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Posts Tagged ‘bush theatre’

Thirty years on from its London premiere at the National (the first play by a black woman there, in 1988!) this comes over as a vital play for our time, exploring the immigrant experience of the generation that came here and the one that followed, born here.

Enid is part of the Windrush generation, her daughters Del, the elder rebellious one, and Viv, a good girl, both born here. Enid’s a single mum, having left her abusive husband. She holds down two jobs in order to keep her family, her attitudes are ‘old school’, thankful and respectful. ‘Uncle’ Brod, who isn’t, pops in regularly. They visit an ‘obeah’ woman Mai, a Caribbean healer who reads palms & cards and gives baths & potions. Enid is convinced, Del a disbeliever and Viv interested but uncommitted. When Enid’s mum dies, she’s full of guilt and yearns to go home. Del gets pregnant and leaves home, lodging with Mai, who passes on her knowledge and skills to her. Viv want to take a gap year to discover her roots in the Caribbean. Brod just wants another bottle of rum.

The older generation are torn between their adopted home and their homeland, deeply hurt by the racism they’ve encountered, hanging on to their heritage and culture. The next generation feel differently, Del seeing no connection with her heritage and Viv wanting to explore it. The play also examines the relationships between Enid and her daughters and between the sisters. Some things are unexplained – why Del goes to Mai’s, how Viv gets to Uni after walking out of her first exam and what exactly is Brod’s relationship with Enid. The older characters are heavily accented and you do have to work at taking it all in. That said, I found it an enthralling play, often very funny and often deeply moving.

Sarah Niles is wonderful as a very dignified Enid, who’s learnt how to cope alone. Seraphina Beh brings an unpredictability and brittleness to angry, passionate Del and Nichole Cherrie a caring loyalty to her younger sister Viv. Adjoa Andoh has great presence as Mai, who’s got her own story as well as a place in theirs. Wil Johnson is more than a comic character, but he does excel at the very physical comedy of larger-than-life Brod.

Nine Night, recently at the Dorfman, also written by a black woman, covered similar ground, and I suspect owes a debt to this earlier play. At both productions, there were many of shared heritage to whom it seemed to mean more than it did to me, but Madani Younis’ production is still as fine an evening of drama as you could wish for. Not to be missed.

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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Playwright Tom Wells earned his ‘must see’ place on my list with two of the most heart-warming and funny plays of recent years – The Kitchen Sink and Jumpers for Goalposts (oh, and a lovely monologue as part of Unusual Unions backstage at the Royal Court) – so I pounced at the chance to see this one-hour one-person musical, with songs by Matthew Robins, in the Bush Theatre’s Reading Room on a brief visit from Hull, and what a delight it is.

The audience is standing in for the school assembly and 15-year-old Liam is making a project prize presentation, a musical about his friend Caz’s planned synchronised swimming project. She’s an offstage character who we get to know almost as well, a trademark of Wells’ work, as is her dad, his mum & her new man Barry and the lifeguard at the pool. Liam talks and sings us through his year from arriving in Hull through meeting Caz, her previous projects and the development of this one. Most of the time he’s standing with his guitar, but he relocates a couple of times and the audience participate in a prop-handling sort of way before eventually becoming the chorus.

Wells has a real ear for teenage dialogue and both the writing and Andrew Finnigan’s charming performance ooze authenticity, including the not always perfect guitar playing and singing, and every single facial expression and posture. It’s brilliant storytelling, which feels like you’re reading Liam’s diary of a year of growing up, friendship and fledgling love. Jane Fallowfield’s homespun staging is completely in tune with the material, which the venue seemed to complement too.

Just as heart-warming and funny as his other plays, surly we’ll see more than this handful of performances?

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I’ve been banging on about the extraordinary ambition of the All Star Productions team in Walthamstow for a while now, but I really thought they’d lost the plot when I heard they were mounting this infamous West End flop. Wrong again; they’ve turned into a cult fringe hit.

In 1989 it went straight into the cavernous Piccadilly Theatre. I liked it. It was an unusual pairing of American composer Joe Brooks (music) and British playwright Dusty Hughes (book & lyrics). Before becoming a playwright, Hughes had been Time Out’s theatre editor and the Bush Theatre’s joint AD. His plays had been put on at the NT, RSC & Royal Court, but he had no musicals pedigree. Brooks had written America’s biggest selling song in the 70’s, an Academy & Grammy award winner, but hadn’t written a musical. They chose to adapt Fritz Lang’s iconic 1927 film.

