Tag Archive | Play

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 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wood? (aka Imelda Staunton’s latest stunning performance)!

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Despite being a regular theatregoer, there are still some classic plays that I have yet to see on stage and this famous one by Edward Albee was one of them. With such an exciting cast, I had been looking forward to seeing this one for quite a while.

It is set in the 1960s, in the home of Martha and George. George is a History professor at the local college, of which Martha’s father happens to be the dean (a fact she continually loves to rub in George’s face). After yet another faculty party, Martha has invited the newest young Biology professor Nick and his wife home for a nightcap, much to George’s dismay. Over the course of three Acts, we observe the game-playing between husband and wife, in which their guests become unwitting pawns in their vicious attacks on each other.

Imelda Staunton is utterly incredible as Martha, reminding audiences that it isn’t just musicals in which she can bring the house down (if you saw either Sweeney Todd or Gypsy, you’ll know what I mean)! It’s an incredibly intense play to watch, with the majority of that intensity resting with Staunton and Conleth Hill (you may recognise him for playing Varys in Game of Thrones) and they play off each other brilliantly. Theirs is a marriage that seems to have been built on years of battling. They needle each other, fighting to be the victor. Martha is horribly cruel to George, pointing out how muc of a disappointment he is and how she’d hoped for better and yet as the night goes on, we see that, after years of such games, George is just as capable of pulling the emotional rug out from under her. Interestingly, despite the awful way they seem to treat each other, there is also clearly a strong bond of affection underneath, with their cruelty disturbingly holding them together, while simultaneously threatening to destroy them.

What I loved most about this play is that it’s also incredibly funny, much more so than I expected. There’s something darkly entertaining about watching Martha and George tear shreds off each other and some of the sharp, biting dialogue has you laughing out loud, even as you grow more and more uncomfortable. I can imagine it’s easy to overdo the dramatics in this play and yet director James Macdonald’s production doesn’t do this. In fact, in a frightening way, it feels very believable. There are also strong supporting performances from Luke Treadaway, the latest young man to catch Martha’s fancy and watching Staunton flirt so sexily with him was great fun, and also from Imogen Poots, who pulls off playing Treadaway’s young, naive wife.

I loved this production and it will certainly be one of my highlights of the year, due to the truly superb performances. I’ve been slow posting this review, but you still have until Saturday to see it, so hurry up and get booking!

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until Saturday. TodayTix has a great deal each morning for twenty pounds day seats, which I highly recommend. I was on the front row, which was a bargain!

Theatre Review – David Tennant is Don Juan in Soho!

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Last night saw the opening of David Tennant’s latest play! I make no secret of the fact he has been my favourite stage actor ever since 2008’s Hamlet and I’d been looking forward to finally seeing him live on stage in a non-Shakespeare role. This was my second trip to the play (having been to the first preview on 17th March), allowing me to see how the production has settled over the preview run.

Don Juan in Soho is the latest incarnation in a long line of Don Juan stories, some better known than others and Patrick Marber’s play draws on one of these classics, Moliere’s 1665 Don Juan. Whether you’ve ever seen the opera Don Giovanni, a film or play, the character is someone most people know – Don Juan, the Casanova of his time, sleeping his way through the ladies thanks to his wit and charm and that’s exactly what you get at the Wyndham’s Theatre.

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David Tennant back on the stage as DJ (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Tennant is “DJ”, whose aristocratic family is hugely wealthy. He has lived a privileged life during which he has never had to work or think about anything other than satisfying his own primal needs. Set in modern day London and Soho in particular, DJ gallivants around the city, flirting and seducing every woman he passes (he is after all “magnificently fu*kable” if he does say so himself!), while his long-suffering servant Stan (the brilliant Adrian Scaborough) follows dutifully behind, clearing up his mess and acting as commentator for the audience. Whether he does it because he cares about DJ after all their years together or simply to get his much sought after pay, you’re never quite sure!

When we meet them, DJ has just returned from his honeymoon with Elvira and yet, to him, she is already a memory; she’s a woman he pursued so fiercely, simply to sleep with and take her innocence. His absolute lack of regret or sorrow at how he has hurt her, by immediately deserting her, infuriates her two brothers, who swear that one day he will pay for his actions. Then at the height of his frivolous behaviour, he receives a stark message from a stone statue of Charles II!

