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!

 

 

 

 

 

Preview Thoughts – Carmen Disruption at the Almeida Theatre

Carmen_1 On the announcement of the Spring season at the Almeida Theatre, I was thrilled to see the addition of the latest offering by playwright Simon Stephens (whose recent plays Birdland and Seawall I greatly enjoyed) and Saturday night saw me back at the Islington venue for the second preview of Carmen Disruption. As this was only preview number two (press night in on Friday 17th April), it would be unfair for me to call this post a review, so it is instead simply my thoughts on the preview I saw, which was already 10 minutes leaner than the night before and still being tweaked by the writer and cast this week. Carmen Disruption is billed as a reimagining of Bizet’s famous opera Carmen. However, I’m not sure that this is an entirely accurate description and could in fact be slightly misleading. The play features five principal characters, each of whom are named after a character in the opera and who intersect with each other as their individual vignettes unfold. Weaving among them all is the internationally acclaimed mezzo soprano Viktoria Vizin, listed in the cast as Chorus, who is the embodiment of Carmen, in full period costume.

CD REH 726 - Sharon Small by Marc Brenner
Sharon Small & Jack Farthing. Photo by: Marc Brenner

Having had time to read the programme notes before the play, I could start to pick out the themes which Stephens was aiming to convey – that of our isolation from one another, in a world so well connected coming through most of all. Each character is experiencing their own journey, through this unnamed European city and yet, other than perhaps crossing paths, they never engage with each other. Each is an island among whom the presence of Vizin’s Carmen is the only glimpse at a connection. It makes for a rather bleak, grey look at today’s society and highlights the very sad reality that a great deal of us feel lonely in our lives, despite the technological advances that make us more connected than ever before. I’m rather conflicted as to my overall opinion of the play. Visually, it is very striking, with the combination of lighting and movement, creating moments on stage that I can already picture as production photos. Some of the individual vignettes are rather interesting and engaging (despite all being rather miserable in tone) and there are some great performances, which will no doubt grow in strength over the run.

Standing out for me were Jack Farthing’s role of rent boy Carmen, whose character you warm to, through his flirty, cocky charm, as he slinks around the stage and Noma Dumezweni’s Don Jose, the taxi driver struggling to reconnect with her children, from whom she has been estranged and who have now grown up without her. Her raw emotions were very believable and she connected with the audience wonderfully, drawing us in to her life. Sharon Small plays the quirky character of The Singer well too, a person whose life is so caught up with travelling the world playing Carmen, that she has lost her sense of self and finds herself seeing the traits and characters of the opera all around her (which of course they are here, in the form of the other actors).

Carmen Disruption 1586 - Viktoria Vizin and Jack Farthing by Marc Brenner
Vicktoria Vizin & Jack Farthing. Photo by: Marc Brenner

I felt the stories of Escamillo (John Light) and Micaela (Katie West) had less depth and were the less interesting aspects of the piece for me (and one scene in which John Light’s Escamillo seemingly mimics a bull in sound and movement an example of where the piece was just too weird for me). Then of course there is Vizin as Carmen, moving gracefully and sensuously around the stage, before breaking in to the iconic arias of the opera (albeit with modern English words). She was superb and I found my focus gravitating back to her throughout, despite the almost hypnotic presence of the life-size bull in the centre of the stage (which is indeed breathing if you think your eyes are deceiving you).

Carmen Disruption 319 -  by Marc Brenner
The cast of Carmen Disruption. Photo by Marc Brenner

However, for me personally, that highlights the biggest problem I had with the play and the production as a whole. I found myself looking forward to the next vocal performance from Vizin, accompanied by the two talented cellists, over and above the other actors on the stage and therefore left the theatre with a feeling of disappointment. I can see what Simon Stephens is trying to do with this work, taking two different ideas and mediums and putting them together, to try and make a wider comment on the world, but, for me, the elements just didn’t fit and instead I found myself wishing I’d instead seen Carmen with Vizin in the title role. I at least will now put that on my list of cultural events to look out for in the future. I will certainly be curious to see what others think of this play over the course of its run.

