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Thursday, 14 September 2023

REVIEW: Infamous at the Jermyn Street Theatre

History buffs will instantly recognise Lady Emma Hamilton as an enduring figure who is a gift to any dramatist. Born in 1765 she became a hostess to the great and good in Georgian society. But her notoriety was assured when she became the mistress of Lord Horatio Nelson. The liaison was under the nose of husband Sir William Hamilton who served as Envoy to the Kingdom of Naples. April De Angelis has fashioned a compact two-act play that delves into the machinations of a woman who was both mesmerising and enigmatic. Three generations of women populate the narrative and shed new light on a blacksmith’s daughter who started life as Amy Lyon.

The story begins in 1798 and the exotic climes of Naples. Lady Emma Hamilton (Rose Quentin) anxiously awaits the arrival of her beloved Horatio Nelson. She is less enthused by the return of her mother Mrs Cadogan (Caroline Quentin), who has trudged across Europe to see Emma’s love child. She feels a twinge of guilt as the product of a previous tryst lives a lonely existence. But Mrs Cadogan despairs at the direction her daughter’s life has taken. Emma pays little heed to her mother who is seemingly relegated to the role of housekeeper. The years roll by and we find Emma in middle age dreaming of past glories and lost youth. Her spartan surroundings are shared with Horatia Nelson; the illegitimate daughter of Lord Nelson who craves freedom and recognition of her heritage.

Sunday, 6 August 2023

REVIEW: Spiral at the Jermyn Street Theatre

It's not often that cast and principal creatives appear on the same stage. But Spiral has that rare distinction with author Abigail Hood starring alongside director Kevin Tomlinson. This new production follows an initial run at the Park Theatre in 2018 and has now earned a revival at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Spiral tells the story of two relationships; one wrecked by trauma and the other defined by controlling behaviour. Gill and Tom (Rebecca Crankshaw and Jasper Jacob) are a couple still coming to terms with the disappearance of their 14-year-old daughter. Tom seeks solace in the company of escort Leah (Abigail Hood). She soon becomes a surrogate daughter to Tom; but Leah's boyfriend Mark (Kevin Tomlinson) has other ideas. He sends Leah out as an escort but is strangely jealous of her getting too close to clients. Gill is frustrated by Tom's apparent fixation with Leah. He sees the relationship as nothing more than a coping mechanism and is able to communicate with Leah in ways he can’t with his wife. But Gill senses it will have implications for his job as a school teacher. Mark sees Leah as a meal ticket and controls her very existence. She is desperate to get away from him but seems to be trapped in a spiral.

Tuesday, 4 July 2023

REVIEW: Then, Now, Next at the Southwark Playhouse

New musicals with new songs are an increasingly rare sight in a genre dominated by revivals and greatest hits packages. But just occasionally a new musical has the potential to cut through the fringe and strike out on the West End stage. ‘Then, Now and Next’ could follow the same trajectory as 'Six' with the right promotion and some delicate tweaks. The Southwark Playhouse steals the honours yet again with the World Premiere of this new piece by Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyns.

The story pivots on the life and loves of Alex Shaw (Alice Fearn) and the two partners who came to dominate her life; Peter Connors (Peter Hannah) and Stephen Hayes (Joaquin Pedro Valdes). The story flashes back and forward as a satisfying plot gradually unfolds. Two key phases alternate as snapshots of Alex aged 30 and 40 illustrate a complex emotional landscape. In the present, Alex is ensconced in a seemingly happy relationship with the goofy but lovable Peter. They have a young son and Peter is itching to slip a ring on Alex's finger. He is the definition of solid and dependable. But Alex is still haunted by the memory of Stephen who may be her greatest love. She is conflicted by a man who makes her comfortable and the memory of a lover who genuinely excited her. The narrative explores the tantalising ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ in life. However hard we try fate always takes a hand in our destiny, but should we let the past stop us from looking forward?

Thursday, 8 June 2023

REVIEW: Yours Unfaithfully at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Those familiar with British cinema in the post-war years will recognise Miles Malleson as an actor in a variety of supporting roles. He famously played rag and bone man Old Joe in the definitive version of Scrooge starring Alastair Sim. But he was also a highly accomplished author who wrote 21 screenplays and over a dozen plays. The Mint Theatre Company has now brought one of Malleson’s plays to the London stage for the first time. Yours Unfaithfully was written in 1933 but this hidden gem has not previously enjoyed a proper showcase, and is difficult to understand why it’s taken so long to find its rightful place.

