With a week to press night, Waitress is proving to have the makings of another hit from across the pond.
Based on Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, this new musical centres on Jenna (Katharine McPhee) and her two fellow waitresses at Joe’s Diner.
Katharine McPhee, Laura Baldwin and Marisha Wallace. Photo credit Johan Persson.
Jenna is unhappily stuck in a marriage made when she and Earl (Peter Hannah) were both too young and foolish: now he belittles her gifts and takes her money.
Becky (Marisha Wallace) cares for a sick husband and finds knee-trembling fun on the side with her boss Cal (Stephen Leask), while nerdy Dawn (Laura Baldwin) finds love with the proposterous amateur magician Okie (Jack McBrayer).
When Jenna finds herself pregnant after a night of drunk sex with the husband she loathes, it is a catalyst both for her retreat into dreamy recipes she creates for all situations, and a stab at happiness with her married doctor (David Hunter).
Jack McBrayer and Marisha Wallace. Photo credit Johan Persson
The first act is largely comic, despite the spectre of domestic violence. Dawn and Okie’s courtship gives us a lot of fun, and Becky’s sass has free reign.
By the second act, we see Jenna and Becky more clearly, even Cal, who states he is “happy enough”. And old Joe (Shaun Prendergast) is the bringer of fairy dust and happy endings of the kind that just don’t happen in real life.
Katharine McPhee. Photo credit Johan Persson.
With a score which manages to be both witty and at times, emotionally engaging (Jenna’s big number “She Used To Be Mine”), Waitress is a welcome addition to the musical scene.
It feels almost churlish to have misgivings about some plot points around female empowerment, infidelity and obsession, but they stop this show just short of being perfect.
Last night there was a slight mishap early on with a missing piece of pie, deftly handled in character by all; and there are on-set jokes around the names of pies to amuse in a normal run.
Waitress continues at the Adelphi and is booking until the 19th October 2019.
Fresh from a successful run at the Traverse, Edinburgh, Mouthpiece is soon to open at the Soho Theatre. I caught up with Kieran Hurley to find out a bit more about the piece and the man behind it.
Mouthpiece has had a successful run at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. How do you think London audiences will take to it?
you never can tell I suppose. In some ways the play is distinctly of and about
Edinburgh. There is, I hope, a real sense of place running through it. But
there’s nothing about the story that shouldn’t be absolutely relevant to a
London audience. The big themes around a class divide in a city’s culture seem
to me to be relevant wherever you go.
It feels to me like a play that will find a great home at Soho. I did a show called Beats here a few years ago which was every bit as Scottish in its dialect but that didn’t prove a barrier to audiences at all. I think people here are more used to differently accented stories, it’s a cosmopolitan place after all. Even though it’s a cliché, I think there’s something about the universal in the specific – the play’s really rooted in Edinburgh but that doesn’t mean that its reach is limited to there.
You’ve described it as a love story, and about class, power, and exploitation. Can you expand a bit more on that?
it’s a love story in that it’s about two people who in very different ways are
both bereft and lonely and desperate when they meet. And they both answer a
kind of need that the other has, through their unlikely relationship. They kind
of complete each other, or awaken something in each other. Until the inherent
power dynamics in the relationship kind of devour it and make it impossible to
sustain. So that’s kind of like a love story, I think!
The class and exploitation stuff is really what it says on the tin. It’s about who does and doesn’t get to speak in our culture, along class lines. And it’s about the inherent violence of being forced to depend on someone else to give acknowledgement or voice to your story. The reason I’m keen to emphasise the love story bit is that it’s about people trying to figure their way through a relationship and I hope that’s funny, and human, and sad in all the ways that it should be.
Can you tell me a bit about the ethical questions you explore within the play, especially around visibility in creative works?
The first thing to say is that the play isn’t setting out to say we can’t or shouldn’t try to write beyond our own experiences. But it’s about how that sometimes happens, and who tends to be empowered and privileged in that relationship and who tends to get sidelined. In a sense, the big ethical question is actually probably about consent, and what happens when consent breaks down in the relationship between subject and writer. It becomes a question of who ultimately owns stories, and who do we give the authority to tell and construct them.
What’s next for Kieran Hurley? What’s the next stage in your evolution as a playwright?
wish I could say for certain. It would certainly make me less anxious because
what exactly comes next, in my experience, is often a bit dependent on
decisions beyond my control. I’m working on a couple of things, some larger
scale multi-character stuff that I don’t want to say too much about in case I
jinx it. There are a few things lined up that should hopefully come to fruition
over the next year or two. And I have a film out this year. It’s an adaptation
of the aforementioned play Beats, so
that’s an exciting new development for me.
I cut my teeth in all this making solo shows, in a kind of storytelling form, that I’d perform myself and I want to keep doing that too. It’s usually a couple of years after having finished touring the last one that I get the itch, so the time is about right in that cycle for me to get into a room and make another show like that. I dunno what it’ll be yet though.
And finally, if you were to describe Mouthpiece in three words, which would you choose?
Martin Crimp’s new and challenging play came to the National in a flurry of fuss, with Cate Blanchett choosing to make her debut there rather than playing Margo Channing in All About Eve in the West End.
Tickets were available by ballot and day seating, and reviews decidedly mixed, but with one more week to run, is this play worth the bother?
Blanchett and Stephen Dillane play Woman and Man, who enter a garage in maid’s outfits and fishnets, with four observers, sticky tape across their mouths, changing clothes in dark corners.
Are they a couple? It isn’t clear. At first, as they clamber into a car and start their verbal roleplay (with awkward handheld microphones to amplify their chat), the effect is cringeworthy, as he entones that she ‘is a child’ and he ‘has the power’.
As both play with gender role and Dom-sub roles, dressing and undressing and assuming different vocal tones and power balances, the play warms up. He slices a scalpel across her forehead and slaps a bit of exposed bottom. She crawls for cherries and makes comments like ‘I’d rather be raped than bored’, which is later said by him.
There’s sex play of various types, in the car, against it, commanding an observer to finger her, the brief but infamous strap-on scene, the perfunctory penetration while family matters, real or imagined, are discussed.
The role play feels a lot more Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf than Pamela, and the fat jokes aimed at Jessica Gunning’s Mrs Jewkes feel unnecessarily cruel. This couple are unequal as Blanchett slides into her dominance just as easily as she does into Dillane’s suit and psyche.
He may slather his face with lipstick as she lathers hers with shaving cream, but she is the one with the sexual upper hand.
