West End theatre shows on now
While we as a nation have rejected chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef (for now), it’s alarming how few controls there are in place to protect us from this sort of dodgy American import. ‘Admissions’, by Joshua Harmon, is a really very bad play. Perhaps in America, where Daniel Aukin’s production began, it was only quite a bad play. It is, after all, concerned with the mechanics of admission to elite US educational institutions and their relation to affirmative action, things that don’t quite tally with their Brit equivalents. Nonetheless, even in the most forgiving light, you can surely only be so enthusiastic about ‘Admissions’, which is basically a series of wearying setpiece speeches, heavy with whattaboutery, each desperately daring you to be provoked. Sherri Rosen-Mason (Alex Kingston) is head of admissions at an apparently spectacularly well-resourced US sixth-form college (or equivalent thereof). She is very hot on diversity, something drilled home in two laborious scenes in which old dear Roberta (Margot Leicester) misconstrues Sherri’s perfectly reasonable desire to have the photos in the college admission brochure reflect the ethnic makeup of the college, in a way that’s presumably meant to make Sherri look bad, but doesn’t, really. Eventually the plot meanders to the exact spot you expect it to meander to: Sherri’s son Charlie (Ben Edelman) is deferred (it’s an American thing that’s not even that bad) from Yale, and is incensed that his mixed-rac
Twenty years ago, performance artist Ursula Martinez made her name with her debut show ‘A Family Outing’, which eventually made it to the Barbican’s hallowed stage for its final performances, in 2006. In it, she quizzed her parents – gameshow style – about their relationships, with each and with her. It was daring, exruciating and amusing, and in 2019 she’ll attempt to recreate the show in ‘A Family Outing: 20 Years On’. The catch? Her father is now dead and her mother has been diagnosed with dementia. It'll certainly be an interesting reunion.
Tatty Hennessy's play follows a teenage girl who's on a mission to take her Dad's ashes to the North Pole. But she hasn't quite thought about what will happen when she gets there... The ensuing adventure mixes polar exploration with teen awkwardness in witty style. 'A Hundred Different Words for Snow' transfers to Trafalgar Studios after opening at Vault Festival. It's performed by Gemma Barnett, and directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson.
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
There are ‘X-Files’ nerds in my life who have spouted a lot of crazy hyperbole about Gillian Anderson over the years. But, wowee: her performance as ageing actress Margo Channing in Ivo van Hove’s stage version of ‘All About Eve’ is absolutely one of those ‘I was there’ moments.For those who may be unaware, the play – it’s essentially Joseph L Mankiewicz’s screenplay treated as if it were a theatre text – revolves around Channing, a middle-aged Broadway star still subsisting upon the thirtysomething roles penned for her by shit-hot playwright Lloyd (Rhashan Stone). She is a queen bee, albeit one who maintains her crown via parlous alliances with a series of powerful menfolk who ultimately can’t ignore her raw talent. Suddenly, though, everything is thrown into disarray by the arrival of Eve (Lily James), an apparently naive devotee of Margo’s whose elaborate machinations propel her first into Margo’s household, and then on to become a bitter rival. Written in a very different era, ‘All About Eve’ is not totally unproblematic in its depiction of female ambition and its relationship to female bodies. But it is still pretty potent, and apt, and you can see why it appealed to van Hove. It’s in many ways a play about theatre, and the characters are brilliantly knotty.Anderson’s Margo, in particular, rises far above the two-dimensional diva you might expect. She feels like she’s in constant combat with a world that wants to throw her away – we see little of her as a monster, a lot
Nicholas Hytner’s Bridge Theatre sometimes feels overwhelmed by a sense of unrealised potential: it can command the best playwrights, actors and directors in the world, but has yet to really knock it out of the park with a piece of new writing. Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of Harriet Lane’s acclaimed debut novel ‘Alys, Always’ isn’t a classic, but it goes down pretty smooth, a smart, slick psychodrama with a mischievous satirical undercurrent. As Hytner’s production begins the unremarkable Frances (Joanne Froggatt) witnesses a car overturn on a country road. Shocked, she tries to comfort the dying passenger: a woman named Alys. Returning to her job as arts desk dogsbody for an Observer-like Sunday newspaper, Frances tries to move past the accident, and initially rebuffs a request from Alys’s family to meet and talk. But when she realises Alys’s widowed husband is heavyweight author Laurence Kyte (Robert Glenister), an ambition to enter his world is kindled: at first just a spark; later a bonfire. There’s a fascinating tension here between Frances’s increasingly disturbing behaviour, and a sense that it’s at least somewhat mitigated by the ghastliness of the people she’s forcing herself upon. The Kytes aren’t evil, but they are shallow, rich and silly, allowing themselves to be led by their impulses and emotions. The introspective, analytical Frances finds it shocking easy to manipulate them. Joanne Froggatt of ‘Downton Abbey’ fame is good as Frances, a put-upon young woma
