Wednesday 3 April 2024

Long Day's Journey Into Night - Review

Wyndhams Theatre, London



*****



Written by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Jeremy Herrin


Brian Cox

Brian Cox heads an impressive cast in Eugene O’Neill’s grim take on early twentieth-century America. Widely considered the finest of O’Neill’s works and drawn from the writer’s autobiographical experiences, Cox plays James Tyson, a miserly washed-up actor in his sixties and the patriarch of a family wracked with alcoholism, morphine addiction and consumption. 

Cox may take the starriest billing but his fellow performers are equally magnificent. Patricia Clarkson is his wife Mary, with Daryl McCormack playing elder son James Jnr. and Laurie Kynaston as Tyson’s youngest child Edmund.

In a 3hr 20min show, each of the 4 characters is given ample room by O’Neill to explore and display the depths of their own personal tragedies. All of the quartet are profoundly flawed, with the evening proving a stunning combination of outstanding prose delivered to perfection. Cox may be the unlikeable linchpin of his family, but even he garners a modicum of sympathy as the full extent of his and his family’s misfortunes are laid bare. Clarkson and her take on Mary’s surrender to opiates offers perhaps the evening’s most poignant interpretation.

Set over the course of one long day, in the confines of the Tyson house located in a remote coastal Hicksville, Jeremy Herrin’s direction is masterful, enhanced by Lizzie Clachan’s simply designed set and Jack Knowles’ ingeniously effective lighting.

It is rare for such a magnum opus of a play to be performed by such a gifted company. The evening may be uncomfortable and unhappy, but it is also unmissable.


Booking until 8th June
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Wild About You - Review

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London



**


Music & lyrics by Chilina Kennedy
Book by Eric Holmes
Directed by Nick Winston



Rarely have such a platinum-plated cast delivered a tale of such unfathomable mediocrity.

All of the actors Eric McCormack, Rachel Tucker, Oliver Tompsett, Tori Allen-Martin, Jamie Muscato and Todrick Hall are vocally magnificent, representing the cream of British (McCormack excluded) musical theatre talent. Nick Barstow’s 10-piece band are fabulous too.

It is just that Eric Holmes’ book and Chilina Kennedy’s lyrics are the shallowest cliche-fest to have made a West End stage in many a year.  Olivia (Tucker) wakes up in a hospital ward as the curtain rises, with her memory wiped. The the show then begins an exploration of her piecing together the reconstruction of her life. Frankly, it may well have been a better story if she’d stayed asleep.

The second act is a shameless steal from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, albeit without that pair’s creative genius. The actors are left with little to do other than (beautifully) sing songs that it is impossible to care about.

Thankfully only on for 2 nights, Wild About You is over now.

Opening Night - Review

Gielgud Theatre, London



****



Music, lyrics & orchestrations by Rufus Wainwright
Original film by John Cassavetes
Directed by & book written by Ivo Van Hove


Sheridan Smith


Every show has an opening night. In Mel Brooks’ musical The Producers he even included a song entitled Opening Night, so it was surely only a matter of time until a creative (step forward Ivo Van Hove) grabbed hold of John Cassavetes’ 1977 movie to fashion a two-act show around one of theatre’s most consistently nerve-wracking challenges.

In one of the boldest upendings of the genre, Van Hove’s multimedia, mind-meddling, meta-musical presents us with the decline of the fragile Myrtle (Sheridan Smith). A leading lady in The Second Woman, a Broadway play that’s four days from opening, Myrtle is already battling profound insecurities about her age and career. Early on in the narrative she witnesses the brutal death of Nancy, a fan killed in a road traffic accident immediately after having very nervously obtained the actress’s autograph. Following Nancy's death, the musical then tracks the ticking time-bomb of the impact of that trauma upon Myrtle’s mental well-being.

