Theatre to See in 2019 (in London & Beyond)!

Having looked back on my favourite theatre productions of 2018 and a little later than I planned (sorry about that!), I’m taking a look at some of the exciting theatre already announced for 2019. It’s worth bearing in mind that at this time of year, we still don’t know what shows will be arriving in many theatres in the back half of the year, but there are already a number of productions on the horizon that should be on your radar. I also admit that my list is always weighted towards London, as it’s my base, but I’m always keeping an eye on regional theatres and have included some I’m planning to see within this list (as well as a few NYC highlights).

So, here’s my snapshot of 19 shows I’m excited to see in theatreland in 2019!

1. All About Eve (Noel Coward Theatre, 2nd Feb – 27th April)

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Top of the list for 2019 for me is All About Eve, which moves in to the Noel Coward Theatre next month. There are a number of reasons I’ve been looking forward to this production. First and foremost, I’m a huge Gillian Anderson fan and having seen her in A Doll’s House and A Streetcar Named Desire (both here and in NYC), it’ll be thrilling to see her on stage once again. Throw in to the mix the director, Ivo van Hove, whose work I always find thrilling and I’m counting the days until my first visit.

2. Death of a Salesman (Young Vic, 1st May – 29th June)

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Arthur Miller seems to be the trendy choice in London theatres this year, with a couple on this list as well, but I’m probably most excited about the Young Vic’s new production of Death of a Salesman, an Arthur Miller classic that I confess I’ve never seen. Director Marianne Elliott’s work is always superb (from Curious Incident, to Angels in America and rewriting Sondheim for the new production of Company), plus the cast includes Wendell Pierce (which is exciting for me as a Suits fan) and Sharon D. Clarke (who is certainly having a busy theatre year; more from her later). The Young Vic is producing such brilliant work at the moment, that I’m sure this will be another hit.

3. All My Sons (Old Vic, 15th April – 8th June)

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The Arthur Miller continues just down the road at the Old Vic, which has assembled an impressive cast for London’s latest production of All My Sons, which includes Sally Field, Bill Pullman, Colin Morgan and Jenna Coleman. I always enjoy this play (the David Suchet one from 2010 my current favourite), so it’ll be fun to see how this one compares. If you’re hoping to pick up a cheaper ticket for this, then register for emails about the PwC previews, which will go on sale five weeks before the show starts, offering £12 tickets for the first few previews.

4. Three Sisters (Almeida, 8th April – 1st June)

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The Almeida is another one of my favourite theatres right now and I’m incredibly excited that the dream team of director Rebecca Frecknall and actress Patsy Ferran are back together again for their new production of Chekhov’s play, following the superb Summer & Smoke (which finishes on Saturday, so you still have a couple of days to see it).

5. Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Barbican, 25th March – 13th April)

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There’s always something I was intending to book and then forget, only to find myself hoping for returns, or day seats later and on this list that award goes to Grief is The Thing With Feathers. I’d been tempted to try and go and see this in Dublin last year, so I’m kicking myself that, for the moment, this is sold out for its Barbican run. Cillian Murphy is a fabulous actor and I’d suggest that, like me, you keep your eyes peeled for tickets for this.

6. Betrayal (Harold Pinter Theatre, 5th March – 1st June)

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I admit, I’m not a huge lover of Pinter, but I actually rather enjoy Betrayal and having enjoyed his performance in Coriolanus at the Donmar, I’m looking forward to seeing Tom Hiddleston back on stage again (no, I don’t count the RADA Hamlet that was near impossible to get tickets for!) and directed by Jamie Llloyd. This will hopefully be a strong end to the current Pinter at the Pinter season.

7. Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward Theatre, TBC)

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Dear Evan Hansen was one musical I’d heard so much about and in 2016 I was fortunate to see it twice in NYC. It’s an emotional story, with a powerful message that no matter how low you feel, you’re never truly alone, if you reach out for support and I’m thrilled it’s finally making its way across the Atlantic. I’m sure the British cast will be fantastic and the musical’s message is universal, but I admit, as someone who saw Ben Platt in the lead role, I find it difficult to picture anyone else in the role of Evan.

