Theatre Review – Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes (Almeida Theatre)

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The end of last week saw me make two trips to the Almeida to see the anticipated production of Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes in the title role. As these were previews, the production was still developing and there will have likely been a few more tweaks between my last trip on Friday and tomorrow night’s press night. There had already been some interesting small changes between the two nights I attended, which was very fascinating to see.

Overall I enjoyed this production. The bookend scenes are fantastic in setting the historical aspect of the story in the audience’s mind from the moment you enter the auditorium. We begin at an excavation site, as bones are unearthed while the audience takes their seats; the final bone to emerge – a curved spine. I’d been waiting for a production to reference a Leicester car park and the staging here worked well in giving a nod to the iconic nature of the play’s title character, even in the 21st century.

The bare brick walls of the Almeida are also ideal for staging the various scenes, whether a dark Tower cell, a council meeting room, or the barren battlefield. It gives a timeless feel to the production and I also liked the simple modern dress (mainly black suits and dresses) in helping not to set it in any specific modern period. Some of Richard’s great lines and asides also require a sense of connection and intimacy with the audience and at the Almeida he really does seem to be speaking to each one of you.

As for Fiennes, I enjoyed his portrayal, which was exactly along the lines I had expected. I’ve seen a few Richards now, but none have ever seemed truly evil. They have always possessed a sort of charm, which was then undercut in moments of cruelty (whether Spacey, Rylance, Jonjo O’Neil or even Cumberbatch for the recent BBC series). I’ve always been able to see how someone could be caught out by their charm and at times it’s made Richard seem less of a threat (especially so with Martin Freeman’s portrayal, notwithstanding one terrifying scene with a telephone cord). That’s not the case with Ralph Fiennes and I was pleased about that.

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His Richard is utterly horrid, with no real charm at all. Instead he uses threats and dominance (at some points sexual in nature) to bend those around him to his will. When anyone attempts to stand up to him, he finds a way to diminish them, particularly the women, with one such moment in particular leaving me, for the first time watching this play, really looking forward to seeing him meet his end. Although this portrayal meant there was less humour in certain scenes (such as the scene with Richard supposedly at prayer, for which Spacey maintains the comedic crown), Fiennes still delivered some of Richard’s best lines with a dry humour that evoked laughs from the audience.

There are also some very good supporting performances. Aislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth and Joanna Vanderham as Anne were both particularly effective at bringing their characters’ heightened emotions to the forefront. They are very strong women, who each do their best to stand their ground when confronted with the actions of the monstrous Richard. Susan Engel also conveyed his mother’s utter horror and dismay at her son’s actions well and her final confrontation with him was very believable. The other stand-out performance for me was Finbar Lynch’s Buckingham, who often seems to be the driving force behind Richard. They are very much a team, moving the chess pieces around the board to finally position Richard on the throne and I thought the two actors had a great relationship on stage.

As for what didn’t work for me, the use of mobile phones by Hastings and Stanley was a distraction that served no purpose (other than to frustrate me)! No one else seemed to have one, meaning Tyrrell proves the deaths of the two princes with Polaroids and a paper calendar is consulted on the eve of battle. It’s a minor niggle, but one that still momentarily took me out of the scene.

I wasn’t hugely sold on Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Margaret either. I liked the fact she wasn’t a shrieking, hysterical figure and I assume her boiler suit-style outfit is a nod to her battle-ready history (although it did echo Miss Trunchball a bit too much for my liking). However, I found that the pace of scenes in which she appeared slowed considerably. For the first this perhaps works; she calmly and coolly makes her curses, seeming rather wise. In fact, other than the creepy doll she carries about, you tend to think the court really should be taking her words more seriously. For later scenes however, the pace felt much too slow and even quite dull, which has not been my experience of Margaret in any other production.

The other gripe for me, which I hope has gone by now (or at the very least can be explained to me by someone) is Fiennes’s use of a totally different accent during the battle! I couldn’t even tell what accent it was meant to be. I may perhaps be missing something hugely obvious, but it simply seemed bizarre and distracting to me.

I’ve personally never viewed this play as exciting, as some people seem to. I’ve always seen it as a story centred on a lot of talk and political scheming, rather than one of excitement and therefore the fact the overall pace did feel slow at times didn’t bother me too much (it had noticeably picked up during my second visit and so may have been further tightened up this week). The key to my enjoyment of Richard III is that I believe the performances and here I did in the majority of cases. It was great to finally see on stage a truly awful Duke of Gloucester and I’m sure Mr Fiennes will continue to mine the depths of his dark side over the course of the run. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in late July to see just how evil he has become!

Richard III continues its run at the Almeida Theatre until 6th August 2016. Running time: 3 hours 15 mins approx. (including one 20 minute interval). Day seats will be available from 17th via the box office from 11 a.m.. Some tickets costing £20 will also be available via a lottery through the TodayTix app. The possibility of returns or last minute spare production seats means trying your luck at the theatre is also worth considering. For more information visit the website. For those unable to get to the theatre, the production will also be screened in cinemas on 21st July and details of that broadcast and participating cinemas can be found on the Live Almeida website.

Theatre To See in 2016!

2016 has arrived, so it’s the time of year for theatregoers when we start planning all the shows we need to book for the new year, while pondering what rumours are circulating as to productions that may arrive during the next twelve months. This post has been a great way of organising my own theatregoing, as I see what I’ve yet to book while compiling this list of recommendations! 2015 was an excellent year for me for theatre (read my review of the year here) and I certainly hope 2016 proves to be even better.

So, here are the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2016. I am planning a New York trip in April, but as I’m not yet sure what I will be seeing this list is purely a UK selection and admittedly mainly London-based (although I plan to get to regional theatre more again this year).

16 to see in 2016

1. Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close (London Colesium – 1st April – 7th May)

2311The forthcoming production of Sunset Boulevard is my most anticipated show of 2016 so far. It’s a musical I’ve never seen, I’ve never been to the London Coliseum before (this year I’m determined to visit more theatres) and it means I’ll get to see Glenn Close, an actress I greatly admire, on stage. Returning to a role she played back in 1994 on Broadway, tickets for this production’s five week run have been incredibly popular since going on sale last year, but there are still some available.

2. Richard II (with Mr Tennant returns) (Barbican – 7th – 22nd January)

David-Tennant_2705271b.jpgAlthough I’ve already seen this production during its last run in 2013, as a huge fan of Mr Tennant, especially for Shakespeare (something he seems to effortlessly make modern and accessible to all), I had to include this return of Richard II to the Barbican as part of the King & Country cycle. I am rather sad that Oliver Rix is not returning as Aumerle (who I thought was truly superb last time), but Samuel Marks will no doubt do a fantastic job in his place. Tickets are sold out for the individual performances, but returns are worth looking for.