Smith is outstanding in a performance that mixes gravitas with fragility. The linchpin of both The Second Woman and Van Hove’s musical, it is her energy that drives the show. There are fine supporting performances too. Hadley Fraser is Manny, the demanding Broadway director who is all too happy to blur professional boundaries if it will reassure his leading lady. Nicola Hughes has the complex role of NY playwright Sarah, who is required to handle Myrtle’s mangling of her script as the actress’s mind unravels. The duet between Myrtle and Sarah, Makes One Wonder, is spine-tingling in its exploration of the pair’s respective vulnerabilities. Amy Lennox as Manny’s wife Dorothee has a modest but useful role in the narrative, providing a robust and challenging foil to her husband’s inappropriate conduct. 

The most impressive work amongst the supporting roles comes from West End debutante Shira Haas as Nancy. Haas takes this unfortunate young woman, transitioning her from a star-struck fan with issues to a ghost-like apparition that plagues Myrtle’s troubled mind. This is a bold conceit addressed brilliantly by Van Hove and lending an almost horrific edge to the second act. 

The use of video and live-action multi-camera projections (designed by Jan Versweyveld) deploys a massive upstage screen that not only plays around with cleverly storyboarded close-ups, but goes further with the merging of camera shots. In a remarkable coup-de-theatre, as Myrtle reaches her mental nadir, Versweyveld and Van Hove use time-lapse to add another visible dimension to the actress’s distress.

Rufus Wainwright’s music is, for the most part, a joy to experience taking in a range of American styles. Nigel Lilley’s 9-piece onstage band are terrific with standout work from Huw Davies on guitar. Wainwright’s lyrics occasionally drift into repetitive triteness, a feature perhaps of his rock and pop background rather than the more rigid disciplines of musical theatre.

Opening Night makes for a challenging night of unconventional theatre that is at times deeply upsetting. Sheridan Smith’s performance is one of the finest to be found on a London stage.


Booking until 27th July
Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld

Saturday 23 March 2024

The Duchess of Malfi - Review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London



****



Written by John Webster
Directed by Rachel Bagshaw



Francesca Mills

John Webster’s classic revenge tale is well told in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Francesca Mills plays the titular widowed Duchess whose death is sought by her patrician brothers following her live affair and subsequent secret marriage to aristocrat Antonio, with whom she has borne three children.

Mills puts in a fine performance with a credible passion and desire for Olivier Huband’s Antonio. The villains of the piece are Jamie Ballard and Oliver Johnstone as the brothers, together with Arthur Hughes’ Bosola, the story’s duplicitous lynchpin, engineering much of the murderous mayhem before himself succumbing to fatal pangs of guilt.

Director Rachel Bagshaw plays a little fast and loose with the text, but mercifully her re-writes are sparse and for those school parties attending there is enough meat in the production for them to context Webster’s prose. To her credit, Bagshaw places much emphasis on the misogyny of the play which sits even more appropriately in the #MeToo era.

The music is well played and provides a sound backdrop to the narrative, while the entertaining fight choreography from R C Annie Ltd offers the violent thrills and spills that this famous blood and bodice-ripping yarn demands.

At nigh-on 3 hours there are moments when the pace flags, but for a decent delivery of Restoration Tragedy, The Duchess Of Malfi hits the spot.


Runs until 14th April
Photo credit: Marc Brenner




Sister Act - Review

Dominion Theatre, London



**** 


Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner
Additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Bill Buckhurst


Lizzie Bea, Beverley Knight and company


Sister Act is everything that is great about musical theatre. The star studded cast lead the audience through the tale of Deloris (Beverley Knight), an aspiring musician who after stumbling across a gangland murder is forced to go into witness protection in a convent, all under the watchful and disapproving eye of the Mother Superior (Ruth Jones). Deloris delights as she revamps the downtrodden convent’s choir into a band of all-singing all-dancing nuns with a disco edge. 

Knight gives an utterly standout performance, her breathtaking vocals leaving the audience wanting more after every song. Her take on of Deloris is wonderfully exaggerated yet still sympathetic as the audience follow her character's journey from disco diva to a true convent sister. 