Look: there’s a strong chance you’re reading this because you’re a Tom Hiddleston fan, so here’s something for the Tom Hiddleston fans. There is a scene in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Harold Pinter’s reverse chronology adultery drama ‘Betrayal’ in which his character, Robert, is told by Zawe Ashton’s character Emma – his wife – that she has been having an affair with his best friend Jerry (Charlie Cox) for years. Posh, self-assured Robert’s language would suggest he is savagely sanguine about this: but Hiddleston’s eyes are heartbreakingly wet. Maybe he’s got some sort of clever trick or whatnot, but it’s a genuinely remarkable piece of acting, in a genuinely remarkable performance. Really, though, the triumph here belongs to director Jamie Lloyd. Directing ‘Betrayal’ as the culmination of his Pinter at the Pinter season of all of the late playwright’s one-act plays, there have to be very few people alive – or indeed dead – who understand Pinter in the way Lloyd does, and it shows here. ‘Betrayal’ is notionally Pinter’s most accessible play, and is staged frequently, often safe productions with celebrity casts. But I’ve never seen a version before that has made such sense of it for me, and has been so daring in the staging. Usually, it is taken fairly literally, as a realist drama about an affair. Here, it touches on more fundamental questions of human nature and identity. In a way that absolutely connects ‘Betrayal’ to the playwright’s earlier, stranger work, Lloyd make
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
Marianne Elliott’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical comedy ‘Company’ was announced at what felt like some point in the late Cretaceous Period. And we knew from the get-go that the lead role of terminally single 35-year-old New Yorker Bobby (a man) would be gender switched to Bobbie (a woman), played by Rosalie Craig. The potential for this to be a novelty hung over it… but now that it’s here I’m going to cheerily declare that Elliott has found hidden depths in what was already a stone-cold classic. In 2018, when the borderline geriatric likes of Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig still regularly play sexy bachelors, the notion of a 35-year-old man being under any great pressure to settle down seems kind of quaint. But there is, of course, intense pressure for women to do so, before society deems them wanting for letting their youth and fertility run out. The nagging concerns heaped upon Bobbie for her singledom make total, crystal clear, perfectly realised sense. (NB Bobbie is straight, with the hopeless trio of lovers now men – a move that takes a certain misogynist sting out of the writing). ‘One is lonely and two is boring’ runs Sondheim’s most pithy summation of Bobbie’s dilemma, and it’s intentionally never resolved. Craig is immaculate as a hazy woman trapped in an existential funk. Her coupled-up friends have committed to things, and it hasn’t made them happy. So Bobbie remains an outsider in her own life, committed to nothing, a permanent glass of bourbon her
In Mark Haddon's mega-successful novel, 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time', we see the world from the askew perspective of Christopher, a teenage maths genius whose apparent – but never explicitly stated – autism leads him on a strange and revelatory quest in pursuit of the killer of his next door neighbour's dog. The genius of the book is that Christopher's total lack of self-awareness or comprehension of the world around him is so perfectly conveyed by Haddon that the reader must fill in numerous blanks as to what is really going on. Inevitably a stage adaptation must either fill in the blanks itself or come across as impossibly difficult, and while there are plenty of leftfield flourishes in Marianne Elliott's production, adapting playwright Simon Stephens has, probably wisely, dispensed with most of the ambiguities and distortions of the book. In normalising the narrative, Stephens has opened the gates for some truly stellar performances. Luke Treadaway is astonishing as Christopher: with his ramrod straight posture, nervously twitching hands and high, precise voice he is strange, funny, brave and sympathetic. But he is also pitiless. Trapped in a world where metaphors and common sense and the colour yellow and his parents' touch will always seem impossibly alien to him, he is without any sentiment. It is devastating to realise, as the play goes on, that in any conventional sense of the word he will never 'love' his mum and dad, and that the strain of
