Thursday 28 December 2023

The Motive And The Cue - Review

Noel Coward Theatre, London


Written by Jack Thorne
Directed by Sam Mendes

Mark Gatiss and Johnny Flynn

The National Theatre production has just decamped from the South Bank to the West End and on seeing this play for the third time, like a fine wine it has only improved with the passing of time.

Jack Thorne’s writing is beyond flawless. The perceptive sensitivity with which he pinpoints the passionate, complex relationship between Sir John Gielgud and his direction of Richard Burton in Broadway’s 1964 Hamlet is modern writing at its finest. A carefully curated confection of nuance, rage and pathos sees these two giants subject Shakespeare’s finest play to moments of the most intelligent analysis, with just a twist of heartbreaking humanity too.

Thorne’s words are brought to life by Mark Gatiss as Gielgud and Johnny Flynn as Burton, the same actors who created the roles. They were brilliant when the show opened 8 months ago and are even better now, the chemistry between the two men proving electric. Tuppence Middleton as Burton’s wife Elizabeth Taylor has equally grown into her pivotal role.

Es Devlin’s intriguing set design has transferred well from the Lyttleton - however its automation at the Noel Coward is a tad noisy, that at times is a small distraction.

The Motive And The Cue remains essential drama, exquisitely performed. Unmissable.

Runs until 23rd March 2024
Photo credit: Mark Douet

Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Pig - Review

JW3, London


Written by Nick Cassenbaum
Directed by Abi Anderson

Debbie Chazen

London’s Jewish cultural centre JW3 makes its first foray into the seasonal (and traditionally secular) world of pantomime with a schmaltzified take on the classic yarn of Little Red Riding Hood. Taking an obscure connection into the evil world of corporate greed (ergo the Big Bad Pig) and an even more obscure connection involving the dame’s flatulence, a curious tale emerges that revolves around saving the Jewish festival of Chanukah.

This is a story that the little-ones will enjoy for sure, but if a pantomime is to truly be family entertainment then there needs to be some comedy meat (and sauce) for the grown-ups to laugh at too. Debbie Chazen puts in a game performance as dame Mother Hoodman, but she lacks both the heft and the cojones to make her character soar. A decent dame needs (ideally) to be played by a bloke with the recognised gravitas that enables us to laugh both at, and with, his drag-festooned character. It’s a tough, complex, role to fulfil and one can understand the producer’s casting challenge: Who is there in the Jewish acting world that can fit that bill?

Elsewhere the company all put in a fine shift, Tiago Fonseca’s Bubbah being a classy display of physical comedy in particular. Josh Middleton (who has also arranged the show’s excellent musical accompaniment) directs his 3-piece band from on high.

This is a noble effort from JW3, albeit more purimspiel than pantomime. If there are future plans for a seasonal panto to play here then their script and casting needs a lot more work if they are to succeed in delivering festive fun for all the family.

Runs until 7th January 2024
Photo credit: Jane Hobson

Thursday 14 December 2023

Macbeth - Review

The Depot, Liverpool


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Simon Godwin

Indira Varma and Ralph Fiennes

In a dynamic touring production Simon Godwin’s Macbeth offers a delicious take on one of Shakespeare’s most popular and bloody classics. Ralph Fiennes steps up to play the doomed Thane, bringing a refreshing degree of perception and vigour to Scotland’s legendary warrior. 

Godwin’s stage is mostly left uncluttered with an ingenious immersive style to the drama, allowing the audience to walk amongst a battle-ravaged set as a mise-en-scene. This minimalism works well, adding particular impact to the moment when on seeing Banquo’s ghost (fine work from Steffan Rhodri), real soup is spilled by Macbeth in his shock.

Indira Varma is Lady Macbeth and while she could perhaps have explored her wicked ambition with a hint more depth, she proved the perfect foil to her husband’s hesitation on contemplating regicide.

