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Holly Williams

Holly Williams

Listings and reviews (71)

‘Operation Mincemeat’ review

‘Operation Mincemeat’ review

4 out of 5 stars

This review is from May 2019. 'Operation Mincemeat' just keeps coming back, with its biggest run to date scheduled for Riverside Studios in 2022. Fringe theatre favourites Kill the Beast have joined forces with ‘glam-punk composer’ Felix Hagan to form a new musical theatre company (SpitLip) and to stage a two-and-a-half-hour musical. Which isn’t very fringey but is very good fun. While previous shows have largely pastiched horror films, the subject of spoofery this time is WWII movies, and all manner of musical genres. Initially, you wonder if the cast of five can sustain their scrappy sketch comedy approach over a feature-length piece. But ‘Operation Mincemeat’ – while being about bungling officers with a madcap plan to thwart Hitler – is itself slicker than it wants to appear, and clearly well-drilled. The show also has a very sturdy backbone: Operation Mincemeat really happened. The British Army really did handcuff a briefcase of misleading ‘top secret’ papers to a corpse and send him off to be washed up on the coast of Spain. The documents were convincing enough for Hitler to send enormous numbers of soldiers to Sardinia and Greece, allowing the Allies to swoop in and take Sicily. Told with great brio, ‘Operation Mincemeat’ is less a ripping yarn than one entirely torn to shreds. It takes mocking aim at the self-aggrandising, entitled and often cavalier attitude of naval intelligence officer Ewen Montagu (played with appropriately bumptious swagger by Natasha Hodgson) as

‘Six the Musical’ review

‘Six the Musical’ review

3 out of 5 stars

‘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; some also as sexually provocative and vain. But by adopting the contemporary pop conce

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ review

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ review

1 out of 5 stars

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ has been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. There’s probably a German word for the precise feeling of frustration you get watching Globe artistic director and world-class Shakespearean actor Michelle Terry sat on stage, not playing one of the thorniest parts in Shakespeare. Especially given that, in this bizarre take on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, her husband, Paul Ready, is Petruchio: it was not unreasonable to expect that she might play his warring partner Kate. But then, Maria Gaitanidi’s befuddling version of Shakespeare’s problem(atic) play makes much of being an ensemble piece: according to the programme notes, casting wasn’t decided till late on in the process, once the company had thoroughly explored the text’s ‘mythic’ potential. Hmmm. I guess it works for Anthony Neilson – but you can’t help but pity the actors who had to learn some of these parts at short notice. Still, it’s hard to figure out quite why they alighted on Melissa Riggall to play Kate. The character is variously described as wild, raging, loud, angry; Riggall’s performance is static and unreactive, prettily demure and ever so well-spoken. She sounds more like she’s delivering a particularly earnest stanza on ‘Poetry Please’ than sparring waspishly. Initially I wondered if this would be the point – a new concept, revealing how society judges women on ridiculous standards of behaviour, even when they’re blamelessly completely bland. But everything in the programm

‘On Blueberry Hill’ review

‘On Blueberry Hill’ review

3 out of 5 stars

We never actually see the two men speak to each other – but they overlap, in time, in space, and in each other’s tragedies. Christy and PJ spend 20 years together sharing a prison cell in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. Each speaks to the audience, telling their story as if they’re taking our hands and leading us along the path that led to their incarceration. And not to give the slow-spooling plot away, but it is pretty clear from the start that their crimes will be as entwined as their punishments. ‘On Blueberry Hill’, named after the Fats Waller song which makes an affecting appearance, was written by novelist and playwright Sebastian Barry for Irish company Fishamble, and has already been seen around Ireland, as well as in Paris and New York. And there are times when you feel you’re witnessing the craft of a novelist, rather than the playwright. There are many gorgeous turns of phrase, and Barry writes with beautiful insight about how emotions can become almost too huge to bear. Although he has his characters lament the inadequacy of words to describe our most intense human feelings – love, grief – they actually speak with the sort of lyrical eloquence and radiant romantic nostalgia that makes people in the audience give little satisfied sighs now and then. It’s luminous stuff: PJ, recalling a secret trip to an island with a gay lover, describes ‘armies of sunlight and shadows advancing and retreating everywhere’; Christy recalls his wife, as ‘so pretty she was walking in her o

