Tag Archives: review

The American Plan, St James Theatre

There are echoes of Tennessee Williams Richard Greenberg’s play: the opening scene of a good-looking young man in a swimsuit, the neurotic young woman and the domineering mother but this is set in a Jewish American lakeside resort in the 1950s. The three central characters are brilliantly acted: Diana Quick as the German refugee mother, Emily Taaffe as her daughter Lili and Luke Allen-Gale as the mysterious Nick who appears in his swimsuit at the start of the play, a dead-ringer for a young Hugh Grant. In the two smaller parts, Dona Croll as the maid/companion and Mark Edel- Hunt as the second handsome who appears later are also first class.

Directed by David Grindley, the play simmers with the sexual passion of a hot summer where no-one is quite as they seem. Even after leaving, I was not sure which passions were genuine, whether the mother was controlling her daughter to keep her or to protect her, whether Nick genuinely loved Lili or was just after her money. Above all, I was left thinking and savouring some astonishingly good acting.

Anatomy of a Murder, For Short. Theatre Company

This shows how good site-specific theatre can be. For around a third of the price of Punchdrunk’s mess, here is a tight courtroom drama set within an old courtroom (actually a tribunal hearing room, I believe). My heart sank as it started in much the way as The Drowned Man with someone leading groups of people up to the bar, then up to the courtroom. Once there, it could not have been more different. I heard one brief episode in a neighbouring room and missed some incidental chat but the main action took place in the courtroom itself and I missed nothing of the story. I was privileged to be the foreman of the jury but you can sit further back if you want – it is quite intimate so you won’t miss anything.

You can get a feel of how appropriate the set was from the photographs here and there is also a short trailer on YouTube. Based, like the film of the same name, on a 1958 book by Robert Traver (the pseudonym of a Michigan lawyer who based it on one of his own cases), the play by Elihi Winer was not completed until 1963 and I have a feeling that this brought its themes crucially closer to the issues of our own time. The cast are relatively young and inexperienced and I can only believe that they put in weeks of hard work to get this good – even the accents were convincing: I have sat on three juries and can vouch for the authenticity of this. I’d love to give high praise to the director but For Short. do not appear to work like that: under patrons Simon Russell Beale and Mark Rylance, they build the production through workshops, often with more experienced actors and directors. I do hope that the Punchdrunk team visit this and realise how well it can be done.

I’ve just fund there are tickets still available here. Don’t miss this one!

Private Lives, Gielgud Theatre

It’s great that the curse of Kenneth Tynan has been lifted. Along with Design for Living and Hay Fever over the last couple of years, this shows what a great playwright Noël Coward was. Like Terence Rattigan who is also back in fashion, his plays may seem like light comedies about people whose lives are irrelevant to us today but this is just the surface. This has plenty of the famous quotes: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is… very flat, Norfolk,” etc., but underneath this there are complex human relationships. Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor play the divorced couple who meet again on honeymoon with their new partners; Anna-Louise Plowman and Anthony Calf play their respective new spouses. All four are excellent. We got tickets through a Time Out £10 deal but the £10 tickets are still available on the day.

Review: Deathtrap, Beck Theatre and touring

This is why I love theatre. There was nothing great about the performance but Stephen Beckett is very good as the central character and the plot is skilfully crafted with twists and turns. This is the sort of thing I used to watch at my local rep. In those days, a company of actors would take on a number of plays in a season and perform them at this level. They often featured creaking plots and creaking scenery but they engrossed me in a way that cinema can rarely achieve. Do catch it if it comes near you for a simple, enjoyable night out.

Review: Our Town, King’s Head Theatre

Edward Albee called this play by Thornton Wilder “the finest play ever written by an American,” and I can see why. Apparently performed somewhere in the USA every day since it was written in 1938, it portrays the family life of a straightforward god-fearing small New England town. What lifts it from being as boring as that sounds is its groundbreaking construction. To paraphrase Steve Coogan’s description of Tristram Shandy, this is post-modern theatre before there was much modern to be post. The central character is the stage manager, extremely well played by Simon Dobson, who starts by telling us that we are watching a play in three acts and describes the scene: there is no scenery. At one point he holds up a copy of the play and explains that he is putting it in a time capsule to show how ordinary Americans lived in the years from 1901 to 1913.

The first act includes a birth, the second is based around a wedding and the final act shows a burial, as seen by the other inhabitants of the graveyard. It makes a very interesting contrast with Strange Interludelast week. Both were experimental plays describing generations of American life:- the Eugene O’Neill featured nine actors on a stage larger than the King’s Head theatre; this had 14 actors. The American accents of the National Theatre actors were perfect; this had actors from five continents directed by an American, Tim Sullivan, who wisely made no attempt to change their accents. With the limited resources of such a small theatre, one or two of the less important parts were poorly acted but this did not detract from the excellent overall effect. Anyone interested in theatre must see this production.

