Theatre Review – Apologia – An Impressive Production

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The latest production at the Trafalgar Studios had all the indicators that it would be something special. It’s the latest play by the brilliant Alexi Kaye Campbell, directed by Jamie Lloyd and a show that would see the return to the London stage of Stockard Channing (best known for television roles in The West Wing and The Good Wife and film roles including Rizzo in Grease), as well as a promising supporting cast, including Freema Agyeman.

Having now seen the production, I can say that it more than lived up to my expectations, proving to be a powerful, emotional exploration of a family and how the choices and secrets of one member, in this case, the matriarch, can impact on the others.

This review is my first for the fantastic Blogtor Who site! To read the review in full, please click on the link below: 

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Mid-Year Theatre Review 2017

As we are now well in to July, my mid-year theatre review is well overdue. 2017 is already shaping up to be a fantastic year of theatre and there is still so much more to come (I’ll talk a bit about that at the end). I already anticipate my top ten of the year will be a difficult selection, so at least this way, more of the productions I’ve loved in 2017 will make it on to at least one of my lists!

So, these are the current highlights of my theatre year. They are in no particular order, as I always finding ranking productions that way quite difficult, unless something stands head and shoulders above the rest.

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1. Hamlet (Almeida / Harold Pinter Theatre)

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This production of Hamlet was probably my most anticipated show of 2017 and I’m thrilled it not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them, so much so that it’s probably my favourite Hamlet, a crown that has been Mr Tennant’s ever since 2008. It’s simply because Robert Icke’s decisions with the text and how to stage certain scenes is fresh and innovative. Watching this Hamlet had me experience the story and the motivations of certain characters in a whole new light. Thrilling, exhilarating and incredibly emotional, it’s ensemble cast are superb and it has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever seen on a stage. You have until 2nd September to see it. Go, go, go! Read my first review of this production here.

2. An Octoroom (The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

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I bought a ticket to An Octoroom after reading so much praise for it on Twitter from theatregoers whose opinions I value more than any professional critic and I’m so pleased they brought it to my attention. Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’s play was the complete theatre experience – surprising, inventive, powerfully emotive, yet funny in places too. The cast were superb (especially Celeste Dodwell as Dora) and the staging truly brought the play to life in the intimate space of the Orange Tree. I would love to see this have another life somewhere in the West End.

3. Dear Evan Hansen (Music Box Theatre, Broadway, NYC)

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Besides Hamilton, this is probably the most talked about show in New York at the moment and I was taken by surprise by how moved I was by it. It’s an emotional story about feeling alone, wanting to belong and giving people a hope that if they reach out, someone will help them and Ben Platt’s central performance is one I will never forget, so full of raw emotion, not to mention an impressive vocal. I don’t have the soundtracks to many musicals, but I listen to this one quite often. Read my full review here.

4. The Little Foxes (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Broadway, NYC)

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I was unable to see both versions of this play, in which Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternate the roles, but despite this, it remains one of the strongest productions I’ve seen so far the year. I chose to Cynthia as Regina and Laura as Birdie and I wasn’t disappointed. Nixon was truly cold and calculating in the role, while Linney brought the tragedy of Birdie’s life to the stage. With a beautiful set and a strong ensemble, particularly Richard Thomas as Regina’s husband, who no doubt would have been happier with Birdie, this was a joy to watch. It would be lovely to see this play come across to London soon.

5. Angels in America (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

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I have a second trip to this epic two play event next month and I certainly cannot wait to experience every moment of it again. Told across 8 hours, this seminal play is certainly not an easy one to watch, but its story is one that we should all see. The cast is one of the finest you could wish for, with Denise Gough bringing yet another raw and stunning portrayal to the stage, together with Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey and James McArdle. However, it was Andrew Garfield that blew me away as Prior Walter, a character so full of life, whose journey is the axis of the story. It will be a production talked about for years.

6. The Ferryman (Royal Court Theatre)

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Jez Butterworth has already established himself as one of the best playwrights we have and he follows Jerusalem and The River with another powerful story, set in Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1981, which weaves The Troubles in to the story of one family and its struggles. Paddy Considine’s stage debut is certainly impressive and his chemistry with Laura Donnelly shines off the stage. You will laugh, cry and probably gasp before the three hours of The Ferryman has passed. Buy your tickets for its West End run (until January 2018) now.

7. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre)

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There are only two words really needed to explain why this production is on the list – Imelda Staunton, who is utterly outstanding as the acid-tongued Martha! To be fair though, that doesn’t do justice to the other fine performances (especially Conleth Hill as her weary husband George). There was something darkly entertaining about watching Martha and George tear shreds off each other and some of the sharp, biting dialogue had me laughing out loud, even as I grew more and more uncomfortable. I can imagine it’s easy to overdo the dramatics in this play and yet director James Macdonald’s production didn’t do this. In fact, in a frightening way, it feels very believable. Read my full review here.

8. Consent (Dorfman, National Theatre)

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Another success from the National this year was Nina Raine’s latest play, which focused on the powerful subject of rape and consent, in the context of a group of criminal barristers, whose professional and personal lives become caught up in what is a difficult topic to think about. Intelligently written and superbly acted by its cast, I was gripped by Consent from start to finish and wish I’d had the chance to see it twice.

9. Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

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A second, but fully deserved, entry for Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins is a play that has such a powerful end to Act One that the programme has a sealed spoiler section! I’ve already seen this twice to fully appreciate the sharp, biting dialogue, which makes you laugh one minute even when you shouldn’t, before making you gasp the next. You have until Saturday to catch it if you can. Read my spoiler-filled review here, or the spoiler-free one here.

10. Shirley Valentine (UK Tour at Lyceum, Sheffield)

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A trip with my parents to the theatre to see this revival of Willy Russell’s production surprised me for the simple fact that I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Effectively a one-woman show, in which Jodie Prenger brought the iconic Shirley Valentine to life, it made me laugh, but was also rather moving too, as this older woman bravely reaches for a fresh start in life. I left the theatre with a huge smile on my face and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

 

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Special mentions so far this year also need to go to the continued magic of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, whose original and new cast ensure the Palace is the happiest theatre atmosphere in town, The Glass Menagerie, which I managed to see before its run ended and a NYC return trip to the glorious Groundhog Day!

Coming up is Ben Whishaw back at the Almeida in Against, the arrival of the Follies at the National (even more Imelda Staunton!), the opening of a brand new London theatre in the Bridge Theatre, whose first show Young Marx stars Rory Kinnear and Oliver Chris, Apologia with Stockard Channing and the arrival of the Tony Award-winning Oslo, to name just a few.

Yes, there’s no denying the end of year review is definitely going to be tough in 2017!

 

 

 

Theatre Review (Spoiler-free version) – Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

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As some readers may have seen, I have already posted one review of Gloria on this blog yesterday. As I explained in that post, I felt it was only fair to try and write a spoiler-free review as well. Heck, even the theatre programme to the show has sealed sections, only to be opened at the interval! So, for those unable to see the show, or those looking for more detail as to the storyline of it, then head across to my other, more spoiler-filled review of Gloria here.

Gloria is the latest play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize last year and it’s certainly a drama with a sharp, witty edge. It’s also a tale of two halves, through which the playwright skilfully explores ambition and when it becomes something more questionable, when circumstances present us with an opportunity to cash in on our experiences.

Events are set in modern day New York, in the Manhattan offices of a popular magazine. In the culture section, three editorial assistants are starting their day according to their usual patterns. Studious, hard-working Ani (Ellie Kendrick) is already hard at work, a year in to her job and still possessing the positivity and enthusiasm for it. Dean (Colin Morgan) is late, inching towards 30 and five years in, feeling frustrated and hoping a book deal will give him an exit. Kendra (Kae Alexander) is even later than Dean, not that she gives a damn, as she begins what feels like her usual criticisms of her colleagues, their lives and the state of publishing in New York; it’s a place, she says, which used to have opportunities, but now has only the illusion of them.

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Bayo Gbadmosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credi: Marc Brenner)

Together they banter, bicker, sing, mourn the death of a young pop star and deploy their pearls of wisdom to the team’s intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi), while driving the team down the corridor crazy by making too much noise, something their older, despairing colleague Lorin (Bo Poraj) regularly reminds them (although I notice Dean’s boss (Sian Clifford), who we hear about, but don’t see until Act Two, never complains)!

