 May-22 June.
W is for Wembley and White City
New theatres are always worth celebration, and the first of two promised Troubadour Theatres opens in June, at Wembley Park, on the site of the former Fountain Studios. The inaugural productions are Dinosaur World Live and a stop-off for the tour of War Horse. The second Troubadour is due to open in White City, on former BBC Media Village land, later in the year, with two flexible spaces of 1,200 and 800 seats respectively. For more information see https://www.troubadourtheatres.com/
X is for King’s Cross (X)
In the vicinity of King’s Cross Station are a variety of fine performance spaces.
The Shaw Theatre is situated next to the British Library and has a programme of dance, musical theatre, drama and talks. They have recently made their My Fair Lady rehearsal space available for hire.
The Platform Theatre on Handyside St is part of Central St Martins at the University of the Arts and comprises four performance spaces and a bar.
King’s Place on York Way is described as ‘a hub for music, art, dialogue and food’.
Y is for the Yard
The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick aims to make “theatre about our world, today”. Around the corner from Hackney Wick Station in Queen’s Yard, this fully accessible space also boasts a bar and kitchen. Their current production, running to the 11 May, is a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which for the first time has a female actor playing John Proctor. I’ll be reporting back from this show in April – for information and booking go to https://theyardtheatre.co.uk/theatre/events/the-crucible/
Z is for Z Hotels
Finally, if all the excitement leads you to want a place to lay your weary head, try the compact rooms of one of London’s Z hotels. With eight to choose from across the capital, and two more coming soon, this could be an affordable option for those of you travelling for your theatre fix.
A trip to the London suburbs to see the quintessential 60s musical, Hair.
As it was unfolding I started to think that we, in 2019, on the 50th anniversary of the show, are now as far from the Vietnam conflict as audiences of 1969 were from the Great War when the musical Oh What a Lovely War was premiered.
I’ve seen three productions of Hair. The first, at Manchester Opera House in 1989, shocked my companion school pal who bleated “What have you brought me to?” during Woof’s solo song. At this point the musical was twenty years old, and it had been ten years since the film version – with a changed, but no less powerful, ending.
The original cast recordings from Broadway and London may sound like museum pieces now, but the songs transcend the years and make the emotional connection to audiences now.
The most recent production I saw before this one was the transfer from Broadway to the West End, ten years ago. At that show I introduced my husband to Hair and we ended up dancing on the stage in the finale!
So, a lot of history with me and this show. This new production ran at The Vaults last year, and now returns on a UK tour, of which Wimbledon is the first stop. The show is billed as new, fresh, and lively, and even at first glance the colours and slogans of the age of peace and love get everyone in the mood.
Jonathan O’Boyle directs and William Whelton choreographs, keeping Galt MacDermot’s music moving and the lyrics of Gerome Ragni and James Rado relevant and engaging, with the young cast dancing and weaving their way through those final innocent years.
Jake Quickenden (Berger), Paul Wilkins (Claude), Marcus Collins (Hud), Bradley Judge (Woof), Kelly Sweeney (Crissy), Daisy Wood-Davis (Sheila), Alison Arnopp (Jeanie), Aiesha Pease (Dionne) and Tom Bales (Margaret Mead) shine in the talented cast with my favourite songs “Hair”, “Good Morning Starshine”, “Where Do I Go” and “Let The Sunshine In” packing a definite punch.
If you’re open to the Summer of Love and the anti-war message (which somehow retains its currency), you will enjoy this production which doesn’t stint on the dramatics but also has fun.
Ben M Rogers’s lighting design of mainly reds evokes love, death and anger while the moments of rain and sleet add much to the overall ambience of Maeve Black’s simple set in which a cage and boxes for the guitarist and drummer have some prominence.
Will Hair survive to its 60th anniversary? I don’t know. What seems certain is that its wonderful score and its passionate message still has life in it yet.