‘The Special Relationship’ review

‘The Special Relationship’ review

3 out of 5 stars

When we think about deportation in the era of Trump and the hostile environment, certain stereotypes might come to mind. But when Iraqi playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak (‘Love, Bombs and Apples’) began to speak to people in London who’d been deported from the States, he found ‘every interview was a surprise’. He decided you really couldn’t make it up – and put six of their stories on stage, verbatim. These are British citizens who lived most of their lives in the US but never got round to the paperwork – and then got busted for making meth, running drugs, or committing fraud. But few of them fit an obvious criminal template, and the things that got them deported were often smaller, almost silly, infractions: not having a valid driver’s licence or being bang-on the alcohol limit, met with a pissy cop or just bad luck. Throughout the show, a sense of frustration and stress builds at the boggling and often unfair bureaucracy they face when dealing with the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), not to mention, in later sections, stark accounts of the often terrible conditions in detention centres. Stories of cramped filthy spaces, a lack of medical care – even for cancer patients or those on vital medication – and a heartless separating of parents from children all pile up. One character points out that in prison they at least had contact visitations with their kids; when they were deported, they had to leave without being allowed to hug their children goodbye. Abdulrazzak’s te

‘Kunene and the King’ review

‘Kunene and the King’ review

3 out of 5 stars

When a black South African nurse turns up to look after an ageing white actor, the patient acts like he’s being robbed. He may be too frail to do much more than wave around an umbrella, but this old Shakespearean still possesses a ‘Complete Works’-worth of racial prejudice and an irascible fighting spirit, as well as a bellyful of literal spirits: he’s dying of liver cancer but won’t stop drinking. Lunga Kunene, played by the show’s playwright John Kani, is the nurse and Jack Morris, played by Antony Sher, is his patient – and the king of the title. Jack is preparing to play Lear, and after finally accepting his other new role as Kunene’s patient, ropes the nurse into supporting his end-of-life fiction that he will ‘get better’ enough to play the part. ‘Kunene and the King’ is a bittersweet show – Kani doesn’t shy away from revealing Jack’s racism, both in his unthinking generalisations (‘you people’) and his sense of being the victim in a country he believes was taken away from him. Kunene begins sunny and likeable, but is given his due moments of righteous anger about the failures of post-apartheid South Africa too. Nonetheless, as you can guess from the opening moments, it does of course grow into a story of two very different people coming together in greater understanding and empathy, helped along by the universal wisdom of good ol’ Will Shakespeare. It is very definitely theatre about theatre, and there are echoes of Lear throughout the play in the journey of a pompous,

‘The Tyler Sisters’ review

‘The Tyler Sisters’ review

3 out of 5 stars

The new year is a good time to stage Alexandra Wood’s play about three sisters, who we witness ageing over 40 years: we tend to really notice the passing of time around now (another year gone, hasn’t it flown? etc etc). Plus, much of the audience will also just have spent a fat chunk of time with their own families, ensuring every bit of bickering and button-pushing hits home.  Forty years is a lot, though, and Wood stages a single scene from every year – from 1990 to 2030 – in a play that’s only two hours long, including an interval. Admittedly, some years just get a blast of karaoke or a game on the Wii (classic Christmas 2006 activity), while others delve deeper into relationships, bereavements, parenthood, addiction. But the pace is always – by necessity – speedy, the scenes skidding past us. At first, this feels restless and insubstantial, a jarring gimmick rather than a fruitful formal device. But then something clicks into place, the show settles into its rhythm, and the snappiness of the short scenes becomes deeply satisfying. The more you know these women, the more shorthand Wood can use, and the more the audience can be in on the jokes or predict characters’ reactions, their quirks and behaviour patterns, just like sisters do. I did wish, however, that director Abigail Graham had put more trust in Wood’s writing: a TV screen not only states each year as it ticks by (fine) but becomes a pretty ugly, unimaginative way to deliver over-explanatory stage directions detai

