West End theatre shows on now
They don’t really have pantomimes in the US, which may explain why the creatives behind this hit Broadway adaptation of Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ made a pantomime, probably without realising. There’s no Widow Twankey or Wishee Washee, but Alan Menken’s musical gives you the same things as a decent British panto ‘Aladdin’: lavish set pieces (designer Bob Crowley has done some impressive things); campy, knowing, fourth wall-breaking humour; songs (obvs); a magic carpet sequence; a dull hero (Dean John-Wilson’s prominent man-cleavage is the most memorable bit of his performance); a ludicrously OTT villain (Don Gallagher’s Jafar laps up the boos at curtain call); and a scene-stealing dame (more later). It’s well done, but talk about selling coals to Newcastle: the humour hits the spot with Howard Ashman’s dry lyrics, but it lacks the inspired madness of, say, the Hackney Empire panto. Alongside the other big West End Disney musical, Julie Taymor’s ‘The Lion King’, it struggles to establish a distinct, theatrical identity. And my mind boggled at how the diverse, largely British cast has had bland American accents foisted upon them to play Middle Eastern characters. One decision producers won’t be regretting is importing star of the Broadway show Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie. The role could have been something of a poisoned, er, lamp, given Robin Williams’s iconic turn in the 1992 film. But glitter-doused Nicholas makes it his own with a kinetic mix of fabulousness and physicality. He
‘For fuck’s sake,’ mumbled a member of the Bridge Theatre crew as he sprinted past me. It was three hours since Nicholas Hytner’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ had begun and it was unclear as to whether it had technically finished or not. But it probably had, as the unfortunate staff member was trying to retrieve one of the two enormous glowing moon balls that the audience was still furiously punching around the theatre. Meanwhile, to my right, the actual Brienne of Tarth was having a boogie. It’s quite possible that she’s still there now. A weird dream? Nope: just Hytner finally tackling Shakespeare’s beloved comedy. Usually his modern-dress takes on the Bard are precise and revelatory, and certainly he applies *some* of his usual rigour here; but then there’s the feeling that he just got stumped by what is effectively a story about some fairies banging in a wood and decided that – screw it – he might gobble a couple of pills for inspiration (NB I am sure that Sir Nicholas did not actually do this). The results are messy, sprawling and quite glorious. Integral to Hytner’s vision is the effective swapping of the roles of fairy king Oberon (Hytner regular Oliver Chris) and queen Titania (towering ‘Game of Thrones’ star Gwendoline Christie). They hold on to their names and genders, but the dialogue is mostly reversed, making it a story of how Titania and her servant Puck (David Moorst) get one over on sensitive Oberon by making him fall in love with Hammed Animash
The news that David Mamet has written a drama about a ‘depraved Hollywod mogul’ doesn’t immediately fill the heart with joy. American theatre’s crankiest elder statesman hasn’t written a truly great play in aeons, but he has successfully tarnished his image within the liberal theatre community by coming out as a Republican and threatening to sue people who hold post-show discussions after performances of his plays. So a new work that sounds suspiciously like it’s a response to the fall of Harvey Weinstein is possibly not something that society was holding its breath for. Still, let’s be open-minded, eh? He remains a titan of the theatre world, and in a major coup has yoked the great John Malkovich in to star as his mogul, Barney Fein, alongside our own Doon Mackichan and newcomer Ioanna Kimbook. And the loopy, presumably self-penned description from Mamet – who also directs – suggests it might be a good deal weirder than one might expect: ‘Funnier than "The Iceman Cometh", more chaos than "Richard III", and without all the stupid, so-called "poetry",’ we’re told. There is still the distinct worry that Mamet’s contribution to the #MeToo discourse will be on the crass side. But nobody writes about power and its abuse quite like him.
Singing legend Nina Simone is the inspiration behind this play with music, which is a story of a jazz chanteuse seeking justice in Civil Rights-era America. It's written and performed by Apphia Campbell, who's toured the show worldwide, landing plaudits for its mixture of soulful singing and biting insights into discrimination and prejudice. Directed by Arran Hawkins and Nate Jacobs.
Musicals don’t come much more low-key, wholesome or Canadian than ‘Come from Away’. Writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein cook up the straightforward world of the Newfoundland town of Gander using a very straightforward set of ingredients. The cast wear sensible shoes and lumberjack shirts. They tramp across a wood-decked stage that evokes the huge skies of their tiny island. They sing their way through a set of folk-tinged songs that tell stories of the five days after 9/11, when 38 planes made emergency landings on the island’s huge, disused airstrip. And it’s all totally, soul-feedingly wonderful. ‘Come from Away’ has been a massive sleeper hit across North America, Broadway included, and it’s easy to see why: it mixes down-home authenticity with the desperate intensity that comes in times of crisis. This is a moment where 7,000 temporary arrivals join a community of just 9,000 people. Logistics might not be the sexiest of topics for a musical, but one of the many surprising joys of this show is how gripping it makes things like the struggle to rustle up transport at a time when the local school bus drivers were on strike and had to be coaxed into crossing the picket line. Then there are beds, food, medication and interpreters to be sourced for passengers from across the world: one non-English-speaking couple communicates by cross-referencing Bible verses. Based closely on interviews with real Newfoundlanders, this is a picture of a community that stretches itself to bre
Marina Sirtis is much loved for her role as the hyper empathetic Deanna Troi in 'Star Trek'. But she won't have to strain her empath powers too hard in 'Dark Sublime', a new play that casts her as a sci-fi icon who's ready to break out of cult stardom. She'll be making her first West End acting appearance alongside Mark Gatiss's recorded voice (he plays a chatty computer) in a drama that's described as 'a love letter to British sci-fi television', and opens at Trafalgar Studios in June 2019. 'Dark Sublime' is Michael Dennis's debut play, too, which comes after his long career as a stage manager at some of London's hottest theatres. It's the story of a fan who turns up at his idol's door, sparking an encounter that explores the power of fandom, intergenerational friendships, and the value of sci-fi stories for LGBTQ people. Michael Dennis directs.
