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Posts Tagged ‘New Diorama Theatre’

One of the most positive things about 2019 was that more new plays and new musicals made my shortlist than revivals of either; new work appears to be thriving, theatre is alive.

BEST NEW PLAY

I struggled to chose one, so I’ve chosen four!

Laura Wade’s pirandellian The Watsons* at the Menier, clever and hilarious, The Doctor* at the Almeida, a tense and thrilling debate about medical ethics, How Not to Drown at the Traverse in Edinburgh, the deeply moving personal experience of one refugee and Jellyfish at the NT Dorfman, a funny and heart-warming love story, against all odds

There were another fifteen I could have chosen, including Downstate, Faith Hope & Charity and Secret River at the NT, The End of History and A Kind of People* at the Royal Court, The Son and Snowflake* at the Kiln, The Hunt at the Almeida, A German Life at the Bridge, After Edward at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Appropriate at the Donmar, A Very Peculiar Poison at the Old Vic and Shook at Southwark Playhouse. Our Lady of Kibeho at Stratford East was a candidate, though I saw it in Northampton. My other out of town contender was The Patient Gloria at the Traverse in Edinburgh. I started the year seeing Sweat at the Donmar, but I sneaked that into the 2018 list!

BEST REVIVAL

Death of a Salesman* at the Young Vic.

This was a decisive win, though my shortlist also included All My Sons and Present Laughter at the Old Vic, Master Harold & the Boys and Rutherford & Son at the NT Lyttleton, the promenade A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge, Noises Off* at the Lyric Hammersmith and Little Baby Jesus at the Orange Tree.

BEST NEW MUSICAL

Shared between Come From Away* in the West End and Amelie* at the Watermill in Newbury, now at The Other Palace, with Dear Evan Hansen*, This Is My Family at the Minerva in Chichester and one-woman show Honest Amy* at the Pleasance in Edinburgh very close indeed.

Honourable mentions to & Juliet* in the West End, Ghost Quartet* at the new Boulevard, The Bridges of Madison County at the Menier, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Fiver at Southwark Playhouse, Operation Mincemeat* at The New Diorama and The Season in Northampton.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

Another that has to be shared, between the Menier’s The Boy Friend* and The Mill at Sonning’s Singin’ in the Rain*

I also enjoyed Sweet Charity* at the Donmar, Blues in the Night at the Kiln, Falsettos at the Other Palace and The Hired Man at the Queens Hornchurch, and out-of-town visits to Assassins and Kiss Me Kate at the Watermill Newbury and Oklahoma in Chichester.

A vintage year, I’d say. It’s worth recording that 60% of my shortlist originated in subsidised theatres, underlining the importance of public funding of quality theatre. 20% took me out of London to places like Chichester, Newbury and Northampton, a vital part of the UK’s theatrical scene. Only two of these 48 shows originated in the West End, and they both came from Broadway. The regions, the fringe and arts funding are all crucial to making and maintaining the UK as the global leader it is.

The starred shows are either still running or transferring, so they can still be seen, though some close this week.

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This is the musical theatre debut from SpitLip – David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson & Zoe Roberts – a bonkers but brilliant show set during World War II, which tells the story of a secret mission that changed the course of that war. Hugely inventive, eclectic musical styles, superbly staged, a terrific ensemble and it’s a hoot.

The plot revolves around misinformation, leaking fake British plans that convince the Nazi’s to change theirs, but in the most convoluted way that involves a submarine, a dead body and a visit to Spain, with a possible double-agent and a film script to add another layer. The music, and there’s a lot of it, is a selection of different contemporary styles with an onstage trio of keyboards, bass and drums under MD Felix Hagan. Helen Coyson’s design, Sherry Coenen’s lighting and Dan Balfour’s sound add up to outstanding fringe production values.

The five performers – the three writers plus Jak Malone & Rory Furey-King – use a very broad comic-book performance style which is extremely funny and suits the tongue-in-cheek, gently satirical material. They sing superbly too; some of the numbers, notably the Nazi chorus that opens the second half, choreographed really well. It could do with losing ten or fifteen minutes, but otherwise it zips along and sweeps you up with its manic charm, right up to it’s well-deserved standing ovation.

Another great new small-scale British musical; our cups currently runneth over.

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A nine-year-old Mike Bartlett play that appears to have passed me by, revived by Deafinitely Theatre in a bi-lingual English / BSL production in the atrium of a corporate office, apparently once a trading floor!

There are four floors of hexagonal glass walls, behind which there are offices, a few still occupied, some being cleaned as we sit. We’re peering in to The Manager’s office, behind which we can see another (shared) office through glass. In a series of scenes spanning more than a year, The Manager meets one employee, Emma.

At first she’s checking her understanding of the corporate policy on relationships between employees, then questioning her on a possible relationship with her colleague Darren. As it unfolds, a relationship is confirmed, Darren is relocated, Emma becomes pregnant, Darren is transferred to another country and the company is effectively running their lives.

