Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013: Nick's Theatre Review of the Year

Hello! My name is Elder Nick,
And I would like to share with you the most amazing year.

Here we are again then with another review of my theatre year in London and... thereabouts. Thanks for coming along and reading what I've had to say. I say reading, judging by my blog hit stats most of you are just here to look at the pictures, which is fine, it's what "The Internet" is mainly for. Later on I'll be listing my most loved and hated shows, and announcing what's following 2012's Shivered as my 2013 Show of the Year. But before that let's see what was new, what bizarre theatrical memes kept coming back, and what awards I feel like giving out along the way, pretty much arbitrarily. Seriously, I can barely get excited about the likes of the Olivier or Evening Standard awards any more, with their old-fashioned Best Actor or Best Actress type gubbins, when I've got the likes of Best Nipples to announce.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Theatre review: Protest Song

It's a long time since Rhys Ifans was a regular face at the National Theatre but he returns now to take up residence in The Shed as Danny, a homeless alcoholic who's spent the last seven years sleeping on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. The Square Mile is his idea of the perfect place for rough sleepers, as there's business people to beg cash from during the day, but nobody lives there so it's quiet at night. Things start to get a lot less quiet in the winter of 2011 though, as Tim Price's Protest Song is about what happens when someone who has no choice but to sleep rough is faced with hundreds of people who are doing it to make a political statement. St Paul's was of course the focal point of the Occupy London movement, and so for some months Danny shares his home with the protesters.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Theatre review: Meet Me In St Louis

A 1944 Judy Garland film a couple of whose songs became enduring standards, the 1989 stage adaptation evidently didn't become quite as iconic, as it's only getting its UK premiere 26 years later. I'm not huge on old-fashioned musicals but Robert McWhir at the Landor has a good track record with them so Meet Me In St Louis was a good bet for a bit of a break over Christmas. Apparently based on a number of short stories, it's evident in the rather vague storyline that follows the Smith family of St Louis over the year 1903, as they anticipate the World's Fair opening in their town the following year. Along the way the two eldest daughters fall in love, and as Christmas approaches they face the possibility of having to leave the place they were born as their father plans to move the family to New York.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Theatre review: The Duck House

In May 2009, a story broke about the biggest Parliamentary scandal in... well, in about a week, realistically. They're not exactly thin on the ground, Parliamentary scandals. The one we're looking at here is the expenses scandal, that saw Members of Parliament abusing their right to claim business expenses from taxpayers' money. Eventually the news would settle on the biggest issue, of MPs from all parties using their need for two residences (one in their constituency and one near Westminster) as a pure money-spinner. But initially all the attention was on the irrelevant receipts being charged to public funds, from the petty - 1p for a phone call - to the surreal - a moat, and a glittering toilet seat. The most notorious item an MP attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to claim for was The Duck House.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Theatre review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Earlier this year I loved The Play That Goes Wrong, but wasn't sure about the title, thinking it seemed a bit blunt and didn't reflect how inventive the farce contained within was. But that title may have turned out to be a stroke of genius that's allowed Mischief Theatre to spin it off into a franchise: Theatregoers in Reading have been seeing what happens when The Nativity Play Goes Wrong, and here in London the company have moved to the Pleasance Islington's main stage, where Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Once again we're guests of the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are hoping that their production of Peter Pan by "Jaime Barry" will be more successful than their previous efforts. Or at least result in fewer fatalities. But there's little hope of that with Chris (Henry Shields) still in charge, as well as Playing Mr Darling and Hook. And just in case enough didn't go wrong last time, this time they've got a revolve.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Theatre review: Fortune's Fool

I wonder what kind of play Fortune's Fool, currently playing at the Old Vic, is? That's not a rhetorical question, I've just sat through the damn thing and I'm none the wiser. Tragicomedy is obviously what's being aimed for, but what's actually landed on the Old Vic's stage is anybody's guess. After 7 years in St Petersburg, Olga ( Lucy Briggs-Owen) is returning to the country estate she's sole inheritor of. She's bringing her new husband Pavel (Alexander Vlahos) and, this being late Tsarist Russia, the new man of the house will have the final say in all domestic matters. This could be bad news for Vasilly Kuzovkin (Iain Glen,) an impoverished gentleman whose own estates have been tied up in legal wrangles for decades. Vasilly has lived as a guest of the family for 20 years, but Pavel would be within his rights to turf him out. When a bullying neighbour gets him drunk for his own amusement, Vasilly reveals a family secret that makes his welcome wear out all the sooner.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Theatre review: Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse)

"Tom Hiddleston showering on stage." According to my blog stats, I've already been getting hits from people Googling that phrase long before I even saw the show. So there you go, at least now those people will actually find something for their troubles. Yes, Hiddles does take a shower on stage, although it's more like a quick splash. Calm down, he doesn't even take his trousers off, it's not like he's getting his Coriolanus bleached. He does also share a kiss with a man, but that's more of a quick peck on the lips than anything to get the Internet too moist in the gusset. But if these two headline-grabbing moments are nothing much to write home about, it's fortunately because they're throwaway elements of a solid production, as Josie Rourke tackles a simply staged but interesting Coriolanus.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Theatre review: The Last March

