Archive for April, 2022

Photo: Rjjie Kurttz

Writer: Pamela Carter:

Director: Oscar Toeman


In the Spring of 1936, King Edward VIII sat on the British throne, Nazis were on the ascendancy in Germany and a group of 27 English schoolboys set out on an ill-fated trek through the Black Forest. Inspired by true events, Pamela Carter’s 95-minute drama recounts the boys’ misfortunes and interrogates the peculiar condition of being English.

The boys, from The Strand School in London, describe themselves as “lower middle class”. Class remains the key to everything in their homeland. Their story is told from the perspective of just three of them, all in their early teens and appearing in their maroon school blazers: Harrison (Hubert Burton) embodies the bulldog spirit; Lyons (Matthew Tennyson) strives to not be the outsider, guiltily denying his Jewish heritage; and Eaton (Vinnie Heaven) comments irreverently on all around him, his every word dripping with irony.

After spending a night at the Adolf Hitler Youth Hostel, the party begins its journey on foot to the next destination, led by a novice teacher (not seen). A late Winter blizzard is on its way. There is an easy route and a difficult route crossing a mountain, so, unanimously, they choose the latter. Being English, the writer asks, would they have any other option? Carter chips away at the quirks and foibles that join together to make a nation’s psyche and makes us wonder whether they add up to insanity or the attributes that win wars.

Director Oscar Toeman’s highly animated in-the-round production is played out on a bare stage, with the house lights up for much of the time. The three boys, always trying to maintain stiff upper lips, play tapes of familiar voices on a machine that would be invented decades later and huddle together to sing I’ll Stand By You in a moving scene that is also remarkable, considering that none of the song’s writers had been born in 1936. Period detail is not the production’s strength and Carter occasionally has a tendency to wander off course as easily as the schoolboys, seeming to overlook that her play’s suspenseful main narrative is more involving than her underlying thesis. Fortunately, three lively and captivating performances provide compensation for other shortcomings.

Towards the end, when the play is already walking on tires legs, a German tour guide (Eva Magyar) emerges to deliver a sort of epilogue, which has all the subtlety of a school History lecture. It provides an untidy climax to an intriguing, if not entirely satisfying, piece of theatre.

Performance date: 28 April 2022

Photo: PBGstudios

Writer and director: Glenn Chandler


There are countless examples of injustices against homosexual men in the years up to the 1960s. Many have been officially acknowledged and rectified in small part with posthumous pardons, but others lie buried more deeply in the annals of legal history. Writer/director Glenn Chandler sets out to throw light on one such case with his gripping, but slightly ambiguous 70-minute drama.

In the 1920s, Sidney Fox travels around South-East England with his mother, staying either in hotels without paying the bills or, in his case, in prison. The story begins with the young man standing accused of matricide by setting fire to Mum’s Margate hotel room a few hours before an insurance policy on her life is due to expire. The play asks whether he can possibly get a fair trial when prejudice against his class and sexual orientation are stacking the odds so heavily against him.

Sidney Fox is a prostitute, an habitual thief and a compulsive liar, so what’s not to like about him? Sebastian Calver counters the facts by making the character a loveable rogue, exuding boyish charm; this is all fine, except that there are few signs of the steel that Sidney would have needed to come through in his tough lifestyle. His close relationship with his mother, Rosaline (his “pal”), is touching and amusing, Amanda Bailey giving her maternal warmth and, crucially, a twinkle of mischief in the eye.

Mark Curry plays Cassels, a barrister who is not quite a fully paid-up member of the establishment, but who plays their game anyway, rounding off Chandler’s solid production. The audience is being asked to act as a jury, judging not guilt or innocence, but whether or not the trial process is fair. The whole point of the drama is to demonstrate the existence of prejudice, but does Chandler make his case beyond reasonable doubt? In Scotland, where this play premiered in 2021, the verdict would be “not proven”.

Performance date: 21 April 2022

Photo: Marc Brenner

Writer: Mike Bartlett

Director: Rachel O’Riordan


Mike Bartlett is known as a prolific writer for theatre and television and this, his second play to open in London within a week and his third currently running in the city, only adds to that reputation. Of course, Scandaltown refers to London and it asserts that nothing of much significance has changed since the the post-pandemic second half of the 17th Century. The play is a mash-up of modern social/political satire and traditional Restoration Comedy.

Pinpricking hypocrisy and pomposity, the writer takes plot lines and character names that are no less ludicrous than those featured in the original comedies and places them into a post-pandemic 21st Century setting in which corruption, substance abuse and infidelity are rife. The jokes are, in some ways, scattershot and many miss the mark, but it feels genuinely scandalous that there are still so many targets in the modern world to be aimed at.

Northerner Phoebe Virtue (Cecilia Appiah) heads south, cross dresses and embarks on a mission to find her missing brother Jack Virtue (Matthew Broome) and rescue him from a life of debauchery. She arrives in time to attend the social event of the season, the Netflix Masked Ball. This extravaganza results in a cascade of mistaken identities and it provides an opportunity for th 12-strong cast to parade in flamboyant costumes, designed by Kinnetia Isidore. 

The London elite appears before us. Lady Susan Climber (Rachel Stirling), came third in the 2015 series of The Apprentice, but suffered a fall from grace following some ill-advised comments on social media. She hires as her consultant Hannah Tweetwell (Aysha Kala), who guides her into a liaison with Matt Eton (Richard Goulding), the randy and duplicitous Secretary of State for Procurement. Bartlett does not try too hard to conceal similarities between many characters and real life counterparts.