Following a run of Jeanine Tesori’s musical Caroline or Change, London is now playing host to the UK premiere of an earlier work written with Brian Crawley, Violet, set on a greyhound bus, some of its stops, and in the memory of its main character.
Matthew Harvey and Kaisa Hammarlund. Photo by Scott Rylander.
The Charing Cross theatre auditorium has been reconfigured in the round, with a stage revolve and ceiling decoration. In this space Violet (and her younger self) join two soldiers and a rag-bag collection of travellers, across the southern states of the USA.
Violet was disfigured as a child and her faith has driven her to seek out healing from a preacher famous on television. She sees herself as ugly and people she meets comment on her scar, but the audience don’t see it (they see her from within rather than through the pitying eyes of others?).
Janet Mooney and Kaisa Hammarlund. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Tesori’s score may take a few repeated listens to be fully appreciated, but the ensemble pieces on the bus made me think of the airplane camaderie of Come From Away, with different concerns and overlapping stories.
Kaisa Hammarlund impresses as Violet, who trusts no-one and lives on sarcasm, cunning and nervous energy. In her quest for perfection she engages both soldiers, Monty (Matthew Harvey) and Flick (Jay Marsh) in romance, and makes peace both with herself and the Lord by the end of her travels.
Cast of Violet. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Parallel scenes of card playing and musical memories with Young Violet (Madeleine Sellman at the performance I saw) and Keirom Crook as her father, struggling to raise a child who has the eyes and the smile of her dead mother, are effective.
I also enjoyed Janet Mooney’s dual roles as the fussy old lady on the bus and the hooker in the hotel where Violet is not welcome ‘cos she’s white’.
This musical is passionate, topical and heartwarming, and despite some odd staging decisions from director Shuntaro Fujita, it thrives in this intimate theatre and moves swiftly in an economical 95 minute running time.
Kenneth Avery Clark and cast. Photo by Scott Rylander.
Violet continues at the Charing Cross Theatre until 6 April.
Another first-time visit for me, this time to the cute little studio theatre hidden within the Actors’ Centre in Seven Dials.
Named for the son of Alan Bates who died aged 19 and funded in his memory, this theatre presents challenging and interesting work – this show, which ran twice yesterday, is produced by Effort Productions, who focus on “clear, elaborately drawn, physically realised characters with strong objectives”.
Although I have seen monologues performed before by solo artists, I haven’t really come across anything like Character Solos, where the actor has created a short piece which includes other characters invisible to us, with whom they interact.
Directed by James Kemp, there are nine short solos performed by six actors. Sophie Angelson’s Jennifer started the ball rolling with an amusing piece about a chatty American girl planning her flatmate’s birthday party and meeting a stranger carrying their stereo. She returns later with Laurie which provides interesting contrast.
Sarah Woodruff’s Papusza, with its sense of magic realism and power games, sits well with her H-1F ‘Girly’ personal care robot. Kate Sumpter’s closing piece, Jenna, is a shout-out for girl power in a corporate world, and her Sam, with the runner who can’t find room in her heart for love, is another portrait of a strong women, but this time with a core of vulnerability.
The other pieces, Ezra by Teddy Walker with its sense of school sadism, Gloria by Orna Salinger – which evoked the same mental breakdown of a wife and poet, and Isaac by Rotimi Pearce with the cynicism of organised religion, are interesting, but I didn’t find them quite as successful: still, these were accomplished character studies even if they didn’t connect with me in the same way.
This has now become an annual feature at the Tristan Bates Theatre, and I would recommend you pay a visit when it next comes around. You may well be spotting a star of stage and screen in the future, or at the very least, you will have a entertaining and provoking couple of hours’ entertainment.
The old girl is having a facelift, and this production is sort of in the round with stalls seats behind the stage as well as in front.
The American Clock was written by Arthur Miller and performed for the first time in 1980. It was a failure in its first Broadway appearance, and is rarely revived, but for Miller fans and completists it is just as essential as his classic plays.