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A perfect team: Adrian Scarborough (Stan) & David Tennant (DJ) (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Put simply, this production is bonkers; absolutely, utterly bonkers and because of that I did enjoy it, but at the same time, I can see its weaknesses.

First and foremost, the greatest strength of the production is the relationship between its two main characters, DJ and Stan and the fact that they are played superbly by Tennant and Scarborough, who have a wonderful chemistry on stage. Both individually and together they bring an energy to the stage that you cannot help but enjoy. Scarborough’s Stan is funny, sarcastic and tragic. You like him immediately and cannot help but feel sorry for him as he grows ever more fed up with his life, as simply the servant to a man who never shows him appreciation in a meaningful way (or indeed even pays him)! His asides to the audience are also a great way of setting the tone for the character of DJ before we even meet him and add wonderful moments of humour throughout, as he implores us not to be taken in by DJ in the same way his many women are.

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(Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Tennant is of course the big draw to this production and when the play itself is so strange, it needs an actor of his calibre in the lead. DJ is not a likeable character and yet through Tennant, you can’t help but warm to him despite his actions. For fans of the actor, you’ll be able to spot glimpses of previous roles (especially the playfulness of Casanova and the dark depravity of Killgrave), as he bounds about the stage.

Throughout the first half, we follow him on his mission to bed whatever woman crosses his path and while you despair at his nerve, he makes you laugh too, as Marber’s dialogue trips off his tongue. Perhaps part of DJ’s appeal is because of the very point he makes in his rant in the second half – that although he is viewed to be a disgusting, dishonest human being, he may be more honest than any of us. He doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t and he refuses to apologise for who he is and how he lives his life, whereas the rest of the world around him seems, to him, to be desperately trying to please, to be approved of, or is indeed putting on an act to hide something darker (“the priests prey, with an e” being a particularly bold line). I did enjoy his speech as he rails against modern society’s need for validation in the most superficial of ways – “Like me, friend me, follow me” and “Welcome to my vlog, today I bought a plum!” I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the man had a point!

However, as much as I love seeing Tennant on stage and as much fun as his and Scarborough’s scenes in this play are, everything else is rather average. All the other characters are two-dimensional, the result being that all the other performances feel weak and irrelevant. I didn’t even feel particularly sorry for Elvira, the character supposedly representing good.  In fact, I didn’t really care about her at all.

I also felt there was too much padding of scenes in this play for the sake of it. It’s already a fairly short production (2 hours including a 20 minute interval) and yet it could easily be cut down further, for example, the dance sequences, which add nothing to the story and feel unnecessary (yes, I see the link to opera, but they still felt a bit pointless). In fact, I’m not sure why there even needs to be an interval at all. The preview run has however resulted in some tweaks to the scenes involving the statue, which thankfully make this less cheesy than my first visit. Its later appearances are swathed in smoke now, a very wise choice, especially in the scene in which it arrives to take DJ on a journey, which now looks much less ridiculous than it did (it’s still a statue driving a pedicab though, so it’s never not going to be nuts)!

Overall, I had a good time at Don Juan in Soho. Fans of David Tennant will love it, as he flirts his way across the stage, with a sly smile here and a dirty sentence there (he’s the Ghandi of gang bangs didn’t you know?). There is a magic he brings to his performances that will always thrill me in a way few actors can achieve. It was also fun to see him away from Shakespeare for a change and Adrian Scarborough is a joy to watch. However, I’m not sure whether it’ll appeal to a wider audience. Don’t go expecting a serious, substantial play or you’ll be disappointed, but if a couple of hours of innuendo and silliness appeals to you, then this may be for you!

Don Juan in Soho continues its run at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 10th June 2017. For more information and availability, visit the website here. You can also enter the daily TodayTix online lottery for £20 front row day seats via the TodayTix app. See here for further details

 

 

2016 Theatre Review – My Top Performances of the Year!

In previous years I’ve only written one theatre review post. However, after it was suggested to me by a friend, I’ve decided to split my review of the theatre year this time. I’ve already posted my top 10 productions of 2016 (here for those interested) and so this post will focus on my favourite performances from the last twelve months. You can also read about my most memorable moments of the year in theatre here.

Please do let me know your highlights in the comments below.

2016 – A Year of Strong Female Performances

As my top ten post highlighted, it’s been a strong year for women on stage, with so many stand-out female performances. Below is just the tip of the iceberg!

