Listings and reviews (15)
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery
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 eternal
The Toxic Avenger
Glowing like a vat of nuclear run-off and spewing sophomoric raunch across the stage, the European premiere of ‘The Toxic Avenger’ is pretty much everything you hoped (or feared) it might be. Adapted for an off-Broadway stage by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan from Lloyd Kaufman’s classic 1984 horror film, the 2008 musical takes deformed hero Toxie and dips him in a tank of pure ‘Phantom of the Opera’. The resulting mutation is longer on laughs than its splatter-movie original, and with a real beating heart at the centre of its go-green, freak power hide. Melvin Ferd the Third is the nerd who finds himself transformed into a gloopy, hunky superhero after he takes a bath in a barrel of glowing ooze. It gives him the guts to take on Tromaville’s dastardly, solution-happy Mayor, and the (ahem) tackle to tackle man-eating, blind librarian Sarah. From there to absurdity, it’s a classic love story painted in radioactive neons, with a booming score that swipes snatches of gospel and country to augment its power-ballad base. Aria Entertainment meld its typically sky-high production values with the team behind last year’s stunning ‘Shock Treatment’ stage premiere, giving director Benji Sperring and musical director Alex Beetschen a spectacular playground of a production to run riot in. Design from Mike Lees is a pure B-movie joy, capturing the joyously shaky production values of Toxie creators Troma Inc, and the tiny cast of five have a visible blast filling out the bulging population of
This review is from 2016 when 'Minefield' ran at the Royal Court as part of LIFT 2016. It returns for 2017. The Falklands War isn’t taught in British schools. It’s never really made a splash at the cinema, either, barring a few mentions in films like ‘The Iron Lady’ and ‘This Is England’, and it’s certainly a rarity on stage. It means that outside of a few headline moments - the sinking of the Belgrano, Thatcher’s consolidation of power on a wave of patriotic fervour - its details are surprisingly shadowy for such a recent and politically significant conflict. It’s an obscurity that’s utterly removed by the astonishingly moving, sensitive and humane ‘Minefield’, a collaboration between a group of six Falklands veterans and Buenos Aires-based writer and director Lola Arias. A conventional theatrical docudrama in form, complete with overhear projector, live foley sound and first-hand reportage, its raw proximity to the lives of those who lived and fought through the ‘Guerra de las Malvinas’ is heart-racing. Three Argentinian soldiers, two British and one Gurkha move through the conflict chronologically, from its first days through the horrors of trench warfare and bombardments, and into their post-war lives of therapy and reparation. Their words are subtitled in Spanish and English alternately, ensuring a mutual comprehensibility which becomes the show’s entire tenor. Even-handed on issues of politics, it is a story of shared values, triumphs and pains. Most brilliantly of all,
Master of the Macabre
'Master of the Macabre' comes to Hoxton Hall in Spring 2017. This review is from the 2015 run. There’s a layer of cobwebs and mystery hanging over Benedict Barber, the Master of the Macabre, a spooky magician supposedly plucked from the obscurity of Covent Garden and prodded into the spotlights by his ‘magical consultant’ Chris Dugdale. Truthfully, there’s a lot more mischief to this evening of seasonal magic than meets the eye, as an experienced team builds a truly theatrical mixture of twisty plotting and illusion. The first half is an enjoyably kitsch bout of card magic and conjuring, with our host spicing up a fairly run of the mill set of tricks with the addition of spiders (both plastic and skin-crawlingly real), bridges to the recently deceased and vanishing eyeballs that explode in a cloud of misty tendrils. Barber’s patter is sharp and fluid, his command of the room impressive even as he lays the Gothic on thick. His set treads the line between the cosily camp and the genuinely creepy with skill, as he lays a trail of breadcrumbs to a spectacular and unsettling denouement. The second act is where it all kicks off, as ‘Master of the Macabre’ reveals itself as a plucky successor to fellow magician Andy Nyman’s long-running ‘Ghost Stories’. If it never quite builds to those box office-busting chills, it’s still a cracking Halloween night out, and a cunning repackaging of an already successful magical brand.