Both are hot and attractive, and there is magnetic chemistry here, but I didn’t believe her kitten voice or her hand under Dillane’s foot for a second. Watch as he puts the final touches to her bridal dress and shoes, and when she teases the boy Ross into danger.
For all the blood, sex and low-key abuse, is this shocking? Not really. It’s consensual non-consent for the masses. She sprays ‘child’ on the car windscreen in foam, but it doesn’t take much for him to turn on the wipers to obliterate it. The ‘girls’ could be much more central, but they flutter on the periphery, no matter.
When the doors are unlocked and the visitors have left, she and he will make the tea, maybe, and feed the cat. Or go to their own houses and mundane lives, having had their furtive little knee-tremble. So furtive he can’t even enjoy putting on her stockings, as Jewkes does that before getting the kiss she’s sought.
Never boring, exactly, there’s nothing here to frighten the horses. Katie Mitchell’s direction seems to have got the best out of her actors, but go to a fetish club or find other plays like Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking for real shocks.
Rose Lewinstein’s new play, co-produced by the Orange Tree with English Touring Theatre, is a complex one-act piece with many points to make about gender politics, climate change, corporate greed, sexual power, and identity.
We first meet Leila (Charlotte Randle) and John (Mike Noble) in a luxury hotel room, which could be placed anywhere. There’s a double bed, a TV, a minibar, a large window with a view, a mirror, a door. She’s staying there for a conference, he works on the staff. There’s been some kind of altercation, and he’s stayed the night.
With very short scenes punctuated by stage lights off and on, we follow the progress of the relationship between these two through a succession of identikit rooms across the globe, as John becomes Leila’s paid pet, with the agreement that outside of planes and rooms, they do not communicate, and little personal information is ever shared – we know he lives in Acton, she in Richmond, but little else.
She boasts that she wants to make a difference to the world, to halt the floods and heat that threaten the long-term survival of the planet, but it becomes apparent that her conference speeches coerce big business to engage for the profits they will gain, and that her own ambition is to have a huge salary and an endlessly expensive designer wardrobe, of which, by extension, John becomes a part when she presents him with a Gucci package of clothes identical in shape and colour to his own, cheaper, togs.
There’s hints of a darker backstory, too, as Leila likes violence, stating she “will not break like a china doll”, and teasing her toy to fury and jealousy through her (fabricated) shenanigans around town in Thailand. Outside the room(s), the world becomes more complicated: at one point, it is noted that California is under water and some countries are close to starvation.
There are metaphors a plenty in this piece – sexual ones, with Leila literally devouring pieces of meat she craves despite being a vegetarian; cultural ones, with France, Italy, Asia, Africa, anywhere becoming part of the same melting pot; primal ones, with the excessive consumption of alcohol on display; moral ones, with a gift to a beggar uprooting the synergy of the world Leila happily bleeds a huge salary and racks up a destructive carbon footprint from.
There’s also a mystery in another boy/man, mute, but seen in three scenes: once as a well-dressed room service bellhop, once as a savage dripping in blood, once as a mirror of John seen through a suburban window in Richmond. I’m assuming he’s played by Ryan Layden, who gets a thanks credit in the programme, but please correct me if I am wrong.
The sexual politics of the interplay between Leila and John made me think of Last Tango in Paris, tweaked and subverted for a new generation where the “Cougar” of the title, the older woman and man-eater, is the protagonist of the relationship. John Mortimer’s Lunch Hour, too, where identities are played with in a hotel room setting, with the real world locked outside.
I’m seeing When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other at the National on Saturday. Although Cougar flirts with a relationship which may live on the fringes of BDSM, it pulls back from ever really going there, a couple of slaps across the face aside. Its games are more mind over matter. It will be interesting to compare the more showy play with this one.
Rosanna Vize has created a claustrophobic set which caused those on the front row to engage rather more deeply with the stage area than they may have previously, with a metal cage structure with two perspex panels which serve for window and mirror. The conceit of image is played with in the set just as much as it is in John’s camera, which he first covets, then destroys.
Chelsea Walker directs with a tight focus, assisted by lighting and sound design by Jess Bernberg and Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, but I can’t say I really understand what Lewinstein’s work is getting at. I enjoyed watching both Randle and Noble inhabiting their characters, but didn’t get their motivation to engage in this weird, globe-trotting charade.
Cougar continues at the Orange Tree until the 6th March, and runs approximately 75 minutes.
Welcome to a new monthly feature on loureviews.blog – this is The Mix, where I’ll pull out some items of London theatre news, big and small, which have caught my eye.
A is for Above the Stag. This sparkling and vibrant venue, once found behind the Victoria Palace Theatre, is now in residence in Vauxhall, and is fast building its reputation as one of the finest LGBT+ theatres. In a main house and a studio, it presents a variety of shows – Grindr the Opera, and [title of show]: a musical about musicals, are next in line. To find out more, to sign up to the newsletter, or to book tickets to this valuable space, go to http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/.
B is for Bread and Roses. This innovative and award-winning pub theatre in Clapham High Street recently showcased The Vagina Monologues and seems particularly supportive of new writers, women writers, and fringe comedy. As a relatively new venue the space is actively seeking donations and support to allow it to grow – for more, and for a taste of its upcoming productions, including Adam Gwan’s new musical Ordinary Days, which runs from 5th-16th March, go to https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/.
C is for Chichester. The festival, while taking place some miles outside the capital, has transferred a number of hit shows in over the past few years including Fiddler on the Roof, Caroline or Change, Half a Sixpence, King Lear, and Guys and Dolls. Although we are still waiting for news of the mooted transfer of the Noel Gay/Stephen Fry musical Me and My Girl, keep your eyes on this year’s big production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic Oklahoma, which may be London-bound in due course.
D is for Departures. All good things must come to an end, and we say goodbye to several shows this month, including the English National Opera’s La Boheme on the 22nd, Pinter Seven at the Harold Pinter Theatre on the 23rd, True West at the Vaudeville Theatre on the 23rd, Nine Night at the Trafalgar Studios on the 23rd, the glorious Songs for Nobodies at the Ambassadors on the 23rd, and The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum on the 24th.
E is for Earnest. As an honorary Yorkshire girl, having lived there for a decade, I’m sad to miss out on Th’ Importance of Bein’ Earnest at the Drayton Arms Theatre on Old Brompton Road. It runs to the 23rd February and promises “Oscar Wilde meets Shameless” on a Yorkshire council estate, with no afternoon tea or starched collars in sight. For more information, go to https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/the-importance-of-being-earnest.