Carmen Disruption continues in previews at the Almeida Theatre, London until press night on Friday 17th April. It then runs until 23rd May 2015. Further information and ticket availability can be found on the Almeida’s website.

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.

15 to see in 2015

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!!!

My 2014 Theatre Review

As 2014 is almost over, it’s time for my look back at my theatregoing year. I’ll start by saying it’s been far shorter than I’d have liked, as due to breaking my ankle, I’ve not been able to get to a theatre since August. As I try not to think about the productions I had to miss, I can at least look back at a nine months filled with some truly superb shows. In 2014, I managed to make it to 38 live productions, of which I returned to see 7 productions more than once, giving a total of 58 theatre trips. I also managed to tick another two productions off my archive list, by visiting the V&A archive to see the RSC’s 2011 production of Cardenio and the Royal Court’s 2007 production of Rhinoceros.

After much thought and in no particular order (apart from my number one, as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.

Top 10 Favourites

1. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre)

King Charles III
Photo: Johan Persson

Top of my list this year is the superb King Charles III, which I saw during its original run at the Almeida. I’m a big fan of both Mike Bartlett’s work (his recent play Bull made it on to last year’s list!) and Rupert Goold and found this to be a refreshingly new and exciting play (see my full review here). A bit of a slow burner, but as the story progressed I became absorbed by it, wondering what direction Bartlett had chosen to take in this alternate United Kingdom. The brilliance here is also structuring it in the style of a Shakespearian History play! Filled with fantastic performances, particularly Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, Adam James and Lydia Wilson, I loved that it dared to do something different and the ending was incredibly powerful. I must try and see the current cast at the Wyndams Theatre before it ends in January if I can.

2. The Pass (Royal Court Theatre)

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed to the Royal Court Upstairs in February for The Pass. However, it didn’t take long for me to know that this was something very special indeed. The Pass centres on two friends at the early start of their professional football careers and follows their different paths, while also superbly raising the issue of what it would be like to be in such a world and perhaps by unsure as to what you really wanted in life and what really will make you happy, sexually or otherwise. Russell Tovey was truly incredible as Jason and commanded the stage throughout.

3. Birdland (Royal Court Theatre)

A scene from Birdland
Photo: Tristram Kenton

More from the Royal Court, this time downstairs for Simon Stephens’s (whose Seawall topped last year’s list) new play Birdland. We are drawn in to the world of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore? Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage and he gave an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moved from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott was more than up to the task. The set was also very clever and I left the theatre feeling very excited at seeing something new and powerful (feel free to read my full review here).

4. Once (Phoenix Theatre)

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I’d always quite liked the sweet indie film Once and had been meaning to go and see the stage version. Unbelievably it took me over a year but I’m so pleased I made it this year, especially during the time of Zrinka Vitesic and Arthur Darvill. They were both utterly superb. Zrinka had been in Once in London since it opened and this year justifiably won the Olivier award for her portrayal of this heart-warming character. She brought a perfect blend of playful humour, bossiness and tender emotion to the role and you instantly connect with her as soon as she steps foot on the stage. Arthur was also excellent as the Guy, who is at first bewildered by this whirlwind of a woman who has entered his life. After playing the same role on Broadway for a number of months he clearly understood the soul of the character and his chemistry with Zrinka was beautifully tender and romantic. Its warmth and magical spirit will make you laugh, smile and cry and will leave you feeling deeply moved. Try and see it if you can (my full review is here).

5. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic)

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche
Photo: Johan Persson

It’s been a fantastic year at the Young Vic and the two standout productions for me both make my top ten. First is Tennessee Williams’s classic production starring Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby. I’d never seen Streetcar before and this was certainly a superb production to start with. I loved the staging. As an audience member you can’t help but feel as if you are intruding on the innermost lives of the characters and there is a wonderfully effective, voyeuristic quality too, due to the rotating stage. I’ve admired Gillian Anderson for years and she was absolutely incredible. She drew the audience in so much to Blanche’s disintegration that by the end of the production I certainly felt exhausted and incredibly moved after having watched such a powerful and emotional performance (my full review is here).

6. A View From A Bridge (Young Vic)

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Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Another incredibly powerful night at the Young Vic this year was for the stunning production of Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge. Everything about this production was superb – the claustrophobic box set, the lighting, but above all the performances of the cast. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Eddie’s wife, who is growing ever more concerned about his attachment to their niece (also wonderfully played by Phoebe Fox). However, the standout performance is by Mark Strong, who is breathtakingly intense as Eddie. It is such a nuanced performance, through which we really see the depths of his character and he is certainly one of the finest actors I have seen on stage. This production is transferring in to the West End next year, so make sure to grab a ticket fast.

7. The Crucible (Old Vic)

Richard Armitage's Proctor confronted by the sinister children of Salem.
Photo: Tristram Kenton

From the Young Vic, to the Old Vic up the road for another Arthur Miller classic (and another first for me – my full review is here). This superb production also stands out for me as it was the last production I was able to see before breaking my ankle! South African Director Yael Farber’s powerful production particularly benefited from the current configuration of the Old Vic stage. Playing such an intense story on a smaller stage, surrounded by the audience was an inspired decision. Its deeply atmospheric, sparse staging by Soutra Gilmour, the effective use of light and shadow by Tim Lutkin, mist-covered entrances and terrifyingly eerie music score by Richard Hammarton, are all enhanced greatly by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere created by having faces gathered all around the stage. Richard Armitage has an incredibly powerful presence on stage and you could not fail to be moved by his portrayal of Proctor, as he moves from moments of sorrow, to weakness, intense anger, rage and delicate emotional vulnerability.

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Hampstead Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I thoroughly enjoyed Gina Giofriddo’s latest play, focusing on the choices available to women today – career or family? marry or remain single? – and whether any of these possible choices will make you feel fulfilled or whether the grass is always greener. I found the scenes in which the history of feminism, the role of women and their relationships with men are debated incredibly absorbing and thought provoking and the performances of all five actors were excellent. However it was Shannon Tarbet as Avery who stole the show with some truly sharp and witty one-liners and who you couldn’t fail to like. A highlight I wasn’t expecting too much from before I went (my review is here).

9. Wolf Hall (RSC, Swan Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I have owned Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels for a few years now and have never had time to read them. However I was thrilled to hear that Mantel herself was to adapt them, together with Mike Poulton for the RSC and what a brilliant production it was. I preferred Wolf Hall out of the two, but both this and Bring Up The Bodies were excellently acted, directed and conceived for the stage. On the smaller stage of the Swan, the plays seemed even grander, almost too big for the space, while keeping a wonderfully intimate feel. Ben Miles was utterly superb as Cromwell, who for each 3 hour production barely leaves the stage. I hope this finds just as much success on Broadway next year.

10. Analog.ue (National Theatre, Lyttelton) 

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Choosing a final production has proved quite difficult, with so much I’d enjoyed this year. In the end the top ten had to include Daniel Kitson’s latest part theatrical, part art installation show at the National Theatre as it was certainly a highlight for me and one which has stayed with me ever since. It was a unique story, which weaved together memories from the past with the present. It was incredibly moving and beautifully reminded me of the power of memory and how important memories of our past will be to us as we grow older or to those who come after us, offering them a glimpse in to a time long past. I even dug out an old recording of my grandparents, which I hadn’t listened to for years after seeing this. My full review is here.

Narrowly missing out on the Top 10

These are the productions that almost made it in to the top ten.

