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Theatre 2019: A look back at quarter one

2019 has been my first year as a proper professional theatre blogger, and I had several aims at the start of January:

  1. To visit as many London theatres as possible, particularly West End and fringe
  2. To link up with at least three new PR companies to increase my review range (shows where I received complimentary tickets are indicated by *)
  3. To increase my Twitter following, and expand my Pinterest presence
  4. 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!

January

Show count: 9 | Plays: 1 | Musicals: 8 | Venues: 9 (new venues: 0)

Hadestown, Fiddler on the Roof, Caroline or Change, Six, The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Dreamgirls, Matilda, Aspects of Love, Songs for Nobodies
Hadestown, Fiddler on the Roof, Caroline or Change, Six, The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Dreamgirls, Matilda, Aspects of Love, Songs for Nobodies

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.

February

Show count: 7 | Plays: 2 | Musicals: 2 | Other: 3 | Venues: 7 (new venues: 0)

Ian McKellen, Cougar, Cyprus Avenue, Waitress, When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Gently Down The Stream, Friday Night is Music Night, Come From Away, Chita Rivera
Ian McKellen, Cougar, Cyprus Avenue, Waitress, When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Gently Down The Stream, Friday Night is Music Night, Come From Away, Chita Rivera

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.

In the description of “other” types of show, I was pleased to see Ian McKellen’s 80th birthday performance on tour at Richmond Theatre, and Broadway legend Chita Rivera at Cadogan Hall. I also attended a live performance of Radio 2’s stalwart variety programme Friday Night is Music Night, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.

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.

March

Show count: 11 | Plays: 7 | Musicals: 3 | Other: 1 | Venues: 11 (new venues: 5)

Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Hair, Character Solos, All About Eve, My Brother's Keeper, Violet, Showstopper!, The American Clock, Alys Always
Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Hair, Character Solos, All About Eve, My Brother’s Keeper, Violet, Showstopper!, The American Clock, Alys Always

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

April (9 shows, 9 venues – 3 new)

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 | Broken Wings *

May (17 shows, 15 venues – 6 new)

The King and I | Funeral Flowers | Little Miss Sunshine | Top Girls | The Crucible | Fanny and Stella * | Rosmersholm | Side Show | King Hedley II | Liza Pulman Sings Streisand *| Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) | Admissions | Beats on Pointe * | Rutherford and Son | Book of Mormon | Vincent River | Man of La Mancha

June (12 shows, 12 venues – 7 new)

All My Sons | Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens * | The Curious Case of Benjamin Button | Education, Education, Education | Woman to Woman | This Island’s Mine | The Importance of Being Earnest | Death of a Salesman | Operation Mincemeat | After Dark | Pictures of Dorian Gray – C The Light in the Piazza

Coming up in the third quarter of 2019

July

Wife | Toast | Bare: a Pop Opera * | On Your Feet | Cash Cow | Jesus Christ Superstar | Nine | Merrily We Roll Along | Rust | Apollo 11 Q&A | Charley’s Aunt | The Falcon’s Malteser * | The View Upstairs | 200 Years Later: Sanditon | Sushi Girls * | The Worst Witch * | Type on Paper *

August

Nile Rodgers & Chic | Southern Belles | The Bridges of Madison County | Proms – Warner Bros | Pilgrims | Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes | Camden Fringe | Equus | Peter Gynt | Queen of the Mist *| Once on This Island | Camden Fringe: A Tale of Two Chekhovs | Closer to Heaven | Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat | 9 to 5 | Peter Pan

September

World’s End * | The Feeling * | The Doctor | Falsettos *| The Son | Hansard | Caissie Levy | The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole | Call Me Fury | The Life I Lead

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Letterboxd – a new social tool for film lovers

Many of you might have been aware of Letterboxd during its invitation-only launch last year.  It’s a social networking tool which allows people to share their ratings, reviews and lists of films they have seen (including TV films).  As I abandoned IMDb after twelve years’ reviewing last year I was pleased to see another tool which allows something a bit more user friendly and interactive for us movie lovers.

So far I have logged over 6,000 films viewed (who knew?) and as you can also assemble a watchlist as you view other people’s profiles, putting together a list of titles I really should have seen by now.  Like Midnight Cowboy.

If you want to try Letterboxd for yourself, you can link it in to your Twitter and Facebook accounts for free, and if you upgrade to a paid account, you can link content with your blog software.  Here’s the link: http://letterboxd.com.


The 50 films that didn’t quite make the cut!

My last post here was about my ‘greatest fifty films’ list. But since then I have been thinking about other films which would have sneaked in had I the luxury of choosing one hundred titles.

So, here are the fifty which ‘got away’. No less revered and loved, but not quite making the main cut. Again, sorted by decade.

1920s

51 The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925). Hard to see these days due to no official DVD release, but still one of the best films about the Great War.
52 The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1926). Hitch’s ‘first film’ by his definition, and despite an ending which didn’t convince, it has enough innovation going on to keep it fresh.
53 Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). In any and all versions, the ultimate science fiction film.
54 Safety Last (Fred C Neumeyer, Sam Taylor, 1923). Harold Lloyd at his best. Other films might have tighter plots but this is the iconic image we have of him.

