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Posts Tagged ‘bush theatre’

This is a fine example of that rare species, the blue-collar play. Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning work does more to help you understand recent events in the US than any number of newspaper articles or TV documentaries, and it does so by focusing on the lives of just eight people in the industrial town of Reading PA.

Most of the scenes are set in Mike’s Bar in 2000 when America is going through things not unlike 80’s Britain. The NAFTA deal is seeing production move to Mexico, union power is waning, leading to much less generous contracts, which if declined result in cheaper temps, mostly hispanic, being hired. People are losing jobs and homes and addiction levels rise.

Three friends who work together on the shop floor of a local factory meet in the bar after work and on each other’s birthdays. Stan the barman used to work with them until he was injured. His Puerto Rican assistant Oscar aspires to a job there. African American Cynthia’s estranged husband Brucie has been on strike at another plant for a long time. She aspires to promotion and her son Chris, also in the plant, to escape through education. Widow Tracey and her son Jason and singleton Jessie are her friends and colleagues. Cynthia gets her promotion which gives her insight into the company’s plans. When all of their worlds begin to crumble, they turn on one another as well as the perpetrators of their plight, racism rears its ugly head, relationships disintegrate and tragedy ensues. Three scenes take us forward eight years to see how things work out. The ending packs a real emotional punch.

It’s a superbly written play, really well structured. The bar is towered over by an impressionistic factory in Frankie Bradshaw’s excellent design. The performances are as authentic as the writing, an absolutely stunning ensemble, with Martha Plimpton making a very welcome visit to these shores. It’s great to see Lynette Linton, a director the Donmar (and other theatres) have nurtured, get such a high profile gig, and she really rises to the occasion with a faultless staging, a great omen for her forthcoming role as Bush Theatre AD.

If you’re puzzled why people voted Trump or Brexit, this thoroughly researched, objective play will help you understand without lecturing, hectoring or preaching. It’s one of my three best new plays of 2018 (though I cheated a bit because it was my first of 2019). Go!

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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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Gig theatre was one of the features of the Edinburgh fringe this year. I went to two, but missed this much lauded show now at the Bush Theatre.

Hull based Middle Child’s story spans thirty years from the birth of Leah and Chris on the same day in 1987, Thatchers Britain, shooting forward ten years to Cool Britannia, when they have both lost one parent, for very different reasons, and it looks possible the remaining parents might get together. Ten years later in Broken Britain they are at work or university, with the parents still alone. We meet them finally in 2017, Brexit Britain, one married with a child and the other turning into a bit of a bitch, under the influence of her former school bully, both struggling in their relationship with their respective parent. Oh, and there’s an asteroid.

The gig bit consists of songs as commentary, their style reflecting the periods, played by composer James Frewer and the cast members at each corner of the playing area, with the audience on four sides. It was well performed, with a particularly charismatic performance from Matt Graham as the MC, but it was let down by poor, muddy sound and a weak, rather pompous ending. Before that it had been an enjoyable 75 minutes, but didn’t quite live up to expectations.

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This new play has an epic sweep, crossing three continents and more than sixty years to tell the story of a young Indian couple’s journey via Kenya to the UK through the changes in all three countries. I was enthralled.

It starts in Ahmedabad in 1954 as teenager Jyoti chooses between five suitors, deciding on Kenyan Asian twenty-something Rasik. It’s a year before she joins him in Kenya to begin their life together, where they become farmers and befriend and employ David, but it isn’t long before they leave the country amid the turmoil of the Mau Mau uprising. Their destination is the UK and there we see them in the late 60’s and 70’s making a life for themselves, Rasik training as a surveyor and Jyoti becoming a union activist fighting exploitation of Asian women, both on the receiving end of racist abuse, bringing up two girls and buying a home. The play ends as we flash forward to the present day, looking back at their adventure, new facts revealed.

It’s beautifully written, very mature and assured for a young playwright, particularly well structured. Madani Younis’ production is set on a square stage with the audience facing each other on two sides and screens on the other two. With very few props, locations are conjured up by what covers the floor, with the impressionistic projections adding atmosphere. The simplicity of the design allows the story to shine unencumbered, both the personal tale of the couple and the political and societal changes in all three countries.

Anjana Vasan is excellent as the assertive, feisty and independent Jyoti, as is Shubham Saraf as the loving but much put upon Rasik. In Kenya, Martins Imhangbe creates an imposing presence as David and in the UK, daughter Sonal is played with cheeky youthfulness, very much her mother’s daughter, by Aysha Kala, who doubles up as Jyoti’s niece back in India. When we move to the present day, Nika Aalia and Selva Rasalingham take over as the older Joyti and Rasik. A fine ensemble.

A candidate for the year’s best new play, I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from playwright Vinay Patel.

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This Bush Theatre transfer is a real breath of fresh air for the West End. Arinze Kene’s play is an extraordinary concoction of drama, performance poetry, rap and music, staged brilliantly, with a virtuoso performance from the playwright himself. I found it thrilling.

Misty tracks black Londoner Lucas as he navigates the city, starting with an altercation on the night bus, struggling with the changes to, and gentrification of, his city. It also tells the story of the playwright, developing his work with advice and interference from the producer, his agent and friends. Both are interwoven in a series of inventive short scenes, many with music, with the two musicians, the stage manager and a young girl providing brief characterisations of others. It’s structure confounds you as its originality pleases you.

Rajha Shakiry’s simple stylised design relies on Daniel Denton’s terrific projections and shadows to create evocative stage images beautifully lit by Jackie Shemesh. Omar Elerian’s staging is masterly, creative and unpredictable. The music, played live by Shiloh Coke and Adrain McLeod, seems an organic part of the story, and Elena Penoa’s sound made it exciting but fully audible. Arizne Kane has bucketloads of charisma and presence and his performance is stunning. All of the components come together to produce a truly captivating evening, with the audience erupting at the end.

I knew of Kene’s talent as an actor from One Night in Miami and Girl from the North Country, but I had no idea that he had such an original writing voice too. Unmissable.

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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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