Among the witches Danielle Fiamanya stands out, with Ben Turner’s Macduff another powerful and heartbreaking performance. Turner’s grief on learning of the murder of Macduff’s wife and children is palpable, leading to a passionate and convincing sword fight with machetes as he and Macbeth battle to the story’s tragic conclusion. Credit too to designer Frankie Bradshaw, the blood and gore factor of this production is refreshingly high.

One of the nation’s most frequently performed tragedies, it has been easy in recent years for productions of Macbeth to lack emotional heft. This one delivers. If you’re lucky enough to have secured a ticket for its tour to Edinburgh, London and Washington DC in the new year you’re in for a treat.

Runs to 20 December and then on tour
Photo credit: Matt Humphrey

Hold The Line, Challenge The Narrative - Review

In their first foray into a staged political discussion, David Vance and Peter Mcilvenna presented Hold The Line - Challenge The Narrative, an evening of political conversation and discussion featuring Carl Benjamin and Andrew Bridgen MP.

Kensington Temple’s hall was pleasingly full for the event that was kicked off by Benjamin (he of the Lotus Eaters podcast), eloquently expressing his cynicism upon today’s political world that, in his opinion, has broadly seen all the major political parties share identical agendas to the extent that Westminster is run by a “uniparty” that will remain in power, whoever may be Prime Minister.

Benjamin’s comments were well argued - going on to suggest that the historic role of the civil service that for decades had been that of a safe hand, a steady steering of government policies, had been usurped. He went on to outline that we now have a civil service that is acting outside of government as it seeks to roll out its own policies of social change.

Proving an excellent warm up to Andrew Bridgen’s arrival on stage (the MP having been delayed by the House of Commons’ vote on the Rwanda bill) the evening took a sharper turn with Bridgen’s contribution.

Much has been made of Andrew Bridgen’s outlying stance on and research into, the harms caused by the Covid vaccines. What made Bridgen’s contribution to the evening so fascinating however was his description of the obstructions, stumbling blocks and ostracism that he was exposed to from across the political spectrum, including from those who suggested to him that “he may well be right” but that now is “not the right time” to be raising his issues. Bridgen spoke as a wise and battle-weary warrior and it was fascinating to hear his thoughts. He also lobbed in his prediction that the 2024 General Election would be held on Thursday May 2nd.

At more than two hours in length with no break – the evening seemed daunting. It is a credit to both the organisers and their guests that the evening proved to be a remarkable political discourse. One looks forward to Vance and Mcilvenna’s next event.

The Homecoming - Review

Young Vic Theatre, London


Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Matthew Dunster

Jared Harris

Matthew Dunster’s revival of The Homecoming is one of the most entertaining interpretations of Pinter to have graced a London stage in years.  In this definitively dysfunctional family, a cracking cast offer up a monstrous quintet of generation-spanning brothers and the one woman who is wife/in-law/niece to them all.

Harold Pinter’s dialogue is genius. Written in 1964, he captures the essence of London banter. Listen closely to hear how Pinter influenced the likes of Galton and Simpson’s Steptoe and Son, Leon Griffiths’ Arthur Daley and Barrie Keefe’s Harold Shand. His are the words and style of Hackney and of Soho, refracted through this family’s amoral prism.

The elder generation is neatly portrayed by the Arthur Lowe-esque Nicholas Tennant as chauffeur Sam, with his brother Max (Jared Harris) a retired butcher and the father of the three younger brothers, attempting to play the patriarch of the household.

Among the next generation Joe Cole is pimp Lenny, David Angland is the brain-dulled boxer Joey, as Robert Emms plays Teddy, the PhD of this fraternal trio who has flown home from America with wife Ruth (Lisa Diveney)

All six are magnificent, shifting us from laughter to gasps of horror as the men attempt to impose their macabre misogyny upon Ruth - who in turn proves to be an equally devious foil to their vile intentions. 

Throughout the evening, Sally Ferguson’s lighting plots enhance the drama on Moi Tran’s simply suggested set.

The Homecoming is a finely crafted glimpse into a household of grotesques, making an evening of fabulous theatre. 

Runs until 27th January 2024
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan