Theatre Review – Three compelling performances from Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton & Charlie Cox in Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre

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The Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End has been home to an ambitious exploration and celebration of the work of Harold Pinter over the last [6] months and last night I made a trip to see the final production in the Pinter at the Pinter season. Clearly, this is a highly anticipated show due to the casting of Tom Hiddleston, whose popularity has continued to skyrocket thanks to his involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and who was last seen on stage (for more than a handful of people successful in the RADA Hamlet ballot) in 20[14]’s Coriolanus and I was keen to see whether it would meet my expectations.

I admit, I struggle with some of Pinter’s work, but Betrayal is a play I genuinely enjoy and Jamie Lloyd’s production is a superbly executed interpretation of what is always an emotionally complex story, as we venture in to the lives and histories of its three characters.

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The story structure is also one that I find particularly engaging; the play starts not at the beginning of events, instead dropping the audience in to these lives and expecting it to catch up, which adds a very real element to the experience. Life isn’t neat and tidy and Pinter’s structuring of this play highlights that fact. It’s painful and awkward and very human.

It also quickly becomes apparent that we are seeing their lives backwards, gradually moving back through the previous nine years, pausing to witness key moments that shape their relationships with each other. It’s a fantastic way of pulling the audience in and when handled correctly, results in a much more powerful and emotional punch.

The good news is that this production delivers an incredibly satisfying and compelling 90 minutes of theatre, thanks to the combination of a simple set from Soutra Gilmour, which emphasises the raw emotions on display. There are no distractions, which means your focus remains solely on the actors from start to finish and indeed my audience last night was so engaged by the performances that you could have heard a pin drop (or annoyingly, the occasional mobile phone ring – seriously turn them off theatregoers!). It’s also wonderfully lit by Jon Clark, often silhouetting the performers against the pale backdrop in such a way that you could be looking at a wall in an art gallery and I found myself admiring the artistic choices the creative team had taken to add to the emotion. The music is also kept to a minimum, yet compliments the simplicity of the staging.

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The success of Betrayal depends on the strength of its three actors and each of Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox are superb at not only brining their own characters to life, but also at creating very believable connections with each other, adding to the tension and emotion of the piece and none of them stand out as the lead, each bringing equal weight to the story.

It quickly becomes apparent that Ashton’s character, Emma, is married to Robert (Hiddleston), but for a number of years until relatively recently, was having an affair with his best friend Jerry (Cox). What Jerry doesn’t realise though, is that Robert not only knows, but he’s known for some time. Over the course of the play, Pinter offers us glimpses in to their past as a trio, how they feel about each other and how that changes, how they deceive each other, sometimes in surprisingly comic ways and how they each suffer betrayal in one way or another.

Jamie Lloyd holds the tension throughout, in no small part by his decision to keep all the actors on stage for the duration, a revolve helpfully moving them around as if pieces on a game board, as their lives cross paths over the years. This staging choice also adds great weight to the betrayal at the heart of the play; seeing Emma and Jerry together, as Robert sits silent and motionless on a chair, sometimes right beside them (and in one heartbreaking instance, cradling his daughter), is a very strong image and Tom Hiddleston does a superb job of conveying Robert’s pain once he becomes aware of their deceit. The scene in which he discovers the truth is handled so beautifully, with quiet surprise and hurt, rather than anger and the combination of Jamie Lloyd’s direction and two excellent actors, truly heighten the tragedy of the moment for the audience as well as the characters.

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner

It could’ve been easy to portray Emma and Jerry as the villains of the story, yet Pinter’s play is much more complex than that, instead presenting us with people making very human choices and the strength of the performances by both Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox mean they are compelling characters to watch and over the course of Betrayal your emotions shift depending on the scene, for example, Jerry’s sense of betrayal on discovering Emma has told Robert feels very authentic, despite the fact he is just as guilty as she is!

The story structure also allows the audience to have more insight than the characters, heightening the tension in key scenes, particularly the excruciating scene in which Robert and Jerry have lunch, neither of them fully realising the extent of knowledge the other has and Cox and Hiddleston play it perfectly, as if it’s the game of squash their characters keep intending to play. Full marks also to Hiddleston’s “angry eating’ talents! This scene is also an example of how Betrayal is able to move from sadness and pain, to moments that are surprisingly comedic and indeed very much needed by the audience due to the emotional weight of the playas a whole. This again captures the realities of real life and when the story ends we are left unsure of what the future will hold for any of them. Life will go on without us there to witness it.

This is a fantastic way to end Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious season of Pinter and more than lived up to the high expectations I had. If you haven’t picked up a ticket yet, I strongly recommend you do so and quickly!

Betrayal continues at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London until 1st June 2019. For more information, visit the website. I will also be posting a separate post of helpful (hopefully!) tips for visitors coming to the show who are new to London, including places to eat, theatre information and my thoughts on the stage door. 

 

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Tips For First Time Visitors to the Noel Coward Theatre (or London) for All About Eve starring Gillian Anderson!

