10 top theatrical moments of 2021

As distinct from my favourite shows of the year, this list celebrates the fact that sometimes the good and the not-so-good co-exist right next to each – some of my favourite moments.

For reference, here’s my 2020 list, 2019 list, 2018 list, 2017 list2016 list2015 list and 2014 list.

Helen McCrory, in memoriam
I still don’t really have the words to talk about how sad the passing of Helen McCrory is, such a favourite actor of mine for so long. But what was joyful was hearing the absolute esteem in which seemingly every one of her colleagues held her, a testament to the person as well as the performer.

Being scared, by women
After having declared that scary theatre just didn’t work for me, the Terrifying Women made me eat my words in quite some style with their Halloween special. Continue reading “10 top theatrical moments of 2021”

Review: Waiting for Lefty, Two Lines Productions

A digital production of Waiting for Lefty, updated to the modern day, breathes some sharp, fresh air into the Zoom theatre format

“Can I help it that times are bad?”

In a week when many theatres in England are preparing to open their doors again, it might seem a little perverse to be launching yet another digital production into the ether. But new company Two Lines Productions’ choice of Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty – as directed here by Phil Cheadle – feels like a real shot in the arm for anyone who might be feeling jaded about another Zoom play.

The structure of Odets’ play, centred around a union meeting, lends itself to this format (Cheadle wisely steering clear of any reference to Handforth Parish Council…!). And as this group of cab drivers ferociously debate strike action for a living wage, we find ourselves fully immersed in proceedings in a radically different yet essentially quite similar way that resonates so powerfully at the play’s striking climax. Continue reading “Review: Waiting for Lefty, Two Lines Productions”

Review: The Infidel, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“I’ve got some money in ISAs, 
But none of it goes to ISIS”

With songs about fatwas, foreskins and fundamentalism amongst many others, it is clear that this musical adaptation of 2010 film The Infidel has no truck with the easily offended and rightly so. Initially one may be a little disarmed by the frankness with which the opening number makes the simple but telling point that Muslims are real people too but the warm encouragement to laugh along with them soon becomes irresistible as the wickedly observed sense of humour in David Baddiel’s book and lyrics overcomes any lingering reservations.

It helps that lead character Mahmud Nasir is so wonderfully, whole-heartedly appealing in a cracking performance from Kev Orkian as a typical everyman cab driver who swears, enjoys a beer and yeah, happens to be Muslim. This relaxed, modern approach to Islam extends to his family – Mina Anwar’s fantastic Saamiya and newly-engaged son Rashid, the highly likeable Gary Wood – but Mahmud is thrown a curveball when going through the effects of his deceased mother, he discovers adoption papers that indicate he was actually born Solly Shimshillewitz to Jewish parents. Continue reading “Review: The Infidel, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: The Wolf, Network Theatre

“A small Balkan nation lost their independence for you”

There’s a real sense of being in a place one ought not to be with the Network Theatre. On a road which doesn’t appear on any maps and down a service tunnel alongside and under Waterloo station, the unassuming door leads into a converted arch which is the home for a company, Southern Railway Dramatic Society, who have been going since 1939. Other companies also put on shows there like the Sturdy Beggars who return here with this production of Ferenc Molnár’s The Wolf.

Molnár is a Hungarian writer – one of their most beloved apparently – whose influence has been felt in adaptations of his work from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel to Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing ¬ but The Wolf has not been performed in the UK since the early 70s. Exploring the delicate balance of keeping a marital relationship working in the face of insecurities and long-hidden dreams, its portrait of the compromises and conflicting priorities feel as apposite today as it must have done at the beginning of the twentieth century. Continue reading “Review: The Wolf, Network Theatre”

Review: The Black Album, National Theatre

Based on Hanif Kureishi’s 1995 novel of the same title, The Black Album takes up residence in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National. It’s a look at a Asian student’s experience of going to university in London in a pre-9/11 world, specifically around the time of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and the beginnings of the radicalisation of some extreme groups. Originally from Kent, Shahid is torn between the fun student life, complete with affairs with lecturers, that he discovers there and the pressures of his Muslim friends who want him to retreat from the excesses of Western living.

The story has taken on a much more powerful resonance in this post 9/11 world and as such, has the potential to be an incisive examination of British Muslim identity and the pressures it faced at a time of crucial change. And whilst the play does deal with some of these issues, it never really tackles them head on and it sometimes felt like there was a little lack of conviction about the proceedings. There’s never a real sense of just how ominous the direction that the extremists are heading in is and whilst I can’t say that I did not enjoy the play, I just feel like it is a bit of a missed opportunity. Continue reading “Review: The Black Album, National Theatre”