It’s an incredibly funny, entertaining start, which has you quickly enjoying watching the exploits of this ambitious bunch and results in quite a lot of laughter. For those of us who’ve worked in an office environment, at least some of this will be familiar, regardless of the industry.

Woven through all of their pranks, stories and discussions about their possible futures, is Gloria. She’s worked there for 15 years or so and is the magazine’s loner; she’s someone you smile at and are polite to, but have no interest socialising with elsewhere. This has only been reinforced by her poorly attended party the night before, at which only Dean and a handful of others made an appearance. Ani feels bad for not going, Kendra does not and Dean just wants to forget he was ever there. As an audience, we feel for Gloria. She also feels a little familiar from our own work lives and it is this familiarity of some aspects of the office dynamics and personalities, that ensures the emotional punch of Jacobs-Jenkins’s work later is all the more powerful. Indeed, the emotional reaction I had to the end of Act One (even though I suspected where it was heading) isn’t one I’ve had at the theatre very often.

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Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

The personalities of the characters having been established already, Act Two shows us their world seven months later and what I loved most about Gloria was how the second half builds on everything we have seen in the first half to present an interesting commentary on how events and experiences effect us all in different ways and perhaps sometimes can bring out our less admirable qualities. It’s fascinating to see where these people are now and how they have changed and the writing fantastically mines the humour in some of the seemingly tasteless endeavours that have resulted from the recent past.

The use of doubling for the actors in roles across the two halves of the play is also a brilliant choice. It provides a strange sense of continuity to the story, while also being a little unnerving.

The production also benefits from a strong cast. Colin Morgan is perhaps the most well known (last seen on stage in Mojo) and, as usual, he is very very good, conveying Dean’s downward spiral from playful, sarcastic office worker, to someone struggling to put his life back together. Morgan also takes the role later of a frustrated IT guy, resulting in a return to the lighter laughs of the first half.

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Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

I also particularly liked the acerbic character of Kendra, who is both likeable and unlikeable at once, due to her sharp, mean barbs, that often speak more truth than we’d like to admit and Kae Alexander brings her wonderfully to life. Ellie Kendrick (who you may recognise from Game of Thrones) plays Ani, as one of those sweet, hard-working types, who tries to get along with everyone and I also loved one of the other characters she plays, Callie, also an assistant and it is to her credit that each one feels distinct.

Our moral compass is represented by Lorin, whose response to earlier events in the play is much different from the others and I left the theatre truly hoping he was successful. Interestingly, Bo Paraj is also the only actor who plays just one role, which seems to emphasise Lorin’s difference from the others as well.

Director Michael Longhurst captures the brilliant wit of the play and I loved Oliver Fenwick’s lighting, which is used to great effect in the second half, to reflect the recollections of certain characters, slowly dimming at times, before growing brighter again as the moment passed. The settings of each scene are great and set designer Lizzie Clachan has created three different sets, all ideally suited for the play’s story and I particularly liked the contrast of the basic decor in the first office, with the flashy, colour-coordinated look of the later office location; the positioning of the company’s logo in the latter being suitably ironic.

I thoroughly enjoyed Gloria for its biting humour and sharp dialogue and I won’t forget the powerful ending of Act One in a hurry. It makes you laugh with recognition, gasp with shock and then smile ironically at the resulting, differing behaviour of the characters. This may have been my first trip to a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play, but it certainly won’t be the last (in fact I’m off to another one next week and am now looking forward to it even more)!

Tickets are selling fast for this production, so I recommend you buy a ticket quickly before it sells out!

Gloria runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 22nd July 2017. For further information and availability, visit the theatre’s website here.

 

Theatre Review – Office ambition & tension spills over in Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)


On Tuesday night, I took a trip to the Hampstead Theatre for the final preview of their new production, Gloria. It’s a strong piece of theatre, but one that creates a challenge when it comes to writing a review – spoiler-free or not? I usually try and avoid writing spoilers which give away anything significant to a play, particularly a new play, as I’m a big believer in an audience experiencing theatre fresh, without knowing its secrets in advance. However, to write everything I want to say about Gloria will inevitably result in giving away a core element of the story. I’ve therefore decided to try and write two pieces; this one and a spoiler-free review, which will be posted tomorrow.

