July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?

On Your Feet, London Coliseum

Photo © Johan Persson

I was a big fan of Gloria Estefan as a child, her Greatest Hits was a cassette that I listened to properly and so in many ways, On Your Feet is a great nostalgia fest for those of a similar certain age and/or inclination. And it is a musical that rides on the thrill of its music, the show is never better than when the live band is full of extraordinary life as it works through the setlist. The tiempo suffers a little when the focus is on the book but ultimately, we’re never too far away from a rendition of ‘Conga’ so it ain’t too bad at all.

the end of history…, Royal Court

Photo © Johan Persson

So much that should have made this a roaring success (the Swainsbury! the O’Flynn!) but the abiding memory is the bizarre way in which food is treated in John Tiffany’s production of Jack Thorne’s play. Some insane cheese-on-toast-making is followed by some madness about a lasagne, which may only be small details in the larger picture of it all, but swerves the production dangerously close to sub-sitcom territory.

Equus, Trafalgar Studios

Photo © Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

I’d had this recommended to me by a couple of people (not least Megan Vaughan) and I’m glad that I braved the inordinately uncomfortable seats at the Trafalgar Studios (I always seem to end up in the ones that turn in on each other) as it really is pretty darn good.  A first time with Shaffer’s play so I can’t comment much but it is a yes for homoerotic horse drama for me. And in Ned Bennett’s vibrantly contained production, Jessica Hung Han Yun’s beautiful lighting work is stunning in its boldness.

Games for Lovers, Vaults

Photo © Geraint Lewis

The opening sequence of Anthony Banks’ lurid production of Ryan Craig’s new play suggests an overgrown children’s TV programme and sadly, proceedings never progress from there. It ends up a rather puerile and desperately unsubtle look at dating life for millenials but does the barest minimum to gain the cheapest laughs at the expense of everyone’s dignity.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Harold Pinter Theatre

Photo © Marc Brenner

Normally, the sight of an actor pretending to be a goat would have be fleeing for the door but as much as I still don’t care for this type of shenanigans, something about Melly Still’s production of Rona Munro’s adaptation here won me over with its rough theatrical magic (plus gay soldiers).

The Girl on the Train, Duke of York’s Theatre

Photo © Manuel Harlan

Not sure that this adaptation of the hit novel (and film) really works too well onstage, the streamlining of the narrative into one female voice robs one of the crucial points of interest. But I do appreciate the opportunity to see  Philip McGinley and Marc Elliott once again…

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre

Photo © Jane Hobson

A play well suited to this theatre, but a production (from Dominic Hill) that doesn’t quite do enough to make it stand out amid a glut of recent Dreams. It leans into a darkness, with creepy puppets and costumes, but doesn’t really follow through. So too does Susan Wokoma’s sweetly played Bottom frustrate a little, as the sexuality of the play around her is also underserved.

Uncle Vanya, Theatre Royal Bath

Photo © Nobby Clark

I never learn. I’ve no desire to ever really see Uncle Vanya again, it just doesn’t do it for me to justify the regularity with which it is staged. But stick the likes of John Light, Katherine Parkinson and yes, Rupert Evertt in the cast, and I’m apparently helpless. It was fine but no more, and not really worth the trip to this gorgeous theatre on this occasion.

Jellyfish, National Theatre

Photo © Helen Murray

A much deserved transfer for this gorgeous play, my second favourite of the year when I caught it at the Bush last year and led once again by an excellent Sarah Gordy, Ben Weatherill’s play delighted anew.

Sweat, Gielgud Theatre

Photo © Johan Persson

Another return visit to catch the glories of Clare Perkins, Martha Plimpton and Leanne Best in Lyn Nottage’s heart-wrenching play.

Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, Ambassadors Theatre

Photo © Pamela Raith

I was a big fan of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s musical both in its first incarnation at Leicester’s Curve in 2015 and its 2017 appearance at the Menier. Two more years down the line sees it deservedly appear in the West End, highlighting a lovely example of new British musical theatre writing.

The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall

Photo © Tristram Kenton

And another return visit which I couldn’t resist, due to the word of mouth on Molly Lynch’s performance, plus her shoddy treatment on the venue’s Twitter feed, as she stepped in for Dove Cameron for a few shows. I think I might even have slightly preferred Lynch’s open-hearted sweetness in the role. But lord, understudies need to be treated better by this industry.

Jesus Christ Superstar, Barbican

Photo © Johan Persson

And one more return trip for good measure. I enjoyed the Open Air Theatre’s revival of JCS first time around, but found that its charms paled significantly on second viewing the following year. It is a visually stunning show, Drew McOnie’s charged choreography never better, but it also feels like a hollow one. Shifting this production into the Barbican for its third summer outing, ahead of an US tour, does little to address any of this, though the role of Judas produces another stonkingly good performance, this time from Ricardo Afonso. 

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