This year in London does seem to be Miller time – once this closes, the Old Vic are putting on All My Sons, while over at the Wyndhams David Suchet is starring in The Price, coming up at the Yard in Hackney Wick is a gender-bending The Crucible, and at the Young Vic there is a new production of Death of a Salesman.
I went into The American Clock not knowing what to expect: I knew it featured a family in America’s Great Depression, and that it was a play with music, but that’s all.
Director Rachel Chavkin was responsible for the National’s recent musical Hadestown, and there is some atmospheric cross-over with the soul and jazz standards on display here.
The Baum family – father, mother and son each played by three identically dressed actors – are fairly well-off when the play begins. Father Moe has money in the bank and a decent job. Mother Rose loves her piano, jewellery and nights at the theatre. Son Lee plans to attend an expensive college.
We’re warned by the crash early on by Robertson, who tells his doctor to sell his stocks and keep the profits away from the banks. Sure enough, the markets and banks fail, men who thought themselves millionaires jump from buildings or put bullets through their brains, and families have to hawk their possessions in the pawn shop.
As we move through the 1930s, we follow the Baums and their struggles, with peripheral stories – the grandfather stating Hitler won’t last because Germans are decent people, the farmer who regains his defaulted farm by neighbours nearly lynching the local judge, a dance contest of despair.
One act two scene in the relief office was as powerful as it was pathetic – a starving man nearly killed by his pride evoking our own country’s rise of homelessness and food banks.
There’s a corporate president who hoofs his way to freedom, a steward who takes illegal occupation of the Baum’s basement, and an arranged marriage between Lee and the landlady’s daughter for security.
There are disperate scenes of card nights, money lending, and blind faith in presidential power. Yet, just as we identify with the Baums and their plight, we race from 1938 to 1969 in what seems like ten minutes.
Despite some moments and scenes approaching greatness, and some excellent and committed performances (notably Clare Burt, Golda Rosheuvel – who has the lion’s share of the singing, Francesca Mills – effortlessly moving from mature vamp and frightened wife to jealous teenager and sassy secretary, Amber Aga, and Ewan Wardrop – the hoofer), this show doesn’t quite gel.
It’s almost as if Miller needed an editor to strike through his most preachy and ponderous passages to get to the meat of the matter. The rushed ending is particular reduces the impact of the play.
The American Clock plays until 30 March 2019. Many deals are available if you shop around, and the production is also participating in TodayTix. If you like Miller, then go, but this is certainly not a flawless show.
A brand new play by Lucinda Coxon, Alys, Always takes Harriet Lane’s psychological thriller about quiet, mousey Frances, subeditor on newspaper “The Questioner” (which has a header typeface suspiciously like The Guardian) and brings it to the Bridge Theatre.
Joanne Froggatt is on stage first, as Frances, re-living an accident in which she was involved on the way back from her parents’ house at Christmas. She lets an Audi overtake, then sees the aftermath of it skidding and crashing, talking to the occupant Alys (“with a y”) until the ambulance arrives. This one event will change Frances’ life completely, as she slowly moves out of the shadows.
She’s invisible in the office, and invisible in her looks – book review editor Mary (Sylvestra Le Touzel), editor Robin (Jeff Rawle), reviewer Oliver (Simon Manyonda) hardly regard her except in the spirit of “let Frances do it”. But when Laurence Kyte’s new book comes in, and his family tragedy becomes linked with Frances, her fortunes turn. She was the last to talk to his wife, Alys, and the family want to know more.
The Kytes are a well-heeled family of privilege. Writer dad (Robert Glenister), depressive son Teddy (Sam Woolf), drunken daughter Polly (Leah Gayer). Polly, emotionally unstable and selfish, senses a friend of sorts, the kind you can unload yourself upon. Frances starts to take what she can back, a lipstick, some shoes, things that “won’t be missed”.
