Theatre Review – A majestic King Lear at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester

6000.jpg

(All photos credited to: Manuel Harlan)

Ten years ago, I hadn’t yet become the theatre addict I am today and so, as a result, I missed out on seeing Sir Ian McKellen’s King Lear at the RSC, having to make do with watching it on DVD. Undoubtably a theatre legend and one of the actors I now never fail to see on stage, there was no way I was missing out a second time and last night saw me back in Chichester to see McKellen’s return to this iconic Shakespearean role. Seating only 283 people and running for just over a month, I certainly felt lucky to have a ticket.

It’s the second time I’ve seen him perform in the intimate space of the Minerva Theatre (the first being 2011’s The Syndicate) and it’s clear that he thrives on the added power that comes from being so close to the audience and the play itself also benefits from the intimacy of the venue; drawing you in and holding your attention, despite the lengthy running time (just over 3 hours, plus an interval in this case).

1.-Ian-McKellen-in-the-title-role-of-KING-LEAR-at-Chichester-Festival-Theatre.-Photo-Manuel-Harlan-352.jpg

However, Jonathan Munby’s production is much more than its leading actor, boasting an incredibly talented ensemble cast. Sinead Cusack is a highlight as the Countess of Kent, whose loyalty and love of her King causes her to follow him in disguise, despite his cruel treatment of her, after so many years of service, in the opening scene (so brilliantly staged here, with Lear playfully taking great delight in cutting up the map of the UK with a pair of scissors – Scotland to Goneril, Northern Ireland & Wales to Regan, and England, the last third, which is then ripped in two, if you were wondering).

The strength of the female roles in King Lear is always one of my favourite aspects of the play and this production did not disappoint. Dervla Kirwan plays Goneril with a poise and maturity the comes from being the eldest sibling, exasperated by her father’s behaviour and slowly driven further and further down a path that doesn’t seem natural to her. Interestingly, in this production I never truly despised Goneril and by the end, I still did not believe her capable of the murder of her sister. She just did not seem dark enough for such actions in Kirwan’s hands.

9.-Ian-McKellen-Lear-Kirsty-Bushell-Regan-Dervla-Kirwan-Goneril-in-KING-LEAR-at-Chichester-Festival-Theatre.-Photo-Manuel-Harlan-119-238x357.jpg

Kirsty Bushell’s Regan on the other hand, thrives on the darkness that descends; dancing around to music during the torture of the Earl of Gloucester, clearly turned on by the whole twisted experience. Bushell is excellent throughout this production, using her sexuality to manipulate and control those around her, before being foiled by her sister’s jealousy of her seduction of Edmund.

I always have the most sympathy for the Earl of Gloucester (how could you not?!) and this production was no different with  Danny Webb delivering a strong, moving performance, particularly in his scenes with Jonathan Bailey as Edgar/Tom. Bailey is fantastic as the loyal, loving son, wronged by his father and brother, in the same way as Cordelia is wronged by Lear and her sisters (and Bailey’s Edgar seems to care a great deal about her, based on Bailey’s reactions to her casting off and later death). He doesn’t go too far with the pretence of madness either; it’s always just a means to an end and his counterpoint, Edmund, is also wonderfully portrayed by Damien Molony. I’ve seen more evil portrayals; more devious ones too, but Molony comes across as extremely believable throughout the play.

9.8-Jonathan-Bailey-as-Edgar-in-Chichester-Festival-Theatres-KING-LEAR-Photo-Manuel-Harlan_DR1-363.jpg

The Minerva may be a small space, but Paul Will’s set is never lacking; creating multiple locations with ease and enhancing the power of key moments in the story (especially when combined with Ben and Max Ringham’s music and sound). I particularly loved how the red carpeted dias began to resemble a pool of blood, expanding outwards from beneath McKellen’s feet, as the rain from the storm lashed down on him. This Lear may keep his clothes on (unlike his 2007 performance), but the scene is no less powerful.

