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Listings and reviews (11)

‘Peaky Blinders: The Rise’ review

‘Peaky Blinders: The Rise’ review

2 out of 5 stars

If you’re looking to step onto a near-perfect replica of the set of beloved telly drama ‘Peaky Blinders’, then a ticket to ‘Peaky Blinders: The Rise’ might be what you’re after. But, be warned, this is not the Birmingham-based gangster epic that graces our TV screens. With this Peaky purchase comes a large helping of confusion, a lot of aimless walking and too much inaudible and incoherent dialogue. The Shelby gang has made it to London and is looking to expand its territory from the second city to the capital. There’s a party you’re invited to, a few fights that break out around us, and some scenes you’ll recognise from the show. The end result pays homage to the much-loved series, but as theatre, there is still quite a way to go. We’re welcomed into a cold, dank room, handed a wad of cash with no clear instructions, and told about crime boss Tommy’s imminent arrival. In groups, we’re shovelled into side areas to find out our next steps. Actors, attempting Brummie accents to varying degrees of success, come and go with various tales and backstories. Actually hearing them, though, is a problem. The layout and acoustics mean voices echo all around us, drowning out what we are actually supposed to be listening to.   Still, the setting is a handsome one. Designed by Rebecca Browner, there’s a fully serving recreation of The Garrison pub, saloon bars where you can sip cocktails and a dramatic entrance from Tommy complete with bright lights and impressive shadows that make quite t

‘George Takei’s Allegiance’ review

‘George Takei’s Allegiance’ review

2 out of 5 stars

George Takei was only five years old when the US government forced him, his family, and 120,000 other Japanese Americans into internment. His wartime experiences are the inspiration for what he calls his ‘legacy project’, the 2015 musical ‘Allegiance’, by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione. It is a dark and tragic story that needs teaching. But this overlong UK premiere production is limp and lacking in heart. We meet the Kimura family – son Sammy, his older sister Kei, their father Tatsuo and grandfather Ojii-Chan – as they live a broadly happy life on a farm, just as the Second World War is brewing. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour, their lives are capsized and the family is forcefully thrown into a ‘relocation centre’ in Heart Mountain. Here, the cracks between them begin to show, as they become bitterly divided on where their allegiance should lie. Sammy is prepared to risk his life to fight for his country, while Kei falls in love with the authority-hating Frankie Suzuki in the camp. Cue the big issues of generational and cultural difference, mixed in with all the elements of a big Broadway show. There’s some powerful moments. But in the show’s effort to pander to a showtunes-loving crowd, the story loses force.  Unremarkable songs are reeled out one after another. A schmaltzy love story between Sammy and a white nurse (Megan Gardiner) at the campsite adds little but a dash of white saviourism to the narrative. Horrific historical moments – notably Hiroshim

‘On the Ropes’ review

‘On the Ropes’ review

3 out of 5 stars

There is a moment in ‘On the Ropes’ where boxer Vernon Vanriel (Mensah Bediako) stands in the ring, draped in the British flag. This is his life story. He’s a Londoner, he’s a family man and he is proud. It is a glorious image that makes the British government’s later refusal of his right to UK citizenship all the more viscerally horrific.  Written by playwright Dougie Blaxland in collaboration with the real Vanriel, ‘On the Ropes’ is a play of two halves. First, Vanriel battles to become the British boxing number two, before losing all his success to drugs and alcohol. Then, in the even darker second act, we watch as the life he knows in London is completely destroyed by the Home Office. For 13 years, Vanriel is stuck in Jamaica, living on the streets with no access to healthcare, and no option to return to the only home he knew, having come to the UK aged six as part of the Windrush Generation. It is a modern tragedy. But it is not unexpected. Blaxland makes sure to layer the earlier part of the script with nods to Vanriel’s future. ‘You won’t find someone more British than me,’ he declares. He speaks fondly of his life as the ‘Titan of Tottenham’. He even calls Jamaica a ‘foreign country.’ From the start, it is clear that the UK is his home. It is an unquestionably powerful drama, not least because it’s true. But stuffing someone’s whole life into two-and-a-half hours doesn’t always work. There is not enough scope to get to know the secondary characters in Vanriel’s life w

‘Paradise Now!’ review

‘Paradise Now!’ review

3 out of 5 stars

Can a pyramid scheme make all your dreams come true? Well, in Margaret Perry’s new play, maybe. Paradise is a multi-level essential-oils company that promises the ‘determined, ferocious women’ that join its team a life of luxury. And for some of them, its little fragrance bottles are the key to a get-rich-quick new reality. But there’s trouble in Paradise; a darkness is close to the surface. Perry’s play is a thorough look into the highs and lows of working for a business chain – even if one too many threads are left hanging by the end. Paradise’s new employee is Gabriel (Michele Moran), a 63-year-old Irish woman who lives with her knackered sister and ‘life-partner’, Baby (Carmel Winters). Hitherto unemployed, she abandons her meandering days of crisp eating and television watching after meeting Paradise seller Alex (Shazia Nicholls) at a women-in-leadership event. Soon, Gabriel is signed up and ready to create her own business strategy to get the next herd of ‘powerful’ women onboard too. Perry strikes a balance between finding comedy in her characters’ usually sorrowful states and exploring their naivety. Gabriel – played by Moran with astronomical warmth – is so desperate to ‘buy some sleep’ for her overworked sister, she’ll do anything she can to make money. Alex suffers from extreme panic attacks that leave her breathless and immobile, but chooses to use them as part of her marketing technique. The nervous and slightly jittery Laurie (Rakhee Thakrar) is constantly fight

