Archive for October, 2017


This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

With a celebration of the joy of romance and the miracle of chocolate, Emma Rice bows out as Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, leaving only broad smiles behind her. Based upon the 2010 French/Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes, her new musical is a sweet confection that is cornier than Kansas in August, but it appeals to the taste buds perfectly.

Angelique (Carly Bawden) is a gifted chocolate maker, too shy to speak to strangers or to let it be known that she is responsible for her mouthwatering creations. Jean-René (Dominic Marsh) is the owner of a failing chocolate factory, which he inherited from his father and he is similarly afflicted. When they dine together in a French bistro, the waiters (dressed in berets and matelot shirts of course) sing: “have you ever seen anyone quite like this, suffering from social paralysis”. The meal is an embarrassing disaster.

Angelique joins Les Émotifs Anonymes, a sort of Alcoholics Anonymous for the incurably timid, in which participants sit in a crescent and take turns to bare their souls while the others look in the opposite direction. Jean-René avoids public humiliation and opts for listening to self-help tapes and having cosy chats with his dead dad.

For business and emotional reasons, the storyline must surely bring the loveless pair together and Rice’s book offers no surprises. Adapting an original screenplay by Jean-Pierre Améris and Philippe Blasband, her script sometimes falls short on verbal wit, but she more than compensates with tongue-in-cheek staging that overflows with comic invention. She also uses comedy to great effect as an antidote when the sugar level starts to get too high.

There are no outright showstoppers, but Christopher Dimond’s crisply rhyming lyrics are amusing and they are given bounce by Michael Kooman’s tuneful score. The songs, ordinary at first, seem to get better as the show moves along, accompanied by Musical Director Jim Henson’s four-piece band.

Bawden and Marsh, carefully avoiding eye contact at all times, are touchingly awkward, but it is often the ensemble, choreographed by Etta Murfitt that catches the eye and ear. Among them, seasoned performers such as Marc Antolin, Philip Cox, Joanna Riding and Gareth Snook all grab at their chances to delight in strong cameo roles and help to keep the show bubbling when the predictability of its plot could have deadened it.

Lez Brotherston’s ingenious chocolate box set design well suits the soft-centred assortment that it holds. We all know that Angelique and Jean-René will eventually shed their inhibitions to make delicious chocolate together and, when they do, they literally walk on air. This could be the happiest show in London this Christmas.

Performance date: 27 October 2017

Of Kith and Kin (Bush Theatre)

Posted: October 21, 2017 in Theatre


This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

The details of Chris Thompson’s new three-act play, first seen at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, may be very modern, but the style of its opening is distinctly old-fashioned. A living room, an expecting married couple and a cantankerous, interfering mother-in-law are staples of domestic comedy, but the modern twist is that couple are gay men and it is a fourth character, their long-time friend, who is about to give birth.

Daniel, played by James Lance as volatile and unstable, is 46 and recalls the days of closeted gay life. He is uneasy in the roles of husband and soon-to-be father, but 32-year-old Oliver (Joshua Silver) is a romantic who sees everything in his current life as natural. Pondering who will be “Dad” and who “Daddy”, they decide that they will both be the former, as their age difference gives unfortunate connotations to the latter.

The surrogate mother, Chetna Pandya’s grounded Priya, seems at first to be totally relaxed about the situation and she parties with the fathers merrily. Then the peace is disturbed by the arrival of Daniel’s battle-axe mother, Lydia (Joanna Bacon). “It’s like she smells dysfunction” Oliver declares later when anticipating her arrival at the door in the middle of a marital tiff, and it is friction between Lydia and her son-in-law that sets sparks flying and brings to an end a first act of palatable, if unsubtle, light comedy.

Act two sees a stark change, as the play becomes a fraught courtroom drama. A baby boy has been born and Priya, who remains silent throughout, is claiming custody. Bacon changes her accent and outfit to become icy, aggressive Carrie, the lawyer who is representing Priya in the hearing presided over by Donna Berlin’s calm and rational Arabelle. Daniel represents the couple and expresses the view that the Court is treating them differently from heterosexuals in a similar situation. If this is the point that Thompson is aiming to demonstrate, the case is not made properly. The Court’s probing seems much as might be expected in any custody hearing.

Robert Hastie’s direction and James Perkins’ simple, functional set designs give the production a solid feel without tackling the play’s central problem – its inconsistencies in tone and plotting. On several occasions, characters make surprising decisions, but Thompson neither explains their actions fully nor explores their motives. Why do Daniel and Oliver both switch tracks in their attitudes to the baby and why does Priya decide to dispute custody? It seems particularly odd that the writer hardly touches upon the mother’s viewpoint at all.

Of Kith and Kin is often entertaining and, particularly in the third act, moving, as it scratches at the surface of dilemmas thrown up by modern lifestyles. However, unanswered questions chip away at the play’s credibility and leave a comedy/drama that is, ultimately, not completely satisfying.

Performance date: 20 October 2017

Photo: Helen Murray

Beginning (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: October 17, 2017 in Theatre


This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

David Eldridge’s new play begins at the end – the end of a drunken flat warming party. Hostess Laura (Justine Mitchell) stands at the door, but the last lingering guest, Danny (Sam Troughton), there as a friend of an acquaintance, declines to exit through it. After the play has progressed over 100 minutes of real time, he is still in the flat.

When layers have been peeled away, both Laura and Danny are revealed to be damaged and lonely. She is recently out of a 10-year relationship and has undergone an abortion. He is a divorcee who is separated from his seven-year-old daughter. Both are 40-ish. The only things that they seem to have in common are likings for Strictly… and Scotch eggs. Fervent Corbynite Laura shows pride in her new Crouch End pad and boasts the job title of “MD”. Politically disinterested Danny has a boring job, lives with his Mum in Essex and is dogged by low self-esteem.

The play looks to be on track to developing into a predictable romantic comedy of opposites attracting, but the sharpness of Eldridge’s writing dodges all the obvious pitfalls. The challenge facing this couple is to establish an emotional connection before the physical one takes over. In amusing exchanges, they probe each other, attempting to reconcile differences and synchronise senses of humour, fearful they could be about to make a terrible mistake or face embarrassing rejection. Mitchell and Troughton both understand that, when their characters are revealing themselves slowly, what cannot be spoken is often as important as their dialogue and they turn in spot-on performances of great subtlety and depth.

Fly Davis’ design makes Laura’s flat appear shabby and cheaply-furnished, adorned with fairy lights and party tinsel, but, if the look of director Polly Findlay’s sensitive production is old-fashioned, it is contrasted by many distinctly modern touches in the play. It is the woman, sexually liberated Laura, who makes all the moves, leaving Danny to resist. At one point, he resorts to stuffing empty bottles and uneaten canapés into a bin bag in a nervous attempt to detract from his pursuer’s advances.

Eldridge also sees the irony of a face-to-face first meeting in the age of the internet. Danny, who has dabbled with dating sites, bemoans the fact that he did not meet Laura online, seemingly not knowing how to handle a real-life encounter. Both refer to friends, but only of the Facebook kind, implying that they are becoming strangers to real friendship. When the playwright explores the human need for companionship, his play is at its most poignant and, when he demonstrates the practical obstacles in the way of getting a meaningful relationship going, it is at its most hilarious.

Beginning is warm, funny and, above all, refreshingly honest. Eldridge leaves open the question as to whether Laura and Danny’s relationship will progress beyond stage one, but this production’s biggest strength is that it makes us care and grow to hope that it will.

Performance date: 16 October 2017

Photo: Johan Persson