This review is from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. ‘Education Education Education’ transfers to Trafalgar Studios in 2019. Imagine 'Teachers' with teeth and you're somewhere in the ballpark of this slick but fiery new comedy from The Wardrobe Ensemble. Set in a struggling British comprehensive in 1997, 'Education, Education, Education' combines cartoonish staffroom hijinks and occasionally gratuitous period nostalgia (a Tamagotchi features prominently) with a wistful remembrance of the euphoria of that year's Labour landslide and a bitter awareness that two decades after Tony Blair pumped billions into secondary education, the sector would be on its knees. Our narrator is Tobias (James Newton), a deadpan, Britpop-loving German language assistant whose first day working at the school is May 2, 1997 – the morning after Tony Blair’s New Labour eviscerated John Major’s dysfunctional Conservatives. Though the staff are advised by their terminally idealistic headmaster Huw (Tom England) that they must be politically neutral in front of their pupils, they are, of course, delighted – convinced, as they say, that things can only get better for their crumbling school. In the short term, though, nothing can save the fractious crew of educators from their immediate fate: it is the last day of school for their year 11s before they go on study leave, and they’re intent on trashing the place. Only the borderline psychopathic ‘head of discipline’ Louise (a scene-stealing Kerry Lovell
Playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany will spend the rest of their lives best known for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’, but outside of their fantasty blockbusters they’ve formed an enduring partnership making more downbeat fair. Set in 1997, their latest, ‘the end of history…’, is a family drama that examines the legacy of the generation of women that protested at Greenham Common.
‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a burst of joy in the heart of the West End. This new British musical, transferring from the Sheffield Crucible, is the real deal. Watch out, tired revivals: there’s a new kid in town. Inspired by a 2011 BBC documentary about a teenager who wanted to be a drag queen, the show follows 16-year-old Jamie on his journey to be himself – out of a classroom in a working-class part of Sheffield, away from the bigotry of a deadbeat dad, and into high heels. Director Jonathan Butterell’s production is a high-impact blaze of colour, combining video projections with seamless scene changes and a live band above the stage. It captures the frenetic energy of being a teenager. Every element of this show works beautifully together. The music, by The Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells, is a deft mix of irresistibly catchy, pop-honed foot-tappers – try not to hum ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’, I dare you – and truthful, heart-wrenching numbers. This is Sells’s first foray into writing for musicals, but he’s always excelled at telling stories in song. He is matched by the show’s writer and lyricist Tom MacRae. Apart from notable exceptions like Punchdrunk’s ‘Doctor Who’-themed kids’ show ‘The Crash of Elysium’, he’s largely written for TV, but this works well here. His dialogue is punchy, funny and often lands with a sting. While most of the characters exist to orbit Jamie, they still have their own stories and these are crisply told. As Pritti, Jamie’
High-flying acrobatic troupe Flip Fabrique are back in London this summer. Originating in Quebec, which has a spectacular record for churning out contemporary circus troupes, they're known for high-octane aerial work. They'll soar through the air at Underbelly Festival in 'Transit', their follow-up to last year's 'Attrape Moi'.
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. ‘Hamilton’ is stupendously good. Yes, it’s kind of a drag that there’s so much hype around it. But there was a lot of hype around penicillin. And that worked out pretty well. If anything – and I’m truly sorry to say this – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US Treasury, is actually better than the hype suggests. That’s because lost in some of the more waffly discourse around its diverse casting and sociological import is the fact that ‘Hamilton’ is, first and foremost, a ferociously enjoyable show. You probably already know that it’s a hip hop musical, something that’s been tried before with limited success. Here it works brilliantly, because Miranda – who wrote everything – understands what mainstream audiences like about hip hop, what mainstream audiences like about musical theatre, and how to craft a brilliant hybrid. Put simply, it’s big emotions and big melodies from the former, and thrilling, funny, technically virtuosic storytelling from the latter. ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the opening tune, exemplifies everything that’s great about the show. It’s got a relentlessly catchy build and momentum, a crackling, edge-of-seat sense of drama, and is absolutely chockablock with information, as the key players stride on to bring us up to speed with the eventful life that Hamilton – the ‘bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman’ – led before he emigrated to America in 1772 as a teenager
The ENO and Open Air Theatre’s collaboration enters its second year with a team up for Engelbert Humperdinck’s much-loved 1893 operatic adaptation of the popular fairly tale. OAT boss Timoth Sheader directs.
