Some theatre news from the last week

New interview series from the NT, Julius Caesar and Sunset Boulevard reappearing digitally and Hushabye Mountain coming to the Hope Mill

© Louise Haywood-Schiefer

The National Theatre announced a new interview series Life in Stages, profiling some of the biggest names in British theatre. The series, which will be free to watch, will launch on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel on Thursday 22 April at 7pm BST with each new episode added at the same time every Thursday.  

The first episode boasts Olivia Colman and Director and Joint Chief Executive of the National Theatre Rufus Norris. The second episode on Thursday 29 April will feature Romeo & Juliet co-stars Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley. On Thursday 6 May the third episode puts Adrian Lester and Meera Syal together. Details of further episodes from this series will be announced later this month.  Continue reading “Some theatre news from the last week”

News: Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman launch theatre support fund

With a long list of major founding donors, including Danny Boyle, Emilia Clarke, Tom Hiddleston, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Thompson and Rachel Weisz, the Theatre Community Fund has received a pledge of £1 million.

Some of the biggest names from British stage and screen have joined together to support creatives in the beleaguered theater industry as it struggles to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Olivia Colman and theatre producer Francesca Moody (who was the original producer of Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag stage show), the newly-launched Theatre Community Fund has already received a pledge of £1 million and amassed £500,000, having signed up a who’s who of actors, directors, writers and producers as founding donors. Continue reading “News: Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman launch theatre support fund”

TV Review: Beautiful People (Series 2)

With its love for Enya and Rory Kinnear camping it up, Series 2 of Beautiful People is another riotous delight

“There’s not many blokes who can say they’ve been felt up by Ross Kemp”

I loved reminding myself of the first series of this most camp of shows and the second series of Beautiful People was just as much fun, albeit with more bits I had forgotten. Or more accurately, there’s bits that resonate differently with different actors – Rory Kinnear doing gay this way is quite something!

Jonathan Harvey’s adaptation of Simon Doonan’s memoirs remain highly witty and as the timeline pushes more into teenage years, it also becomes more overtly gay in a sweet but insistent way, mirroring the journey towards being comfortable enough to come out. Continue reading “TV Review: Beautiful People (Series 2)”

TV Review: Beautiful People (Series 1)

Perfect fun for lockdown viewing, Series 1 of Beautiful People is an indisputable camp classic

“Reading’s such a dump guys, I don’t know how you do it”

There’s camp and then there’s camp. The first episode of Series 1 of Beautiful People contains, among other things, Égoïste advert reenactments, Tennessee Williams-based inner monologues to the tune of  ‘I Will Survive’, future dames Sarah Niles and Olivia Colman wrestling to the tune of ‘Spice Up Your Life’, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor covering ‘Jolene’. Naturally, it is huge amounts of fun.

Written by Jonathan Harvey from Simon Doonan’s memoirs, this 2008 comedy drama follows the life of thirteen-year-old Simon, who isn’t letting the fact that he lives in the sururban drudgery of Reading get in the way of being absolutely fabulous. He dreams of moving to London but until then, we get to see tales from his eventful childhood. Continue reading “TV Review: Beautiful People (Series 1)”

Review: Dusty, Lowry / Aspects of Love, Hope Mill

2 quickies from a flying visit up north to Manchester to Dusty the Musical at the Lowry and Aspects of Love at the Hope Mill Theatre

“Left alone with just a memory”

Does the world really need another Dusty Springfield musical? I avoided the car crash at the Charing Cross a few years back, and wish I had avoided Son of a Preacher Man last year. But still they come and now we have Dusty the Musical which at least boasts a better pedigree than most, with Jonathan Harvey writing, Maria Friedman directing and Katherine Kingsley starring.