Just like Eve in All About Eve, this new friend, quiet and helpful, starts to ingratiate herself into the lives of this family she knew nothing about, and a slow and subtle physical transformation starts to take place: her hair, her clothes. The daughter, then the father, come to rely on her and trust her. The family friend (Joanna David), too, who has known Laurence since he was a boy, even before Alys. Even the son comes to like her.
In the office Mary, efficient and officious, starts to favour Frances when she senses a story opportunity, and pushes Oliver, too sure of himself, too cocky, (he”parks on Pratt Street”) out. Frances becomes as indispensible here at The Questioner as she does at the Kytes’ London and country homes, reading up about the garden Alys loved, using her recipes, rifling through her personal and intimate belongings.
“The sense of possibility” from one little white lie. Getting Laurence to cry at Robin’s request is easy, and staying when he asks her to is easier. But Frances is a coiled spring under her calm exterior; a “cashmere” present doesn’t look good when it is only 5% against Alys’ posh pashmina; her parents love her sister’s “Prosecco flavoured crisps”.
This is a slow-burning thriller with tinges of black comedy, where we never know what Frances will do next, and yet are still appalled by her behaviour and her opportunism while willing her on all the same.
A very clever set by Bob Crowley backed by projections designed by Luke Halls to give a sense of place uses the Bridge’s thrust stage to great advantage, with scene changes achieved very quickly and effectively (although from a side seat on Gallery 3 I didn’t quite get the full sense of the video).
Nicholas Hytner directs, and he’s opened out this play yet kept it so tight that even the mis-steps (one key scene in the dark, scenes with Frances’ parents, and the crash itself) are easily overlooked in favour of the scenes which work well to keep the twists and turns moving.
Just across West London, in a former bus depot on Latimer Road, there’s a new theatre space, the Playground, which I visited for the first time on Saturday.
The bar/cafe at the Playground Theatre
The complex comprises a small bar/cafe (with free wi-fi), spacious loos, and the performance space itself, which has the feel of a rehearsal room with the regular sound of tube trains rushing by.
I was invited to see My Brother’s Keeper, a revival of the Nigel Williams dramedy about health, loss, family politics, and communication.
Produced by Tinted Frame, this is a timely revival in terms of its comments on an understaffed, overworked NHS, but also in disseminating awareness of the effects of a stroke.
The cast of My Brother’s Keeper
Andy de La Tour plays Mr Stone, bed-bound with a right side which won’t respond and memory/cognitive lapses. He’s an actor, given to the “grand classical gesture”, and seems more at ease hiding behind a character than engaging with his wife or children.
Mrs Stone (Kathryn Pogson) is nervous, worried, and can’t give voice to the relationship that has kept her tied to 47 years together. It may be love, but if it is, her sons don’t have the right to know it. She rambles about inconsequential things like leaking yoghurt pots, but not her own feelings.
Josh Taylor and David Partridge in My Brother’s Keeper
Tony (Josh Taylor, who also co-produced the show), is casual, a playwright, a petulant child, a sarcastic and bitter father who grieves for his dead daughter but refuses to talk about her.
Brother Samuel (David Partridge), tightly wound in a suit, brings exercises he feels will help dad and speaks glibly about his mistress in the country, yet explodes with anger when his mother tries to connect by using his childhood name, Sammy.
And there’s Terry (William Reay), cheerful nurse against all adversity despite the lack of useful facilities (“this isn’t a hospital, it’s more of a shed”). He uses the language which comes from years of soothing the scared, the dying, the bereaved. He’s close to nervous exhaustion but masks it. A different kind of actor, a different kind of stage.
David Partridge and Andy de La Tour in My Brother’s Keeper
It’s clear that the relationship between the four Stones has been rocky – is their very name a metaphor? – but now dad, between naps and refusing to eat, seems to want to make peace. He’s been abusive in the past to his sons, maybe his wife too. The wife he takes for granted.
Their children – successful Sam, who makes his father’s eyes light up when he arrives even though he tends to stay away; problem Tony, who deals with frustration and loss by cheating on the wife no one can accept.