The humour is risqué, but also risk-free, not threatening to give real offence to anyone. The play flounders when Bartlett wades too deep in the swamp of party politics and when he takes it all much too seriously and lectures the audience. Otherwise, his joke-a-minute style keeps the ridiculous comedy bubbling and director Rachel O’Riordan’s nimble production maintains the flavour of Restoration Comedy throughout. The actors all seem to have a whale of a time, given complete freedom to go over the top.

Bartlett stitches the second act together with a potentially glorious running gag and then, unforgivably, fails to deliver the punchline. It is an up and down ride, but, overall, the laughs far outnumber the yawns and, in these grim days, that is a cause for gratitude.

Performance date: 14 April 2022

Another America (Park Theatre)

Posted: April 8, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Piers Foley

Writer: Bill Rosenfield

Director: Joseph Winters


Television channels are awash with travelogues documenting American life. Typically, the host will take a car/train, stop at a small town, take in the views, interview a few locals (usually weirdos) and move on to the next location. So do we really need another similarly formatted American documentary, this time adapted for the theatre? Clearly playwright Bill Rosenfield believes that we do.

Simon and Garfunkel looked for America in their 1960s song, so maybe Rosenfield has, at long last, found it. His play is inspired by True Fans, a documentary film by Dan Austin, and the mode of transport used is the bicycle. Dan Austin (Marco Young), his younger brother Jared (Rosanna Suppa) and his best friend Clint (Jacob Lovick) set off to ride from Venice, California to Springfield, Massachusetts. They are Basketball fanatics, supporters of Utah Jazz, and their destination is the Basketball Hall of Fame. They cross the Rockies and the Rust Belt, meeting the disillusioned and the dreamers on their way, all three actors taking turns to play different characters in the places visited.

Modern America can be seen as a nation dominated by affluent East and West coasts, home to a liberal elite, with a vast, often ignored expanse in the middle. Nothing in this play is overtly political, but the notion that the forgotten have the potential to kick back always lies beneath the surface. The characters narrate the story, often stopping to correct themselves and take out exaggeration; the writer is reminding us that this country with a short history is founded on legends, many of which could be baseless.

The first half of the road trip is tricky. Every time that a new character appears, one of the actors is taken out, thereby hindering the development of their main role and leaving the audience little to connect with. The story has no high drama, little comedy, no mystery and no romance; it is a celebration of small lives, mundane and often boring. However, a dip in the Mississippi in the middle of the play refreshes it. The three cyclists emerge as fully rounded characters and Rosenfield’s themes begin to coalesce with clarity.

Director Joseph Winters keeps it all very simple, leaving an almost blank canvas on which to paint a picture of a vast country. Apart from three chairs, a basketball signed as a memento by those encountered by the cyclists along the way, is the only prop. The production relies on vivid writing and remarkably strong performance and, perhaps against all the odds, it succeeds.

The idea of an American travelogue appearing in a North London studio theatre seems crazy, but everything about Another America is eye opening. When the play trips over its own over ambition, wonderful acting comes along to pick it up and get it back on the road.

Performance date: 7 April 2022

Photo: Danny With a Camera

Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Book> Arthur Laurents

Director: Georgie Rankcom


When Anyone Can Whistle landed with a thud on Broadway in 1964, Stephen Sondheim already had three hits under his belt: West Side Story and Gypsy as lyricist and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as composer/lyricist. Therefore, it is hard to put the show’s failure down to beginner’s bad luck and, in the intervening years, there have been few attempts to revive it. It is more likely that the best songs will be heard in concert performances.

The small town setting is typical of many early musicals, but, in this case, it is not used as a showcase for wholesome all American values. Sondheim posts a warning with the song There Won’t Be Trumpets, which could have been a deliberate counter to the euphoric 76 Trombones from the near contemporary Broadway hit, The Music Man. This town is bankrupt and rife with political corruption and social repression. It seems that only a miracle will save it, so one is duly manufactured.

The town’s mayor is Cora Hoover Hooper, played originally, albeit for only a handful of performances, by Angela Lansbury. Here, Alex Young simply devours the role and spits it back at the audience with venom. Her avaricious power crazy vamp is the big success at the heart of director Georgie Rankcom’s revival. Otherwise, the show is not particularly well sung and Lisa Stevens’ choreography, constrained by the narrow traverse stage, shows little invention; however, boundless youthful exuberance carries the production along its bumpy road.

Central to community life is an institution known as “The Cookie Jar”, a home for 49 townsfolk who have mental health difficulties, or, perhaps, for general misfits. There is no reason to believe that this concept would have been any more palatable in 1964 than it is now, but Rankcom does a good job in trying to connect the narrative to modern day sensitivities. Members of the 49 merge with the audience when the show poses the key question as to who is “normal” and who is not. Chrystine Symone as Fay Apple, nurse in charge of the “Jar” and Jordan Broatch as J Bowden Hapgood, the psychedelically attired new psychiatrist in town, make a likeable couple, even if their romance feels as if it has been pasted on as an afterthought.

Although Sondheim is not without fault, it is easier to blame Arthur Laurents’ book for the show’s failure. A social and political satire it may be, but it never feels like a slice of real American life, while it is far too heavy handed to work as a fantasy fable. Sondheim’s songs range from the downright ordinary to the sort that are mosts commonly associated with the recently departed great man. At least three of them are far bigger than the show, including the brilliant tongue twister Everybody Says Don’t and the lovely title number, which is essentially a simple lament for low self esteem, but it brings in intricate phrasing and a matching bitter-sweet melody which typify what was to become so treasured over the years.

Rankcom’s lively revival provides a rare opportunity to catch up with an almost lost curiosity, but it comes nowhere near to resolving all of the show’s multitude of problems. At least, its energy, colour and good-heartedness just about pass the whistle test.

Performance date: 5 April 2022