Warnings taken care of, on to the play itself.

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Dean (Colin Morgan), Kendra (Kae Alexander) & Ani (Ellie Kendrick). Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Gloria is the latest play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize last year and it’s certainly a drama with a sharp, witty edge. It’s also a tale of two halves, through which the playwright skilfully explores ambition and when it becomes something more questionable; specifically when ambition collides with the opportunity to cash in on a tragedy.

Events are set in modern day New York, in the Manhattan offices of a popular magazine. In the culture section, three editorial assistants are starting their day according to their usual patterns. Studious, hard-working Ani (Ellie Kendrick) is already hard at work, a year in to her job and still possessing the positivity and enthusiasm for it. Dean (Colin Morgan) is late, inching towards 30 and five years in, feeling frustrated and hoping a book deal will give him an exit. Kendra (Kae Alexander) is even later than Dean, not that she gives a damn, as she begins what feels like her usual criticisms of her colleagues, their lives and the state of publishing in New York; it’s a place, she says, which used to have opportunities, but now has only the illusion of them.

 

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Bayo Gbadamosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credit: Marc Brenner) 

Together they banter, bicker, sing, mourn the death of a young pop star and deploy their pearls of wisdom to the team’s intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi), while driving the team down the corridor crazy by making too much noise, something their older, despairing colleague Lorin (Bo Poraj) regularly reminds them!

It’s an incredibly funny, entertaining start, which has you quickly enjoying watching the exploits of this ambitious bunch and results in quite a lot of laughter. For those of us who’ve worked in an office environment, at least some of this will be familiar, regardless of the industry and it is this familiarity which makes what follows all the more frightening.

Woven through all of their pranks, stories and discussions about their possible futures, is Gloria. She’s worked there for 15 years or so and is the magazine’s loner; she’s someone you smile at and are polite to, but have no interest socialising with elsewhere. This has only been reinforced by her poorly attended party the night before, at which only Dean and a handful of others made an appearance. Ani feels bad for not going, Kendra does not and Dean just wants to forget he was ever there. As an audience, we feel for Gloria. She also feels a little familiar from our own work lives.

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Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

As the play moved through Act 1, I could see where it was heading, as Gloria sporadically appears, checking if everyone is in yet, growing increasingly erratic with each pass through the cubicles. Maybe it’s the impact of the last few months’s real life events, but the pointers to what was to come seemed clear to me. However, this didn’t detract from the emotional punch of Jacobs-Jenkins’s work, as Gloria’s isolated, unhappy feelings at the office spill over, resulting in violent consequences. It may just be a play, but it was nevertheless shocking to watch and I did find myself closing my eyes, so genuine was my response to the harrowing scene unfolding on stage. Indeed, it’s one of the most shocking ends to an act in the theatre that I’ve witnessed.

The personalities of the characters having been established already, Act 2 shows us their world seven months on.  What I loved most about Gloria was how Act 2 builds on everything we saw in the first half to present an interesting commentary on how horrifying events effect us all in different ways and perhaps can bring out our less admirable qualities.

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Sian Clifford (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Dean, spared by Gloria for always being nice to her, has been, understandably, deeply affected by what he witnessed and is trying to piece his life together again, which includes the publication of a memoir, now altered to make Gloria its focus. He’s not the only one looking to cash in on the tragedy though, as we watch others indirectly affected by Gloria’s actions become seduced by the idea of their five minutes on fame (and a big cheque) and the writing fantastically mines the humour in their seemingly tasteless endeavours (including the editor’s fond recollections of the intern, whose name she doesn’t even get right)! The use of doubling for the actors in roles across the two halves of the play is also a brilliant choice, as it provides a strange sense of continuity to the story, while also being a little unnerving, especially with the reappearance of Sian Clifford, who after being Gloria, later returns as the editor we never saw in the first half.

