Monday, 18 November 2013


Roots - This is London
This, the second standalone play in Arnold Wesker’s 1958 Trilogy, (it was preceded by Chicken Soup With Barley and followed by I’m Talking About Jerusalem) proves something of a slow burner, leavened by Linda Bassett’s faultless comic timing as Mrs Bryant. But James MacDonald’s measured production is well worth sticking with for the emotional power of the inevitable third act denouement.
This truly kitchen sink drama (two of them feature large in Hildegard’s Bechtler’s realistic design) depicts a post-war world in which opportunities, especially for women, are changing. For twenty-two year old Beatie, living in London with her socialist boyfriend Ronnie has opened intellectual and cultural doors. Now she’s back visiting her farm-labourer family in rural Norfolk, talking enthusiastically about ‘love in the afternoon’ to her more traditional older sister and quoting Ronnie’s views with an unquestioning enthusiasm. She’s all too aware that life can offer more than the repetitive drudgery of home and housework, yet she’s torn between the comfort of conventional family life and the wider opportunities which she realises she’s ill-equipped to fully understand.
Jessica Raine’s Beatie is passionate, chirpy, confused, determined as she tries to find her own voice and, as a tin bath is filled, potatoes peeled and a sponge cake mixed, a fine supporting cast ensure that this atmospheric revival – with its pinafores for the women and caps for the men – shows just how full of regrets her life will be if she doesn’t break away.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Same Deep Water As Me

Although it lacks the distinctive style and empathy which made his award-winning Constellations so memorable, Nick Payne’s more conventional, often very funny follow-up to his highly praised two-hander proves enjoyably entertaining.
Set predominantly in the shabby Luton offices of Scorpion Claims (a two man legal firm which specialises in personal injury cases) it’s torn between being more than a touch sympathetic to the financially straitened who succumb to the temptation of pursuing false claims and despising the clients who manufacture them.
It doesn’t take much for Daniel Mays’ slightly shifty solicitor Andrew to be persuaded to pursue – on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis – a faked case presented to him by Marc Wootton’s working class Kevin (a loud, loutish old school buddy who thinks shorts are appropriate courtroom attire). But Kevin has a bigger plan to scam and Andrew, already under a career cloud, goes right along with it, whilst assuring his senior partner Barry (Nigel Lindsay excellent as a fundamentally decent man who’s had some hard – and insufficiently explored – knocks) that everything is kosher.
The dialogue is sharp, the performances first-rate – Peter Forbes’ Judge presides over his court with a wry tolerance, Monica Dolan doubles as a sleekly composed corporate lawyer and a dodgy accomplice, and Isabella Laughland impresses as the overworked supermarket delivery driver who freely admits to pranging someone’s car but not to racism.
The final scenes are less satisfactory, but John Crowley’s smooth direction almost manages to hide their weaknesses in this critique of today’s crash-for-cash compensation culture.

(This is London)

Bonnie and Clyde

two people in a love heart TNT

Put together by the same team who added songs to their stage version of The Great Gatsby last year, Linnie Reedman (writer and director) and Joe Evans’ (composer and lyricist) musical for Ruby in the Dust adds little to the drama of the shooting and looting of the infamous 1930’s outlaws.
Maybe that’s partly because the only casualties we see are the members of their gang who got variously burned and blasted rather than any of their victims who included a trail of dead law enforcement officers left in their wake as they shot their way across America during the Great Depression.
Some attempt has been made to get inside the heads of the main protagonists - Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, his jailbird older brother Buck and his wife Blanche, plus the youngest hot-headed recruit WD Jones. But learning that former waitress Bonnie always wanted to be famous, bashed out poetry on her typewriter and bought her mother a bunny rabbit doesn’t go far enough to compensate for the lack of chemistry between her and Clyde, or of any real sense of their life on the road.
The musical numbers are okay, though rarely memorable, but the projected images of the final shoot out show just how determined the cops were to eliminate these enemies of the public who were still only in their mid-twenties when a barrage of bullets put an end to their indiscriminate exploits. 
Kings Head Theatre, Upper Street, N1 1QN
Tube: Angel
till 21st September
(£10.00- £25.00)