I was a liiiittle apprehensive when it was announced that for his next trick US provocateur Bruce Norris – he of caustic race relations drama ‘Clybourne Park’ – would write a drama about a group of convicted sex offenders.In fact, the subject matter seems to have brought out the best in the oft-glib Norris. ‘Downstate’ is a very, very knotty drama which takes a deeply ambivalent but ultimately sensitive look at the lives and motivations of its four sex-offender protagonists. There are jokes, but they’re not in (excessively) poor taste. Instead, Norris and director Pam MacKinnon – the show is a co-production with Chicago’s legendary Steppenwolf Theatre Company – approach the main characters with a kind of caustic tenderness. Fred (Francis Guinan), Dee (K Todd Freeman), Gio (Glenn Davis) and Felix (Eddie Torres) are on the Illinois sex offenders’ register, for a range of offences which are revealed as the show wears on. Unable to go anywhere near schools or places where children gather, they live in a government-owned home way downstate – Chicago is out – where they are heavily monitored, most directly by Cecilia Noble’s perma-pissed-off police officer Ivy.The quartet are a diverse bunch in terms of age, race and sexuality. All that really unites them is their gender and their overweening self-pity. And sometimes it’s difficult to entirely disagree. Davis’s pugnacious, motormouthed Gio may be a bit of a dick, but his actual offence – as he tells it – would appear to be relativ
Christopher Marlowe’s play about a foolish king, madly in love with his ‘minion’ Piers Gaveston, and the outraged court who seek to get rid of them both, finds flaws on both sides. The sneering snobbery of the earls who take against Gaveston for being a lowborn ‘upstart’ – and, it is implied, against the king for taking a man as a lover – is wildly unappealing, but Edward is also a capricious and injudicious ruler, showering favourites with titles and trifles while the country is in financial ruin and his soldiers go unpaid. It’s hard to root for, or feel for, either side here. The sexual attraction between Edward and Gaveston is dealt with without any coyness – they’re snogging from the get-go – but there’s not much sizzle there. Tom Stuart as Edward smooches and smises at his beloved, and has a nice line in blinkered, babyish petulance, but there are few real sparks. Without that chemistry, it’s not totally clear what Gaveston’s appeal is, or why he’s so very enraging, either; Beru Tessema is smooth and confident in the role, but doesn’t really animate this Marmite figure. Apart from the straightforward depiction of gay love, Nick Bagnall directs a very staid, traditional sort of production – nothing to frighten the purists but not much to excite anyone else either, unless you consider a bit of (extremely pretty) music on the West African kora exotic. There’s period costume, minimal set and props, and a lot of declamatory acting that delivers the verse, but not much meani
Transferring from the Globe, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play about the seventeenth-century poet Emilia Bassano Lanier has already been widely heralded as ‘rousing’ – and it certainly is that. It rouses the audience right to their feet. They whoop and cheer the barnstorming feminist speeches, and literally boo the bad oppressive men. It is incredibly heartening to hear unabashed feminist rhetoric, spoken by a diverse all-female cast, in a commercial theatre space. And Lloyd Malcolm has uncovered a cracking historical character: Emilia was one of the first published female poets, and a possible candidate for the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets. She provides a clear way in for discussing the centuries-long silencing of women, the oppression they have faced – and still face today. And you’re never far from a totally topical line, the mix of past and present underlined by Lloyd Malcolm’s use of cheerfully anachronistic slangy contemporary phrases. It can be really fun; this is a gently meta-theatrical and very jolly historical romp of a show, in the mould of ‘Nell Gwyn’ or ‘Shakespeare in Love’. The winkingly modern perspective on the nonsense men spouted and women were expected to put up with is frequently amusing. But the writing and delivery can also be dreadfully on the nose. Our problems are not the same as those of women 400 years ago. It makes the feminist arguments broad and, well, pretty basic. Emilia is too often a cipher rather than a living breathing character. She
Avant-garde theatre director Simon McBurney's take on Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' astonished audiences with its realistic magic effects and rich, otherworldly atmosphere. Now it's back at the ENO for a fresh revival. It follows Prince Tamino and his birdcatcher friend on their journey to rescue a lost princess, with the help of some enchanted musical instruments. The cast includes Lucy Crowe, Rupert Charlesworth, and Thomas Oliemans. Ben Gernon conducts.