3. The Encounter by Complicite (Barbican – 12th February – 6th March)

hqdefault.jpgAnother production coming to the Barbican which has been on my radar for some time is the latest work involving theatre company Complicite. Directed and performed by Simon McBurney this solo show will transport the audience to the Amazonian rainforest, through sound design to weave McBurney’s story with that of Loren McIntyre, a photographer who became lost in the Amazon in 1969. This wouldn’t normally be my type of theatre, but anything involving Complicite (whose A Disappearing Number and Master and Margarita in 2010 and 2012 respectively I loved) will get my attention. I’m sure this will be a unique experience.

4. People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s Theatre – 15th March – 4th June )

40e2193f-8439-49f5-b0f3-fbe90f755702-2060x1236.jpgAfter missing this highly regarded production during its initial run at the National Theatre, I’m thrilled it has a second lease of life in the West End. A new collaboration between the National and Headlong following Earthquakes in London and The Effect, the play introduces us to Emma, currently in rehab, but who thinks it’s the rest of the world that has the problem. I’ve heard nothing but positive comments about this play and the performance of its lead Denise Gough, so I’m looking forward to seeing this at the Wyndham’s.

5. No Man’s Land (Venue TBC – September)

NM6.jpgThis play was on my list for 2015, in the hope it might arrive by the end of the year. That didn’t happen, but in their New Year’s Eve video message, the dynamic duo of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen announced that this production (which played with Waiting For Godot in New York in 2013) would be in London this September. They are both such wonderful actors, but there is something very special seeing them together. If I enjoy this half as much as Waiting For Godot in 2009, I’ll be very happy indeed.

6. Uncle Vanya (Almeida Theatre – 5th February – 26th March)

unclevanyatopThere is so much about this production which makes it a top choice for 2016. For a start, the ensemble cast contains some brilliant talent including Vanessa Kirby (most recently of the Young Vic’s Streetcar) and Tobias Menzies (whose one man performance in The Fever last year was superb). On top of that is the involvement of Robert Icke, whose production of Oresteia last year topped virtually every theatre list of 2015 (including mine). As with that play, this will be a new interpretation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by Icke, which he will also direct. Expectation as to what he will come up with next is incredibly high, so I hope this delivers.

7. After Miss Julie (Theatre Royal Bath – 24th – 28th May, followed by a tour)

2F77458900000578-3365133-image-m-3_1450399607098.jpgI’ve only seen one previous production of this August Strindberg play, which was the Young Vic’s 2012 version starring Natalie Dormer and it was one I have not forgotten, due to the power of the story and the emotionally charged atmosphere in which it takes place. As that production was also based on the adaptation by Patrick Marber to be used here, I’m thrilled to be able to see it again, with Helen George in the main role. Known to most through Call The Midwife, this role will give her room to show a very different side and I’m looking forward to seeing this in Bath or during the subsequent tour.

8. Nell Gwynn (Apollo Theatre – 4th February – 30th April)

cw-9336-medium.jpgAnother production I was sorry to miss last year was Nell Gwynn at the Globe. Although there has been a change of lead actress (with Gemma Arterton replacing Gugu Mbatha-Raw), I’m very much looking forward to a show which many people I know said was a highlight of their theatre year and learning more about the woman who went on to become Britain’s most celebrated actress (and mistress to King Charles II).

9. The Master Builder with Ralph Fiennes (Old Vic – 23rd January – 19th March)

18564_show_landscape_large_01.jpgThe first 2016 production for the Old Vic looks to be very promising, seeing Ralph Fiennes in the lead role of this Ibsen play. After seeing his brilliant performance in Man & Superman last year, I can’t wait to see Mr. Fiennes on stage again and in this new adaptation by David Hare (most recently having enjoyed success both in London and New York with Skylight), it should be very memorable.

10. The Nap (Sheffield Crucible – 10th – 26th March)

100112.jpg.pngAfter the success of One Man, Two Guvnors, this is the new comedy from Richard Bean. If that wasn’t enough to get excited about, it’s directed by actor Richard Wilson and stars rising British Hollywood star Jack O’Connell as a young, Sheffield-born snooker player. As this is running in the home of snooker at the Crucible I imagine this will add to the atmosphere of this production and is a fantastic part of Sheffield Theatres wonderful 2016 season.

11. Herons by Simon Stephens (Lyric Hammersmith – 15th January – 13th February)

Herons_Lyric-Hammersmith.jpgAs it’s been 15 years since this play by Simon Stephens was last in London, I have yet to see it and although I find his work a bit of a mixed bag of enjoyment (last year’s Carmen Disruption was not for me), he’s a playwright whose plays I will always book a ticket to see. Described as an unflinching and incendiary play, I imagine this will not be an easy one to watch, but I hope it will be as powerful as some of his other plays that I have loved.

12. Elegy (Donmar Warehouse – 21st April – 18th June)

Elegy-background-new-2.jpgThis is the only show I have booked for the new Donmar season and the reason is I’m very much looking forward to seeing the next play by Nick Payne, whose constellations has done so well on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years. Set in a near-future where advances in science mean it’s possible to “augment and extend life”, I’m expecting this to be a thought-provoking production.

13. Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre – currently booking 27th May – 1st October)

Show_Aladdin.jpgAlthough I do tend to see more plays than musicals, I’ve been looking forward to the arrival from Broadway of Disney’s Aladdin, which had been on my list of things to see in NYC. A Disney musical done well is always good fun and Aladdin already has the advantage of having a strong set of songs from start to finish.

14. The Deep Blue Sea (National Theatre, Lyttleton – TBC, June 2016)

tumblr_inline_nutq4yD38Y1rdh6ct_500.jpgTerence Rattigan remains one of my favourite playwrights and I very much enjoyed the last production of The Deep Blue Sea that I saw in Chichester in 2011. Very little is known yet about this forthcoming production at the National, which will be directed by Carrie Cracknell (whose A Doll’s House at the Young Vic was superb), but I’m certainly hopeful for some wonderful casting. Watch this space.

15. Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace – begins May)

Harry-Potter-Cursed-Child.jpgI admit I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic and booked a ticket for this play more out of curiosity than anything else. It’s already had record-breaking ticket sales and is booking until mid-2017, so there is certainly a lot of expectation surrounding the next instalment in J.K Rowling’s universe, set 19 years after the last book. I am very excited though about the recently announced casting, as Jamie Parker has been one of my favourites for a few years and Noma Dumesweni is a brilliant actress. This is already set to be the most discussed and anticipated show of the year.

16. Pink Mist (Bush Theatre – 21st January – 13th February)

Pink-Mist-at-Bristol-Old-Vic_-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-I80A5019-2000x1333After receiving superb reviews last year at the Bristol Old Vic, it’s wonderful that Owen Sheers play, looking at the mental scars of war is coming to London. Inspired by interviews with retired servicemen, Pink Mist centres on three young men, deployed to Afghanistan, but whose greatest challenge is then returning to their old lives and loved ones after all they have experienced. I expect this to be an incredibly emotional and profound piece of theatre, which in the current world  will have an even bigger impact on audiences.

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Rumours….!