The outrageous Deloris plays excellently opposite Ruth Jones’ far more muted and restrained Mother Superior. The casting decision for Ruth Jones in this role seems to have been made more for her ‘star’ status rather than musical theatre acumen, as Jones’ vocals don’t hold weight alongside her cast members. However, what Jones lacks in singing talent she makes up for in comedic contributions to the show. Despite the supposed ‘dull’ persona of the Mother Superior, Jones brings a light cheekiness to the role with her own signature Welsh twist. It is a delight as Jones opens the show with her classic greeting of ‘alright’ and wearing Welsh dragon socks, making the role feel truly her own. 

Other notable performances come from Clive Rowe in the role of Steady Eddie and Lizzie Bea as Sister Mary Robert who both very much hold their own as solo vocalists, as well as eliciting continuous laugh out loud moments. 

Morgan Large’s set is simple yet effective with mostly static set pieces and props, allowing the cast to really take the foreground without distraction. The stage seamlessly transitions back and forth from an austere church setting to colours and lights of the disco age with at least one mirror ball on stage at any given moment. Costuming, also by Large, is delightful with the perfect amount of sequins that you would want from a big hit West End musical (by the finale each cast member is decked from head to toe in sparkles).

The entire show is entirely charming and genuinely hilarious with the cast’s joyful performances providing such an infectiously bright atmosphere that it would be a shock if anyone left that theatre without beaming from ear to ear. Sister Act really will take you to heaven and make you want to raise your voice!


Runs until 31st August
Photo credit: Johan Persson
Reviewed by Dina Gitlin-Leigh

Friday 8 March 2024

Nye - Review

National Theatre, London




*****


Written by Tim Price
Directed by Rufus Norris


Michael Sheen

Giving an extraordinary performance, Michael Sheen embodies Aneurin (Nye) Bevan in Tim Price’s new play. As Bevan lies dying of stomach cancer, Sheen takes us on a morphine-induced hallucination through the Welshman’s life, from his early career (following a brief stint down the mines) amidst the small town politics of Tredegar, through to his election as the MP for Ebbw Vale in 1929 and ultimately Cabinet Minister for Health and Housing and the visionary creator of the National Health Service in 1948.

In what is a fascinating analysis of both history and British socialism, Price’s narrative takes in Bevan’s unconventional yet loving marriage to Scottish MP Jennie Lee (fine work from Sharon Small) and sees him wittily spar with Tony Jayawardena’s brilliant cameo of Winston Churchill. Jon Furlong is equally brilliant, if repulsive, in his Mandelsonian take on Herbert Morrison (who was of course grandfather to the current Lord Mandelson). The other standout supporting roles are from Stephanie Jacob as Clement Attlee (driving a motorised No 10 desk around the stage), Rhodri Meilir as Bevan’s coal miner father David and Kezrena James as the starched yet supremely empathetic Nurse Ellie.

The story of the NHS’s formation is testament to Bevan’s strongly held belief in free health care for all at the point of need, forged from the iniquities of poverty and deprivation that he had seen in the Welsh mining valleys and throughout his career. Act Two’s revelation of the mercenary, self-preserving attitude of Britain’s doctors who fought tooth and nail against the privatisation of their highly lucrative profession makes for gripping drama.

The stagecraft on display is the National Theatre at its finest. Vicki Mortimer’s set sees hospital bedside curtains drawn across the stage in a variety of permutations including an ingenious suggestion of the House of Commons. Canny projections and an inspired use of laser-light to depict an underground seam of coal, only add to the evening’s theatrical magic.

The night however belongs to the pyjama-clad Michael Sheen. On stage virtually throughout and in a turn that includes a fabulous cover of Judy Garland’s Get Happy, Sheen is a tour-de-force treat in an evening of exquisite, unmissable theatre.


Runs until 11th May at the National Theatre and then at the Wales Millennium Centre from May 18th to 1st June
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Standing at the Sky's Edge - Review

Gillian Lynne Theatre, London


***



Music and lyrics by Richard Hawley
Book by Chris Bush
Directed by Robert Hastie



The cast of Standing at the Sky's Edge

Transferring to the West End from an acclaimed run at the National Theatre, Standing At The Sky’s Edge charts three occupancies of a duplex home built in Sheffield’s Park Hill estate. The show’s timeframe runs from the estate’s opening as a massive social housing project in 1959, replacing a significant proportion of the city's slum accommodation, then through a period of neglect and dilapidation and finally to the estate's gentrification in the early 21st century and transition into private ownership. Park Hill was a massive development and to this day remains the largest listed work of architecture in Europe. A prominent feature of Sheffield’s cityscape, the estate's history offered a bold conceit for the musical’s narrative.

