By the end of June, I had been seriously reviewing shows across London theatre for six months. I have already reflected on the process of the transition from being a theatre blogger as a hobby to being a professional theatre blogger in Six Months Later, but this post will look at the productions I attended between April and June of 2019.
For my previous post about my first three months of theatre-going in 2019, see Theatre 2019: a look back a quarter one.
You can find me across social media on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and on blogging platforms Bloglovin’ and Mix. I have started adding short reviews to Stagedoor with a view to doing an article on how it works as a theatre suggestion platform at a later date.
I now work with a number of PR companies to access a wide range of London theatre shows; and I am always open to smaller company/performer requests to review shows as well which may not have wider representation. My thanks go to everyone who has been in touch so far in 2019 and allowed me to view and comment on their work.
So let’s take a look at my theatre-going in the second quarter of 2019!
Show count: 9 | Plays: 5 | Musicals: 3 | Other: 1 | Venues: 9 (new venues: 3)
My month started with two press invites, both to theatres I had not visited before.
Bed Peace: the Battle of Yohn and Joko took place at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone, and focused on the 50th anniversary of the “bed-in for peace” stunt set up by musician John Lennon and artist Yoko Ono. The theatre is in the round, although part of the audience seating was used for staging in this production. A strong performance by Jung Sun den Hollander as Yoko was not enough to pull this show together, and I found it ultimately unsatisfying.
Much better was Kieran Hurley’s taut play Mouthpiece, which ran at the Soho Theatre, a three space venue buzzing with energy. It probably wouldn’t have been on my radar, but I found the script fascinating, hard-hitting and earthy, and Lorn Macdonald’s performance as Declan was one of the best I have seen this year. The play continues to gather attention and awards, and rightly so.
The second of five Arthur Miller plays to hit London this year was The Price – and although Brendan Coyle was indisposed on the day I saw the show, I admired the interplay between understudy Sion Lloyd as Victor and David Suchet as furniture dealer Solomon, even from way up in the Wyndham’s balcony.
Another new theatre to me was the Omnibus in Clapham, a former library building where I saw Philip Bretherton’s astonishing portrayal of politician Tony Benn in Tony’s Last Tape, a role he has now been playing for a number of years. It’s an excellent snippet of a man who often polarised opinion but always retained his single-mindedness. The Omnibus itself is small, but comfortable, and the bar boasts a resident cat.
April also gave me the opportunity to catch up with a show I had heard a lot about, but never seen: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I found it very inventive, strangely involving, and delightfully played. It is a show which definitely lives up to its reputation.
Over at the National, Tartuffe was reasonably OK, but I found the ending a little strange, and the character and plot did not really sit with 21st century concerns and technology. Denis O’Hare’s stateless manipulator, Kevin Doyle’s befuddled father, and Olivia Williams’s stoic mother, were all very good, and I enjoyed the farce of the second half.
Finally, a staged performance of Gilvert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (with John Wilson conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment), an invitation to the concert version of the musical Broken Wings, and a trip back to the 70s at Wembley for Legends Live rounded off the month.
Show count: 17 | Plays: 8 | Musicals: 7 | Other: 2 | Venues: 15 (new venues: 7)
May began with a repeat visit to the musical revival of The King and I, this time on tour in Manchester with a change of cast. Still a sumptuous show and interesting to compare Jose Llana’s with that of Ken Watanabe last year in London.
Seven new venues this month saw me visit the Arcola, the Bunker, Theatre Royal Stratford East, the Peacock, Trafalgar Studios, The Yard, and Above the Stag (last visited eight years ago in its Victoria home.
In terms of musicals in the capital, I went to see the London Coliseum’s Man of La Mancha. It was overpriced, but I enjoyed the performances of Kelsey Grammer (last seen in Big Fish), Cassidy Janson (so marvellous as Carole King in Beautiful), and Nicholas Lyndhurst, and felt the lukewarm reviews were a little unkind.
