West End theatre shows on now
Aimed at both kids and adults, Canadian dance company Cas Public's '9' plays with ideas of music and silence. It's performed by hearing impaired dancer Cai Glover, as choreographer Hélène Blackburn explores ideas of how the human body can capture the monumental sounds of Beethoven's Ninth.
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 a lot of very famous people in Jeremy Herrin’s revival of Arthur Miller’s early classic ‘All My Sons’. So many that the fact it marks the professional stage debut of Jenna Coleman (of ‘Doctor Who’ etcetera) doesn’t even feel like a particularly big deal: she and fellow Brit Colin Morgan (‘Merlin’) happily accept second-tier billing behind American giants Bill ‘the president in “Independence Day”’ Pullman and Sally ‘two Oscars’ Field. For all that, it’s a surprisingly restrained affair, in which Max Jones’s set probably gives the most overtly flamboyant performance. A vividly naturalistic, almost hyperreal suburban house and garden, strikingly lit by Richard Howell, it looms over everything like a monolith, until finally at the end it dramatically recedes. It is the hope, the dream, the prize, the lie that holds protagonists the Kellers together, years after they should have fallen apart. Joe Keller (Pullman) is a well-off factory owner, who lives in the house with his fragile wife Kate (Field) and their idealistic son Chris (Morgan). The other Keller son, Larry, seems to have died during the Second World War, although a body has never been found, and Kate refuses to give up hope. On this evening, Chris has brought home Ann (Coleman, solid in a fairly minor role), Larry’s ex-girlfriend and the daughter of Joe’s former business partner Steve, who we discover was jailed for selling faulty parts to the US airforce, which resulted in 21 pilots (yes, the band is named
Set at a dinner party in communist East Berlin, Ella Hickson’s thriller ‘Anna’ is pacy and twisty and clever and full of ingenious headphone-administered shocks and starts. Unfortunately, I didn’t believe in any of it for a minute.I didn’t believe that these people were from East Berlin, because they talk like they’re in the plummiest and most resolutely English kind of radio drama, with the odd break into German feeling like an unaccountable lapse.I didn’t believe in the setting: designer Vicki Mortimer has carefully sourced a room full of GDR-era modernist design classics, but the show’s most illuminating bits of period detail are the pendant lamps.And most of all, I didn’t believe in the story, which revolves around a ridiculously elaborate and emotionally cruel plot to root out a West-loving traitor.In unlikely company with both ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and ‘The Mousetrap’, ‘Anna’ ends with the cast telling you not to spill the show’s secrets, so I guess I’d better limit myself to explaining the premise. Which is that Anna’s husband’s new boss, Christian Neumann (Max Bennett), is coming over for dinner, along with a motley collection of colleagues who are trying to curry favour with him. But before the first glasses of schnapps are drunk, Anna realises that Christian is (or looks very like) the man who was responsible for her mother being raped and murdered by Russian soldiers.Played by Phoebe Fox, Anna’s uncertainty is intriguing to watch, breaking out in subt
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
This review is from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. ‘Education Education Education’ transfers to Trafalgar Studios in 2019. Imagine 'Teachers' with teeth and you're somewhere in the ballpark of this slick but fiery new comedy from The Wardrobe Ensemble. Set in a struggling British comprehensive in 1997, 'Education, Education, Education' combines cartoonish staffroom hijinks and occasionally gratuitous period nostalgia (a Tamagotchi features prominently) with a wistful remembrance of the euphoria of that year's Labour landslide and a bitter awareness that two decades after Tony Blair pumped billions into secondary education, the sector would be on its knees. Our narrator is Tobias (James Newton), a deadpan, Britpop-loving German language assistant whose first day working at the school is May 2, 1997 – the morning after Tony Blair’s New Labour eviscerated John Major’s dysfunctional Conservatives. Though the staff are advised by their terminally idealistic headmaster Huw (Tom England) that they must be politically neutral in front of their pupils, they are, of course, delighted – convinced, as they say, that things can only get better for their crumbling school. In the short term, though, nothing can save the fractious crew of educators from their immediate fate: it is the last day of school for their year 11s before they go on study leave, and they’re intent on trashing the place. Only the borderline psychopathic ‘head of discipline’ Louise (a scene-stealing Kerry Lovell
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
‘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’
Emerging company Sounds Like Thunder's new show 'Flinch' follows an aspiring actor and a city trader who are both struggling to survive. Written by Emma Hemingford, it's a two-hander that explores gender roles, emasculation, and intimacy.