The production also benefits from a strong cast. Colin Morgan is perhaps the most well known (last seen on stage in Mojo) and, as usual, he is very very good, conveying Dean’s downward spiral from playful, sarcastic office worker, to someone still unable to comprehend what he survived and clutching to his book as a way to deal with it. Unlike some of the other characters’s need to make a quick buck off the story, I felt genuinely sorry for Dean, whose writing of his book, although a little possessive of the tragedy, seemed to be driven by his need to heal more than anything else. Morgan also takes the role later of a frustrated IT guy, resulting in a return to the lighter laughs of the first half.

 

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Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

I also particularly liked the acerbic character of Kendra, who is both likeable and unlikeable at once, due to her sharp, mean barbs, that often speak more truth than we’d like to admit, but are possibly more of an act once we see her again in Act 2 and Kae Alexander brings her wonderfully to life. Ellie Kendrick (who you may recognise from Game of Thrones) plays Ani, as one of those sweet, hard-working types, who tries to get along with everyone, which only makes what happens to her more upsetting and it’s great that Kendrick is back in the second half as two further characters, spookily ending back as someone’s assistant and it is to her credit that each one feels distinct.

Our moral compass is represented by Lorin, as the only person who isn’t seeking to profit from Gloria, simply wanting to put it all behind him (interestingly, Bo Paraj is also the only actor who plays just one role, which seems to emphasise Lorin’s difference from the others as well). Now studying for the LSAT exam, this is his second chance in life and you leave the theatre truly hoping he is successful.

Director Michael Longhurst captures the brilliant wit of the play, while also building a subtle unease in the piece, which some of the audience may not even notice, but once you spot, you cannot ignore. This is also enhanced in certain moments (especially in the coffee shop scene) by Oliver Fenwick’s lighting. I loved how as characters started to recall upsetting memories or thoughts in act two, the lights would slowly dim, before growing brighter again as the moment passed. Set designer Lizzie Clachan has also created three different sets, all ideally suited for the play’s story and I particularly liked the contrast of the basic decor in the first office, with the flashy, colour-coordinated look of the later office location; the positioning of the company’s red splash logo on the wall in the latter being suitably ironic (and a little disturbing).

I thoroughly enjoyed Gloria for its biting humour and sharp dialogue and I won’t forget the powerful ending of Act 1 in a hurry. It makes you laugh with recognition, gasp with shock and then smile ironically at the resulting, differing behaviour of the characters. It may also make you think about how you treat the people around you in your own office environment too. This may have been my first trip to a Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play, but it certainly won’t be the last (in fact I’m off to another one next week and am now looking forward to it even more)!

Tickets are selling fast for this production, so I recommend you buy a ticket quickly before it sells out!

Gloria runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 22nd July 2017. For further information and availability, visit the theatre’s website here.

Theatre Review – The Antipodes by Annie Baker (Off-Broadway, New York)

 

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I was very much looking forward to seeing Annie Baker’s latest play off-Broadway during my recent New York trip for two reasons. One being that due to life getting in the way, I’d missed the London runs of two of her previous plays and the other being the fact that one of my favourite actors, Josh Charles, was a member of the cast!

Those familiar with Annie Baker’s work will know that her plays tend to be rather abstract and The Antipodes is no exception, being a play that leaves you thinking about it after you leave and I was pleased to see it twice in order to digest it properly.

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The cast of The Antipodes. Photo source: Joan Marcus

Set entirely in a conference room in an unspecified location in the States, this one act play is a story about telling stories, as we watch a group of writers trying to come up with the next great story; in this scenario for, perhaps, a new television show (although even this isn’t certain from Baker’s text). Over the 115 minutes, they share experiences from their lives, random stories they’ve heard from others, or random facts they’ve read online, all with the goal of finding a story that their boss, Sandy, likes. Just as long as it isn’t dwarves, elves or trolls.

This play won’t appeal to everyone (particularly those who need a clear plot when they go to the theatre) and I imagine those in the script-writing business will connect with it more than the rest of us, but I really enjoyed and was fascinated by its quirkiness. It makes you question how we communicate with one another and how it requires far more work to get right than we may realise (feeding in to the difficulties in communication, I loved the scene in which they try miserably to teleconference with the powers that be!). You learnt more than you might think about the nine individuals in the room by hearing their stories, but also by watching their reactions to the stories told by others. There were those who were happy to share even their most intimate stories, while others struggled to be quite so open, as you observe their various personalities as their never-ending brainstorming session stretches from days to months.

