I haven’t reviewed theatre lately as everything I’ve seen has been on for ages, but here’s a quick summary of my thoughts for anyone who might be interested.
King Charles III (Wyndham’s). I was initially put off on hearing it was in verse but I was wrong. Don’t let it put you off as it’s a great satire. Tim Pigott-Smith is perfect as the pig-headed King who can’t leave the government to govern. Harry is trying to learn to live like Common People with a girl who studies art at St Martin’s College, leaving it up to Kate to help William try to move the monarchy into the 21st century. I won’t tell you the outcome as if you haven’t seen it yet then you must.
3 Winters (Lyttelton). Croatia’s history from 1945 to (almost) the present day, as illustrated in its effect on a specific family. It’s a good story, well acted but the first half is too slow. It really picks up after the interval and it doesn’t need to be as long as it is.
Go See (King’s Head). I saw this on the last day of its run so didn’t review it, but it may come back. A tender examination of attitudes to sex in the 1980’s thanks to Norris Church Mailer. It’s a shame all the fuss was about it being the only play by Norman Mailer’s wife, rather than the two excellent performances by Peter Tate (great in American Justice too) and Lauren Fox.
39 Steps and The Play That Goes Wrong – both very silly and very funny, perfect to cheer you up in the depths of winter.
Finally, I saw Beatriz Stix-Brunell as Alice in the Royal Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland. The fact that she came over as such a different character to the original by Lauren Cuthbertson just goes to show how Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography, Joby Talbot’s music and Bob Crowley’s designs have combined to make this ballet the first masterpiece of the century. I hope to see many re-interpretations over the years.
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.
A very enjoyable evening. I almost booked when I first saw cheap seats but reviews were mixed. Then I got a bargain seat on a miserable Bank Holiday Monday – I’ve never seen the West End so deserted – and I’m glad I did. The cast are excellent but far too old for the play, so Simon Brett has added some material about the annual production by the Bunbury Players. Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers reprieve the parts they played at the National Theatre in 1982. Add Sian Phillips, Cherie Lunghi and Rosalind Ayres and it’s quite a cast. Once they get down to the play itself, they are perfect and you quickly forget their ages and the audience, me included, was soon laughing away. It’s hardly surprising that the additional material does not match the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s but I think they could have worked on it a bit harder. The extension of the cucumber sandwich humour was perfect but we could have done without the cheap ladder joke. The second half drops the framework; it’s pure Wilde and pure joy. I think I enjoyed it almost as much as the actors clearly loved acting it.
This was a delightful adaptation of the Nina Bawden story by the Apollo Theatre Company. It beautifully captured the feel of the time in a generally very well acted production. At least one woman old enough to remember the war was at tears at the end and the many school children at the matinee I saw were completely enthralled. There was no amplification and most of the actors were clearly audible, particularly Amy Hamlen who was superb in the title role.Generally, the production, direction and set were faultless and I hope to see this company again. Like almost all book adaptations, it did suffer from an eagerness to cover every significant part of the book but fans of the book would have been disappointed if any had been left out. I hadn’t read the book but never felt I was missing anything – an unexpected treat.
The (only) good thing about the football thingy going on at the moment is that it leads to cheap theatre tickets. This is a fascinating work but I’m glad I didn’t pay full price. The acting and direction are superb – the trouble is the play. Three acts are naturalistic, with all the clichés of Irish drama, such as alcohol, religion, domestic abuse, etc. There is even one scene that could have come straight out of a Graham Lineham comedy as two men panic over a ringing telephone, unsure how to cope with it. The problem is act 2 which is half sung, half spoken verse, attempting to show the horror of the first world war, plus the usual caricature of the senior officer as an upper class prat, rather like Blackadder Goes Forth, but I felt it was neither as funny nor as moving. Still, it’s an important play and I’m glad I’ve seen it. I was also quite glad to have seen a captioned performance as some of the Irish accents were very strong.