F is for Fabulous. Three divas are coming to town to perform their shows, and I’m going to put them all together here. On 18th March, Liza Pullman, formerly one third of Fascinating Aida, sings Streisand at the Lyric Theatre, following a run at The Other Palace. You can purchase tickets at https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/liza-pulman-sings-streisand/ and “give yourself reasons to smile this Spring”.
Finally, the legendary Tony award-winner Bernadette Peters is back in town, at the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden, and her show takes place on the 10th June, as part of a UK tour. I’ll be covering this event in the summer, and if you want to be there too, you can find more details and book tickets at https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/bernadette-peters/lyceum-theatre/.
G is for the Globe, specifically the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, where a new production of Richard II opens on the 22nd February. Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton direct the first ever company of women of colour in a Shakespeare play on a major UK stage, in a production which has the Windrush scandal and the Brexit crisis very much in mind. This sounds as if it will be an important production of a play which does lend itself to reinterpretation. For more information, go to https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on-2018/richard-ii.
H is for Harvey. There’s no getting over the fact that London will play host to two plays using the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein as inspiration this year. Currently running at the Playground Theatre on Latimer Road, Harvey is the brainchild (literally, given it is set in Weinstein’s head) of playwright-performer Steven Berkoff, who shows no signs of mellowing in his ninth decade. More information and booking at https://theplaygroundtheatre.london/events/harvey/. Later in the year John Malkovich returns to the West End stage for the first time in more than thirty years in David Mamet’s Bitter Wheat, which concerns the character of one “Barney Fein”. This will run at the Garrick Theatre from 7th June to 14th September. Find out more at https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/bitter-wheat/.
I is for Inspiration, or lack of in this case, as not one, not two, but three productions of Githa Sowerbury’s 1912 Rutherford and Son are in production during 2019. One is up in Sheffield and currently running, one has just closed at Ealing’s Questors Theatre, and one is due in the National Theatre’s 2019-2020 season (starring Roger Allam). It’s a modern classic about generational strife in a family industry, which I last saw at the Oldham Coliseum in 1987. I’ll be at the National’s version in May – more information on that production at https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/rutherford-and-son.
J is for &Juliet. There’s been a lot of publicity for this musical, which comes into London towards the end of the year. Everyone knows the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, but what if Juliet survived and was able to tell her own side of the tale? In the spirit of Six, this show will utilise pop music – this time the work of Max Martin, who wrote for Britney and others – to craft and “irreverent and fun-loving” show, and it opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 2nd November. If you’re up North, you can catch its run in Manchester from 10th September. Find out more about the London run at http://www.shaftesburytheatre.com/shows/juliet-2/.
K is for the King’s Head. This theatre pub in Islington goes from strength to strength, and two new musicals running in late May-early June look fun, Trump: the Musical and Boris: the Musical. If parodies of current politics are not your cup of tea, you can catch the classics, too, as there are some short pieces by Tennessee Williams running in late July and through August. For more information see https://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/.
L is for Lipstick. Lipstick: a Fairy Tale of Iran runs at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham Common, from 26th February to 24th March, as part of the ’96 Festival, celebrating queerness and theatre. Part theatre, part drag cabaret, this show fuses storytelling, vaudeville, theatre, lip-synch and “boylesque”. Nathan Riley plays Mark, Siobhan O’Kelly plays Orla. This story of “rage, redemption and weaponised whimsy” promises to be a very special event. For more, see https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/lipstick/.
M is for Maggie Smith. She’s returning to the stage for the first time in twelve years in a one-woman play, at the Bridge Theatre, this April. The new play is A German Life, based on the real life testimony of Brunhilde Pomsel, who once worked for Joseph Goebbels. If you are under 25 and a member of the “Young Bridge” scheme there are some tickets available for £15. More information at https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/a-german-life/.
N is for Nunn, Trevor. Following an acclaimed run at the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal, Bath, Nunn’s new production of Harvey Granville Barker’s recently rediscovered play Agnes Colander has just opened at the Jermyn Street Theatre (near Piccadilly Circus) and runs until the 16th March. For more details see https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/agnes-colander/.
O is for the Orange Tree Theatre. Richmond’s smallest theatre has a mix of old and new productions, and is currently showcasing Rose Lewinstein’s new play Cougar (which I will report on later in the week), with Terence Rattigan’s While the Sun Shines running through June and July. The Orange Tree could always use donations and support if you are unable to attend performances. Find out more about the theatre at https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on.
P is for the Park Theatre, in Finsbury Park. Martin Sherman’s new play Gently Down The Stream has its press night tonight and runs through to the 16th March. I’ll be going in early March, and am very much looking forward to this production, directed by Sean Mathias and starring Jonathan Hyde, Ben Allen and Harry Lawtey. The play follows “the remarkably moving and brilliantly funny love story of Beau, an older American pianist living in London, and Rufus, an eccentric young lawyer, celebrating those who led the way for equality, marriage and the right to dream”. More details at https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/gently-down-the-stream.
Q is for Queens. Six: the Musical continues its run at the Arts Theatre until January 2020. If you haven’t been yet, and you need something to whet your appetite, this article from BBC Newsbeat might get you in the mood. You can book tickets for Six at https://www.sixthemusical.com/ to see “Divorced – Beheaded – Live in Concert!”.
S is for Sunday Night Socials. A new series of monthly concerts at the Union Theatre, near Southwark, these are being advertised as “very informal and relaxed” and will feature a whole host of West End performers over the next three months. For more information – and for details of main productions Can-Can and Othello – see http://www.uniontheatre.biz/whats_on.html.
T is for Transfers. Come from Away at the Phoenix Theatre has its press night tonight, Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre on the 6th March. These transfers from old Broadway will soon be joined by a third show, Dear Evan Hansen, at the Noel Coward Theatre, for which early booking will be open at the end of this month. I visited Come from Away earlier this month and see Waitress next week.
U is for Underground, specifically The Vaults, beneath Waterloo Station. The Vaults Festival is currently in full swing until the 17th March, with a diverse programme of theatre, comedy, film, and late shows. You can find out more about the Festival at https://vaultfestival.com/.
V is for Vic, Old. The grand old lady of The Cut is currently undergoing a refit which will improve the foyer and more importantly, the loos! In the meantime, if you’re visiting, there’s portakabins instead. I just have to share this delightful video from their Twitter account – https://twitter.com/oldvictheatre/status/1063045610570506240 – #MORELOOS!!!!
