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I missed this at the Bush Theatre last year, so I was pleased the NT picked it up. By the time it finished, pleased became delighted. It’s a play which tackles serious issues with great warmth, delicacy and humour. I loved it.

Kelly is a feisty, funny twenty-something with Down syndrome living with her mum Agnes in Skegness and working for a charity. She has a high degree of independence, but Agnes is very protective. They are very close, but the relationship is tested when Kelly strikes up a friendship with Neil, who works in an amusement arcade. This friendship becomes a relationship which Agnes tries hard to break up, including finding Dominic from Scunthorpe on the internet, a boy with asperger’s, to date Kelly, which makes Kelly even more entrenched.

Agnes finds it hard to believe that Neil is genuinely in love, fearing exploitation. The relationship continues, though the course becomes rockier, for reasons it would be a spoiler to disclose, and they separate at one point. Neil and Kelly are subjected to disbelief, discrimination and abuse by some they meet. Dominic becomes a wise confidante of both Agnes and Kelly. 

It sensitively covers issues around disability, particularly reconciling the genuine wish and need to protect with the appropriate degree of independence and freedom, but it does so with such humour it is at the same time truly entertaining, without losing any of its impact. It’s beautifully written by Ben Weatherill, who has a real talent for sharp and witty dialogue that often surprises.

Sarah Gordy is captivating as Kelly, clearly relishing and identifying with her gutsy, sharp-tongued character. In an appropriately restrained performance, Sion Daniel Young brings an authenticity to this loving relationship, investing his character with gentleness, sensitivity and empathy. Penny Layden captures both the love and protectiveness of Agnes, bringing a seriousness that balances the humour of other characters. Nicky Priest is delightful as Dominic, delivering some of the funniest lines to perfection with deadpan delivery, the whole audience falling for his charm.

It’s a tonic to see such a heart-warming, hopeful show, informing and entertaining in equal measure. A real treat.

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The first time I saw Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, on the same Olivier stage almost 30 years ago, it was so slow and turgid we decided an earlier dinner would be preferable to the second half. We’d finished our meal before the rest of the audience left the theatre, rather pleased with ourselves. I felt a bit like that at the first interval of this version by David Hare ‘after Henrik Ibsen’, but there were enough moments in Jonathan Kent’s production to send me back and see it through. It’s overlong and uneven, but there is much to enjoy.

Peter is Scottish, from Dunoon, and that’s where the story starts when he returns from a war, though not to a hero’s welcome. His girlfriend is about to get married to someone else and just about everyone, including his mother, sees him for the pathological liar and fantasist he is. It’s a while before he starts his journey (too long), first to meet the mountain king in the land of the trolls, who have selfish ways and intentions. From here, we find him at his golf course in Florida (yes!) a businessman with fingers in lots of pies, but a Frenchman, Icelander & Russian woman wipe him out. On to North Africa and the Middle East to make mischief and money before returning home to discover his legacy and destiny.

It’s a good time to revive it, in a world full of self-obsession, ego and greed, and Hare’s updating often works well. Amongst the highlights are the mountain king scene, Florida, at sea and the final scene, but it’s crying out for some editing to provide more focus and improve its pacing. Peter is a hugely challenging part, but James McArdle rises to it with a towering performance, often commanding the stage alone. Richard Hudson’s design sometime fills the stage thrillingly (the scene at sea) but other scenes seem lost on this vast stage. There’s great use of music, with particularly fine vocals from Tamsin Carroll.

It’s heading to the Edinburgh Festival (hence the Scottish setting?) where I suspect the somewhat conservative ladies from Morningside will go beyond their customary tut-tutting and vote with their feet, as quite a few did in an already sparse audience on Wednesday. I’m glad I didn’t, though, but I do wish they’d had the nerve to trim it to improve it; it’s not too difficult to see where that would be possible. In this form, only a partial success.

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Writer Jack Thorne has covered a very wide range of subjects in his stage and TV work, including adaptations of other’s material. This one is inspired by his own family history and I liked it a lot, but it could be that it resonates more with my generation.