As with any year, there are certain rumours swirling in the theatre air about possible productions arriving in 2016 and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the ones below over the next few months.

1. Finding Neverland (TBC)

1275-b444e46ec9eae9dba52deacc5e5cc4e3.jpgI thoroughly enjoyed the film Finding Neverland and have been hoping this musical adaptation would make its way to London at some point. Nothing has been formally announced yet, although Gary Barlow has said it will be in London this year, so this looks very likely indeed. Those who I know have already seen it in New York were very positive about it and with music and lyrics written by the incredibly talented Mr. Barlow, I’m hopeful this will be a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

2. Colin Morgan in The Pillowman

97978.jpgMartin McDonagh’s latest play, Hangmen, is currently enjoying great success during its West End transfer and so it would be the perfect time to bring one of his earlier plays back to the stage. Rumours last year suggested The Pillowman may indeed make a return, with Colin Morgan linked to the production. I have only ever seen the grainy National Theatre recording of their 2003 production in their archive, but it’s a testament to the power of the piece that it’s still stayed with me. It’s certainly a disturbing and dark play, but I would certainly like the chance to see it live.

3. The Young Chekhov season from Chichester to the National?

Anna-Chancellor-and-Samue-010.jpgThis triptych of plays was one of the theatre events I was most sorry to miss last year and therefore I’m hoping the rumours of a transfer to the National Theatre prove to be true. In his new adaptations for the Chichester Festival Theatre, David Hare chose to stage two lesser known Chekhov plays (Platonov and Ivanov) in a season with The Seagull. It had a wonderful ensemble including Anna Chanellor, Sam West and Olivia Vinall and the reviews were all excellent. All my fingers are crossed for a second life for these productions in 2016.

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Catch Them Before They Close….!

1. The Dazzle (FOUND 111) – until 30th January

Although there are now only day seats and returns available, it’s certainly worth making the effort to try and nab a ticket for this new play, housed at the top of a warehouse-style building on Charing Cross Road. A story which imagines what the lives of two famous New York hoarders and recluses must have been like, Richard Greenberg’s play is powerful and emotional and contains two superb performances by two of Britain’s best young talents (Andrew Scott and David Dawson). Read my full review here.

2. Hangmen (Wyndham’s Theatre) – until 5th March

As I’ve already mentioned above, this Martin McDonagh play has been widely praised by both critics and theatregoers since it first opened at the Royal Court. After seeing it on its transfer to the West End, it easily made my top ten of 2015. With a brilliant script, wonderful sets and superb acting (particularly Johnny Flynn’s performance), this should be one on everyone’s list for early 2016. Read my full review here.

3. War Horse (New London) – until 12th March

It seems incredible that War Horse is closing in London. It’s become such a fixture since its premiere at the National Theatre in 2007 and move to the New London in 2009, that I expected it to be there forever. Sadly however the show will close on 12th March, before embarking on a UK tour in 2017. There’s certainly something very special about seeing Joey live. He may be a puppet, but the skill of the operators and the beauty of the story means that that is irrelevant. If you haven’t got round to going or want to see it again, make sure you book while you can. I already have my ticket for the last performance.

4. Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace) – until 9th April

Another long-standing show closing in early 2016 is Billy Elliot, which has played at the Victoria Palace Theatre for over ten years. After such a successful film, it’s wonderful that the musical adaptation has been received with such warmth over the years. If you’ve yet to experience the story of a young boy’s love of dance, you have until early April to book your ticket. It is eight years since I last saw the show, so I’ll definitely be visiting one last time before then.

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So, hopefully there will be something within my recommendations to appeal to you (or maybe even more than one). I’d love to pick up some more tips for myself, so do leave a comment about what you are excited about seeing in 2016. Happy theatregoing everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

My Theatre Review 2015!

I can hardly believe it’s the end of the year already! Time to look back at another twelve months of theatregoing and reflect on what was brilliant, what was unexpected (whether in a good or bad way!) and what I wish I hadn’t bought a ticket for. Thankfully there aren’t too many in the latter category!

Starting with the numbers, I’ve seen 63 productions, of which I’ve seen seven more than once, giving a total of 76 theatre trips in 2015. Not too shabby, although still an amateur compared to others I know! Overall, it’s been a very strong year and the thrill of seeing a new play, visiting a new venue or seeing an actor I was unaware of grab my attention, remains just as addictive as in previous years.

Productions of the Year – My Top 10

Without further ado, here are my top ten productions of the year. Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree!

  1. Oresteia (Almeida / Trafalgar Studios)

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Perhaps a rather predictable number one this year is the Almeida’s new interpretation of Aeschylus’s 2,500 year old Greek tragedy. I missed it at the Almeida, but thankfully made it to the West End transfer. Simply put, this will remain one of the finest productions I’ve ever seen for a long time to come. Writer and director Robert Icke (now at the top of my must-see list) made such an ancient play current, while also delivering an exhilarating, powerful, intense and spellbinding production. The 3.5 hours flew by, as the whole audience seemed to hold its breath. Superbly acted, directed and designed, with set, lights and haunting sound combining to achieve something remarkable. It’s productions like this that remind me how incredible theatre can truly be.

2. Hello/Goodbye (Hampstead Theatre)

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This may not make anyone else’s top ten of 2015 but I adored this production of Peter Souter’s play, having missed it in 2014. Maybe it was my mood in February, but it tapped in to my emotions and was a story that truly moved me by the end (yes, I cried). Miranda Raison and Shaun Evans had a wonderful chemistry as they brought the story of the evolution of two people’s love for one another (even when they can no longer see it) over a decade to life in such a believable way. I’d see it again tomorrow if I could. Read my full review here.

3. Love’s Labour’s Won (aka Much Ado) (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre)

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I still find it criminal that this beautiful RSC production didn’t transfer to London. Together with Love’s Labour’s Lost they made a wonderful bookend of stories around World War I, but this was my favourite of the two. The set was gorgeous, the costumes sublime and the cast excellent, led by a brilliant Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Benedick (Edward Bennett). Ed has grown so much since stepping in to David Tennant’s Hamlet shoes in 2009 and is now a leading man in his own right. He was charming, funny and cocky and I loved every moment, making this my favourite Much Ado to date (sorry DT!). The DVD is available if you missed it and you can read my full review here.

4. City of Angels (Donmar Warehouse)

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I have a friend to thank for my ticket to this musical revival and how very grateful I am for her queuing skills! The songs were all fantastic and delivered with strength, confidence and power (where on earth is the cast album?!) and the design concept visually wonderful. I especially loved the use of black and white, against colour for the two worlds depicted and the strength of the cast was superb. Everyone made the whole production better, whether Hadley Fraser’s author, Tam Matu’s private eye or Katherine Kelly’s sexy black widow to name but a few. A truly impressive show and my favourite musical of the year.