8. Emilia (Garrick Theatre, 8th March – 15th June)

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Emilia was another production that I missed during its first run at Shakespeare’s Globe which, thanks to a West End transfer, I now get to enjoy. Everyone I know who saw this story about Elizabethan poet, Emilia Bassano, (who I confess I knew very little about before this play arrived in 2018), loved it. Bassano wrote the first published work of poetry by an Englishwoman and is rumoured to be the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets, yet her life is just as fascinating and worthy of exploration and attention. I certainly won’t be missing out on this show again!

9. Blues In The Night (Kiln, 18th July – 7th September)

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Currently wowing audiences at the Playhouse in Caroline Or Change, Sharon D. Clarke is heading back to North West London (having opened Caroline Or Change at the Hampstead Theatre last spring), to the Kiln (formerly Tricycle) Theatre later in the year, to star in this revival of Sheldon Epps’ musical, which was last seen in London 30 years ago. This is after she’s stopped by the Young Vic for a previous entry on this list, so she’s certainly keeping busy! She has an incredible voice and the Kiln continues to be a wonderful venue following completion of its transformation work, so this should be a treat for the summer.

10. When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other (National Theatre – Dorfman, 16th January – 2nd March)

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I have mixed feelings about this entry. It’s absolutely one of the most talked about productions of 2019, which caused a great amount of grumbling when tickets were only available by ballot. The combination of Martin Crimp, Katie Mitchell and Cate Blanchett is intriguing though and having been lucky in the ballot, I’ll be seeing what all the fuss is about next week. A limited number of day seats are available from the National each day.

11. Dear Elizabeth (Gate Theatre, 17th January – 9th February)

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This new play by US playwright Sarah Ruhl, whose In the Next Room (or “The Vibrator Play”) I saw a few years ago, has just started its run at Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre. The play will tell the story of poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, who exchanged regular letters for decades. The production is also choosing to switch its cast, with two different actors taking on the play each performance. The list includes some brilliant talent including Alex Jennings, Jonjo O’Neil and Tamsin Greig.

12. A Very Expensive Poison (Old Vic, TBC)

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No clear dates yet, but this forthcoming new play already sounds very promising and is certainly addressing current global tensions. It’s written by Lucy Prebble, whose wonderful work includes The Effect and ENRON and is set to tackle the story of the death of Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko. This is certainly one to keep an eye on for further details.

13. Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre, from 30th January)

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Another Broadway musical opening shortly in London is Come From Away, which I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of years ago in NYC. Through just 90 minutes, it tells the heartwarming story of the community of Gander in Newfoundland, Canada which, on 11th September 2001, found itself the temporary home of thousands of stranded airline passengers. The link to 9/11 may make you think twice about booking, but it’s a lovely show, that reminds us of the goodness we are capable of, which is these crazy times, is something everyone needs to be reminded about.

14. Mother Courage and Her Children (Manchester Royal Exchange, 8th February – 2nd March)

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Manchester’s Royal Exchange is collaborating with the theatre company Headlong for this new adaptation of Brecht’s work, which will see Julie Hesmondhalgh taking on the role of Courage. The website suggests that this production will bring the story “bang up to date” and I’m intrigued to see exactly what they have in mind.

15. Standing At The Sky’s Edge (Crucible, Sheffield, 15th March – 6th April)

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I’m a huge fan of Sheffield Theatres, which continues to produce some fantastic shows and the one I’m most looking forward to from its upcoming season is Standing At The Sky’s Edge, which is a new musical about Sheffield itself, telling the story of the residents of Park Hill flats over 50 years (Doctor Who fans will recognise the buildings from the latest season too). Having grown up in the city, it’ll be fun to see a musical all about the lives of people in Sheffield!