In the unlikely event you were worried a leap to the stage for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would result in it becoming aggressively highbrow, self-consciously arty or grindingly bereft of magical high jinks, just chill the hell out, muggle. ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is an absolute hoot, a joyous, big-hearted, ludicrously incident-packed and magic-heavy romp that has to stand as one of the most unrelentingly entertaining things to hit the West End. Writer Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany and a world-class team have played a blinder; if the two-part, five-hour-plus show is clearly a bit on the long side, it’s forgivable. ‘The Cursed Child’ emphatically exists for fans of Harry Potter, and much of its power derives from the visceral, often highly emotional impact of feeling that you’re in the same room as Rowling’s iconic characters. There’s also a sense that this story of wizards and witches is being treated with the respect its now substantially grown-up fanbase craves. No disrespect to D-Rad and chums, but the leads here are in a different acting league to their film counterparts’: Jamie Parker and Alex Price are superb as battered, damaged, middle-aged versions of old enemies Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle are a fine, puppyish, sympathetic engine to the play as their awkward sons Albus and Scorpius, trying to escape their parents’ shadows. It is a bit of a sausage (wand?) fest in terms of the lead parts, although in the mos
Michelle Terry leads the return of her Globe Ensemble from the front: the actor-artistic director’s all-guns-blazing take on rebel lord Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy is the clear highlight of her rep company’s second season.Hotspur is usually interpreted as a noble idealist whose tragedy is that he’s more decent than the king he clashes with, but Terry pretty much goes the other way. Her Hotspur is an angry, sardonic young man whose main motives appear to be bloodlust and boredom. Sure, Terry’s going against the text a bit. But she does so dazzlingly. The tender scenes with Hotspur’s young wife Lady Percy are hysterically rewired into masterclasses in alpha male douchiness – Hotspur seems to be barely even listening to her as she waxes eloquent about her fears for him.The overall effect is to unify the tone of a play that usually comes across as divided between the serious political bits, and the comedy bits where the young Prince Harry (Sarah Amankwah) bums around with his disreputable mentor Sir John Falstaff (Helen Schlesinger).Instead, you’re never far from a laugh in a show that could borderline be described as ‘a romp’. Indeed, Terry is effortlessly funnier than anybody else: Amankwah and Schlesinger never really click. Without Terry, it would be a lot less good. But directors Federay Holmes and Sarah Bedi do some good work here: there is a striking intro, in which the identically clad ensemble sing a stirring song while donning their costumes; in the second half there is an en
Keen-eyed readers may notice that this review of the laboriously entitled ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience’ is in fact a re-review: a misunderstanding led to our first writer being invited down before the VR elements of the show were working, so I agreed to write about it again.Anyway. ‘JWMVoTWoTWTIE’ is a VR-augmented immersive theatre show that straddles two iconic properties: HG Wells’s seminal 1897 sci-fi novel ‘The War of the Worlds’, and Wayne’s 1978 prog rock album inspired by it, which has gone on to be an enduringly popular live spectacle complete with puppet Martian war machine and – in some iterations – a holographic Liam Neeson.The album’s spoken word sections offer a divergent telling of Wells’s story, with different characters and a more fragmented plot. Given the task of turning it into a coherent narrative is dotdotdot, a company specialising in tech-enhanced immersive theatre who had a hit last year with their show ‘Somnai’. Their job is to immerse us in Wells’s serious-minded alien invasion story, while incorporating Wayne’s campier embellishments: the characters, the kitschy steampunk art and – of course – the musical anthems.It doesn’t exactly work. But it’s quite good fun. Sent into the experience in small staggered groups, most of the interactions with human actors we encounter are on the comic side, meaning there can be some weird shifts in tone when the show remembers it’s supposed to be scary. At the sta
Musical theatre legend Andrew Lloyd Webber has come over all nostalgic and is bringing back his first ever hit: the epic, Biblically-inspired 'Joseph'. It's been doing the rounds in faintly fusty touring production but this new staging from Laurence Connor – who directed Lloyd Webber’s ‘School of Rock’ – should freshen it up. It'll take over the suitably vast space of London's Palladium with a reimagining of the story of a snappily-dressed lad who can interpret dreams. No word on who’ll play the title role yet, but in a fantastic bit of star signing Sheridan Smith will take on the role of Narrator, her first stage role since ‘Funny Girl’, and former star of the show Jason Donovan will return to the show as the Pharaoh.
