West End theatre shows on now
'It's a "he said, she said" situation', people will sometimes say – finding an excuse not to dig further into the details of an alleged sexual assault. But US writer Anna Ziegler's play 'Actually' does just that. It's a peppy but uncompromising look at two conflicting perspectives, male and female, on a campus rape. Simon Manyonda and Yasmin Paige are a sparkily convincing central pairing. She's kinda mousy, kinda nerdy – she can't believe someone has finally noticed her. He's more complicated, aware that as a black man on campus, everything he does puts him at risk of losing out on the college place he's fought so hard for. They race through the night they spent together, naive exhilaration turning to something darker, interspersed with moments where they act out the college's tortuous internal disciplinary procedures. Oscar Toeman's production is tight and pacy, even if Cindy Lin's set design of vast faux-marble slabs doesn't really speak to this world of messy dorm rooms, ice cream shop dates and beery nights out. As drawn by Ziegler, these two students hardly understand their own emotions, and are swept up in a college drinking culture that makes hook-ups compulsory and feelings about them optional. Maybe things are different now: 'Actually' feels quite explicitly set in the early ‘00s, with its sugary RnB soundtracks and its references to personal blogs. It's also very specific to the US, and its distinct culture of Ivy League prestige and labyrinthine internal justic
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
When ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is trotted out so regularly – in London alone, there are three big ones on this summer – you can see why a director would want to make their version memorable. And if there’s one thing for certain to say about Sean Holmes’s production at the Globe, it’s that it definitely doesn’t fade into the background. The entire show is pitched somewhere between a first-week freshers’ party and the birthday celebration of a really spoilt five-year-old. There are piñatas, streamers, glitter face paint, pink hair, loads of deely boppers, audience interaction on the level of a Christmas show and giant balloon letters. Members of the Hackney Colliery Band proudly toot and drum throughout with an impressive energy similar to that of the band that follows the England football team to matches. The real talking point, though, is Jean Chan’s costumes. Theseus (Peter Bourke) struts on stage like a sugarplum dictator in a pink satin military costume, while his wife Hippolyta (Victoria Elliott) is done up as Elizabeth II in a psychedelic fantasy. The Athenians are in cosplay Tudor with their ruffs turned into asymmetric wings or shoulder pieces. Oberon (also Bourke) is dressed as a fancy chair. And the rest look like various versions of that person you really, really want to avoid camping next to at a festival. Sometimes the ‘everything in the party box and then more more more’ vibe works, the crowd get behind it and it’s genuinely funny. At other points it doesn
This review is from 2018. ‘As You Like It’ returns for 2019. Casting TBA, but liable to be different. Anybody expecting the Globe to become a chintzy Shakespeare museum, in the wake of the untimely end of Emma Rice’s boisterous regime, doesn’t know the Globe. Actor-director Michelle Terry is kicking off her time in charge with a rep season of ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Hamlet’ that features, as she recently said to Time Out, ‘a gender-blind, race-blind, disability-blind’ company of actors. With a hodge-podge visual aesthetic that’s equal parts trad Elizabethan, Victorian vaudeville and bang-up-to-date modern, it’s also a pointed break with the period-accurate Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole regimes. Terry may be banned from using the beefy light and sound rigs that threw Rice into conflict with the Globe’s board, but she’s clearly her own artistic director. So does it work? There are some peculiarities to this production of beloved comedy ‘As You Like It’, but the pointed diversity is not going to be an issue for the worldly 2018 theatregoer. Indeed, the boldest stroke, the casting of deaf actor Nadia Nadarajah in the role of feisty noblewoman Celia, is fantastic – signing her lines, she provides a smart, sardonic comic foil to the loquacious sadsacks around her, and there are a couple of nice pickups on Shakespeare’s text that even support the idea the character might be non-verbal. A bit weirder is the ostentatious non-deployment of Terry: she pops up in a variety of smal
Although Lucy Prebble has kept herself pretty busy over the last seven years – what with her HBO show ‘Succession’ and a neat sideline as a panel show host and TV talking head – there is little denying the fundamental fact that she hasn’t actually made a new play since 2012’s dazzling ‘The Effect’. Finally she returns with ‘A Very Expensive Poison’, which the Old Vic announced aeons ago but now finally has dates and a director. John Crowley will helm a work based upon Luke Harding’s book about the poisoning of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko: it’s being billed as a sort of surreal spy thriller, but expect the unexpected from the author of the landmark ‘ENRON’. It will star Thomas Arnold, Tom Brooke, MyAnna Buring, Callum Coates, Marc Graham, Amanda Hadingue, Yasmine Holness-Dove, Lloyd Hutchinson, Robyn Moore, Peter Polycarpou, Sarah Seggari, Michael Shaeffer, Reece Shearsmith, Gavin Spokes and Bea Svistunenko.
