Archive for November, 2015

Sparks***+ (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: November 16, 2015 in Theatre

sparksThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

After a 12-year absence, Jess turns up in pouring rain at her younger sister’s flat, carrying a goldfish bowl in her hands and a rucksack packed with alcoholic refreshments on her back. It is time for sparks to fly. Simon Longman’s play is is an exploration of loneliness in different guises. Jess (played at this performance by Sophie Steer) is a wanderer, roaming from east to west across the country, unable to settle anywhere. Her sister Sarah (Sally Hodgkiss) is rooted in their native West Midlands, with few friends and little life outside her sparsely-furnished flat. The two actors are playing these roles alternately. The awkwardness of the estranged sisters’ reunion is realised beautifully in Longman’s quirky dialogue. Sarah is at first rendered speechless, while Jess fills in all the silences as if struck by an attack of verbal diarrhoea, spouting nonsensical trivia almost non-stop. Gradually, alcohol removes inhibitions and the deep insecurities of the characters are revealed. Running for 95 minutes this is, in essence, a brisk one-act play, but Clive Judd’s production is performed with an interval, which causes the drama to lose some momentum. Early on, each sister downs a full bottle of what passes for wine in one go, a considerable feat by both actors, and, if the interval has been inserted as a kindness to them, perhaps it can be forgiven. The performances are strong, bringing out the absurdist humour in Longman’s script and capturing the underlying pathos of the two sisters. They are opposites who are both bound together and torn apart by blood ties and sisterly affection. It will be interesting to see if the dynamics in the sisters’ relationship change significantly when the actors’ roles are reversed. Bright, patterned wallpaper around Jemima Robinson’s set gives the flat the feel of a children’s play room, but the furnishings – a single armchair and stacks of up-turned cardboard boxes – reflect the emptiness of its inhabitant’s life; slats in Venetian blinds come to look like prison bars, confining Sarah to a world in which Jess could never be comfortable. Consistently amusing, yet underpinned by a feeling of melancholy, Longman’s play shows how holes in peoples’ lives can be filled temporarily by meaningless conversation and it builds to a moving and surprising climax. This is an engaging new work by a highly promising young writer.

Performance date: 12 November 2015



harlequinadeTerence Rattigan’s Harlequinade is an awkward play to stage – too short to represent value for money in a large theatre, too big a cast to be viable on the fringe. A few years ago, the National solved the problem by doubling it up with The Browning Version, a play with a central role that could have suited Kenneth Branagh. Here Branagh spurns that opportunity and tags on Rattigan’s 20-minute monologue All On Her Own as the evening’s opener for the first production in his season at the Garrick. Together, the plays run for 100 minutes without an interval, hardly the best value at West End Prices. Delivering the monologue, Zoë Wanamaker is, predictably, magnificent, dressed in a cocktail dress and clutching a full wine glass, she laments the passing of the husband that she never valued properly during his lifetime. Wanamaker re-appears for the main course as Dame Maud, most senior member of a theatre company run by old style actor/manager Arthur Gosport (Branagh), the type who would play Romeo one night and Lear the next. In modern theatre, the only actor remotely resembling Gosport could be Branagh himself, which is, presumably, the big joke. Rattigan’s humorous observations of the theatre he knew, 70 years or so ago, are often delightful and always amusing. Gosport and his leading lady and wife (or maybe not) Edna Selby (Miranda Raison) live for the theatre and are either oblivious to or disdainful of the inconveniences of normal life. Many of the company also appear in The Winter’s Tale, running in repertory, meaning that there is an impressive array of talent on display, with Branagh and Rob Ashford directing the two productions. Bubbling along nicely, this is not a production to set the world on fire, but it is good lightweight fun.

Performance date: 11 November 2015

Husbands-And-Sons-posterThree households lying side-by-side in a Nottinghamshire mining village in 1911 form the setting for this inspired adaptation of three DH Lawrence plays – The Daughter-in-LawThe Widowing of Mrs Holroyd and A Collier’s Friday Night. The walls of the houses are invisible and the plays run together, scenes alternating, with characters from each meeting in the street. The performance is in the round (well oblong), with the audience changing ends at the interval so as to become more closely involved in different dramas. Ben Power is the adaptor and, unsurprisingly when something as imaginative as this appears at the National, the director is Marianne Elliot. The plays work together brilliantly, painting a unique picture of a struggling community, bound by codes of loyalty and morality that, in many ways, seem strange in the modern world. The title is misleading; “Wives and Mothers” would have been more apt, as this is a matriarchal society held together by the fortitude of its women, the men being workhorses who are weak-willed and often drunk. In a company of over 20, Anne-Marie Duff is the star name, giving a wonderful performance as Lizzie Holroyd, protecting her young son from her husband (Martin Marquez), a violent drunkard, and being drawn by the attentions of a younger electrician (Philip McGinley). Louise Brearley is a revelation as Minnie, daughter-in-law in the Gascoigne home, determined to make her marriage to the errant Luther (Joe Armstrong) work in spite of opposition from his domineering mother (Susan Brown). In A Collier’s… another mother (Julia Ford) relegates her husband to insignificance and smothers her student son (Johnny Gibbon). The production runs for three hours, but we want it to be six. Unquestionably one of the year’s best.

Performance date: 9 November 2015

sister george

In 2015, soap characters are killed off at a rate of about one a week and same sex relationships are depicted in dramas almost as regularly. It is difficult to believe that, when The Killing of Sister George first appeared 50 years ago, it was regarded as mildly shocking. June Buckridge, played here with macho swagger by Sioned Jones, has been playing George in a radio soap much like The Archers for six years when the axe falls and her relationship with her partner Childie (Briony Rawle) is also on the rocks. The axe is wielded by a BBC exec, Mrs Mercy (Sarah Shelton giving a near-impeccable Margaret Thatcher impersonation) who also moves in on Childie. A clairvoyant in the Madam Arcati mould (Janet Amsden) is on hand to stir things up. We assume that June (always referred to as “George”) and Childie are a lesbian couple, but the writer Frank Marcus is coy about it and never spells it out (maybe the watchful eye of the Lord Chamberlain constrained him back in 1965) and there are hardly any displays of affection between the two in Scott le Cross’s production. George comes across as a sadistic, gin-swilling bully, Childie as a simpering parasite and it is very difficult to feel much sympathy for either as their shared world begins to unravel. Justin Savage’s one-room set is suitably shabby, giving a good period feel to the production. Jones’ performance builds as the play progresses, showing George’s torment upon realising that nothing in life can be taken for granted, nothing is forever. Projecting that message, the play still has some relevance, but it takes far too long to get to the point and, although the acting is decent throughout, it still comes across as something of a museum piece.

Performance date: 5 November 2015

Teddy Ferrara*** (Donmar Warehouse)

Posted: November 8, 2015 in Theatre

teddy feraraFull review will appear here shortly

Performance date: 5 November 2015

Xanadu**** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: November 8, 2015 in Theatre

XANADUFull review will appear here shortly

Performance date: 4 November 2015

the moderate sopranoFull review will appear here shortly

Performance date: 3 November 2015