Archive for March, 2016

welcome...I confess to being unfamiliar with Le Voyageur Sans Lugage, a 1936 work by French playwright Jean Anouilh, but here we have it, in a new version by Anthony Weigh, moved in time and place to 1959 on Long Island, New York. The stroke of genius in this production is to present the play in the style of a screwball comedy from the Golden Age of Hollywood, incorporating influences as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Billy Wilder and the Coen Brothers. It all works brilliantly, playing out as something like a slightly more bitter take on The Philadelphia Story with touches of Martin Guerre. It seems a fair bet that director Blanche McIntyre had her company watching American film comedies from the 40s and 50s to perfect their timing and delivery and maybe to mould their performances on stars from that period. A lot of fun comes from guessing which star is suggested by each performance, For example “Gene” (Rory Keenan), the amnesiac war veteran returning to what might be his family after an absence of 15 years could easily be Cary Grant and Mrs Fox (Sian Thomas) his acid-tongued, snobbish would-be mother could only be Bette Davis. Family and supposedly lost son are brought together by the social climbing DuPont-Duforts (George Burns and Gracie Allen?), a warring couple, she (Katherine Kingsley) having previously re-homed dogs and he (Danny Web) being a wife-loathing curmudgeon who just wants someone to take out his garbage. “Gene” begins to question whether he really likes his new/old family very much and, when he unearths some of the misdemeanours of the man that he is supposed to be, he decides that he does not like him at all. The young Mr Fox’s past includes an affair with the drunken Valerie (Fenella Woolgar), his sister-in-law (too lower class for Katherine Hepburn, too sophisticated for Marilyn Monroe, so let’s settle for Grace Kelly). To make matters even more chaotic, 22 other families then come forward to claim “Gene” as their own. So is he or is he not a Fox? This hilarious play culminates in a blissful denouement that sends us all out of the Donmar wearing broad grins of satisfaction.

Performance date: 11 March 2016

Something Something Lazarus (c) Jamie Scott-Smith (10)This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

The saying goes that, even as the world outside falls apart, the show must go on. However, in John Myatt’s 80 minute musical satire of late night cabaret, it is the show that falls apart and the performers whose lives are in tatters, reflecting the lyrics of the mournful songs that they routinely sing. Pain, misery, heartache, death and despair are some of the constituents that feed this form of cabaret, a sub-culture with which we not so nocturnal creatures have only passing familiarity. Hence, it may be charitable to think that there are in-jokes in Myatt’s lyrics that fly over our heads, because, otherwise, incisive wit seems sadly missing. Simon Arrowsmith’s score makes easy listening, but the songs are much less than hilarious. The show could have been staged as a revue or song cycle, but it does have a plot of sorts. Daniel, owner of the gay club where the action takes place, receives a gift of an antique chair from his ex-boyfriend together with the news that he is planning to get married in eight days. Daniel declares his ex to be the only love of his life, goes into a tail spin and callously casts aside his current lover, the 20-year-old barman Jay. Dan Phillip’s production is a curate’s egg with good and bad parts matching each other almost evenly. It ranges from the near-inspired to the downright amateurish and it does not feel well-suited to the King’s Head’s thrust stage. At some points, characters huddle in corners, at others they engage with each other awkwardly from distance and, throughout, bright spotlights half blind many sections of the audience. The production’s inconsistencies carry through to the individual performances, but they all give at least some pleasure. Daisy Amphlett as musician Della seems too normal and nice to be working in a dive like this, but Valerie Cutko is deliciously catty as the torch singer Vee. Ralph Bogard’s neurotic, self-obsessed Daniel has the look of a Demis Roussos resurrected in a dressing gown and sounds a bit like him too. The surprise package is Daniel Cech-Lucas as Daniel’s rejected toy boy. After making an entrance resplendent in his underpants, he fades to the sidelines, gets deservedly strangled and then rises like the title character to grab a microphone and steal the whole show. His bravura solo routine re-energises a production that had been sinking rapidly. This is a show that refuses to be insulted. It could be described fairly as a chaotic mess, but it is likely that its creators intended it to be exactly that and much of the entertainment in it derives from its shambolic nature. Like late night cabaret itself, Something Something Lazarus is probably best enjoyed with a stiff drink in hand.

