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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?

Thursday, 7 July 2022

REVIEW: The Throne at the Charing Cross Theatre

We're all familiar with icebreakers on training courses. One question that often crops up is 'who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?' Some may opt for the positive alternative, but the nightmare scenario is always more challenging and mischievous. The Throne presents the same proposition in an unusual and novel plot. What if an avowed anti-monarchist was trapped in a toilet with the Queen during her Golden Jubilee? It's certainly on message with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations still fresh in the memory. This new play by John Goldsmith is a witty take on extremes and how common ground can still be found. But it also raises valid questions about the value and role of the monarchy.

The action takes place in 2002 as Dudley Goring School is excitedly planning for a visit by the Queen (Mary Roscoe). However, Derek Jones (Charlie Condou), the school's Head of Science can muster no such enthusiasm. A committed republican and dedicated socialist, the last thing he needs is a royal visit. Meanwhile, headmaster Peter Carr (Michael Joel Bartelle) can barely contain himself as he surveys a specially installed Portaloo for the Queen's personal use. With impeccable timing, Derek uses the Portaloo just as the visit begins. Inevitably she catches Derek on the throne. But they are subsequently locked in by terrorists who have planted a bomb underneath. Any attempt to escape will detonate the bomb. As they wait for fate to take its course how will they cope in such close proximity to each other?

REVIEW: 9 Circles at Park Theatre 90

We assume that wars are fought to protect a civilised and peaceful existence; unfettered by those who seek to destroy the lives we choose to live; but what about the men and women who are trained to achieve this objective. Do they understand who and what they are fighting for? Do they obey the command of their masters and assume morality is on their side? But are they simply state-trained killers indoctrinated by the preferred narrative. What really is the effect on soldiers who are programmed to kill the enemy? This intriguing play by Bill Cain explores these themes in forensic detail and delivers more than a hint of inconvenient truth.

The story begins in Iraq as soldier Daniel E. Reeves (Joshua Collins) is about to receive an honourable discharge. He verbally spars with his Lieutenant (Daniel Bowerbank) at the real meaning and both settle on a personality disorder. He later wakes up in a cell back in the US. The Public Defender (Samara Neely-Cohen) informs him of charges relating to his conduct in Iraq. Reeves falls deep into a mind fog as he tries to make sense of what has happened. The Defence Attorney (David Calvitto) is convinced he can get an acquittal if only he plays ball.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

REVIEW: Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

The celebration of sisterhood can take many forms, but we don’t need to flip back very far in the history books to see how women have changed the world. This new musical is based on the award-winning picture book by suffragette descendent Kate Pankhurst. It seems the influence of Six is bearing fruit as an all-female ensemble brings to life some of history’s greatest women. This show is bursting with sass and attitude as they deliver a large slice of edutainment; that delectable blend of entertainment and information. The Theatre Royal Stratford East unsurprisingly drew a youthful contingent as this tight 90-minute musical kicked off with a real sense of purpose.

The story begins with the instantly familiar and infamous school trip to the museum. Jade (Kudzai Mangombe), an inquisitive 11-year-old has slipped away from her party. She is coping with her parents’ separation and wishes people would notice her. Wandering into the Gallery of Greatness she enters a space devoid of time. Jade encounters a range of fantastic women who have changed the world. Twelve characters burst on stage and show Jade how she too can be great and change the world just like they did. Emmeline Pankhurst (Kirstie Skivington) emerges in a funky, glittering military uniform while Amelia Earhart (Renee Lamb) is the super confident aviator. Marie Curie (Jade Kennedy) is the genius who discovered radium and Jane Austen (Christina Modestou) is the wordsmith with crystal clear delivery.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

REVIEW: Cancelling Socrates at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Growing up as a callow youth Socrates was the chain-smoking, midfield genius that played in the great Brazilian football team of the early 1980s. I’ve since learned he was also the founding father of Western philosophy. Two entirely different geniuses that require a unique response. The crowd-pleasing footballer was simple to read and understand, but the philosopher who deep dives into the soul is another matter entirely. Both individuals are rightly admired in their respective fields, but the latter is the subject of this new play by Howard Brenton. It draws tantalising parallels with modern events as the trial of Socrates in 399 BC is re-evaluated. 

Socrates (Jonathan Hyde) is a philosopher who has seemingly run out of credit. His enemies are baying for blood and have brought charges against him of worshipping false gods and corrupting the young. He finds a sympathetic ear in Euthyphro (Robert Mountford) who pleads with Socrates to soften the tone and secure a lighter sentence at trial. His wife Xanthippe (Hannah Morrish) bemoans the tendencies of her errant husband; while Aspasia (Sophie Ward) is the wily courtesan and torch bearer for equality. The people have suffered plague, war and political incompetence (ring any bells?) and now just want to get back to normal (bells getting louder?). What they don’t need is an atheist in their midst who thinks too much.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

REVIEW: Orlando at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Hushed tones of reverence surround Virginia Woolf as a leading purveyor of modernist writing and membership of the Bloomsbury Group logically marked her for greatness. However, applying such complexity overlooks her skill as a communicator of ideas. Woolf was years ahead of her time, not only inspiring feminism but the ability to tell stories with great originality. Orlando was published in 1928 and is thought to be one of her lighter novels. It was written in honour of lover Vita Sackville-West, whose aristocratic family history provided the template for this time travelling frolic. This new stage adaptation by Sarah Ruhl gives the novel a makeover with satisfying results.