It occupies that sparsely populated SciFi musical sub-genre. Set in a dystopian future, the overground world of the Elitists of Metropolis is powered by the Workers underground, in a city founded by John Freemen. The workers have a new-found charismatic leader in Maria, who has fallen in love with Freeman’s son Steven. Freeman has her abducted. He’s also hired an inventor to find a robotic alternative to the troublesome and increasingly scarce workers. These two actions come together.

The big surprise for me was how good the score is, with some great tunes and rousing choruses, freshly orchestrated and arranged by MD Aaron Clingham. The vocal quality is sky high, with particularly strong vocals from Rob Herron as Steven. My namesake Gareth James makes a fine baddie (Brian Blessed in the West End!) and there’s a hugely impressive professional debut by Miiya Alexandra as Maria. The excellent ensemble deliver the choruses with passion, expertly choreographed by Ian Pyle. The design team of Justin Williams, Jonny Rust & Joana Dias work wonders with limited resources, creating an inventive set and costumes. The show seems to be a favourite of director Tim McArthur, and it shows.

So by now you know you have three weeks to head to the northern end of the Victoria Line, where the centre of gravity of fringe musicals now clearly resides.

 

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If you’re interested in theatre, how can you resist an evening where the playwright presents his play to an actor, who has never seen it before, then stays around while the actor performs it, well actually participates in it? The actor changes nightly and I felt privileged to get Hattie Morahan – and Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpoor, of course. The trouble is, how can I possibly write about it…….

The play is fed rather than given to the actor, and its very playful. In just seventy minutes we learn about the playwright, his family and his homeland. We learn some Farsi; Hattie learns rather a lot of Farsi. We learn a bit about the actor. We learn something about ourselves. It’s a masterclass in communication and friendship. It’s funny and moving. It’s clever and surprising. It’s hi-tech and lo-tech. Above all it’s a captivating, heart-warming evening you could only ever have in the theatre.

I can say no more except urge you to catch it if you can.

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Hir is an unofficial, socially-constructed, gender-neutral pronoun, an alternative to he or her. Playwright Taylor Mac is a polymath American artist who challenges conformity and categorisation; someone once described him as Ziggy Stardust meets Tiny Tim. As you can by now imagine, this is a surreal ride.

Isaac returns from three years in the war, as a marine in the mortuary service. He’s had a dishonourable discharge for drug use. While he’s been away, there have been dramatic changes in the family. After years of abusing his wife and children, dad Arnie is ill and now on the receiving end of the abuse. Isaac’s sister is in the process of becoming his brother, encouraged by his mother Paige, who has gone all new age and politically correct and stopped cleaning completely. The house is a tip. Isaac struggles to believe or accept it all and a power struggle with his mother develops.

I’m not entirely sure what the playwright is getting at, but it’s fascinating and expertly staged and performed. Ben Stones’ design has to be seen to be believed. Nadia Fall’s staging continually shocks and surprises. All four performances are outstanding, with favourite Ashley McGuire so extraordinarily matter-of-fact as Paige, contrasting with Arthur Darvill’s highly strung and fragile Isaac.

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste (there were lots failing to return after the interval) but it held and intrigued me, and I’m still processing it.

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This fascinating play by Rajiv Joseph is set in the mid-17th century in Agra, as the Taj Mahal nears completion. Two guards, Humayun and Babur, are posted outside with their backs to the building, forbidden to turn around and see it. They have been friends since army days and they pass the time reminiscing and fantasising. Humayun is earnest and law-abiding; his dad holds a senior position in the Emperor’s court. Babur is more rebellious and cheeky. The play is based on the myth that the Emperor is determined that a more beautiful building is never built and takes drastic action to ensure this is the case.

In the first part, we get to know these two guards as they stand in position engaging in conversation, even though they are supposed to be mute. They talk about the building, a mausoleum for the Emperor’s favourite wife which has taken 20 years to complete, and its architect. They reflect on the Emperor’s life and in particular his harem. They look back fondly to their army days, specifically when they built a tree platform for protection. In the second part, we see the aftermath of the work they had to do at the Emperor’s bidding to ensure nothing as beautiful would ever be built again, one resigned to following orders, the other wracked with guilt. They share thoughts and flights of imagination as they disagree. In the third, they are divided when Humayan is forced to follow his father’s orders.

It’s hard to describe. Though it’s a duologue, it’s mesmerising and completely captivating. In Jamie Lloyd’s gripping production, Soutra Gilmour’s design is complemented by striking lighting from Richard Howell and an atmospheric soundscape by George Dennis, but above all it’s the compelling performances of Danny Ashok and Darren Kuppan which draw you in.

A great way to re-open the Bush Theatre and good to see Jamie Lloyd working on the fringe for the second time this year.

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