Performance date: 10 March 2016

Photo: Jamie Scott-Smith



Correspondence (c) Richard Lakos (1)This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

Think back five years. William and Katherine were getting wed, Katy Perry was dominating the pop charts and ripples from the Arab Spring were starting to reach Syria. Lucinda Burnett’s 80 minute one act play was first written at around that time and it now reaches the stage, refined with touches of hindsight. Ben (Joe Attewell) is a troubled teenager in Stockport, the son of divorced parents, victim of bullying and an aspiring journalist writing articles for his school newspaper, Jibreel (Ali Ariaie) is Syrian, wary of an oppressive regime, conscious of the growing insurgency, but fearful of the consequences for himself and his family. The two boys meet on the internet, competing in games on their X-Boxes. Burnett sows the seeds for a fascinating drama in a touching opening scene, with Dan and Jibreel, both played beautifully, enjoying their game and partaking in carefree banter on popular culture as seen from very different perspectives. However, the game of Modern Warfare is about to be encroached upon by actual modern warfare, virtual reality is to be replaced by cruel reality. The writer’s vision of innocent youthful friendship crossing international borders and breaking down cultural barriers resonates strongly and promises much for the scenes to follow. Essentially, this play needs only two characters and it begins to go wrong when others are introduced. Dan’s parents (Joanna Croll and Mark Extance) appear in long drawn out scenes of tedious bickering and, much worse, Dan’s tormenter at school, the irksome, shrill-voiced Harriet (Jill McAusland) turns up to bully him relentlessly. This character is poorly written and overplayed, becoming little more than a comic caricature that sits uncomfortably in a drama dealing with serious issues. Accepting that Burnett needs to establish factors contributing to Dan’s deteriorating mental health, she does not need to dwell on them for so long that they detract from the story that she is telling and prevent her from developing the central characters fully. There are faint suggestions of parallels being drawn between the boys’ relationship and interventions by Western nations in the Syrian catastrophe, but, again, such themes remain underdeveloped. Bethany Wells’ set, a visual representation of the internet, adapts well to suit the needs of the action and director Blythe Stewart uses it imaginatively, although she is not able to inject life into the play’s sticky patches. This is a drama that begins full of promise, goes nowhere for long stretches and ends just when the central story should be getting into its stride. It is the thought that the play is so full of interesting ideas that makes the end result so disappointing.

Performance date: 10 March 2016

Photo: Richard Lakos



The Mother***** (Tricycle Theatre)

Posted: March 13, 2016 in Theatre

FullSizeRender-91The whiteness of Mark Bailey’s minimally furnished set dazzles at first. Here is a place that feels soulless and drained of life. It is the home of empty nesters pushing 50, the children are gone, the father is free to seek pastures new and the mother is bereft, her useful life over and facing a future of memories, loneliness and despair. This is the second play by French writer Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, to be seen at the Tricycle in recent months, following The Father (now in the West End), and similarities between the ways in which the writer depicts the central characters’ mental confusion are striking. Scenes are repeated from different perspectives, furniture appears and disappears between scenes, dashes of colour are added and taken away. The effect is that the audience becomes as disorientated as Anne, the mother, never quite able to distinguish between the real and the imagined. Is Peter (Richard Clothier) a devoted husband drawn away reluctantly to a seminar in Leicester or is he a philanderer stalling plans to end the marriage? Does Nicholas (William Postlethwaite), the son, really return home in the middle of the night or is this just wishful thinking on Anne’s part? Is the seductive Jodie (Frances McNamee), everything Anne aspires to still be, Nicholas’ girlfriend or Peter’s mistress? Zeller’s style is, in some ways, Pinteresque, but it is also distinctive and director Laurence Boswell tunes into it perfectly. However, the key to this production’s success is a magnificent performance by Gina McKee in the title role, at times quietly accepting her fate, but then fighting desperately to win back the beloved son who is her sole reason for existing. This is a powerful and disturbing piece of theatre.

