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Posts Tagged ‘Arts Theatre’

Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

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I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to catch up with this, but I’m very glad I did so in its last week. Of all the excellent commemorations of the centenary of the First World War, this seems to me the most human and the most personal, a play based on a true story of some extraordinary men, which both entertained and moved me.

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman uncovered the story of a satirical newspaper published in the trenches. Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Pearson, when they are shown a working printer by one of their men, decide to produce something that would raise morale amongst the troops and provide some intellectual stimulation for them. They appear to have got away with it because at least one senior officer saw the potentially positive impact on morale, whilst others saw it as insubordinate, disruptive and potentially mutinous. Its satire targeted the officer class as well as the Germans, the French and the war itself. They managed to produce 23 issues over a two year period, despite moving location and losing the first printer, and news of it got back to blighty.

The story is framed by a post-war scene back in London, but the rest takes place in the trenches and nearby towns in an excellent evocative design by Dora Schweitzer, very well lit by James Smith, with an excellent soundscape by Steve Mayo . There are lots of short scenes, with the changes between them animated by songs of the war. It’s punctuated by comic cameos which pop up behind, and music hall turns stage front. I really liked this combination in Caroline Leslie’s fast-paced staging, which successfully blended the humour, the engaging story of the newspaper and the horrors of life in the trenches. I found myself both laughing out loud and welling up. It’s superbly performed by a cast of ten, three of whom each play three roles, led by James Dutton and George Kemp as Roberts and Pearson.

A very respectful tale of defiance and determination, which brings the story of these extraordinary men the posthumous public attention that is long overdue.

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This audacious musical / pop concert, subtitled Divorced * Beheaded * Live!, puts Henry VIII’s six wives into a contemporary girl group, individually telling their story in song, competing for who had the hardest time, and together commenting on their common ground, and it’s huge fun, this week’s second breath of fresh air for the West End.

Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss’ show has some of the catchiest tunes you’ll hear on a theatre stage, and clever lyrics too. Though there is dialogue between songs, much direct to the audience, the story is largely told through music by the six sassy, bitchy girl power Queens, backed by a cracking all-girl rock band. The excellent costumes and lighting – Gabriella Slade & Tim Deiling respectively – both have a girl band aesthetic, and the audience were cheering and whooping as if they were at a pop concert rather than a musical.The six performers – Jarmeia Richard-Noel, Millie O’Connell, Natalie Paris, Alexia McIntosh, Aimie Atkinson & Maiya Quanasah-Breed – give the wives their individuality in uniformly great performances, and Katie Richardson’s band – the Ladies in Waiting – are great too. Jamie Armitage co-directs a playful production with writer Lucy Moss.

It shouldn’t really work, I’m hardly the target audience and you wouldn’t think it’s my thing, but I loved it!

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Best New Play – Violence & Son / Iphigenia in Splott

What a bumper year for new plays. I saw more than 80 and almost half of these made it onto the long list. The final cut saw a very diverse bunch competing. At the NT, a brilliant adaptation of Jane Eyre and a stunning ‘mash-up’ of three D H Lawrence plays as Husbands and Sons, a very radical adaptation of Everyman, the somewhat harrowing People Place & Things, the highly original Rules for Living and the expletive-loaded Mother*****r With the Hat. Two ‘minimalist’ Mike Bartlett contributions – Bull at the Young Vic and Game at the Almeida, both original and hugely impressive. The Young Vic also staged Ivo van Hove’s stunning Songs From Far Away. The Royal Court gave us Martin McDonough’s black comedy Hangman, Debbie Tucker Green’s distressing hang and a play about the NHS, Who Cares?, which took place all over the theatre. At The Donmar, Temple was a more conservative but beautifully written piece about the impact of Occupy outside St. Pauls on those inside. The Bush surprised with The Royale, a play about boxing, my least favourite sport, and The Arcola hosted one about rugby, the deeply moving NTW / Out of Joint verbatim collaboration, Crouch Touch Pause Engage as well as the lovely Eventide and Clarion. Jessica Swale graced the Globe with another superb historical play, Nell Gwynn, with the lovely Farinelli & the King next door in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I was much more positive than most about Future Conditional, a topical analysis of our broken education system, which kicked off the new regime at the Old Vic. Elsewhere in the West End only Photograph 51, Taken at Midnight (from Chichester), Oppenheimer (from Stratford) and Bad Jews made the cut. The Park continued to make itself indispensable with The Gathered Leaves and Theatre 503 punched above its weight with Rotterdam, a sensitive and very funny exploration of transgender issues. Southwark Playhouse found one of the best Tennessee Williams’s rarities, One Arm. Earlier in the year, Hampstead gave us the very underrated Luna Gale and topped this with Ian Kelly’s Mr Foote’s Other Leg, and even the late Arthur Miller was a candidate with the belated world premiere of his first play No Villain, but it was Gary Owen’s contributions that pipped everyone else at the post – Violence & Son, a striking modern family drama at the Royal Court Upstairs, and Iphigene in Splott, a Greek adaptation (but radical enough to be considered a new play) which packed more punch than most in a year abundant with Greek adaptations, which started in Cardiff and toured via the Edinburgh fringe ending up at the NT’s temporary space.

