Monthly Archives: March 2014

Review: Dark Vanilla Jungle, Soho Theatre

I never miss a chance to see a Philip Ridley play. Titles such as this and Mercury Fur tend to be incomprehensible but he writes extremely powerful plays that are unlike those of anyone else. Apart from the underlying power and a certain strangeness, each of his plays is also very different from the others. Gemma Whelan, who was excellent in One Man, Two Guvnors when I saw that at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, delivers an astonishingly emotional performance. This is the Soho Theatre Upstairs, so there is no stage, just the floor she stands on. There is also no scenery and there are no other actors. There is no explanation of why she is talking to us: is she in group therapy, giving a witness statement, a police interview or what? I have just deleted a long paragraph trying to give some of my thoughts on this play but it’s too difficult without givin the whole story. This is a deep, dark play that will stick in my mind for a very long time. Just go and see it and make your own mind up. One thing I’m sure you’ll agree on is that this is one of the best performances by any actor on any London stage today.

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Review: The Little Mermaid, Ballet Theatre UK, touring

This is a tremendously ambitious production by this small touring company of young dancers. Sometimes I felt they might be pushing a bit too hard, particularly in the darker aspects of the story, leaving some of the younger members of the audience who didn’t know the story a bit restless. However, there is much that is glorious, particularly the terrific dancing to folk melodies in the opening part and the courtly dancing near the end. The dancer in the role of the mermaid was excellent and I wish I could credit her but unfortunately they were not selling programmes on Sunday at my local theatre, the Beck in Hayes and her mermaid make up was so good that I can’t work out who she was from the pictures on their website. If it comes near you then please make sure that you see it and, if you are taking young children, do make sure they know the story before they go.

Review: Invincible, Orange Tree Theatre

This starts off like a simple comedy of class, manners and politics. Middle class couple decide to move Up North to live among “real people” only to find they don’t like “real people” and have nothing in common. Some of the jokes are a bit obvious as when their working class neighbour picks up Das Kapital and says it’s a bit too intellectual for him – he loves Laurel and Hardy but could never understand the Marx brothers. After setting us up nicely and getting some decent laughs in part one, part two turns darker, deeper and even funnier. I don’t want to give away what happens but it is much, much more than a simple class comedy. Torben Betts was discovered by Alan Ayckbourn and the script may seem derivative of Ayckbourn’s work but if it had been written by Ayckbourn it would  be classed as one of his best. It was deservedly sold out on Friday but you might get lucky on midweek performances.

Review: Secret Theatre 4, Glitterland, Lyric Theatre

The Lyric Theatre Hammersmith is undergoing renovation and much of it is closed. However, they’ve recruited a company of writers, actors and directors to use what space can be made available throughout the year, not announcing anything until the last minute, hence “Secret Theatre.” The first play was Woyzeck which I saw two versions of last year in The Drowned Man and Berg’s Wozzeck, so I didn’t fancy another. Shows 2 and 3 slipped by but I have had a chance to see this one. It is an update on John Webster’s revenge tragedy The White Devil. Hayley Squires has changed Church and State into Star and State, setting it in the alternative world of Glitterland which works well. The plot is simplified slightly and played with almost no scenery in the Lyric Studio. It uses an interesting mix of the original language and modern gangsta talk which shows interesting syntactic and rhythmic similarities between the two. Inevitably, the small company available means that some of the casting is odd but Leo Bill as the central schemer Nemo (Flamineo) is extremely good and I recommend it to anyone interested in theatre.

Review: Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet

Yuhui Choe was just wonderful in the lead role. It is not an easy role to dance but she made it seem easy, as if that was just how she felt like moving. She was so good it made me feel a bit sorry for all the other dancers in yesterday afternoon’s performance. The production overall was a little lacking, without the punch of the ENB production I saw last year but the moment Yuhui Choe came on stage it was transformed. The choreography by Petipa was essentially the same but the set and costumes were all a bit fussy and the bad fairy, Carabosse, was played by a ballerina who was not a patch on James Streeter for the ENB.

Review: Rodelinda, English National Opera #ENORodelinda

How far the ENO have come. It is less than four years ago that I saw Handel’s Radamisto at the ENO with a woman singing the castrato role and very static staging. How much better it is now that the importance of the counter tenor has been recognised. This showed up most dramatically in the Act II duet between Iestyn Davies as Bertarido and Rebecca Evans as his wife Rodelinda. His counter tenor  and her soprano may have been similar in vocal range but they sounded as different as woodwind and string instruments, creating the most wonderful highlight of the opera. The staging was good too, with good acting from the six singers and one actor who somehow filled the stage and made me forget how few singers there are in most opera seria, although the direction was perhaps a little more tongue in cheek than the heacy plot deserved. Also many thanks for Christian Curnyn who I have now seen conducting four baroque operas at the Coliseum. He currently seems unsurpassably good in this area. My only minor grumble is that, having found how good it was to raise the orchestra pit for Castor and Pollux, why has it not become standard for all their baroque operas?

Review: Stroke of Luck, Park Theatre

This is a superb performance from Tim Piggot Smith. I’ve been rather busy (retirement is so demanding) so this is a late review (Rodelinda to come) and very short. This play was a clever comedy with lots of pathos. By the end I was crying but not sure whether it was from sympathy, laughter or tragedy. With a superb central performance and an excellent production, I am sure this is going on to the West End or on a national tour. Either way it’s well worth grabbing a chance to see it. The Park Theatre is a really lovely new theatre, purpose-built and very comfortable and I hope to visit again.