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Monday, 27 March 2023

REVIEW: Hay Fever at the Mill at Sonning

It’s nearly 100 years since Noel Coward’s farcical comedy about the eccentric Bliss Family was first staged in the West End and it seems appropriate to mount a new production at the lovely Mill at Sonning in Berkshire just 12 miles from Cookham where the play is set. Yet the play is something of a curiosity of the period filled with theatrical games played by the self-centred egotistical family. Its artificiality may have amused us 100 years ago but now it all seems a little tiresome and we never care for any of the characters or are particularly amused by their affected behaviour. It does not have the exquisite wit and banter of his 1930 play Private Lives, the spectacle of the 1931 extravaganza Cavalcade, the beauty and romance of his 1936 play Still Life (so delightfully revived at the Mill at Sonning recently), the comical self-parody of the 1942 Present Laughter or even the wonderful characters of the 1941 Blithe Spirit. 

Perhaps students of Coward’s extensive legacy of plays and music will see in this earlier play elements that he would later develop in his work. It is easy to see why Critics often gave mixed reviews when his new plays opened but also to recognise the enduring impact he had on Theatre. Therefore, if you have not seen the play before it is worth a trip down to Berkshire to catch it and reflect on why the central character Judith has been played over the years by such as Edith Evans, Celia Johnson, Penelope Keith, Maria Aitken, Geraldine McEwan, Judi Dench, Stephanie Beacham, Lindsay Duncan, Googie Withers, Dora Bryan, Celia Imrie, Nichola McAuliffe and Felicity Kendal. This is a phenomenal roll call and suggests it’s a part that the best female actresses of the day love to play.

Thursday, 23 March 2023

REVIEW: Black Superhero at The Royal Court Theatre

As a writers theatre, The Royal Court consistently programmes exciting new work showcasing the voices of artists who come at the world with perspectives of our current social climate with honesty and an intention to challenge the comfort of our moral compasses. Black Superhero, written by Danny Lee Wynter and directed by Daniel Evans, continues this legacy with humour, heart and a really fun soundtrack.

Black Superhero is a charming dark comedy centring around David (Danny Lee Wynter), a 38-year-old black gay man loosely holding onto dreams of becoming a successful actor and finding love. The problem is, David works for his kid sister Syd (Rochenda Sandall) children's party company, lives with her and her partner, is single and struggling to move through past trauma about his dad from when he was young. It was never his intention to end up here at this point in his life and as a man who is not shy to strike up a debate about the role of a black man with a platform, he feels like he does not have one of his own to promote. Meanwhile, his group of friends are moving on with their lives professionally and with confidence. Raheem (Eloka Ivo) has a moderate film career brewing and King (Dyllón Burnside) who is married to travel writer Stevie (Ben Allen), is basking in the success of the Marvel-like superhero franchise he is starring in called Craw. The show opens with David's pessimistic acceptance of this reality as he, Syd, King and Raheem drunkenly banter outside a club after a big night. However, when King announces that he and Stevie are in an open relationship, David’s life is disrupted and teased by the prospects of sex and fame that he had given up hope for. In a private moment, King makes a move on David and sweeps him into a delusional love thus making him question who he is and what he wants.

Sunday, 19 March 2023

REVIEW: The King and I at the Wycombe Swan Theatre

Bartlett Sher’s magnificent revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s wonderful 1951 musical was first produced for the Lincoln Centre in New York in 2015 before being remounted at the London Palladium and released to cinemas in 2018. The production has been recast and remounted for an extensive UK tour which began in January 2023 in Canterbury and currently continues until November in Norwich and last week visited the Swan in High Wycombe for a sell-out week. It is well worth catching with its beautiful score, simple slick staging and appropriately diverse cast lead by Helen George as Anna and Darren Lee as the King.

Helen George is best known for her role in Call the Midwife but fully inhabits the role of the Governess arriving in Siam with her young son Louis and standing up to and winning over the dictatorial King. She handles the huge crinoline dresses with aplomb and delivers her songs with great passion and a good voice. She may not have the stage presence of Kellie O’Hara who played the role in New York and London, but she gives full range to the emotions from anger to caring and growing respect for the King and makes a very good and convincing Anna. We feel her nerves in “Whistle a happy tune”, her sorrow and hope in “Hello young lovers” and her joy in “Getting to know you”.

REVIEW: Accidental Death of An Anarchist at the Lyric Hammersmith

Anyone familiar with pitching a theatre show these days will know there is one question you always have to answer to be in with a shot of doing your show; ‘Why now?’ This is a question that this production of Accidental Death of An Anarchist at the Lyric Hammersmith answers with every second of its stage time.

Though Dario Fo’s classic satire was based on the death of a real-life anarchist in police custody following the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, at its heart it is a play about corruption in the police that is not limited to a time or place. 

A maniac walks into a police station impersonating a judge, forensic specialist and bishop… and that’s not even the funniest part! Tom Basden’s adaption of Darren Fo and Franca Rame’s ‘Accidental Death Of An Anarchist’ is from start to finish a comedic masterpiece filled to the brim with jokes, gags and more! 

REVIEW: Farm Hall at the Jermyn Street Theatre

First came the euphoria of VE Day in May 1945. People rejoiced after six long years of war came to an end. The first summer of peacetime ambled gently into view. But war was still raging in the Far East. Come August an atomic bomb will land in Hiroshima and provoke Japan’s unconditional surrender. The aftershock would be equally felt at Farm Hall in the Cambridgeshire countryside. Six of Germany's top nuclear scientists have been detained at the mansion following their capture by allied forces.

Known collectively as Hitler's 'Uranium Club' they gradually adjust to their surroundings. They half-heartedly rehearse for their own production of Blythe Spirit. Redacted newspapers and a hastily repaired piano are the only other sources of amusement. The group have their own peculiar cliques but is frequently split according to age and status. Hahn (Forbes Masson) is the linchpin who discovered nuclear fission, a process that made the atomic bomb possible. Von Laue (David Yelland) is the elder statesman who won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Diebner (Julius D'Silva) was a leading member of the Nazi Party; while Heizenberg (Alan Cox) is another Nobel Prize winner and mentor to Bagge (Archie Backhouse). Weizsacker (Daniel Boyd), a younger member of the group comes from a well-connected, influential family.
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