As you roll into Bernie Dieter’s ‘Little Death Club’, the first sign of how your night will unfold is a literal sign: ‘Warning – real fire will be used in this performance’. Bring it. A four-piece band plays funk-rock with a distinctly pornographic twist while Dieter and her small carnival of miscreants lounge on the stage and in the stalls, vamping it up for the crowd. It’s a Weimar Republic throwback that will feel deliciously familiar to fans of Bob Fosse’s ‘Cabaret’. But unlike ‘Cabaret’, our bob-sporting brunette with powerful pipes is on top, emceeing and in complete control of the crowd and herself. ‘Little Death Club’ unfolds beat-for-beat like a traditional cabaret with singing, some circus arts, drag and smatterings of comedy and nudity. But Dieter’s original score (a little '80s, a little Bertolt Brecht), potent signing voice and playful stage presence keep the format feeling fresh. There’s no narrative arc here, just a perfectly paced variety show, gently themed around letting your freak flag fly. Aerialists Fancy Chance and Beau Sargent are standouts. Chance, dressed in billowing voile robes, suspends herself above the stage by her hair, fluttering above the crowd like a psychedellic butterfly. While Sargent folds himself into pretzel shapes so grotesque yet gorgeous, you can hear the crowd wince as they cheer. There are spots of audience participation (and humiliation), particularly by Dieter and acid-tart drag queen Myra Dubois. Their crosshairs are focuse
Magic Mike on stage feels a bit like dating in London in my thirties: all the young, hot people got it on while I sat on the sidelines. But as a voyeur at this expensive strip-meets-cabaret show, there was some serious titillation: pains are taken to remind you that it has very much been made with the female gaze in mind. The romp unfolds in a faux-club built in Leicester Square’s already-slightly-seedy (in a good way) Hippodrome Casino, based upon the Xquisite strip joint from Steven Soderbergh’s surprise 2012 cinematic smash. The movie’s star Channing Tatum – whose IRL undressing escapades originally informed the film’s plot – is behind this theatrical reimagining, with London the second destination of ‘Magic Mike Live’ following a hugely successful run in Vegas. But it’s important to note that co-director Tatum (who, alas, merely lends his voice to the performance) has worked with a gender-balanced team and the sense that this is a safe space for women enshrouds the entire show, despite it being filled with semi-naked men. The plot (in the loosest sense) centres on Michelangelo – Mike to you – a waiter plucked from the crowd and trained in showing a woman a (consensual) good time by our female emcee, played by actor Sophie Linder-Lee. She sounds a bit like Jane Horrocks and makes a lot of jokes about ‘jizz’ and the tightness of her own vagina. Most of the ladies pulled to the stage for some public gyration were mega hot (so hot, it almost felt like they’d been planted
See Chekhov like it's done in Russia at Maly Drama Theatre's annual West End stint. This year, they're bringing over their production of 'Three Sisters', a story of thwarted longings that directed by Lev Dodin, who's been the company's artistic director for over 35 years.
Judy Craymer's bold idea of turning the insanely catchy songs of ABBA into a musical has paid off splendidly, in every sense – box office figures for 'Mamma Mia!' are as eye-watering as its outfits. This is largely because Catherine Johnson had the sense to weave the 1970s into her script, and director Phyllida Lloyd to cast accordingly. Heroine Donna Sheridan lived the free love dream (if only because her boyfriend ran out on her), wound up pregnant and survived to see her daughter, Sophie, reject all her principles in favour of a white wedding and the kind of certainty that comes from knowing which of your mother's three consecutive lovers ought to be walking you down the aisle. If you wanted to, you could see this as a conversation about feminism. But you'll look pretty silly debating patriarchal oppression while on your feet clapping to 'Dancing Queen'. Some of the songs are oddly static, but when the choreography does get going – for instance, when Donna's friend Tanya stylishly quashes a libidinous local puppy in 'Does Your Mother Know?' – it's terrific, and makes great use of props: I wonder if the producers can assure us that no electric drills or hairdryers were harmed in the making of this musical? The current cast appear to have been chosen more for their singing voices than their serious acting ability. But who needs dramatic conviction when you have purest pop to do the convincing for you? Given the songs, a story just about solid enough to stay upright on its
If there’s a screen still flickering in the UK at the end of the world, it’ll probably be playing on loop that bit where Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter falls through the bar. John Sullivan’s ‘Only Fools and Horses’ has long since transformed from being just a TV show into a cultural phenomenon, annually topping those breathless audience polls as ‘Best British Comedy Ever, Ever, Ever’. It’s on that tidal wave of public adoration that this musical version of the misadventures of wheeler-dealer Del Boy, his hapless brother Rodney and their granddad, living together on a Peckham council estate at the tail end of the ’80s, sails into the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket. It’s co-written by Jim ‘son of John’ Sullivan and comic actor extraordinaire Paul Whitehouse (who’s also on stage as Granddad). Director Caroline Jay Ranger sets out her market stall early, as Del Boy (Tom Bennett) promises ‘plonker’ Rodney (Ryan Hutton), ‘This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.’ What follows is a blizzard of catchphrases, quotes and characters. Boycie and Marlene, Trigger, Mickey and Denzil are all crammed on stage and into the Nags Head. When Del tries hawking dodgy Eiffel Towers to the audience, he’s also selling us easy nostalgia. His battered Reliant car turns up like a guest star. It’s affectionate fun. There are some good gags – including an early tease of Del’s bar fall – and the sitcom's iconic theme tune works well as a refrain (sung by the cast) for the twinkly cheekiness of this sh
Occupying what seems to now be a regular summer musical theatre slot at the London Coliseum – inaugurated by last year's by Meat Loaf odyssey ‘Bat Out of Hell’ – ‘On Your Feet!’ is a biographical jukebox musical tracing the life and times of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Having already enjoyed a two-year-stint on Broadway, the show is a night of uplifting Latino-pop that follows the two Cuban-Americans as they fall in love as youngsters in ‘70s Miami and go on to storm the charts as Miami Sound Machine and via Gloria's successful solo career. Don't expect a heavyweight plot, but if you like the songs and the rhythms then by all accounts they're done justice via Sergio Trujillo’s kinetic choreography and a large, well-drilled band.