Review: La Bohème, English National Opera

ENO emailed me an offer of a seat in row E of the stalls for the same price I paid last week to sit in the back row of the upper circle. I’m not a Puccini fan but this is his most famous opera and I thought, “why not give it a go? I am really glad I did. I have found Puccini on the radio boring but this was great theatre in a terrific production, originally directed by Jonathan Miller. It was credited as a revival by Natascha Metherell but Jonathan Miller came onto the stage at the end to take his well deserved bow. Robyn Lyn Evans was a last minute replacement for Gwyn Hughes-Jones as Rodolfo and I suspect Jonathan Miller was on hand to add some last minute direction. You would never have guessed Evans was a replacement apart from a few places where the largely unnecessary surtitles did not quite match the lines he sang.

One of the things that puts me off the Puccini that gets played on the radio is the vibrato used in many of the classic recordings. I am so glad it has gone out of fashion; I detected only the slighted traces of it in a couple of the excellent performances yesterday. Overall, it did not match the astonishing emotional intensity of last week’s Death in Venice but there is a place for both and it was certainly more tuneful.

Review: Rutherford and Son, Northern Broadside at St James Theatre

Jonathan Miller skilfully directs this excellent play by Githa Sowerby who also wrote The Stepmother which I saw at the Orange Tree a few months ago. It is shameful that before this year I had never heard of her as she is clearly one of the finest British playwrights of the early twentieth century, comparable to Shaw or Chekov. Many themes of the play, money, family ties, loyalty and sexism, are as relevant today as they were when it was written almost century ago, even the class aspects apply frighteningly well to our Eton-governed country. Jonathan Miller’s skill is to find the good in the bad characters and vice versa.

Review: Raven Girl and Symphony in C, Royal Ballet

“36 minutes of pure joy,” said the woman beside me at the end of Symphony in C and I couldn’t put it better: Balanchine’s choreography is pure elegance. The first movement was slightly ragged but could be excused as both principal dancers were late substitutes – all the other three were perfect.

The new work I was looking forward to was Raven Girl. The story by Audrey Niffenegger is darkly, magical and the score by Gabriel Yared matched it well. Wayne McGregor’s choreography seemed good – from what I could see of it. A screen used for projection across the front of the stage, a grim, grey set and gloomy lighting combined to give the effect of standing in front of someone’s house, looking through their window and net curtains to see the ballet on a black and white television in the front room. The only time I could really see the dancers properly was at the curtain call. Maybe it was OK in the stalls.

Review: Public Enemy, Young Vic

Another stupendous revival at the Young Vic. It is almost impossible to believe that Ibsen’s play (usually translated as Enemy of the People) was written in 1882. The issues are very much of today – a troubleshooter discovering an environmental issue that threatens to disrupt the local economy, an attempted cover-up, the manipulation of share prices, the role of the media. Other issues, such as the tension between family ties and professional duty, are eternal. David Harrower’s new version of the play carries it forward at a cracking pace – 95 minutes straight through with no interval.

Rather than bring it completely up to date, the production is wisely set in 1970s Norway – recent enough to keep it relevant to today but long enough ago that the local newspaper and public meetings are still dominant forms of communication. Rather than the Young Vic’s usual layout, the seats face the stage which spreads across the width of the theatre. This means much neck-twisting if you are sitting at the end of row B like me but it was well worth the discomfort.

Sorry it’s a short, sketchy review – I’m off the ROH this afternoon and rished to let you know about the Time Out half price ticket offer to this. Extremely good value – I can’t imagine why it hasn’t already sold out – I’d say grab them while you can!

Review: Seven Year Twitch, Orange Tree Theatre

To many of us, there is something intrinsically funny about the idea of twitching, or obsessive bird-watching. This play plays on this and certainly has some funny moments and one extremely funny scene, but there are also darker undercurrent. David Lewis both wrote and directed the play but, as the amusing dialogue between the writer and director in the programme makes clear, he has successfully kept the two roles distinct from each other.

The play looks at two therapists, each counselling one partner of a failing marriage while one of the therapists also goes through a marital crisis. I will not explain further as I don’t want to spoil it. Therapy is perhaps over-used by writers to allow characters to open up their inner feelings – I have never met someone in real life who attends this type of therapy –  but when written and acted this well it works. After laughing during the play, I left the theatre thinking far more about the dark, underlying theme about the impact on the parents of losing a child which slowly emerges. Funny and thought-provokng: what more can you ask from a play?