As a longstanding fan of Gillian Anderson, every time she returns to the London stage is an exciting event for me and now that I’ve seen All About Eve this weekend (review will follow), I thought I’d write a similar post to my previous one for Harry Potter visitors, of some helpful tips for anyone new to the area, coming to see All About Eve over the next few months. I’ll also update it with anything significant, such as transport strikes (if any arise).

1. Getting There

All About Eve is at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End. The good news is it’s very easy to get to, with plenty of transport options. The closest tube is Leicester Square (through which runs the Northern and Piccadilly lines), which is a 5 minute walk away. It’s best if you exit from that station at Exit 1 and then turn left immediately down the side of the Wyndham’s Theatre, down the narrow St Martin’s Court, pass through the courtyard in which you’ll see the theatre’s stage door (more on that later) and then simply follow the theatre building round the side to the front entrance on St Martin’s Lane (see the map below).

However, you can just as easily take the underground to Charing Cross station and then just walk the 10 mins (ish) up from there, up the side of Trafalgar Square, up the side of the National Portrait Gallery and then you’ll be able to walk straight up St Martin’s Lane (head towards the Coliseum with its revolving globe on the top of the building, as that’s the bottom of the street). Equally, walking from Piccadilly Circus through Leicester Square doesn’t take long either (although it is a bit busy with people).

There are also bus routes that go through Central London too. The theatre says that the best ones are 24, 29 or 176. My best advice is to download the Citymapper app to your phone, as this calculates the best route from anywhere in London and breaks down the options by transport option (whether bus, tube, walking etc). I live here and still use it all the time! You can also use the Transport for London website journey planner too: https://tfl.gov.uk

2. When to arrive?

You don’t need to arrive at the theatre hugely early. It’s really more of a personal preference. I tend to get to a theatre about 15 -30 minutes before the start time, so I have time to collect tickets, buy programmes and get comfortable in my seat, but you certainly don’t need to be there too early. Plus the auditorium itself won’t open until 30 minutes before the show starts. If you’re collecting your tickets, at the Noel Coward they only asked me for my name, but I’d recommend taking your credit card and order confirmation with you just in case you are asked to show it.

3. Inside the Theatre / Seating chart

The Noel Coward Theatre has 4 levels, Stalls, Royal Circle, Grand Circle and Balcony. No doubt you know where you’re sitting, as you chose your seat when you booked, but for reference I’ve included a link to the Theatremonkey website, which offers invaluable insight in to seats and their views in London’s theatres. I use it all the time! There is also the SeatPlan website, where you may find a photo taken from the seat you have booked. The theatre bars (there are 3 of them) open at 6:15 pm before an evening show and at 1:45 pm before matinees, where you can buy snacks and programmes (which are £4.50). The theatre does also have a small cloakroom, but it’ll fill up quickly, so I’d suggest taking just a small bag with you (security will do a bag check before you enter the theatre).

4. Food & Drink

Being located in the heart of the West End, there are plenty of options for food and drink closeby, with something to suit all budgets. If you just need a cup of tea and a sandwich, or snack, there’s an Eat literally opposite the theatre, with seats upstairs and downstairs (plus some handy plug sockets too for charging your phone in certain spots). There’s also a Starbucks on the street and Pret on the corner. Fast food options are also a few steps from the theatre, with both a Five Guys and McDonalds at the top of the street, as well as a number of pubs offering traditional British pub food.

If you’re looking to make a day / night of it and want a sit down meal, then there are plenty of options too. On the same street, there’s Brown’s, which offers a decent range of British classics and I love to pop in for a pre-theatre meal or drink at Cafe Koha in the square at the back of the theatre. For those feeling a bit more extravagant, there’s the seafood and fish restaurant, J. Sheekey, down the side of the theatre. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard you might spot the odd celebrity in there.

If you’re looking to go a bit further afield, Covent Garden isn’t too much of a walk and has some nice options, or Chinatown is just at the back of Leicester Square too, with some very reasonably priced options. The location does of course mean it tends to get quite busy in the area, so if you’re wanting to eat before the show, give yourself plenty of time.

5. Running Time

All About Eve has a running time of 2 hours. There is no interval. Matinees begin at 2:30 pm and evening performances at 7:30 pm.

6. Stage Door!

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My successfully signed programme!

I’ll start by saying that signing autographs is not part of the ticket price and no actor is under any obligation to sign for fans, or if they are willing, there may be performances after which it’s not possible. Therefore these tips are just a guide and there’s no guarantee Gillian will be signing after your show. I can share some tips based on my experience last night, as I’m fairly confident that on days she does sign, she’ll be sticking to this routine. The last two theatres at which I’ve seen Gillian (at the Young Vic in London and St Ann’s Warehouse in NYC), she chose to sign inside the theatre, in warmth and comfort and where the crowd could be better controlled and it seems she’s sticking to that at the Noel Coward as well.

If you are interested in getting signatures from the other cast, I’d perhaps go straight to the back of the theatre, in to St Martin’s Court and get a spot at the barrier of the stage door (you’ll see it says the theatre name and stage door above the blue door). Some of the other cast came out quite quickly on Saturday, so if you don’t do that you might miss them. Also, the stage door security did announce when Gillian had started signing, so people knew when to go and join her queue. I did that and then popped back to the stage door again afterwards too.