‘A Kind of People’ review

‘A Kind of People’ review

3 out of 5 stars

‘You lot are like a real community,’ says Victoria, Gary’s boss, when she invites herself into a birthday party at his council house on a multicultural city estate. ‘This is so nice, like you’re off the telly,’ she coos. Not for long. Gary’s circle might seem tight-knit, with his wife and best mate he’s known since school, and their neighbours popping in. But over the course of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play, personal conflicts get so viciously tangled up with dormant racial, cultural and class tensions, their domestic set-up is soon more melodramatic soap opera than cosy sitcom. Gary is black; he’s been working as an electrical engineer for a decade and thinks it’s his time to get promoted to team leader. Victoria is white; she gets outrageously drunk at the party and starts ordering Gary around, demanding he show her how to dance like a black woman, ‘shaking their big fat bottoms’. Watching Amy Morgan twerk while she sings Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’ – including, yes, the N word – is so painfully awful I think I actually yelped in the stalls. So when Victoria passes Gary over for promotion in favour of a white colleague, it’s too much for his pride. He quits after angrily accusing her of being a racist, puffed up on principle – but his wife Nicky, a white, working-class woman, is horrified. His unemployment piles the pressure on and crushes her dreams of a better life for them and their kids. Nicky’s own lack of understanding about how to play the education system fo

‘I Wanna Be Yours’ review

‘I Wanna Be Yours’ review

4 out of 5 stars

Zia Ahmed is a poetry slam champion and a London laureate, but rather than feeling heightened or high-blown, his debut play (co-produced with Paines Plough and Tamasha) has a natural, easy rhythm. The focus stays small – on a single couple, Ella and Haseeb – but the combination of Ahmed’s funny, delicate writing and two utterly lovely performances from Emily Stott and Ragevan Vasan makes this a little gem of a show. It refracts light, inviting you to see a relationship, and contemporary London, from two ever-turning perspectives. Stott and Vasan are joined on stage by Rachael Merry, an actor and BSL interpreter who signs swiftly and reactively around them. Haseeb has Pakistani heritage; Ella grew up in Yorkshire. Haseeb lives in north London, Ella in south. The way they tease each other, after meeting at a performance workshop (she’s an actor, he’s a poet; both are in their twenties), you’d think the main hurdle they face is having to cross the river and navigate south London’s shit buses. But the cultural divide – and, more importantly, the cultural assumptions and mistakes they and others around them make – are slowly revealed to be larger challenges than they ever expected. Ahmed painfully captures the micro-aggressions and unconscious prejudices Haseeb faces endlessly, whether it’s Ella’s mother asking him ‘what are you doing to address the problems in your community?’ over a curry, or how people always try to buy drugs off him when Ella takes him to a party. There are mo

‘The Nativity Panto – A Not-So Silent Night’ review

‘The Nativity Panto – A Not-So Silent Night’ review

3 out of 5 stars

Pantomime is a mad hodgepodge of an artform at the best of times – but if you’ve ever thought: ‘What panto lacks is a little light opera’, then ‘The Nativity Panto’ is for you. Then again, if you’re more into your divas than your dames, you quite possibly already know about The King’s Head’s associate company Charles Court Opera (CCO), who’ve been doing their ‘boutique’ panto in bijoux London theatre spaces for 13 years. For those that are new to it, fear not – it’s all still very very festive and very very silly, with the requisite booing, singalongs, groan-worthy puns and innuendo, and audience participation. It’s just that the songs – mostly pop classic with wittily re-written lyrics – are sung with real clout. CCO’s artistic director John Savournin has scripted a secular sort of take on the nativity play: Mary and Joe Christmas are a pair of toy-making elves, living in a permanently frozen land where the wicked Jack Frost steals everyone’s joy to keep things chilly. But a prophecy has said a little elf baby will save the day. Soon Mary is visited by a bush named the Holly Ghost, who persuades Mary she only needs just ‘a small prick’ to get preggers (a sniggering joke that is overextended with Gina G’s ‘Ooh Ah… Just a Little Bit’, re-written made to sound even more suggestive). After which point, Jack Frost is beginning to look a lot like Herod… It’s all irreverent fun and the rhyming script is performed with absolutely wholehearted commitment by a multi-rolling, comedy-ac