16. Peter Gynt (National Theatre – Olivier, 27th June – 8th October)

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Further details of this production have been released today, but this is a show that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. No, I haven’t seen Peer Gynt before, but I have seen James McCardle on stage a number of times and he’s such a superb actor that I’ll see him in anything and this will see him take on one of Ibsen’s most famous characters in a new “radical” adaptation by David Hare. I imagine I’ll be seeing this one more than once!

17. Barber Shop Chronicles (Tour – multiple venues, 12th March – 25th August)

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The Barber Shop Chronicles is another show that I was stupid enough to miss during both its runs at the National Theatre (I know, I know, I’m rubbish), but this regional tour will mean others, as well as me, will be able to see this story about a group of African men, gathering and exchanging stories in barber shops in six different cities across the world. The tour will visit Manchester, Leicester, Bristol, Sheffield and London’s Roundhouse.

18. Richard III (Tour – multiple venues, 1st March – 25th May)

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Theatre company Headlong will be bringing their new production of Shakespeare’s Richard III to multiple venues this year. I’m a big fan of the work of Headlong, as they tend to find original ways of telling classic stories. In addition, this production is also stopping at the newly restored theatre at Alexandra Palace, which is a venue I’ve been waiting to be finished. It’ll be thrilling to step foot in the space, now it’s been restored to its former Victorian glory. The play will visit Bristol, Northampton, Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford and will finish at Alexandra Palace.

19. The Color Purple (Curve Theatre, Leicester, 28th June – 13th July & Birmingham Hippodrome, 16th July – 20th July)

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Having missed the original run of the Menier Chocolate Factory’s musical production of Alice Walker’s novel in 2013, I managed to catch it, including that superb performance by Cynthia Erivo, on Broadway and I loved it. I’ve always been surprised that a West End run didn’t happen and so it’s fantastic to see this musical will be making a return to the UK stage in Leicester and Birmingham in July.

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That’s already a promising list, with many more I could have included.

.…….And I haven’t even mentioned New York, although the first ones that spring to mind across the pond are:

(1) To Kill A Mockingbird, adapted for stage by Aaron “The West Wing” Sorkin, which continues its successful run until November;

(2) Ben Whishaw & Renee Fleming in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, at new arts venue The Shed;

(3) Oklahoma at The Circle in the Square, which I’ve only heard good things about, following its run last year at Brooklyn’s St Ann’s Warehouse; and

(4) Hilary and Clinton, in which Laurie Metcalf and Nigel Lithgow, explore the dynamics of a certain political couple during 2008’s Presidential Primaries.

There’s also of course the transfer of the Almeida’s superb Ink, which I loved and of course, surely it’s only a matter of time before the incredible The Inheritance makes it way across to NYC?! If it does, I’ll certainly be following it (queue for day seats this Saturday for its final day in London if you can. You won’t regret it!).

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Excited yet? Hopefully there’s plenty on the stage this year to appeal to everyone. I’ll be getting back to reviewing more theatre in 2019, so keep an eye on the blog for my latest reviews!

 

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My 2018 Theatre Review – Productions of the Year!

Where has the last twelve months gone? I probably say that every year, but it means it’s time for me to look back on the last twelve months as a theatregoer. I’ll start by saying I’ve seen fewer productions this year than I expected to and I’ve seen far less regional theatre than I wanted to as well, which only gives me something to aim for next year.

That being said, my final total for 2018 was 60 shows, with revisits to six of those shows (including three Hamilton trips), resulting in a total number of theatre trips of 67. Not bad, but I’m well aware that I’ve missed a fair few shows I’d been hoping to see this year.

As I’ve already mentioned, my theatre trips outside of London have been low this year, with the exception of a theatre-packed NYC trip in the spring. London and New York aside, my regional visits have been limited to Chichester and Stratford-Upon-Avon and I fully intend to improve on this in 2019.

