20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs

I’m left unmoved by The Strange Death of John Doe, running at the newly press-covered Hampstead Downstairs

“I mean, where does a person begin and end, and when did they stop being a person?”

So it looks like the Hampstead Theatre’s policy of not having its downstairs shows ‘officially’ reviewed has been well and truly junked asThe Strange Death of John Doe is the second show to get the full press treatment after The Phlebotomist. And perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this one is directed by Edward Hall himself…

As it is, the Hampstead Downstairs’ remit as an experimental space has always been a bit of an iffy one, in reality this is more of a Royal Court Upstairs kind of theatre, and Fiona Doyle’s new play is no exception. An intriguing take on a horrific but underexplored aspect of the refugee crisis, vividly staged with movement by the late Scott Ambler. Continue reading “Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

Review: The Tempest, Southwark Playhouse

“Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments”

The RSC may have Simon Russell Beale and cutting-edge digital technology but the Southwark Playhouse has real heart when it comes to The Tempest. I missed the press night, which had the happy consequence of meaning that I actually got to watch this Shakespeare for Schools production with its intended audience, hordes of schoolchildren of mixed ages who, by the show’s end, were thoroughly rapt (though perhaps not quite as tear-stained as I).

Streamlined into 90 interval-less minutes and infused with a real sense of theatrical ingenuity, Amy Draper’s production does a fantastic job of reinterpreting the Bard without dumbing him down. Anchored by a deeply compassionate Prospero from Sarah Malin, this Tempest is rooted in fallibility and forgiveness, the clear-sighted storytelling never letting us forget that it is only in the recognition of the former that we can expect the latter. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution, Finborough

“Let’s leave politics out of the hospital”

Unperformed since it was written in 1972, it has fallen to Urgent Theatre company to make the case for Caryl Churchill’s The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution in this limited run production at the Finborough Theatre, directed by James Russell. And concerned as it is with the ethics of torture and how it impacts on those that carry it out, as well as its direct results, it still carries a currency with modern audiences despite being set in an Algeria still fighting for independence from its colonial power France. 

Churchill used the work of noted psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, namely The Wretched of the Earth, to come up not only with a script that cycles through a number of agents in a psychiatric unit – a civil servant and his distressed family, a sleepless soldier, a snide colleague, a group of patients – but also utilising Fanon himself as a central figure, the doctor to whom they all look to cure their various woes. But it is clear that serious damage has been done, violence perpetrated – whether physical, emotional or cultural – and justified in the name of various causes.  Continue reading “Review: The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution, Finborough”

Review: Fog, Finborough

“You don’t understand. Once they push you out, you’re in freefall, you’re on your f**king own”

One of the first new plays of 2012 is this jointly written play Fog at the Finborough Theatre in West London. Toby Wharton is an actor – he stars here – and this is his first attempt at writing, but Tash Fairbanks is a comparative old hand, having started up a lesbian feminist theatre company before Wharton was even born. But they have collaborated on this hard-hitting tale of the impact of a deficient care system on a brother and sister.

Fog and Lou were put into care by their father Cannon after the death of their mother as he retreated back to his career in the military, but when he returns 10 years later to try and make amends, he soon sees that the damage his actions caused has no easy solution at all. Getting a new flat means that Fog is able to leave his detested care home and can begin to try and reconnect with his father. But Lou has gone missing and this shattered family is contrasted with Fog’s only real friend Michael and his sister Bernice, black and much more aspirational. Continue reading “Review: Fog, Finborough”