W is for the West End, and the Official West End Theatre Guide for the huge, the overpriced, and the spectacular shows on in the big houses – https://guides.ticketmaster.co.uk/west-end-theatre/. By all means support as and if you can, but remember there are literally thousands of places and performances in our metropolis.
X is for is Dock X, at Surrey Quays. If you’re creating a special and unique event, this new multi-use space might be just the ticket. The industrial space lends itself to brand activations, car launches, conferences, award dinners, cultural pop ups, experiential and team building events across its vast 34,100 sq. ft reach. Perfect for creatives! More at https://venuelab.co.uk/venues/dock-x-london/.
Y is for Youth. The Unicorn Theatre, on Tooley Street, London Bridge, is dedicated to developing work for young audiences. In 70 years of children’s theatre, it also has a vibrant Schools’ Programme, workshops, and this week is running some special events for half term. Find out more at https://www.unicorntheatre.com/whatson.
Z is for Zoo. Watching and learning about animals in a caring and natural habitat is a form of theatre, whether you are in Regent’s Park, Battersea or my local little zoo at Hanwell.
All I knew about this show on arrival was that it was a musical inspired in some way by the events on 9/11. I hadn’t heard any of the score, or seen any production photos, so it was a complete blind buy based on the success this show has had across the pond (and the fact it was available in the Get Into London Theatre promotion helped, too).
In the town of Gander, on the island of Newfoundland, off the shores of Canada, a small community of a few thousand people get on with the business of life. There’s a bus strike. The Mayor, who doesn’t drink, nevertheless gets all his gossip from the local pub. There’s a new reporter in town, a girl called Janice. There’s a school, a sports hall.
Then news that 6, then 11, then 20, then 30, then 38 planes are being diverted out of American airspace. A national emergency, bringing so many passengers the town’s population doubles that day. Men, women, children. A group headed for Disneyland. An Englishman headed for a conference. Wives, mothers. Christians, Jews, Muslims.
The town rises to the challenge. Shopping trips are made, food is prepared, phones are provided, clothes are donated. “There’s a candle in the window, and the kettle’s always on”, goes the refrain, and so it proves. Disputes are put aside; the hockey match space becomes a giant walk-in refrigerator. Passengers who hardly spoke to each other en route find common ground, or common emnity (the suspicion against the Muslim passengers is not glossed over).
Based on a true story, the show fleshes out some stories – the awkward romance of Nick and Diane, Hannah’s hopeless desperation in trying to find news of her firefighter son, Beverley the air captain who can’t compute the “thing I love being used as a bomb”, the two gay Kevins – and finds time for others like Ali the award-winning Muslim cook, Bob the nervous man who finds peace in the friendly environs of Gander, Bonnie who cares for the animals left on board the abandoned planes, Claude the tenacious mayor, Janice the reporter, Beulah the mother hen, the elderly Jew who has never breathed a word about his faith to anyone.
With a cast of twelve playing multiple parts, you’ll see the same actors as Newfoundlanders and refugees, as the confident and the faint of heart, and all this is realised in a simple set and just a shade of change in costume or accent. It’s a very intensive play with most actors on stage throughout, and if there were a couple of microphone drop-outs during the show, that’s nothing that can’t be easily fixed. Evoking a sense of time and place is far more important, and this is done without apparent effort, from the bar to the confines of a plane, to the schoolroom where hundreds sleep on the floor to the top of the Rock.
All the cast are exceptional and hard-working – Clive Carter (Claude), Mary Doherty (Bonnie), David Shannon (Kevin T), Jonathan Andrew Hume (Kevin J/Ali), Rachel Tucker (Beverley), Cat Shannon (Hannah), Robert Hands (Nick), Helen Hobson (Diane), Nathanael Campbell (Bob), Emma Salvo (Janice), Harry Morrison (Oz), and at the performance I saw, Chiara Baronti (Beulah).
The score by Irene Sankoff and David Hein runs from Irish whimsey and humour through to sweet ballads, and evokes just the right balance of laugh out loud amusement (the bar scene, the cardiologists) and moments of emotional engagement (Prayer, Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere).
I laughed, I cried. I invested in each and every character which is a tribute to the writers, the performers, and the director Christopher Ashley. The lively band quite rightly had their own curtain call which got the audience to its feet – if they hadn’t already risen for the cast – and sent us out on a high.
And what’s a “Come From Away“? It’s anyone who comes from outside the island, but by the time we left (and thanks to the little badges we could pick up at the door), I think we could all say “I am an islander”. This is a musical with heart and soul. Running initially until September, I’d highly recommend you give it a go.
It’s Ian McKellen’s 80th birthday this year, and to celebrate he’s touring around 80 theatres in the United Kingdom, starting with a run of London theatres, big and small.
Last night at Richmond Theatre was the fifth stop in the tour, following The Space/St Paul’s, the National Theatre, the Young Vic, the Rose Theatre Kingston, and the Bridge. There’s a “trunk” on to which stickers are added for each stop, so that’s how we know!
The show opens with an extract from Lord of the Rings, in which McKellen had such a triumph as Gandalf, which starts to set the scene for much of the first half, with judicious name-dropping, memories, and humour.
We hear about the theatres of Bolton, and the alderman who helped the young McKellen to engage with the footlights; of Cambridge and the audition which helped him to a scholarship via Henry V; of family, and poetry (Wordsworth and Hopkins); and of coming out as gay at 48, over 30 years after a formative experience in the dress circle watching Ivor Novello.
There’s even a snippet of the pantomime dame, before the second half of the show kicks in to pure Shakespeare, with each play considered (or dismissed) in turn, with anecdotes, readings, performance, and more. It’s a masterclass in itself, with characters on the fringes including a John Gielgud Lear “hiding from Alan Badel, and memories of past productions like the wonderful Macbeth with Judi Dench.
No love for Measure for Measure or The Winter’s Tale, it seems, although some scenes from Richard II and Hamlet make up for it: odd, then, that the videos of McKellen’s performances in these plays remain unreleased. As for King Lear, it’s clear that book is closed, with “never, never, never again” – for those of us who saw it last year, we were fortunate indeed.
If you have a ticket on this tour, you’ll enjoy, and if last night was anything to go by, you’ll get your money’s worth, with a show that runs to nearly three hours.
The Chichester Theatre production of this accomplished musical has just announced it closes a month early to make room for the transfer of Fiddler on the Roof from the Menier, but I would recommend you take advantage of the deals and discounts now available to see Caroline, or Change, if you can.