Talk about a well-deserved victory lap. Inua Ellams’s brilliantly vivid, funny, moving drama about the importance of barber shops to the black African and diaspora experience has played a couple of stints at the National Theatre and toured the world. Now it’s taking over the Roundhouse for the summer, mercifully supplanting the usually iffy experimental work the iconic venue tends to indulge in at this time of year – it’s the centrepiece of ‘Fades, Braids & Identity’, a season ‘championing the work of black and brown artists’. I don’t have a huge amount to add about Ellams’s 2017 play, other than to note that it’s still pretty wondrous. Spinning a complex, occasionally intersecting web of vignettes set in barbershops in Lagos, Johannesburg, Harare, Accra and Kampala – juxtaposed with a ‘main’ plot set in a south London barber’s – it makes the case for the barbershop as a liminal space that unites the diaspora, as people breeze in to share stories, share a joke, share their love of Chelsea FC, and sometimes bear their souls. To this uptight Eastern European, it also seems to be a fond celebration of a certain type of performative African masculinity: a love of a tale told loudly and flamboyantly that feels at glorious odds with taciturn Western ideals of Being A Man. A couple of things have been lost in the move to the Roundhouse. One is the exemplary original cast – the new one is good, but they’re not quite in the same league, and some of the more emotional notes, particul
For the first time in well over a decade there is no new writing in the Globe’s outdoor season: a bit of a surpise given that last year’s ‘Emilia’ has transferred to the West End (or perhaps a home season of almost wall-to-wall Shakespeare is the trade off?) In any case, this very rare revival of Ben Johnson’s 1614 comedy – which hasn't been seen in London for aeons – occupies the de facto late season new writing slot. Globe regular Blanche McIntyre directs the raucous comedy, set at the famed Smithfield summer fair, which was a major part of London life for centuries until those killjoy Victorians shut it down.
John Malkovich: ‘I can’t tell you what it is. You can tell me what it is’ Really, what is the point? Why stage this? I write with weariness, not anger. Because it’s all too tiresome, and too predictable. Turns out, nope, we really didn’t need a Harvey Weinstein play, written by a man and from a male perspective. The whole thing leaves you feeling… grubby. David Mamet, once our prime chronicler of macho males and power struggles, has written a play about a movie mogul called Barney Fein. It is scathing and cynical – it doesn’t ask for sympathy for Fein. But it does ask that we listen to his story. It does ask that we re-hash all those harrowing #MeToo revelations for entertainment, that we re-stage these abuses of power again, laughing at them perhaps (although it’s not that funny) but hardly shedding any new light. Incidentally, Fein’s film company is called Find a Light Films, because it sells schmaltzy Oscar-winning entertainments about triumph over adversity, so maybe there’s a Mamet mock in here of the idea of a serious, do-gooder #MeToo play. But we certainly don’t need this easy satire either. John Malkovich has been tempted back to the West End to star in it, and although he plays Fein as wholly unpleasant, he’s not nuanced. Fein is a nasty piece of work all right – but Malkovich’s rantings are one-note, even monotonous. He’s in a fat suit, and Mamet – who also directs – makes many dispiriting attempts to wring laughs out of the fact that this character is overweig
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
