The finalists of The ONCOMMs 2022

The OnComm is the new award for online shows from across the UK (and beyond) and was introduced in
May 2020. 

GAYATRI The Royal Queen Consort of the Majapahit Kingdom /  7evenotes Production / Alexander Triyono & mhyajo / Available via
The Black CatThreedumb Theatre / The Space / Unfortunately this show is no longer available.
TrestleOVO Productions / Maltings Theatre / View until 10 April at

A Brief List of Everyone Who Died / Patch of Blue / Finborough / View at
Talking Gods (series of 5 plays) / Arrows & Traps / View at
Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life / Keith Alessi / View at
Touchy / 20 Stories High / View via Continue reading “The finalists of The ONCOMMs 2022”

#AdventwithClowns Day 22 – Anna X (Sky Arts / Now)

Emma Corrin and Nabhaan Rizwan star in the sparky Anna X, filmed this summer at the Harold Pinter Theatre

“Everyone is queer”

I didn’t make it to Anna X in the West End, self-isolation putting the kibosh on my plans but perhaps cognisant that many of us could be in the same situation (or not even willing to risk going to the theatre), Sonia Friedman Productions got the play filmed for inclusion in Sky Arts on Stage, a season celebrating the channel’s first anniversary of being free-to-air.

The show was programmed as part of the RE:EMERGE season – upcoming theatremakers given the West End treatment, indeed Joseph Charlton’s play was first seen at the fringe VAULT festival in 2019. And it makes the leap most successfully – courtesy of Tal Yarden and Mikaela Liakata’s video-centric design and assured direction from Daniel Raggett and Marcus Viner. Continue reading “#AdventwithClowns Day 22 – Anna X (Sky Arts / Now)”

#AdventwithClowns Day 21 – Cinderella (Amazon Prime)

Despite quality talent like Idina Menzel and Billy Porter, this would-be modern take on Cinderella is a distinctly mixed bag

“The whole thing is weird and antiquated”

From the moment that this version of Cinderella opens with a Janet Jackson/Des’ree medley (someone has a wicked sense of humour there), it’s clear that this isn’t the fairytale as we know it. Problem is, a lot of people have executed the same idea recently and writer/director Kay Cannon doesn’t quite have enough to make it stand out in the right way.

It is caught awkwardly between in its traditional, deeply misogynistic ‘ye olde village/palace’ setting and an otherwise determinedly modern aesthetic. And with paper-thin characterisation being the word of the day, the film singularly fails to convince as a credible feminist remaking, further hampered by poor pacing and producer James Corden’s decision to cast himself (albeit as a rat). Continue reading “#AdventwithClowns Day 21 – Cinderella (Amazon Prime)”

#AdventwithClowns Day 19 – The Humans (2021)

This cinematic adaptation of Stephen Karam’s The Humans quite possibly improves on the play

“Keep saying things to me”

Winner of the Tony for best play, Stephen Karam’s family drama The Humans now finds itself adapted for screen and directed by the man himself too. I wasn’t the biggest fan when I saw it onstage at the Hampstead Theatre but it gains a lot through this treatment, Karam and cinematographer Lol Crawley able to really amp up its innate eeriness.

For though it is set over a fractious Thanksgiving family gathering, it follows many of the tropes of a horror movie to explore the idea that perhaps what is haunting these guys, is the noxious way in which they treat each other. In real time and in the trapped confines of a lower Manhattan apartment, an ace cast of six really get into it.  

Photo: Wilson Webb
Curzon aims to release The Humans theatrically and on Curzon Home Cinema on 31st December 2021

#AdventwithClowns Day 17 – Ian McKellen on Stage

A one-man-show like no other, Sir Ian McKellen proves himself a raconteur par excellence in Ian McKellen on Stage

“Sounds like a line out of Vicious

After a remarkable UK tour celebrating his 80th birthday and fundraising for venues right across the realm, Ian McKellen brought his one-man show Ian McKellen on Stage into the West End for a substantial residency, from whence it was recorded for posterity and included in Amazon Prime’s first Great British Theatre series.

The second half is a bravura romp through Shakespeare’s canon – inviting the audience to call out the names of his play, McKellen adorns each one with an anecdote or recital or drily witty comment (am totally onboard with his feelings about Troilus and Cressida). But the first half is the real winner, as he details the birth of his love affair with theatre.

Ian McKellen on Stage is available to watch on Amazon Prime

#AdventwithClowns Day 16 – Hymn (Almeida, via Sky Arts)

Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani scorch in Lolita Chakrabarti’s sharp two-hander Hymn, first seen at the Almeida

“He had a kind face”

Sky Arts has proved a real boon in helping me catch up with plays I missed this year. The Almeida’s Hymn debuted online at the beginning of the year, its socially distanced production (by the excellent Blanche McIntyre) first being livestreamed and then managing an IRL run in the summer. Lolita Chakrabarti has spoken of her inspiration being the lack of stories about emotional relationships between (straight) men and here, she has certainly rectified that.