Our story begins in the 16th Century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A three-strong chorus (Tigger Blaize, Rosalind Lailey and Stanton Wright) relate the machinations of Orlando (Taylor McClaine). The nobleman and aspiring poet soon catches the attention of good Queen Bess. Orlando becomes a favourite at court but later falls in love with seductive Russian princess Sasha (Skye Hallam). They romance each other at the frost fair on a frozen River Thames. However, Sasha later returns to Russia and a crestfallen Orlando seeks comfort in his poetry. The years tick by as a new monarch takes the throne; Orlando is later dispatched to Constantinople as an ambassador. Whilst there they fall asleep for many days and cannot be roused. When he awakes Orlando has turned into a woman. As she lives through the centuries what will Orlando discover about the world as a woman?

Sunday, 1 May 2022

REVIEW: Witness for the Prosecution at London County Hall

At the risk of going out on a limb, most homes will have an Agatha Christie novel buried in a cupboard. With masterful plotting and subtle clues dropping like well-timed grenades, there are few writers who can hold the attention as well. Christie’s style lends itself to stage productions where the narrative can be distilled into key scenes. ‘The Mousetrap’ remains the world’s longest-running play. Every tourist has the show on their ‘to do’ list such is the author’s enduring appeal. Witness for the Prosecution was adapted from a short story by Christie and looks set to join the ‘appointment theatre’ club. Originally staged in 1953 it was eclipsed by the Billy Wilder directed big-screen version. Released four years later the film became a classic featuring Hollywood icons including Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power. 

County Hall is a magnificent building on London’s South Bank and was formerly home to the Greater London Council. Designed by Ralph Knott in the Edwardian Baroque style, a beautiful chamber emerges as the play’s setting. With an ornate finish in wood and marble, it becomes a perfect stand-in for Court no.1 at the Old Bailey. A subtle, haunting soundtrack kicks in as the lights dim and the story gently unfolds.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

REVIEW: Anyone Can Whistle at the Southwark Playhouse

How exactly does a gifted composer like Stephen Sondheim follow up three smash hits on Broadway; especially when one of them was West Side Story, a seminal work that set the benchmark for all that followed it? Astronauts that fly to the moon do not even begin to describe the dilemma in which he found himself, as Anyone Can Whistle opened at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway in April 1964. Negative reviews sadly killed the show off after only 9 performances. In the US critics appear all-powerful and the public will take it hook line and sinker. In the UK, audiences are more likely to make up their own minds and see the show before passing judgment. But its stage history since then has been patchy and inconclusive. This new production from The Grey Area and Alex Conder bubbles with confidence and a sureness of touch so typical of a Sondheim musical. 

Monday, 7 March 2022

REVIEW: After the End at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

With tragic events unfolding in Ukraine, there is something deeply prophetic in this new production of Dennis Kelly’s play depicting a city under nuclear attack. The threat of nuclear warfare has hitherto been confined to the history books; those old enough will recall chilling public information films advising what people should do in the event of an attack. The spectre of a new cold war gives this play a grim resonance, and is a bitter reminder of the parlous state in which civilisation finds itself. So how do two survivors cope in the aftermath; more importantly how do they cope with each other?

Two workmates find themselves in a fallout shelter; it is a morning after the night before of epic proportions. Louise (Amaka Okafor) has a vague memory of being in the pub with Mark (Nick Blood). Gradually their recollections slowly take shape and begin to make more sense. Mark had rescued Louise from the epicentre of the attack and taken refuge in the fallout shelter attached to his flat. They have water, rations, a radio and a camping stove to last two weeks underground, after which they can safely emerge from their incarceration. A shelter with two bunk beds soon loses its charm as the pair gradually get under each other’s skins. Bubbling tensions race to the surface as water-cooler moments in the office begin to take on an entirely new dimension.

Friday, 18 February 2022

REVIEW: Rain and Zoe Save the World at the Jermyn Street Theatre

War, pandemic and terrorism are common distractions for the world’s politicians; it now seems that climate change is creeping towards the top of their ‘to do’ list. Inevitably, it is the youth who lead the way as inheritors of an increasingly bitter harvest. Future generations rely on what is done now and Greta Thunberg has come to symbolise the fight to save the planet. So what happens when two teenage activists set out on a motorcycle journey to join a group of oil protesters on the East Coast of America? That is the premise for this intriguing drama now receiving its premiere at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Rain (Jordan Benjamin) and Zoe (Mei Henri) are two high school kids from Washington State who share the same sense of adventure. However, Zoe is determined to make a statement and prove her credentials as a climate activist. Rain is hesitant when she suggests they take his motorcycle to the east coast. Duly convinced they both head off on the protest trail. Along the way they learn something about themselves as their personal motivation becomes more obvious. Zoe is driven by the example of her mother, a long-standing activist who has set the benchmark for her daughter. Rain meanwhile is guided by his father's spirit as he struggles to stay on the same wavelength as Zoe. They don't fly under the radar for long as their activities soon become the focus of attention.
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