This review is from the 2018 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre run for ‘Dinosaur World Live’. The show transfers to the Troubadour Wembley Park in 2019 The last time the beasts of the Mesozoic era descended upon Regent’s Park it was for ‘Dinosaur Zoo’, a puppet-based dino romp that was a lot of fun, albeit somewhat defined by its obstinate refusal to feature dinosaurs that weren’t from Australia (the show was in fact Australian, but dinosaur nationalism is a pretty weird concept). Anyway, ‘Dinosaur World Live’ is a not dissimilar idea, except that the British show, written and directed by Derek Bond, isn’t afraid to give the audience what it wants – that is, a T-rex. In fact, there are two T-rexes, an adult and a baby, plus a brace of Triceratops and some semi-obscure additional dinos (Giraffatitan, Segnosaurus, Microraptor) that parents may or may not have heard of depending upon the extent of their children’s dino-love. There’s a framing plot, which goes on a bit and may sail over the heads of smaller audience members, wherein perky Miranda (Elizabeth Mary Williams, with the squeaky-clean pep of a Butlin’s Redcoat) recounts how her family discovered a mysterious island full of living dinosaurs, which they are now exhibiting across the breadth of the UK in a larksome roadshow. It’s a set-up to introduce us to a succession of lovably unruly puppet dinosaurs, beautifully designed by Max Humphries and manipulated by a versatile team of puppeteers overseen by Laura Cubitt. Ther
‘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’
Forget everything you know about ‘Evita’: this one properly rocks. Gone are the romanticised shots of sun-soaked South America, sliced out are the filler numbers clogging the score and deleted is the simpering, blonde starlet. Instead, Jamie Lloyd’s production wipes the gloss off Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical, creating a pumping, sped-up ‘Evita’ edged with dirt, rust and grime. It starts literally with a bang. Grey confetti falls like funeral ashes blasted from a cannon, marking Eva Peron’s death. From there, it’s a mass celebration of blue-and-white streamers, flares, cheerleaders and names on placards. The feel is more Maradona than Madonna, a tribute perhaps to a country England knows best through the World Cup. Or, a clever nod to the overlap between the unified chanting and colour coordination of a political rally and the behaviour inside a football stadium. It’s a more critical portrayal of the Peróns than, for example, Alan Parker and Oliver Stone’s film provides. Yet one of the best aspects is how Samantha Pauly’s Evita owns her reputation and herself. Bounding around in a white slip dress and sneakers – the costume department definitely got the ’90s revival memo which also includes boyband braces and baggy suit pants – Pauly looks like an Insta influencer who gives no fucks about other people’s snark. Trent Saunders’s Che-in-a-Che-T-shirt has flashes of an earnest Political Science undergrad just returned from a summer in Cuba. At times it seems like
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
This new Thatcher-era satire follows a Tory politician on the edge. It's the work of Simon Woods, an actor-turned-playwright who's filled out period suits in costume dramas like the 2005 movie 'Pride & Prejudice' and the BBC's Cranford. 'Hansard' is a comedy set in a Cotswolds house, where a long-married couple unearth personal and political secrets from the past. Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings star, in a production directed by NT and RSC regular Simon Godwin.
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
The Horrible Histories books have delighted generations of kids with gross-out, giggle-worthy takes on Britain's past. And Birmingham Stage Company's lurid stage adaptations are designed to delight fans of the books (or telly series) with lashings of flamboyant costumes, silly songs, and (kid-friendly) rude jokes. Their sixth year in the West End sees them unleashing the fourth part of their 'Barmy Britain' series, which is a chaotic jaunt through the bits of this country's history you don't learn in school.
