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Tom Wicker

Tom Wicker

Listings and reviews (128)

Witness for the Prosecution

Witness for the Prosecution

4 out of 5 stars

It wasn’t all about Poirot’s little grey cells or Miss Marple solving murders at the vicarage. In her lifetime, crime writer extraordinaire Agatha Christie wrote 16 plays and a massive 73 novels. Apart from the immortal ‘Mousetrap’, ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ – which Christie adapted in 1953 from an earlier short story – is one of the most famous. Like most of Christie’s work, you can’t say much for fear of ruining the ending. Leonard Vole (a butter-wouldn’t-melt Jack McMullen) is on trial for murdering an older woman who has left everything to him in her will. He insists he’s innocent, but it all rests on the testimony of his wife, Romaine. What will she say on the stand? When Christie adapted her original story, she shifted the focus almost exclusively to the Old Bailey courtroom. Here, Lucy Bailey’s production has the gift of being in the main chamber of London County Hall. Big, austere and grand, it’s the perfect setting for the legal theatrics of Christie’s forensically precise plotting. Some audience members are even addressed as the jury. If the courtroom is a stage, this play is all about performance. Few are as good as Christie at leading us down the garden path, expectations-wise. She constructs her plot like Vole’s barrister, Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (a charismatic David Yelland), builds his case, before knocking over apparent ‘revelations’ like dominoes. Bailey plays up the melodrama beautifully, in some scenes lighting the judge’s bench like something from a ho

‘Only Fools and Horses the Musical’ review

‘Only Fools and Horses the Musical’ review

3 out of 5 stars

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 show’s

‘While the Sun Shines’ review

‘While the Sun Shines’ review

3 out of 5 stars

'While the Sun Shines' returns to Orange Tree Theatre in November 2021. This review is from May 2019. ‘While the Sun Shines’ drips with innuendo – from the moment muscular American lieutenant Mulvaney (Julian Moore-Cook) blearily emerges, hungover, in his boxers from the bedroom of the Earl of Harpenden (Philip Labey). The play takes some time to reveal that he’s just crashed there. If a script had a face, this one’s would be the picture of innocence.A walloping hit in its day, Terence Rattigan’s 1943 farce, which takes place in Harpenden’s chambers in wartime 1940s Britain, is a far cry from the repressed angst of his later plays like ‘The Winslow Boy’ or ‘The Deep Blue Sea’. Director Paul Miller doesn’t quite get his cast to wink at the audience after every loaded line they deliver, but his production definitely gets a kick out of them.Harpenden is to marry Lady Elisabeth Randall (Sabrina Bartlett), daughter of the Duke of Ayr and Stirling (Michael Lumsden), a feckless chancer and gambler. But she has second thoughts after Colbert (Jordan Mifsúd), a French lieutenant she encounters on a train, insists it’s not true love. Elisabeth breaks off the engagement and chaos ensues.It’s silly, frothy nonsense, with a hint of edge. Rattigan is playing dumb to have fun at the expense of his cast of posh or posturing male stereotypes. And war creeps around the edges of Harpenden’s rarefied world. He’s in the Royal Navy but he treats his uniform like dress-up. There’s a subversive charg

‘Blithe Spirit’ review

‘Blithe Spirit’ review

3 out of 5 stars

‘Blithe Spirit’ returns to the West End in 2021 after its original run was cut short due to the pandemic. Most of the original cast returns, including Jennifer Saunders. If you’re going to bring another revival of Noël Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ to the West End just a few years after Dame Angela Lansbury, World Treasure, took on the scene-stealing role of Madame Arcati, you’re going to need some canny casting. Cue Jennifer Saunders appearing here as the medium who Charles and Ruth invite over for japes, but who then inadvertently invites Charles’s dead first wife Elviria to stay. Warring couples like Charles and Ruth are frequently haunted by their past relationships in Noël Coward’s comedies (see ‘Private Lives’). In ‘Blithe Spirit’, it’s literal. But the supernatural realm is basically just a bigger drawing room. Elvira’s spectral gatecrashing is an excuse for some drawn-out jabs at youthful delusions of romance. While Madame Arcati is haplessly channelling Elvira and the spirit of a little girl with a cold, Saunders seems to be channelling Margaret Rutherford (who also played the character in 1945) with her scenery-chewing performance. She’s a robust bustle of beige knitwear, physical comedy and conspicuous quirks. It’s an off-the-peg ‘Ab Fab’ sketch: funny but a little too familiar. As haplessly clumsy maid Edith, Rose Wardlaw’s ‘Exorcist’-inspired possession generates some proper laughter towards the end of the play. As Ruth, Lisa Dillon – who does a lot of heavy-lifting h

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ review

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ review

5 out of 5 stars

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ returns to the West End in May 2021 in socially-distanced form with Noah Thomas as Jamie and Shane Richie as Hugo/Loco Chanelle. ‘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 an