High-flying acrobatic troupe Flip Fabrique are back in London this summer. Originating in Quebec, which has a spectacular record for churning out contemporary circus troupes, they're known for high-octane aerial work. They'll soar through the air at Underbelly Festival in 'Transit', their follow-up to last year's 'Attrape Moi'.
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. ‘Hamilton’ is stupendously good. Yes, it’s kind of a drag that there’s so much hype around it. But there was a lot of hype around penicillin. And that worked out pretty well. If anything – and I’m truly sorry to say this – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US Treasury, is actually better than the hype suggests. That’s because lost in some of the more waffly discourse around its diverse casting and sociological import is the fact that ‘Hamilton’ is, first and foremost, a ferociously enjoyable show. You probably already know that it’s a hip hop musical, something that’s been tried before with limited success. Here it works brilliantly, because Miranda – who wrote everything – understands what mainstream audiences like about hip hop, what mainstream audiences like about musical theatre, and how to craft a brilliant hybrid. Put simply, it’s big emotions and big melodies from the former, and thrilling, funny, technically virtuosic storytelling from the latter. ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the opening tune, exemplifies everything that’s great about the show. It’s got a relentlessly catchy build and momentum, a crackling, edge-of-seat sense of drama, and is absolutely chockablock with information, as the key players stride on to bring us up to speed with the eventful life that Hamilton – the ‘bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman’ – led before he emigrated to America in 1772 as a teenager
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
Here’s the latest attempt to extract some liove mileage out of Wayne’s hugely successful 1978 prog rock concept album adaptation of HG Wells‘s sci-fi novel. This time, the all-singing alien invasion story will be reimagined as an immersive theatre show from dotdotdot, who had a hit a couple of years back with the show ‘Somnai’. It's not totally clear exactly what’s going to happen, but it looks like a fancy VR-augmented visual experience designed to take you to the various locales of the story, plus presumably the record will be being played in some way shape or form. There’s also a ‘steampunk’ bar that promises to ‘use digital technology’ to change visitors’ surroundings.
As you roll into Bernie Dieter’s ‘Little Death Club’, the first sign of how your night will unfold is a literal sign: ‘Warning – real fire will be used in this performance’. Bring it. A four-piece band plays funk-rock with a distinctly pornographic twist while Dieter and her small carnival of miscreants lounge on the stage and in the stalls, vamping it up for the crowd. It’s a Weimar Republic throwback that will feel deliciously familiar to fans of Bob Fosse’s ‘Cabaret’. But unlike ‘Cabaret’, our bob-sporting brunette with powerful pipes is on top, emceeing and in complete control of the crowd and herself. ‘Little Death Club’ unfolds beat-for-beat like a traditional cabaret with singing, some circus arts, drag and smatterings of comedy and nudity. But Dieter’s original score (a little '80s, a little Bertolt Brecht), potent signing voice and playful stage presence keep the format feeling fresh. There’s no narrative arc here, just a perfectly paced variety show, gently themed around letting your freak flag fly. Aerialists Fancy Chance and Beau Sargent are standouts. Chance, dressed in billowing voile robes, suspends herself above the stage by her hair, fluttering above the crowd like a psychedellic butterfly. While Sargent folds himself into pretzel shapes so grotesque yet gorgeous, you can hear the crowd wince as they cheer. There are spots of audience participation (and humiliation), particularly by Dieter and acid-tart drag queen Myra Dubois. Their crosshairs are focuse