5. Hangmen (Royal Court / Wyndham’s Theatre)

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Another production I managed to see on its transfer was Hangmen. I thought it was terrific. Martin McDonagh’s script is of the highest quality, filled with brilliant one-liners and exchanges and a twisting, turning story, during which  you never quite know where it is leading. The cast are all superb, especially David Morrissey, but the standout is Johnny Flynn as the mysterious southern stranger, whose motives are unclear, but who makes you feel distinctly uneasy. Combined with a fantastic set (not to mention that first set change) and this should certainly be one your 2016 list if you haven’t seen it already. Read my full review here.

6. Tree (Old Vic Theatre)

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My top ten of 2014 included my first experience of a production by Daniel Kitson and this year sees him back on my list with Tree. It was such a simple concept. Two men spend the duration of the play talking about their lives and what has brought them to be there (one waiting for a date, the other living high up in the branches!). Performed by Kitson and Tim Key it was funny, sad, inappropriate at times, but incredibly moving by the end and certainly made me think for a long time afterwards. Read my full review here.

7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios)

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Seeing the return of James McAvoy to this venue, again directed by Jamie Lloyd, I had no idea what to expect from this play (last seen in London in 1968). My lasting memory of it will be how utterly bonkers it was, but oh what a joy to watch! A superb, satirical look at the upper classes of privileged families I was captivated for the entire performance. Then of course there was James McAvoy himself, whose performance was one of the best I’ve seen all year. He had so much to do – crazed, vulnerable, angry, affectionate, flirty and disturbing, as well as taking on so much physicality. A production and performance I will never forget. Read my full review here.

8. Farinelli & The King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse / Duke of York’s Theatre)

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I saw this new play by Claire van Kampen in both venues this year and I loved it each time. Part play, part music concert, it was one of the most enchanting and captivating productions I saw this year. Based on the true story that a famous singer who helped the depressed King of Spain in the 18th century, we were treated to the stunning voice of Iestyn Davies as Farinelli and the legend that is Mark Rylance. His King Philippe is one of a quiet disposition, but who is capable of moments of violent anger and intense sadness. He is also incredibly funny and I’d forgotten how funny this play was until I saw it again. Proving yet again that Mark Rylance on stage is something never to be missed, this was a gem of the theatre year. Read my full review here.

9. Rules For Living (National Theatre, Doorman)

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My first trip to the refurbished Cottesloe Theatre was to see this new play by Sam Holcroft and what a joy it was. I admit that it came at a time in the year when I really needed something to make me laugh and this ridiculous glimpse in to one family’s dysfunctional Christmas did the trick. I hadn’t laughed that much for quite a while. Seeing how our own internal rules govern our behaviour and responses to others, highlighted so cleverly through the gameshow style scoreboard was a wonderful concept and gave the audience the pleasure of knowing more than some of the characters. Plus the final food fight was brilliant! It’s just a shame this isn’t back at the National for Christmas! Read my full review here.

10. Husbands & Sons (National Theatre, Dorfman)

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Picking a final choice was quite difficult, but this tremendous new adaptation of three D.H Lawrence’s plays really did impress me (runner-up mention has to go to the RSC’s Henry V which I also very much enjoyed). Ben Powers’s play weaves the themes of all three plays together so perfectly, as we see the ongoing cycle, as women go from being the frustrated new wife unable to live up to the mother, to the mother being too protective and then jealous of the girl whom her son falls for, a role she perhaps once had herself years before. I loved seeing all three stories unfolding on stage at the same time and each was so well acted, containing some wonderful performances including Louise Brealey and Anne-Marie Duff. The staging and set were effective, suggesting each story occurring behind closed doors in one village and the use of the lightning rig to evoke a sense of the mine was a great touch. Crucially it’s a production I’ve continued to think about long after seeing it and one I would love to see again. Read my full review here.

Disappointments of the Year

There are bound to be some shows that sit at the bottom of the pile each year, but thankfully there haven’t been too many I’ve really disliked in 2015 and even those had aspects that I can appreciate even if they didn’t appeal to me. Having said that, my theatre year would have been fine had I not seen any of the below productions!

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  • How to Hold Your Breath (Royal Court Theatre) – Nothing else could beat this Royal Court show to take the title of worst of 2015 for me. Ten minutes in, I knew this wasn’t for me and it didn’t improve. I can appreciate some of the ideas and Maxine Peake was (as usual) very good, but it remains 90 minutes I’ll never get back. Read my full review here.
  • Matchbox Theatre (Hampstead Theatre) – The concept of combining lots of little vignettes in to one production could have been entertaining, but too many of these pieces were just boring or not that funny. I did like the one about stage management as nocturnal animals and the member of the orchestra with barely any part, but overall this felt incredibly pointless.
  • Carmen Disruption (Almeida Theatre) – This is another production for which I enjoyed some elements, but as a whole it just didn’t work for me. There were some strong performances (particularly Jack Farthing’s Carmen and Noma Dumezweni’s moving portrayal of a mother estranged from her children), but I found myself wishing I was instead just seeing Carmen. Read my full review here.

Productions I Was Sorry To Miss

Despite my best efforts, I never see everything on my list each year and 2015 has been no exception. These are the ones I’m most sorry I didn’t see this year.

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  • Young Chekhov (Chichester Festival Theatre) – I heard such wonderful things about this triptych of plays, with its wonderful cast. I hope the rumours of a London transfer prove to be true!
  • The Wars of the Roses (The Rose Theatre, Kingston) – Another triple bill I missed was Trevor Nunn’s restaged histories, which included one of my favourite actors Alex Waldmann.
  • People, Places & Things (National Theatre) – I had a ticket and couldn’t go to this highly praised production. However all is not lost, as it transfers next year to the West End and thankfully leading actress Denise Gough does too!

Performances of the Year

2015 has been an impressive year for individual performances, across musicals and plays and it almost seems unfair to only highlight a few. Below are my top leading and supporting performances of the year.

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Leading

  • Imelda Staunton (Gypsy) – a truly incredible performance as Mama Rose Lee, Imelda brought everything to this role and the way she hit those huge notes was astonishing! Watch it on BBC4 on 27th December if you can.
  • James McAvoy (The Ruling Class) – as I have already said, his performance was in another league to most others this year. Captivating throughout.
  • Ralph Fiennes (Man & Superman) – I’ve never seen anyone speak as fast and fluid as Fiennes here. The time of this play flew by despite the long running time and his performance was magnetic and incredibly memorable.
  • Lia Williams (Oresteia) – Lia’s performance as Clytemnestra was astonishing. Both a woman of strength and vulnerability, seeing her finally take the revenge she had stored for so many years against her husband was so intense and her scream of relief and anger was spellbinding.
  • Tobias Menzies (The Fever) – This one man monologue play in the Mayfair Hotel was an intense story and one I still don’t fully understand, but Tobias Menzies was superb and it was a privilege to watch him.
  • Susannah Fielding (The Merchant of Venice) – Rapidly becoming one of my favourite actresses, she was superb as Portio in this RSC/Rupert Goold production.