It is a disappointment therefore that Chris Bush’s book is little more than a thread of cliched agitprop observations of the duplex's three occupying households. From a newly wed steelworker and his bride escaping poverty, through to refugees fleeing civil war in Liberia and ultimately, a comfortably middle-class professional running away from London and a failed relationship, Bush shoehorns in as many passing nods to Sheffield’s social landscape of the last 60 years as she can. The collapse of the steel industry, the miners’ strike, Thatcherism and even Brexit are all acknowledged with shallow passing references, though one can only speculate as to why the child grooming scandals that also tarnished so much of the South Yorkshire region during this period, fail to get a mention.

Richard Hawley’s songs are musically beautiful but lyrically lazy - the tunes land gorgeously on the ear but their frequent repetitions of phrases suggest a lack of creative wit behind the songs’ otherwise powerful foundations. The cast, as is to be expected on a leading London stage, are all magnificent with standout performances from Laura Pitt-Pulford, Rachael Wooding and Lauryn Redding. Ben Stone's stage designs together with Mark Henderson's lighting are equally impressive.

40 years ago Willy Russell's Blood Brothers offered a far sharper musical take on the impact of Thatcherism on England's north and of attempts by planners to rehouse a city's poor. Perhaps in a site-specific venue on the estate, Standing At The Sky's Edge may have packed more of a punch. The musical opened in Sheffield in 2019 where regional ticket pricing would have made it affordable to many of the city’s residents. In the capital however, where ticket prices are comparatively eye-watering, agitprop has been replaced by champagne-socialism.


Booking until 3rd August
Photo credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Thursday 29 February 2024

Nachtland - Review

Young Vic, London


*****


Written by Marius von Mayenburg
Translated by Maja Zade
Directed by Patrick Marber

Jane Horrocks

Nachtland is an intriguing, brilliantly delivered examination of post-Holocaust German identity. 

Philipp and Nicola (John Heffernan and Dorothea Myer-Bennett) are brother and sister meeting in the house of their recently deceased father to clear his belongings.

Opening with typical sibling squabbles over who had cared the most for their father in his decline, their dynamic soon shifts on the discovery of a framed picture in the attic that on close inspection, is found to be one of Adolf Hitler’s early watercolour paintings. The drama quickly evolves into an exploration of base greed, as the siblings engage Evamaria (Jane Horrocks) to verify the artwork’s provenance with a view to realising its value, contrasted with the emotional agonies of Philippa’s Jewish wife Judith (Jenna Augen), who is appalled at the siblings’ crass materiality in their exploiting an artefact of Hitler. 

Marius von Maayerburg’s genius (expertly translated by Maja Zade) lies in his crafting of brilliantly worded arguments that never once fall into maudling or simplistic explanations, but rather outline the ongoing traumatic legacy of the Holocaust and its impact upon modern Jewish identity - and counterpointing this impact with the blunt disinterested disconnection of Judith’s in-laws.

The second half of this ninety minute one-act work introduces Angus Wright as Kahl, a would-be purchaser of the painting and Nazi sympathiser, who is found to be a vile misogynist. Throw in a small turn from Gunnar Cauthery as Nicola’s husband Fabian who contracts tetanus in picking out nails from the picture’s antique frame and the evening’s sextet is complete.

The writing is brilliant, the cast is flawless and as the evening evolves, occasional pockets of humour lead to a final act that is both harrowing and shocking. Anna Fleischle’s deceptively mind-bending set is the perfect complement to Patrick Marber’s assured and deft direction.

With occasional musical interludes ranging from Bowie to Beethoven and Mahler, Nachtland is outstanding theatre.