Planned for several years, and written by Angels in America author Tony Kushner, this show was originally planned as an opera but instead grew into a stage musical, largely sung-through, composed by Jeanine Tesori (her previous show, Violet, is also in town, and I will report back on that next month).
Caroline (Sharon D Clarke) is a black maid who works for a rich Jewish family, the Gellmans. She is a widow with three children of her own, who live in poverty under the shadow of the Confederate Statue we see as the play opens, a symbol of the white privilege which stops the likes of Caroline and her friend Dotty (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) from getting on in life.
The opening scene proper gives a sense of the unusual: there is a singing washing-machine, a dryer, and eventually, the lady in the moon. This gives a sense of the fantastic to Caroline’s mundane day of cleaning and doing the laundry.
We are also introduced to Noah, the spoiled young man of the house (Aaron Gelkoff at this performance), who misses his dead mother, resents his cookie-cut stepmother (Lauren Ward), and enjoys sharing an illicit daily cigarette with Caroline.
Noah has a habit of leaving loose change in his pockets, and this is the “change” which is depicted in the title; he seeks attention by leaving the change for Caroline (who is allowed by Rose, the wife, to keep it), and she takes the opportunity to treat her children to the treats they would otherwise go without.
Politics intrude now and then – the assassination of JFK, who was on the side of civil liberties, and a Chanukah celebration which touches on racial politics, with an argument between Mr Stopnick, Rose’s father (Teddy Kempner) and Emmie, Caroline’s growing daughter (Abiona Omonua) – but what matters is the bond between people, and the aspiration for change in the literal sense.
Noah’s father (Alastair Brookshaw) plays the clarinet and hides his grief; his parents (Vincent Pirillo and Sue Kelvin) add pointed commentary, and Noah grows to find his place in the natural order of things; still, by the ending it seems Caroline has achieved her change, set aside the memories of the sailor she lost, and found her place.
The songs are largely memoraable and vibrant – highlights would include Lot’s Wife, I Hate the Bus, and the Laundry Quintet, with the Radio girls who form a kind of chorus. Clarke is an acting and singing powerhouse, and Omonua is impressive, and all the children do well with their routines.
An informative programme (£5) gives the cultural background on the time depicted, and the genesis of the show.
This ninety-minute show has more than an echo of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, but is more of a one-woman showcase, as Bernadette Robinson performs as ten distinct characters during the show she has already wowed audiences with at Wilton’s Music Hall last spring.
Written by Joanna Murray-Smith especially for Robinson, and directed by Simon Phillips, this musical play lets us into five vignettes where the nobody meets the star, or has a story about them: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline (on the night her plane came down), Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Maria Callas.
With only subtle changes of lighting and minimal props, Robinson not only conjures up the voices of these dead legends, but the women who are touched by them: Bea Appleton, whose marriage is crumbling and has a meeting with Garland in the ladies’ loo; Pearl Avalon, who is encouraged by Cline to become a backing singer in the shadows; Edie Delamotte, librarian, whose father was helped out of a concentration camp by Piaf; Too Junior Jones, rookie reporter, whose chat with Holiday gives her a big break; and Orla McDonagh, Irish nanny to the Onassis family on the cruise where he romanced Callas.
It’s possible that utilising Holiday as one of the stars imitated might cause a problem, but the voice is so on point the fact the imitator is a white woman doesn’t matter. And the imperceptible changes in manner, poise, and voice liberate all the women from the silences in which they linger.
Songs for Nobodies may not have an enduring storyline, and is a much smaller show than many of the big budget musicals currently populating the West End, but it is only a limited run, to 23 February 2019, and availability is reasonable throughout.
If you are a fan of any of these immortal singers (and I love all of them) then you will want to see this. You may need to know a bit of background, but even if you don’t, the situations depicted fill in some of the gaps. And Robinson is worth the ticket price alone: she’s incredible.
Today we welcome the launch of VAULT Festival 2019, one of the largest curated arts festivals in the world; featuring the best in comedy, theatre, cabaret and immersive experiences.
Representing all of London with the best of London, more than 400 shows will head to Waterloo from 23rd January to 17th March.
Announcing their “biggest, boldest, bravest programme yet”, this exciting and diverse programme features shows from more than 2,000 artists, with 53% of work being female-led and 25% of work coming from LGBTQIA+ artists.
Starting in 2012 with only 25 shows and 7,000 attendees, VAULT Festival has become the fastest growing arts festival in the UK, hosting over 350 shows in 2018 and welcoming more than 70,000 audience members.
Participating venues include The Vaults (underneath Waterloo Station), the secret community space The Network Theatre, upstairs at the Horse & Stables pub, Granby Place, and the Travelling Through Bookshop on Lower Marsh. In addition Unit 9 on Leake Street will be home to a host of immersive experiences, and pop-up venues will complement the festival including a new craft beer bar.
VAULT Festival supports two charities this year: Child.org and Help Refugees. In addition, its partnership continues with WeAreWaterloo, supporting the local community with a range of initatives aimed at residents and under-25s. The Festival is also expanding its engagement with SURGE, a new and exciting programme of cross-arts projects, working with schools on outreach performances and workshops.
Writers are not forgotten, either, as leading theatre publisher and performing arts agent Nick Hern Books have supported a VAULT Festival New Writers Programme: an 8-week practical writing course for prospective writers of any age, culminating in a public showcase of writing for the stage in the final week of the festival.
With theatre, comedy, family fun and late events, there is something for everyone at VAULT Festival. The full programme and tickets for all shows are available at vaultfestival.com, 020 8050 9241 and in person at The Vaults box office from 5:30pm during festival opening dates. Prices vary, ticketed events from £5.
A welcome revival for Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s musical about a Jewish village where tradition still reigns while the world slowly and malevolently changes; specifically for the family of Tevye (Andy Nyman) who sells dairy goods to his neighbours, his wife Golde (Judy Kuhn) who he may love after 25 years, and their five daughters: Tzietel (Molly Osborne), Hodel (Harriet Bunton), Chava (Kirsty MacLaren), Shprintze (Lia Cohen) and Bielke (Lottie Casserley).
The elder three daughters are all of marriageable age, but as the children of a poor dairyman they have to rely on the local matchmaker, Yente (Louise Gold) to find them a husband their papa will approve of. But times are changing, and first one daughter, then another, and another, make their own choices, rather than letting their fates be dictated for them.
Against this background the musical comes to life in a clever use of the small space in the Menier, a big of scene setting at one end of the stage, and open floor for dancing and big musical numbers. The most well-known titles, “If I Were A Rich Man”, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, “Sunrise, Sunset”, work well, but the sequence where the Russians and the Jews uneasily spar together in the local tavern is a triumph of male bravado and dance athleticism (“To Life”) which utilises the original choreography of Jerome Robbins.