We follow Gil (Lester) and Benny (Sapani) after the half-brothers discover their hitherto unknown relationship at their father’s funeral. And as they peel back the detritus from their vastly different upbringings, a connection is able to flourish between them, as friendship grows through the many things they share – the experience of Black British men, fatherhood, emotional reticence and best of all, a love of music. A lovely production that bursts through the screen with its quiet strength. 

Artwork photography by Zeinab Batchelor
is available to watch on Sky Arts and NowTV, with a subscription

#AdventwithClowns Day 14 – Othello, RSC (Britbox)

This 2015 RSC production of Othello soars with its lead pairing of Hugh Quarshie and Lucian Msamati, I really should have gone to see this one 

“We then have done you bold and saucy wrongs”

In all honesty, it’s hard to get myself roused for a lot of Shakespeare productions now, the same old plays coming round and round again not appealing like it once did. So it takes something special, or some canning casting choices, to make me sit up and pay attention and Iqbal Khan’s 2015 production of Othello for the RSC certainly has both in spades.

The first production in Stratford to cast a black in Iago in the wonderful Lucian Msamati against Hugh Quarshie’s Othello, the central relationship of the play is blisteringly recast and remixed. The racial dynamic naturally becomes something totally new but entirely fitting, and compelling, you might not quite sympathise with this Iago but you see much more of his point of view. Continue reading “#AdventwithClowns Day 14 – Othello, RSC (Britbox)”

#AdventwithClowns Day 12 – Rose (Sky Arts)

Maureen Lipman stars in Rose, a forcefully lengthy one-woman play by Martin Sherman

“She laughed. And then she blew her nose. She had a cold. The bullet struck her forehead. It caught her in the middle of a thought. She was nine. I’m sitting shivah. You say shivah for the dead.”

First aired via the Hope Mill Theatre last year, Martin Sherman’s monologue Rose is an uncompromisingly tough and tender look at the twentieth century Jewish experience through the eyes of one woman. From childhood in a small village in Ukraine to navigating the American dream in Miami, with plenty of pitstops inbetween, incorporating tumultuous historical events too. 

Scott Le Crass’ production is sensitively done, focusing on a straightforwardness to Maureen Lipman’s delivery that is hard to deny. A light touch of newsreel footage ushers us gently along the timeline and Sherman’s writing is always absolutely human, so that the epic becomes intimate, even as its injustices break our heart. Tough watching but dramatically powerful. 

Photo: ChannelEighty8
Rose is available to watch on Sky Arts

#AdventwithClowns Day 11 – Uncle Vanya (BBC iPlayer)

Just a few days left to capture this recent West End production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with Toby Jones and Richard Armitage

“You have some kind of sauce all over your trousers”

When its West End run was curtailed by th’pandemic, wheels were put in motion to get a filmed version of this Uncle Vanya produced. Sadly, Ciarán Hinds was unable to reprise his role but Roger Allam is a fine substitute and the rest of this cracking cast were able to return for Ross MacGibbon’s filmic direction of Ian Rickson’s stage work in the emptied surroundings of the Harold Pinter Theatre.

There’s not too much more to say about Conor McPherson’s vibrantly colloquial adaptation that I didn’t already cover in my stage review but as ever, the benefits of the close-up camera work adds a stunning intimacy to an already stellar performance level. Indeed, being swept up even further into the despair of Aimee Lou Wood’s Sonya is almost too much to bear but well worth the exquisite agony.

#AdventwithClowns Day 9 – The Winter’s Tale (RSC via iPlayer)

Despite some beautiful moments, the RSC’s filmed take on The Winter’s Tale has problems beyond being a problem play

“Shakespeare lived through a pandemic and it was during that time he wrote King Lear”

The pandemic brought about some really interesting responses from several of our major producing houses, the call to just ‘do it online’ proving much easier to yell from our lockdowned sofas than to actually put into practice. Some theatres that could, delved into their cupboards to dust off archive copies that were never meant to see the light of day, and the National gave us NT at Home watchalongs but also created something unique with their hybrid theatre/film version of Romeo and Juliet.

The RSC opted to mount a filmed version of their postponed production of The Winter’s Tale, rescued by the BBC’s Lights Up arts strand. But despite it being specifically created for screen, it doesn’t really make the most of this new medium. Erica Whyman’s production is full of some gorgeous moments – not least multiple breathtaking fabric drops (Hermione and the baby’s shroud? Simply stunning!) – but it feels like (perhaps not unreasonably) this is just the version that we would have seen onstage. Continue reading “#AdventwithClowns Day 9 – The Winter’s Tale (RSC via iPlayer)”