Blue Stockings

two male actors lifting another male actor up TNT
Director turned first time playwright Jessica Swale’s new play sits remarkably well in the friendly outdoor atmosphere of the Globe theatre as it follows the fortunes of four female students at Girton College Cambridge in 1897.
 Although permitted (albeit against strong opposition) to attend lectures, women were not actually allowed to graduate at that time, and it took considerable determination (and a first class brain)  for these exceptional women to overcome resistance and complete the demanding courses even without the reward of a degree at the end.
Swale has obviously done her research, mixing historical figures such as the pioneering  psychiatrist Henry Maudsley (Edward Peel)  - who maintained that intellectual pursuits would not only damage women’s health but also  “incapacitate them for the adequate performance of the natural functions of their sex”  - with her fictional quartet as they fight against the odds to combine romance (if they were lucky) and family commitments with intensive study, whilst  Miss Welsh, the college principal, battles for their right to graduate alongside the men.
It all makes for an engaging and informative evening, with Ellie Piercy’s spirited Tess (a promising astrophysics student who falls for a Trinity undergraduate), Tala Gouveia’s sparky, privileged Carolyn, and Fergal McElherron’s sympathetic male lecturer who stands up for their right to learn particularly impressive in a timely debut play which makes one thankful that if women can’t have it all, they are, in most countries at least, no longer forced to choose between love and education.
Shakespeare’s Globe, New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT
Tube | Blackfriars/ Mansion House/ London Bridge
Until 11th October
£5.00(Standing) £15.00  - £39.00

Dirty Dancing

dirty dancing stage show TNT

I loved this show when it first opened in the West End in 2006 - so much so that, despite its shortcomings, I could happily have sat through it all over again the moment it finished.
But this recast revival is sadly lacking in the vital ingredient which, in the 1987 film too, turned Eleanor Bergstein’s mediocre script and storyline into a huge hit – sex appeal.
Sorry to be cruel but, although he can dance, Paul-Michael Jones’ blue-collar dance instructor Johnny Castle  can’t even begin to compete with the late Patrick Swayze in the movie (okay, I know that would be  a tough call, but still) or his predecessor on stage  - and it really, really matters.
So although all the set numbers of this rites of passage musical are nicely recreated – the lift (practised in a projected river), Baby rescued from the corner - the chemistry just isn’t there.
Jill Winternitz makes a likeable, pretty (rather too pretty) doctor’s daughter Baby, falling for Johnny’s mambo moves despite her serious outlook. But it’s left to Charlotte Gooch’s knocked-up Penny, with her high kicks and raunchy dancing, to remind you just why, in previous incarnations,  this '60s holiday romance, though not perhaps, “The Time of My Life,” proved such a great night out.

£26.50+. Piccadilly Theatre,
Denman Street, W1D 7DY

Tube | Piccadilly


two actors on stage in their robes TNT
Farce seems to be a bit like marmite: it either tickles your funny bone or it doesn't. And, I'm afraid, it really isn't my favourite genre.
I'd love to be able to report that Clive Francis' adaptation of Ben Travers' 1927 comedy (which was the fourth in a series of a dozen so-called Aldwych farces produced between 1923 and 1933) managed to win me over. But despite a couple of spot on performances, Eleanor Rhode's somewhat laboured production comes across as an example of a heavy-handed formula that really has had its day.
Francis himself has a nice lightness of touch as randy old goat Sir Hector Benbow whose roving eye threatens to get him into trouble when his wife returns earlier than expected and finds him entertaining the South Molton Street shop girl he's invited to dinner. And James Dutton is perfectly at home as well-meaning, silly-ass Ronny, who's engaged to his far more sensible ward but finds himself sharing a double bed with Hector when they all decamp to the apparently haunted house which gives the venture its name.
Andrew Jarvis's creepy butler Death keeps a very straight face when called upon to emit an inventive repertoire of peculiar noises and this revival does have its amusing moments. But the plot really creaks, the ending is perfunctory and the design barely distinguishes between town and country.
Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace,
Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Tube | Finsbury Park
Until 22nd September, £19.50 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Groove on Down the Road - ZooNation

people on stage TNT
Kate Prince’s latest venture for ZooNation harnesses the unstoppable energy of a talented batch of kids and teenagers – all under twenty – in her exuberant 75 minute rethink of The Wizard of Oz.
They positively light up the stage from the moment young Dorothy (a determined Arizona Snow at the performance I saw)  is  released from the framework of a dull schoolroom where creativity is stifled and only academic achievement is rewarded with praise.
As she puts on her glittering red trainers and with dog Toto (endearingly dynamic Michael McNeish) follows her dreams down the yellow brick road to Emerald City High, the class dunce becomes Scarecrow (superbly controlled, gravity defying Jaih Betote Dipito Akwa), the tough guy with attitude morphs into Tinman (Michael Ureta) and the grade A student becomes a cowardly Lion (Corey Culverwell) who hides in the dustbin.
Kids and audience of all ages lapped it up – delighted when Dorothy leads her newfound friends round and through the auditorium, dancing all the way to the music of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake and more. With its back flips, spins and exuberant choreography – not to mention Steven Pascua’s Wizard with attitude – this hip-hop musical is enormous fun, and a terrific showcase for the next generation of upcoming dancers all of whom deserve a mention.
A real treat.

Queen Elizabeth Hall
South Bank Centre,  Belvedere Road , SE1 8XX
Until 1st September
Tickets £10-£32