Lia Williams (Mary Stuart)

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After her incredible performance in Oresteia last year, Lia Williams is yet again one of the highlights of the year, in not one, but two roles. After being lucky enough to watch both versions of Mary Stuart back to back, what stood out the most for me was that no matter which version I was watching, the character Williams was portraying seemed to be the larger role. She was a vibrant Mary, unnerving Juliet Stevenson’s Elizabeth and yet she was also a strong, confident and sexy Elizabeth. I cannot wait to see what roles she will take on in the future, but I’ll be there for every one of them!

Ruth Wilson (Hedda Gabler)

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It’s always a joy to see Ruth Wilson on stage and she is currently delivering a superb Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre. She isn’t very likeable, but I couldn’t help admiring her character’s ability to be say whatever she wanted, regardless of the consequences! She is someone desperate for control and yet by the end we see her utterly at the mercy of Brack. In another powerful production by Ivo Van Hove, this is a must-see event.

Denise Gough (People, Places & Things)

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I’ve already gushed about how much I loved Denise Gough in this show and how she absolutely blew me away with such an emotionally, heartbreaking performance. It’ll stay in my mind for many years to come.

 

Glenn Close (Sunset Boulevard)

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The iconic Glenn Close finally brought her portrayal of Norma Desmond over 20 years after she performed it on Broadway. I had high hopes, but was nervous that perhaps she’d struggle to impress the way she did back then. It turned out she was spectacular and was still able to deliver the vocals. Yes, her voice may not have been as powerful, but it added a layer of reality to the character.

Billie Piper (Yerma)

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Billie’s performance in Yerma was one of the most emotionally draining trips to the theatre I had in 2016, so goodness knows how she performed it day after day! Modernising Lorca’s tale of a woman desperate to have a child worked perfectly for today’s world and as the play unfolded Piper her character from a young, vibrant woman to a lost, broken soul. Powerful and unforgettable.

 

Janet McTeer (Les Liaisons Dangereuses)

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It was hard to leave this production off my top ten and that was in large part due to McTeer’s portrayal of La Marquise de Merteuil. She was so devious and sexy and her chemistry with Dominic West really worked. I’m sorry I couldn’t get to New York to see the Broadway transfer, but if you have a chance to go before it finishes towards the end of January, it’s certainly worth the effort.

The cast of Eclipsed (NYC)!

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With Eclipsed it wasn’t just one strong performance, but five, with each of the five actresses in Danai Gurira’s play creating a memorable character and together the result was one of my theatre highlights. Lupita Nyong’o seemed years younger, depicting the young wife who yearns for a different life; Pascale Armand was a scene-stealer as Bessie, whose comic lines made me laugh out loud; Saycon Sengbloh brought a strength and motherly figure to the stage as Helena; Zainab Jah’s portrayal of the wife-turned soldier, who refuses to be a victim of any man was a moving one and Akosua Busia added an outside perspective as Rita, the woman determined to help the women of the camp leave this life. A remarkable play, that I hope to see in the UK soon.

Helen McCrory (The Deep Blue Sea)

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If I hear Helen McCrory is doing a play, I’ll book it without caring what it is. She is just so good. Her turn as Medea is still clear in my mind two years on and she was equally impressive as Hester Collyer, a woman trapped in life, who feels suicide is her only way out. A moving and powerful production for 2016.

Glenda Jackson (King Lear)

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25 years since she was last on stage, Glenda Jackson took on one of the most well known roles in Shakespeare – King Lear. I was rather surprised by how much power she brought to the stage. She may be older, but she still commanded the stage and although, I didn’t have the emotional reaction to the play’s ending that I sometimes do, I still left the Old Vic sure of the fact I’d seen one of the performances of the year.

Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple, NYC)

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I was sorry to miss The Color Purple during its run at the Menier Chocolate Factory and so it was high on my list for my trip to NYC this year. I’d heard so much about Cynthia Erivo’s performance as Celie, the young girl, who overcomes so much to achieve happiness and independence in her life. There were two famous US actresses on stage, but the star was Erivo and hearing her sing “I’m Here” live was phenomenal. I’m so thrilled she won the TONY this year.

The men weren’t half bad either in 2016!

It may be a year when the female-led shows grabbed my attention, but there were certainly some excellent performances by the men too!

