Archive for April, 2013

Sadly, I left at the interval due to feeling unwell. This is a satire on American capitalism, starting with the premise that its 18th Century roots lay in prostitution, theft and slavery. The writer’s previous works include the multi-award winning and highly entertaining “Clybourne Park” and this is similar in that the targets for the satire are very obvious and the humour is often crude. Unfortunately, the first half was patchy and some scenes were very drawn out. However, it certainly would not have merited an early exit in other circumstances.

A night at the circus (without animals thankfully), performed by the Nofitstate Circus group. The audience were allowed to wander around the performance area and watch trapeze artists, trampolinists, jugglers, rope climbers, tightrope walkers, etc strutting their stuff to live music. When it was well coordinated and choreographed, it provided an impressive spectacle, but, at times, the overall impact was less than the sum total of the individual efforts. Nonetheless an unusual and entertaining evening.

photo-102London’s hottest ticket of 2013 and it is worth at least ten times whatever price paid for the privilege of spending an evening in the company of HM (Helen Mirren) The Queen. Covering 60 years, Peter Morgan’s new play dips into the The Queen’s weekly audiences with her twelve Prime Minister (she calls them “the dirty dozen”). Not all of them appear, the most notable omission being Tony Blair who is only referred to and then with disdain. What a splendid and thoroughly deserved insult! We see Winston Churchill (Edward Fox) trying to bully the 26 year old Monarch and David Cameron (Rufus Wright) toadying to her at 86. Using many quick changes of costumes and wigs, Helen Mirren spans the ages effortlessly; but she is not offering a mere impersonation, rather an insight into the real person, showing us that she is “more than just a postage stamp with a pulse”. It is an extraordinary tour de force. The production, directed by Stephen Daldry is, at different times, mischievously funny, fiercely political and deeply moving. The comedy is largely at the expense of John Major and Gordon Brown who are caricatured by Paul Ritter and Nathaniel Parker respectively; the politics come in debates with Anthony Eden (Michael Elwyn) over Suez and Margaret Thatcher (Haydn Gwynne) over South African sanctions; the most touching scenes are those involving Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe), who is presented as the Queen’s favourite of the twelve. He is bumbling and nervous at his first audience, relaxed and playful on a visit to Balmoral and, finally, confused and distraught as The Queen becomes the first he tells that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. More than just a fun evening, this is a genuinely great play that unravels the mystery of our Constitutional Monarchy, explaining to us and to the rest of the World how and why it works. The lingering thoughts after the curtain falls are how lucky as a nation we are to have Elizabeth II and how lucky the theatre is to have Helen Mirren.