Best Revival – Les Liasons Dangereuses

I saw half as many revivals as new plays, and only a quarter of them made the long list. The best Shakespeare’s were both at the Young Vic – a shockingly modern Measure for Measure and a dance-drama Macbeth. The best of the Greeks were the Almeida’s Orestia and Stratford East’s Antigone, which out-shone the high profile Barbican-Van Hove-Binoche one. The Donmar pitched in with Patrick Marber’s Closer, embarrassingly better than his NT contributions this year, though the NT did shine with both Our Country’s Good The Beaux Stratagem, with particularly good use of music. The Globe gave us a very quick revival of Heresy of Love and the Open Air Theatre’s adaptation of Peter Pan was a triumph, but it was the long-overdue revival of Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece that ended the year with a theatrical feast.

Best New Musical – Bend It Like Beckham

Of the 50 musicals I saw in London, only 40% qualify as New Musicals and only seven made the final cut. I very much enjoyed wallowing in the nostalgia of both Carole King’s biographical Beautiful and the brilliantly staged Bert Bacharach compilation What’s It All About? (renamed Close to You for the West End). Xanadu was a hoot at Southwark Playhouse, which also hosted the very original Teddy, and the ever reliable Union pitched in with Spitfire Grill and The White Feather, a winner in any other year I suspect. Kinky Boots was great fun, but it was Howard Goodall’s brilliant Bend It Like Beckham, the a feel-good triumph which I’m about to see for the third time, that brought a breath of fresh air and a new audience to the West End.

Best Musical Revival – Grand Hotel

A better hit rate for musical revivals, with half of the 30 I saw in contention. The year started with a stunning revival of City of Angels which benefitted from the intimacy of the Donmar and ended with a very rare revival of Funny Girl which didn’t benefit from the intimacy of the Menier (but was still a highlight, and which I expect to be better at the Savoy, which hosted Gypsy which is also on on the list). It took two attempts to see the Open Air’s thrilling Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but well worth the return on a dry evening. Ye Olde Rose & Crowne in Walthamstow gave us notable revivals of both Face the Music and Bye Bye Birdie and the Landor chipped in with Thoroughly Modern Millie. A rare treat at the Royal Academy was Michel Legrand’s Amour and a unique experience at Belmarsh Young Offenders Institute where Pimlico Opera staged Our House with the residents and Suggs himself. I missed the same show at the Union, but did make three other revivals there – Whistle Down the Wind, Loserville and most especially Spend Spend Spend, my runner up. However, Thom Sutherland’s production of Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse was as close to perfection as you can get and made me look again at a show I had hitherto been underwhelmed by, and that’s what makes it the winner.

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This 2009 musical is an adaptation of 90’s US band Green Day’s 2004 comeback concept album of the same name, a ‘punk rock opera’ along the lines, conceptually, of The Who’s Tommy. I’m not a Green Day fan, but it’s clear you’d be hard pressed to find a better score for a rock musical. The original production, directed by Spring Awakening’s Michael Meyer, ran on Broadway for a year then toured the UK in 2012, ending with a short residency at Hammersmith Apollo, but this is its first proper West End outing.

It tells the story in song of three friends who leave home together. One turns back before the adventure has started when his girlfriend announces she’s pregnant. Another is seduced by the military en route and is soon heading for Iraq. Johnny continues his drug-fuelled adventure under the influence of St. Jimmy, falling in love with a girl called Whatshername. There’s next to no dialogue and the sound doesn’t allow all of the lyrics to get through, so if you’re unfamiliar with the music you struggle to fully comprehend the narrative, but it’s clearly an examination of the plight of the American youth post-09/11.

I thought The Arts Theatre might be too small for it, but it isn’t. Sara Perks grungy design, with excellent rock show lighting from Tim Deiling, makes great use of the space. This is a big gig for director / choreographer Racky Plews (who I will forever be grateful to for her wonderful Guys & Dolls Upstairs at the Gatehouse) and she does a terrific job. The four male leads are all great. Aaron Sidwell has huge charisma as Johnny. Alexis Gerred’s journey from punk to GI injured in war is very well played. Steve Rushton has the less ‘sexy’ role of stay-at-home Will, in which he acquits himself well. Lucas Rush plays the faustian St. Jimmy with just the right combination of danger and dark humour. Much has been made of the casting of X-Factor’s Amelia Lily, but it’s not a big role (particularly in the vocal department), though she performs it very well. There’s a great ensemble and a crack 4-piece band on the upper level.

I’m not a Green Day fan, but I was impressed by this. They need to work on the sound before opening night to make it less muddy and to make all of the lyrics fully audible. That done, I think this will be a hit and may well transfer after its three months at the Arts. Next month provides an opportunity to re-visit Tommy, the first rock opera, in Greenwich. I can’t wait.

 

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This show, by Joe DiPietro & Jimmy Roberts, ran Off Broadway for 12 years / 5000 shows between 1996 and 2008 but has only managed three short runs in London. Though there are some unsung scenes, its really a song cycle for four actors, and it’s rather good.

It follows relationships from casual dating through serious courting, marriage, parenthood and empty nesting to divorce, death and back to dating! Four actors, two male and two female, play all of the nameless individuals and couples in various combinations, that represent stages in archetypal relationships. The songs are good, but its strength really lies in its humour, finding the truth in life’s twists and turns.

The great attraction of this production is four of Britain’s finest young musical theatre performers – Julie Atherton, Gina Beck, Samuel Holmes and Simon Lipkin – at the top of their game. Not only are they good delivering the songs, but they also prove very adept at the comedy, squeezing every laugh possible from the witty lyrics and sharp lines. Scott Morgan accompanies on an upright piano with no amplification which I liked, though I missed some lyrics when the performers weren’t facing me.

Staged in the small space Above the Arts Theatre by Kirk Jameson with movement by Sam Spencer Lane and just a few props but a lot of costume changes, it’s a delightful 80 minutes, though lengthened to almost two hours by an unnecessary interval and some bad timekeeping, which stretched the patience on a sweltering evening.

I took against the Arts Theatre’s new upstairs venue, Above the Arts, like a room above a pub for an open mic night, with no raking, no stage and no air, but I’m really glad I caught up with this show at last, especially with such fine casting. It deserves a better venue (St James Studio, Union Theatre, Landor Theatre….)and a longer run, though.

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I finally caught up with this much talked about play (with the somewhat controversial title) on its transfer to the Arts Theatre. Thankfully. Such a good piece of writing and four terrific performances.

A New York Jewish family gather for Shiva, the one week mourning observed by close family, after the death of their grandfather, a holocaust survivor. We only meet the three grandchildren, and the girlfriend of one of them. Daphna is intelligent, traditional and brittle; she could disagree about an agreement. Her cousin Liam is the elder of two brothers, the blue-eyed boy, also intelligent, just as brittle but certainly not traditional – he’s going to marry a gentile. Jonah is as passive as they come, in Liam’s shadow, saying anything to Daphna for a quiet life. His favourite phrase is ‘I don’t want to get involved’. Liam’s girlfriend Melody is an archetypal suburban American dumb blonde.

The story revolves around who gets grandad’s Hy (?spelling), a gold item with great sentimental value. Liam wants to use it in place of an engagement ring, as grandad did. Daphna believes she is entitled, as the only religiously observant one. Jonah doesn’t want to get involved. It gets very heated, with Liam and Daphna at war, Jonah balancing precariously on the fence and Liam’s intended in shock – families don’t fight like this in her world. Though it’s a thoroughly Jewish story, replace the item and the cultural references and it could be any family.

All four performers are outstanding. Jenna Augen oozes authenticity as Daphna, which I suspect comes from her own background, and is more controlled in her anger than Ilan Goodman who is otherwise excellent as Liam. Gina Bramhill captures that American everygirl perfectly, with facial expressions that get as many laughs as the lines, and Joe Coen is brilliantly restrained as the one who doesn’t want to get involved. Michael Longhurst’s staging, in Richard Kent’s superb cramped NYC apartment, is as finely detailed as the performances and the Arts Theatre is just the right size for you to see this unfold with enough intimacy to make a big impact.

I think this is playwright Joshua Harmon’s first play. I can’t wait to see how he develops.

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