Performance date: 9 March 2016

Group Credit_ James WoodhamsThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

Teenagers high on drink or other substances are now so common a sight on our city streets that maybe we do not even bother to give them a second look. Martin Malcolm’s one act play, set in the West of England, invites us to spend around an hour taking a peek at what could lie behind the mayhem. Spook (Jack Cottrell) is unconscious outside the Eden club after a night out and his two mates argue whether they should haul him onto the Nightflyer bus home or leave him and head back into the club. Blowtorch (Harvey Bassett), swaggering and manly, is in no doubt that Spook can look after himself, but the more caring Jamster (Matthew Emeny) insists that both must stay with him, receiving homophobic taunts in response to his pleas. Enter two scantily clad young ladies to mirror the disregard and concern of the males. Chloe (Hannah Kelly) is described as “a slapper” being keener to disappear into a dark spot with Blowtorch than to tend for Spook, her ex. Churchgoer Genette (Anishka Klass) stays behind, but shows more interest in Jamster than the stricken Spook. Malcolm’s gritty play is set on the battleground where carefree childhood innocence clashes with adult reality and responsibility. These teenagers face up to the contradictions of relationships and religion and to the realisation that what their elders have warned them against could be true. It feels as if there are too many themes here to be developed fully in so short a play, but it is to the writer’s credit that he leaves us wanting to know more about the characters and their lives. Emeny’s sensitive portrayal of Jamster, tormented by an incident in the past and confused about his sexuality, stands out among five strong performances in James Woodhams’ taut and briskly paced production. No sets or props are used and club music pounds in the background throughout, adding to a feeling of raw energy that masks the play’s implausibilities and makes this an engrossing, if not completely satisfying, hour of theatre.

Performance date: 7 March 2016

Photo: Alex Knight



Mr Salteena (Jake Curran), Ethel Monticue (Marianne Chase), Bernard Clark (Geordie Wright) and Narrator behind (Sophie Crawford). Pic credit Andreas GriegerThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

An book written in 1890 by a nine year old would seem highly unlikely to have scaled the peaks of literary achievement, but The Young Visitors is exactly the type of obscure curiosity that has come to provide rich pickings for Rough Haired Pointer. Having unearthed a comic story first serialised in Punch magazine and a previously unperformed Joe Orton play, the company now revives its 2013 version of young Daisy Ashford’s work. When the book was first published (by JM Barrie) in 1919, it was noted for its wit in depicting the social climbers of the late Victorian era. Well little Miss Ashford is no Oscar Wilde and her spelling may have been dodgy, but her observation skills are remarkable for one so young. Any shortage of verbal wit is compensated for in this production by deft and imaginative touches of physical comedy. Mr Salteena (Jake Curran) is a lower middle class butcher’s son living in Dulwich who aspires to better things, but lacks refinement and confidence. When he is invited to visit the lonely and shy aristocrat Lord Bernard Clark (Geordie Wright), he jumps at the chance and takes along the apple of his eye, Ethel Monticue (Marianne Chase) who, with reddened cheeks and drooping blond ringlets, looks rather like an early prototype for Barbie. In their stuttering climb up the social ladder, which takes them all the way to Buckingham Palace, the couple encounter, among others, the arrogant Lord Clincham (Andrew Brock) and his insolent valet Procurio (Jordan Mallory-Skinner). Ashford’s choices of character names would have served her well had she gone on to script Carry On films. Adaptor Mary Franklin retains a flavour of the original writing through an ever-present narrator (Sophie Crawford). The show looks splendid, Christopher Hone’s set designs surrounding the stage with red and cream curtains, giving pride of place to an ornate wooden gazebo. Carin Nakanishi’s period costumes are also eye-catching and are quickly adaptable, useful for actors playing multiple minor roles. However, the biggest stand-out feature of Franklin’s brisk production is the comedy acting, all six members of her company showing precision timing and exuberance that reminds of a children’s tea party. From the slightest material, Rough Haired Pointer has conjured up 90 minutes of jolly fun. There is nothing to dislike here and nothing to give offence, so most should leave the Tabard with smiles on their faces.

Performance date: 4 March 2016

Photo:Andreas Grieger