Nyman, Kuhn, Osborne, Bunton and MacLaren all have their chance to shine as the story progresses, as do Joshua Gannon as Motel the tailor, Stewart Clarke as student Perchik, Matt Corner as soldier Fyedka, Dermot Canavan as Lazar Wolf the butcher, and gossipy Gold. From the sublime “Now I Have Everything” to the ridiculous “Tevye’s Dream”, the company never mis-step, and in the sequences which require a chorus effect to the songs all the cast members are shown to be gifted singers and actors.
Nyman’s Tevye is a pragmatic man, who thinks nothing of asking his God for help in a crafty prayer, or admonishing him if something goes wrong, and his love for his daughters finally outweighs his “Tradition”. Even with the downbeat ending, you feel there is hope for this resilent man and his family, wherever they find themselves across the globe.
Trevor Nunn directs this warm, engrossing and accomplished revival, which runs until the 9th March 2019.
In what has already been termed a triumphant return to the London stage (the current run has literally just started and has been given a year-long extension), Six comes back to the Arts Theatre with new actresses in the parts of Henry VIII’s six wives (“Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”).
Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss created this show as a student production at Cambridge, and later wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe. Their mission, as stated in the programme, is not just to rehabilitate the six Queens, but to anchor their stories in the modern world, and to let the women tell their stories without being “too earnest or sincere”.
With a backing band of four, (“Ladies in Waiting” – Arlene McNaught, Alice Angliss, Amy Shaw, Terri De Marco), the six take their places with an opening ensemble number to confirm which is which, before entering into a contest to see who suffered the most, by telling their personal stories in catchy song.
The ensuing concert – Divorced, Beheaded, Live! – allows each Queen to come to the forefront with the others performing back-up functions; sometimes in high-energy dance format, sometimes in ballad form.
It’s hard to single out a song, or a performance. Some are stronger earworms, but some are stronger stories. The current six – Jarneia Richard-Noel, Millie O’Connell, Natalie Paris, Alexia McIntosh, Aimie Atkinson and Maiya Quansah-Breed – are all terrific, hard-working, likeable performers.
Catherine of Aragon’s “no way” when jettisoned to a nunnery and exile following 25 years of marriage and 5 miscarriages has the power you would expect from the woman who put up with so much for so long, shipped from her home country to marry first one brother then another when the first one died.
Anne Boleyn’s Essex girl “sorry/not sorry” is a girl power rant for the Netflix generation with liberal usage of text speak, but showing the exploited young girl underneath. History shows that Anne was playing a game with the King which led to his obsession and her imprisonment, and it is no wonder she may have got bored, used purely as a young baby farm.
Jane Seymour shows herself to be a devoted wife and mother, who doesn’t talk back, and who’s only regret is that she didn’t live to see her son (that sickly son, remember, who didn’t rule for long and was overshadowed by the sisters his father had disinherited). Jane, who had served her predecessor Queen and who stood with Henry waiting for the signal that her head had gone, freeing her to be wife number three.
Anne of Cleves, often dismissed as dull and ugly, is badass and sexy (“you said I didn’t look like my profile picture”), and happy in her riches and her freedom. She reclaims herself from being the boring and the irrelevant one and gets the measure of her horny husband.
Katharine Howard is the pop tart exploited from teenage years, with men who pursue her and “all you want to do is touch me, squeeze me, can’t get enough, see”. She was married at seventeen and dead at nineteen, her crime having been abused by opportunistic men no different than her ageing husband. Even Thomas Culpeper, who is usually thought to be her true love, is shown to have exploited her and put them both in danger.
Catherine Parr, the survivor, who writes a letter she never sends to the man she truly loves, who wishes she had not caught the eye of the King who just needs a nursemaid to end his days. The contestant who is a “Prot-est-ant”, who claims “I don’t need your love” but marries four times because life for a Tudor woman dictates it, and eventually goes like Jane, dead in childbirth with the son of the man she had to give up for Henry.
The contest unravels when the Queens realise they can detach themselves from just being known as Henry’s wives, stop trying to outdo each other, and assert themselves in their own revised histories and reformation (“you can try but I’m unbreakable”), and we feel we have got to know these ladies just that little bit better.
This is a glittery, fun and feminist musical, full of puns, dance moves, and sass. Even for Tudor obsessives (and I’m one, having read and seen just about everything on the topic from straight history to television adaptation to romantic fiction) can find something new to ponder about.
And by the end, it is Henry who is invisible, as his wives re-identify themselves as Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Katherine, and Cathy, rather than by their proximity to the throne.
At just eighty minutes without an interval, this show can easily be slotted in to your theatre-going, and I’d recommend it to musical fans, to those who love their history to be a bit irreverent, and to women who want to see good stories told.
Six continues at the Arts Theatre until January 2020.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s chamber piece is often overlooked alongside big hitters like Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Evita, but it does include one of his finest scores, and so it is a pleasure to watch a new adaptation of this complex musical of love, direct from the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester.
The majority of the cast have travelled south with this show, with the exception of Madelena Alberto, who joins as Giulietta, and Eleanor Jackson, who fulfils a number of peripheral roles throughout.
Alex (Felix Mosse), 17, sends flowers to the older actress Rose (Kelly Price), who is managed by the caring Marcel (Minal Patel). She goes away with Alex to a villa which turns out to be his uncle George’s (Jerome Pradon), who himself has a mistress in Venice (Alberto). George sees Rose in a dress his dead wife once wore and she leaves Alex for him.
She moves in, and Alex returns in a couple of years to find her installed as “Madame” at the villa. They get involved again, and George thinks Alex is best for her; she has other ideas. George goes broke, and Rose proposes. Giulietta is “best man”, and after a lingering kiss, it is implied the three live together in a menage a trois. Rose gives birth to a daughter, Jenny (Eleanor Walsh).
Then in Act Two, we have fast-forwarded a number of years, with Jenny on the brink of womanhood, Rose acting in films and having a lover, Hugo (Jason Kajdi), and George rapidly ageing. When Alex returns he finds himself attracted to Jenny, but Rose is also toying with him, and it can only end in disaster.
Finally, we go full circle to the funeral procession and wake which begins this show, marking the death of George, and Alex and Giulietta go off together, leaving Rose alone and desperate, and Jenny bereft.