It was a brilliant move by the director, Nadia Fall, to bring this comedy forward from the 1880s to the 1960s. Philip Larkin famously wrote, “Sexual intercourse began. In nineteen sixty-three. (which was rather late for me). Between the end of the Chatterley ban. And the Beatles’ first LP,” and “Swinging London” wasn’t celebrated by Time magazine until 1966. Even by then, it was only really London that swung and this play is set in Salford, so it made sense to see a daughter still fighting for independence against her domineering father, just like Bill Naughton’s Spring and Port Wine which was first staged in 1965.
The excellent direction also ensured there was not a weak performance in the production. Mark Benton played the father, balancing comedy and bathos superbly, but the standout performance for me was Jodie McNee, the oldest daughter who decides to take control of her life. Karl Davies was also superb as weak Willie Mossop, the man she decides to marry, as she uses her strength, not to domineer him as it might appear at first, but to build him up into the successful shoe salesman her father has now ceased to be. The music is not over-used cleverly starting with Sinatra and the Madison, ending with Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Twist, reminding us yet again of how pivotal that time was.
Finally, there’s a great plus in the new seating, much better than it was.
These are three brand new short plays about death but they could hardly be more different from one another. The first, Closer Scrutiny, deals with a dying astrophysicist talking to his cellular biologist daughter. The second, Duck, Death and the Tulip, is a sweet children’s story about the character Death making friends with a duck told with the use of puppets. The third, Skeletons, by David Lewis who wrote Seven Year Twitch, looks at the impact on a family six months after the father has died. It looks at the three adult children, variously screwed up sa a result of their mother’s Roman Catholicism and their father’s alcoholism, now trying to cope with each other and with their mother’s Alzheimers. Somehow, it manages to balance humour and sadness very cleverly and very entertainingly.I keep changing my mind whether Closer Scrutiny or Skeletons is the better play – in fact they are both excellent, with the lighter interlude taking us away from tense family relationships. A marvelous triple bill and a wonderful farewell to Sam Walters retirement as Artistic Director. The Orange Tree has given me great pleasure for at least 30 years and I can only hope that his successor will build on that achievement.
Despite rave reviews in the press, I didn’t want to see this play at first. I changed my mind when I realised why I was put off. It was those posters with Imelda Staunton on them triggering memories of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter! In both the books and the films. I thought her banal, bureaucratic evil was much more frightening than Voldemort’s, if only for being more realistic. She is, of course, a great actress, able to play both Umbridge and Maggie in this, a woman struggling at the bottom of society in South Boston, trying to be a decent person and trusting those around her to be “good people” too. As with a couple of other plays I’ve seen this year, act one helps us to get to know the characters, leading to policical/ class conflict in the second act. Despite this, Invincible, Some Desert Cities and Good People could hardly be more different. The acting and direction are perfect and the set design is brilliant. I got a really good deal through Time Out. It may be still available; if so, grab it.
The Mousetrap is having its first ever national tour to celebrate its diamond anniversary. That’s almost as old as me and it’s creaking just as much. It may be old tosh but it is very enjoyable old tosh, so if you haven’t seen it already then there’s no excuse. Michael Gove would approve as the writer was British so it must be better than that dreadful foreign stuff by Arthur Miller, Aristophanes, etc.
Back to this lovely new theatre in Finsbury Park, this time to the smaller room to see a very powerful play. The play starts with the central issue, a swimming coach has been accused of inappropriateness with a child. It then jumps backwards and forwards, filling in background, adding more information and showing what happens next. This clever structure takes the audience back and forth, doubting his innocence then doubting his guilt. It runs straight through for 80 minutes to maintain the tension as it builds to a very frightening conclusion, but the doubt stays with you. It is translated from the Spanish and this very occasionally shows. If the script could do with a little more work, the acting and direction are superb. Lee Knight is very good as the accused coach but I was particularly impressed by Kathryn Worth as the swimming pool manager. She manages to convey her profound distress and confusion not as a prima donna but as a very ordinary woman facing a terrible dilemma. They are advertising £10 seats online – just look for codes.