Supporting

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  • Johnny Flynn (Hangmen) – The standout of this play, Johnny’s performance is unnerving and darkly entertaining throughout.
  • Mark Gatiss (Three Days in the Country) – This performance was full of humour and fun and the scene in which he attempts to propose while also doing his back in was utterly brilliant.
  • Judi Dench (The Winter’s Tale) – I love Judi and she is excellent in this Shakespearean tale, bringing a gravitas to the production and effortlessly speaking the Bard’s words.

Memorable Moments of the Year

Each year also brings individual moments, which remind me why I love going to the theatre. It’s these that make live theatre unique – no one else will experience that moment in quite the same way. Here are my top theatrical moments from 2015:

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  • The daring nature of The Vote at the Donmar – a very British comedy, which was wonderful to see live and then watch again as it transmitted in real-time on television on Election Night.
  • Ophelia’s final exit in the Barbican Hamlet – this was the most emotional moment of the Cumberbatch Hamlet for me. Sian Brooke’s Ophelia felt very real; truly broken by grief and seeing her break down at the piano and then turn and walk off up the slope in to the light, as if towards heaven, as Jon Hopkins’s score played, was incredibly powerful and visually and emotionally beautiful.

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  • The split-level ship set rising up during Treasure Island – I was a little disappointed by this National Theatre show, but the ship set rising up from the drum revolve was a wonderful sight.
  • The final moments of The Red Lion – I thought this Patrick Marber play was very good, but it was the power of the final few minutes that I will remember. So poignant and powerful.
  • Experiencing The Fever in a Mayfair hotel suite with Andrew Scott sitting at my feet – okay, so this is more a memorable audience moment for me, but seeing such an intense play, with the added experience of having Andrew Scott sitting at my feet is something I won’t forget in a hurry!
  • A stage full of inflatable sex dolls – Shakespeare and sex dolls were a combination I never imagined I’d see, but it actually worked in this Young Vic production of Measure For Measure! Unexpected and surreal.

So, that’s my round-up of my theatre year and hopefully 2016 will bring even more special productions, performances and memories. My recommendations for 2016 will follow in the next few days! Thanks for reading!

 

Theatre 2015: Mid-Year Review

So, as we arrive in the second half of 2015, I thought I’d take a moment or two to reflect on the first half of the year’s theatre offerings. I’ve probably seen less than I expected to, but 2015 is already shaping up to be a superb year for theatre, with some truly impressive productions and performances already on the list. I’m predicting my end of year top 10 review is going to be a tough one this year!

So, starting with the stats, I’ve currently seen 35 productions this year, seeing three of those more than once. As my post looking ahead to the year’s theatre suggested, there was lots to look forward to and from those I’ve already ticked off the list, 2015 certainly isn’t disappointing me so far. Some of the highlights are ones I expected to be high on the list, while others were unexpected gems that struck a cord with me and will become firm favourites for years to come. So here are my favourite productions and performances from the year so far, as well as the disappointments (thankfully not many so far).

Favourite productions of the year so far

Starting with the top of the tree are the productions that I absolutely loved and which will almost certainly make it in to my end of year top 10 list. It’s a varied mix, with new material, revivals of classics and a musical.

1. Hello/Goodbye (Hampstead Theatre)

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This may be an unexpected number one, but so far for me it’s easily Hello/Goodbye. Peter Souter’s new play ran at the Hampstead Theatre for a relatively short run last year and after missing it then I’m so pleased I caught it in the main space. In fact I loved it so much, I had to see it more than once. I knew nothing of the plot beforehand and its simple story of a couple’s relationship over a decade, told in two acts, struck a chord with me. Shaun Evans and Miranda Raison had a wonderful chemistry, thrown together when they both come to move in to the same flat. The script was witty, heartfelt, filled with unexpected curves in storyline and by the end I felt rather moved, as you were reminded of how the simplest of gestures are sometimes the most powerful. Read my full review here.

2. Much Ado About Nothing (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre)

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This production of probably my favourite Shakespeare comedy become the best version of the play I’d seen immediately (sorry David Tennant!). The RSC is hard to beat when it comes to Shakespeare and this was certainly a production through which the home of the Bard truly shone. Bringing back some alumni from the 2008 season in the form of Ed Bennett and Sam Alexander (still two of my favourite actors), we were treated to a Much Ado set at the close of Word War One, in a stately home being used a hospital during the war. As the soldiers return from the Front, Beatrice and Benedick meet and sparks fly. Ed Bennett has truly grown as an actor over the years. As someone who was sitting tensely in the Novello during press night of Hamlet in 2008 when he took over for Mr Tennant, it’s been lovely to watch him develop and he is now a truly wonderful leading man and was a superb Benedick. Together with his sparkling chemistry with Michelle Terry, a strong ensemble (Sam Alexander creating the most three-dimensional Don John I’ve seen), wonderful music and an utterly gorgeous set that I could have lived in, this was a heartwarming three hours in Stratford-Upon-Avon. For those who missed it (it’s criminal there was no London run), the DVD on this and the equally lovely Love’s Labour’s Lost will be out later in the year. Read my full review here.

3. City of Angels (Donmar Warehouse)

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This revival of this musical at the Donmar Warehouse was another superb night at the theatre. The setting, both within the real world and the pages of the writer’s script was quirky and brought to life brilliantly by the design team, with the use of black and white/colour to depict them such an effective choice. It also had one of the strongest vocal ensembles I can imagine, with Rosalie Craig, Hadley Fraser, Tam Matu, Katherine Kelly and Samantha Barks to name just a handful, delivering perfect acting and singing. I’m still sad there was no West End run, not to mention no soundtrack released.

4. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios)

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Jamie Lloyd’s second Trafalgar Transformed season continued with the return of James McAvoy, easily one of the best young British actors around at the moment. I had high expectations for this, which were only raised once the reviews and opinions of friends reached me. Thankfully The Ruling Class didn’t disappoint. It was very very funny, sometimes inappropriately so, entertaining, but also quite dark in places. All of which was driven at 100 miles an hour by McAvoy’s incredible performance. The part called upon him to give everything, mentally and physically – he sang, danced, screamed, cried, laughed and as an audience member you just couldn’t take your attention from him. Read my full review here.

5. Rules For Living (National Theatre, Dorfman)

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Having just ended at the National Theatre, Rules For Living was a new play by Sam Holcroft, which wonderfully lays bare the dynamics of a family during Christmas Day. Rivalries become apparent, secrets are exposed and relationships become ever strained, all the while presented in this colourful, gameshow style set up, in which the audience gain an insight in to the psyches of the characters and the rules by which they live their lives. It has drama and awkwardness, but my lasting memory of this production was laughter, which I very much needed at the time and it’s final scenes are classics that I’ll remember for a long time. Read my full review here.

6. Tree (Old Vic)

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One of my highlights of 2014 was Daniel Kitson’s Analog.ue and this new play of his at the Old Vic was an early favourite of this year. A two hander between Kitson and Tim Key, this play sees two men discuss life, with one remaining up a tree throughout! Short and sweet. I loved every moment. Read my full review here.