In 1910 Captain Robert Falcon Scott set off on an expedition to lead a British team to the South Pole, hoping to beat Roald Amundsen's Norwegian crew and be the first ever to make it there. They failed, Amundsen planting his flag first, and Scott's journey ended tragically when they didn't survive the trip home. Not an obvious starting point for knockabout comedy, but new company tinder are determined to give it a go in The Last March, devised by director Ian Nicholson and the company. Samuel Dent plays Scott, starting the story with the dream of an expedition that's captured the imagination of the press and public, but not actually found anyone to pay for it yet. A number of failed attempts to find a sponsor ends with the Royal Geographical Society, who agree to the funding as long as the mission includes a geological survey. With just the bare necessities (mainly scotch) packed, the march begins.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Theatre review: American Psycho

The last two Doctors have both undergone remarkable physical transformations on the London stage at the moment, and while David Tennant's makeover as Alanis Morisette is... special, I reckon it's trumped by Matt Smith's ridiculously buff, frequently scantily-clad regeneration into Patrick Bateman, the titular character of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Smith's casting has of course been the only talking point ever since it was announced, rather overshadowing the other unusual thing about this premiere production: The songwriter behind Spring Awakening has turned the blood- and sex-drenched 1980s satire into a musical. When Smith's Bateman is first raised onto the stage through the trapdoor, he's perfecting his tan on his own sunbed. The skin, like the muscles under it and the clothes over it, is all part of the image that has to radiate success.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Theatre review: Drawing the Line

Howard Brenton's on a bit of a roll at Hampstead Theatre, where he's debuting his third new play in just over a year. After the English Civil War and Chinese political prisoners he turns to the very last days of the Raj, with the 1947 partition of India, and the man charged with Drawing the Line. A respected judge but with no knowledge either of India or of maps, Cyril Radcliffe (Tom Beard) is called upon to redraw the map of the subcontinent. As the British Empire withdraws, India is filled with bloody religious conflict; although many different religions are represented in the country, Radcliffe's job is to divide along artificially simplistic lines: India for the Hindus, led by Nehru (Silas Carson,) and a new nation of Pakistan in the North for the Muslims, led by Jinnah (Paul Bazely.) With all the religious groups spread throughout the country, Radcliffe begins with a blank canvas, but his attempts at fairness will come across pressure not just from political interests, but personal ones as well.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Theatre review: Beauty and the Beast (Young Vic)

A fairytale but definitely not a pantomime at the Young Vic's Maria, where Beauty and the Beast is more like Beauty and the breast. And the other breast. And some more breasts. And cocks and arses and filthy susans all over the place. Mat Fraser is an actor whose face is probably more familiar than his name from various bits of TV work, but he's probably best recognised by his arms: His mother took Thalidomide for her morning sickness so he was born with severely shortened bones in his arms and no thumbs. It was apparently his American wife Julie Atlas Muz who suggested Beauty and the Beast as a metaphor for how they met, and instead of divorcing her he's brought it to a stage with her, as well as a pair of actors they describe as their "puppeteer slaves," Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon. Talking teapots not included.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Theatre review: Emil and the Detectives

It's a Moppets Christmas Carol in the Olivier this year where the National, usually preferring to cast adults as children for its big family shows, has taken its cue from the likes of Billy Elliot and Matilda and put a lot of faith in child actors. Many, many child actors. Many. Adapted by Carl Miller from the book by Erich Kästner, Emil and the Detectives is a story of Germany in 1929, meaning that right from the word go there's an edge to the show for the benefit of the adults, even as the kids get a story to get excited about. Emil (Toby Murray tonight, alternating with Ethan Hammer and Daniel Patten) has been trusted by his mother (Naomi Frederick) to go on the train alone, to visit his grandmother in Berlin and deliver her an envelope full of cash. When it goes missing, Emil decides to track down the thief, a notorious bank robber, with the help of the Detectives: The many, many children from all walks of life keen for an adventure. Many.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Theatre review: The Night Before Christmas

Not too surprisingly for the second week of December, I'm in the middle of six solid days of seasonal1 offerings, all of them with a slightly different flavour to the traditional Christmas fare. Soho's take is a revisiting of Anthony Neilson's play The Night Before Christmas, which he's rewritten as a musical with lyrics by himself and director Steve Marmion, and music by Tom Mills. There's certainly a creature or two stirring in Neilson's very adult version of the story, set in a warehouse owned by Gary (Navin Chowdhry,) a former city trader and now dealer in counterfeit goods. The toys and gadgets may be fake but he doesn't fancy having them stolen regardless, so when he catches an intruder in an elf costume he ties him up and calls his friend Simon (Craig Kelly.) By the time Simon's arrived though, Gary is convinced the man isn't a burglar at all, but an actual Elf (Craig Gazey,) who claims to have fallen off the sleigh, and needs to be returned before midnight or he'll die.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Theatre review: Fault Lines

