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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.
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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?
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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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Wednesday, 19 January 2022

REVIEW: Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story at the Jermyn Street Theatre


There’s nothing more gripping than a good murder mystery. On stage and screen, it’s kept a voracious public happy with tales of greed, ambition and revenge. Characters with a shady past and an even more suspect present keep us glued to the action. Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story has the added dimension of being a true story. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two wealthy students at the University of Chicago. In 1924, they kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago. It was predictably dubbed the crime of the century as the so-called ‘thrill-killers’ believed they committed the perfect crime. On the face of it, not a great subject on which to base a musical; but Stephen Sondheim proved the macabre can be tuneful with the legendary Sweeney Todd. Similarly, Stephen Dolginoff has written this compact musical that gives the darker side of human nature a distinctly original spin.

Presented as part of The Outsiders Season, this production benefits from a close almost claustrophobic set design. A pianist perched in the corner provides the sole musical accompaniment as a sinister tale steadily unravels. It begins in 1958 as prisoner Nathan Leopold (Bart Lambert) faces his latest parole hearing. He is asked for mitigation to justify his petition. A change of jackets and subtle adjustment in lighting and we are back in 1924.
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Saturday, 6 November 2021

REVIEW: Footfalls & Rockaby at the Jermyn Street Theatre


There are some playwrights who naturally invoke a sharp intake of breath. Samuel Beckett is one such example with a rich canon of work that stretches across stage and screen. A Dubliner who traded the Emerald Isle for Paris, Beckett is the most influential of modernist writers. To reject conventional plotting in favour of deeper analysis might be a big ask for some, but keeping an open mind will pay dividends. The Jermyn Street Theatre has now brought together two of his lesser-known works entitled ‘Footfalls and Rockaby’. Although constrained by a painfully short running time of 40 minutes, it easily does justice to the most singular of writers. With smart direction from Richard Beecham, the production also benefits from the presence of Dame Sian Phillips and Charlotte Emmerson, who deliver wonderfully controlled performances. 

The performance area of the venue looks different from its usual aesthetic lightness. The stage walls are entirely black with a catwalk linked to a broader platform encased by a square metal frame. A solitary rocking chair sits in the middle as white strip lights occasionally illuminate the structure. Both props are used to haunting effect as the performance develops.
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Sunday, 17 October 2021

REVIEW: A Splinter of Ice at the Jermyn Street Theatre


Growing up in the 1970s offers a smorgasbord of memories; tank tops, glam-rock and the three day week all jostle for attention. But the Cold War always loomed large, with the US and Soviet Union flexing their muscles as Britain’s global influence shrunk by the very day. Grim tales of red buttons and nuclear fallout shelters fed the paranoia. Happily the 1980s brought glasnost and perestroika; Michail Gorbachev and a birthmark that looked like the hammer and sickle. Spitting Image would have its wicked way but things were getting better. This engrossing play by Ben Brown picks up in Moscow and imagines a meeting between Graham Greene and Kim Philby. The former, a legendary novelist and latter an MI6 man who turned Soviet spy.

The Jermyn Street Theatre has a great sense of spatial awareness and makes the most of a compact performance area. The set is stocked with symbols and mementoes of a Cold War existence. A chess set with a game in progress, framed medals and a mural depicting the Moscow skyline. It's a brilliantly simple method of setting the mood and atmosphere. Graham Greene (Oliver Ford Davies) saunters onto set much like one of his greatest creations Harry Lime. He is in Moscow ostensibly to attend a peace conference. But business and pleasure soon become intertwined as he calls on former colleague Kim Philby (Stephen Boxer).
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Saturday, 18 September 2021

REVIEW: Relatively Speaking at the Jermyn Street Theatre


A sharp memory hit me as I negotiated the narrow stairway leading to the Jermyn Street Theatre. My last visit in March 2020 was just prior to the first lockdown; artistic director Tom Littler delivered a clarion call for patrons’ support, but was quickly overshadowed by the so-called ‘new norm,’ That was 18 months ago, it feels much longer but it’s good to be back at one of the West End’s hidden gems. The theatre is pretty much as I left it; an intimate space that naturally allows the audience proximity with the performers. Their latest production is a revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s first big hit on the West End stage.

