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Posts Tagged ‘Inua Ellams’

I loved Inua Ellams last play, The Barbershop Chronicles, so much so that I went twice. This is a very different proposition, a storytelling two-hander, a poem really. The staging and performances are excellent, but I’m afraid I failed to engage with the story.

Demi is a Nigerian basketball prodigy. We learn that he is the result of his mother Modupe’s rape by Greek god Zeus, the prize in a bet with a Yoruba god. Demi is therefore a half god, which gives him powers over and above his sporting prowess. When he learns how he was conceived, he’s intent on revenge. Half god v the most powerful god of all.

The performances of Kwami Odoom as Demi and Rakie Ayola as Modupe are captivating, prowling around the stage, very animated. Max Johns’ simple design, Jackie Shemesh striking lighting, Tanuja Amarasuriya’s atmospheric sound design and Imogen Knight’s movement contribute significantly to Nancy Medina’s excellent staging. In the end though it was the story itself which left me cold. The previous play had so much truth, humanity and energy. This just had energy.

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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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I was captivated by this piece from the cheeky pre-show audience engagement, when my beard was put under threat, to the deeply moving final scene, where a widowed, childless barber and his eighteen-year-old fatherless customer strike up a relationship.

Inua Ellams play takes us from a London barber shop back-and-forth to similar establishments in Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Africa, to explore issues of culture and identity for black men of all ages. The stories only connect by their barbershop setting, their themes include politics, family and friendship and somehow it hangs together brilliantly. The music, dance and humour provide an extraordinary warmth. It’s performed brilliantly by a dozen terrific actors, too many to name.

The audience are on all sides and the shop signs around the 1st level illuminate to tell us which barber shop we’re in. The scene changes themselves are highly entertaining and the pace of Bijan Sheibani’s production never lets up for 105 unbroken minutes. Rae Smith’s design conveys the essence of the barbershop settings and different cities and countries. I particularly loved Aline David’s movement, at its best at the end with an inspired dance using barbers capes like bullfighters.

The unlikely midweek matinee audience rose to its feet. I might have to go again.

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