My review can be seen at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-tulip-tree-drayton-arms-theatre-london/
Taking a leap into the near future where the internet has expanded to become “the nether”, Jennifer Haley’s play is an all too credible detective thriller which explores a parallel universe of infinite possibilities. Morris (Amanda Hale) is an officer policing the nether and she is first seen interrogating Sims (Stanley Townsend), the creator of a role-playing site which offers “a world without consequences” where killers and paedophiles can indulge their grim fantasies unimpeded. He argues that he is providing an outlet for harmful practices and removing them from society; she counters that the site will nurture tastes and experiences which will inevitably filter back to hit the real world. The interrogation room is grey and unadorned, furnished with just a table and two chairs and then stunning computer-generated images appear on a huge screen and they lead us into the nether, which lies above and behind the room. An interior set resembles a Tenniel drawing, complete with a not so innocent “Alice” and an exterior set is a garden at the edge of a forest, which, with the aid of mirrors, appears to go on into infinity. Es Devlin’s incredible designs create a virtual world that is, at the same, breathtakingly beautiful and horribly sinister. The play goes on to reveal who are the real figures behind the avatars that we see in the nether and to analyse the moral and ethical issues affecting modern society as it becomes increasingly dependent upon the internet, but seems incapable of keeping it under control. Haley’s writing is intelligent and suspenseful, Jeremy Herrin directs a production that is taut and brisk. The play, which is spellbinding throughout its 80 minutes, delivers something like a short, sharp shock.
My review can be seen at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/17-finborough-theatre-london/
My review can be seen at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/shakespeare-in-love-noel-coward-theatre-london/
At the end of June, the day after a highly publicised phone hacking trial ended, the National made the surprise announcement that this new play, which depicts events not dissimilar to those which led to the trial, would take to the stage almost immediately. Only the National would have the resources to mount such an audacious venture, but, after a so-so year, Nicholas Hytner’s company has, at a stroke, justified its huge subsidy out of public funds. Written by Richard Bean (of One Man, Two Guvnors) and directed by Hytner himself, the play is a savage satire of British journalism, set mainly in the newsroom of a red top (which occasionally adapts to become The Ivy). Paige Britain (Billie Piper) is news editor, ruthlessly ambitious and prepared to use all means at her disposal to achieve her objectives; as to her political leanings, she would not even agree to have her fish and chips wrapped in The Guardian, yet she casually allows a Tory Prime Minister to be left waiting in her outer office when he calls to beg her to sleep with him again. Piper has been a big name for more than a decade, but here she shows herself to be much more than that – she is stylish, sexy and has a natural flair for comedy. Robert Glenister is also excellent as the foul mouthed, quick thinking Cockney wide boy, who is editor of the paper until being “promoted” to a sinecure in television and then to Downing Street. Dermot Crowley plays the owner, an Irish media mogul who rose to prominence in the IRA and, it is now claimed by his lawyers, has suffered from the onset of dementia since the age of six. However, Aaron Neil steals every scene in which he appears as the dimwitted, inept Sully Kassam, who is gay, Asian and, of course, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The plot navigates the narrow straits between fiction and libel, not quite telling it as it actually happened, but getting close enough for us all to know what is being referred to. The characters too do not match exactly with people we might recognise, rather they are composites of familiar figures involved in the real life toxic tryst between the media, politicians and police. The play flounders in the brief moments when it gets serious, but, generally, the jokes, many of them very, very funny, come thick and fast and, if a few fall flat, blame can be laid on the Lyttelton’s wretched acoustics. The production may have been announced in a hurry, but it clearly took much longer than a few days to put it together; it flows slickly, with moving screens dividing the set and showing projected images and filmed sequences. At just under three hours, it is surprisingly long for a satire, but no-one seems to notice whilst having so much fun. After this run, the show is already booked into the Theatre Royal Haymarket where the more compact auditorium could suit it better and there is obvious scope for the addition of new, topical jokes, which could mean that it is even funnier by then.
The original 1982 West End production of Julian Mitchell’s play featured actors who have gone on to win four Oscars, be awarded two knighthoods (so far) and achieve worldwide star status. Therefore, part of the enjoyment in seeing this revival, which originated in Bath and Chichester last year and has already had a West End run, is picking out the stars of tomorrow. There could be several. Directed by Jeremy Herring, the play is a study of life in an English Public School for boys in the 1930s, its bullying, its brutality and its rigid adherence to traditions and the class system. Will Attenborough (newest member of the famous theatre dynasty) dominates the first half as Judd, a studious young man, focussed single-mindedly on gaining his scholarship to Cambridge, but contemptuous of the Upper Class and openly admiring Stalin and the Russian Revolution; Attenborough’s mature and sympathetic performance leaves us in no doubt as to why Judd is so respected by the other boys. This is a play which gains strength as it progresses and it is only in Act II that we realise the significance of Judd’s friendship with Guy Bennett (the name is a thin disguise for who this character is really meant to represent). Rob Callender begins by playing Guy as effete and frivolous, boasting of his sexual encounters with other boys, all of whom brush them off as “just a passing phase”. However, a boy’s suicide makes Guy realise that, for him, homosexuality is not passing, it is for real and forever. Callender’s performance captures this realisation perfectly and shows us Guy’s determination to stand strong against moves to punish him and make him an outcast. Guy may or may not share Judd’s idealistic view of Communism, but he sees it as a vehicle for gaining revenge against his persecutors. He smiles with pleasure at the prospect of both staying inside English society and, at the same time, undermining it through treason. Impressive sets of wood-panelled walls reflect the coldness and rigidity of the school and a strong supporting cast helps to throw fascinating light on one of the most notorious episodes in British post-War history. This production is riveting throughout.
Even at this performance, well into the show’s run, the audience seemed unusually full of theatre people (Caroline O’Connor and Lesley Manville the most recognisable), rolling in laughter at the constant flow of not-so-subtle in-jokes at the expense of their profession. For those like me, only half “in”, and for those more”out”, maybe the jokes will come across as a bit hit and miss and also quite repetitive, but still this show, an update of Gerard Alessandrini’s musical revue first seen here in 2009, provides pretty superior entertainment. It is based on the single joke of taking many of the most famous show tunes and changing the lyrics to satirise the shows, their writers, their stars and their producers – Cameron Mackintosh’s take on American Dream from Miss Saigon is a highlight. The first half seems more like “Forbidden West End” with bang up to date references, ending with One Day More from a weary cast of Les Miserables, which becomes 10 Years More (obviously). As the show progresses, it gets more Broadway, stretching from Oklahoma to Book of Mormon. Impersonations of stars such as Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Hugh Jackman and Angela Lansbury strike instant recognition, but Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Idina Menzel and Mandy Patinkin are less well known on this side of the pond; Menier audiences may not appreciate being reminded of Patinkin who appeared in a catastrophic flop here in 2010, before returning shame-faced to his home land, but his inclusion may correct impressions somewhat by demonstrating his stature in New York. Of course the show is self-indulgent, which is a big part of its appeal, but it can hardly be described as “gentle” or wholly “affectionate”; children’s musicals (Lion King, Charlie… etc) are lampooned with bile and, with Into the Words, there is even mockery of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics (do these people ever want to work again?). The show ends fittingly with a stinging attack on the takeover of Broadway by big corporations to the tune of Tomorrow Belongs To Me from Cabaret. Equating Disney etc to the Nazis in pre-war Germany is a bit strong, but we all recognise the sentiments. The four performers – Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis are all excellent and show remarkable skill in quick changes of costume and make-up. Great fun.