Tag Archives: #theatre

Review: A Small Family Business, Olivier Theatre

Most Alan Ayckbourn works well in smaller theatres but this was written for the Olivier and works well in it. Dating from the 1980s, it is a critique of the corrupt selfishness encouraged by Thatcher, so this is an apt time to revive it. Gawn Grainger is Ken Ayres, a man who prides himself on his honesty and decency, brought in to manage the furniture company run by his wife’s aging father and root out the corruption that is damaging it. He starts off as someone who would never take a pen or some paper clips from work and ends up getting mired in the corruption around him. With such a heavy underlying theme, this is not one of Aycknbourn’s funniest plays but it manages to make you laugh and to make you thing.

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Review: Some Desert Cities, Old Vic

The road sign on the highway from Los Angeles airport says “Palm Springs and other desert cities” and that’s where this play is set. It starts with the conflict between the Republican, old Hollywood parents and their daughter, a liberal writer who has chosen to live in New England but is home for Christmas. It turns out that she has written an autobiographical book about the dead brother they never talk about and tension builds. Her brother tries to calm things down while her alcoholic aunt does her bit to stir things up. A brilliant observation of a dysfunctional family with some interesting plot twists I won’t mention. What seems cut and dried turns out to be that much more complicated and more fascinating. The Old Vic has been transformed to create a theatre in the round which works brilliantly, especially if you get a seat close to the stage (although the front row seats are very low so get the second row if you can). Sinéad Cusack as the mother, Peter Egan as the father and Martha Plimpton as the daughter all give unmissably brilliant performances, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Review: The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith, Jermyn Street Theatre

This is the second Pinero play I’ve seen revived in the last couple of years; it was also by far the better production. The National Theatre’s production of The Magistrate tried too hard and was ultimately unsuccessful. With a teeny fraction of their resources, in a theatre smaller than the Olivier’s stage, this was successful. Written in 1895, 10 years after The Magistrate, it is a well crafted look at the role(s) of women in Victorian society and the dominance of the aristocracy. Rhiannon Sommers was superb as Mrs Ebbsmith, matched with yet another excellent performance from Christopher Ravenscroft. Straightforwardly and skilfully directed by Abbey Wright, it was produced by Primavera Productions formed by Tom Littler who also directed Dances of Death, my favourite play in a small theatre last year. I don’t intend to miss anything by them.

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.

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: 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.

March Madness – cheap theatre tickets

I’m not reviewing everything at the moment: there are lots of shows ending and what’s point of reviewing the last performance? However, this does mean there are some terrific offers out there. Theatre People have just launched March Madness with some really good deals but it’s worth registering for Showsavers to see all the offers around. I’d particularly recommend grabbing From Here to Eternity and Emil and the Detectives while they’re still on as they are both terrific. There are also some tired old musicals I have no intention of paying any money but Billy Elliot is still fabulous and I might go again if it was just a bit cheaper.

Review: The Golden Hour, St James Theatre Studio

This starts with a 1950s couple meeting at a table at a tea dance. They start talking and she tells him she has just murdered someone. He isn’t really listening, talking about the dancing… Over the next thirty minutes we steadily uncover who they are, what their history is and what her confession is about. It may only be half an hour but the writing by Andrew Bridgmont is first class and the acting is perfect The actors are sadly uncredited, even in the theatre’s own publicity, but I am fairly sure the woman was played by Claire Porter as I found clips from an earlier performance on YouTube. It is apparently part of a trilogy of linked plays – I’d love to see all three.

Preview: King Lear, National Theatre, Olivier

This was a preview, so I imagine there will be a bit of tweaking before press night, but it hardly needs it. Simon Russell Beale who was so good as Timon last year is astonishing as the King, his authority, his voice and his body shrinking through the play as his madness takes hold. The direction by Sam Mendes is faultless although, like so many directors in the Olivier, he does love using that revolving stage a little too much – perhaps he will calm that down before it opens. All the acting was first class so it seems a bit unfair to pick anyone else out, although Olivia Vinall, who was so good as Desdemona in the NT’s Othello last year is a superb Cordelia. For someone still at the start of her career, that promises much to come. I won’t say any more as it would be unfair before press night but this really is unmissable.