Watching clips of George Bush and his War On Terror give way to the opening power chords of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ makes 2004 feel an awfully long time ago. That was the year the US handed Dubya a second term – inexplicable to most of the rest of the world – and the Berkley pop-punks make an only slightly more creditable comeback with a rock opera of adolescent suburban inertia. Brought to Broadway as an all air-guitaring musical in 2010, it now returns to the Arts Theatre following a hit run in 2015, in a snare-drum tight production from Sell A Door and director/choreographer Racky Plews. Rattling chronologically through the titular album, geed up with a few B-Sides and floor-fillers, it’s a superficially gritty but conceptually conventional story of three friends battling their way to adulthood and responsibility through a haze of narcotic and military misery. Billie-Joe Armstrong’s lyrics are bland and sentimental, and his songs fall into the two familiar pop-punk categories of angry anthems and acoustic navel-gazing, but there’s energy and empathy in his writing that’s frequently irresistible. Plews has done a stunning job, blasting through the story at ear-splitting volumes and in a single act. Her choreography is electric, and her cast, led by the superb Newton Faulkner as Johnny the ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, attack every number with raucous muscularity. It’s hard to imagine ‘American Idiot’ receiving a better, bolshier treatment, but only you and your misspent youth c
The Donkey Show
This smash off-Broadway oddity is approaching its twentieth anniversary, and it’s back in London with an explosion of glitter cannons, gyrating booties and disco bangers. It’s the plot of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ stripped bare (and I mean bare) and expressed through the medium of floor-fillers by the likes of Rose Royce and Gloria Gaynor. It’s 90 minutes of hard-bodied pole dancers and lukewarm sauciness determined to whip its audience into a frenzy of sequins and sweat. There are some witty song choices, as the lovers’ quarrel is tracked to Thelma Houston’s ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, and some bruisingly forced ones, as the two twins standing in for Bottom are revealed to work in a ‘Car Wash’. Everything flows nicely, with director Ryan Mcbride stitching set-piece into set-piece without ever letting the tempo drop. Diego Pitarch’s costumes are appropriately spangly, and his smart set of four dais-mounted poles creates a shifting performance space that keeps the audience inches from the nearest posing-pouch. But an hour-and-a-half is a long time for any but the most hammered of audiences to maintain their enthusiasm, and after an energetic start things quickly sag into bemusement. It’s too content-light for theatre, too tame for circus, too vanilla for cabaret. Technically impressive and boisterously performed, it’s still squarely aimed at an audience who’ll lose their shit when ‘It’s Raining Men’ drops. That’s Hentertainment!
An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a joke. They’re stuck there for well over an hour. That’s the idea behind Will Adamsdale’s sporadically entertaining new comedy. Adamsdale (Englishman) Lloyd Hutchinson (Irishman) and Brian Logan (Scotsman) are locked in the auditorium under mysterious circumstances, and it quickly dawns on them that they’ve crossed over into the strange twilight zone between set-up and punch-line, doomed to enact endless iterations of the same tired wheeze. It’s a conceit that would crumple under a light breeze, but Adamsdale gamely wrings it for some mild gags on cultural stereotyping, then stretches it far beyond breaking point. Initial attempts to escape the venue with the aid of a broom and an inflatable palm tree are genuinely hilarious; all three performers are afforded a cracking breakdown scene where they impotently air their grievances at the rest of the world’s low and shallow opinion of their nation. But elsewhere it’s barren and laugh-free terrain. ‘The Joke’ says nothing profound or funny about comedy, culture, class or anything, really. Worse, Eton-educated Adamsdale recycles small-minded tropes without answering or interrogating them, and parades England’s colonial history as a bit of harmless scallywagging. Meandering and fatally underpowered, this has the self-indulgent air of a student revue show. It’s a cliché to suggest that the performers may be having more fun than their audience, but in the case of ‘The Joke’, you can
I Have Been Here Before
'I Have Been Here Before' is certainly one of JB Priestley’s lesser-known plays, a time-bending story of déjà-vu, socio-economic interconnectedness and existential dread set in a remote Yorkshire pub on Whitsuntide. Rather than ‘An Inspector Calls’, it’s kind of ‘A Creepy German Doctor Calls’. Janet and Walter Ormond are the wealthy, dissatisfied couple whose arrival at the pub is foretold by the ominous second-sight of the cadaverous Dr Gortler: visions of misery and destruction that may be rushing inevitably towards them. Priestley is an endlessly fascinating writer. His plays throw memorable, painfully human characters into situations so boldly imaginative and intricate that they remain breathtaking even 80 years on. ‘I Have Been Here Before’ plays out as a delicate if unconventional story of marital discord and unexpected passions, folded inside a fiercely smart upending of our conventional notion of time. Influenced by the work of Russian mathematician PD Ouspensky, Priestley’s play considers the possibility of time as an endlessly repeating chain, running in one long spiralling track like the groove on a record. Director Anthony Briggs deserves considerable credit for unearthing the play, but unfortunately the same can’t be said of his production, which is badly lacking in both polish and pacing. Playing out more like a mid-rehearsal run-through than a finished piece, its dropped and fluffed lines, baggy cue-bite and lackadaisical stagecraft leave the promising cast flo