Franz Lehár‘s winsome comic opera follows a rich and glamorous young widow as she flirts with a notorious womaniser. This new production is directed by Max Webster, who's better known for theatre productions like the Old Vic's sumptuous 'Fanny and Alexander', or offbeat family musical 'The Lorax' - he should bring out all the fun in this intrigue-filled drama. Kritiina Poska conducts.
‘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’
Well, hello perfect! Great shows are rare; flawless ones happen only under a blue moon. But Dominic Cooke’s revival of this wry, classy American musical, back for an encore at the National Theatre, is both of the above. Go in your bleakest mood: I guarantee you will float out into a world where middle-aged bores look like romantic heroes, OAPs could tap-dance brilliantly at the drop of a hat, and just about everything seems a little bit Sondheim. Take your mum, take your grandmother, take your ex or go solo - just don’t miss this, it’s flawless. The genius thing about Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical is that it starts at the end of love: the opposite of the golden-age musicals it looks back on, which tend to end at the start, with a quartet of youngsters high-stepping into the sunset. Its story – the merest wisp of a thing – is set in a ruined theatre that formerly housed dance revue ‘Weismann’s Follies’. The occasion is a showgirls’ reunion. But the party is just a nostalgic, boozy excuse to assemble the most extraordinary troupe of ordinary women on stage. Once upon a time, they were Weismann’s ‘girls’. Now, they’re wisecracking post-menopausal dames with feet to cut loose, heartbreak to holler about, and philandering husbands to call out. And that’s it, essentially. Except for Sondheim’s music – hit after hit after hit, lavishly, emotionally, immaculately put together by the exceptional 40-strong ensemble and 21-piece orchestra – frequently while dancing backwards in hee
Writer/director Enda Walsh and actor Cillian Murphy join forces yet again to present this new stage adaptation of Max Porter’s devastating novel. In a London flat, two boys try to cope with the pain of their mother’s death, while their father tries desperately to move on. They are visited by Crow, who will not leave until they are healed.
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
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
Laura Wade’s very enjoyable satire ‘Home, I'm Darling’ is now settling in at its third home, after opening at Theatr Clwyd in Mold (it’s directed by the theatre’s boss Tamara Harvey), and then coming to the National last year. It’s a social comedy about Judy and Johnny, a couple whose fondness for the 1950s goes so far that they not only embrace jive dancing and swing skirts but also outdated gender roles: Judy quits her job to become a housewife who spends her days cleaning and cooking. Unsurprisingly, paradise turns out not to be a primrose fitted kitchen after all – and Judy’s staying at home soon has ramifications on their relationship, as well as their finances. Wade’s concept is a cute one, taking a slightly eye-roll-inducing facet of modern life – our fetishisation of all thing retro – to extremes. It stretches credulity at times, but is very well put together, with full-bodied characters, sub-plots and back-stories, plenty of amusingly astute lines, and a good slug of social commentary. Much of the latter is delivered by Judy’s sensible mother – a feminist who’s exasperated by her daughter’s faked, primped feminine domesticity. This is not what she marched for, she rages, before pointing out that the real 1950s were shit for anyone who wasn’t a straight white man. It’s implied that this obsessive homemaking is, in fact, Judy’s own form of rebellion: she was brought up in a commune, where they ate lentil lasagne and no-one did any cleaning on principle. Her counter
London's most notorious murderer is stalking the stage of the Coliseum in this newly commissioned opera. But hopefully this take is a bit more sensitive than some of the more ghoulish Ripper yarns out there. Emma Jenkins' libretto puts all the focus on the group of women who are drawn together in 1880s Whitechapel as trouble looms, and interrogates the hypocrisy of Victorian morality. British composer Iain Bell is taking on the project as his follow-up to other explorations of London's history, including 'The Harlot's Progress'(2013), and 'In Parenthesis'(2016). His emotive score will be sung by performers including Alan Opie, Lesley Garrett, and Claudia Boyle. Martyn Brabbins and ENO boss Daniel Kramer direct.