  • The Knight of the Burning Pestle (The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) – A quirky, comic and fun production from the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Having the grocer and his wife within the audience throughout is such a brilliant device, especially in such an intimate setting and truly engages the audience in a whole new way. You can read my full review here.
  • Richard III (Trafalgar Studios) – Martin Freeman’s intelligent Richard simmered with menace in another great Shakespeare adaptation from Jamie Lloyd.
  • Clarence Darrow (Old Vic) – Kevin Spacey was superb yet again as human rights lawyer Darrow in this impressive one-man show (see my review here)
  • 1984 (Almeida Theatre) – Another brilliant production for Rupert Goold’s theatre, as Headlong perfectly brought such an atmospheric and iconic book to the stage.
  • Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse) – Another of the Bard’s plays ticked off my list in an engaging production with a strong cast led confidently by Tom Hiddleston.
  • Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre) – After missing it the first time around, I loved Adrian Lester’s passionate performance as Ira Aldridge (see my review here).

Wonderful repeats from previous years

There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year, although this year there were only two, both of which were on last year’s top ten:

  • American Psycho (Almeida Theatre) – Rupert Goold’s first production in charge of the Almeida was a gloriously refreshing and exciting production, brilliantly led by Matt Smith. I still wish there had been a cast recording!
  • Richard II (RSC at Barbican Theatre) – This was certainly a production that grew over its run and by the time it reached London the cast were on fine form. David Tennant may not have been as strong as he was in Hamlet, but his Richard II was still wonderful to watch. Although for me, the stand out performance remains that of Oliver Rix as Aumerle.

Disappointments of the Year

  • A Small Family Business (Olivier, National Theatre) – Although there were some good performances, this play was too dated and dull for me and far too long.
  • Mr Burns (Almeida Theatre) – Although I enjoy seeing something that dares to be different, the third Act of Mr Burns was just too weird for me, making me wish I’d left after Act 2.
  • Slava’s Snowshow (Royal Festival Hall) – I was simply bored by this. Perhaps it’s more for kids.
  • The Mistress Contract (Royal Court Theatre) – Another production that was just a bit dull for me, despite two good performances.

Memorable moments in Theatre

There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2014, which included:

 A West End return – Seeing Angela Lansbury’s return to the West End stage at the age of 88 in Blithe Spirit and from the front row for only a tenner too!

 Martin Freeman commits brutal murder – Just when Martin Freeman’s Richard III didn’t seem that frightening, he kills his wife by strangling her over a desk with a telephone cord! After watching him cruelly stalk her around the room, watching him finally kill her was very chilling (especially from my stage seat).

 Kevin Spacey captivating an audience – Watching how at home Kevin Spacey looked, sitting in an armchair, at the centre of the Old Vic, surrounded by a rapt audience.

– The thrill of a first preview – Attending the first performance of Birdland and being reminded yet again how incredible Andrew Scott is on stage.

 Discovering a new young talent – Discovering Shannon Tarbet in Rapture, Blister, Burn, who I’m excited to watch in lots more to come.

 Site specific theatre in gorgeous surroundings – Experiencing voyeuristic theatre at the Langham Hotel for The Hotel Plays.

 The thrill of knowing you’ve seen something new and utterly brilliant – By the end of my first trip to King Charles III (on the second preview), it was thrilling to feel the excitement of seeing a superb new play, especially by the time it reached the glorious last scene.

 Visiting a new, fantastic theatre – My first trip to the Park Theatre, a theatre I’m sure I’ll be visiting a great deal in the years to come.

 Saying an emotional farewell – Joining in the emotional applause at the final performance of Once for Arthur Darvill and Zrinka Vitesic from the front row.

 Enjoying phones being used in a theatre – Enjoying the quirk of actually using your mobile phone during a production at the Donmar for Privacy. I doubt I’ll ever think that again!

All in all it’s been a fantastic, if somewhat curtailed year of theatre for me, in which I’ve seen some wonderful moments on stage by some of the finest actors working today. I am thoroughly looking forward to what surprises 2015 will bring (and I’ll post my top choices for 2015 soon)!