Runs until 20th April
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz

Monday 26 February 2024

Cable Street - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London



**


Music & lyrics by Tim Gilvin
Book by Alex Kanefsky
Directed by Adam Lenson


The cast of Cable Street

Not so much a Cable Street as a road to hell that’s paved with good intentions. Tim Gilvin and Alex Kanefsky’s musical is framed around a massive story, that of the Battle of Cable Street that saw thousands of Londoners join forces to halt Mosley’s British Union of Fascists’ march through the heart of London’s Jewish East End.

An ambitious conceit, but the show’s narrative however fails to capture the enormity of the Battle’s achievement, focussing instead on micro-vignettes that seek to wrap up most of the East End’s minority communities. The linking threads of an unconvincing romance and a contrived vengeful finale just don’t move one’s soul in a way that such a remarkable episode of history should command.

An ensemble cast play a multitude of roles and there are moments of excellence from most of the performers. Standout numbers in particular across the two acts come from Sophie Ragavelas, Sha Dessi, Joshua Ginsberg and Jez Unwin.

Gilvin’s rap numbers are frequently garbled and his lyrics too simplistic - that being said, his melodies for What Next, Let Me In and Only Words are charming.

Adam Lenson directs a piece that ultimately fails to reflect the immense humanity of its underlying historical grounding. The production also makes an offensive casting choice by placing an actor of colour in a fascist’s uniform.

Sold out for the entire run but check with the box office for returns.


Runs until 16th March
Photo credit: Jane Hobson

Friday 23 February 2024

Just For One Day - Review

Old Vic, London



****


Book by John O'Farrell
Directed by Luke Sheppard


Craige Els

In a fabulous musical tribute to the 80s, Just For One Day takes David Bowie’s lyric as a link back to the global phenomenon that was the Live Aid concert of July 1985 and the Band Aid single that had preceded it in Christmas 1984. For the over-45s in the audience it is an evening of unashamed nostalgia as hit after hit is pumped out from the outstanding onstage band and sung by a cast who are all at the top of their musical theatre game.

Disbeliefs need to be seriously suspended though, for while Craige Els offers up a decent Bob (Geldof) and Jack Shallo (vocally at least) a passable Midge Ure (younger readers please Google) the other characterisations don’t quite hit the spot. 

John O’Farrell’s book crafts a corny tale that follows composite fictional character, Suzanne, from her teens in the 20th century to a middle-aged woman today, looking back at the excitement of the concert in her youth. There’s also Amara, a relief worker working at the famine’s coalface in Africa who takes us through the horrors and the challenges of what the epic fundraiser was all about.

On the night of this review, understudy Kerry Enright stepped up to the role of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, bringing just the right of comedy to counter the gravitas and delivering the show’s one original number written for the theatre, a rap duet with her and Els’ Bob: Mrs T/Mr G.

Soutra Gilmour’s striking set is driven by gig lights encased in a floor-to-ceiling 3-sided video box. It’s a stark concept that works well, conveying the rushed and improvised aura that actually belied the brilliant execution of both Band Aid and Live Aid.  

The stars of the show however are unquestionably Patrick Hurley’s 6-piece band, with standout guitar work from Matt Isaac and Kobi Pham. These musicians have the unenviable task of recreating many of the greatest rock songs ever recorded and they do so sensationally. Their work alone is worth the ticket price.


Runs until 30th March

Thursday 22 February 2024

Hadestown - Review

Lyric Theatre, London




****



Music, lyrics & book by Anaïs Mitchell
Developed with & directed by Rachel Chavkin


The company of Hadestown

Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown is drawn from one of the strongest tragic storylines around: Orpheus’ love for Eurydice that draws him into the Underworld in his quest to rescue her from Hades’ grasp and return her to the mortal world. It’s a banger of a yarn and credit to Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin whose cracking songs and outstanding cast have breathed a bold life into this ambitious vision. The UK first encountered the show in its 2018 premier at the National Theatre. Now in the West End it’s a glorious fusion of a raft of musical styles, sung perfectly.