‘Dinner with Groucho’ review

‘Dinner with Groucho’ review

2 out of 5 stars

Two of the greatest creative minds of the twentieth century meet for dinner. In Frank McGuinness’s new play, TS Eliot and Groucho Marx dine together in London, following their years of written correspondence. Inspired by the pair’s real-life meeting, ‘Dinner with Groucho’ imagines the event, setting it in an otherworldly, sandy-floored restaurant - probably a nod to the Margate Sands in Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’. Yet, even in such great company, this evening is meek and underwhelming.   Designed by Adam Wiltshire, there is an ethereal quality to Loveday Ingram’s production. A witch-like woman, The Proprietor, played spookily by Ingrid Craig hosts the evening. With a knowing glance and chant, she summons the men into her surreal dining room, primed with a gingham tablecloth, shining cutlery and gleaming wine glasses. In they come - from the past, present or future, to take their seats, ready, for conversation to flow.  Once they arrive, the play starts to become charming – if only for a moment. As Groucho, Ian Bartholomew is eccentric, moustache-twitching and funny. With a spring in his step, he again and again toasts the pair’s good health, giggling as he does. By contrast, Greg Hicks’s Eliot can barely reach a grin. Sour and ailing, he plays the celebrated poet stiffly, as if physically confined tightly by his rigid grey suit. He’s unable to lose himself enough to laugh along with ease; even in the moments of sudden dance, the pair’s physical differences scream loudly. But, t

‘Peter Pan’s Labyrinth’ review

‘Peter Pan’s Labyrinth’ review

4 out of 5 stars

Apparently it’s panto season again already. But ‘Peter Pan’s Labyrinth’ comes with a very definite twist. Comedy trio Sleeping Trees are celebrated for their family-focused annual mash-ups of well-known fairytales: next month their all-ages ‘Little Red Robin Hood’ opens at Battersea Arts Centre. But before that, they’re taking on the adult market: the show comes with a 16-plus age recommendation. With the considerable help of Dan Wye – aka famed drag queen Séayoncé – this is the story of Peter Pan, with a nice supply of cult ‘80s kids’ film ‘Labyrinth’ and a dash of Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ thrown in for good measure.  Here, Peter Pan is middle-aged, lonely, and struggling to keep down a job after being kicked out of Neverland. But after he finds an invitation to Tinkerbell and Captain Hook’s upcoming wedding he is determined to find a way back. With the help – well, more like hindrance – of his ‘omnipotent genie’, who bears an uncanny resemblance to David Bowie’s Goblin King from ‘Labyrinth’, he sets off on a quest to turn back time. Much of the plot is nonsensical, but that doesn’t make the ride any less fun. To begin, Wye’s Bowie-alike instructs us to ‘switch on our imaginations’ by taking out pretend keys and snorting non-existing ketamine off them. And then we’re off: this is a seriously silly couple of hours, complete with reworked Bowie big hits, crass jokes and loveably low-budget props and costumes. On our way, we meet a motley crew of supp

‘A Single Man’ review

‘A Single Man’ review

3 out of 5 stars

With his seminal descriptions of the Weimar Republic, Christopher Isherwood is lauded as being one of the great writers of the twentieth Century. But it is his meditative novel ‘A Single Man’ in which he believed he came the closest to what he wanted to achieve. Over the course of 24 hours, George, a 58-year-old gay Englishman and professor living in Los Angeles ambles through his everyday tasks and interactions, all the while continuing to mourn the recent loss of his long-term partner Jim who died in a car accident. In Simon Reade’s adaptation, directed by Philip Wilson, George’s life is sepia in tone. Choked with grief, his experiences are dulled out to become colourless. In University lectures, he teaches the literary greats with passion, but his words fall largely on deaf – or at least, immature – ears. At home, his morning routine has a nagging sense of sullenness. With the prime of his life behind him, George is an animal battered; and the constant passing of time is forever at the forefront of his mind. ‘I’m afraid of being rushed,’ he glumly admits. Theo Fraser Steele channels the essence of Colin Firth’s take on George in Tom Ford’s 2010 film version and feels entirely natural for it. Always slightly withdrawn, there is careful hesitation in each of his exchanges. Yet, despite his natural urge to remain unsociable and alone with his ever-ticking thoughts, there is wry wit to his speech. With his back straightened and a traditional English awkwardness, Steele’s playi

