My 10 favourite shows of 2021

Just a little bit late… Here’s 10 of my favourite shows, both online and onstage but fully acknowledging that I saw a lot less than usual, I might actually have broken the back of this theatre obsession – it just took a global pandemic to do it…!

1. Anything Goes, Barbican
A joyous shot in the arm that felt like the perfect welcome back into the theatre this summer. Naturally, it is coming back next year to the Barbican and a UK tour but will it be led by the irrepressible Sutton Foster? You have to hope so as she was the epitome of Broadway class.

2. The Normal Heart, National Theatre
Almost unbearably moving, Larry Kramer’s 1985 loosely autobiographical play got a masterful revival from Dominic Cooke, making the most of the Olivier being in the round and blessed with a cast full of commitment and compassion.

3. Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre
Perhaps predictable for those that know me, but the four-way revival featuring Omari Douglas & Russell Tovey and Anna Maxwell Martin & Chris O’Dowd and Sheila Atim & Ivanno Jeremiah and Peter Capaldi & Zoë Wanamaker turned out to be a great way to revisit this play.

4. Cabaret, The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre
At least there’s a sense that they’re earning a bit of their hugely inflated ticket prices, as Rebecca Frecknall and Tom Scutt’s reinvention of the theatre is matched with a fearless reinterpretation of the classic musical which proves hauntingly effective.

5. What They Forgot To Tell Us (and other stories), BOLD Elephant
One of the more unexpected theatrical experiences of the year. I had no idea of what to expect and no real idea of why it moved me quite as much as it did. 

6. DJ Bazzer’s Year 6 Disco, Golden Goose Theatre
Gently immersive and quietly heartbreaking, this playful and powerful monologue really took me by surprise, totally captivating as Jack Sunderland’s emotionally broken Baz tries to chase the demons of both the past and present.

7. Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now
5 short stories of lockdown life in Nottingham turned out to be hugely affecting, featuring a wide range of the intimately human stories that make up a global pandemic and star performances from the likes of Frances De La Tour and Julie Hesmondhalgh.

8. Mum, Soho Theatre
Led by a scorching performance from Sophie Melville, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s new play took a sledgehammer to Insta-perfect narratives of new motherhood to offer up something of a nightmare of early parenthood. Absolutely exhilarating.

9. Gay Generations, White Bear Theatre
With a loose focus on older LGBT+ narratives, this double bill of new gay plays was quietly impressive and in the case of Michael McManus’ A Certain Term made me sob like a baby

10. Romeo and Juliet
The National led from the front in lockdown, able to parlay its resources into transforming its intended stage production of this teen tragedy into a deluxe filmed version with a delicious cast led by Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor.

Review: Habeus Corpus, Menier Chocolate Factory

Alan Bennett’s Habeus Corpus gets a belated revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Stuck in the past, should it have been left in the past too?

“He whose lust lasts, lasts longest”

The Menier Chocolate Factory know exactly what they’re doing when they lead with the tagline ‘a filthy farce from a less enlightened age’. If that type of comedy is your thing, then come darken our doors and escape the woke crowd… Alan Bennett’s Habeus Corpus dates from 1973 and nothing about Patrick Marber’s admittedly stylish production here can hide that fact. 

Despite the quality of Bennett’s writing being fitfully evident with some really witty stuff, the major issue with the play lies in its uncertainty of form. It pushes towards farce but without any of that genre’s intricate cleverness and so can’t help but resemble a middling 1970s sitcom, with a base level of humour that even the most end-of-the-pier comic might have decided to leave in the dressing room. Continue reading “Review: Habeus Corpus, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now

Julie Hesmondhalgh and Frances De La Tour, among others, star in the heartbreakingly excellent Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now

“So, this is where the magic happens”

At a moment when theatreland is full of news of planned reopenings and hopes for the future, it is good to still be able to look at the cultural contributions that reflect on the recent past. Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now does just that by offering up 5 short tales of what life in Nottingham during lockdown has been like, stories that speak to the human impact of a global pandemic.