The setting is the calm countryside of Middle England. Anne Meredith (Laura Doddington) runs a successful school while her husband Stephen (Guy Lewis) is a writer going through a rough patch. He has a fractious relationship with his father Canon Gordon (Tony Timberlake), a pious man of the cloth with a love of cricket. The weekend beckons and friends come to stay; Dr Alan Kirby (Dominic Marsh) has a history with Anne that pre-dates Stephen and Diana Streatfield (Keisha Atwell) is recently widowed and looking for a new direction in life. It soon becomes apparent that Anne and Stephen have an open marriage, and Diana could be just the person who might reinvigorate Stephen’s outlook on life.

Monday, 5 June 2023

REVIEW: The Shape of Things at Park Theatre 200

When a play opens with the seminal 90s hit ‘the female of the Species’ you know it’s making a firm statement about the subject matter. Most will recognise the phrase as a top 20 hit for Liverpool band Space, but its origins lie in a legendary poem by Rudyard Kipling. He remarked on the greater deadliness of female bears and cobras compared to their male counterparts. Applied in a modern context it might be seen as a metaphor for the influence women can exert over men. Writer Neil LaBute explores these themes and other romantic dilemmas in this thoroughly entertaining play, now revived at the excellent Park Theatre.

The story begins with Adam (Luke Newton) working at an art gallery, one of two jobs he holds down to pay his way through college. He meets the quirky and mysterious Evelyn (Amber Anderson) who is majoring in modern arts. Adam falls instantly and madly in love with Evelyn. She soon discovers a malleability that gives her a distinct edge in their relationship. Adam is anxious to please and dutifully complies with some carefully placed suggestions of self-improvement. Adam’s best friend Phil (Majid Mehdizadeh-Valoujerdy) is incredulous that he’s fallen for such cheap manipulation. The tension gently cranks up as Phil is dating Adam’s old flame Jenny (Carla Harrison-Hodge).

Monday, 29 May 2023

REVIEW: Aspects of Love at the Lyric Theatre

Whilst theatre takes on many guises nothing can match the unbridled splendour of a West End production. The bright lights of Shaftsbury Avenue now play host to a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love. With such a formidable creative line-up there was no doubt this musical would deliver the goods. The multi-award-winning Don Black contributes lyrics as does Charles Hart, who collaborated with Lord Webber on the wildly successful Phantom of the Opera. The show first aired in 1989 and hit Broadway the following year. It has enjoyed periodic revivals and national tours since then, but this sumptuous new production raises the musical to new heights.

The story concentrates on love, life and romantic dramas we call affairs of the heart. Alex Dillingham (Jamie Bogyo) meets and instantly falls in love with the beautiful and charismatic actress Rose Vibert (Laura Pitt-Pulford). However Rose becomes smitten with Alex’s uncle George (Michael Ball), who has an occasional mistress Giuletta (Danielle De Niese) in tow. Rose and George later have a daughter Jenny (Anna Unwin), who falls in love with her older cousin Alex. The lives of the five principal characters are traced over a seventeen-year period. Relationships ebb and flow as they weave a tangled emotional web.

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

REVIEW: Glory Ride at the Charing Cross Theatre

One of the joys of theatre is the discovery of stories that are previously unknown to us. Some may be aware of Gino Bartali, the renowned Italian cyclist who won the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia in the 1930s. But few will know of his remarkable exploits during the Second World War. As a famous cyclist, Bartali was able to move freely and communicate with the resistance movement. He used the frame of his bike to smuggle false ID papers across Italy. As a result, many Jews were saved from persecution under the infamous regime of Benito Mussolini. Bartali was, however, modest about his achievements and played down his role during the war. He once said ‘The good is done, but it is not said’. He was equally dismissive of formal recognition adding ‘certain medals hang on the soul, not on the jacket’.

The story begins in 1935 and Florence is in the grip of the murderous black shirts. Gino Bartali (Josh St. Clair) is showing promise as a cyclist and Mussolini’s regime are quick to claim him as one of their own. He wants to stay out of politics, unlike best friend Mario Carita (Fed Zanni) who joins the Army and rises quickly through the ranks. They soon become rivals for the affections of artist Adriana Bani (Amy Di Bartolomeo); but she is immediately drawn to the gentle spirit of Bartali. As war breaks out Cardinal Dalla Costa (Niall Sheehy) sees how Italy’s champion cyclist can help the persecuted to safety. Bartali is on good terms with Carita, who is now a major and can help him move outside the curfew. He agrees to help knowing the risk to his own safety and accusations of collusion with the fascists.