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Josh Charles & Phillip James Brannon. Photo source: Joan Marcus

There is also a lot of humour to be found in The Antipodes (although I sensed, at times, some members of my audience were laughing because others were, rather than because they themselves found it funny). It was the range of humorous moments that I liked, as Baker has written moments that are obviously funny, but also moments that are more subtle in this respect, as well as moments that are so bizarre, you cannot help but laugh.

I loved how Baker and director Lila Neugebauer achieved the passage of time during the play, with scenes bleeding in to the next, giving the play the feel that it is in a time all its own, crucial in a play in which how we think about time is a key discussion point (vertical? horizontal? a spiral?). There were also some time passing markers that seemed to creep up on me – for one, I have no idea where the group’s various takeaway containers kept appearing from!

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Brian Miskell & Emily Cass McDonnell. Photo source: Joan Marcus

The cast here are a fantastic team, who together bring so much depth to the material. Will Patton’s boss is a man of few words and who often makes his point by saying nothing at all. I’m not in the writing industry, but from the laughter around me, I sense that this portrayal is one very recognisable to those who are! The cast are all excellent, from Josh Charles’ more confident Dave, to Emily Cass McDonnell’s performance as the sole female voice in this writers’ room (a striking comment on sexism in the industry I assume).

However, one of the highlights for me has to be Nicole Rodenburg’s portrayal of Sandy’s personal assistant Sarah. Constantly in and out of the conference room, she is our link to the outside world and is a constant source of comedy, from her long, drawn-out way of speaking, to her multiple costume changes (I lost count, which only adds to your disorientation of how much time has passed), to her contributions to the discussions in the room itself. The scene in which she recalls a story from her childhood, which has a Brothers Grimm-like quality, in a serious, deadpan manner, before getting back to the matter of lunch orders is truly brilliant.

You only have until Saturday to see this play at the Signature Theatre and I’d definitely say it’s worth the effort. As I’ve already mentioned, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, being a bit too weird for some (I admit the more tribal scene towards the end was perhaps too weird for me), but if you are someone who loves strong acting and hearing stories, from the mundane to the fantastical, then do try and pick up a ticket.

The Antipodes continues at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Theatre (480, West 42nd Street) until this Saturday 11th June 2017. Although sold out, $40 rush tickets are sold each morning and as there is no admittance once it starts, it’s definitely worth seeing if you can fill any vacant seats just before curtain up, by joining the waitlist an hour before. For more information, visit the website here.

Theatre Review – Dear Evan Hansen (Broadway, New York): Heartbreaking & hopeful, it reminds us we are never alone

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Dear Evan Hansen is undoubtably the show that everyone is talking about in New York and demand to see it is now resulting in people queuing overnight for the chance to get in, just as they still do with Hamilton.

I’ve yet to see Hamilton (I’m waiting for its London arrival), but curiosity had me buying a ticket to see Dear Evan Hansen during my recent NYC theatre trip, especially with its much-praised original cast. Was the hype justified? Absolutely yes and its success and ability to affect so many people, so profoundly, is something special that doesn’t come around very often.

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Connor (Mike Faist) & Evan (Ben Platt). Photo source: Matthew Murphy

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of a shy, socially awkward seventeen year-old, Evan, who struggles to fit in and seems isolated from the people around him. Evan’s life changes when one day, a fellow teen at his school, Connor, commits suicide and the note of Evan’s he stole from him the day before, suggests to Connor’s grieving parents that their son had a friend they never knew about, one who may be able to help them learn about the son they struggled to connect with. What follows is a truly heart-wrenching journey of a young man, who is caught up in a lie, but who along the way, gives all of the characters, all of us watching and indeed himself a sense of hope and the comforting message that we are never alone, no matter how hopeless life seems. It may sound cheesy, but I promise you that the emotional response you’ll have to this story will be very real indeed.