Writers Olu Alakija, Nathan Ellis, Amy Guyler and Emteaz Hussain take us through the full gamut of experiences – from volunteering at food banks to life as a delivery driver, students dealing with disrupted schooling and the strange ballet of getting a COVID safe Uber. And not only that, there’s a special short but spiky sketch from Alan Bennett performed by the luminous Frances De La Tour. Continue reading “Review: Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now”

News: Nottingham Playhouse reveals a Spring Loaded season of 23 events

Nottingham Playhouse has announced a season of live and digital productions that celebrate local stories and support East Midlands’ talent. The shows and events range from dance, music, drama, and Bollywood to horror, comedy and romance. Most the productions will be available to rent for On Demand viewing over five days, with others livestreamed. Prices start from just a small suggested donation to its Curtain Up appeal, to £20 per household. Bookings for live events will go on general sale on Tuesday 23 March. On Demand productions will steadily become available for rental from 16 March 2021 through to June 2021. Continue reading “News: Nottingham Playhouse reveals a Spring Loaded season of 23 events”

An assortment of October theatre news

Full casting has been announced for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch’s upcoming production of Misfits, an innovative new hybrid of live theatre and digital content, playing 12-22 November 2020. Bookers will purchase a ticket which will allow them the choice of watching the show be performed live onstage in front of a socially
distanced audience or streamed to their homes, right up until the day of the show.

Misfits intertwines four inspirational tales of Essex resilience to make an unmissable world premiere by four of the region’s most exciting playwrights: Anne Odeke, Guleraana Mir, Kenny Emson and Sadie Hasler and will be co-directed by QTH Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul and Emma Baggott. The cast is Anne Odeke, who is also writing part of the piece, Gemma Salter, Mona Goodwin and Thomas Coombes. Continue reading “An assortment of October theatre news”

September theatre news, the UK version

Chichester Festival Theatre has announced their Autumn plans and it looks to be a good’un. It includes:
– Sarah Kane’s Crave, directed by Tinuke Craig and starring Erin Doherty and Alfred Enoch, staged in a socially distanced Festival Theatre for 10 performances and live streamed to digital audiences
– for Christmas, a series of festive concerts (including one with Rebeccas Caine and Trehearn), followed by Chichester Festival Youth Theatre in a new version of Pinocchio by Anna Ledwich, directed by Dale Rooks
Michael Ball, Sheila Hancock and Patricia Routledge in conversation with Edward Seckerson
– cabaret and comedy including Frisky & Mannish, The Black Cat Cabaret, Barely Methodical Troupe, Rich Hall, Suzi Ruffell, Russell Kane and Rosie Jones
– music ranging from a celebration of Sondheim with West End stars, to a song recital by Kate Royal, a new concert from Joe Stilgoe and a portrait of Rachmaninoff with Henry Goodman and Lucy Parham Continue reading “September theatre news, the UK version”

News: the Bridge Theatre plots an autumn season of monologues

The Bridge Theatre has announce a repertoire of twelve one-person plays during September and October, using the theatre’s flexible auditorium to provide around 250 socially distanced seats.

An Evening With an Immigrant by Inua Ellams

Award-winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams left Nigeria for England in 1996 aged 12.

An Evening With An Immigrant is a potent and personal account of life as an immigrant told through poetry and music telling Ellam’s ridiculous, fantastic and poignant story – escaping fundamentalist Islam, experiencing prejudice and friendship in Dublin, performing solo at the National Theatre and drinking wine with the Queen of England – all the while without a country to belong to or place to call home. Continue reading “News: the Bridge Theatre plots an autumn season of monologues”

News: Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads returns to TV

Along with the rest of theatreland, I’m already over-excited and impatient for all of these.

Filming begins today on new productions of Alan Bennett’s critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning Talking Heads monologues, which first aired on BBC Television in 1988 and 1998. Ten of the original pieces will be re-made with the addition of two new ones written by Bennett last year. They are produced by Nicholas Hytner’s London Theatre Company and Kevin Loader.

The monologues which will air on BBC One in the coming months are as follows: Continue reading “News: Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads returns to TV”

Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse

I like almost everything about The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre apart from the main performance…

“I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me”

Mark Gatiss has been getting rave reviews for his performance in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse but for me, there was just a little bit too much of
for my liking. There’s lots to love in Adam Penfold’s production, particularly in key supporting roles like Adrian Scarborough’s Dr Willis and Debra Gillett’s Queen Charlotte, and some of the smaller parts like Nadia Albina’s Fitzroy and Jack Holden’s Greville.

And I enjoyed that Penfold cast several of the ostensibly male parts with women, allowing the likes of Louise Jameson and Stephanie Jacob. Throw in a lusciously opulent design from Robert Jones and strikingly dramatic lighting from Richard Howell, and it’s a real theatrical treat, a real statement of intent from this nicely ambitious artistic director.  Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”