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
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
Shakespeare’s history plays are heavy things. They’re the Irish stews of theatre, filled with chunks of banishments, lumps of plotting, blobs of battles, knobs of horse-related humour and… you get the idea. Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton’s co-production of Richard II, however, is the opposite. The directorial duo take the story of a feeble king overseeing a divided England and comb through it, making the parts that matter to them shine out, and the rest gently fade away. At the same time, they add a layer of significance by having it performed by a company of women of colour – making this the first time a major UK theatre has ever (EVER) staged a Shakespeare play where this has been the case. Andoh does double duty by also performing the title role. This is not an ego-driven decision: Andoh was basically born to play Richard. And it’s pretty apparent she’s massively enjoying doing so. As the capricious monarch, she segues from being ‘that guy’ (the man-spreading, laughing at his own jokes, copping-a-cheeky-feel guy) into a man-child incapable of trusting his own mind. There are several other top-notch performances. Doña Croll does full justice to John of Gaunt’s famous ‘this scepter’d isle’ speech, making it a sad reflection and an even worse premonition. Sarah Niles is also brilliant as Bolingbroke, so confident in his chances of succeeding Richard he’s barely breaking sweat. But if there’s a standout, it’s Shobna Gulati as the Duke of York. She sweeps through proceed
Probably more like a posh tribute band than anything so organised as a jukebox musical, ‘Rip It Up – The 60s’ features three erstwhile boyband types – McFly’s Harry Judd, JLS’s Aston Merrygold and The Wanted’s Jay McGuinness – and, for some reason, Olympic gymnast Louis Smith join forces for a celebration of all things ‘60s. Merrygold and McGuinness will sing, Judd will drum, and Smith will perform ‘the amazing gymnastic feats that made him one of our most successful Olympians’ as they tackle the hits of pop music’s greatest decade, from The Beatles and the Stones to James Brown and The Supremes. It sounds bizarre, but clearly it’s going to be banger after banger, and if you’re into the music of the decade plus gymnastics, it should be a treat.
Carlos Acosta’s production of ‘Don Quixote’ for the Royal Ballet seemed a somewhat awkward fit when it premiered in 2013. This is a ballet of OTT slapstick humour and exuberant passions, its gossamer-thin storyline merely a vehicle for showstopping party pieces from the principals, and the RB dancers seemed to struggle to find their feet in it. It’s a pleasant surprise, then, to find how well it has bedded in – even without Acosta’s megawatt presence on stage. There’s a real sense of fun, and not just from the comic duo of Quixote and Sancho Panza (Christopher Saunders and David Yudes), whose picaresque antics are the backdrop to the main focus of the ballet, the love story of Kitri and Basilio. Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov don’t have a partnership that produces passionate sparks, but both dancers have such dazzling technique and utter confidence in each other that they are a sheer joy to watch – and on opening night drew audible gasps of delight from the audience. By the dazzling final pas de deux the grinning pair seemed locked in an ecstatic game of ‘beat that!’, with each solo of firework finale moves upping the ante a touch more. They rightly received a standing ovation. But there’s plenty for the rest of the company to get their teeth into in this warmly inclusive production. Ryoichi Hirano’s strutting matador is fabulously macho, and Laura Morera is perfect as the wildly gesticulating street dancer Mercedes. Itziar Mendizabal and Valentino Zucchetti throw th
‘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;
Interview: Rachel Chavkin ‘I think it's funny that I'm a Broadway director’ Arthur Miller was bitterly disappointed when his play ‘The American Clock’ flopped on Broadway, opening and closing in the November of 1980.And, sure, of course he would be, but you have to wonder how exactly he was expecting a three-hour-long, virtually plot-free, vignette-based docu-drama about the Great Depression to go down, exactly.Now revived at the Old Vic by all-round US visionary Rachel Chavkin, ‘The American Clock’ is still a pretty tough sell. But it’s a tough sell that’s frequently magnificent, and that also feels nauseatingly prescient. Its kaleidoscopic vision of an advanced society sleepwalking into an essentially self-inflicted