With the addition of a sneaky 't', National Theatre stalwart David Hare signals his ambition to bring Ibsen's 1867 classic 'Peer Gynt' into the 21st century. James McArdle stars in the title role of 'Peter Gynt', Hare's reworked story of a restless wanderer whose travels take in Florida, Egypt, and his homeland of Scotland. Jonathan Kent directs, after teaming up with Hare on 'Young Chekhov' last year.
Andrew Scott’s stage career consists of largely leftfield choices… and also massive Noël Coward revivals at the Old Vic. Almost a decade after featuring in the grand old theatre’s production of ‘Design for Living’, a now rather more famous Scott anchors this major revival of ‘Present Laughter’, a farcical comedy with a tremendous lead role in the shape of self-obsessed light comedy actor Garry Essendine. Joining Scott in Old Vic boss Matthew Warchus’s production – designed by Rob Howell – will be Luke Thallon, Sophie Thompson, Suzie Toase and Indira Varma.
‘Rosmersholm’ by Henrik Ibsen is a play that few people have heard of and even fewer can pronounce (FYI the verdict appears to be ‘Rosmer’s Home’). So even with the presence of the ‘Avengers’-adjacent – not to mention terrific – Hayley Atwell in the cast, it feels spectacularly audacious of super-producer Sonia Friedman to just bung a production of this obscurity cold into the West End.And she’s pretty much pulled it off. Although clearly somewhat massaged by adapting playwright Duncan Macmillan, Ibsen’s depiction of a fragmenting, polarised society torn between extremes of right and left, faith and atheism, just on the cusp of a monumental election, feels spectacularly timely.John Rosmer (Tom Burke) is a respected pastor who has become a virtual recluse since the suicide of his wife. He lives with his servants, his wife’s former companion Rebecca West (Atwell) and his crumbling sense of self. His faith has deserted him; Rebecca’s progressive notions are beginning to make a lot of sense.Perhaps the most powerful idea of the play is that of a single man embodying a national malaise. Although Rebecca and Rosmer’s erstwhile brother-in-law Andreas (Giles Terera) literally represents the play’s political extremes, it is Burke’s Rosmer who is torn between them, spiritually and politically divided and barely functional, poisoned by society.Erstwhile ‘Hamilton’ star Terera steps comfortably into West End drama almost-leading-man status: his local governor Andreas is disarmingly likab
Shakespeare's Globe's touring productions of 'Twelfth Night', 'Pericles' and 'Comedy of Errors' are coming home to the wooden 'O' this summer for selected dates in June and August. There's a mix of conventional performance and 'audience choice' shows, where the crowd vote on which play they want to see. This year, the Globe is adding an extra layer of fun with a 'Midnight Matinee', starting at 11.59pm, where (presumably drunken) audiences will pick what show they want to see at a special late night performance.
To drink, or not to drink? The Shit-faced Shakespeare crew finally tackle the Bard’s greatest play: as ever, with one member of the company smashed out of their faces. Is it going to be a ‘Hamlet’ for the ages? Absolutely not. Is it going to be a fun, short ‘Hamlet’ best watched over a few beers? Aye, there's the rub.