Wednesday, 26 April 2023

REVIEW: Jules and Jim at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Unless you’re a fan of classic French literature or the films of François Truffaut, Jules and Jim will be a new and rewarding experience. Adapted from the novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, it tells of a real-life love triangle in free-spirited Paris before the First World War. We begin in 1907 with Jules (Samuel Collings) as an expatriate German writer living in Paris. He meets Jim (Alex Mugnaioni), a native Parisienne whom he recognises as a kindred spirit. They live a carefree and bohemian existence. The pair write and discuss the complexities of relationships in cafes and bars. Female acquaintances are liberally shared without concern or jealousy.

Jules and Jim travel around Europe as the mood takes them, especially in Greece, where aesthetic beauty combines with the climate and appreciation of women that surround them. There is the flawless Lucie and spontaneous Odile, but even they cannot match Kath (Patricia Allison), and a smile that would bewitch the two friends forever more. Kath soon marries Jools, and they settle for domesticity with two young children to raise. However, Jim remains firmly in the third corner of the friendship, eventually becoming a ménage à trois. The First World War puts the two friends on opposite sides of the conflict as their respective nations fight for supremacy. The post-war years are challenging as Jules and Jim reunite, with Kath inevitably at the centre of their universe. But can their friendship survive the past, present or for that matter, the future?

Thursday, 13 April 2023

REVIEW: Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial at the Ambassadors Theatre

Nothing is guaranteed to fill more column inches than a good old-fashioned libel trial where reputations are made, lost and ultimately buried. If only they realised: a story dies if you just let it be; today's headlines are tomorrow's footnotes as an endless stream of gossip fills the void. But for a privileged few it becomes an irresistible plaything. Social affirmation and public vindication are strong weapons when you have a name to protect. Football WAGs Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy fell out in specular fashion when a simple 'sting' exposed a troublesome 'leak'. This excellent production picks the story up as the trial begins.

It went off big style in October 2019 when Rooney (Laura Dos Santos) exposed Vardy (Lucy May Barker) as the source of leaks from her Instagram account. Having blocked access to all other followers fake stories were planted to see if they appeared in the papers. Sure enough, they did and Vardy was caught by the proverbial offside trap. So the legend of Wagatha Christie was born in the full glare of tabloid publicity. Vardy launched a libel action against Rooney in June 2020 and the scene was set for the warring WAGs to do battle. They hire big-hitting barristers Hugh Tomlinson QC (Jonnie Broadbent) and David Sherborne (Tom Turner) with Mrs Justice Steyn (Verna Vyas) as the inscrutable presiding judge. Halema Hussain and Nathan McMullen are the roving pundits who also double up in various supporting roles.

Sunday, 19 March 2023

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.

Saturday, 18 February 2023

REVIEW: The Oyster Problem at the Jermyn Street Theatre

When Madame Bovary was first published in 1856 it scandalised Parisian society and brought charges of immorality. However, for author Gustave Flaubert it secured his place as the father of literary realism. A minute dissection of the bourgeois classes had left him on the horns of a dilemma; how does one follow up such a massive hit without losing artistic integrity? In the Oyster Problem, Flaubert fights the reality of a dwindling income and the absence of oysters, wine and other luxuries that only money can buy.

Gustave Flaubert (Bob Barrett) sits at the hub of the literary community in Paris. He merrily banters with Emile Zola (Peter Hannah), who has supplemented his income by writing for newspapers. He urges Flaubert to embrace the commercial potential of writing and cure his financial woes. It is a case of writing popular novels that sell to a mass audience. Flaubert is unrepentant and refuses to cheapen his artistry. His close friend Ivan Turgenev (Giles Taylor) provides a sympathetic ear but reluctantly backs Zola’s view. Flaubert’s niece Caroline Commanville (Rosalind Lailey) is a talented artist but grows increasingly concerned for the family’s finances. With the assistance of George Sand (Norma Atallah), Zola and Turgenev hatch a plan to secure a paid position, but will Flaubert grasp the nettle?

Monday, 30 January 2023

REVIEW: Noises Off at the Phoenix Theatre

Farce is one of the finest theatrical traditions rooted in the British obsession with manners and respectability. A heady brew of slapstick, confusion and mixed messaging between frustrated characters. From Shakespeare through Oscar Wilde to Noel Coward and more recently Henry Lewis, the genre constantly reinvents itself. Noises Off by Michael Frayn is one of the best and makes a welcome return to the West End at the Phoenix Theatre.

This is the classic play within a play, as a stressed company of actors rehearse for a provincial run of 'Nothing On'. The outer play splits into three distinct acts but portrays a single act from three different perspectives. First, there is the 'technical' or dress rehearsal, where all the glitches are supposedly ironed out. Secondly, the act is played on the first night but shown from backstage. And finally, the act is shown from the front of the house, where the backstage shenanigans and eventual consequences begin to make sense.