The revival of Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola in Dalston was a lot of fun, notably the performances of Gary Wilmot as Granpa and Laura Pitt-Pulford as Mum. It benefitted from excellent use of the Arcola’s larger space, including a partially revolving stage.
Kneehigh brought their own take on The Beggar’s Opera in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs. This was loud, crude, inventive, subversive and funny, and interesting to compare to the National Theatre’s production of The Threepenny Opera in 2016.
An invitation to review at Above the Stag brought me to the vaudeville fun of Victorian cross-dressers in Fanny and Stella, which boasted an excellent and close-knit cast. Bawdy and tawdry, this was stirring stuff and the songs were excellent.
I caught up with Book of Mormon, having secured a discounted ticket, and I found it hilarious, filthy, and very entertaining. If yiu go with your mind open, the score is fabulous and you will leave the theatre smiling. I think this was a big surprise of the year for me as I really wasn’t sure I would like it.
Finally, my local theatre in Ealing hosted an amateur production of Bill Russell’s Side Show, in which GLOC’s talented company brought the magic of the circus to us in the story of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.
Plays in May included good revivals of Top Girls and Rutherford and Son (both at the National Theatre), the excellent one-woman show Funeral Flowers from Emma Dennis-Edwards at the Bunker (housed in a former underground car park next to the Menier), and a remarkable revival at Hackney Wick’s The Yard of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with a woman playing John Proctor.
Over in Stratford, Lenny Henry and Martina Laird provided engrossing performances in a tense revival of August Wilson’s King Hedley II, which brought gang culture, music, old promises, superstition, and more into the dark terraced residences in which young King Hedley faces old adversaries.
The Duke of York’s hosted a bleak version of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, with a watery curtain call and a scene-stealing performance from the dependable Peter Wight opposite Tom Burke’s Rosmer. This play was the first in a run of London Ibsens in 2019.
Finally, the Trafalgar Studios (formerly the beautiful Whitehall Theatre) showed off both its spaces in Admissions, a slightly disappointing look at the politics of university admissions in the USA, and in the beautifully understated Vincent River.
I was happy to review Liza Pulman Sings Streisand on her Cadogan Hall stop, in which Barbra’s songs were celebrated but not impersonated. I was familiar with Pulman from her Fascinating Aida shows, but she is also an accomplished solo artist.
Finally, Beats on Pointe arrived at the ultra-modern Peacock Theatre in a new dance show from Masters of Choreography: with dancers tackling ballet, hip-hop and other styles, this show retained its energy throughout and used music, style and camp to full advantage.
Show count: 11 | Plays: 6| Musicals: 5 | Venues: 11 (new venues: 6)
June included two more Arthur Miller plays to complete the informal season of five – the Old Vic presented All My Sons in which Sally Field was excellent but Bill Pullman disappointed, and the Young Vic had a fresh new production of Death of a Salesman with a cast which was note-perfect.
The Wardrobe Ensemble brought the schooldays of the 1990s back to Trafalgar Studios in Education, Education, Education. It had physical fun and a nostalgic soundtrack. In Islington, the King’s Head presented a successful revival of Philip Osment’s This Island’s Mine; while over at the Tabard in Chiswick, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was done straight down the middle.
Wilde reappeared with a clever run of adaptations of Pictures of Dorian Gray in which character genders were switched in a variety of perspectives. I saw C, with a female Dorian, and found it a dreamy and deviant piece of theatre. Victorian melodrama also appeared at the Finborough in After Dark, a play with songs which didn’t quite live up to pre-publicity.
It was a very good month for musicals, with an invite to the wonderful Bill Russell show Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens over at the Union; a knockout adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button from Jethro Compton Productions at the Southwark; and the hilarious Operation Mincemeat from SpitLip at the New Diorama.
The month closed with a visit to the underproduced Light in the Piazza, which lacked a decent set but had Renee Fleming singing, Alex Jennings trying to be Italian, snd Dove Cameron trying to smile.
Join me later in the year for a look at quarter 3 of 2019!