Stand out performances of the year so far As well as productions, there have already been some impressive individual performances.

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1. James McAvoy in The Ruling Class I’ve already sang McAvoy’s praises above so there’s not much more I can add here. The cast as a whole was excellent in The Ruling Class, but McAvoy was spectacular.

2. John Heffernan in Oppenheimer A play about the history of the creation of the first atomic bomb may not immediately sound like a fun night at the theatre, but this RSC play managed to bring what could have been quite a dry, scientific story to the stage in an engaging and entertaining way (you can read my full review here). This was in no small way also helped by the utterly brilliant John Heffernan in the title role, whose performance of Oppenheimer was his most commanding role to date and his final speech at the play’s close, as his character reflects on his achievement was certainly very powerful to witness. His career continues to excite and I am eagerly awaiting his next role – Hamlet anyone?

3. Imelda Staunton in Gypsy I was lucky enough to see Imelda Staunton’s award-winning performance in Sweeney Todd and thought I’d seen her at her best. How wrong I was! The transfer of Chichester’s musical to the Savoy in London was a welcome one and you couldn’t fail to be impressed by Imelda’s performance as Mamma Rose. She isn’t a hugely likeable person, domineering and putting ever more pressure on her children, to fuel her own lost ambitions. However, you still can’t help but admire her strength and passion and hearing Imelda Staunton belt out those songs will stay with me for a long time to come. Book your tickets while you can! Read my full review here.

4. Ralph Fiennes in Man & Superman This revival of Bernard Shaw’s play intimidated me beforehand due to its lengthy running time (nearer 4 hours in the early days). It was certainly a strange play, shifting between one setting and the dream-like setting of hell for the third act and it certainly needed a strong actor in the lead role. Ralph Fiennes is someone I’ve always wanted to see on stage and this was certainly a good start, as he’s in almost every scene. How he remembered so much dialogue, most of which he delivered at rapid pace, I do not know! As someone who was in the audience for the night filmed live for NT:Live, it was perhaps even more impressive to witness Mr Fiennes bringing such a unique role to life.

Memorable moments of the year so far

There have also already been some wonderful moments on stage this year, whether a set, a scene or a line and here are my favourites.

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1. Watching the Treasure Island ship set rise up through its split levels on the Olivier stage 

The drum revolve of the Olivier stage was used to its full potential during this production, as we watched the entire ship rise up and through the cross section design, were able to see the rooms on all the levels. It was truly impressive.

2. So much incredibly colourful dialogue in The Motherf**cker With The Hat 

I saw this production recently (review on its way) and one thing that will stay in the mind is some of the incredibly colourful dialogue! A scene in which Veronica refers to Jackie’s mother is particularly memorable. I bet the play text makes for entertaining reading!

3. The final few minutes of The Red Lion

Another production I’ve seen recently was Patrick Marber’s latest football-related play at the National. I’m currently writing my review but suffice to say I thought it was a superb production, powerfully acted. However it was the final few moments of the play that will stay with me for, I imagine, quite some time. Go if you can.

Disappointments of the year so far

There always tend to be some disappointments, but so far there haven’t been too many this year. Other than the first one listed, I enjoyed aspects of the other three, whether the acting or the production values, but these are currently bottom of the pile for 2015.

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1. How To Hold Your Breath (Royal Court Theatre) I love Maxine Peake and she was the reason I booked this play. I don’t regret it in some ways as she was very good. However, as my review at the time made clear, this was simply not my cup of tea. From the moment early on, when a simple one night stand becomes a case of someone sleeping with a demon, I knew I was going to struggle to enjoy it. Although I can appreciate what it was trying to achieve, it was simply too strange for me.

2. Carmen Disruption (Almeida Theatre) I’ve loved the recent run of Almeida productions (Mr Burns aside), but Simon Stephens’s reimagining of Carmen was another let down for me. At least unlike How To Hold Your Breath, I did enjoy aspects of the play – some wonderful performances by Jack Farthing and Noma Dumezweni as one example, but overall it just didn’t work as a whole and I left feeling quite dissatisfied.

3. Closer (Donmar Warehouse) I was unfamiliar with Patrick Marber’s most successful play, having never seen it or watched the film and perhaps part of my disappointment stems from expecting too much to begin with. The cast was my reason for booking, with Rufus Sewell, Oliver Chris and the glorious Nancy Carroll too good to miss. Although the cast was very good, I just didn’t really enjoy the play. Perhaps I was in the wrong mood on the day I went as it’s rather dismal view of relationships wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed.

4. Miss Saigon (Prince of Edward Theatre) So many people say Miss Saigon is the greatest musical of all time. I simply can’t agree (I doubt anything will beat Les Miserables for me). Although the sets were fantastic and the vocal performance of Eva Noblezada as Kim was incredibly impressive, I did not like the story at all. I found over night falling in love of Kim and Chris unconvincing and unlike Les Miserables ultimate message of hope, forgiveness and love, I just found Miss Saigon to be a depressing tale of a woman used by a man, who then is too much of a coward to face the consequences of his actions. Add to that the lack of any truly memorable songs (for me anyway) and it’s not one I’ll rush back to.

Looking ahead – Coming up during the rest of 2015!

After looking back, the adventure of a theatregoer never ends, with new productions opening and being announced all the time. So, it’s only right to look to what productions are on the horizon. It’s always an exciting feeling to wonder which ones will be as brilliant as you hope and which will be so much more than you could have anticipated. There is certainly a lot to choose from coming up, but for me, these are the productions I’m most excited or curious about seeing over the next few months.

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1. Hamlet (Barbican Theatre)

Yes, it may be the obvious choice for number one, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing Mr Cumberbatch take on the iconic role of Hamlet next month at the Barbican. It’s probably my favourite Shakespeare play and he has been one of my favourite actors for years, especially on stage. It’s an exciting ensemble cast (although it’s a shame none of my fantasy cast made the cut!) and I admit to having high hopes. All fingers are crossed!

2. Bakkhai (Almeida Theatre)

Coming soon to the Almeida is their next Greek play, bringing the combination of Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel together on stage. The Almeida has been bringing some truly inventive and exciting productions to London since Rupert Goold took charge and I’m sure this will be another success. More tickets go on sale soon.

3. Guys & Dolls (Savoy Theatre)

I missed this in Chichester and therefore I’m thrilled it’s transferring to the Savoy in December. The cast is yet to be announced, but I sincerely hope some of the Chichester cast come on board for this run. Time will tell.

4. The Winter’s Tale (Garrick Theatre)

This is perhaps the production from Kenneth Branagh’s season that I am most looking forward to. Opening in October, this production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale will include in its cast not only Mr Branagh but, more importantly for me, Dame Judi Dench. She is always wonderful to watch on stage and I’m sure this will delight many people during its run.