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Evan (Ben Platt) & Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss). Photo source: Matthew Murphy

So relevant to today’s society is the story and the emotional experiences that the characters experience, that you could easily forget that they are indeed characters. It is an incredibly believable story, coming at a time when, despite the increased amount of ways we have to communicate with each other, so many people feel that they have no voice and are incredibly alone. The show has certainly captured the hearts of a generation of young people, who see themselves in Evan. However, the brilliance of this musical is that it has the ability to connect with all ages. Whether you are a teenager, or in your mid-30s, or older, we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve struggled to keep going, to ask for help, or have been scared that no one is there for us. For this reason and the richness of its characters other than Evan, Dear Evan Hansen connects with everyone.

Steven Levenson (book writer), together with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) and its director Michael Greif, have created a brilliantly contemporary show, drawing on the social media world we live in (which is also woven wonderfully in to the set). The characters within it are fully realised individuals. Evan is at its heart, but each one adds to the overall magic of the show and that is strengthened by the superb ensemble that brings them to life.

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The superb cast of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo source: Nathan Johnson

Rachel Bay Jones is wonderful as Evan’s mother, doing her best to raise him alone, while Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson portray Connor’s parents sensitively and with such realism, dealing with their grief in different ways. As Connor’s sister, Laura Dreyfuss has the complex role of a girl trying to reconcile grief with the fact she didn’t really like her brother as a person, while Mike Faist portrays two versions of Connor, the person he was before his death and then who he is in Evan’s imagination, ensuring he remains an important part of the story. The show could have become much too sad and so the inclusion of Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd) and Jared Kleinman (Will Roland) classmates of Evan, is vital as they bring a great amount of humour to the show (especially Jared, with Will Roland’s performance being one of my favourites).

Then of course, there is Ben Platt at its core. He was the reason I wanted to see the show and his performance exceeded all of my expectations. Having been involved with the character of Evan since the workshop stage of this musical, means that he is intrinsically linked with him and as you watch him on stage, you sometimes forget it is a performance. Every nuance of Evan’s character, from his shy awkward mannerisms to the tone of his voice is perfectly crafted and seem to come from deep inside Platt. It’s a heartbreaking, visceral and yet at times funny performance, that truly brings Evan to life before the audience and the sheer force of the emotion he gives on stage took my breath away.

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Ben Platt as Evan Hansen – a performance I will never forget. Photo source: Matthew Murphy

I’m not a big musicals fan and so for me to truly connect with one requires not just a good story and strong characters, but also songs that really resonate with me and Dear Evan Hansen’s soundtrack is one of the few that I can listen to in its entirety. Every song has an emotional truth to it because each one fits the point in the story in which it falls, but also crucially feels natural coming from the character singing it in that moment. They never feel shoe-horned in for the sake of it and move the story forward without losing any of their emotional power. From Ben Platt’s superb opening in “Waving Through a Window”, to the playful fun of “Sincerely, Me”, to the uplifting anthem that is “You Will Be Found” (a song I’ve started playing when I need a pick-me-up), to “So Big/So Small”, it’s a truly beautiful collection of songs and I am not ashamed to admit that I shed tears through almost all of them (and it seemed everyone else in the Music Box Theatre did too).

I cannot recommend Dear Evan Hansen enough and if you are able to see this original cast, then don’t hesitate. I feel very lucky to be seeing it again in October and am so pleased that, in this case, all of the praise and superlatives I’d heard about it were fully justified. It’s a show that will definitely make you cry, but it’s also one that is giving people a sense of togetherness and the hope that everything will be alright, which is surely a message we all need to hear.

Dear Evan Hansen continues to run at the Music Box Theatre (239 West 45th Street). There is limited availability for the rest of 2017, but if you can treat yourself to the premium band, those tickets come up last minute, so keep checking Telecharge. A small number of standing room tickets are released each morning at the box office (the queue starts early) and there is also a daily online lottery for $40 rush tickets. For more information, visit the website here.

 

Theatre Review – Come From Away (Broadway, New York): an uplifting story of the good we are all capable of showing to others

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“Because we come from everywhere, we all come from away.”