Finally, when choosing my favourites of the year, I think about which shows resonated with me on an emotional level, so I’m sure there are productions which appear on other lists, as ground-breaking or significant shows for other reasons, but which weren’t at the top of my list.

So, without further delay, here are my favourite productions of the last twelve months!

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1. The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre)

As in previous years, my list is in no particular order, with the exception of the top spot, which was clear to me as soon as I left the Noel Coward Theatre.

I’d had a ticket for a full Wednesday at the Young Vic to see The Inheritance, but due to work commitments, I had to give the tickets back. I was gutted at the time, as this promised to be something special and so the news of a West End transfer was wonderful.

I have been intending to write a specific review of this show ever since I saw it and yet I struggle to put in to words just how stunning it is on so many levels. I’m not a gay man, but nevertheless, I couldn’t fail to be moved by a story which reaches in to the past and connects it so beautifully with the present and the importance of a sense of community between the men on stage. Not only that, but the writing is just magical, as you are told a story of love, loss, compassion and forgiveness, which still captures moments of such fun and playfulness along the way and all of its 7+ hours is so superbly acted by the show’s cast. I laughed, I cried (many times) and having seen it twice, it continues to stay with me. I’ll be there for the final shows on 19th January and if you can go before it closes, you simply must. It’s that simple. (The Inheritance continues at the Noel Coward Theatre until 19th January 2019).

2. Summer & Smoke (Almeida & Duke of York’s Theatre)

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Credit: Marc Brenner

I was lucky enough to see this superb show during its initial run at the Almeida, before revisiting it in the West End only a couple of weeks ago, where I was still able to have a fabulous close-up view thanks to TodayTix. I wasn’t familiar with this play beforehand, having seen some of the better known and more regularly revived pieces by Tennessee Williams and yet I quickly fell under the spell of this hauntingly atmospheric production. I loved the simplicity of the set and the use of light to draw out the electricity between the two central characters. The stand out element though? An utterly compelling performance by Patsy Ferran, who I honestly felt transformed in to Alma before my eyes in such a nuanced portrayal of a character I was almost instantly invested in. Combined with strong support from Matthew Needham, Forbes Masson, Nancy Crane and all the cast, this again was a show that had a profound emotional impact on me and is one I won’t forget. (Summer & Smoke continues at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 19th January 2019).

3. Twelfth Night (Young Vic Theatre)

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Credit: Johan Persson

Twelfth Night is a Shakespeare play that I’ve seen quite often and I admit I was possibly a little tired of it. Yet, I’d heard so many glowing reviews about this production since it was staged in New York in 2016, that I couldn’t miss it when it arrived in London, as the first show during Kwame Kwei-Armah’s tenure as artistic director of the Young Vic. It’s one of the best decisions I made all year and is, without question, the best interpretation of this play that I’ve seen to date. Turning this well known Shakespeare story in to a musical was bold in itself, yet this show was inventive, colourful, fun and fresh and is easily one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had in a theatre, which brought the story to life in an entertaining, yet accessible way. Although the whole cast was great, the stand out has to be Gerard Carey as Malvolio. He was simply perfect. I might never need to see another version of this play, as I doubt this one will be beaten.

4. The Watsons (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I travelled to Chichester to see Laura Wade’s latest play, but being a fan of her previous work and a lover of Jane Austen, I had high hopes that this would be right up my street and that certainly proved to be the case. I loved the cleverness of this script, as it’s not just an Austen story (one which Austen mysteriously never finished, despite it not being the last one she wrote), but it’s also a story about what it’s like to be a writer and it was this added element that really appealed to me, as an aspiring writer. I don’t want to give too much away for those not familiar with this play, as I’m certain it’ll have another life on stage before too long, but all I will say is that its mix of Austen and contemporary life resulted in a show that was a lot of fun to watch and had me leaving the theatre with a big smile on my face. All my fingers are crossed for a London transfer.