It takes place at three points in time, each ten years apart, in the shabby chic home of David & Sal near Newbury. On each occasion their three children are either living there or visiting, and a meal is being prepared or delivered. They are idealistic lefties, old labour, regularly protesting or supporting causes. They’ve tried hard to pass on their values to their children whilst at the same time encouraging independent thought.

In 1997, just after the general election which elected New Labour, daughter Polly is home from Cambridge where she’s studying law, son Carl brings home his posh new girlfriend Harriet and wayward teen Tom is late home from school where’s he’s been in a drug related detention. The focus of this act is Carl & girlfriend Harriet’s bombshell. In 2007, Carl, who is now part of his father-in-law’s hotel business, comes with Harriet but without their children. Polly has sold her soul to corporate law and Tom is even more troubled. They’ve been called home to discuss their inheritance, but Tom becomes the centre of attention when his troubled soul erupts. In 2017, they’re there for a funeral, Polly now an associate partner in her law firm, Carl & Harriet’s marriage in trouble and Tom still trying to find his way in the world.

In between acts, the intervening years are signalled by changes of props, items and the calendar, with highly effective dance and movement staged by Steven Hoggett. The play tells the story of one family’s journey from the point at which the children leave the nest, whilst at the same time charting the concurrent political and social changes and in particular the differences in values and attitudes between the generations. The dialogue sparkles and the characters are well drawn. It all felt very authentic to me, perhaps because I’m of the same generation as David & Sal.

Leslie Sharp’s Sal and Kate Flynn’s Polly are occasionally overplayed. David Morrissey was more restrained and ultimately moving as David. I really liked Sam Swainsbury and Zoe Boyle as Carl and Harriett and Laurie Davidson was particularly good at conveys the three very different Tom’s. John Tiffany’s finely tuned direction and Grace Smart’s superb design bring the story alive.

Thorne yet again proves both his talent and his range, one of the most exciting of this extraordinary new generation of playwrights.

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A lot of characters in plays have changed gender of late, in Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe, the RSC’s current Taming of the Shrew and Sondheim’s Company, where it breathed new life into the show. Now the gender of two of Noel Coward’s characters have been changed to produce something extraordinarily fresh, which would never have seen the light of day when it was first staged during the Second World War, but in my view is the play Coward may well have written today.

Actor Garry Essendine is surrounded by his staff – secretary Monica, valet Fred and Swedish housekeeper Miss Erikson – and a coterie of producers – Morris, estranged wife Liz, Helen and her husband Joe – and then two ‘super-fans’, Daphne and Roland, crash into his life. He both loves the attention and adulation and feels suffocated by it. As he prepares to tour six plays to Africa, Monica and Liz try to keep him in control whilst Helen and Morris go against his wishes for his next project, Daphne and Roland’s obsession gets out of control and his promiscuity runs rampant. Coward’s dialogue crackles and sparkles right up to a surprisingly poignant ending. The issues around fame seem bang up-to-date.

Matthew Warchus’ production makes it feels like a newly minted piece, set in Rob Howell’s brilliantly designed art deco apartment that is thrust forward to bring more intimacy in this big theatre, with as fine a set of performances as you could wish for. Essendine is a larger-than-life character who gets a stunning larger-than-life, finely detailed characterisation from Andrew Scott, with a hitherto unseen (by me) flair for comedy. The role of Monica suits Sophie Thompson’s style of acting and here she milks it for every ounce of comedy. Indira Varma’s Liz is the perfect foil to Scott’s Essendine, with their final moments together movingly underlining the play’s original title Sweet Sorrow. Liza Sadovy does some nifty doubling-up as Miss Erikson and Daphne’s Great Aunt Lady Saltburn and Joshua Hill as Fred delivers some great lines so well he makes them even greater.