They circle and goad each other, Sam resenting Tony just for being born and having political freedom; Tony resenting Sam for his positivity and happy family veneer.
There is such a lot going on in this short (75 minutes) and razor-sharp play, directed by Craig Gilbert. Wickedly funny, realistically human, and unabashedly political, this is definitely worth your time and attention.
Remember also to support both the theatre itself, which needs time and investment to grow, and the Stroke Association, which provides help and rehabilitation to patients and their families.
The Showstoppers have now created more than 1,000 new musicals in their shows; each one unique to its audience, and transient in nature. It’s no surprise to hear that the late Ken Campbell was an early mentor and supporter of the group, as the show does seem to have some of his anarchic spirit around the edges.
Now in its eleventh year, it has had success at the Edinburgh Fringe, on the West End – following the end of The Other Palace run on 16 March it takes up a monthly residence on Mondays at the Lyric – and on Radio 4. The premise is a simple one: a new musical created from suggestions as to setting and style at each show.
Of course, we all know that improvision is far from a simple process, which makes it all the more fantastic that what is conjured up at each show is fresh, new, funny, inspired, and entertaining. At the show we saw, the setting was “inside a volcano”, utilising the musical styles of Annie, Oliver!, Dear Evan Hansen, Legally Blonde, and eventually, Waitress, Hamilton, and Heathers as well. The name of this ephemeral show? Burn, Baby, Burn!!!
The cast of this show were a talented bunch: Matthew Cavendish the chap trying to appease the producer on the big red phone, directing and shaping the performance; Jonathan Ainscough (Patrick Hamilton), Pippa Evans (Luigi and his wife), Joshua Jackson (Mark Jones), Philip Pellew (Stuart Jones and Fredopolis), Lauren Shearing (Mrs Hamilton), and Heather Urquhart (Maria) bringing the show to life; Jordan Clarke, Alex Ash and Chloe Potter providing the accompaniment.
The show was inventive, from a “Consider Yourself” style number, a Hamilton-style rap, and a Waitress-style ballad, and characters ranging from Luigi the Italian who decided his life was best served by opening an AirBNB in a volcano, through passionate gay couple the Joneses, the dreadfully formal couple the Hamiltons, and the volcano god “Fredopolis”.
What was saw was very accomplished, from a group clearly thinking, quickly, on their feet, and for those familiar with the styles of the various musicals (I haven’t seen or heard DEH yet, but I now have a flavour of it!), this was a delicious piece of parody.
I’d definitely recommend this for a light night out. The audience can feel complicit in the creation of what they are seeing, the actors (each show features up to seven from the ensemble) and musicians can get a workout, and everyone will have a fun time.
The UK premiere of Martin Sherman’s play is currently running at the Park Theatre’s 200 seater space in Finsbury Park, directed by Sean Mathias. It was my first visit to this venue, which has a friendly and informal vibe.
Beau (Jonathan Hyde) is an American living in West London. His home is full of creature comforts – books, DVDs, a piano, couches, chairs, a drinks trolley. There’s a staircase up to a landing which leads to the bedroom. The kitchen, complete with whistling kettle, is off the living room.
He’s found a man online, Rufus (Ben Allen), who is more than thirty years younger, British, working in mergers and acquisitions, law-trained, but obsessed with stars from the past, especially Mabel Mercer. It turns out that Beau (“Autumn Leaf” online) was Mercer’s accompanist in her later years.
Rufus moves in, and the two exist in quiet companionship, punctuated by occasional passionate moments. Beau talks of the past in purple (or rose?) tinged monologues – about George, Canadian producer of bad Greek translations and victim of the 80s illness which was turning young men skeletal and sunked-eyed; and Sam, who led the YMCA in song (“Roll, roll, roll your boat/gently down the stream”) during a wartime which gave a bit of hope to pansies and fruits that they might be treated as normal.