disaster is certainly painfully relevant to Britain’s current interests.A more successful 1986 National Theatre version of ‘The American Clock’ presented it as a sort of cabaret, and that’s the vibe Chavkin has gone for here. The play is staged in the round, with a live jazz band, and veteran American actor Clarke Peters as a sort of master of ceremonies. He’s Robertson, the show’s narrator, a man who becomes uneasy about the madly rocketing US stock market of 1929 and discreetly cashes out. Immune to the carnage that follows, he acts as our guide, introducing us to the winners and losers of the crash – from the tapdancing General Electric boss who declares himself done with capitalism, to the stock-market sage who staggers out of a speakeasy in numb shock as
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
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
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
It’s Arthur Miller time for London theatre this year. ‘Death of a Salesman’ hits the Young Vic in May, a female-led ‘The Crucible’ is coming to The Yard in March, and the Old Vic is going for a double whammy with ‘The American Clock’ followed by ‘All My Sons’. But first there’s this, a West End opening for a lesser-known slice of the Miller archive, inspired (like ‘The American Clock’) by the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression. NYC cop Victor Franz (Brendan Coyle) arrives at the brownstone apartment containing his now-dead parents’ furniture to sell it. Simon Higlett’s set design has the massive mound of chairs, bureaus, dressers, chairs, tables and more chairs climbing up the walls and exploding on to the ceiling, like the tornado from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ just hit. Vic’s sale of the whole caboodle is interrupted by the surprise appearance of his brother Walter (Adrian Lukis). Unlike Vic who sacrificed his education to look after their ailing father, Walt escaped the gloom and became a wealthy surgeon. On its premiere in 1968, ‘The Price’ was a bit of critical flop. This revival – a transfer from the Theatre Royal Bath – suggests it’s a genuinely good play, albeit not as good as Miller’s better-known output. It would take a brave soul to claim it’s in the same category as ‘The Crucible’. But the play’s quality comes from its slippery, hard-to-read characters and, in this excellent production, the actors performing them. David Suchet is the standout, makin
The Royal Court is marking the 29th March (aka Brexit day) with this link-up between over a thousand singers and musicians from across the EU. It's a live version of a colossally ambitious concept album by Matthew Herbert and the Great Britain and Gibraltar European Union Membership Referendum Big Band. They've recorded tracks across the UK, with sounds including fighter planes, Ford Fiestas and endangered species. And, appropriately given the Royal Court setting, it'll also include words from much-admired avant garde theatre legend Caryl Churchill.
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
Is a feelgood jukebox musical the absolute best medium to tell a story about domestic abuse? Put crudely, that is the problem at the heart of big-budget global premiere ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’. The erstwhile Anna Mae Bullock’s eventful life and beloved back catalogue are perfect subjects for adaptation. But too often Phyllida Lloyd’s production struggles to make a sensitive synthesis of the two.Where ‘Tina’ undoubtedly succeeds is in the casting of its lead. Broadway performer Adrienne Warren is virtually unknown over here, but it’s instantly apparent why she was tapped up for this. She doesn’t so much imitate Turner as channel her: her technically dazzling but achingly world-weary gale of a voice feels like it should be coming out of a woman decades, if not centuries, older. And while Warren doesn’t really look anything like Turner, she perfectly captures that leggy, rangy, in-charge physicality. From a musical standpoint, she virtually carries the show, singing nigh-on every song and even giving us an encore at the end.Almost as good is heavyweight Brit actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who brings a demonic charisma to the role of Ike Turner. Tina’s abusive bandleader and husband is monstrous in his self-pitying, manipulative rage, but it’s not hard to see the appeal of his raw wit and powerful sense of certainty. It is a deadly serious performance.But the talented creative team of director Lloyd and writer Katori Hall never really crack the correct way to use their lea
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