An office-based comedy can be a good vehicle for shining a light on the kinds of jobs everyone knows someone must have to do, but don't usually think too much about. When thinking of disaster relief charities, we're likely to imagine the people going to the scenes of earthquakes and tsunamis to help survivors. But someone has to make sure the money's going to the right place and keep the charity visible enough that more of it keeps coming in, and these are the people Ali Taylor puts at the centre of Fault Lines. Employing just four people plus an unpaid intern, a lesser-known disaster charity is struggling to stay afloat. An earthquake in Pakistan on Christmas Eve gives manager Pat (Nichola McAuliffe) the idea of being the first people on the scene. But the staff are hungover and bickering, and prone to making big mistakes.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Theatre review: Let The Right One In

A teenage vampire love storyNO WAIT, COME BACK! IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK! Having read John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and seen the first of the two film adaptations, Let The Right One In feels very familiar to me but it seems not everyone has even heard of it, so may need reassuring that absolutely nothing sparkles. Except maybe some blood in the snow. Instead this is a bleakly Scandinavian but strangely romantic coming-of-age story that takes in vicious bullying, blurred gender identity and an undercurrent of paedophilia. Basically standard Christmas fare for the Royal Court, where Jack Thorne's adaptation comes following its premiere earlier this year for the National Theatre of Scotland. And though the original 1980s Swedish setting remains (with an authenticity that goes all the way to chocolate bars called Plopp) the accents are all Scottish in John Tiffany's atmospheric production.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Theatre review: Operation Crucible

The demise of Sheffield's steelworks will be a big deal in the West End next year when The Full Monty comes to town, but for now here's a group of (sadly) more conservatively-dressed men from the days when the city's industry was not just flourishing, but crucial to the country's survival. The manufacture of knives and forks left Sheffield's two local football teams fighting over the nickname "Blades," but during the Second World War knives were replaced by more dangerous weapons as the city became the heart of Britain's munitions manufacturing. Despite being the place where Spitfire parts were made, the only time German planes were heard overhead was when they were on their way to bomb another city. But on the 12th of December 1940 Germany finally realised the strategic importance and Sheffield got its own Blitz, leaving it almost flattened.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Theatre review: Jack and the Beanstalk (Lyric Hammersmith)

There's a new creative team behind the scenes for the Lyric Hammersmith's pantomime this year, but for the fourth year running it's Stevie Webb's job to hold things together on stage. Tom Wells takes over writing duties and Dan Herd directs Jack and the Beanstalk, in which Hammersmith is terrorised by the giant Nostril and his henchman Mr Fleshcreep (Nigel Richards,) and only a girl called Jack (Rochelle Rose) and her green-fingered best friend Sprout (Webb) can save the day by climbing up a beanstalk into the sky. And along the way of course there's songs, audience participation, double-entendres for the grown-ups, topical references (Zumba, Miley Cyrus and Mumford & Sons are popular targets) and very, very bad jokes.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Theatre review: Candide (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Who'd have thought I'd be seeing a second show called Candide within a matter of months? What with Mark Ravenhill's "response" at the RSC, and the research that Ravenhill admitted was necessary before seeing it, I'm starting to feel very familiar with Voltaire's satire on optimism, despite never having read it. Raised on the philosophies of Pangloss, who teaches that this is the best of all possible worlds, therefore everything that happens must be for the best, Candide travels the world seeking his lost love Cunegonde. Beset by catastrophe after catastrophe, he blandly ascribes them all to the mysterious but necessary machinations of a benevolent god. The version of the story now being revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory is Leonard Bernstein's operetta, which has gone through a number of different versions over the years - the one used here is a 1988 text first staged by Scottish Opera, with book by Hugh Wheeler and lyrics by 70% of the earth's population.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Theatre review: Henry V (Michael Grandage Company at the Noël Coward Theatre)

A year ago it looked certain that the Michael Grandage Season at the Noël Coward Theatre would be one of the theatrical events of 2013, but as it draws to a close I wonder how long we'll even remember it for. Not that the star-studded quintet of plays has been bad, at least not always, but it's certainly not been stellar either. The last time Grandage took on a West End theatre for a year he ended with Jude Law as Hamlet, and they reunite to close this season as well with a go at Henry V. On inheriting the crown, Henry instantly abandons fun and games in favour of a ruthless ambition to reclaim French territory he believes rightfully his. Convincing himself that god is on his side, the way things pan out does nothing to disprove this theory as his tiny, exhausted English army trounces their stronger enemy.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Theatre review: Gastronauts