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So that’s the first six months of my theatre year in a nutshell. It’s now time to see what I’ll enjoy in the second half. One of the most thrilling things about being a regular theatregoer is never knowing what unexpected gems you’ll discover, whether an actor, writer, or play. See you at the end of the year for the final round up!

Looking Ahead to Theatre in 2015

With a new year almost here, it’s that time of year for theatregoers to start looking forward to all the exciting and intriguing prospects announced, as well as planning strategies to nab tickets for those sold out or hot tickets! After four months out of the theatre loop, I’ve needed to do my research this year more than ever to make sure I know what’s coming in 2015. This year has been very strong and it looks like 2015 is shaping up to be just as thrilling, in London and the regions.

So, here are the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2015.

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1. Hamlet (Barbican, 5th August – 31st October)

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There couldn’t really be anything else at number one for me than the upcoming Hamlet at the Barbican starring Benedict Cumberbatch. As one of my favourite stage actors, ever since I saw After The Dance in 2010, it seemed only a matter of time before such a brilliant actor would want to take on Shakespeare’s most challenging role and I admit my expectations are already rather high! He’s now had a good amount of time to contemplate his Hamlet and I’m intrigued to see the choices he and Lyndsey Turner make as to setting and staging. With the run of 89 performances selling out as soon as public booking opened, this is certain to be the theatre event of the summer. I just hope that, as David Tennnat did with me in 2008, Benedict brings a whole new audience to Shakesepeare, who then become addicted to it! If you didn’t succeed in acquiring tickets earlier this year, then 100 £10 seats will be released for each performance nearer the time. Now to find out who else will be in this production. I’ve chosen my fantasy cast here and I really hope at least one of them could happen. Time will tell.

2. Oppenheimer (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 15th January – 7th March)

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Another actor who I would watch in absolutely anything and who I also first saw on stage in After The Dance is the brilliant John Heffernan, whose stage work just seems to get more and more exciting (with recent success in The Hot House and Edward II to name just two). This play centres around the development of atomic fission in 1939, as J Robert Oppenheimer (Heffernan) races to win the battle to create the first nuclear bomb as World War II continues across Europe. It may sound a bit heavy for some people, but with such a talented lead actor, I’m certain this will be a highlight of 2015.

3. Closer (Donmar Warehouse, 12th February – 4th April)

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Although I’ve still never watched the 2004 film version of Patrick Marber’s play Closer, whose star-studded cast of Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts and Jude Law had lots of people talking before its release, it was still the film I was aware of raher than the 1997 play and so I’m thrilled it is being revived by the Donmar. For theatre fans the cast for the upcoming production is even more thrilling: Nancy Carroll (yet another After The Dance cast member!), Oliver Chris (fresh from his success in King Charles III) and Rufus Sewell (most recently seen in Old Times) are joined by recent RADA graduate Rachel Redford. Due to the Donmar’s size, the only ticket availability is now through the Barclays Front Row Scheme or returns, but this is certainly promising enough to make it worth the effort if you have yet to nab a ticket.

4. Bull (Young Vic, 8th January – 7th February)

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This year has been a great one for Mike Bartlett and 2015 could be just as successful, with two productions included in this list. I first saw Bull during its premiere run in Sheffield in 2013 and I’m thrilled it’s finally getting a London run at the Young Vic, with three of the four original cast (Neil Stuke replaced Adrian Lukis for the Broadway run and continues in the role in London). It’s short and sharp at only 50 minutes long, but its powerful office dynamics certainly pack a punch and Adam James, Sam Troughton and Eleanor Matsuura are bound to bring the same quality as I saw at the Crucible. One not to miss.

5. Tree (Old Vic, 5th – 31st January)

2850My first experience of a Kitson production was this year’s unique and moving Analog.ue, which has left me very excited to see his next idea brought to life at the Old Vic for its London premiere (following a staging at the Manchester Royal Exchange). The overview simply says this is about dissent, commitment, two people and a tree. I’m sufficiently intrigued and after finding the simple beauty of Analog.ue, both in terms of story and how it was told, incredibly moving, there is no way I can miss this.

6. Game (Almeida, 23rd February – 4th April)

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It’s another entry for Mike Bartlett, as he brings his latest play to the Almeida. The simple summary on the Almeida’s website gives very little away. We know this is a play about the current housing crisis and what price people are willing to pay to have a home of their own. Even more intriguing is the staging, with four different zones offering “equal, yet subtly different” perspectives on the action. The Almeida is certainly incredibly versatile for such a small theatre and this is shaping up to be yet another exciting viewing experience. Now to wait and see who will be in it – yes I admit I’m hoping for Adam James (who seems to be a staple part of Bartlett’s shows)!

7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios, 16th January – 11th April)

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Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season at the Trafalgar Studios has, in such a short time, established itself as must-see theatre after so many brilliant productions since it began with McAvoy’s Macbeth last year. Coming next is a play I’m not very familiar with – The Ruling Class, a satire which looks at the foibles of English nobility after a possible paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex, inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney when his father passes away in a bizarre accident. Directed by Lloyd and starring James McAvoy, tickets are selling fast for this production, which sounds perfect for such a skilled actor. If you want a bargain, hold off for the £15 Mondays (the tickets for the Mondays of each month are released on the second day of each month at just £15 each).

8. The Hard Problem (Dorfman, National Theatre, 21st January – 16th April)

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Its been nine years since Tom Stoppard wrote a new play and this one arrives at the National Theatre’s newly refurbished Dorfman (it’ll still be the Cottesloe to me) in time to be the last production to be directed by Nicholas Hytner before he steps down as Artistic Director. All we know is that it centres on Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain-science institute, who is asking herself the “hard problem” – if there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness? With a cast that includes Olivia Vinnell (whose work in the NT’s Othello and King Lear have proven she is someone to watch) and Anthony Calf, I’m very much looking forward to this one.

9. The Vote (Donmar Warehouse, 24th April – 7th May and live on More 4 on 7th May)

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I’ve included this production here despite the fact I hold out little hope of seeing it in the theatre itself! James Graham has earned a great deal of praise with the political drama This House and this year’s Privacy, which shone a spotlight on technology and online security. The Vote could possibly combine the two, set in a fictional polling station during the last 90 minutes of polling day for 2015’s General Election. Will it be the same each show? Who knows, but what makes this even more thrilling and unique is that it will also be shown live on television (on More 4) on election night, so we can see it play out in real time on 7th May! You can’t get much more current than that! Tickets for the rest of the run will be available via a ballot, but at least we’ll all get to see it from the comfort of our sofas on 7th May!

10. Carmen Disruption (Almeida, 10th April – 23rd May)

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Another playwright whose work always impresses and excites me is Simon Stephens (whose Birdland made this year’s top ten for me and whose other recent work includes Seawall and the adaptation of The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time). This could be a thrilling run for the Almeida, as this UK premiere follows Mike Bartlett’s latest offering and is said to be a reimagining of Bizet’s opera Carmen. From rock and roll in Birdland to opera? If anyone can do it, Simon Stephens can – I don’t suppose Andrew Scott can be in it can he?!