Andy Karl (Groundhog Day)

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Ahh Andy Karl. I loved Andy Karl in Groundhog Day. As he’s better known in the US, I wasn’t familiar with his work, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on his future projects from now on. As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original film, his portrayal of Phil Connors was a major factor in how much I loved this production. He was able to convey both his rude, arrogant attitude and his later kinder self with equal weight and by the end I was rather choked each time I saw it. If I needed just one reason to go back to NYC next year, this is it!

Anthony Boyle (Harry Potter & The Cursed Child)

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Undoubtably the most anticipated production of the year (and possibly the decade), the next story in the world of Harry Potter had a lot to live up to. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and all five of us in my group agreed that the show-stealer was Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy, the unlikely son of Draco, who forms a friendship with Harry’s son Albus. He was brilliant in the role; he is funny, brave, emotional and an utter joy to watch.

James Norton (BUG)

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James Norton is surely one of the most versatile actors we have at the moment. Able to be both the charming, gentleman and terrifying killer on screen, I was thrilled to see him perform this year in the intimate space of FOUND111. Tracy Letts’s play is one of growing claustrophobia, where Norton’s character, Peter, starts as a shy young man, who acts as a source of comfort to Kate Fleetwood’s Agnes, before slowly unravelling before our eyes. A hugely physical and emotional role, Norton demonstrated yet again why he is on my must-see list.

Jonjo O’Neil (Unreachable)

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I’ve been a fan of Jonjo O’Neil’s since I first saw him in the RSC company in Stratford-Upon-Avon (his Mercutio is yet to be beaten from those I’ve seen) and it was brilliant to see him take on such a quirky role as that of Ivan The Brute in Anthony Neilson’s new play. With the play taking shape during the rehearsal process, he was clearly able to bring so much personality to the character and I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in a theatre in a long long time (if indeed ever). It was an utterly bonkers performance that stole the show.

Simon McBurney (The Encounter)

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The Encounter was unlike anything else I’ve seen on stage. A one-man show, written and performed by Simon McBurney, it told the story of a National Geographic photographer who in 1969 travelled to, and became lost in, the Amazon rainforest. Through the use of innovative technology and the audience all wearing headphones, we were transported in to a sensory experience like no other. McBurney could not have put any more in to his performance, physically and mentally and if I could go again I wouldn’t hesitate.

Jamie Parker (Guys & Dolls / Harry Potter & The Cursed Child)

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Jamie Parker had to be on this list as I loved both roles he had on stage in 2016. I started the year watching him bring Sky Masterson to life in Guys & Dolls. He was superb and, in my view, one of the show’s biggest strengths, able to carry off the suave character and deliver the required vocals. Then it was on to Harry Potter. Harry isn’t the young man he was in the books/films and Parker convincingly portrays how his early life and experiences have impacted on him and indeed on his relationships as a husband and a father. Some of the most heartfelt moments in the play for me were those in which Harry is dealing with emotions and I can’t think of anyone better to play him.

James McArdle (Young Chekhov – Platonov & Ivanov)

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Having a chance to see the Young Chekhov trilogy at the National Theatre after missing its original run in Chichester was an added theatre bonus this year and my favourite of the three was undoubtably Platonov. This was largely down to James McArdle’s performance in the title role. Seeing the plays back to back also provided an even stronger contrast between his role in Platonov and that of the serious doctor in Ivanov.

 

Ian McKellen (No Man’s Land)

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I’ve been lucky enough to see Ian McKellen on stage a couple of times before (in No Man’s Land and The Syndicate) and what stands out most of me about McKellen’s stage work is that he simply becomes a new person. Despite being hugely famous for some iconic roles, you always see the character on the stage and not the actor and that was the case again in No Man’s Land.

Rafe Spall (Hedda Gabler)

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Rafe Spall’s performance as Brack in the National Theatre’s current production of Hedda Gabler really stood out for me. He is a man that starts the play as a rather playful, flirty friend to Hedda and yet by the end he had chilled me to the bone. Not every actor could do that, but through his previous work, Spall has demonstrated his ability to tackle characters on both sides of the moral spectrum. I certainly hope to revisit this production before the end of its run.

Jasper Britton (RSC Richard II / Henry IV)

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Anyone who knows me (or indeed has read this blog before) will know I’m a David Tennant fan and therefore a return trip to the RSC’s Richard II at the Barbican in January was never in doubt. The biggest thrill for me of the combined King and Country cycle was Jasper Britton. He brought a new dynamic to the Richard/Bolingbroke relationship and having the same actor as both characters enhanced the overall cycle. I particularly enjoyed seeing Bolingbroke’s relationship with Hotspur, which perfectly set up the events of the Henry IV Part One.