Dinner and a show, although which is which isn't clear in the Royal Court's Gastronauts from writers April De Angelis and Nessah Muthy, and director Wils Wilson. In a "departure lounge" in the Jerwood Upstairs, the audience is encouraged to choose from fluorescent drinks in shot glasses - though if the one I chose was anything to go by they weren't alcoholic but fruit and vegetable juices, I couldn't put my finger on what mine was but it tasted familiar - before going into an area set up with restaurant tables. Andy Clark, Imogen Doel, Nathaniel Martello-White and Justine Mitchell are flight attendants serving us, with Alasdair Macrae as the captain providing music and narration. In between performing short scenes about food, the significance it takes in our lives and the price - not just financial - of it, the cast also encourage the audience to try out some interesting food samples, all with a story to tell.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Theatre review: The White Carnation

Not actually a play about evaporated milk, The White Carnation sees the Finborough Theatre find another seasonally-appropriate show from the archives - this time a Christmas ghost story. Although we're not really in for thrills and chills here because the ghost is the central character, and his behaviour is resolutely non-spooky. John Greenwood was a wealthy stockbroker, killed along with his wife and friends by a German bomb during a Christmas Eve party. For the next six years the ruins of his townhouse are haunted by the party being played out again every December 24th, but on the seventh year they don't all disappear at midnight: Greenwood (Aden Gillett) is left behind, believing no time to have passed, and wondering why the police are accusing him of breaking into his own house. He still has a physical body but like the flower in his buttonhole he doesn't age, and he doesn't show up in photos.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Theatre review: The Shape of Things

Neil LaBute has written a loose trilogy of plays about body image, which began with The Shape of Things. Set among graduate students at a small-town American university, Adam (Sean McConaghy) is overweight, unkempt and socially awkward, badly in debt and working two jobs to pay it off. One of them is at an art gallery, which is where he meets Evelyn (Anna Bamberger,) an art student intent on spray-painting a cock onto one of the sculptures. They make an unlikely couple but Evelyn gives him her number anyway and soon they're dating. She may look out of his league but he catches up fast - her influence sees Adam start going to the gym and eating better, lose a huge amount of weight as a consequence, change his style and even get a nose-job. And as his looks change, so does his behaviour.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Theatre review: Once a Catholic

The canteen at my work, like every canteen in the country as far as I can tell, always has fish and chips on a Friday; a sign that, although England hasn't been a Catholic country since Henry VIII found himself with more wives than the legal limit, the religion's influence is still felt in all kinds of unexpected places. One place you wouldn't be too surprised to find a supply of Catholic guilt is in a convent school in 1957 Willesden, the setting for Mary J. O'Malley's Once a Catholic. Kathy Fucking Burke revives the story of Mary Mooney, Mary Gallagher and Mary McGinty, three girls going into their O'level year at Our Lady of Fatima, and trying to reconcile the daily diet of fire and brimstone dished out by the terrifying nuns, with the approaching 1960s in the outside world and their own growing sexualities. A strong cast goes some way to bringing O'Malley's once-outrageous comedy into the 21st century, although it's not an entirely successful enterprise.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Re-review: Jumpers for Goalposts

If Jumpers for Goalposts was worth travelling all the way to Watford for when if first opened - you can read a brief synopsis in my original review here - Shepherds Bush is certainly not too far to go for a repeat visit, as Tom Wells' play arrives in London triumphant after a national tour. I've been recommending this play left right and centre (forward) since I heard it would be coming to the Bush, and it seems I've not been the only one because the run had almost sold out and been extended long before performances here even started. If you weren't one of the people who took that advice the first time round, get in there quick now while there's a few dates still available, because a repeat visit only confirms what a little gem of a show this is, and a more intimate space only improves the experience.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Theatre review: From Morning to Midnight

I strongly suspect the National has served up another helping of Marmite because as I left the Lyttelton after From Morning to Midnight I overheard someone say he'd definitely be recommending it to his friends; I for one won't be though. Georg Kaiser's 1912 play, in a text by Dennis Kelly, follows a cataclysmic day in the life of a bank Clerk (understudy Jack Tarlton) who, after misunderstanding the intentions of a beautiful Italian customer (Gina Bellman) steals sixty thousand marks from the bank. On realising the lady didn't mean for him to run away with him and a stolen fortune, he's left alone, suddenly a criminal, and possessed of a suitcase full of cash. He roams the city, and between his family, the spectators of a cycling race, the prostitutes and clientele of a brothel, and finally the denizens of a Salvation Army shelter, he attempts to find meaning to life, and where his new wealth places him in it.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Theatre review: Trout Stanley