Dónal Finn and Grace Hodgett Young are the two doomed lovers. Both are magnificent with Finn possessing a gorgeously fragile tone that makes his number Wait For Me sparkle. Amidst the grown-up roles, Zachary James’ Hades offers a bass baritone the like of which is rarely heard in musical theatre. His is a towering performance of vulnerable cruelty. Gloria Onitiri is Persephone, wonderfully reprising the part from her time at the National, while in a sensational turn as (basically, narrator) Hermes, Melanie La Barrie cleverly weaves the tale’s threads together. Sung through, the show is an impressive performance from Tarek Merchant’s 7-piece onstage band. Rachel Hauck’s set design is ingenious - think Hell fused with New Orleans - brilliantly lit by Bradley King.

The show’s frustration lies in its crass shoehorning of a modern political agenda onto the Greek classics, with the narrative not being enhanced by the childishly oversimplistic That’s Why We Build The Wall that closes the first act.

But there is excellence on stage here and for what is (mostly) a bold piece of new writing, Hadestown is worth seeing.


Booking until 22nd December
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Dear Octopus - Review

National Theatre, London



*****



Written by Dodie Smith
Directed by Emily Burns


Lindsay Duncan, Billy Howle, Bessie Carter and Malcolm Sinclair

Dodie Smith’s 1938 play is given a glorious revival at the Lyttleton. Dora and Charles Randolph (spectacularly played by Lindsay Duncan and Malcolm Sinclair) are celebrating their golden wedding in their country home that has been the family base for generations as relatives including children, grandchildren and one great-grandchild join them for the weekend’s festivities.

The sensitive genius of Smith’s writing is to observe the dynamics between the couple’s four daughters and a son - and to extract from all of these relationships the tender complexities of love, embarrassment, shame and even loss with a language that while of its time and dated, remains just as poignant for the 21st century and which never once descends into mawkish sentimentality. A lengthy first act slightly drags - but the second half soars through moments of the sweetest reconciliations amongst the assembled clan.

The cast are all magnificent. Of the adult children Bethan Cullinane’s Cynthia stands out for the remarkable interplay between her and her mother, while Billy Howle as gauche son Nicholas is another performance of remarkable sensitivity. Outside of the family, the role of the housemaid Fenny is a part of acute emotional complexity, skilfully delivered by Bessie Carter. A nod too to Kate Fahy’s Belle, Dora’s sister and a woman who has aged disgracefully yet wonderfully.

Duncan and Sinclair head their family with a perfect combination of warmth, understanding and gravitas. Duncan in particular delivers her role in a spectacular display of understated excellence. Rarely is such a loving matriarch to be found on stage.

The time and place of Dear Octopus (the plays title is drawn from a reference to the tentacular grasp of the family) is reflected both in Smith’s text - the losses of the Great War still smart, as the radio tells of a need to prepare for war as Chamberlain appeases Hitler - and in Frankie Bradshaw’s glorious set design that makes full use of the Lyttleton’s lofty fly tower and impressive revolve

Emily Burns has directed with a sure but nuanced hand, coaxing and crafting an evening of the finest talent from her company. Exquisite drama. 


Runs until 27th March
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Monday 19 February 2024

The Moonwalkers - Review

Lightroom, London



****



Written by Tom Hanks and Christopher Riley
Directed by Nick Corrigan and Lysander Ashton


An image from The Moonwalkers

The latest immersive audio-visual experience to arrive in London is The Moonwalkers, playing at Lightroom at Kings Cross. For 50 minutes the history and scale and above all achievement of the Apollo rocket launches that sent 12 men to walk on the surface of the Moon is played out in a beautifully compiled narrative.

The event kicks off with 1962 footage of President John F Kennedy pledging to put a man on the Moon. Tom Hanks narrates a commentary that’s factual if a little airbrushed into cosmetic nicety. JFK’s words were stirring but the show makes no mention at all of the space race that pitted USA against USSR in the bid to be the first to reach the Moon.

Throughout, the immaculate sound and projections teach us a lot about the various launches (from 1969 to 1972) and include stunning photography taken from the various Moon visits. The scale and achievement of what was accomplished more than 50 years ago is made clear and there are frequent references to today's Artemis II project that hopes to return astronauts to the Moon’s surface in 2026.

For all its beauty however, The Moonwalkers is more about the Moon and Tom Hanks than it is about the men who actually walked the Moon's surface. While we learn a lot about Hanks’ chilldhood and his passionate interest in the Moon landings – and to be fair, Hanks has been a driving force behind the creation of this show - we learn very little about the 12 Moonwalkers themselves. An immersive analysis of what motivated one or more of those 12 explorers, offering perhaps a glimpse of what gave them the ‘right stuff’ to make the unimaginably brave decision to fly to the Moon (rather than Hank’s recollections of discovering weightlessness in his parents’ backyard paddling pool) would have been fascinating.

But Anne Nikitin’s soundtrack played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is gorgeous and Corrigan, Ashton and Andy Saunders’ work on restoring the images and clips to this 360-degree digital screening is stunning. Lie back on the cushions and lose yourself in outer space. The history is humbling.


Runs until 9th June 2024
Photo credit: Justin Sutcliffe

Saturday 17 February 2024

Deathtrap - Review

The Mill At Sonning, Sonning



****



Written by Ira Levin
Directed by Tam Williams


Issy Van Randwyck

Tam Williams directs a cracking take on Ira Levin’s classic murder mystery. Set in the home of established crime-author and lecturer Sidney Bruhl (Nick Waring), as student Clifford Anderson (George Watkins) pays a visit seeking expert guidance on a playscript that he has written, nothing is quite what it seems.

The setting is gorgeous, with antique axes and weaponry lining Bruhl’s walls only adding to the impending sense of doom and foul play.

Such a ripping yarn depends upon classy acting from its cast of five to make the hokum work and Williams has coaxed excellence from his quintuplet of performers. Both the male leads keep one guessing throughout and there is fabulous supporting work from Emily Raymond as Bruhl’s wife Myra, Philip Childs as lawyer Porter Milton, together with an enchanting turn from Issy Van Randwyck as psychic, Helga ten Dorp.

Two acts - fabulously performed - in two hours and a delicious meal included as part of the ticket price, Deathtrap makes for an evening of great theatre.


Runs to 30th March
Photo credit: Andreas Lambis


Friday 16 February 2024

Macbeth - Review

Dock X, London



*****



Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Simon Godwin



Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma


Something wicked this way has arrived, as the Ralph Fiennes Macbeth concludes its UK tour to play Canada Water’s cavernous Dock X.

Director Simon Godwin and adapter Emily Burns have made some wee snips to the text (the Porter’s not to be seen in this iteration) but in Fiennes’ Macbeth and Indira Varma’s Lady Macbeth are two of the finest takes on this fiendish double act to have been seen in years.

Both leading actors relish the text and breathe a carefully weighted life into every line. The story of Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known fables and so for a production to soar when its plot is so familiar demands the highest production values. Fiennes and Varma deliver, giving a humour and a humanity to the text that has been overlooked in recent takes on the Scottish play.

The supporting company are equally fine. Steffan Rhodri’s Banquo is a credible warrior and companion who knows too much about Macbeth’s motives, while Ben Turner as MacDuff is both heartbreaking and impassioned as he avenges the brutal murders of his wife and young children. Above all, the witches are outstanding. Godwin places the weird sisters centre-stage with Lucy Mangan, Danielle Fiamnya and Lola Shalam all enchantingly intriguing.

Only on for a limited run, this oft performed play is rarely played so well. Unmissable.


Runs until 30th March
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Songs For A New World - Review

Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London



****



Music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown 
Directed by Kai Wright 



The cast of Songs For A New World


While Songs For A New World has only ever enjoyed seemingly fleeting appearances in a variety of theatres in and around London's West End, it is very much a familiar piece to many as Jason Robert Brown's 1995 song cycle provides moments both of easy listening as well as some hard-hitting numbers. 

From the opening iconic motif on the piano, the stage is set in a lounge-like menagerie of ornaments and antiques, with lampshades hanging across the ceiling. Sophie Goodman's design is both simple yet effective and remains the base throughout. 