5. Three Tall Women (Golden Theatre, New York)

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Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

Having seen her brilliant return to the stage as King Lear after 23 years in 2016, I couldn’t miss the chance to see Glenda Jackson’s second show, this time in New York, during my visit in April/May and it was certainly a highlight of my trip. With a cast of just three (Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill), Three Tall Women tells the story of one fierce woman, whose life is cleverly told by herself at three different ages. It may have been short, but it certainly packed a punch and seeing Broadway so in awe of Glenda Jackson was wonderful.

6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Donmar Warehouse)

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

Over the years Lia Williams has become one of my must-see actresses and I’ll book anything she’s in and in this year’s Donmar production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, she yet again proved what an incredible artist she is on stage. Having not read the novel, nor seen the film made famous by Dame Maggie Smith, I wasn’t sure what to expect, yet found myself caught up in the world of her and her students, as her desire to inspire them starts to become questionable as the play progresses. I’m only sorry I didn’t have the chance to go back for a second time.

7. Fun Home (Young Vic Theatre)

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Credit: Marc Brenner

Fun Home had been on my list of shows to see when I was in NYC a few years ago, but I just didn’t have time and had been wondering if it would ever make its way across the Atlantic. It’s clearly been a strong year for me when it comes to the Young Vic, with this beautifully touching musical being the third show from the theatre on my list. In a way it didn’t feel like a musical, but more of a play with songs, but regardless of how you categorise it, the story of one girl’s relationship with herself, her sexuality and her father left me rather emotional by the end and a return visit was essential. I admit, I’m still surprised there hasn’t been news of a West End run for the show. Hopefully 2019 will rectify that.

8. A Monster Calls (Old Vic Theatre)

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

I only had to walk a few minutes down the road for a similarly emotional theatre outing, this time to see the Old Vic’s staging of Patrick Ness’s tale of love, grief and forgiveness. I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t read the book, but I adored the recent film and found this adaptation equally powerful, as we see one young boy’s struggle to come to terms with his mother’s illness and death and the confusing emotions they stir up within him. It’s not an easy story to stage, with so much resting on the fantastical stories the monster tells him, but this production truly evoked the same emotions through its imaginative staging. It wasn’t an easy show to watch, but it’s one I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

9. I And You (Hampstead Theatre)

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

This was a lovely little surprise of a show at the Hampstead Theatre for me this year, which also saw the stage debuts of two wonderful acting talents, one I was very familiar with and the other I’ve now added to my “keep a look out for them” list. Lauren Gunderson’s play saw Maisie Williams, fresh from Game of Thrones as a sickly young teenager, cooped up in her room, who is forced to engage with the world through the arrival of one of her classmates, played superbly by Zach Wyatt, with a last minute poetry project centring around Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Yes, I worked out the ending quite quickly, but that didn’t take away from the emotional punch I felt at the end, as the lines from the poem they’d been discussing became so poignant. The production also saw the Hampstead Theatre testing out a new way of reaching new, younger audiences, when it was made available to stream for free on Instagram. Anything that encourages people to try theatre gets my support and the play was just as moving a second time on my small phone screen.

10. Girls & Boys (Royal Court Theatre)

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Credit: Marc Brenner

I’ve been hoping to see Carey Mulligan on stage for a few years now and this incredibly powerful one-woman play at the Royal Court finally gave me a chance to see her. This was another instance where I had no idea about the story before stepping foot inside the auditorium and what I loved most about this play was how it started as one thing and all of a sudden took a sharp turn down a much darker, devastating road. The power of such a play depends on the actress and Mulligan was simply outstanding as a mother telling the story of her life and that of her children to the audience, right down to the mimed interactions with her children, who I soon forget weren’t actually there on stage with her. This was yet another emotional experience and one that certainly stood out as a highlight this year.