‘Silence’ review

‘Silence’ review

4 out of 5 stars

Tales of lost land, friendship and lives: ‘Silence’, a co-production by the Donmar Warehouse and Tara Theatre, brings to life tragic personal stories from the Partition of India and adapts them to fit the stage. Marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the tumultuous event, ‘Silence’ uses Kavita Puri’s book, ‘Partition Voices: Untold British Stories’ as source material, with writers Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood putting together a collection of performances of eyewitness testimonies from interview subjects born under the British Raj. The account of journalist, Mina (Nimma Harasgama), who manages to convince her reporter colleagues that these histories are worth telling, on the promise that she gets her own, unwilling father (Bhasker Patel) to speak, adds a rough structure to the anthology of memories. While this lack of narrative may halt its overall drive, the power of ‘Silence’ comes in its impassioned, painful truths. Directed by the artistic director of Tara, Abdul Shayek, the confessions in ‘Silence’ are handled with dignity and care. Designed by Rose Revitt with large hanging canvas screens that show buzzing projections of archive footage between scenes, the stage largely gives space to voices rather than things. And so it should be: for this is a legacy that has long been muted. Told in a documentary theatre style, it is full of affecting accounts of violence on once peaceful soil, overcrowded migration on railways, and kindn

‘The Darkest Part of the Night’ review

‘The Darkest Part of the Night’ review

3 out of 5 stars

Hold tight: as the title of Zodwa Nyoni’s new play suggests, this is a dark one. At their mother’s funeral, Black siblings Dwight and Shirley recall memories from a childhood spent in Chapeltown, Leeds in the 1980s. At home with their parents, their family lived through hard times. They had poverty, racism and Dwight’s undiagnosed autism to contend with - but even as we see them push and pull against each other, there is also a collective struggle to survive in a world that wasn’t built in their favour.The mammoth ideas in Nyoni’s play aren’t always written with enough nuance. As adults, the spats between Shirley and her partner Calvin come to the boil too fast. Lines from an underwritten social worker character, Anna, are a little too cliched to really tease out the sinister nature of the system. Still, these undeniably important issues make a necessary piece of theatre in which we see the everyday through music-loving Dwight’s eyes.Director Nancy Medina does a good job of blending past and present, with astute opening staging that has a young and older Shirley pacing the family’s living room. Jean Chan has shaped the home-styled set to include full-scale dance speakers. When Dwight blares music or is forced to turn it down, it is played only at the volume he hears it. Even his anxiety attacks, under blazing red lights, come as the revolving record on the stage floor continues to keep spinning.In the even more harrowing second half, the play zooms outwards to look at racism

‘Jitney’ review

‘Jitney’ review

4 out of 5 stars

Set in an unlicensed taxi office 1970s Pittsburgh, August Wilson’s ‘Jitney’ – the first in his great Pittsburgh Cycle of plays – explores life through the lens of a group of Black cab drivers, trying their best to make do with the hand they’ve been given and find a way to get by. First previewed at the Leeds Playhouse in 2021, Tinuke Craig’s exquisite revival peels back the walls of their crumbling workplace, allowing us to enter it as bystanders who have happened to stumble across their little world. Inside a small but effective box set designed by Alex Lowde, the men gossip, joke and argue their way through existence. But, though the play is firmly set in ’70s America, their conversation has a modern urgency. There’s talk of gentrification: idle office chit-chat is peppered with worries about the local white developers knocking down their block. Some of the men work night and day in the hope of making life better. The demands of work control them; they live at the beck and call of the wall phone.  The beauty of Wilson’s writing is its realism. Each driver is a uniquely constructed individual that bursts off the page. There’s Turnbo, played wholeheartedly by Sule Rimi, the group’s busy body and hot-head who is unable to stay out of people’s business; and there’s his rival Youngblood (Solomon Israel), a man striving to do his best for his family but constantly falling short. The richness with which Wilson writes his characters is a gift to any actor.And this is a talent-packe

‘Girl on an Altar’ review

‘Girl on an Altar’ review

3 out of 5 stars

There is something excruciating about ‘Girl on an Altar’, veteran Irish playwright Marina Carr’s new adaptation of Aeschylus's ancient tragedy ‘Agamemnon’. Pounding and relentless, it narrates Greek general Agamemnon’s betrayal of his wife Clytemnestra after he offers up their young daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice for the sake of war. But while it remains an intricate study of men and their violent capabilities, Carr has pushed Clytemnestra’s turmoil centre stage. Directed by Annabelle Comyn, the result is a torturous picture of grief. Told under never brightening, smoked lighting designed by Amy Mae, the first and most engaging section is a stomach-churning recounting of the lead up to their child’s murder. Eileen Walsh as Clytemnestra vents her story with knowing anguish from the future, while David Walmsley’s Agamemnon is an unwavering, power-crazed warrior, desperate to secure his dominance.Both are tectonic performers with arresting chemistry. Stuck between her remaining desire for her husband and despising him for his monstrous filicide, Walsh is superb at playing mental confliction. Together, the pair’s scenes are electric; a back and forth verbal battle that renders their mutual obsession for one another – even if their will-they-won’t-they moments are stretched out far too long.Carr has written most of the drama in lengthy, lyrical monologue sections. But while this is wholeheartedly Clytemnestra’s story, other characters also get a chance to give their side. Pivot

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