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
First seen in 2016 at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Timothy Sheader’s bombastic revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera arrives at the Barbican with superstar ratings, even if it’s lost some of its, well, superstar turns. It looks incredible: Tom Scutt’s set of rusty girders and a cross-shaped catwalk is moodily, then gloriously, lit by Lee Curran, especially a final, ascending beam of light behind the crucifixion. But the real touchstone is the show’s concert origins: characters swagger around the stage clutching microphones, or moon over acoustic guitars; later, electrical cords are the things they’re bound and hung by. But this staging also allows for rock-god excess, and it’s showered in gold and glitter. Herod is high-camp in a gold cape; Judas’s hands are dipped in silver for all to see, branded guilty by gilt.Drew McOnie’s edgy choreography turns the cast into a mob, whether united in juddering, convulsive devotion, or baying for blood. There’s a low-slung, swaggering looseness to the big chorus numbers that feels pleasingly modern, matched by costumes of artfully drapey grey marl: Jesus’s followers look like they’ve been dragged backwards through a branch of AllSaints.It also sounds incredible: musical director Ed Bussey drives relentlessly down the rock route, with an electrifying live band on set, turned up loud. There’s no syrupy musical sentimentalism – although the groovy ’70s stylings show their age, it’s a lot of fun, especially in the completely ecstati
There are some very cool new versions of the early works of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice doing the rounds in London at the moment. ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ isn’t one of them. It remains sweet, silly, reasonably lovable ‘Joseph…’, in a lavish but lightweight revival from Laurence Connor, director of Lloyd Webber’s recent smash ‘School of Rock’. Of course you’re not going to get much grit out of ‘Joseph…’, which was written as a primary school play back in 1968. And Connor and his team have fun playing with the Book of Genesis-inspired musical’s origins. Despite the obviously enormous budget, there’s a wilful am-dram larkiness to the whole thing: the cast is peppered with child performers, several of them playing adults and wearing crappy false beards, while many of the props – camels made from bicycles, towering golden statues – manage to simultaneously look incredibly expensive and like they cost about 5p. Sure, the actual Old Testament tale that ‘Joseph…’ is based on is kind of dark. But Rice’s lyrics put an irreverently jolly spin on the whole thing. (Short version: Joseph is given a fancy coat by his dad, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers then grafts his way to the top of Egyptian society through his powers of dream interpretation.) It also has gigantic tunes, energetic and varied songs, which are given a sumptuous orchestration here. In the title role, newcomer Jac Yarrow demonstrates a terrific pair of lungs and a winningly peppy ch
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
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
After spending some time searching around for a venue (it was, ironically, deemed too noisy for Waterloo) Björn Ulvaeus’s immersive experience ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’ has finally found a home. The show –a night of eating, drinking and Abba songs set in a taverna on the same Greek island as Ulvaeus’s smash hit musical ‘Mamma Mia!’ – has now claimed a corner of the O2; not super atmospheric, but at least the neighbours won’t complain. Plus by all accounts no expense is being spared in making it as convincing as possible, with the build overseen by Steve Tompkins of omnipresent architects Haworth Tompkins. Already a massive hit in Sweden, the English edition of ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’ will feature a script adapted by Britain’s favouite Scandinavian, Sandi Toksvig. The admittedly steep entry price naturally includes a meal, presumably of the Greek variety. Plus some sort of story, told via ‘dialogue and Abba songs’.
After ‘Swan Lake’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Cinderella’, another of ballet’s big beasts has received the Matthew Bourne treatment. The choreographer has shaken up Shakespeare’s tragedy and Prokofiev’s mighty score to come up with one of his most appealing works.It wouldn’t be Bourne without a radical revamp, so Romeo meets Juliet in a brutal ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’-style psychiatric hospital-cum-borstal, evoked with beautiful simplicity by Lez Brotherston’s set of cold white tiles and ringing metal staircases. Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) is dumped there by his politician parents, who don’t have time to care about him; Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) is trying and failing to escape the clutches of the predatory prison guard Tybalt (an intimidating Dan Wright).Erasing the family-feud element leaves us with a tale of youth against authority – which could seem trite but works because of the explosive energy Bourne’s young cast brings to the stage. Around a core of company members, Bourne has brought in dozens of newly minted dancers, some still in training, and they grab this opportunity.Whether stomping out their anger and frustration to the Dance of the Knights, writhing around at the institutional disco, grilling the star-crossed lovers in their separate dorms, ‘Grease’-style, about the night before or massing for Tybalt’s grisly end, they infuse dynamism and intensity into the well-drilled ensemble work. (The fact no one appeared fazed when press night h