Hyde, an Australian actor long resident in England, might waver a bit from Beau’s New Orleans accent, but he gives the character a sense of honesty and emotional engagement. He’s waspishly funny, lovingly caring when Rufus has a depressive crash (“call it manic-depression, not bipolar, which sounds like something in Alaska”), crankily ageing, and fatalistic in not allowing himself to believe “two guys” can be happy.
We hear of his childhood, the “little faggot” eventually abandoned by his family and paid to leave town, of his love of music and promiscuity, and eventually, heartbreakingly, of first love Kip, who had hair he “liked to touch” and who died in a attack which took 31 other lives, with local churches refusing to offer services to their memories, and newspapers musing about remains “in fruit jars”.
Rufus, who thinks about ballet, 30s child stars like Mitzi Green, and decorates the house with a pot plant, cushions, and a rug, is sweet and petulant by turns, but seems to genuinely love Beau both emotionally and physically. It takes a lot to push him away, eventually towards twitchy and tattooed Harry (Harry Lawtey), who moves from torch singer (“The Man I Love”) to earth parent.
There’s a lot of well-researched history on the periphery – Mabel Mercer singing her songs for the queers who were otherwise invisible as lovers, the 1920s pansy performer Gene Malin (“who looked like a man and spoke like a woman”) who obsesses the young hippy Kip, the arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge in 1973, the AIDS crisis, the rise of gay dating apps, civil partnerships and gay marriage.
Moments, though. A scene we might all identify with concerning a frozen tub of Haagan Daas ice-cream becomes bittersweet, a best man’s speech full of love, memories, and hope for the future, with a single tear coursing down. The grace of Nureyev and Fonteyn on the laptop, cuddling with popcorn, the generational gap between longing for the past and hope for the future.
An associate production with the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, Gently Down The Stream is a strong LGBT play (which takes place between 2001 and 2014), but it has something to say to all of us, as love and relationships are universal.
Quite rightly, Jonathan Hyde has been Olivier-nominated this year for his performance in the “Outstanding achievement in affiliate theatre” category.
Over at the Etcetera Theatre on Camden High Street, a new revival of Jack Thorne’s Stacy has just opened, produced by Inkwell.
Stacy is a sexually explicit confessional monologue for one male performer and a slide projector. It was first performed at the Arcola Theatre in 2007, and ran at the Edinburgh Festival and in London in 2012.
I wanted to know more about the revival and the contemporary relevance of this play, so put some questions to director Caoimhe Blair.
It’s been twelve years since Stacy was first written and performed. Why is the time right to revive it now?
I read Stacy for the first time about a year and a half ago, and it crawled under my skin and nestled there. Its disturbing and highly complex protagonist constantly popped up in my head when talking to friends about issues usually relating to the #MeToo movement and its lack of spotlighting women without a platform, and women most vulnerable to abuse.
I then came across a copy of Stacy that had the original blurb on it (as my copy was within an anthology) and I was struck by how dated it seemed in comparison to the play text itself. The blurb described the protagonist as finding life ‘confusing’ and spoke of him as being misguided and unlucky. I wasn’t sure if the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude of the blurb was to trick the audience into believing they would be seeing an entirely different, almost jovial show, or if it was sincere and a product of its time (2007).
Either way, it lead me to reread the play, and consider deeply if someone could read that blurb, see the play, and connect the two as being one and the same now in 2019, and putting on a production of it seems the best way to find an answer to that.
What is your vision of how to present Rob to an audience? Should observers feel engaged with him, repelled, sympathetic, or something else?
I want Rob to cause the audience a headache. He is a wonderfully layered character to explore, full of contradictions, instabilities and deep seated issues and his shocking lack of self awareness can pivot so suddenly into absolute clarity making him one hell of a story teller.
The journey he takes us on is hugely engaging but Rob can be frustratingly erratic when he chooses to tell or drop his story, and what he chooses to tell us. Remembered events sometimes flows out of him easily, and at other times seems to spurt out of him involuntarily and cause him tremendous pain.