The story, of course, is preposterous and as an advert for polygamy or polyamory, keeps things firmly in the family. The score is delicious, and beautifully performed, especially by Price, who completely nails the big number for Rose, “Anything But Lonely”, and Alberto, who shows her range in “There is More to Love” and “Hand Me The Wine and The Dice”.
Pradon convinces as the old lothario who parties with his women and then becomes frustrated with his own mortality, and his delivery of George’s big songs, “Other Pleasures” and “The First Man You Remember” (George sees his daughter in that dress and seems to slip into the past) is nicely judged, if a little forceful in places.
As Alex, Mosse acts well both as the petulant child-man and the embarrassed recipient of his young cousin’s affections, but he is the most selfish character on the page; showing no real redemption. It seems clear in his exchange with Guilietta that he will return to claim Jenny and cause more upset in due course. He’s perhaps not unlike his uncle in that, living for today, and damn us all.
Walsh’s Jenny is a force of nature as a childish teenager, and a confused young woman: a role which is hard to get right. It’s a pity she has one of the worst vocal lines (“I saw what you were doing with your new Italian friend”). I’m not sure whether the line “No one said that Romeo was a monster” has gone, but if it has, I miss it just as much as the original setting for “She’d Be Far Better Off With You”, which has now become a quartet for George, Alex, Rose, and their maid (but retains the great lyric, “You’ve dined with Garbo … translated La Bo/heme”).
The set and staging is cleverly done for a small space, with lighting cues, dancing stage resets, and musical moments to evoke a change of scene and time. “Falling”, in particular, the quartet in which Rose, George, Alex and Jenny lament their emotional states, works well in the simplicity of a couple on each side of the stage, seated at the audience tables.
Those tables, incidentally, may cause problems for those of you in row B looking directly front of the stage, and be aware there are times where your view of the action will be restricted. Perhaps a lesson to be learnt in the future for the venue, although the idea of audience members getting a closer view of the action is to be applauded.
I have so many questions about a show I know so well (having seen several productions over the years):
If George is Alex’s guardian, where has Alex been getting his income from and where has he been living?
Why doesn’t George marry Guilietta?
Why does Rose agree so quickly to go with Alex? The villa?
Does Rose really love George?
Does the telegram from Marcel which shortens Alex and Rose’s fortnight really come from George?
If Alex suspects Rose has gone to George, why is he so surprised to see her as Madame of the house two years later?
Why does George agree to marry Rose if he is broke and she has no money other than from her career?
Why was Rose so quick to sleep with Alex again if she is so happy?
If Rose needs to work to bring in money when does she stop to have a baby?
When Alex visits Rose at the theatre in Act Two he hasn’t seen her for twelve years, but Jenny is thirteen?
If George hasn’t kept track of Alex, how does Alex know about Jenny?
Where has Alex been serving in the Army?
If Alex stays chez George for two years, how come he never meets Guilietta?
If the age of consent is 15 in France, why is everyone so protective about Jenny?
Could Alex be Jenny’s father?
Does George have a sexual obsession with his own daughter?
Why has Rose taken up with Hugo?
Why did Rose never get involved with Marcel?
Why doesn’t Alex just leave if he wants to control his urges?
Why doesn’t George ask him to leave if he is so worried?
Once George has died, why don’t Rose and Guilietta set up home together?
Why is Guilietta’s love life so complicated?
Why does Alex push Rose away at the end of “Anything But Lonely”?
Why does Alex end up with Guilietta?
Will Alex go back for Jenny?
Nothing in the show resolves any of this, but despite the plot holes and clear confusion, this remains an excellent musical which deserves reappraisal. Welcome back, Aspects. Don’t stay away so long again.
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.
Tim Minchin’s musical version of the celebrated Roald Dahl book, Matilda, has now run in the West End since 2011, and shows no signs of slowing down, having found success in several other countries. It recently started its first UK and Ireland tour.
Undoubtedly aimed at younger audiences familiar with the book, this show benefits from a dazzling and clever set by Rob Howell which adapts to a variety of locations (school, home, library, dance hall) and centres letters and books at the forefront of the young Matilda’s life. One routine to the “School Song” utilises the alphabet to move on the plot on the first day at school, and impresses.
The clever five-year-old (played at this performance by Kitty Peterkin) is a whizz with both words and figures, but is a disappointment to her self-centred parents, who refer to her as a “creep” and lavish love instead on their ridiculously stupid son, who slumps in his seat and can only speak in an occasional echo of his even more stupid father.
When Matilda is sent to the school run by the Olympic gold medallist in hammer throwing, the scary Miss Trunchbull (Hayden Tee, finding humour in the grotesque), she finds an ally in the sweet Miss Honey (Gina Beck) who sees her potential and eventually helps her to find happiness. The kindly librarian Miss Phelps (Malinda Parris) provides comedy relief and reaction to Matilda’s tall tales.
The songs are not really that memorable, other than “Naughty”, which is a good solo for Peterkin, and “The Smell of Rebellion”, for Tee and company. There is a sparking of magic in the second half, but I would have welcomed more of this and a lot less of Matilda’s horrendous parents (Rob Compton and Holly Dale Spencer), and Spencer’s braindead dance partner Rudolpho (Callum Train).
The child cast are excellent, with Bruce (Jacob Bland at this performance) especially due a nod. I’m glad I’ve seen this, but hand on heart I can’t put in into the top twenty of shows I have seen, and think that if you took Matilda, Trunchbull and Honey away, you wouldn’t have much left. Special effects including flashing lights, whistles, a flying student, and a fun bit of gymnastics pad out the story, which doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny (especially the resolution of the tale of the acrobat and the escapologist).
For merchandise collectors, there is a lot to help you spend the pennies, from a Matilda doll (£25) to badges, fridge magnets, bags, and t-shirts. The programme is £6, and there is a wide range of confectionery to munch as you watch.
Now coming to the end of a two and a bit year run, Dreamgirls remains a spectacle with numerous set and costume changes, and a killer of a first act closer in “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, which at this performance Marisha Wallace delivered with devastating style and emotion. That girl can sing!
This story feels a bit like the real-life one of The Supremes, in which one of the trio becomes pre-eminent over the others. In Dreamgirls, Effie White, larger than life in voice and body, sings lead until pushy Curtis, their new manager, decides to trade her in personally and professionally for one of the back-up girls, Deena.
In the meantime, third girl Lorelle is content to remain as back-up and as girlfriend to married showman Jimmy Early, who has a definite Little Richard vibe going on. Over time, the rechristened Dreams cross over into the white market, leaving Effie by the wayside until the (inevitable) comeback.