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Special mentions also go to White Teeth at the newly reopened Kiln (formerly Tricycle) Theatre, which took me completely by surprise with how much fun it was, The Humans, which I was thrilled to see arrive at the Hampstead Theatre, complete with the full Tony Award-winning cast, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which provided the type of black comedic fun I expect from Martin McDonagh and some wonderful performances (all of which I enjoyed from a £10 front row seat!), Lobby Hero in NYC, with wonderful performances by Micheal Cera and Chris Evans in particular, Sweat at the Donmar Warehouse, where the 2000 US setting felt just as relevant in 2018 Britain and The Madness of George III from the Nottingham Playhouse, which I was able to enjoy via NT Live.

Last year saw my list filled with plenty of musicals after a year in which I saw more than usual and although far fewer make the shortlist this year, there were certainly some musical highlights, in particular the recent NYC stagings of My Fair Lady and Carousel, the impressive Hadestown, here prior to its Broadway opening and the Old Vic’s much publicised Sylvia. Yes, it was rough and needs tightening up, but I expect the final form to be something rather special when it returns and it contained one of my theatre moments of the year (see my separate post for those coming soon).

Although I try and keep repeat trips to shows out of my annual favourites list, I couldn’t write this without giving special mention to some of the shows that I loved this year and which I’d already seen before. Top of this list was a joyous visit to Harry Potter & The Cursed Child in NYC, to see the original London seven back in their roles. Although I’ve enjoyed later West End casts, there’s something special about that group and in particular Jamie Parker as Harry and Anthony Boyle as Scorpius. My time in NYC also enabled me to revisit the National Theatre’s stunning production of Angels in America for a third time and spending another day wrapped up in these characters was a privilege. 2018 also saw Andrew Scott return to London in Sea Wall, which made my favourites list back in 2013 and was indeed a highlight of this year as well. It may be only 30 minutes long, but it remains one of the most emotional theatre experiences I’ve ever had. And of course, it would have been rude had I not returned multiple times this year to Hamilton, including the very special performance in August in aid of the charity Sentabale, attended by Harry & Meghan!

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So, that was my 2018 theatre year! Yes, I missed some shows that I wish I’d seen (The York Realist, Misty and Notes From The Field being at the top of that list), but overall, I enjoyed almost everything I saw this year and even those that I found disappointing had something I could appreciate (the Almeida’s current Richard II may not be my cup of tea, but Simon Russell Beale’s performance was very good and I may have found A Very Very Very Dark Matter disappointing, but the two central actors were great, as was the set). That’s certainly better than years when I’ve had a list of shows I’ve found truly painful!

Looking ahead, there are some fantastically promising shows arriving next year and I’ll be highlighting my 19 shows to see in 2019 in a separate post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your highlights from the last twelve months!

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.

 

 

Theatre Review – Become immersed in Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More (New York)

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During my recent trip to NYC, there was one other theatre experience that had been a must for a long time and that was another Punchdrunk adventure!

After enjoying, but being slightly overwhelmed by The Drowned Man, I was excited to experience Sleep No More in New York, which has already been running for over five years. A collaboration between Punchdrunk and Emursive, Sleep No More brings its audience the same unique, immersive experience that those already familiar with Punchdrunk have come to love. It’s taken me some time to write this review, as it’s essential not to give much away!

For the uninitiated, Punchdrunk shows centre around a story which is brought to life around a multi-levelled building by an ensemble of actors, through movement, dance and minimal dialogue in what is called promenade theatre. Once inside the story, the audience members are each given a mask, which must be worn at all times and there is absolutely no talking. You are also encouraged to split up from those you arrive with. This may sound daunting, but it’s absolutely the best way to experience a Punchdrunk show. It is after all a journey; during three hours inside, you wander around and decide what to observe, which actors to perhaps follow and which rooms to explore. Everyone should choose for themselves. Your time within the world created will be greatly improved by doing so.

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My souvenirs from Sleep No More

So as for Sleep No More itself? It’s hard to review in the sense that the magic of the experience is to know very little at the outset and so I am limited in what I can say! You arrive at The Mckittrick Hotel (a converted warehouse building) and on “checking in” at the door, make your way through to the bar.