Sunday, 22 January 2023

REVIEW: In the Net at the Jermyn Street Theatre

The sense of community has enjoyed a new lease of life in recent years. Covid, the cost of living crisis and refugees fleeing persecution have created a network of community carers. They pull together to create a safe environment for those who enter their orbit. We can see human nature at its very best as community heals and nurtures change. Such themes are explored in this new play written by Misha Levkov. The cosy confines of the Jermyn Street Theatre echo with sounds of a vibrant inner city landscape. Police sirens, traffic and lively vocal exchanges provide the soundtrack as the story begins.

Laura (Carlie Diamond) is coming to terms with the death of her mother Myriam. Half-sister Anna (Anya Murphy) now shares a deeper bond as both have lost their mother. Their father Harry (Hywel Simons) is anxious to sell the family home in Kentish Town and start a new life on the coast. However, Laura has other ideas and plans a tribute to Myriam with her own version of Eruv, a practice employed under Jewish law, where a wire boundary extends the private domain of households into public areas on the Sabbath.

Saturday, 24 December 2022

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at Middle Temple Hall

The Christmas period means many things to many people. But we find comfort in the certainty that some things never change. The foolhardy quest to avoid hearing 'Last Christmas' by Wham; 'Love Actually' on TV; the battle of the chocolate assortment tins (Quality Street v Heroes in the final?); and of course A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Much like Whamaggedon it's impossible to avoid with countless film versions doing the rounds. But look beyond the TV screen and there will be a stage version playing near you. This delightful production at Middle Temple Hall provides a classic example of the live experience.

Just behind the Strand is Middle Temple Lane, home to the Hall in all its Tudor splendour. It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect setting for a Dickensian play. Dickens was a solicitor's clerk at Gray's Inn and studied at Middle Temple. The original Old Curiosity Shop is only a stone's throw away in Portsmouth Street; depending on the route taken the surrounding area could easily be a walking tour of the author's old haunts. The performance is staged in a beautiful space with majestic stained glass windows creating a remarkable hue. With mulled wine available at the bar it could easily be Christmas Eve 1843.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

REVIEW: From Here to Eternity at the Charing Cross Theatre

From Here to Eternity was one of the biggest Hollywood hits of the 1950s. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, it won eight Oscars including best picture and best supporting actor for Frank Sinatra. The film also featured the iconic embrace of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach with the tide lapping around them. There's absolutely no question it works on the big screen; but how does an epic movie work on stage as a musical?

The action begins at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu in November 1941. Captain Holmes (Alan Turkington) is anxious to move up the military hierarchy and the regimental boxing championship could provide the means of achieving his aims. When Private Prewitt (Jonathan Bentley) transfers to G Company he is earmarked as an outstanding welterweight who can make a difference. Prewitt is adamant he doesn't want to fight and has his reasons for abstaining. However, Holmes is outraged by a soldier who doesn't want to fight. Sargent Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles) acts as a peacemaker between the warring pair, but is complicated by a passionate affair with Holmes' wife Karen (Carly Stenson). Prewitt does at least have a friend in barrack fixer Private Maggio (Johnny Amies). Simmering tensions come to a boil on the eve of Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and their lives will never be the same again.

Sunday, 23 October 2022

REVIEW: A Single Man at Park Theatre 200

Where historical snapshots are concerned 1962 was a momentous year. John F. Kennedy was US President and the Beatles released their first single. Marilyn Monroe died and the 1960s, as we came to understand them, were about to be unleashed. In October the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened Armageddon. East and West were locked in a deadly game of brinkmanship as the world held its breath. Set against this backdrop is a tale of love and loss hidden in plain sight. Based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man was turned into a successful film starring Colin Firth in 2009. This stage adaptation by Simon Reade now finds a natural home at Park Theatre.

George (Theo Fraser Steele) is an expatriate English professor in Los Angeles. He is still coming to terms with the loss of his partner Jim in a road accident the previous year. The story follows one day in his life, beginning just like any other. George still feels like an Englishman abroad even after 20 years on the West Coast. His neighbours are ever inquisitive about this erudite gentleman in their midst. Archetypal American couple the Strunks (Phoebe Pryce and Freddie Gaminara) wonder what happened to his 'friend' Jim. George is content to let them think he just moved away rather than explain his melancholy. He constantly fights loneliness and leans on fellow ex-pat Charley (Olivia Darnley) for comfort. However, his attentions are increasingly diverted by handsome, talkative pupil Kenny (Miles Molan).