11. American Buffalo (Wyndam’s, 16th April – 27th June)

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I first heard that this production would be arriving in the spring of 2015 from the lead actor himself, when Damian Lewis excitedly announced it at the Times Talks interview earlier this year. Now more famous for his television success in Homeland (and soon to be seen in the BBC’s Wolf Hall as King Henry VIII), Lewis has not been on stage since 2009 and as I was unable to get to The Misanthrope, I won’t want to miss American Buffalo, a play about a pair of junk-shop workers plotting to steal a valuable coin collection. Directed by Daniel Evans, who has done such wonderful work in recent years as Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, I’m very excited to see this production.

12. Bugsy Malone (Lyric Hammersmith, 11th April – 1st August)

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Just when I thought a musical wouldn’t make the list, I hear about the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Bugsy Malone! What a fantastic way to reopen the theatre after its redevelopment! The Jodie Foster film from 1976 is certainly very well known and it will be thrilling to see this gangster musical set in the Prohibition era of the 1920s brought to life with, as the theatre says, “a cast of exciting young talent.” 2014 has been a tough year for musicals, so I hope this one proves to be a success.

13. Death of a Salesman (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 26th March – 2nd May)

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2014 has seen me tick off two more Arthur Miller classics from my list of plays to see and thanks to the RSC next year, I’ll also be able to add Death of a Salesman to that list. To be directed by the brilliant Greg Doran (whose plays seem to be brought to life in such an accessible and clear way) and with a cast that includes well established stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter alongside younger RSC talent such as Alex Hassell (currently Prince Hal in Henry IV) and Sam Marks, I’m looking forward to planning a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this.

14. A View From A Bridge (Wyndam’s transfer, 10th February – 11th April)

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It would have been criminal not to include the transfer of the Young Vic’s utterly incredible production of another Arthur Miller classic. Mark Strong was one of the best performances of 2014 as Eddie, whose complex relationship with his family, particularly his niece drives the play. You cannot take your eyes off him and I have no doubt it will be the same when this production begins at the Wyndam’s in February. The main cast are all back for its West End transfer, including Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox as his wife and niece. Get your tickets fast!

15. My Night With Reg (Apollo transfer, 17th January – 11th April)

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Another West End transfer coming soon is the transfer of the recent Donmar production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg. Set in a flat in 1985, everyone I know who saw this funny, yet bittersweet play loved it and so I’m so pleased I have another chance to catch it.

Sold out shows to keep an eye on

There are also a couple of exciting prospects which are already sold out, but I’ll be trying to get a return or day seat for if I can (the things you miss booking when in hospital!). So if you’re willing to not let the words “sold out” get in your way, keep these productions on your radar!

Man and Superman (Lyttelton, National Theatre, 17th February – 17th May)

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I’m not familiar with this Bernard Shaw play, but the description sounds very unusual and interesting and it marks the return to the stage of Ralph Fiennes as Jack Tanner, together with Faye Castelow (yet another After The Dance alumni!) and Nick Hendrix (last at the NT in The Light Princess).

Farinelli & the King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 11th February – 8th March)

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Another production I’m wishing I’d booked, especially due to its short run, is Farinelli and the King at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. A true story about the world’s most famous castrato Farinelli, who is sent for to sing to the King of Spain to help his insomnia and depression, this production sees the return to the stage of Mark Rylance. I’m really going to need a strategy to get to see this now. Wish me luck!

Catch them before they close!

Of course there are also some productions that are already running and continue in to next year and which deserve a mention here too.

King Charles III (Wyndam’s, until 31st January) – My top production of 2014 by Mike Bartlett is worth catching if you can.

The Scottsboro Boys (Garrick, until 21st February) – I saw this at the Young Vic before its transfer and loved it. It is full of wonderful songs and dancing, while managing to movingly convey this true story of injustice in 1930s America.

Cats (until 28th February) – I still need to grab a ticket to this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline musical. I saw it years ago and loved it and it’s certainly getting praise this time too. Former Pussy Cat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger, appears until 7th February.

Once (Phoenix, until 21st March) – Another one of this year’s top ten for me. If you have yet to see this utterly beautiful musical, you have until 21st March before it leaves London. I’m no Boyzone fan, but even I plan on going while Ronan Keating is in it in order to see it once again while I can.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Gielgud) – As long as this play runs in London, it will always make my theatre recommendations list. It’s just that good. I’ve seen it in every theatre so far in London, so I’ll have to add the Gielgud to my list in 2015.

So, hopefully this list will include something for everyone, whether Shakespeare, or a short 50 minute show. There is already so much to look forward to and who knows what other productions will be announced as we start the year. Happy theatre-filled New Year everyone!!!

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

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My latest trip to the cinema was to see the new Wes Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel, which had been on my must see list since the trailer was released (see the link at the bottom). It looked too quirky to pass up.

The story centres around a now all but empty, crumbling hotel in the fictional European Republic of Zubrowka, at which a young writer (Jude Law) hears all about the hotel’s history from its former lobby boy Mr Zero Moustafa. We are transported back in time to the 30s period when the hotel was as its best and a desirable destination for many and when everything was run to perfection by its concierge Gustave H (the wonderful Ralph Fiennes), whose role also includes keeping the many older wealthy ladies who stay there happy. New lobby boy Zero arrives and the two become close friends as they are thrown into a crazy adventure after one wealthy widow (an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) dies and leaves a priceless painting to Gustave H, one that her family are determined to get back.

What follows is a rapid fire hi-jinks comic caper, covering everything from prison breaks, chases across snow-topped mountains, flying cats, to a secret society-style group of concierges across the continent and there is much to admire and enjoy. The hotel setting itself is gorgeous (can I stay there?) and I loved the scenery style shots that are intentionally designed to feel like you are looking at a picture, particularly the shots of the exterior hotel with the funicular car moving up the mountain towards it. It reminded me of something from a childhood pop up book and it completely suits the style of the film.

The dialogue whizzes by and Ralph Fiennes in particular is utterly brilliant in delivering the perfectly timed, witty, razor sharp dialogue of his quirky but ultimately caring Gustave H. There are so many stars in the film that it’s hard to highlight anyone more than the others, but I did particularly like Willem Defoe’s crazed assassin character, determined to retrieve his family’s painting at any cost. Saoirse Ronan is also lovely as the love of the young Zero’s life and newcomer Tony Revolori is wonderful as the young Zero and he and Fiennes make a hilarious duo. I did think the choice of casting for the older Zero was a bit odd, as the two actors did not resemble each other at all (my friend at first did’t realise they were actually the same character), but it didn’t really bother me and is a minor quibble.

It may prove to be too quirky for some but if you enjoy watching a film that allows you to escape reality and that will make you laugh then you should try and see this.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is on general release now in the UK. Link to the trailer below:

http://youtu.be/1Fg5iWmQjwk