The NT’s triumphantly weird new musical ‘Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear’ is adept both at delighting kids and at giving adults regular icy shivers of horror. The title’s Mr Gum is basically the bloke from Roald Dahl’s ‘The Twits’, but with a drink problem and a harrowing sidekick who’s a butcher in a bloodstained apron. His endless quest for beer leads him to kidnap a bear and force it to dance, while nine-year-old concerned citizen Polly tries to rescue the furry captive and lead it to freedom. That’s the plot out of the way; there’s not much of it, which makes room for director Amy Hodge to have oodles of fun with the world of kids’ author Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum books. It’s one with its own misshapen language, packed with non-sequiturs, impenetrable sayings (‘the truth is a lemon meringue pie’) and comic misunderstandings of the laws of physics. As Polly, Keziah Joseph is sweetly convincing, especially in the scenes where she bonds with the titular bear; they sniff each other cautiously, then gambol across the stage, safe in the knowledge that they’re the only sincerely good beings in this warped world. Jim Fortune’s music captures all the not-quite-right-ness of Stanton’s story in shudders of percussion, synthesizer, and musical saw. Sometimes, the whole cast joins together for the odd retro-sounding number that summons up the hard-knocks world of ‘Oliver’ or ‘Les Miserables’; the scene of degeneracy down by the docks is a particular masterstroke, featuring sailors in tatto
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
Gloria Estefan’s life story is worth celebrating: it’s a stirring immigrant-to-riches tale which saw her defy record industry prejudice and potential paralysis to become the ‘Queen of Latin Pop’. And if ‘80s hits like ‘Dr Beat’ – released when she was lead singer of the Miami Sound Machine – and ‘Get on Your Feet’ can’t make you dance, then, to paraphrase another Gloria banger, no rhythm is gonna get you. Even at its cheesiest, this jukebox musical – written by Oscar-winning ‘Birdman’ writer Alexander Dinelaris Jr – does a decent job of turning her creative and romantic partnership with hubbie Emilio into satisfying West End entertainment.Jerry Mitchell’s production, which ran on Broadway in 2015, cha-chas through Gloria’s early life briskly. Reprising the role she originated, a vocally impressive Christie Prades shows how the shy, Miami-raised daughter of Cuban immigrants thrives after she joins a local band led by encouraging and ambitious Emilio (George Ioannides). Her disapproving mother (Madalena Alberto), whose own thwarted ambitions power a poignant flashback sequence, provides one obstacle to success. The other: a bigoted record exec who says they should stick to singing in Spanish. When Emilio claps back by saying that, despite his thick Cuban accent, the bigwig is definitely ‘looking at the face of an American’, it’s an already-powerful moment intensified in 2019 by current US immigration policy. But whether you enjoy the gimmicky decision to bring a conga into the
'Peter Pan' transfers to Troubadour White City Theatre in July 2019. This review is from its 2016 premiere at the National Theatre There's a kind of melancholy embedded in JM Barrie's 'Peter Pan'. It's a story that's perched, anxiously, on a window ledge, between domestic comfort and rip-roaring adventure. Sally Cookson's gloriously confident adaptation takes a step out and soars.First staged in 2012, her revised version rampages across the Olivier Theatre's vast stage. Peter Pan's pirate adversaries are led by a bloodthirsty female Hook - Anna Francolini might have stepped in at the last minute (to replace an injured Sophie Thompson), but she wields her iron appendage with abandon, mixing ferocity with knee-wobbling existential terrors. Time's ticking crocodile is on her trail. Around her, the all-adult cast transform from Lost Boys, huddled in knitwear and clutching teddies, to furious pirates in the bloodiest kind of red Breton stripes.But before we get to the gory bits, Cookson makes sure we really care about the relationships at the heart of the story. Madeleine Worrall's performance as Wendy is especially wonderful. She's full of childlike wonder and pettiness, bickering with her brothers John and Michael. And that makes it extra poignant when the Lost Boys of Neverland try to trap her into mothering them - she fights furiously, at first, before settling into endless games of Mummies and Daddies.But then, Cookson's play always has one foot in the adults' camp. Instead
A 63-year-old woman shooting down the Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1901 – the hook for ‘Queen of the Mist’ at Charing Cross Theatre – maybe isn’t your typical premise for a musical. But lyricist, book-writer and composer Michael John LaChiusa’s work has always been more interested in the drama of an idea than in conventional tales of doe-eyed lovers. ‘Queen of the Mist’ is what the real-life Anna Edson Taylor (Trudi Camilleri) had emblazoned on the barrel she had especially made for her plunge from the heights. In LaChiusa’s hands, Taylor is a fascinating, mercurial character: a school teacher and a hustler, owing money to everyone, but also hemmed in and frustrated by a small-minded society. Where others, like her scandalised sister, crave a quiet life, Taylor battles sexism and ageism to do her ‘deed’ – a money-making scheme but also an existential leap. The barrel plunge took advantage of a leery American public’s morbid fascination with the fad for elaborately fatal attempts by others to go over the Falls. She would survive. But that’s only half this musical’s story. The truly tragic fall happens in the second act, as Taylor learns that fame is fickle. Her sense of accomplishment means nothing to the increasingly bored readers of her book and dwindling audiences at her speaking engagements, who only thirst for sensationalism and tales of terror. She won’t satisfy them. Camilleri is a strong presence as Taylor, imbuing a woman who was in so many ways – good and bad – b
Underbelly Festival's final headliner for the summer is 'Rouge', a circus-cabaret night from Australia that mixes aerial hoop, fire-eating, and raunchy dancing galore.