Gillian signing in the theatre foyer

As Gillian is signing inside the theatre entrance, behind the desk in the middle, you need to be at the front of the building for her queue. The queue will form from the front entrance of the theatre and around the side of the theatre. It may look long, but don’t panic, as it moves quickly and Gillian signed for everyone last night. The most important tip is not to lose your ticket once you’ve entered for the show, as the security were checking for tickets before letting you in to the theatre to get an autograph. They also say only show items (programme or ticket) can be signed, although I did see some who had photos they’d had taken previously (at comic con-style events) with Gillian that she’d signed for them. You only get a few moments with Gillian and no photos with her, but people who were there in pairs were able to take a photo as their friend got an autograph, or if you’re on your own like I was, I simply took a quick one from the side after I’d had my programme signed (no flash though).

Another point to remember is that she won’t be signing after any matinee performances, so if you are going to a matinee and are able to stay around until after the evening show, then try then (you’ll have a valid ticket for that day and when they don’t sign after matinees, it’s perfectly fair for you to join the queue then in my opinion)!

7. Still Looking for tickets?

(a) Official Website – There are still some tickets available, so check the website for availability here: https://allabouteveplay.com

(b) Daily Front Row Lottery – You can enter the daily lottery for the front row of the stalls via the TodayTix app. You can enter for 1 or 2 tickets and winners will be drawn at random and notified 2-4 hours prior to the selected performance. If successful, you have an hour to claim your tickets through the app.

(c) Day Seats – A limited number of Day Seats are released in person at the Box Office, every day for that day’s performance(s). Maximum 2 tickets per person, strictly subject to availability and at the discretion of the Box Office. I’d recommend getting there early to be in with the best chance.

8. Unable to come in person, but still want to see the show?

The good news is that All About Eve will be screened in cinemas in the UK on Thursday 11th April, in conjunction with NT Live. There will also be international screenings, but the details of that (it may be another date) are yet to be announced. Keep checking the All About Eve NT Live web page for more details of participating cinemas: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/ntlout34-all-about-eve

9. Unable to see the show and need to return / exchange your tickets?

According to the show’s website, tickets may be exchanged for the same production up to 48 hours prior to the performance. Call 0344 482 5138 (Calls cost 7 pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge) and speak to one of their clerks who will exchange your tickets to your preferred performance. All exchanges are subject to a £2 administration fee per ticket. Within 24 hours of the performance tickets may be returned to the box office for resale, but will be subject to a 10% levy, and no guarantee of resale can be given. If you are contacting the theatre from overseas and cannot get through on the main box office number, call: 0207 812 7498.

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Hopefully those tips are useful! If you have any questions, feel free to ask and if I can help, I’ll certainly let you know. All that’s left to say is, enjoy your visit!!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My 2018 Theatre Review – Productions of the Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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1. The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre)

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

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

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

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

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Credit: Marc Brenner

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

3. Twelfth Night (Young Vic Theatre)

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Credit: Johan Persson

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

4. The Watsons (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

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

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

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Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

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

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

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

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

7. Fun Home (Young Vic Theatre)

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Credit: Marc Brenner

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

8. A Monster Calls (Old Vic Theatre)

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

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

9. I And You (Hampstead Theatre)

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

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

10. Girls & Boys (Royal Court Theatre)

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Credit: Marc Brenner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ticket Release Reminder – Harry Potter & The Cursed Child

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few months, you will be aware that the next chapter in the story of Harry Potter is currently delighting audiences in London’s West End (I’ll see what I think when I go in September).

However, if you weren’t able to nab yourself some of the 170,000 tickets that went on sale last time, then this post is a reminder that a further 250,0000 tickets are released tomorrow!

Here’s what you need to know before tomorrow morning! Good luck Muggles!

  • Tickets are being released for performances from 27 May-10 December 2017
  • Tickets go on sale via the official website at 11 a.m. (BST) tomorrow (4th August)
  • The website will be operating an online queuing system, which will open at 10 a.m. Just head to the website from 10 a.m. to be placed in the queue (at random, so if makes no difference if you join at 10:01 or 10:58 a.m.). You can of course still join the queue after 11 a.m.
  • At 11 a.m., tickets will go on sale and you’ll await your turn (watching the little wizard walk along the queue status bar if it’s like last time)!
  • Once you are in, if it’s like last time, there will be symbols showing the availability of each date. If you are flexible, I’d scroll down to those with the best availability, as you are then more likely to secure seats than fighting over earlier dates with fewer seats to go around.
  • No need to think about where to sit. Just decide on your price band in advance. To speed up the process, the system will automatically allocate you the best available for your chosen date.
  • Booking is limited to 6 per transaction (that’s 6 sets of tickets to see both parts 1 and 2).
  • If online is not an option for you, call +44 0330 333 4410.

In case it’s useful, here is a link to the theatre’s ticket infographic chart – Infographic Chart

There used to be price banding chart when deciding what seats you want to go for – it seems to have disappeared, so perhaps it’s changed a little, but in June it was roughly that the cheapest two bands were only available in the balcony, with the circle and stalls being the higher bands.

I hope that’s useful! Let me know how you get on!