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

First performed in the early 1970s, this musical based on the Gospel of Matthew has become somewhat overshadowed in public perceptions by the Rice/Lloyd Webber Biblical musicals. The prospect of seeing a dated show revived by an amateur company is not normally something to set the juices flowing but, happily, this production confounds expectations on every level. Mainly this is due to the radical idea of setting it on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral (little more than a stone’s throw from this theatre) during the Occupy London demonstrations over the Winter months of 2011/12. This new context may not be a perfect match with the show in all respects, but it enriches it with modern relevance and many delicious ironies. We see Jesus Christ as leader of a group which is challenging the Church that was founded in his name. At the time of the events, the Church was thrown into turmoil over whether its priority should have been supporting the poor and downtrodden or defending public order and its own property; this production resurrects that debate, coming down strongly in sympathy with the demonstrators. Ultimately, the constraints of the show limit the extent to which such issues can be emphasised, but they are always there as strong underlying themes. The evening begins with the set occupied by black-suited City traders who look as if they could have drifted in from one of the neighbouring bars. Gradually they are replaced by a more colourful group of demonstrators, waving their banners and the stage is strewn with garbage bins, leaflets, tents and, to stress the theme of capitalist excess, a giant monopoly board. The songs have worn surprisingly well; Day By Day is the best known, but Stephen Schwartz has adapted his lyrics and Beautiful City works particularly well in this setting. Performed with the accompaniment of a small rock band, the songs provide all the show’s high points. Godspell may have fallen out of favour because, unlike the other Biblical musicals from the same era, it is not sung through and, between musical numbers, the script often comes across like a very dreary sermon. This is a big obstacle for any director to overcome and Robert J Stanex has chosen to tackle it by harnessing the vitality and enthusiasm of his young cast to provide constant movement which distracts from some of the dullest patches. On the second night, there were a few breaks in continuity in the later stages, but, hopefully, these will be rectified as the run progresses. To have any chance of working, Godspell needs above all else to have a charismatic Jesus and Joe Penny proves well able to deliver. Skateboarding, skipping, hula-hooping and performing conjuring tricks, he leads the show with remarkable energy and his singing voice also has a pleasing tone. Dan Geller doubles as John and Judas. Many of the best performed songs are by the chorus, which harmonises well, but there are also a couple of knockout individual numbers from the supporting ensemble. To add a final irony, this production is from Sedos, a company founded by the Stock Exchange, the institution which is housed adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral and was itself a prime target of the Occupy London demonstrators.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Well we’ve all been there haven’t we? The dinner party from Hell! This revival of Moira Buffini’s black comedy, first seen at the National in 2002, allows us to squirm in horror at the ghastly food and even more ghastly conversation whilst staying sufficiently removed so as not have to experience it all directly; not too far removed though, as, in this small basement space, the audience is almost sitting around the table with the guests. The hostess is Paige who went to finishing school, pocketed an inheritance, married and thereafter has done nothing worthwhile; she describes the dinner party as her work of art and she presents herself like a cross between Nigella Lawson and Cruella de Vil. She is throwing the party for the friends of her husband Lars, a City trader turned philosopher, to celebrate the publication of his book, a pretentious self-help guide for the aspirational. In reality, the party is Paige’s last throw of the dice in a rapidly failing marriage, but a waiter (dumb obviously) has been hired and “surprise” dishes have been prepared for each course, so what could go wrong? The first sign of disaster is the arrival, unexpectedly alone, of Wynne, an artist who has just been dumped by her partner. She seems set on rekindling her past relationship with Lars and he is disinclined to resist. The other invited guests are Hal, a biochemist reluctant to reveal details of his work and his wife, Sian, a tv news presenter (or, as she contemptuously boasts, “thinking man’s crumpet”); this couple is also beset by marital difficulties and haunted by the spectre of Hal’s suicidal former partner. In the early stages, the hosts and all the guests talk pseudo-intellectual claptrap which is understood neither by the speaker nor the listeners, whilst they consume sufficient alcohol for us to know that they will regret it later. Gradually, both the party and the central relationships begin to fall apart. The catalyst comes with the arrival of Mike, a van driver who has crashed into the front gate in the fog. Has he just burgled the house next door or is he merely delivering cakes? We are never sure. However, he is different because he is perceived as from a lower level of society. In return, he looks at the others firstly with envy and eventually with disdain as he comes to see the superficiality of their lives. Wynne makes the hollow protest that something vague in her past makes her “almost working class”, the others view Mike as an amusing novelty. It is in this section that the play has its clearest focus, as it scrutinises the class structure of the post-yuppy generation and wittily lays bare many myths. The first production by the newly-formed Rose Bridge Theatre Company, this is an ensemble piece featuring actors who are all relatively new to their profession and they attack their roles with clear enthusiasm. They are Benedict Chambers, Lara Frances, Stephanie Hampton, Mickey Hope, Ben Lewis, Felicity McCormack and James McGregor. Adam Morris’s direction is fluid, making excellent use of the confined space. The script is packed with very funny lines, but the play covers what has become familiar territory in the decade or so since it was written and, for this reason, it may have lost some of its edge. The characters come across as more stereotypical and the situations more predictable now than perhaps they did in 2002 and the conclusion which, as Paige bemoans, comes before the cheeseboard, seems contrived and lacking in purpose. However, this is an entertaining 90 minutes, a night out that is much preferable to attending one of these events for real.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy