Review: The Vertical Hour @VERTICALHOURLDN Park Theatre

A profound play by David Hare featuring a flawless performance from Thusitha Jayasundera – if she had a simpler stage name she’d be a big star. Peter Davidson is as excellent as one would expect with Finlay Roberston playing his son – a good performance but a less convincing character than the other two. The play opens and closes with Thusitha Jayasundera’s American politics lecturer holding tutorials with two students. The students’ essays present the simplistic pro- and anti-war arguments, sandwiching the main play where her arguments with Peter Davidson’s character offer more nuanced viewpoints. The relevance of the mess that Bush and Blair created to the current situation with ISIS has dominated many reviews but the play is also about relationships, teaching, war correspondence, guilt and personal responsibility. I thought I’d missed this but they added an extra performance yesterday. It’s justifiably almost sold out but if you can find a ticket then do so.

Review: #HereLiesLove Dorfman Theatre @NationalTheatre

This looked and sounded absolutely fabulous in every way. The NT’s new Dorfman Theatre is designed to be re-configurable but I bet they didn’t think it would be re-configured so many times, and so effectively, in a single show. I loved the music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim but then I’ve got CDs by both of them so it might be a problem if that is not your thing. The music never stops, nor does the show which was a straight 100 minutes with no interval. The cast is astonishingly good, singing and dancing with terrific energy and skill. I saw no programme so I can’t credit anyone but I was surprised to find at the curtain call there were fewer than 20 – the energy and the costume changes made it seem like at least twice that. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen and I’m left stumbling at quite how to describe it. All can say is that if you can get a ticket then do so.

On the down side, as I left I heard a young couple discussing it. He said he thought he understood it from around half way and she said she didn’t understand it at all, so if you aren’t already familiar with the story I’d strongly recommend you read up a bit on Wikipedia. I did also wonder why David Byrne approached Fatboy Slim for the music, having been in Talking Heads with Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, aka Tom Tom Club, who created one of the greatest dance albums ever.

Review: @NevillesIsland, Duke of York Theatre

A perfectly cast comedy guaranteed to make you laugh (and wet in the front row). Many of the big name productions I’ve seen this year have been disappointing and one dimensional. This play by Tim Firth is not a shallow star vehicle but deeply satisfying. Besides being funny, it questions the nature of comedy: when does comedy become cruelty or even tragedy? Oddly, the funniest part for me was Miles Jupp’s character trying to tell a joke and failing. There’s a terrific set, perfect direction from Angus Jackson, and the star quartet of Ade Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Neil Morrissey and Robert Webb are superb. Technically this was a preview but you’d never have known it. Thoroughly recommended.

Review: Uncle Vanya @St_JamesTheatre @UncleVanya2014

John Hannah is perfect as Uncle Vanya, superbly supported, especially by @TheJoeDixon, Amanda Hale, Rebecca Night and Jack Shepherd in this unmissable production. It’s yet another reminder of what a superb playwright Chekhov was, re-written in this case by Anya Reiss.The direction by Russell Bolam is also spot on, sometimes allowing a simple look or action carry as much meaning as the words.

The references to iPads and mobile phones brought this production firmly up to date. For me, however, the play could not escape its original setting. The 19th century world of rural, middle class Russia is unlike any other. Distinguished by class from the serfs who were effectively slaves, the middle classes ran their country estates often on the brink of bankruptcy, obliged to play host to large numbers of middle class hangers-on, occasionally playing at professions, a doctor here and an architect there, while eating, drinking and lazing around. It is a world made very familiar not just through Chekhov but in recent productions of Turgenev’s Fortune’s Fool at the Old Vic and Gorky’s Summerfolk. The brilliant Three Sisters at the Young Vic showed that you can perform it on table tops and a heap of black earth and still capture that strange world.

Review: #ROHManon @_stevenmcrae and Roberta Marquez

Steven McRae tweeted that Act 3 inspired him to pursue a career in ballet. I’m so glad as he and Roberta Marquez were totally inspired in this performance, not just technically brilliant but emotionally enthralling. This is ballet at its most romantic and they were superbly supported, especially by Valentino Zucchetti as Lescault and Yuhi Choe as Lescault’s mistress. In fact, the dancers seemed far more genuinely romantic than the saccharine sweetness of Massenet’s music. Maybe the music contrasted poorly with the simple beauty of Handel’s Xerxes the night before which I sadly had to abandon after Act 1 due to ill health. This made me feel so much better – thanks to all involved.

Review: @GreatBritainNT Theatre Royal Haymarket

Aaron Neill was an absolute master of deadpan comic brilliance and almost steals the show from better known stars such as the excellent Robert Glennister and Lucy Punch. Some of the audience were laughing at the crude joking of the newsroom but that is not where the true humour of Richard Bean’s comedy lies. His savage satire of the press is obviously based on the News of the World phone hacking scandal but the plot also takes examples from the Sun, the Star, the Daily Telegraph and others, along with some side-swipes against the Guardian and the Daily Mail. Be warned that there is a lot of very crude language and some rather unsettling story lines but it is hilarious.

I’ve been away on holiday for a few weeks and before that was the summer doldrums, so it’s a great start to the autumn season!