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What a year it’s been! Feel free to let me know which performances impressed you this year in the comments section.

2016 Theatre Review – My Favourite Productions of the Year!

Although there are a few days of 2016 left, I’ve very likely been to the theatre for the last time this year and so it’s time for one of my favourite posts – my theatre review. It’s always lovely to reflect on another year of theatregoing and all the wonderful productions I’ve been lucky enough to see over the previous 12 months.

Due to a few weeks with a bad cough during which I didn’t go to the theatre (I refuse to be that person coughing through a show!), 2016’s final tally was just 70 different productions; 12 of which were musicals (a record I think for me), with the rest being plays. As with any year there are always some repeat visits and in 2016 I saw 11 shows more than once. Although this year saw me take a long overdue trips to New York for 11 days of theatre (that seems to be the magic number for me this year doesn’t it?), I’ve actually been to very little regional theatre in 2016 and I’m determined to improve this over the next twelve months.

2016 has been a very strong year of theatre for me, with those containing a strong female performance particularly standing out. I’ve seen very little that has truly disappointed and nothing that will be added to my all-time worst production list. So, below is my top ten productions of the year. Before the year is out, I’ll also be posting my list of 17 shows to see in 2017 so please do pop back to have a look and let me know what your theatre highlights have been this year!

Productions of the Year – My Top 10!

1. Groundhog Day (Old Vic)

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There could only be one show at the top of my 2016 list and that’s Groundhog Day, the new musical based on the film, which premiered this year in London, before departing after only its ten week run to prepare for Broadway (previews start in March). I had been sceptical about a musical of this 1993 film (one that I’d not been a huge fan of to begin with). On seeing it for the first time however, I knew this was something very special indeed and I loved it every time I went (well if any show warrants repeat trips it’s this one). The colourful sets helped bring the community of Punxsutawney to life, and the book by Danny Rubin with Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics were a joy. It managed to be both very very funny and deeply moving over the course of the show, as Phil Connors gradually becomes a better man. Of course, the show needed a strong lead to anchor it and Andy Karl was utterly superb as Connors. He was able to portray a man who was both irritating, but still likeable and someone you were rooting for by the end. Yes, I intend to go to NYC to see it, but in the meantime, Mr. Minchin, please release a cast recording! You can read my full reviews here and here.

2. People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s)

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I missed this play during its original run at the National Theatre, but was able to see it when it reached the West End earlier this year. It certainly lived up to the hype, with Denise Gough giving one of the finest stage performances I’ve ever witnessed. As Emma, the young woman dealing with a drug and alcohol addiction, Gough pulled you in to her world and didn’t let go until the end. Very few theatre performances have as strong an emotional impact as this one and her Olivier win in April was truly deserved. I know this will be a performance I talk about for years to come. Full review here.

3. Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum)

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This time last year, one of the most anticipated events of the 2016 theatre calendar was Glenn Close’s return to the role of Norma Desmond, one she performed on Broadway over 20 years ago (and one she will take back to NYC in 2017). I’d never been to the Coliseum, but it was the ideal venue for this unique staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. “Semi-staged”, there was very little set; instead the focus was on the performances and the full ENO orchestra on stage. Fred Johanson was excellent as Norma’s loyal butler, as was Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis. However, this was always going to be Close’s show and she was superb. In fact I loved it so much I had to go again and being on the front row that second time is an experience I will never forget. Full review here.

4. Eclipsed (John Golden, NYC)

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My trip to NYC this year was designed to be a theatre-fuelled holiday and it certainly was! I saw some excellent productions during my time there, but the one that stands out and makes this top ten is Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed, which centres on the lives on five women during the Second Liberian Civil War. The play was able to capture the perfect balance of serious hard-hitting material and humour. For a play that has some moments that are quite difficult to watch, it was also remarkably funny too. On top of that, all five women in this play were superb (made clear by the raft of nominations it received). Lupita Nyong’a seemed so much younger in her role, which commanded your attention until the final moments, while Pascale Armand made me laugh with her witty remarks. I’m so pleased I was able to see this. Full review here.