A Canadian oddity settles into the Little at Southwark Playhouse. Claudia Dey's Trout Stanley takes us to the remote cabin shared by a pair of orphaned twins. Grace (Vinette Robinson) has taken on their late father's job at the town's rubbish dump, but despite the dowdy day job she's actually attractive, confident and glamorous with a sideline in modelling - she currently dominates the local shopping mall's skyline on a billboard for a gun shop. Her sister Sugar (Sinéad Matthews) is not only physically very different but a real contrast in personality, not having left the house in the last ten years. That was when they turned 20 and their parents died, and every year since on their birthday a woman exactly their age has been killed, and it's always Grace who finds the body. They hope their 30th will herald a new start, but already a local stripper and Scrabble champion has gone missing.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Theatre review: Lizzie Siddal

The Pre-Raphaelite equivalent of a supermodel, Elizabeth Siddal modeled for John Everett Millais' Ophelia, still the most popular painting at Tate Britain, and became muse to many artists of the Victorian movement. Jeremy Green's Lizzie Siddal looks at the life beyond the image, when Lizzie moved behind the canvas and attempted to become an artist in her own right. We first meet Lizzie (Emma West) posing for William Holman Hunt (a shamelessly scene-stealing Simon Darwen) and she later gets poached by Millais (James Northcote) for her most famous role, which almost proves fatal when the water goes cold and she contracts pneumonia. But her most enduring relationship, and one that could prove more destructive than any number of cold baths, will be with the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Theatre review: In The Next Room or the vibrator play

The word "hysteria" famously originates from ystera meaning womb, because it was assumed to be a uniquely female condition. Hence the unlikely connection between 19th century medicine and sex toys, as explored in Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room or the vibrator play. A rather nifty split-level set from Simon Kenny gives us the living room of Dr and Mrs Givings, and above it the doctor's surgery where people arrive with various forms of depression and exhaustion. Dr Givings (Jason Hughes) and his nurse Annie (Sarah Woodward) treat the patients' lower, unmentionable areas to release the poisonous womb fluids causing their illness. It would all seem suspiciously like an an orgasm if any of the women had had one before. But Givings is also a big fan of the new-fangled electricity, and is replacing the hands-on method with huge buzzing vibrators - he's even designed a few new models himself.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Theatre review: No Place To Go

The theatre space at the Gate has been turned into a Jazz club, but the stage is lit by anglepoise lamps and decorated with bits of broken laptop keyboard, and the band look like a quartet of Jewish accountants turning up for a day at the office. That's because 9-to-5 office life is at the heart of Ethan Lipton's No Place To Go, both a celebration of working life and a look at what happens when it's snatched away. Lipton is a "permanent part-timer" who's been working in a publishing-related firm for the last ten years, to help fund his true passion as a playwright and singer-songwriter. Although in practice he seems to work a full day, his official part-time status means he doesn't get any benefits, but he does genuinely like his job and the people he works with. So the news that the company is moving to a different, cheaper town comes not just as a financial blow but a bit of a personal betrayal.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Theatre review: Strangers on a Train

"Strangers on a train, exchanging glances. Wondering, on a train, what were the chances..." Actually I think I might have entirely the wrong song stuck in my head. Laurence Fox and Jack Huston certainly don't end up sharing love before the night is through, although given the play opens with the latter getting up close to the former before inviting him back to his private cabin to ply him with alcohol, it does look on the cards for a bit. Guy Haynes (Fox) is an architect with a wife who won't grant him the divorce he wants, Charles Bruno (Huston) a drunken son of millionaires, who'd quite like to see his father dead so he can get his hands on the cash. Bruno proposes that the two murder each other's nemeses, providing not only an alibi but also no known connection to the killer. Guy dismisses the man as a crank but soon finds himself with a dead ex-wife, and Bruno demanding he keep his end of the bargain.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Theatre review: Prince of Denmark

The final NYT show playing in repertory at the Ambassadors, as well as in a double bill with Romeo and Juliet at selected performances, is Michael Lesslie's Hamlet prequel, Prince of Denmark. Echoing a number of elements of Shakespeare's original, the play takes particular inspiration from the moment where Laertes returns to Denmark to avenge his father's death, threatening a coup and apparently having the popular support to make it a real possibility. Taking place a year or two before the events of Hamlet, we're at the point where the Prince's love letters to Ophelia are starting to look serious. Angered by the suspicion that Hamlet is just trying to get Ophelia into bed before ditching her, Laertes' thoughts start to turn against the Danish monarchy in general. But his proto-socialist pronouncements are marred by the obvious fact that it's himself he sees replacing them in power.

Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet (NYT / Ambassadors)

Alongside the Tory Boyz revival, the National Youth Theatre's West End rep season also features two adaptations of Shakespeare tragedies. First up Romeo and Juliet, for which director Paul Roseby uses the abbreviated version Lolita Chakrabarti created for the TV show When Romeo Met Juliet a few years ago. This resets the action from Verona to 1980s Camden Town, and specifically to a market, where the warring families become rival clothes stall holders. To a background of '80s hits performed by the cast, Romeo's (Niall McNamee) professed love for Rosaline goes out of the window when he spots Juliet (Aruhan Galieva.) But he's a Montague, she's a Capulet, and ancient grudge means the match will never be allowed. Being teenagers, elopement followed by double suicide seems to them a perfectly reasonable way out of this predicament.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Theatre review: That Face

When That Face made its debut all the publicity was inevitably about the fact that it was written by a 19-year-old. Six years after it premiered Polly Stenham is an established name with a loose trilogy of plays puncturing the smug (and frequently incontinent) upper-middle classes, so this first London revival is an opportunity to see her first work on its own terms. Of course, the concerns of a teenage girl who went to boarding school are not a surprising place for the story to kick off: Alice (Imogen Byron) is a newcomer who's been tied up by her head of house Izzy (Georgina Leonidas) and her friend Mia (Stephanie Hyam) in a cruel initiation prank. But Mia goes one irresponsible step further: Before the prank she secretly dosed the 14-year-old up with Valium, in what turns out to be an overdose that sends Alice into a coma.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Theatre review: Antony and Cleopatra (RSC, Public Theater NY & GableStage / Swan & tour)

The RSC pairs half a cast's worth of British actors with another half made up of Americans - WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? Actually a lot more could have gone wrong than does in Tarrell Alvin McCraney's production of Antony and Cleopatra, which is intended to signal the start of a year-long transatlantic ensemble of actors, led by the American writer-director. In the wake of Julius Caesar's death, the Roman Empire is ruled by a Triumvirate. But the ambition of the ruthless politician Octavius Caesar (Samuel Collings) to rule alone is made more achievable by his co-rulers' weaknesses: Lepidus (Henry Stram) is getting on and the warrior Mark Antony (Jonathan Cake) has been distracted in Egypt by falling in love with Cleopatra (Joaquina Kalukango.) Unable to balance love with politics, Antony ends up making bad decisions in both and the royal pair pay with their lives.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Theatre review: Mojo

When Jez Butterworth's debut play was staged in 1995 his style was often described as Pinteresque, and Pinter himself appeared in the film version; so it's apt enough that it's returned to London with a run at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Original director Ian Rickson revives 1950s gangster comedy-thriller Mojo with a cast to satisfy any number of fanbases, from Harry Potter to James Bond, Merlin to Downton Abbey. Ezra's Atlantic is a small-time Soho nightclub, mostly a front for other activities that are never specified, but seem to involve a getaway driver. But the club itself has suddenly become a hot property thanks to the discovery of singer Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries,) a pretty teenager who appeals both to screaming teenage girls and, by the sound of it, the odd middle-aged gangster as well. But a meeting between Ezra and the boss of a rival gang ends with Ezra dead, Johnny kidnapped and the gang dealing with a power vacuum at the top.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Theatre review: Our Ajax

A figure of pure brute force, Ajax isn't one of the best-loved heroes of the Trojan War, better known nowadays for his bathroom scouring abilities. Timberlake Wertenbaker admits in her introduction to the playtext that Sophocles' play about him was hard for her to get to grips with. So her new version Our Ajax takes a different tack to most of her classical translations, more explicitly superimposing a modern story of Afghanistan over the one set in Troy - with only partial success. We first meet Ajax (Joe Dixon) dragging bloody corpses across the stage: When his nemesis Odysseus (Adam Riches) was promoted above him, Ajax snapped and murdered him and all his soldiers. Or so he thinks: In fact the goddess Athena (Gemma Chan) cast a confusion spell over him to protect Odysseus, and he actually slaughtered the allied army's goats and dogs.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Theatre review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe

The Fastest Clock in the Universe is surreal, sinister and drenched in dark poetry. In other words, by Philip Ridley's standards it's positively gritty naturalism. Cougar Glass (Joshua Blake) enjoyed his 19th birthday so much he's doing it all again, like he has for the last eleven years. He's dyed his hair, and any grey he missed is being tweezed out by Captain Tock (Ian Houghton,) the older antiques dealer who seems to finance Cougar's lifestyle of indolence, sunbathing, cigarettes and alcohol. The cake's been bought, birthday cards from imaginary friends have been laid out and the only thing missing is the special guest: For weeks Cougar has been grooming a grieving teenage boy, and the party is due to be the culmination of his seduction. But Foxtrot Darling (Dylan Llewellyn) brings with him a surprise that'll make this 19th birthday go a little differently from all the others.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Theatre review: Twelve Angry Men

There's lots of shows opening in the West End right now and for a moment I thought tonight's had got a bit confused: The sound effect of a speeding train over the opening made me wonder if I'd rocked up at the Hitchcock adaptation a week early. But the sound turns out to be on-theme for this stage transfer of another famous film, which Reginald Rose adapted from his own 1954 screenplay. The Twelve Angry Men in question are the jury in a murder case, twelve white men deciding whether a black teenager stabbed his father in the middle of the night. Eleven jurors immediately cast their guilty vote but Juror 8 (Television's Martin Shaw) has reasonable doubt, and asks only that the rest take the time to discuss the case before condemning a man to death. The evidence is largely circumstantial but there's a lot of it - yet it turns out to be easier to poke holes in than the perfunctory defence made it look in court.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Theatre review: The Island

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: This review is of the final preview performance before Press Night.