The author is, without doubt, a heavyweight of British theatre, having written 84 plays over a career spanning six decades. Forty have made it onto West End stage with a further ten appearing on Broadway; a glittering record that is complemented by a generous helping of Evening Standard, Oliver and Tony awards. Relatively Speaking is set up on a delightfully old fashioned premise, but works a treat thanks to the brilliantly constructed narrative and a highly talented cast. It throws together a heady mix of confusion, betrayal and mistaken identity that is hard to resist. With a hint of farce and twist of Ayckbourn magic, it becomes a thoroughly enjoyable piece.
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Wednesday, 19 February 2020

REVIEW: The Dog Walker at the Jermyn Street Theatre


Located very centrally – a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus and tucked away is the Jermyn Street Theatre. Going down you’re transported into a very intimate, slightly claustrophobic space which is the home to some exciting new off west-end plays, with The Dog Walker not being an exception. 

The play revolves around Herbert, a professional dog walker, meeting Keri and trying to walk her Pekingese dog. If he can find it. With many twists and turns they bring out a different side in each other.

For me, the play feels long at 90 minutes, although I believe it was closer to 100 minutes tonight. Paul Minx’s dialogue is sharp and witty with many cracking lines (my personal favourite being ‘with what did Jesus pay for my sins? Praypal?’), although a lot of the play feels very much on one level. Whilst covering several subjects such as coping with grief, alcoholism and loneliness (to name a few), it often was covered by the almost consistent conflict between the two characters. The only exception was the very end, where the supernatural ending felt like a completely different play to what I’d just been seeing.
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Tuesday, 30 April 2019

REVIEW: Miss Julie at the Jermyn Street theatre


Having seen Creditors in the matinee performance it was very exciting to return to the Jermyn Theatre to see a second Strindberg adaption by Howard Brenton, directed by Tom Littler in repertory until 1st June. In Miss Julie, James Sheldon returns this time as Jean and Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Kristin having just played in an excellent staging of Creditors. Could they repeat and sustain their performances in this different play from the same period, originally written in 1888?

The first thing you notice is that the white panels of Creditors have been stripped away to transform the space to the period kitchen of the Earl's Manor while the Earl is away. The brilliant practical set by Louie Whitemore with working hob and running water provides a realistic setting for this downstairs drama when the domesticity and simple life of the cook, Kristin and the Valet, Jean is thrown into chaos by the arrival of aristocratic Miss Julie from upstairs.
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REVIEW: Creditors at the Jermyn Street Theatre


Howard Brenton has an interesting writing profile from the controversial Romans in Britain in 1980 and the utterly brilliant Pravda in 1985 to the more recent wonderful local story of Shadow Factory for NST Southampton. Recently, he has displayed an obsessive affection with the Jermyn Street Artistic Director, Tom Littler for the work of Swedish classic author August Strindberg and together they are staging two more adaptions in repertory at the venue. First up is Creditors written with its better known piece Miss Julie in the summer of 1888 in a naturalistic style that was revolutionary for the time. The challenge is how to adapt and rework them for a modern audience to manage dated attitudes and create an engaging piece of theatre. He, director Tom Littler and the cast completely deliver on this creative challenge.

The action takes place in the public areas of a hotel on the coast and is a love triangle between Tekla, her husband Adolf and her unseen former husband which explodes with arrival of suave stranger at the hotel who for eight days resides in room 8 which adjoins the public space. The eighty minutes adaption without interval is a fascinating chess game for three players as they try to manoeuvre each other insecurities to an emotional checkmate with dramatic consequences.
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Thursday, 21 February 2019

REVIEW: Agnes Colander at the Jermyn Street Theatre


When I first saw this production of “Agnes Colander” from the front row at the Ustinov studio at the Theatre Royal Bath in April 2018, I was struck by how effectively they created the atmosphere and feel of the two contrasting locations of the play and of the period. In Act 1 scene1 we were in an Edwardian accommodation occupied by Agnes as an artist’s studio with a large skylight in London surrounded by her half-finished work and through a slick scene change in the rest of the play, we were in a remote French coastal with an artist workspace on the balcony outside. It helped set the tone for the action and the performances and it felt naturalistic. 