5. Mary Stuart (Almeida)

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Last weekend I was at the Almeida for a double day of Mary Stuart. Seeing this new show twice in one day was the only way to guarantee I’d see both actresses in each of the lead roles of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. I’m still writing up my review (watch this space), but needless to say that it’s inclusion on this list tells you exactly what I thought of it! The Almeida has such a unique atmosphere and you can feel the energy in the room as the coin spin takes place to determine who will play each part. On seeing both versions, I was thoroughly impressed by both actresses, although Lia Williams brought something extra to the stage whether as Mary or Elizabeth. It’s an exciting, powerful and absorbing production that you should see if you can.

6. Unreachable (Royal Court)

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After having to return a ticket for earlier in the run, I’m so pleased I managed to see the final performance of this brilliant new play by writer and director Anthony Neilson, although due to the unique structure of the creative process, it would have been great to have seen it more than once, as Neilson uses the rehearsal process to mould the story and relies on improv from the cast. Story-wise, it’s about a group of creative people coming together to make a film, with the director intent on capturing the right light (played by Matt Smith) and one of the actors, Ivan the Brute, an unpredictable lunatic (Jonjo O’Neil)! All the actors were excellent, but special credit must go to these two, who had me in stitches throughout, particularly Jonjo. It’s a character and performance I won’t forget in a hurry!

7. Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace)

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2016 also saw the arrival of the juggernaut that is the new Harry Potter play and I feel very lucky to have already been able to see it, knowing that some people have tickets for 2018! Set 18 years after the end of the seventh book in the series, we get to see Harry, Hermione and Ron as adults with children of their own off to Hogwart’s and the story focuses on the friendship of Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. It’s a superb show, with magical trickery, lovely sets, a story with a positive message for us all and some brilliant actors. Special mention to Jamie Parker (one of my favourites on stage who really does bring something new to Harry) and Anthony Boyle who deserves as much recognition as possible for stealing the show as Scorpius. Review here.

8. Yerma (Young Vic)

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Billie Piper has established herself in recent years as a fine stage actress and her lead role in the Young Vic’s modern interpretation of Lorca’s Yerma is the best I’ve ever seen her. In a one act play, she simply left me speechless and a bit of a wreck through her portrayal of a young woman driven to despair by her inability to conceive a child. In this modern world where people like to think we can have it all and where woman are putting off having children until later, this play has an added emotional resonance. Brendan Cowell was also fantastic as her husband, struggling to keep their marriage together as his wife slowly breaks down. It was an emotionally draining experience, but a theatrical tour de force that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. Full review here.

9. Richard II (RSC, Barbican, London & BAM, NYC)

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Okay, okay, anyone who reads this blog may notice that this production has been on this list before, but technically the 2016 version did have a largely different cast and therefore I think I cab get away with it! David Tennant remains one of my favourite actors and a brilliant Shakespearean actor. Returning to Richard after a break of almost two years meant he was able to bring much more weight to it than he did originally. This was a stronger, more confident performance. Add to that the inspired addition of Jasper Britton as Bolingbroke, a role he made his own and a performance I preferred to Nigel Lindsay. Top marks also need to go to Sam Marks, who stepped in to Oliver Rix’s shoes as Aumerle and brought even more emotional depth than I could have hoped for. I was also lucky enough to travel to NYC to see the final two performances of Richard, meaning that I was able to see not only the first preview, but the very last show. Full review here and reflection on the full King and Country cycle here.

10. The Dazzle (FOUND111)

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Picking a tenth production for this list has been quite difficult and has left me torn, but in the end I had to choose a production I first saw last December and returned to in January of this year and that’s The Dazzle. With only a cast of three and staged in the intimate setting of FOUND111 (one of the venues of the year in my view), this was a show that was both humorous and deeply moving, as we see the bond between the Collyer brothers. Andrew Scott is mesmerising as Langley, whose strange ways are an increasing strain on his brother. However, it was David Dawson’s performance as Homer that floored me and by the final scene I was a wreck. Full review here.

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So, that’s my top 10 from another year of theatre. That was quite tough! Had I had more space, other productions I loved this year included Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Donmar), The Encounter (Barbican) and the returns of the RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much About About Nothing (at Chichester, but which are now currently finally in London) and This House (also now in London).

It always frustrates me that there are things I miss, but ultimately you can’t see everything. That being said, I’m determined to go to more regional theatre, but also more new venues next year. It’s a little exciting to wonder what memories I’ll be looking back on this time next year! After a suggestion from a friend, my picks for top performances of the theatre year are in a separate post here, as are my most memorable moments of the year in theatre here.

Thanks for reading!

 

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