‘Six’ returns to Arts Theatre in January 2019. This review is from August 2018. ‘Remember us from your GCSEs?’ It’s Henry VIII’s six wives – and they’ve back, bitch, to re-tell ‘her-story’ as a slick, sassy girl band. Think Euro-pop remixes of ‘Greensleeves’, Anne Boleyn spouting tweenage text-speak (‘everybody chill/it’s totes God’s will’), and K-Howard warbling #MeToo tales of gropey employers. ‘Hamilton' looms large here, and although ‘Six’ has its own moments of clever-clever hip-hop rhymes, it’s a tough comparison: this musical started life as a student show (Cambridge, obvs). But its creators, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, have succeeded in crafting almost brutally efficient pastiche pop songs – here a ballad, there a ballsy, blinging R&B number – performed with snappy dance routines by a talented, diverse cast (and all-female band). Since inception the show seems to have been given a good lick of gloss, too; it stands up in the West End. But beneath its super-shiny surface, ‘Six’ is totes vacuous. And so basic in its feminism that it’s hard to believe it’s written by, like, actual Millennials. The whole thing is staged as a deeply unsisterly competition, each wife getting a song in which to prove they’re the biggest victim, the one who suffered the most at Henry’s hands. This is treated weirdly as comedy though, OTT shrieks and snarks escalating until they’re actually in a catfight, pulling each other’s hair. Several of the wives are characterised as dim and ditzy;
Brace yourself for a shock: ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical is not particularly shocking. Sure, there are ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and gags about baby rape – but most of it is deployed ironically; beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the sounds and spirit of Broadway’s golden age. The strapping young Latter Day Saints missionaries in ‘The Book of Mormon’ are as cartoonish as any ‘South Park’ character, with the endearing alpha-male woodenness of the ‘Team America’ puppets. In other words, they are loveable, well-intentioned idiots, traversing the globe like groups of pious meerkats, convinced they can convert the heathen through sheer politeness. And if they have doubts, then as Stephen Ashfield’s scene-stealingly repressed Elder McKinley declares in glorious faux-Gershwin number ‘Turn it Off’, ‘Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!’ His advice is ignored by the show’s heroes, narcissistic, highly strung Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and dumpy, lying Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). The pair are sent to Uganda in an effort to convert a village to Mormonism, a religion that essentially tells the penniless villagers how great distant America is. The locals are not keen: Price cracks and unwisely clashes with a crazed local warlord; Cunningham makes up his own version of Mormonism which involves fucking frogs to cure oneself of Aids. ‘The Book of Mormon’ is, above all, very funny, breath
If you’re a plucky producer hoping to get your new show into the Criterion Theatre, you’re flat out of luck once again. Because less than nine months after 'The 39 Steps' shuttered after almost a decade glowering over Piccadilly Circus, it’s now home to the brand new comedy by Mischief Theatre, which, if there’s any justice in the theatre world, will run for even longer. 'The Comedy About A Bank Robbery' is the latest play by the bogglingly prolific and talented team behind 'The Play That Goes Wrong' (or more accurately the 'Play That Goes Wrong' franchise) and it’s their best and funniest work yet. A genre pastiche, screwball comedy and classic farce that’s as clean and clear as its brassy branding, it spins with a manic energy from Two Ronnies-esque wordplay through surreal set-pieces to slapstick stunts prepped to bring the house down. The story of a bungled jewel heist in a sleepy Minneapolis bank branch, it features a host of hilarious but well-drawn characters who roar across the stage and tumble into disaster after disaster, each one more elegantly drawn than the last. The writers’ ability to snatch a laugh out of every line, and to intricately prime each scenario with zinging punchlines and pay-offs is stunning, as call-backs and running gags pile up into teetering edifices of absurdity. The entire cast is bang on the money, but Mischief Theatre’s own Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer are the standouts as booming bank manager Robin Freeboys and hapless loser (and eter
Ivo van Hove’s recent Barbican stage version of Luchino Visconti’s classic film ‘Obsession’ wasn’t the Belgian super-director’s best work. But this is much more like it, as he adapts Visconti’s deeply unsettling 1969 film ‘The Damned’. Performed in French (with English surtitles) by the legendary Parisian ensemble Comédie-Française, it’s a grandiose and harrowing epic about a tainted German iron dynasty. Designed as usual by Van Hove’s partner Jan Versweyveld, ‘The Damned’ makes use of live video and a gargantuan central screen to introduce us to the many-headed beast that is the Essenbeck family. The year is 1933; the family is gathering to celebrate patriarch Joachim’s birthday, on the very night that the Reichstag fire has broken out, tightening Hitler’s grip on power. The Essenbecks are essentially opportunists: few of them have any real love for Hitler, but he is on the up and they are business people first and foremost. However, their belief that they can hitch their wagon to madness of the Nazi regime and come out intact is pure arrogance - as we see over a queasy, two-hour show in which the faults within the clan are ripped apart by the extremity and lawlessness of the Nazi regime. Simmering resentments that were once kept in check turn murderous as the Third Reich liberates the family from the shackles of civility; debauchery, insanity and slaughter follow. I sometimes wonder if we’ve started taking Van Hove a bit for granted now that he’s so rarely off our stage