Birdland by Simon Stephens at the Royal Court Theatre starring Andrew Scott

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I have been mulling over whether to post my thoughts about Birdland whilst previews are still continuing. In the end it was after seeing a disappointing play later in the week and wishing I was back at Birdland that I knew I had to post something about it. If there are any dramatic changes after press night I will update this blog after my next trip to see it.

This exciting new play by the supremely talented Simon Stephens (most recently Seawall and adaptations of A Doll’s House and Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time) draws us in to the word of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He lives in a bubble of hotel rooms, clubs, arenas and backstage rooms and everyone knows who he is. Everyone except him that is. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore?

Over the course of almost two straight hours Birdland delves in to Paul’s existence, as we see how he is slowly beginning to lose control of his world and his mind. We watch as he robotically gives the same answer over and over again to interviews, flirts with women, cruelly plays with people’s emotions for his own amusement, but we also see him playful with his friend Johnny and affectionate towards his father. For me, the beauty of this play is how well rounded a person Paul is. He does some terrible things in the play and treats people (including those closest to him) cruelly. However I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Simon Stephens has created a very real character who comes to life so vividly.

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith
Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage, whether its an intimate reading or short play such as Simon Stephens’ beautiful Seawall or a sweeping epic play in the form of Emperor & Galilean (not to mention his perfect pairing with Tom Burke in Design For Living) and he gives an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moves from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott is more than up to the task. He also displays some impressive dance moves – can we have him, Tom Hiddleston and Ben Whishaw compete for a slickest moves award?!

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith
Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Alex Price is very good as Johnny, who as Paul’s old friend and bandmate has a close bond with him, but struggles to put up with his actions. The rest of the cast each rotate through multiple characters and I particularly liked Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Jenny, the woman we hope will bring normalcy to Paul’s mixed up world and Daniel Cerqueira’s dry humoured manager David, always on hand to fix Paul’s messes. The minimal staging perfectly suits the play as Paul’s life blends in to one endless, disorientating blur and the choice of how to emphasise how his life is slipping away from his control is very effective indeed – in fact it was so subtle early on that it took me a while to even notice (no spoilers from me – you’ll have to see for yourselves).

For me, Birdland encapsulates just how incredible theatre can be – it transported me to another place and I left the theatre buzzing with excitement after seeing something new and powerful and I am counting the days until I return to see it again. If you can get to the Royal Court to see this production book a ticket now, as it won’t be long before it sells out.

Birdland runs until 31 May 2014 at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs with availability from 19th April (and all Tickets for Mondays are £10 sold online on the day). 

http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/birdland/?tab=0

 

Looking Ahead to Theatre in 2014!

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In the words of The Full Monty’s tagline – Drop Everything – it’s a New Year and that means a new 12 months of theatre awaits so I wanted to look ahead at some of the productions arriving during the next 12 months and there is certainly a few exciting prospects. People tend to ask me what I would recommend they see, so here are the new productions already announced for 2014 that I am most excited about, plus a few offerings already running that I’d urge you to see if you can.

1. Birdland – Royal Court Theatre – 3rd April – 24th May – I’m very much looking forward to this new play by Simon Stephens (who brilliantly adapted Curious Incident and the Young Vic’s A Doll’s House and whose wonderful Seawall was a highlight of 2013 for me). It will also reunite him with the supremely talented Andrew Scott.

2. A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic summer 2014 – Firm dates have yet to be announced but I await them eagerly as I was sorry to miss the Donmar’s fairly recent production. It will also be very exciting to see Gillian Anderson in the main role.

3. Blithe Spirit – Gielgud – 1st March – 7th June – A transfer from New York has been rumoured for a while now and I’m thrilled it’s finally on its way, as I’ve still never seen this play and it will be lovely to see Angela Lansbury on stage.