The show has been devised around Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s better known and bloody stories. However, this is no ordinary Macbeth and indeed it isn’t even the only story that unfolds within the five storey building. My choices over my time at the McKittrick meant I in fact saw very little from the Macbeth side, unlike my friend who saw most of the recognisable moments from that story brought to life!

Being inside such an experience is hard to describe. It’s at times as if you are in someone else’s dream, due to the lack of set course you take, while at the same time being incredibly liberating to simply wander wherever you choose. To reach each new floor involves climbing the stairwells and as you are effectively on your feet for three hours, wear sensible, comfortable shoes! It can also get quite warm inside, so wear layers or light, cool clothing.

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Close observation of the actors by the audience at Sleep No More

I enjoyed Sleep No More much more than The Drowned Man and the key reason for that was my attitude. I was braver in my exploration of the building. I ventured in to dark rooms alone, walked closer to actors and wasn’t afraid to catch their eyes. They are after all reacting to the audience as much as to each other. My open attitude must have been clear, as I did get to experience one of the famous “one on one experiences” in which one actor took me aside, away from the other followers and in to the dark crevice between the walls. It was a unique, surreal and very intimate moment that I won’t forget and drew me further in to the mysterious atmosphere of the show.

More than anything else, the creation of the world will astonish you. The attention to detail in these shows is superb. Each floor is a different environment; you may find yourself both in indoor and outdoor locations, all perfectly brought to life. Every prop is there by design – whether the titles of books you can take off a shelf, the half written letters you can read on tables or the posters and notices on shop pinboards. One tip I will say is, if you find yourself outside the sweet shop – go in, open the jars and sample the goods! The sound/music underscoring the locations is also perfect and the large ensemble of actors work incredibly hard to bring the world to life inches from you.

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The experience begins on arrival at The McKittrick Hotel

The masks and silence also add an air of gothic creepiness to the night. They are unquestionably unnerving and having everyone wear one is so effective. They also make you bolder in my view. There are no places out of bounds here. If you want to sit on the arm of the chair of an actor as they sit there reading something, then you can. The anonymity of the masks allows you a freedom that is like no other theatrical experience and on returning to the outside world at the end of your time, it’ll have you comparing notes with friends and theatregoers as to what you each saw and did for a long time afterwards.

I’d also agree that Sleep No More, like any Punchdrunk show, is something that will inevitably benefit from repeat trips. The more time you spend there, the more you’ll see and the more the pieces of the story will start to come together. Sadly, I only had time for one visit this time, but, if it’s still there on my next trip to NYC, I’ll almost certainly go back. Once you’ve caught the Punchdrunk bug it’s inevitable!

So, if you’re going to, or are in, New York and are looking for a totally unique evening, book a ticket. If you go with others, do split up inside. It’ll mean you have so much more to share afterwards. Finally, be bold. The more you put in to Sleep No More, the more you’ll enjoy it!

Sleep No More continues at The McKittrick Hotel at 530 West 27th Street and is currently booking until 30th December 2016. Tickets are $86.50 (plus booking fee) and try to get the earliest timed slot to maximise your time inside. For more information visit the website here

Theatre Reflections – A final farewell to the RSC’s King & Country at BAM (New York)

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It’s taken me a couple of weeks to write this reflection on the final King and Country cycle. Previously I have reviewed all of the individual plays since they began with Richard II in 2013, as well as reflecting on the cycle at the Barbican this January. However, as my recent New York trip was largely scheduled around seeing the last dates of these Histories, it seemed fitting to look back one last time and also comment on the differences, both in my experience and in the performances, when seeing them during the New York run.