The power of Stacy is that it doesn’t necessarily paint Rob as an irredeemable monster, he is so very human and his desperate need to connect to the audience and make us understand him shows at least at some level that he understands what he has done and now has no idea how to come to terms with it.
Rob is defined by his relationship with power, isolation and the sense of entitlement that comes with growing up pretty, and receiving attention and praise with ease as a result, but what makes him dangerous is his recognisability. Rob is disturbed, definitely, but he lives a normal life, has normal issues and fears, and he is in no way a one off case.
Some productions of the play have chosen to utilise the set to make its own comment on Rob’s state of mind. Without giving too much away, what should audiences expect on stage at the Etcetera?
In terms of staging, we have kept things very simple for our rendition of Stacy, in order to keep the story as focused and as aware of its surroundings as possible. Our Rob knows that he is in a theatre, and that he is presenting himself and his story to the audience.
As a result, it is an actor, a stool and over 700 cued projections, many of which give faces to the people he speaks of. With such a simple set, Rob is free to fill the space with his stories and he paints pictures of people and places wherever he chooses as he takes us on the harrowing presentation of the previous few days of his life.
Tell me something about the company putting on this production. I know you are recent graduates, and I’d like to hear a bit more.
Originally based in the small town of Felixstowe, Suffolk, Inkwell was formed by a trio of theatre makers: Sean Bennett, Ruby Lambert and Keelan Swift-Stalley. The company then began running productions at the University of East Anglia, recruiting fellow student Ned Caderni as a director, and I got involved as an actor having worked with Ned on previous productions. I acted in their 4 star Camden People Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya and during that time pitched to them my vision for this production.
Several months later, after Ned and I graduated, Inkwell got in touch with me and said they were holding a slot for me to direct and have financially backed me throughout, giving me full creative reign, which has been a fantastic and informative experience.
What is particularly appealing as a director about putting together a one-person show?
A one person show means intense rehearsals. There is absolute focus on one performer which gives us the luxury of working through tiny details and nuances as well as lengthy character discussions. Peter Hardingham is excellent at multi-roling but rather than just finding character quirks we were able to hot seat him as each character and find depth to them, regardless of their importance or amount of time being enacted.
Doing a show that focuses on such a sensitive topic with such a complex, unreliable central character, means that Peter and I have been able to work collaboratively to find the humanity in Rob, and safely test boundaries and interpretations of the text until we settle on a version that fet truest to the both of us.
Finally, how does Stacy fit into the recent climate of #Metoo and gender fluid debating?
I was asked a lot during the audition process if my reasoning behind doing Stacy now in 2019 was because of the #MeToo movement but I feel strongly that that isn’t the case. The widespread accounts of sexual abuse were a surprise to no one that has listened to and believed women over centuries of abuse. The notion that a high profile protects you from power dynamics being abused and used against you has been truly dismantled by the movement, which makes it clear that women who have no media influence are even more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Stacy puts a spotlight on that.
More often than not, perpetrators are known by and close to the victim, and violent crimes are committed in places that the victims should only associate with comfort and safety. Those that have committed the crime can live their entire lives not believing to have done anything wrong, which is truly terrifying.
By placing the narrative in Rob’s hands, the audience must follow a story affected hugely by his perspective, and battle with the self excusing and unloading of trauma he delivers whilst trying to make himself understood. Forcing an audience to listen to and possibly even relate to a character who explains amongst so many other things that he has violated someone that trusted him, makes it harder to dismiss all rapists as monstrous bogeymen that only exist in shadowy streets, and instead opens up the conversation of consent, assault and the effects of toxic masculinity in our society.
The effects of the #MeToo movement may bring in a more critical and open minded audience, and an audience that sadly, may be less shocked by what unfolds, but Stacy was just as relevant when it was written in 2007, as it is now.
My thanks to Caoimhe for her detailed and thoughtful answers, and to Ned for facilitating our interview.