Somehow when designer Robert Jones was asked to redesign the production for the small Jermyn Street Theatre all of this was lost. The features of the rooms could not be accommodated, and the central table and chairs feels too large for the thin narrow acting space which seemed to constrain the movement and blocking. It is left to Paul Pyant to create the location atmosphere with his lighting design in the dingy mouldy London flat and the bright summery French cottage. As a result, the actors seem to over compensate in their performances and the already wordy dialogue seems laboured and stilted.
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Saturday, 3 November 2018

REVIEW: Billy Bishop Goes to War at the Jermyn Street Theatre


November 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and the many heroic and tragic stories from that war make natural stories to tell at this time both in remembrance of the loss of life and as a reminder of what that sacrifice was for. Many of the most successful plays are based on the ground war in the Flanders trenches where so many lives were lost and powerfully reveal the ordeal and fear that those men faced. 

Billy Bishop goes to war tells a very different true story of a reluctant Canadian calvary man who becomes a very successful pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and eventually gets honoured by the British King with three medals, the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross as the most successful pilot of his generation. The play was written by John Maclachlan Gray who in collaboration with Eric Patterson has also often performed it over the last forty years. However here it is directed by Jimmy Walters with Charles Aitken as the young Billy and Oliver Beamish as his older self.
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Sunday, 11 March 2018

REVIEW: The Dog Beneath the Skin at the Jermyn Street Theatre


WH Auden is best known as a poet writing throughout the 1930's to 1960's with strong left wing views. Christopher Isherwood is best known as the writer of the book that became the hit musical Cabaret set against the background of Nazi Germany. Proud Haddock have unearthed a play they wrote together in 1935, The Dog beneath the skin and revived it at the tiny 70 seats Jermyn Street Theatre as part of their Scandal season describing it as a rediscovered classic. 

It tells the story of Alan Norman, selected by the village of Pressan Ambo, to search for the missing heir Sir Francis Crewe; the previous nine adventurers having never returned. His quest is different as he is accompanied by a whisky drinking dog called George, played by Cressida Bonas in what looks like a gas mask. An Ambo is a pulpit and the writers use the pretext to preach their thoughts on what was happening in Europe under the growing influence of Hitler and Mussolini.

It is a bizarre mad quest into Europe of the thirties presented as a series of weird musical hall sketches as they meet the King of Ostnia ,a South American gangster, prostitutes, the madmen of Westland, experimental scientists, art critics and showgirls. Each scene lampoons society leaders and takes societal norms to extreme caricatures.
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Sunday, 21 January 2018

REVIEW: Woman Before a Glass at Jermyn Street Theatre



A few months ago, I found myself in Venice for a day on my way to another destination, and a stroll took me to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, directly on the Grand Canal. What an exquisite place to live and keep a collection of art – “children”, as Peggy would call hers. 

If you are looking to escape the cold streets of London this month, head down to the Jermyn Street Theatre and be taken away to Venice. With humour, heartbreak and grand hauteur, “Woman before a glass” offers the unforgettable story of the woman who discovered, encouraged and subsidized many of the greatest Expressionist and Surrealist painters of the first half of the Twentieth century, and was responsible for smuggling her enormous collection out of Europe and out of the hands of the Nazis. 

As soon as you enter this charming little theatre space, you are transported, thanks to Erika Rodriguez’s set design, with vintage dresses and furniture, and Ali Hunter’s lighting design. The sunshine quality of the lighting blinds Peggy (played by Judy Rosenblatt) as she gives instructions to the photographers who are about to take her picture for an interview.
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