The Island currently being reconstructed in the Young Vic's Clare is Robben Island, better known as the place Nelson Mandela spent his years of captivity. Athol Fugard's play, devised with John Kani & Winston Ntshona, follows a couple of days in the lives of two political prisoners, cellmates who didn't know each other until they offended the Apartheid regime and ended up spending 24 hours a day together. When we meet them they've spent a day moving wheelbarrow loads of sand up and down the beach, a task designed to turn them on each other as each sees his cellmate make his own job an endless one. This particular bit of cruelty is a new one, but typical of their lives there. Once finally back in their cell their exhaustion doesn't stop them working towards a small triumph of their own: There's an inmates' concert coming up and John (Daniel Poyser) is intent on staging a version of Antigone, with Winston (Jimmy Akingbola) in the title role.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Theatre review: Bluebeard

Are there a lot more monologues around this year or am I just catching them all? The latest person to be giving an audience his side of the story is a version of the original fairytale serial killer, Bluebeard. In Hattie Naylor's play, Jim (Paul Mundell) is a sharp-suited charmer whose drawling way of speaking and shark-like grin mark him out as a bit creepy from the off, but as he goes on to explain this is never a drawback when trying to seduce women. Far from it, he believes that the women he ends up with aren't just drawn to the bad boy, they're actively attracted to the possibility of physical violence and genuine danger. So he makes sure they're not disappointed as he tells us about some of the women he's known. His seductions are a slow tease, but when it's finally time for sex it involves bondage, submission and pain. He occasionally even lets them live afterwards.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Theatre review: H.M.S. Pinafore

Gilbert and Sullivan aren't among my theatrical must-sees; until now H.M.S. Pinafore existed for me only as a handy distraction technique if Sideshow Bob's after you. But I've enjoyed Sasha Regan's recent revivals so this had to be worth a look. Regan's all-male productions are becoming a bit of an annual institution, but all-male G&S also finds an unlikely historical precedent in the Second World War, where POWs would put on operettas to keep themselves entertained in Stalag 383. So this latest production has a more rough-and-ready feel than usual, with a framing device that sees a group of captured airmen break into song in their bunk beds. Actually, the archive photos in the programme suggest the real POWs managed to get together costumes at least as elaborate at the Union's productions usually provide, but there's a layer of fun in having life-jackets and collars co-opted to suggest the women's dresses and brooches.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Theatre review: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Following regional tours, a couple of high-profile comedies are landing in the West End in the run-up to Christmas, and first up are a duo as quintessentially English as the word "quintessentially." I can only take P.G. Wodehouse in small doses, but those doses can be pretty inspired, and his most famous creations are Jeeves and Wooster. Based on various Wodehouse stories, the Goodale Brothers' Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense sees upper-class twit Bertie Wooster (Stephen Mangan) attempt a one-man show in which he intends to regale the audience with one of his ludicrous misadventures. His determination to go it alone barely lasts a couple of minutes before he needs his trusty valet Jeeves (Matthew Macfadyen) to bail him out as usual. From keeping the story on track, to playing supporting characters and even building the set, Jeeves has to run the show.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Theatre review: Macbeth of Fire and Ice

It's been a Macbeth kind of year, and the latest is a cut-down version playing at the Arcola's main house. Director Jon Gun Thor has retitled his version Macbeth of Fire and Ice, apparently to suggest an Icelandic influence, although it might be more in the hope of confused Game of Thrones fans buying a ticket by accident. The idea is that a suggestion of Norse mythology is seen in turning the Weird Sisters into versions of the Fates, weaving lines suspended around the stage like a cobweb. The other major visual theme is of mixed martial arts, because I know kung fu's the first thing I think of if you mention Iceland. In black hoodies and trackie bottoms, six actors cast for their kicking ability play all the roles, differentiating between the characters through the medium of not differentiating between the characters.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

theatre review: nut

playwright, director and enemy of uppercase letters debbie tucker green has shown an ability to write in different styles in those plays of hers i've seen so far. nut, which premieres at the national theatre's shed, displays a similar variety in its three short acts. the story centres on elayne (nadine marshall,) a woman who rarely leaves her flat, which is untidy and filled with the lists she compulsively makes. we meet her and her friends aimee (sophie stanton) and devon (anthony welsh) as they have a funny rhetorical conversation about planning their own funerals. but the naturalistic dialogue can't disguise forever the fact that there's something slightly off, a pinteresque undertone of surreal menace to their conversation. aimee is increasingly insistent that, while she will die peacefully in her sleep some day, elayne will be the first to die, and violently. devon goes further, dropping hints that elayne should kill herself or at least self-harm; he's also strangely hostile to a young boy (tobi adetunji, zac fitzgerald or jayden fowora-knight) who joins them, singing tunelessly.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Theatre review: Lee Harvey Oswald: A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought on by Negleck