‘Dick Whittington’ review

‘Dick Whittington’ review

4 out of 5 stars

‘Dick Whittington’ must be the most London pantomime, with a young hero who dreams of a city in which the streets are paved with gold, and eventually ascends to Mayor. Stratford East’s ebullient show revels in that fact, whether cracking hyper-local jokes about Dick’s origins as a turnip farmer in the West Field, or making digs at an irresponsible blond mayor with multiple families. There are relentless puns on Catford and Barking – Dick’s sidekick cat longs to be a dog, you see, an instance of this warmly right-on panto's theme: you can be whoever you want to be. David Watson and Robert Hyman have crafted a cracker of a show, finding just the right balance between traditional boo-hiss silliness and witty topical references. Jokes fly by your ears at a hundred miles an hour, but a good proportion of them hit their target. The pace of the action in director John Haidar’s production is a bit slower, mind, and the show could certainly benefit from a snip, coming in at two-and-a-half hours. But this panto sceptic was gurgling with enjoyment for much of the evening.   The usual plot of ‘Dick Whittington’ is mushed with that of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’: King Rat (a suitably dashing and moustache-twizzling Tom Giles) lures away the rats plaguing London with his magic flute. He then takes all the city’s kids too, in order to harvest their dreams to power said flute – a circularity of plot it’s best not to think too much about. Anyway, you know he’s definitely a proper baddie becau

‘Gaping Hole’ review

‘Gaping Hole’ review

3 out of 5 stars

So, in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, how did Andy stick the poster back over the hole after he’d escaped through it? In ‘The Little Mermaid’, why didn’t Ariel just write the prince a note? And why the heck didn’t Rose budge up a bit and make space for Jack on that floating door in ‘Titanic’? In ‘Gaping Hole’, Rachel Mars and Greg Wohead meander through various howling cinematic plot holes, as they move about a theatre space riddled with literal holes (more of which later). They have a watchable, easy rapport, and it’s a gurgling pleasure to listen to them to cook up increasingly absurd backstories to explain away these inconsistencies. Andy trained a mouse named Milo to stick that poster up, Mars tells us. Jack was tempted away from Rose by a sexy underwater seaman called Rizlethorpe – a fine excuse for some wild octopus and sea cucumber erotica, courtesy of Wohead. It is a bit like one of those conversations you get stuck circling in at four in the morning when people are properly stoned – only these two are obviously considerably more entertaining than that. And as the show goes on, they begin to examine the plot holes in their own lives, suggesting how they might explain away each other’s gaps and hypocrisies. Could a body-swap backstory make sense of the progressive who once voted for George W Bush? What about time travel as a solution for staying in a straight relationship when you’re not straight? Mars and Wohead’s tone remains ambling and amusing, but the latter half doe

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Singalong-a-Meat Loaf: ‘Bat Out of Hell’ wants you to join in and dress up

Singalong-a-Meat Loaf: ‘Bat Out of Hell’ wants you to join in and dress up

Ready to have the words taken right out of your mouth? ‘Bat Out of Hell’ – the ferociously successful, utterly batty jukebox musical – has announced a series of special singalong performances. If you know you just wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to bellow Meat Loaf’s greatest hits, this is your chance to really let rip without annoying the chap in the seat next to you.   The five shows take place monthly from now till December, with excitement surely reaching flying-flaming-motorbike levels for the Halloween and New Year’s Eve editions, where fans are encouraged to dress up as the man himself. Or as a character from the show which, just in case you’re wondering, is a daft love story about two star-crossed lovers, one of whom belongs to a tribe of mutants stuck forever in their teens.   If you’d do anything for Loaf, this is your chance to bust out the fishnets, leather trousers and poodle hairdos (best-dressed attendee wins a poster signed by Jim Steinman himself).   Mad for musicals? Find the best of the West End and beyond here.