REVIEW: Something in the Air at the Jermyn Street Theatre

The ageing process can bestow many gifts. It gives us knowledge, wisdom and a greater appreciation of life. But it also steals time - the most precious commodity of all. We cling to memories as they fragment and lose their clarity but the past will always bring comfort. Peter Gill's new play lands in a care home and tells a charming story of lost youth and sad reflection. Two elderly gentlemen relate the tale of their greatest love whilst dutiful relatives ponder the future. The spectre of past love revisits to show who truly stirred their passion.

With a blanket draped across his knees, Alex (Christopher Godwin) describes a fateful first meeting in Hammersmith. Meanwhile, Colin (Ian Gelder) sketches a spikey and playful encounter in Soho. Both drift in and out of slumber as they discreetly hold hands. Twentysomethings Nick (James Schofield) and Gareth (Sam Thorpe-Spinks) appear in their dreams and recreate conversations from the past. Alex's son Andrew (Andrew Woodall) fills in his backstory whilst Clare (Claire Price) does the same for her uncle Colin.

Monday, 3 October 2022

REVIEW: SUS at Park Theatre 90

Sus has technically been consigned to the history books, but was once synonymous with racial tensions between the police and local communities. It was eventually repealed by the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. Sus (derived from 'Suspect Under Suspicion') was the law that permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest a person in breach of the Vagrancy Act 1824. Despite its repeal, there are modern echoes in the stop and search provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. A touch of legalese is important to understand why this 1979 play by Barrie Keeffe is still important and relevant today.

Its election night: 3rd May 1979 and Margaret Thatcher is on the threshold of a landslide victory. The police station is in a state of frenzy as DS Karn (Alexander Neal) contemplates a new social landscape. His eager junior officer DC Wilby (Fergal Coghlan) is excitedly relaying updates via the staff canteen. However, they have the distraction of a suspicious death on their patch. Karn and Wilby have made their minds up and pull in luckless underdog Delroy (Stedroy Cabey) for questioning. It's not the first time he's been detained by the police and is unfazed by this latest 'collar'. However, devastating news turns this game of cat and mouse into something more sinister.

Friday, 16 September 2022

REVIEW: Rose at Park Theatre 200

One of the most significant challenges for any actor is to carry a stage play single-handedly. No cast to support you, no props or special effects to divert the audience; just you, the script and a critical, expectant Joe Public. The actor effectively plays every character in the story; accent and demeanour continually adjusting; nuance and body language to build a mental picture. To hold the attention with confidence and sureness of touch is the trick. In the hands of Dame Maureen Lipman, it looks easy; therein we find the definition of talent - to make something extremely difficult look incredibly easy.

Rose tells the story of a strong Jewish woman born in 1920. With an air of contemporary poignancy, she was born in a Ukrainian village and began an epic journey around Nazi-occupied Europe. It is the worst of times as bombs and bullets rain down. Like many refugees, Rose eventually makes a new life for herself in America. The story in between is a bumpy and chastening ride but no less compelling, as one woman's life becomes a classic 20th Century experience. We start on the eve of the new Millennium as Rose, now a worldly 80 years old recounts a chequered and eventful life.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

REVIEW: Monster at Park Theatre 90

Our lives should be dictated by choice, but fate inevitably takes a hand and creates a chain of events beyond our control. If we're lucky our parents will teach us right from wrong and provide a design for life. But sometimes a parent can be a catalyst for the badness that lurks deep within. Monster is a disturbing tale that is sadly never far away from the headline writer's keyboard. Author and co-star Abigail Hood has delivered an impressive piece with strong characters and sharp dialogue that maintains quality throughout.

Glasgow in the mid-noughties sees wild child Kayleigh Grey (Abigail Hood) playing in a wasteland strewn with tyres and rubble. Best friend Zoe Douglas (Caitlin Fielding) has crept out of school to look for the daring and wilful Kayleigh. Zoe is attracted by her friend's taste for anarchy. Kayleigh has been expelled from two schools and kept local police occupied with her misdemeanours. Teacher Rebecca Hastie (Emma Keele) is concerned for her charges but is heavily pregnant and her husband Steve (Kevin Wathen) stresses for her well-being. Kayleigh is goaded by abusive, Bible-quoting mother Hazel (Gillian Kirkpatrick) who has a nifty line in hypocrisy. A revelation causes Kayleigh to take action that will have far-reaching consequences for all concerned. The story moves forward fourteen years and Kayleigh is about to start a new life with her fiancé John (Kevin Tomlinson). But will the past affect their future happiness?
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