‘Love, Loss & Chianti’ review

‘Love, Loss & Chianti’ review

3 out of 5 stars

There’s a plaintive poshness to Robert Bathurst’s stage and screen presence – a crumple of tailored linen and regret that has served him well when distilled into TV comedy-drama series like ‘Cold Feet’. It’s a quality that works to varying degrees here. ‘Love, Loss & Chianti’ at the new Riverside Studios sees Bathurst, with Rebecca Johnson, performing Christopher Reid’s 2009 poems ‘A Scattering’ and ‘The Song of Lunch’. The former is about grief, with Bathurst's character recalling the death of his wife (Johnson), their life together and her absent presence. It’s a highly literary piece of verse, wrapping itself up in Latin and long words as it weaves together a holiday in Crete and the grip of cancer with mazes and the Minotaur. Bathurst brings the erudite tone, but the frame of the poem – its translation of foreign climes and people into a string of mythological metaphors – feels self-conscious and a little dusty as delivered here. The verse, tripping in and out of the rhythm of speech, never resonates as meaningfully as it does on the page. The words don’t travel as well – or as far – as they might, on this particular stage. More poignant and affecting are the passages after the metaphor-heavy travelogue. In the months following her death, Bathurst’s widower sorts through his wife’s belongings and tries to move forward while haunted by late-night reminders of the routines and rituals of a long marriage. These quieter moments, prodding the painful links between love, death

‘La Cage aux Folles’ review

‘La Cage aux Folles’ review

3 out of 5 stars

This is not ‘La Cage aux Folles’ the musical. I repeat: this is not ‘La Cage aux Folles’ the musical. If you were coming expecting ‘I Am What I Am’, just hum it quietly to yourself. This version is adapted by Simon Callow from Jean Poiret’s original 1973 play. While there’s definitely drag involved, it’s much more of a backstage affair. The story’s the same. The lives of Georges and Albin – his partner and star drag act at La Cage aux Folles, the gay nightclub he runs in Saint Tropez – are thrown into chaos when Georges’s son, Laurent, announces he’s marrying the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician and that he’s invited her parents to visit. Poiret’s play was heralded as groundbreaking at the time for foregrounding not only a gay relationship but a gay family set-up. Watching it now is a sometimes strange experience. Wisely, Callow has kept the ’70s firmly in the frame. This is a tale from a different era. And while the setting might be the French Riviera, this is more Danny La Rue than the high-def gloss of ‘Drag Race’. Callow’s translation of the French into idiomatic English works best in the furious barbs the harassed characters fling at each other. As Georges, Michael Matus is particularly good at making the funny bits sing, his eyes bulging as he seems perpetually on the edge of a breakdown.  But without the show tunes and jazzy choreography of the musical, you’re left with a more bitter aftertaste. Director Jez Bond is careful to have us laughing with the gay

‘The Haystack’ review

‘The Haystack’ review

3 out of 5 stars

Al Blyth’s first full-length play takes aim at the UK surveillance state. ‘The Haystack’ starts off like a 2010 episode of ‘Spooks’ and ends the first half like a creepy Richard Curtis romcom before, thankfully, pulling back into sharper territory just in time for the finale. GCHQ analysts Neil and Zef are pulled into a project to uncover who has been leaking embarrassing governmental secrets about arms deals to Guardian blogger Cora Preece. They do too good a job. Cora’s contact, a Saudi princess in fear of her ex-husband, ends up dead in suspicious circumstances. As Cora spirals in the aftermath, Neil keeps monitoring her through her phone and laptop. When it looks as though she’s going to end her life, he breaks every rule of surveillance and meets her under a made-up name. Blyth has characters giving speeches about the loneliness of our digital age and there’s some pointed commentary on the structurally racist assumptions underlying the computer programmes used to detect potential terrorists (searching the proverbial haystack of British society). But all the modern terminology is really window-dressing for an older genre of ‘spy falls in love with target’, mixed in with that dramatic staple of thrillers, paranoia about state intrusion into our lives. From no-nonsense GCHQ boss Hannah to nerdy Neil and Enyi Okoronkwo’s perma-horny, computer-game-obsessed Zef, the characters leap straight out of a very familiar playbook. Their dialogue, too. (Okoronkwo has to say ‘spank-ban