Some aspects of the production didn’t quite work for me. After a promising first scene, Phil Daniels’ Fool seems to fade away in to the background and is forgotten much too quickly when compared to others that I’ve seen. Also, despite strong performances from both McKellen and Tamara Lawrance individually, the love between father and daughter never really shone through, resulting in Cordelia’s death and Lear’s grief lacking depth for me. Having said that, King Lear never draws from me the same emotional response as say, a powerful production of Hamlet, which has been known to bring me to tears. Perhaps it’s the fact I never really feel sorry for Lear, feeling he brings his miseries on himself, or perhaps some plays resonate more with some audience members than others.

However, McKellen’s portrayal throughout the production of a man clearly starting to feel his age, resulted in a much more believable ending. All the moments of him trying to catch his breath, as if on the verge of a heart attack and the added wheezes, meant that his sudden death during the play’s final moments seemed inevitable, rather than out of the blue.

King Lear will never be my favourite Shakespearean tragedy. However, this production is one of the strongest I’ve seen. It was engaging, engrossing and a thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience. Making your way to Chichester to try for a returned ticket is absolutely worth the effort.

King Lear continues its run at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester until 28th October 2017. Running time: 3 hours (or just over), plus a 20 minute interval. Although sold out, keep an eye on the website for returns or head to the theatre on the day to join the returns queue. For more information, visit the website.

Advertisements

Theatre Review – Apologia – An Impressive Production

37791_full

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

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

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

logo-300x68

Mid-Year Theatre Review 2017

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

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

………………

1. Hamlet (Almeida / Harold Pinter Theatre)

xhamletalmeida2w300h200.jpg.pagespeed.ic.kbOX8DaVkR

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

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

an-octoroon-orange-tree

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

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

dear-evan-hansen

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

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

the-little-foxes.jpg

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

5. Angels in America (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

34504055965_cbcd3b0aa6_b.jpg

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

6. The Ferryman (Royal Court Theatre)

d7e4cd3a-30bd-11e7-9555-23ef563ecf9a.jpeg

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

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

img_0129

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

8. Consent (Dorfman, National Theatre)

Consent-Dorfman-78-700x455.jpg

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

9. Gloria (Hampstead Theatre)

Gloria-PROD-171

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

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

Jodie-Prenger-as-Shirley-Valentine-124-Photo-by-Manuel-Harlan-683x1024.jpg

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

 

……..

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Gloria-PROD-171

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

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

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

Gloria-PROD-1680
Bayo Gbadmosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credi: Marc Brenner)

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

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

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

Gloria-PROD-1596
Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

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

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

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

Gloria-PROD-190
Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

Warnings taken care of, on to the play itself.

Gloria-PROD-171.jpg
Dean (Colin Morgan), Kendra (Kae Alexander) & Ani (Ellie Kendrick). Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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

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

 

Gloria-PROD-1680.jpg
Bayo Gbadamosi & Colin Morgan (Photo credit: Marc Brenner) 

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

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

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

Gloria-PROD-1596.jpg
Bo Paraj (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

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

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

Gloria-PROD-1931.jpg
Sian Clifford (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

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

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

 

Gloria-PROD-190
Kae Alexander & Ellie Kendrick (Photo credit: Marc Brenner)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

the-antipodes.png

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

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

90-2.jpeg
The cast of The Antipodes. Photo source: Joan Marcus

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

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

90-3.jpeg
Josh Charles & Phillip James Brannon. Photo source: Joan Marcus

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

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

the-antipodes1-700x455.jpg
Brian Miskell & Emily Cass McDonnell. Photo source: Joan Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

DEH_Key Art, White_FOR WEB ONLY.jpg

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

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

DEH_4_15_16_0104-Edit.jpg
Connor (Mike Faist) & Evan (Ben Platt). Photo source: Matthew Murphy

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

deh-ben-platt-laura-dreyfuss-4972-photo-credit-matthew-murphy-dear-evan-hansen-broadway-production-photos-05-hr.jpg
Evan (Ben Platt) & Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss). Photo source: Matthew Murphy

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

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

dear-evan-hansen13994_1web-2-1-1024x935.jpg
The superb cast of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo source: Nathan Johnson

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

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

dear-evan-hansen.jpg
Ben Platt as Evan Hansen – a performance I will never forget. Photo source: Matthew Murphy

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

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

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