Magic Mike on stage feels a bit like dating in London in my thirties: all the young, hot people got it on while I sat on the sidelines. But as a voyeur at this expensive strip-meets-cabaret show, there was some serious titillation: pains are taken to remind you that it has very much been made with the female gaze in mind. The romp unfolds in a faux-club built in Leicester Square’s already-slightly-seedy (in a good way) Hippodrome Casino, based upon the Xquisite strip joint from Steven Soderbergh’s surprise 2012 cinematic smash. The movie’s star Channing Tatum – whose IRL undressing escapades originally informed the film’s plot – is behind this theatrical reimagining, with London the second destination of ‘Magic Mike Live’ following a hugely successful run in Vegas. But it’s important to note that co-director Tatum (who, alas, merely lends his voice to the performance) has worked with a gender-balanced team and the sense that this is a safe space for women enshrouds the entire show, despite it being filled with semi-naked men. The plot (in the loosest sense) centres on Michelangelo – Mike to you – a waiter plucked from the crowd and trained in showing a woman a (consensual) good time by our female emcee, played by actor Sophie Linder-Lee. She sounds a bit like Jane Horrocks and makes a lot of jokes about ‘jizz’ and the tightness of her own vagina. Most of the ladies pulled to the stage for some public gyration were mega hot (so hot, it almost felt like they’d been planted
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
Kelsey Grammer decks himself out in a suit of armour and a pair of water-vole-sized false eyebrows for this valiant but ramshackle attempt to resurrect a half-forgotten 1965 Broadway musical. He stars in ‘Man of La Mancha’ as both legendary Spanish author Cervantes and his most famous creation, Don Quixote, the bumbling wannabe knight who lives in his own chivalric fantasy land. Alas and alack, Grammer doesn’t quite skewer the comedy. He moves stiffly (perhaps afraid that one of those eyebrows will scurry off) through this show’s panoply of comic misunderstandings and makes broadly accurate but oddly blank-faced work of the musical’s only enduring hit song ‘The Impossible Dream’, which is a highlight in Mitch Leigh’s atmospheric but not always memorable score of Spanish pastiches. It’s a song that sums up the show’s more serious theme, the idea of longing for goodness and nobility in a corrupt world. Book writer Dale Wasserman heightens these ideas by giving Cervantes’s story a kind of Brechtian framing device, where the author is trapped in a purgatorial jail awaiting trial by the Spanish Inquisition. Director Lonny Price has half-heartedly updated these scenes to the present day, with the huddled masses of fellow prisoners vaguely suggestive of refugees. But James Noone’s old-school set design doesn’t make a convincing arena for contemporary parallels: it’s all naffly crumbling plaster with a flight of metal steps that set the whole confection a-wobble every time they’re l
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
Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ is a metatheatrical American classic that’s rarely performed in Britain and – I can’t stress this enough – a really, really strange play. Revived by Gate Theatre boss Ellen McDougall in what is probably its biggest ever UK production, ‘Our Town’ continues the Open Air Theatre’s tradition of putting the weirdest show in the new season first. The night is ‘hosted’ by the Stage Manager, in this case played by Laura Rogers, who introduces us to the play and the actors in an English accent. She then switches to an American one and launches into the first part of ‘Our Town’, which constitutes a description of the appearance, history and inhabitants of the fictional New England town of Grover’s Corners, circa 1901.There is charm and there’s dry wit in Wilder’s writing and McDougall’s staging of part one (of three). At the same time, his almost preposterously detailed sketch of Grover’s Corners is nothing if not wilfully trying, even when delivered with the arch poise of Rogers’s chic, sardonic Stage Manager. Part two zooms in a bit, focusing on the young love between George (Arthur Hughes) and Emily (Francesca Henry), toning down the obsessive layering of detail and adding a few sarcastic notes to its depiction of a traditional small-town wedding.You sense that probably something is up with the structure of the play. But you have to wait until part three – after an interval in McDougall’s production – to see ‘Our Town’ take an abrupt existential dive and
With ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ having just wrapped up its fourth and final season, star Rachel Bloom is heading out on a literal victory lap to sing some of her favourite songs from the criticially acclaimed musical comedy show. Joined by her co-writer Adam Schlesinger, she’ll break out some of tunes plus her own stand-up on these exclusive UK dates at the London Palladium.