1930s

55 The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley, 1938). The blueprint for all adventuring swashbuckers to follow, and what glorious Technicolor.
56 Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932). A stunning and creepy achievement.
57 Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931). The character and premise should be ridiculous, but it isn’t.
58 I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932). The strongest of the social drama pre-Code films.
59 The Merry Widow (Ernst Lubitsch, 1934). Chevalier, Macdonald. This musical sparkles with energy.
60 Peach-O-Reno (William A Seiter, 1931). A Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, naughty, spicy and fun.
61 Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian, 1933). Garbo in perhaps her best remembered (and parodied) role.

1940s

62 The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946). This film shows the return home of war veterans without sinking to cliche or sentiment. Known for its use of deep focus shots.
63 Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945). Noel Coward’s timeless romance.
64 Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941). The best debut film of any director or actor.
65 Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948). A truly cinematic Shakespeare.
66 The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan et al, 1940). A film which doesn’t quite gel, but remains curiously entertaining.
67 Without Love (Harold S Bucquet, 1945). A Tracy-Hepburn comedy romance with added pep from Lucille Ball.

1950s

68 Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959). When we talk about epics, the genre cannot be better represented than with this superbly shot and directed classic. Bloated it may be, but still very watchable.
69 The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955). Monroe at her vulnerable best.
70 A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954). The film which should have gained Judy Garland an Oscar, but instead proved to be the last hurrah for her musical career.

1960s

71 If … (Lindsay Anderson, 1968). An evocative fable of school and authority.
72 Judgement at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer, 1961). For many great cameo performances, especially Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster. This film uses, but doesn’t abuse, star power.
73 The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968). Historical soap with great locations and a good example of taking theatre into the cinema, effectively.
74 The System (Michael Winner, 1964). Oliver Reed in his first leading role, a Brighton mod/rocker piece which remains challenging and provoking today.
75 Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (Ken Annakin, 1965). For pure enjoyment and a great theme tune.

1970s

76 Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979). Preferable in the original version rather than the Redux. A beautiful nightmare of ‘Nam, helped by The Doors and Brando.
77 Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, 1971). Dirk Bogarde’s best performance in a hymn to Mahler and the beauty of the young.
78 Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973). Difficult to get a rock opera right on the screen, but opening out the locations and making the story relevant to modern times nailed it.
79 Mary, Queen of Scots (Charles Jarrott, 1971). Historically inaccurate, but by far the best Tudor film made, with lovely performances, and colourful locations.
80 The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975). A guilty pleasure if only for Tim Curry’s Sweet Transvestite.
81 Scum (Alan Clarke, 1979). Powerful, bleak, disturbing drama.
82 The Tempest (Derek Jarman, 1979). Shakespeare for the 70s. It looks great and doesn’t betray the play.
83 Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971). A tale of the Australian Outback and the weakness of humanity. A truly beautiful film in every shot.
84 Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970). The best of all the music films, especially in the director’s cut. Contains all the drama and power of this greatest of rock festivals.

1980s

85 Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985). Flawed, but interesting.
86 The Last Metro (François Truffaut, 1980). Thoughtful, subversive, melodramatic, and wonderful.
87 Nijinsky (Herbert Ross, 1980). Ballet does not always transfer well to cinema, but this biographical piece remains strong in the mind even after one viewing, although it is difficult to find these days.
88 Le retour de Martin Guerre (Daniel Vigne, 1982). The original of what became ‘Sommersby’ and the ‘Martin Guerre’ musical. Touching, yearning, and very accessible.

1990s

89 Brassed Off (Mark Herman, 1996). A nostalgic love letter to the industrial north and their brass bands.
90 The Field (Jim Sheridan, 1990). King Lear in Ireland, and a career best performance from Richard Harris.
91 The First Wives’ Club (Hugh Wilson, 1996). Pure fun, guaranteed to lift the spirits.
92 Guinevere (Audrey Wells, 1999). An age gap romance which is celebratory, not creepy.
93 Michael Collins (Neil Jordan, 1996). Disturbing history lesson about the partition of Ireland.
94 Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1995). King Lear in Japan, perhaps the greatest Shakespeare film ever made.
95 Life is Sweet (Mike Leigh, 1990). Leigh’s funniest and most charming film.
96 Trojan Eddie (Gillies MacKinnon, 1996). A film of contrasts, shocks, and blarney.
97 Wilde (Brian Gilbert, 1997). Up there with the best of all biopics, with a great central performance.
98 Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (Randa Haines, 1993). A quirky celebration of ageing.

2000s

99 The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008). An action feature with some intelligence and stunning CGI.
100 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001). Purely because it brought together actors, models, CGI and a great script to create something very special.

Films matter to me if they make me laugh, cry, feel scared, feel revolted, make me think, stay in my mind. All the above meet at least one of these criteria, and so they deserve their place.


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