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BAM Harvey Theatre (Photo by: E. Kaufman Harvey)

I find it thrilling that despite so many performances under their belts (the final King and Country tally was 505), the company was still trying new things and for anyone who’s sen them a few times it’s a wonderful added extra. It’s also fascinating to experience the plays with an audience who have much less opportunity to see live Shakespeare than we do here in the UK and to see first hand how this affects their reactions to the material.

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Jasper Britton & David Tennant in Richard II (Photo by: Keith Pattison)

From my time at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Harvey Theatre, I’d safely say that the largely American audiences loved these productions and having the RSC come to them. In fact there was a buzz that I didn’t feel at the Barbican or to some extent even at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This is perhaps largely due to the RSC in New York being more of an event, seeing as they haven’t been regularly and the audiences were excited to see this famous theatre company bringing Shakespeare overseas. Thinking about it logically, these were the perfect plays to succeed there. The more traditional rather than modern settings and the English history (albeit Shakespeare’s version) seemed, from the people we spoke with, to be exactly what they imagined the Royal Shakespeare Company to be doing.

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Antony Sher, Sam Marks & Alex Hassell in Henry IV (Photo by: Richard Termine)

BAM was an ideal theatre for the plays too. Built in 1904 as the Majestic Theatre, the BAM Harvey Theatre’s auditorium is weathered and has a old-age feel; paint flaked walls and ceilings really added to the sense that a little bit of English history had come back to life in a venue of the past. I also really liked the rake of BAM, with a great view from every seat I had (it’s a bit like the Trafalgar Studios rake for those that know it). This again meant a slightly different viewing experience than I’d had in Stratford-Upon-Avon or London.

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Matthew Needham (centre), Antony Byrne (left), Sean Chapman (right) in Henry IV (Photo by: Richard Termine)

The plays themselves were just a strong as they had been and as far as Henry IV is concerned, this was my favourite time watching it (having seen it once in Stratford in 2014 and then once during each of the two Barbican runs). At a book event earlier in the week, Antony Sher had commented how he felt the US audiences were listening and reacting better to the plays and on experiencing them for myself, I have to agree with him. Lines which I’ve not heard get a reaction before in all four of the plays (but especially Henry IV) found one at BAM. I heard quite a few people there saying how they had read the plays before coming and perhaps we are so used to Shakespeare in the UK that we aren’t as focussed as an audience who has less chance to see them live. In turn, this clearly had an effect on the performances, especially Mr Sher, who seemed happier and more at ease at BAM. Perhaps coming to the end of the run played a part, but you could see that he was enjoying and feeding off the audience reactions.

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Alex Hassell in Henry V (Photo by: Stephanie Berger)

I’m sure it’s no surprise to regular readers that I saw Richard II the most since 2013. I’d been at the first preview in October 2013 and I loved the idea of seeing the very last performance, especially as in my view, this is a production which has only gone from strength to strength over time. It was in Richard II where I picked up on little changes, the most obvious being in my favourite scene – Flint Castle. Having seen David Tennant play the scene with both Oliver Rix and now Sam Marks (as well as Oli and Sam together during the understudy performance), it was wonderful that they were still experimenting even at the end of the run. I saw Richard II twice at BAM and both times, instead of dodging the crown when Richard moves to place it on his head, Sam Marks stayed still and Richard II did indeed crown Aumerle. Once Tennant then removed it with a sigh (it’s Richard’s burden, not his cousin’s) and the second time Marks removed it and with sadness gave it back to Richard. It wasn’t a big change, but it was something subtle and lovely to see played in a slightly different way after all this time.

All the company were on fine form in New York and special mention to Evelyn Miller going on in place of Jennifer Kirby for the final Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. They should all be hugely proud of the King and Country cycle and it was very special to be at the final Henry V to see the 505th and final performance. I’m sure after such a welcome, it won’t be long before the RSC is back in New York and you never know, I may just have to tag along too!

You can purchase the RSC’s King and Country plays on DVD from all the usual stockists. As the DVDs are region free, it’s worth considering buying them from US Amazon where the 4 play set is only $40!