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.
‘Rosmersholm’ by Henrik Ibsen is a play that few people have heard of and even fewer can pronounce (FYI the verdict appears to be ‘Rosmer’s Home’). So even with the presence of the ‘Avengers’-adjacent – not to mention terrific – Hayley Atwell in the cast, it feels spectacularly audacious of super-producer Sonia Friedman to just bung a production of this obscurity cold into the West End.And she’s pretty much pulled it off. Although clearly somewhat massaged by adapting playwright Duncan Macmillan, Ibsen’s depiction of a fragmenting, polarised society torn between extremes of right and left, faith and atheism, just on the cusp of a monumental election, feels spectacularly timely.John Rosmer (Tom Burke) is a respected pastor who has become a virtual recluse since the suicide of his wife. He lives with his servants, his wife’s former companion Rebecca West (Atwell) and his crumbling sense of self. His faith has deserted him; Rebecca’s progressive notions are beginning to make a lot of sense.Perhaps the most powerful idea of the play is that of a single man embodying a national malaise. Although Rebecca and Rosmer’s erstwhile brother-in-law Andreas (Giles Terera) literally represents the play’s political extremes, it is Burke’s Rosmer who is torn between them, spiritually and politically divided and barely functional, poisoned by society.Erstwhile ‘Hamilton’ star Terera steps comfortably into West End drama almost-leading-man status: his local governor Andreas is disarmingly likab
Selina Thompson’s ‘Salt’ was the highlight of my 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, and I pretty much stand by what I said about it the first time around – it’s a painful and poetic monologue about the mental toll of living as a black person in ‘white’ society, bound up in a gripping travelogue and topped off with a wonderfully atmospheric electronic score. Her soul-baring account of the gruelling sea voyage she took along the old slaving triangle (Europe-West Africa-West Indies-Europe), seeking some sort of peace with her identity as a black British woman, is worth a second look as it finally reaches London. It’s changed somewhat. Thompson has stepped aside. Now, actor Rochelle Rose performs her words and wields her mallet as she ritualistically smashes up a boulder of rock salt over the show’s duration. The literal differences in Dawn Walton’s production are fairly small. Thompson has a Brummie accent, Rose doesn’t. Rose is a professional actor, Thompson isn’t. Rose brings more range and dynamism to the part, though Thompson’s flatter, more pained account had an emotional authenticity that is difficult to replicate. It’s not an impersonation. It’s an accurate channelling that has probably resulted in a subtly different show. This time I thought more about what Thompon’s extraordinary trip actually achieved. When she’s in Ghana after a spirit-sapping journey by cargo ship, she struggles with what she was really hoping to get out of all this. She visits the old slaving fort at Elmi
The lovable drunkards of Shit-faced Shakespeare step onto some potentially dicey territory as they tackle Shakespeare’s eternally ‘problematic’ comedy in their trademark 70-minute edit, with – as ever – one random member of the company blind drunk each night.