The Manager communicates entirely in BSL, most of which is repeated by Emma as if she were checking her understanding. She writes and draws on the glass behind and uses a projector as another tongue-in-cheek visual aid. Emma speaks and signs. Occasionally, something is said but not signed and vice versa, to simulate a deaf persons real experience. It’s extraordinary how much of the BSL the hearing can understand.

The corporate setting adds much to the authenticity and atmosphere of this satire on big brother corporations. Fifi Garfield is brilliantly deadpan and ice cold as The Manager, her expressions and movements speaking volumes in themselves. Abigail Poulton navigates Emma’s deeply emotional journey superbly. It’s sharply staged by Paula Garfield, and Paul Burgess’ design sits perfectly in the site-specific space.

Though I hadn’t seen it before, it seemed to me this deaf-led theatre company brings another dimension to another of Bartlett’s powerful miniatures.

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Little Bulb’s Orpheus at BAC – the most extraordinary cocktail of concert and storytelling

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at BAC – more storytelling, with music and charming lo-tech projections

Mischief’s The Play That Went Wrong at Trafalgar Studios – more laughs in 60 minutes than any other show – ever

Cush Jumbo’s Josephine & I at the Bush – two biographies intertwined in a virtuoso performance

ONEOFUS’ Beauty & the Beast at the Young Vic – two biographies intertwined with a gothic fairytale

PIT’s The Universal Machine at the New Diorama – a timely play with music about Alan Turing

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The life of code-breaker Alan Turing is an unlikely subject for a musical, but then again so were the Ipswich prostitute murders! Like London Road, this is more a play with music than a musical (though not sung verbatim interviews in this case). What they also share is how successful they tell their story, and in this case it also makes you reappraise a man’s life.

Starting as Turing goes to Sherborne School, we zip through school and university days and on to Bletchley Park and his huge contribution to the second world war. Moving on into his post-war research & teaching career in Manchester, you realise this is no simple code-breaker, but a scientific colossus whose theories were extraordinary prophetic. Sadly, we see him brought down by the naive confession of a private act that would today be a complete non-event. A genius cut down in his prime.

You do learn an extraordinary amount in 90 minutes, partly because the music propels and illuminates the narrative. They aren’t songs you could play out of context, but they are tuneful and very listenable with live keyboard and recorded accompaniment and some added live strings from cast members. The staging is simple but superbly effective, with projections and two on-stage racks of props enabling scenes to be created swiftly, and a giant document patchwork used to great effect.

Richard Delaney is excellent as Turing, completely plausible as schoolboy & undergraduate through twenty and thirty something. They are lucky to have someone as talented as Judith Paris to play Alan’s mother, which she does with great sensitivity. All other roles are played brilliantly by just five actors and it often seems there are many more than seven on stage.

Though I liked Hugh Whitmore’s play about Turing, with Derek Jacobi leading (27 years ago now and surely overdue for revival), I think I learnt more about his life from this show, which seemed to me to really get under the skin and capture the essence of the man, the monumental achievements, the sadness of his personal life and the waste that his premature death was.

I really do hope we haven’t seen the last of this little gem of a show. Huge congratulations to The New Diorama and it director David Byrne (responsible for the book, lyrics & direction) composer / lyricist Dominic Brennan and young theatre company PIT. There was a real bonus on the evening I went, with a man from Bletchley Park demonstrating an actual Enigma machine in the foyer!

Let’s hope it comes back so more people can see it.

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This homage / spoof of those mid-20th century shows on the airwaves has been something I’ve fancied trying for a while. I almost added it to my Edinburgh Fringe schedule this year, then this try-out turned up in a new venue, so off we went.

It covers similar ground to the Dick Barton shows at Croydon Warehouse and the recent Round the Horne recreations, sounding like the former and looking like the latter. It recreates a time when whole families sat around the wireless to hear tales told by actors with sound effects and music. Here, we’re with five actors in evening dress at the other end, in the studio, lined up behind microphones and surrounded by a vast array of items to create sound effects.

In 60 minutes, we get four tales, including 2 two-parters – a murder mystery and a thriller set in a tin mine – and one for kids. Each of the actors take multiple roles and create the extraordinary range of sound effects. I’m not sure the inclusion of commercials for tea is true to the period, but they’re fun nonetheless.

It’s funny, charming and above all a virtuoso performance. The success of the show relies much more on the performances than the writing and these, from Jon Edgley Bond, Tom Mallaburn, Phil Mulryne, Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Fiona Sheehan, were faultless.

Even though it’s only an hour, it’s taken at an exhausting pace and might benefit from a break half-way through, with the second parts of the two-parters in the second half (!), but this is destined for Edinburgh and intervals mean time and time means money, so I can see why they run it straight through.

It was my first visit to the New Diorama Theatre inside the also new Regent’s Place development at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road. The communication links are great, there’s a good bar / cafe with outside seating and they’re all very friendly. A welcome addition to the London fringe.

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