‘The Sunset Limited’ review

‘The Sunset Limited’ review

3 out of 5 stars

Two men sit, eyeing each other warily, in a rundown New York apartment owned by Black (Gary Beadle), who has just prevented White (Jasper Britton) from ending his life by jumping in front of a subway train. Now, he wants to convince him not to try again, and he doesn’t want to let him leave until he has. But will his Christianity prevail over White’s fatalism? ‘Sunset Limited’ (2007) is just one of two plays by author Cormac McCarthy, whose novels have been adapted into acclaimed films like ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘The Road’. It shares those works’ chilly outlook on human nature and the bleakness always at our door. It might look like a conversation between two people, but it’s a philosophical debate about what, if anything, has meaning. It’s a deeply chewy piece of writing that requires careful digestion. Narrowing the focus to just two people makes this a good choice of second production – a UK premiere – for the new Boulevard Theatre’s beautiful-but-snug auditorium. The audience’s nearness to the stage adds a much-needed intimacy to Black and White’s doctrinal clash. It also helps the dry, bitter shards of humour that puncture the play to generate some welcome laughs. If this still sounds like tough going, you’re not entirely wrong. While’s there an underlying wryness, McCarthy holds up Black and White’s opposing viewpoints to powerful scrutiny, throwing the existential ball between them. Black’s dedication to ‘saving’ White’s life is simply an instruction from a god

‘The Canary and the Crow’ review

‘The Canary and the Crow’ review

4 out of 5 stars

Daniel Ward’s ‘The Canary and the Crow’ is funny and burningly fierce. It’s inspired by his experiences of being one of the only black, working-class kids accepted into in his year at a respected grammar school. It also answers a question he boots into the audience at the start: what was it like to be a black student at a British drama school? And coming just days after a white actor, buoyed aloft by his surname, announced on primetime TV that he’s bored of conversations about racism, and that everything’s sunny in the UK, it’s a stinging rebuke. The show arrives at the Arcola after a hit run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Hull-based theatre company Middle Child’s production is staged in the round, with co-composer Prez 96 (aka Nigel Taylor) regularly jumping up from his laptop, mic in hand, to perform the grime-infused tracks that act as the show’s propulsion and its lyrical voice. ‘Gig theatre’ is a sometimes superficially applied label, but here, director Paul Smith succeeds in making sure that it’s completely core to the show’s timely message about identity – individually, socially and how we tell people’s stories. The combination of processed beats and the twanging, answering call of the cellos played by performers Rachael Barnes and Laurie Jamieson is electrifying. It’s an adrenalising way to capture the wrench experienced by The Bird (Ward) as he’s pulled out of his previous life. Ward structures the show around The Bird’s ‘lessons’, which are essentially about ingra

‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’ review

‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’ review

2 out of 5 stars

‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’ is the second play about the early twentieth-century British explorer Ernest Shackleton to hit the London stage within a year. The plight of his ship, the Endurance, trapped and then crushed by ice in the Antarctic in 1915, while Shackleton and his crew escaped and ultimately survived, is a thrilling story. But Andy Dickinson’s new play fails to translate this into gripping theatre. It’s an odd-couple two-hander between the posh Shackleton (Richard Ede) and an unnamed stowaway (Elliott Ross), a starry-eyed working-class fanboy of the explorer’s adventures, who manages to sneak onboard the Endurance shortly before it sets sail for Antarctica. (There was a real stowaway, Perce Blackborow, but for whatever reason the character has been fictionalised here). Stuck together, the pair have to learn to get along with each other – particularly when their survival depends upon it. The research clearly poured into this production shows in the script’s detailed description of daily life aboard the Endurance. But what it squanders while doing so is the dramatic opportunity to shine a light on the evolving lives of its characters. For the best part of the play’s excessive two-hour run-time, the pair are locked in a dynamic of ‘wide-eyed amateur’ and ‘grumpy older man’. We learn a lot about sailing, but not much about these people. By many accounts, the real-life Shackleton was a complicated mix of heroism, stubbornness and restlessness, wrapped up in class pri

‘Girl from the North Country’ review

‘Girl from the North Country’ review

4 out of 5 stars

‘The Girl from the North Country’ goes west again, as Conor McPherson’s highly acclaimed musical, using the back catalogue of legendary American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, opens at the Gielgud Theatre. This follows the previous West End transfer of the original Old Vic production in 2017. Once again, it’s performed and sung with electric energy. McPherson’s book is a haunting slice of Depression-era Americana that draws not only on Dylan’s songbook but finds inspiration in the sad, vivid pages of authors like John Steinbeck and other chroniclers of the wrenching upheaval of the 1930s in the US. It takes place in 1934, in Duluth, Minnesota – Dylan’s birthplace, but seven years before he was born. Nick Laine (Donald Sage Mackay) is trying to keep his failing boarding house afloat in a sea of debt, while resentfully looking after his dementia-suffering wife Elizabeth (Katie Brayben), as well their adopted daughter, Marianne (Gloria Obianyo), who is unmarried and pregnant, and Gene (Colin Bates), their alcoholic son. The Laines’s crumbling home has become a place of last resort for America’s outcast and abandoned. McPherson understatedly explores the cross-currents of poverty, racism and mental illness at a time when deep, ugly social divisions were laid painfully bare by economic hardship. His writing is both blunt and poignant, weaving together disparate lives with tough, twisted threads. Shaq Taylor’s ex-con and ex-boxer Joe Scott and Marianne are united by the bigotry that