Above all, it’s very funny and hugely entertaining and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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This 1994 David Greig play was first staged during a previous time of turmoil in Europe, soon after the Berlin Wall came down, East European countries freed themselves from the USSR, which then fragmented, and Yugoslavia broke up, with war in the Balkans. I first saw it twelve years ago when Dundee Rep brought their revival to the Barbican, yet it meant so much more to me today.

It’s set in the railway station and nearby bar of a border town. Two refugees, father and daughter Sava and Katia, rest there on their journey. There are no trains and stationmaster Fret is trying to fathom out why his station appears to have been removed from the timetable. His assistant Adele is busy spotting trains as they pass by. Four local men, one Adele’s husband Berlin, discover their factory is the latest for the chop in these troubled times.

Fret and Sava strike up an unlikely friendship through their mutual love of trains and Adele and Katia enter an even closer relationship and leave town together. One of the four men, Morocco, exploits the border position by trading, which border towns are always good for, and another, Billy, decides to leave to try his luck elsewhere. This leaves Berlin and Horse to vent their anger on those who are left.

Though it is rather bleak, it does make good points about the nature of borders, attitudes to migration and refugees and the scapegoating of them by the disenfranchised, all of which are as relevant, if not more relevant, today as they were during that earlier period of change in Europe. Michael Longhurst’s excellent staging and Chloe Lamford’s design culminate in a stunning coup d’theatre and there are fine performances all around.

A play for today written a quarter of a century ago.

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You can always rely on the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, devoted to (mostly free) outdoor performance, for something different, and this year it was an Australian play on a bus without air-con driving around Docklands on the hottest day of the year!

When we board at Beckton Park, there’s a passenger already on the bus. Just before we leave, another takes the final seat next to him. He spends much of the journey on the phone to business colleagues or his eight-year-old son. The woman next to him makes conversation in between. We’re eves-dropping on an encounter between two strangers on a bus, with an atmospheric soundtrack, and half-way through our journey I was wondering where this was going.

We’d encountered three other characters along the way, on the roadside, one boarding briefly to deliver something to the driver, but couldn’t see the connection. Then the woman makes it clear this is no chance encounter, she’s planned it, and her plan continues when we reach a wasteland where two of the other characters reappear and she takes him off the bus. This final, very cinematic scene is played out thrillingly on this wasteland with a backdrop of derelict buildings in front of Docklands skyscrapers, as our bus circles them.

The narrative of Jessica Wilson’s story is clever, with a serious message at its core, and Jim Russell and Victoria Moseley create believable characters. A tour of Docklands – part new city, part building site – is a bonus. I could have done without the sweltering heat, or with some air-con, but I’m used to suffering for my art, and it was worth it.

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It’s rare to be so emotionally engaged with a play whilst at the same time kept on the edge of your seat as the story unfolds. This quietly devastating piece is rich in drama, staged and performed to perfection.

We’re in a small community in rural Denmark. Lucas has been teaching at the primary school for a term, since the secondary school closed. His wife has left him, heading for the city with their teenage son Marcus. Lucas is well integrated in the local community, though, with strong friendships amongst his neighbours and with the men at his hunting lodge, until an accusation of inappropriate behaviour at the school changes everyone’s attitudes and perceptions and his life begins to fall apart. The positives of this idyllic, liberal, tight community turn very negative very quickly.

The suspense gives it the aesthetic of a thriller, the presumption of guilt means you’re rooting for Lucas, and it becomes an emotional roller-coaster. Rupert Goold’s gripping production, on Es Devlin’s very Scandic set, uses music to great effect, including the impressive vocal talents of Adrian der Gregorian. The small revolving house at the centre becomes classroom, lodge, home, with scenes played inside and outside looking in. I haven’t seen the film by Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm, but David Farr’s adaptation doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Tobias Menzies’ restrained central performance as Lucas is a career high for this fine actor. Justin Salinger and Poppy Miller are brilliant as his close friends in a troubled relationship. In a superb supporting ensemble, Danny Kirrane as Gunner and Stuart Campbell as Marcus shine. Then there are two extraordinary child actors and dog Max, as restrained as his master.

A very satisfying evening in the theatre that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I left it.

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