‘The Lehman Triology’ transfers to the West End in 2019 with the original cast. Tickets go on sale Nov 2 2018. This review is from its 2018 run at the National Theatre. Sam Mendes’s recent forays onto the stage – ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘King Lear’, ‘The Ferryman’ – have all been bombastic, blockbuster-style affairs that sparkle with the traces of his Hollywood success. But he tamps it down with ‘The Lehman Trilogy’, an epic but fairly modest three-actor play that charts the story of the Lehman brothers and the institutions that would go on to bear their names. The original trio of Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman arrived in the US as Jewish immigrants from Bavaria in the 1840s; the 2008 collapse of the bank that bore their name would effectively trigger the last great global recession. Written by Italian playwright Stefano Massini, and adapted by NT deputy artistic director Ben Power, ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ could be viewed as a sort of very fancy distant relative of one of those shows like ‘The 39 Steps’, in which a small number of actors play numerous roles, to the general delight of the audience. We’re talking about three remarkable actors, mind: the black-clad trio of Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley does not represent a great blow for diversity, but they are three white middle aged men at the top of their white middle aged game, and they turn a play that might have come across as a rather dry history lesson into a mostly electrifying one. Ta
Glance at the posters for ‘The Light in the Piazza’ and it looks like a fairly standard romantic musical; all ’50s frocks and sun-drenched skies. But it’s substantially stranger and more ponderous than that. It follows 26-year-old American tourist Clara, who’s naïve and trusting – a head injury as a child has given her a level of developmental delay. She’s taken round Florence by her anxious mother Margaret, who tries her best to shield her from suitors – until something in the sunlight changes her mind. It’s based on a popular American 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer. This 2008 musical updates it a bit but arguably not enough, especially in its approach to Clara’s disability. Dove Cameron’s performance as Clara has a hint of Disney princess to it, all cooing mannerisms and ditsy sweetness. Craig Lucas’s book doesn’t make much room for the more uncomfortable realities of her situation, in which her mother keeps her in the dark about her condition and shepherds her around like a child. Nor does it really dig into any of the questions raised by Clara’s romance with young local Fabrizio, who also doesn't know her ‘secret’. It’s kind of loosely implied that things are different in Italy; the warmth of Fabrizio’s expansive family will make everything right, will find a role for Clara that her US homeland can’t. This distinctly American faith in Italy’s magical powers shines out more satisfyingly in Adam Guettel’s score; it’s light on tunes, but Opera North’s orchestra brings ou
The posters have been plastered around the London Underground for years – long enough for this show to become the most successful musical of all time – but nothing prepares you for the sheer impact of 'The Lion King's opening sequence. With the surge of 'Circle Of Life' reverberating through your chest, Julie Taymor's animal creations march on, species by species. Gazelles spring, birds swoop and an elephant and her child lumber through the stalls. It's a cacophonous cavalcade that genuinely stops you breathing. You'd think Noah's Ark had emptied onto the stage. For a global blockbuster, 'The Lion King's absolute theatricality is astonishing. Techniques from all over the world – African masks, Japanese Kabuki costumes, Malaysian shadow puppetry – are smashed together in an explosion of spectacle. It's perfect for a musical, allowing both distinct flavours and an eclectic carnival spirit. Admittedly, things deflate when it sacrifices this defiant originality for subservient approximation of the film. Timon and Pumba (Damian Baldet and Keith Bookman), though impressively like their screen counterparts, step into the savannah from a different dimension. The hyena-infested elephant's graveyard swaps menace for goofiness and the famous stampede scene, so delicately handled and moving in the film, is merely ticked off with a sigh of relief. The familiarity of the film is a root cause of the show's commercial success. But, ironically, 'The Lion King' can't afford such compromis
Poor Falstaff. After losing his boyhood bezzie in ‘Henry IV Parts 1 and 2’ (which Shakespeare’s Globe is also staging with great aplomb this summer) he gets indignity after indignity piled on him in this sequel, arguably Shakespeare’s silliest play. The highlight of this production (well, it was never going to be the risible-in-the-wrong-sense plot) is undoubtedly Pearce Quigley’s central performance. He’s not the jovial, boozing Falstaff stereotype: instead, he’s hilariously dour and mournful, a sad sack of a man who’s emptied of his last shred of dignity by the title’s conniving Merry Wives. He becomes the butt of Shakespeare’s humour for his repeated attempts to try it on with wily Mistresses Ford and Page, but Quigley just looks like he just needs a good hug. Director Elle While’s production has a loosely ’30s aesthetic because... why not. I’m not sure the era of Jazz Age elegance particularly speaks to this rambunctious crew of bawdy, tricksy townspeople but designer Charlie Cridlan’s silky asymmetrical frocks are a delight, and the somewhat underused jazz band comes into its own when choreographer Sasha Milavic Davies’s riotous dance scenes start to simmer.Still, I’m not sure how any production could make ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ feel like anything less than a very pleasant sideshow. Here, Quigley is the straight man in a production full of lively caricatures – fans of comedy Welshman Fluellen in ‘Henry V’ (admittedly, there can't be many) will doubtless be delighted at
At the end of this elegant Agatha Christie thriller, the newly uncovered homicidal maniac steps into a sinister spotlight and warns everyone never to reveal his or her identity. The production recently celebrated its 60th birthday and although Wikipedia and Stephen Fry have both blown the murderer's cover, there is a remarkable conspiracy of silence over 'The Moustrap'. The real mystery of the world's longest-running theatre show is not whodunit but, in its currently mediocre state, whydoit at all? 'The Mousetrap's ticket prices are the only element of this show that isn't stuck fast in the 1950s – although the actors' strained RP does make the odd break for the twenty-first century. Otherwise, this is a walking, talking piece of theatre history and – at £39 for a full-price stalls seat – the most expensive museum exhibit in London. Christie's neat puzzler of a plot is easier to defend. It has defied the inevitably mummifying process of more than 25,000 performances and still possesses an uncanny precision worthy of the mistress of murder's chilling geriatric creation, Miss Marple. In the 60 years since it premiered, its premise, in which six Cluedo-like middle-class stereotypes are imprisoned by snow in a country house while they try to fathom which of them is a raving murderer, has become a cliché, just as the authorities' response to adverse weather conditions (skiing coppers? In Berkshire?) have become a nostalgic memory. It's fascinating to glimpse the ghost of Peter