‘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;
There have been times during Rufus Norris’s tenure in charge of the National Theatre when the prospect of him finding a decent new play to run in the huge Olivier theatre has seemed as distant a prospect as him inventing faster-than-light travel. And then along comes something like ‘Small Island’, Helen Edmundson’s Norris-directed adaptation of the late Andrea Levy’s modern classic novel about Jamaica’s Windrush generation.It is big, slick, pacy, and above all confident entertainment, designed to be gripping and accessible and entirely succeeding. An enormous amount of time and effort – not to mention money – has gone into ‘Small Island’. But it feels effortless.It begins in ‘40s Jamaica, literally in the middle of a hurricane. Hortense (Leah Harvey) is a young schoolteacher who takes this stormy interlude as an opportunity to share her story with us. We leap back to her childhood, as she’s sent away to live with a wealthier family and becomes friends with their indulged son Michael (CJ Beckford). Just as it looks like ‘Small Island’ about to bloom into an epic romance about the two of them… things change, not least because of the intrusion of the Second World War, with Michael enlisting as an RAF pilot.The scope expands massively: Hortense remains a key character, but we move to pre-war Lincoln to meet Aisling Loftus’s irrepressible Queenie, a white English woman who ends up moving to London, then impulsively marrying Andrew Rothney’s uptight, racist Bernard, who eventually
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 Lehman Triology’ transfers to the West End in 2019 with the original cast. Tickets go on sale Nov 2 2018. This review is from its 2018 run at the National Theatre. Sam Mendes’s recent forays onto the stage – ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘King Lear’, ‘The Ferryman’ – have all been bombastic, blockbuster-style affairs that sparkle with the traces of his Hollywood success. But he tamps it down with ‘The Lehman Trilogy’, an epic but fairly modest three-actor play that charts the story of the Lehman brothers and the institutions that would go on to bear their names. The original trio of Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman arrived in the US as Jewish immigrants from Bavaria in the 1840s; the 2008 collapse of the bank that bore their name would effectively trigger the last great global recession. Written by Italian playwright Stefano Massini, and adapted by NT deputy artistic director Ben Power, ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ could be viewed as a sort of very fancy distant relative of one of those shows like ‘The 39 Steps’, in which a small number of actors play numerous roles, to the general delight of the audience. We’re talking about three remarkable actors, mind: the black-clad trio of Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley does not represent a great blow for diversity, but they are three white middle aged men at the top of their white middle aged game, and they turn a play that might have come across as a rather dry history lesson into a mostly electrifying one. Ta
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
The Globe complements its big summer run of ‘Henry IV’ with an outing for the other play featuring dissolute knight Sir John Falstaff. ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ is a very silly comedy in which the venal nobleman attempts to woo some wealthy ladies for their purses, only to have the tables turned on him. It is definitely not a top tier Shakespeare play, but it’ll be interesting to see what hip young co-directors Nicole Charles and Elle White do with it. It runs concurrantly with ‘Henry IV’, though it seems unlikely that Helen Schlesinger would take on the Herculean task of playing Falstaff in this play too, though that would be quite fun.
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
Big league Broadway star Matthew Broderick – best known over here for his films, including the title role in the immortal ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ – makes his West End debut by reprising his performance in ‘Manchester-By-The-Sea’ scribe Kenneth Lonergan’s play ‘The Starry Messenger’. In a new production directed by Brit Sam Yates, Broderick plays Mark, a planetarium astonomer who feels more connected to the stars than his own own life, wife and family. A chance meeting with a young widow offers some hope of change – until a catastropic event leads to him re-evaluating everything. Elizabeth McGovern co-stars as his wife Anne.
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
Backwoods Barbie, rhinestone queen and all-round country music legend Dolly Parton has her glittering fingerprints all over this musical. She’s written all the songs, bar the iconic title track, especially for the show (this definitely isn’t a jukebox affair). She’s basically in it, as thinly disguised poodle-coiffed doppelgänger Doralee. And in case this escaped you, Parton pops up in video footage to introduce this whole bonkers confection to an audience of mad-keen fans. ‘9 to 5’ is a musical theatre version of the 1980 movie of the same name, which involves Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda running round an office and outwitting their dastardly male boss. And although this show started out in LA in 2005, it feels (shudder) pretty post-Weinstein, with its uncompromising focus on male shitness and violent retribution. Doralee (Natalie McQueen) can’t so much as climb a stepladder without her sleazy boss theatrically ogling her – and climbing any kind of career ladder is out of the question. Meanwhile Judy (Amber Davies, of ‘Love Island’ fame) is struggling to get to grips with some delightfully ’80s office tech, including a malevolent photocopier that attacks her with sheets of paper. And Violet – played by Caroline Sheen, subbing in for an injured Louise Redknapp who returns to the role next month – is a natural leader who’s longing for the promotion she deserves. The plot, when it shows up, is about as ridiculous as these women’s ultra-glam interpretation of ‘office wea
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