I recently spent a week in New York, specifically to see as much theatre as possible and one of the shows on my must-see list was Come From Away. I read about the show months ago when it was playing in Washington D.C and had been looking forward to finally seeing it for myself. It was therefore the first show I saw on this trip and was a wonderfully uplifting first night on Broadway.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Come From Away is set on 11th September 2001 and yet, despite all of us being so aware of the terrible events of that day, the story of the people brought to the stage in this new musical are very likely unknown to most of us. Set in Gander, which lies on the northeastern tip of North America, on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, we discover that amid the tragedy of 9/11, in this small remote community, the good we are all capable of was shining through, when 38 planes, carrying 6,579 passengers and crew had to land at Gander following the closure of U.S airspace.

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The cast of Come From Away

Personally, I had never thought about the immediate ripple impact of the tragedy for other aircrafts in the sky that morning and I was stunned by how this small community and those of the surrounding area, pulled together to help the stranded passengers and crews, who effectively doubled their population within hours. From providing food, clothing, medicine, shelter and someone to talk to, it’s incredible to see just how much was done to welcome an international group of strangers to their island. Indeed, it carries more resonance at a time when refugees from around the world are facing greater barriers and hostility to settling elsewhere.

Through Come From Away, we see the lives of people thrown together, far away from home and without any of their possessions (bags remained on the planes, as these were all initially viewed as potential bombs), who over the next five days form friendships, relationships and a special bond between themselves, but also with the people of Gander, that continues to thrive to this day; there are reunions and Newfoundland is the only place outside the USA which has steel from the World Trade Centre.

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Sharon Wheatley & Lee Macdougall

 

Writers David Hein and Irene Sankoff interviewed thousands of people and have skilfully woven these stories together to create a musical that provides moments of joy, hilarity and fun, as well as its emotional moments. With so many stories available to them, the small cast of just 12 find themselves switching roles (and dialects) multiple times in order to provide us with a glimpse in to the forms of generosity that took place during those days in September. Whether playing the locals going about their daily lives until everything changed, to the passengers left cut off and unaware of what was happening (remember back then, fewer people had mobiles), to the captain of one of the planes, the strength of this ensemble is a huge asset of the show.

Each actor brings something special it and is likely to portray a character you will remember. There are too many to talk about them all, but I particularly enjoyed Chad Kimball and Caesar Samayoa’s lovely portrayal of a gay couple, whose relationship is gradually put under strain due to how 9/11 has affected them, Petrina Bromley’s vet, who took it upon herself to ensure that any animals being transported on the planes were cared for and Lee Macdougall and Sharon Wheatley whose characters include American Diane and Brit David, who were on the same plane and through such tragedy find love. There is also Q. Smith’s moving performance of a mother desperately waiting to her news of her son, a firefighter in New York, which felt even more emotional seeing the show in the heart of the city and Jenn Colella’s lovely performance as Captain Beverley Bass, a female pilot trying to comprehend that her beloved planes have been used to create such horror.

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Jenn Colella

Such a story needed to be told with the right balance of entertainment and sensitivity and this is something the creators certainly achieve. There are moments of great humour  intermingled with moments that have you shedding a tear and I particularly loved the smaller moments of human kindness, such as a local man who communicated to a non-English speaking couple not to be afraid through highlighting passages in their bible.

What also struck me about Come From Away was that it’s not your typical musical, which is something I loved about the show. It doesn’t have your typical musical structure. There aren’t show tunes between spoken scenes as such, but a series of stories that happen to be told through moments of spoken verse and singing. I’ve heard some people comment that the show needn’t have been a musical, but I disagree, as it is through the musical element that the emotional depth of these individuals and what they experienced can be truly told. Having the characters sing how they are feeling allows them to express to us emotions that would have not have come across as vividly through just words. It also means we are treated to the talent of the musical’s band, who through drum, fiddle and pipes bring Newfoundland’s signature style of music to life for a wider audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed Come From Away and would recommend it to anyone making a trip to NYC, especially those who perhaps don’t usually like musicals. Having won the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical this week, it is also a strong contender in this year’s Tony Awards and I for one think that there is no better time than now, to see a show that reminds us of the goodness in the world and how even in the face of tragedy, people will always come together to give each other strength and love.

Come From Away is currently running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 West 45th Street). Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes. For more information and ticket availability, visit its website here. $38 rush tickets are available from the box office every morning.