There’s not a great storyline here, and that act one closing declaration of courage, love, and resilience, doesn’t make much sense when the character singing it goes into semi-retirement for seven years before act two, but there are some great musical moments and in Wallace, Brennyn Lark (Deena), Asmeret Ghebremichael (Lorelle), Joe Aaron Reid (Curtis) and Tosh Wanogha-Maud (Jimmy) there are some charismatic and talented performers on display.
Henry Krieger’s score is on point to the period, and Casey Nicholaw directs with more than an nod to Michael Bennett’s original work, given the latter’s prominent credit in the programme. There have been snips and changes evident if you’re familiar with the Jennifer Hudson/Beyonce film, but this show retains a high energy and entertainment value to the end.
When this musical opened at the National Theatre in mid-November 2018, it was generally welcomed by critics who bought into its fusion of Greek mythology and New Orleans jazz.
With years in the making, and runs in New York and Canada, this has grown from a concept album for Anaïs Mitchell (who wrote book and lyrics, and composed the score which has now been lushly rearranged for a small band by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose) to a fully-fledged musical, bound next for Broadway.
At the top of the show, the band and cast walk on to a richly detailed set, waving “hi” to the audience, who are pulled into the action by a Cab Calloway-like Hermes (played by veteran musical performer André De Shields), who turns on a toothy smile on cue and launches into the first song “On the Road to Hell” which brings the main characters to our notice.
Although the songs are memorable, it takes a while for the show to get going, although from the start Eva Noblezada (who was so memorable in Miss Saigon) is in terrific voice as Eurydice, a “hungry girl”, a “little songbird”, who spars with Orpheus (Reeve Carney) before getting sidetracked by the growling, Leonard Cohen-like gravel bass of Patrick Page’s Hades, “king of iron, king of steel”.
The modern setting suits some of the characters – Persephone (Amber Gray), who twenty years earlier might have been the bright and caring young girl we saw on stage in Mythic is now half-sozzled, cynical, and even though she professes to hate the underworld, she still unthinkingly takes her husband’s hand when he arrives early to take her back and to condemn the upper world to months of want and winter.
Orpheus is still a poet, but more of a student strummer, who utilises the melody of the Gods to capture the heart of Eurydice, and to thaw the heart of the stone-flinted Hades. Carney – who has played this role in all productions so far – may have a thin voice at times, but it is tuneful, and his Romeo and Juliet kind of teenage emotional attachment to the ballsy Eurydice convinces.
As well as the main principals, there are the three Fates, the chorus who cajole, condemn and curse the central couple, and a group of hardworking singer-dancers, who populate Hermes’ bar and later, Hades’ sweating workers who “build the wall”. Some reviewers have chosen to take the anthemic song against “our enemies” to reflect the foreign policy of the 45th President of the USA, but the song appears to have come first, and now presents an interesting coincidence.
There are moments of pure emotional pleasure – Eurydice’s final descent, Hades and Persephone remembering their first meeting in the garden, the workers trying to be free “if he can do it, so can she, if she can do it, so can we”, Hermes raising his glass to the song with the sad ending, the frenzied dancing to a drum solo, Eurydice leaving her red rose behind (“she called your name but you weren’t listening”), and Page’s depths of earth vocalising.
After the bows, though, there’s a song “for Orpheus, and all of us”, which is quiet, and sad, and yet uplifting. This is in stark contrast to the spectacle of the triple revolve and the pulsing music which has gone before, and works perfectly.
This bold and taut new production of the Shakespeare classic is currently running at the Almeida in Islington, and takes inspiration both from the political landscape and playground games where one child comes out the conqueror.
In a cast of eight, Simon Russell Beale adds another major character from the Bard to his portfolio, having previously triumphed as Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago, Prospero, Richard III and Lear. During the show he has water, soil and blood thrown at him, and becomes a pitiful figure in his grief and broken arrogance.
This production is visceral, intimate and intense. The killing of traitorous courtiers is shocking in its speed, leaving the blood literally running down the walls of the sparse plasterboard box which serves as the set. The gardeners who tend Richard’s prison garden turn on him with buckets of earth raining on his head, leaving the king literally lying in the filth that represents how low his star has fallen.
There are numerous character changes with such a small cast – Saskia Reeves, for example, moves from banished Mowbray to cunning sycophant to pleading Duchess. Leo Bill, as Bolingbroke, made me think briefly of David Troughton in the same role for the RSC close to two decades ago: another modern dress production with a weak and piteous Richard, crushed by vanity and ambition, bettered by a strong and centred usurper.
Some textual changes mean the lines within the prison are repeated at both ends of this 1 hour and 40 minute production, and a bold decision is taken to end with the now King Henry’s Holy Land speech dissolving into the giggles the school bully might express after tormenting his victims.
With the cast dressed in casual clothes, the only props the crown of the king and the buckets utilised to drench various characters, the focus is very much on the game of politics, monarchy, and dominance. Joe Hill-Gibbins directs a tight piece which might not always hit the mark, but is never less than interesting.
To compare Beale’s Richard with others I have seen is instructive – David Tennant was full of pomp and ceremony, Samuel West a lost and petulant little boy. Beale is a bit of both, and his verse speaking is head and shoulders above some of his colleagues here (Joseph Mydell’s John of Gaunt was particularly disappointing in his well-known speech, but yet still gained sympathy is his time of death, pleading for the legacy of his banished son).
This may not be a production I rave about for years, but it is definitely worth a look, and if your pockets don’t stretch to the (admittedly reasonable) Almeida prices, this production shows in NT Live soon.
The traditional Christmas pantomime comes to life at the Questors with a sweet princess, a dotty dame in the personage of the Queen, and a hissable villainess as the green witch Caraboose causes havoc.
The formula of tradition – boos, “it’s behind you”, singalongs, and an eclectic and well-curated set of songs – works well.
The children in the cast are a talented bunch and in the principals, a nod needs to be given to old hand Howard Shepherdson as the Queen, Russell Fleet as a magnificent bad girl, and Rory Hobson as the Buttons-like Billy, who leads the audience in song with the old tongue-twisting coffee pot number.
There’s a hint of blue for the grown-ups, a nod to big ticket musicals (the whole castle rises up against the threat to their princess with ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ from Les Mis, and Aurora greets her prince Orlando with Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’), and tributes to variety we’ve lost – the show opens with Ken Dodd’s ‘Happiness’.
Once again this hardworking amateur company have provided the goods for a fun and reasonably priced family show.