4. The Full Monty – Noel Coward Theatre – 20th February – 14th June – I’m cheating slightly as I saw this in Sheffield last year, but it’s a fantastic show that will certainly make you smile and I’m definitely planning to go again.

5. Shakespeare In Love – Noel Coward Theatre – opens in July – Following The Full Monty in to this theatre is this adaptation. I enjoyed the film and am intrigued to see how it translates to the stage. With the right cast I think it could be lovely and I look forward to casting announcements in the future.

6. Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 – Royal Shakespeare Theatre & Barbican – March – September, followed by a London transfer – Greg Doran’s tenure in charge of the RSC has started strongly with Richard II and I look forward to seeing this standard continue this year with Henry IV starring Antony Sher and some of the current Richard II ensemble. The entire Swan season also looks very interesting too.

7. Boeing Boeing – Sheffield Crucible – 15th May – 7th June – I have never seen this comedy performed, although I did see the sequel Don’t Dress For Dinner in New York in 2012. It would be lovely if Adam James could be in it as Bernard again, but I’m not sure I’m that lucky!

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn – Hampstead Theatre – 16th January – 22nd February – Adam is at least popping up on stage later this month in this new production at the Hampstead Theatre. The plot sounds interesting and it also stars Emilia Fox.

9. The Duchess of Malfi – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – 9th January – 16th February – I’m very excited to experience a production inside this newly opened theatre and it will be nice to compare this production to the Old Vic’s recent production with Eve Best.

10. Other Desert Cities – Old Vic – 13 March – 24 May – Announced yesterday, I am thrilled this is coming to London, as I was able to see it at the Booth Theatre in New York in 2012. Casting is yet to be announced but I’d love Stockard Channing to come to London with it. It is also going to be performed in the round which will add another wonderful dimension to the production.

11. Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch – No further details are known about this production, other than that Benedict himself has said he is hoping to play Hamlet in autumn 2014 and Sonia Friedman is possibly involved. Hamlet is possibly still my favourite Shakespeare play and a production of it starring not only one of my favourite actors, but one of the finest British theatre actors is incredibly exciting. The choice of ensemble cast will be crucial to ensure a strong overall production, but I have high hopes for this already. Watch this space!

I would also strongly urge anyone who hasn’t already seen the following productions to make it a resolution to book tickets this year:

1. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Once this wonderful production reopens at the Apollo (currently scheduled for 13 January) I urge everyone to go. It is simply superb and remains one of the best shows currently running in London.

2. American Psycho – Almeida Theatre – You have until 2 February to try and see this new musical starring Matt Smith as Patrick Bateman. Chances are it will require an early morning queue for the approximately 10 seats released every day at the box office (or checking at the theatre in person closer to the start of the performance for any returns) but I promise it’s worth the effort. Odd tickets are popping up on the theatre’s website but you have to be quick to nab those!

3. Richard II – Barbican until 25 January – Although sold out, returns are appearing fairly regularly on the Barbican’s website and 30 stalls seats are released at 10 am every day for £10. Again, there is likely to be an early queue required but this really is a superb ensemble production not to be missed.

4. Matilda – Cambridge Theatre – It’s been just over three years since I first saw this fantastic musical in Stratford-Upon-Avon and it is thrilling to see what it has gone on to achieve. Funny, fun and heartfelt, with brilliant music and the lyrics by Tim Minchin, it is one of the best musicals around.

5. War Horse – New London Theatre – this production continues to thrill audiences in London. It is visually incredible and emotionally powerful and is not to be missed.

6. Les Miserables – Queen’s Theatre – yes you may have seen the film (which I also enjoyed) but have you seen the live stage version yet? If not, then I cannot recommend it highly enough. The songs are stunning and I never fail to be moved by its intensity, which is why it remains my favourite musical. If you’ve yet to go then you really should!

It will be exciting to see just what else is announced over the coming months!