I’m not sure any show ‘deserves’ to be the most successful entertainment event of all time, but I’ll hand it current holder of that title, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – it still works hard for its audience. Sure, chunks of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opus have never left 1986. But whereas describing a musical as ‘stuck in the ’80s’ is usually shorthand for cheap, thin synth orchestration, nothing could be further from the truth here: the portentously swirling keyboards and crunch of hair metal guitar that powers ‘Phantom’s title song have a black hole-like immensity, sucking you in with sheer juggernaut bombast. Mostly, though, ‘Phantom…’ remains strong because its high production values haven’t been allowed to sag. The late Maria Björnson’s design is a heady barrage of ravishing costumes and lavish sets that change frequently, working in everything from pastoral jollity to an ancient Carthaginian theme on the way to the Phantom’s stunning underground lair. It’s totally OTT – in one scene the Phantom zaps at his nemesis Raul with a staff that fires actual fireballs – and anybody who describes the plot (homicidal lunatic grooms girl) as romantic should probably be put on some sort of register. But its blazingly earnest ridiculousness and campy Grand Guignol story are entirely thrilling when realised with the show’s enormous budget. And while Hal Prince’s production may have been hailed as rather gauche back in the day, in 2013 it all comes across as rather more tasteful than the a
Dramas don’t come more midlife crisis-y than ‘The Starry Messenger’, a spectacularly lengthy (three-and-a-quarter hours on press night) sort-of comedy by US playwright Kenneth Lonergan. It stars Matthew Broderick (ie the actual Ferris Bueller) as Mark, an epically jaded lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium circa 1997. Aged 52, he wanders through life in a mostly affable fug, exquisitely courteous but occasionally vaguely irritable, like Patrick Bateman with his balls cut off or Michael Douglas in ‘Falling Down’ if he didn’t fall down. He drifts, blithely, into an affair with Rosalind Eleazar’s sensitive single mother Angela. Though the whole young-woman-throws-herself-at-much-older-guy thing is a bit tiresome, there is something interesting about their relationship – it feels like Mark is mostly reciprocating Angela’s attention to be polite; the affair has little bearing on his cordial but distant relationship with his wife Anne (Elizabeth McGovern, good but somewhat wasted in a minor manic pixie dream wife role). The first half of Sam Yates’s production is kind of weird but kind of enjoyable. There is some odd stuff here, like the very silly scene in which a student forcibly gives Mark detailed feedback on how he thinks the course is going: it’s so daft that it should feel jarring, but it gets absorbed into the deadpan tone of it all. And while Mark and Angela are an odd couple, Lonergan is clearly trying to do something by contrasting his vision of a dry, dead unive
It's been decades since this skillful adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 Gothic horror story first started setting West End audience a-shiver. 'The Woman in Black' remains perennially popular – particularly, it seems, with generally hard-to-please teenagers – which is testament to its rough-theatre appeal and the extraordinary and enduring potency, not of guts, gore or special effects, but of simple suggestion. Ageing Arthur Kipps is haunted by sinister events that befell him 30 years earlier. In an effort to exorcise his demons, he hires an actor to help him tell his story for an invited audience. As they rehearse, though, their staging itself becomes prey to supernatural visitations from the titular hatchet-faced, whip-thin, funereally garbed woman. Stephen Mallatratt's dramatisation and a deft production by Robin Herford exploit the peculiarly spooky atmosphere of an empty theatre, making us, as an audience, feel almost like spectral voyeurs. And the chills are irresistibly effective: swirling fog, a creaking rocking chair, a locked door, a pale visage looming out of the gloom. Only occasionally does the staging show its age. The projected image of the gaunt, sinister house of Kipps' tormented memory looks hopelessly cheap and crude, and a graveyard conjured with dust sheets struggles to convince, even within the low-tech aesthetic parameters of the piece. Yet the shrieks and gasps that greet the performance demonstrate that, even in the twenty-first century, this doughty
Step inside the Lyric foyer and you'll be greeted by a gleaming Michael Jackson memorial. Enter the auditorium and you'll find another in 'Thriller', a shining homage to The King of Pop. This is a sparkling, singing and shimmying conveyor belt of more than 30 of Jackson's greatest hits. It's a bit like watching an extended episode of 'The X Factor' – except the performers are actually very good and they've all picked Jacko. What really hits home in this jubilant jukebox show, which recently celebrated its thousandth performance, is the range of repertoire available. 'Thriller' is a reminder of Michael Jackson's versatility and the unique gloss he lent to pop, rock, dance and even the ballad. 'Heal the World' is crooned by a throng of suitably seraphic kids, 'Beat It' is blasted into the gods and a silver-gloved groover glides majestically through 'Smooth Criminal'. The show, held together by the loosest of narratives, begins with a selection of Jackson 5 numbers. These earlier songs are among the best of the night: pure, funky, relatively simple and uniformly upbeat. Salient facts are flashed furiously across the screens (750 million records sold worldwide!) and the show segues into Jackson's solo career. Some of these later songs are terrifyingly idiosyncratic – made and moulded for the man himself – and the lead vocalists struggle with the quirkier numbers, such as 'Jam' and 'Dirty Diana'. But it is the dancing that dazzles, no more so than Michael Duke's confident and w
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