Judging by the amount of anniversaries being celebrated at the moment it was all kicking off fifty years ago. The National Theatre has just marked its half-century and Doctor Who is about to do the same. But the latter had an inauspicious start when its premiere episode was overshadowed by John F Kennedy's assassination. The events of Dallas have of course gone on to become the bread and butter of conspiracy theorists to this day, but with the assassin only outliving the President by 48 hours, doubts were cast over Lee Harvey Oswald's guilt from the start. By 1966 playwright Michael Hastings had attempted to shed light on the situation with Lee Harvey Oswald: A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought on by Negleck. The subtitle is a quote from Oswald's own diaries, and gives a clue about the kind of chaotic personality we're going to be looking at.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Theatre review: Unscorched

For the third year running the Finborough Theatre hosts the Papatango playwrighting competition, although this year they've simplified things further and are just presenting the winner in a full production. Luke Owen's Unscorched looks at what for most people must be the epitome of a dirty job they'd rather someone else did. Tom (Ronan Raftery) has just started a job in digital analysis for child protection services. What this translates into is clicking on website links that have been flagged up as suspicious, and determining whether or not they really show one of five categories of child abuse; if so, he passes them on to the police. Many prove innocent but the ones that do need action can be traumatic to watch. Tom's determination to do a good thing is tested by the reality of the job, and the ways it affects his new relationship.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Theatre review: Richard II (RSC / RST & Barbican)

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of split ends and frizz.

After a year in charge of the RSC, Gregory Doran's first piece of programming finally rolls round, backing up a feeling that star casting is back to stay at Stratford where he directs David Tennant as Richard II. The great-grandson of Edward II, you'd expect family history to have made Richard fully aware that sometimes kings can be deposed, but instead he is steadfast about his divine right to rule, and does so capriciously. Banishing his cousin Bolingbroke is a bad idea, but worse is seizing his property once he's gone, to fund an Irish war. Bolingbroke isn't going to stand for it, and his return to England becomes a fully-fledged revolt. Faced with the fact that his power and even his life aren't as safe as he believed, Richard has to try and maintain both his crown, and the natural lustre and shine of his hair.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Theatre review: The Djinns of Eidgah

Kashmir isn't just a disputed zone, it's been disputed since 1948, and is still awaiting the referendum that was promised to decide whether it's part of India, Pakistan or an independent state. India seems to have a clear opinion on the matter, its military presence making the valley the world's most heavily militarised area. The predominantly Muslim local population fights back against this, and the conflict is the backdrop for Abhishek Majumdar's The Djinns Of Eidgah. When she was 10 years old, Ashrafi (Aysha Kala) witnessed her father's violent death and was mentally scarred by it, retreating into a fantasy world that she's still in four years later. Ashrafi's brother Bilal (Danny Ashok) cites her as the reason he's not as politicised as his friends, preferring to hold out hope that someone will spot his footballing talent and give him and his sister a new life.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Theatre review: The Scottsboro Boys

One of the last Kander and Ebb musicals gets its UK premiere at the Young Vic, with Broadway legend Susan Stroman reprising her role as director and choreographer (and bringing some of the original cast with her.) The people behind a much-loved musical charting the rise of the Nazis aren't afraid of a difficult subject and so The Scottsboro Boys unearths an unpleasant chapter in America's checkered civil rights history. Nine young black men passing through Scottsboro, Alabama on the train, end up spending much of the 1930s behind bars when, seemingly out of nowhere, they find themselves accused of the rape of two white women. Pressure from the North and funds from the Communist party result in countless retrials but the total lack of evidence, and even one of their accusers confessing that her testimony was made up, don't stop jury after jury finding them guilty.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Theatre review: Home

Last year Amelia Sears revived the explosive Brimstone and Treacle at the Arcola's Studio 2 and now she returns there (although the venue itself has dropped down a level to the basement since she was last there) for something much more contemplative, David Storey's gently absurdist Home. It's some period after the Second World war, and two elderly men meet in a garden. Harry (Jack Shepherd) and Jack (Paul Copley) peruse the newspaper, reminisce about their lives and discuss great figures from British history to while away an autumn morning. They later meet combative Marjorie (Tessa Peake-Jones) and her friend Kathleen (Linda Broughton,) who can find a smutty double entendre in anything. As they think about going off to lunch, they start to drop hints about exactly what kind of place this peaceful garden is in the middle of: They're not quite free to come and go as they please, there's a lot of doctors around, and Kathleen isn't allowed a belt or shoelaces. The arrival of Joseph Arkley's Alfred, a clearly disturbed young man who believes himself to be a wrestler and keeps stealing the garden furniture only goes to confirm what kind of environment we're in.