And with that level of quality, particularly from the mega-wattage of Kingsley’s titanic performance, it certainly emerges as the best of the bunch, relatively speaking. It is far from a great show though, its book weighed down with the tension between meticulously researched facts and figures and the greater freedom that comes from invented characters who allow story to flow. If it is to make it into the West End, more tinkering needed and Kingsley locked down. Continue reading “Review: Dusty, Lowry / Aspects of Love, Hope Mill”

Album Review: Closer to Heaven (Original Cast Recording)

“Give me hope
Give me all your love” 

Everything is better with Frances Barber in it, it’s kind of a mantra for life. The Union Theatre’s recent production of Closer to Heaven shifted its entire allocation of tickets before it had even started but I wonder if that would have been the case if people had had a sneak preview of it. Despite its hard-working cast, it didn’t quite hit all the bases that would have warranted a sell-out success from after press night but you can’t begrudge them for that, the producers clearly tapped into a desire to see the show revived. 

Its original run at the Arts Theatre was not a runaway hit, being curtailed after lacklustre sales (blamed in part on 9/11 affecting tourism) but an original cast recording of the soundtrack, featuring studio versions of the songs, was released, helping the show to maintain and even build on its cult status. And listening to the album, you can see why people were keen for it to return. Shorn of most of Jonathan Harvey’s lumpen book, the focus falls squarely on the cracking score by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe and the real depth of feeling that the cast bring to the material. Continue reading “Album Review: Closer to Heaven (Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Closer to Heaven, Union Theatre

“It’s so vulgar. I love it”

There’s not a ticket to be had for the Union Theatre’s production of Closer to Heaven, the entire run selling out well in advance, which would seem to indicate the Pet Shop Boys have more fans than might have been expected. My 3 star review for Official Theatre can be read here which covers the sharp and sexy choreography, the tuneful score and the woeful book. Also be warned, only sit in the front row if you’re a fan of direct eye contact and nipples.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May, run currently sold out

Review: Beautiful Thing, Arts Theatre

“Some things are hard to say”

Somewhat appropriately, this 20th anniversary production of Beautiful Thing arrives in London just as a writer, who is carrying much of Jonathan Harvey’s legacy in giving life to a rich tapestry of diverse gay characters, has just closed his own gently touching play of young gay romance Jumpers for Goalposts (look out for its UK tour in the autumn). In the 20 years since Harvey put pen to paper, there have been significant legal, cultural and social changes so that gratefully, we are now in a world where many aspects of being gay are indeed easier. But at the same time, we should not forget that the battle is far from being won – there’s a constant struggle against fear, prejudice, violence, that should never be underestimated, no matter how many ‘gay plays’ may appear in our theatres.

What makes Harvey’s play so special is that it represents one of the first times in which gay characters took centre stage in a play that wasn’t particularly issue-driven and instead, serves up a straight love story (badumtish). Ste and Jamie are two regular working-class South London lads, everyday schoolboys living next door to each other and over the passage of a hot summer, finding that they’ve an awful lot more in common than they ever realised. And that’s essentially the sum of it: ostensibly a ‘gentle’ topic, but the slow but steady discovery of their sexuality and what that is going to mean for their futures, and the worlds of emotion that can accompany the decision to come out are huge, potentially life-changing matters and it is Harvey’s sensitive but assured handling of this that makes Beautiful Thing the timeless success that it is and will continue to be for at least another 20 years more. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Thing, Arts Theatre”

Review: Beautiful Thing, Royal Exchange

“God, coz I bunk off games does it mean I’m gay?”

Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play Beautiful Thing caused something of a furore when it first opened at the Bush Theatre and watching it now, it is hard to imagine that this sweetly romantic tale of an emerging teenage gay relationship could have managed that. But 18 years is a long time, especially when it comes to attitudes towards homosexuality, culturally this was a pre-Queer as Folk time but more significantly the age of consent for gay men was still 21 (though it was being debated at the time). So despite its unassuming nature, it could well be argued that this play does occupy a landmark place in the development of gay drama.

The play presents three young people, Jamie, Ste and Leah, who are all struggling to ‘fit in’ with their family, their friends, their peers and the world at large. Even the adult characters have their own struggles on this Thamesmead housing estate as poverty looms large but even in these unlikeliest of circumstances, an unexpected flame flickers between Jamie and Ste which is slowly nurtured into something rather beautiful in Sarah Frankcom’s production for the Royal Exchange. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Thing, Royal Exchange”