Being a four hander there is a huge demand on the cast and the chemistry between the four is tangible. Stand alone numbers such as ‘Christmas Lullaby’ in Act 2 could be so easily overlooked and feel out of place but Lizzy Parker as Woman 1 brings ample heart and emotion to the role and the score. Luke Walsh as Man 1 displays huge vocal range and dexterity making numbers such as ‘King of The World’ & ‘Flying Home’ look effortless and easy. 

Glenn Oxenbury's sound design is outstanding with musical director Liam Holmes delivering fine work from his tightly rehearsed and well balanced 6-piece band.

For a pleasant night of music and soaring vocals Songs For A New World is a fitting escape from the real world and a welcome night at the theatre. Besides in this day and age, to lose yourself in a new world for 90 minutes might not be such a bad idea.


Runs until 3rd March

Monday 12 February 2024

Hamlet - Review

*****


Ian McKellen



Directed by Sean Mathias
Written by William Shakespeare
117 minutes


It was a bold move in 2021 for Sean Mathias to cast Ian McKellen as Hamlet in his production at Windsor’s Theatre Royal. Traditionally the role is played by a much younger man who needs to be a credible university student as well as one whose mother is still of an attractive re-marriageable age, and desirable to her former brother-in-law. In this iteration however McKellen was the oldest actor on the stage, boldly defying convention. The production attracted mixed reviews at the time, however it led to McKellen returning to the role at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022 - in a completely separate dance-based production - and subsequently to the Bill Kenwright Company releasing Mathias’ work as a fully storyboarded full blown feature film.

 

This filmed take on Hamlet proves to be an inspirational revelation. Filmed in and around the Windsor theatre, Mathias has set the play across the stage, backstage and front-of-house areas of the venue, giving a meticulously re-imagined interpretation of the story.


Film and theatre are profoundly different media. The live performance demands our attention on a scene or tableau, possibly quite diverse in its panorama, and often far away from where the audience is seated. Cinema however, as Norma Desmond made clear in Sunset Boulevard, is all about the close-up. And Ian Mckellen as Hamlet, in close-up, is quite simply a masterclass. Few living actors have a mastery of Shakespeare’s verse that can match McKellen. His delivery of the prose, both the famously quotable stuff as well as the lesser-known lines is exquisite and even those familiar with the text will find new revelations in the story through McKellen’s delivery.


A decent production of Hamlet demands a cracking supporting cast and Mathias has rounded up most of his 2021 company to accompany Sir Ian. Jonathan Hyde is a suitably evil Claudius with Jenny Seagrove stepping up to the role of Gertrude. It is in the Gertrude/Hamlet interactions - notably Act 3’s closet scene - that the age-neutral casting is most put to the test, but Seagrove pulls it off and if her death a couple of acts later is perhaps a little hammed up, the pathos with which she describes Ophelia’s death, is exquisite.


Ian McKellen and Jenny Seagrove


Emmanuella Cole is a well cast gender-swapped Laertes, with Ben Allen also putting in a finely sympathetic shift as Horatio. Equally, Steven Berkoff’s Polonius is perfection in pomposity and Frances Barber delights as the First Player.


Amongst the supporting roles however it is Alis Wyn Davies who shines out as Ophelia. Frailty may very well be her name such is the carefully crafted fragility that defines her performance, with Davies bringing a light to the fair Ophelia that is rarely seen. Hers is a  gorgeous performance, which when her voice is married to Adam Cork’s music in her tragic mad scene, is lifted even higher.

 

Squeezing in at just under 2 hours, Mathias has trimmed the text with wisdom and sensitivity. Set in contemporary dress in a dystopian locked-down world, this is very much a Hamlet for the 21st Century with Lee Newby’s design work sitting well in the compressed settings of the Edwardian-age theatre. Neil Oseman’s photography is similarly ingenious, adding a profound depth to the story's imagery.


In cinemas for one night only on February 27th and while there will of course be future online streaming, if you are able to catch this on the big screen, just go!


Ian McKellen’s Hamlet is a must-see. His take on those famous speeches, in close-up, is unsurpassed. The rest is silence.



For a full listing of screenings click here



Ian McKellen