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.
Brollies at the ready: musical comedy gem ‘Singin' in the Rain’ is coming to Sadler's Wells for a limited five-week stint in Summer 2020. It's not a venue that typically hosts musicals but this show's fiendishly elaborate, rain-soaked tap routines mean it'll fit right in. Director Jonathan Church's production started life at Chichester Festival in 2011, before playing the West End in 2012, and then setting off on international tour. It stars Adam Cooper as Don Lockwood, the silent movie star who finds himself embroiled in creating Monumental Picture's first 'talkie'. Its famous dance numbers (including 'Make 'Em Laugh' and the audience-splashing title number) will be choreographed by Andrew Wright.
‘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;
If it were possible to bottle the sheer joy of ZooNation Youth Company’s ‘Tales of the Turntable’ and sell it, every other part of the wellness industry would go out of business. It’s strictly good vibes only at this hip hop fantasy ride, ZooNation’s first return to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank since 2014’s ‘Groove on Down the Road’. ‘Tales of the Turntable’ follows Eric (Basit Ayanwusi), a teenage boy, and his grandpa George (William Pascua). Eric’s a bit of a loner at school, dodging bullies and keeping to himself. He wants to be a DJ but he doesn’t quite have the knack for it – something’s missing. His grandpa decides to teach him about the musical lineage behind the hip hop he loves, using a magic gramophone that transports them back to the 1920s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, to experience jazz, disco, funk, R’n’B and beyond. In each new decade that Eric and his grandpa visit, there is a miniature story. A wanted gangster bursts into a jazz age bar; two be-flared hipsters have a meet-cute in a 70s record store; a couple of rival b-boy gangs start a dance-off. In the meantime, inspired by each new scene, Eric prepares a DJ set for the school talent show. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography playfully nods to era-appropriate Charleston feet or vogueing arms while foregrounding some classic, classy breaking and krumping. If the whole ‘magic gramophone’ thing sounds a bit twee, it’s because that, and the hammy voiceover, are the only weak elements. They pitch the
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
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
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
Interview: Clive Owen – ‘I’m a sucker for punishment’ Tennessee Williams’s wild, cracked, frequently hilarious 1961 drama ‘The Night of the Iguana’ really doesn’t get staged all that often, at least not compared to the big ones. And for a good three-quarters of its hefty running time, James Macdonald’s Clive Owen-starring revival makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with people that this is the case.It is ‘40s Mexico, and at a shabby coastal hotel – set on a vertiginous cliffside, stunningly rendered in Rae Smith’s towering set – there is a scene of utter chaos. Reverend Shannon (Owen), a fallen American priest and regular visitor, has returned after a couple of weeks away to discover that the hotel’s erstwhile owner – and his friend – has passed away, leaving the struggling business to his epically unbothered widow, Maxine (Anna Gunn).Shannon has other things to worry about, though: he’s struggling with his sanity, and has just ditched the coach party of prim American ladies he’s supposed to be acting as guide to at the bottom of the mountain, having committed an act of statutory rape on the youngest member of the group. He is losing his shit, basically, and matters are not helped by the obnoxious group of Germans staying at the hotel, who are probably literally Nazis. The only possible lifeline is Hannah Jelkes (Lia Williams), a well-spoken but penniless artist from Nantucket, travelling with her 97-year-old grandfather Nonno (Julian Glover), a frail old poet.If that
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