Don't Sleep There Are Snakes
Pass my Elephant-in-the-Room gun, I’m putting this one down nice and early. Yes, ‘Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes’ would have seemed a far more original and intriguing proposition before Simon McBurney dropped his epic Amazonian odyssey ‘The Encounter’ on the world. Yes, their themes are similar. And their concepts. And, actually, so are their conclusions, and even some of their phrases. But that shouldn’t matter, because Simple8 are the ensemble behind rough-hewn, brilliantly imaginative adaptations of ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, so, however unfortunate their timing, there should be plenty here to be excited about. Unfortunately, there’s barely a scrap of the magic that made those earlier productions so intoxicating. In their place is sparse and wordy documentary theatre that’s neither intriguing nor poignant enough to justify its paucity of visual or human interest. In this true story of linguist and missionary Daniel Everett, whose time spent with the Pirahã people of the Amazon rainforest caused him to lose his faith in both God and Chomsky, Simple8 fail to make either of these fractures carry the slightest emotional resonance. Their script meanders like a lazy tributary, and their trademark blend of lo-fi ‘poor’ theatre techniques, music and movement bob to the surface so rarely their use feels almost tokenist. The company uses intonation cleverly to suggest several interlocking spoken languages while speaking nothing but English, but outside of that, this
When it premiered in 1985, Reza de Wet’s gruesome drama ‘African Gothic’ was a timely inversion of cosy Afrikaans domestic and literary tropes. The prosperous farm with its happy white family and kindly domestic staff twisted into a nightmare of incest and decay, a new national narrative of degeneration to mirror the darkest excesses of European gothic.Revived in the here and now, there’s plenty of horror and black humour. But without the socio-political context – or any attempt in director Roger Mortimer’s production to hint at it – we’re left with a predictable and even unremarkable slice of Grand Guignol.Oliver Gomm and Janna Fox are both impressive as the feral and child-like brother and sister, tumbling through a psychosexual nightmare of re-enactments from their earlier childhood – punishments for masturbation and wet dreams. Adam Ewan is best of all as hapless lawyer Grové who turns up on their disintegrating farm and spends a hideous night in their company. It’s traditional creepshow territory, with a chorus of jackals prowling unseen outside the house, and stories of mutilations and murder.There’s a pleasingly flyblown set from designer Nancy Surman and atmospheric lighting from Jack Weir, but lifted out of its time and place in the story of Afrikaans dramatic and cultural revival, all it can really offer is some seriously uncomfortable but ultimately quite conventional gothic horror.
It’s irresistible, that compression of scale: from the epic to the intimate; from the multi-million blockbuster to the raid on Poundland; from the cast of thousands to the exhausted miniature ensemble. The Tricycle’s Christmas show is a familiar comic romp through a Biblical Epic That Went Wrong, a rough and ready retelling of ‘Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ’, the absurdly ambitious novel by General ‘Lew’ Wallace that becomes joyfully impaled on its own hubris.The evening is framed by the attempts of a hapless four-strong theatre company to present ‘Ben Hur’ in all its glory, and their stabs at re-creating chariot races and ocean voyages, pirate attacks and ascensions draw the best and biggest laughs. It’s all been seen before, not least in the same team’s own Olivier Award-winning West End smash ‘The 39 Steps’, where it was far more charming and compelling, but ‘Ben Hur’ is never less than entertaining, and its biggest set-pieces, which see the audience drawn in as galley-slaves and bombarded with life-size cloth pirates, are fun on an appropriately gargantuan scale.Patrick Barlow’s script leans too heavily on ‘Carry On’-style spoonerisms and comic mispronunciations, funny for ten minutes, tiresome over two hours. But the main issue is that the framing plot, with its thin characterisations and lack of stage time, feels totally un-engaging and undercooked. It’s easy to enjoy the catastrophe unfolding, but it would be so much more engaging if we were actually made to care about
It’s been a gala autumn for pig-news, with our Prime Minister sticking his dick in one and then barely a month later the news breaks that our beloved bacon sarnies will give us all bowel cancer. Whether or not they’re both outright porkies, Urinetown writer Greg Kotis must be thrilled with the timing of his new farce, a dark-ish comedy of pig rearing, repressed desire and the cruel hand of big government. Tom and Tina slave away on a ginormous American pig farm. They have almost 15,000 of the squealers, and the work has snuffed out their sex life and forced Tom to pursue some desperate waste disposal measures that could see his farm go the same way. The arrival of strutting, box-ticking Teddy, a ‘G-Man’ from the federal government, and a burgeoning relationship between Tina and work release farm-hand Tim sets the whole muddy mechanism into motion. With its ominous talk of ‘pot-bellied skies’ and occasional explosions of lust or violence, it’s essentially a piggy rewrite of Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Desire Under the Elms’, though with plodding jokes and slapstick in place of simmering sexual tension. Stephen Tompkinson is excellent playing swaggeringly against type as the government inspector, and Carla Goodman’s design is delightfully shabby and mud-spattered, but it’s just all a bit pointless. It says nothing coherent about the relationship between personal endeavour and federal jurisdiction, it’s never particularly funny and its characters are thinly drawn. There’s something larger