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 list, 2016 list, 2015 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”
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”
Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble reunite and collaborate to great success with the sharply funny I Hate Suzie
“I’m sorry the world’s seen your dick, but also – fuck off, slightly”
Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper’s creative relationship has covered TV (Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the first season at least) and theatre (the excellent The Effect) and was recently reignited with Sky series I Hate Suzie. Drawing something of personal history, the show follows a former teen pop star turned sci-fi actress as she deals with a phone hacking incident which leaves problematic intimate photos of her scattered on the internet.
The eight episodes cycle through, and are titled after, stages of trauma – Shock, Denial, Fear, Shame, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, and Acceptance – representing the indubitably self-centered Suzie’s processing of her experience. And it is a highly entertaining, linear journey, one which Suzie barrelling forward with an interesting lack of recurring characters – even her family members only get the one episode in which to appear, such is the pace of the high-maintenance that she is alternately trying to salvage and sabotage. Continue reading “TV Review: I Hate Suzie”
“This thing – this thing is not over yet….”
Ivo van Hove’s revelatory approach to Arthur Miller’s work has set the bar almost impossibly high for other directors and so it’s perhaps a little unfortunate that Timothy Sheader is first up with All My Sons, the opening production in this year’s season in the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. It’s not that it’s a bad production, not at all, but rather it just feels a little pedestrian, too traditional to really make the heart beat faster in the way brilliant theatre should, and in the way previous productions have done.
There are elements that work well – the span of the play over a day is perfectly suited to the night that slowly falls over the park, the planes that fly noisily overhead add a piquancy of their own and the well-cast company are excellent. Tom Mannion’s Joe Keller is the patriarch whose collusion in a terrible fraud hangs ominously like a cloud over his family, Charles Aitken and Amy Nuttall are moving as son Chris and his intended (with strings) Ann and Bríd Brennan is fearsomely fantastic as the delusional Kate. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre”
“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”
There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.
The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.
Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic”
“If my uncle, thy banished father, had banished thy uncle, the duke my father…”
Against my better judgement, I bought the RSC’s As You Like It ages ago when a special offer came up for it but it has languished on my hard-drive ever since as I have serious AYLI fatigue and no real desire to watch it again. It is one of those Shakespeares that seems to pop up with unfailing regularity and I’ve grown tired of it to be honest – occasionally a production will surprise with a stunning central performance as did Cush Jumbo at the Royal Exchange but usually I’m left weary by the lack of inventiveness in productions which end up blurring into one another in my mind.
And that’s how I felt in the end about this 2010 Michael Boyd-directed production featuring the Long Ensemble. It is undoubtedly well-performed: Katy Stephens’ bright intelligence is perfectly suited to the determined Rosalind and well matched with Jonjo O’Neill’s passionate Orlando, Richard Katz’s wild-haired Touchstone is well observed and having become accustomed to this group of actors, I liked the smaller parts played by the likes of Christine Entwisle, Dyfan Dwyfor and Charles Aitken. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Digital Theatre”
“All these dreams of fire and steel in one little head”
The best of intentions always tend to go awry from time to time and so it is with theatre bookings. I would not normally have considered going to see Little Eagles, as Russian space history is not generally a subject I care that much about, at least not enough to pay money to see. But, as it was one of the new commissions by the RSC and being performed by the Ensemble, whom have grown into a fabulously cohesive unit and therefore pretty much making anything they do a must-see as they come into the final furlong of their time together.
Marking the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned orbit of the earth, Rona Munro’s play follows the development of the Soviet space programme by Sergei Korolyov, a former gulag inmate with the meagrest of resources who managed the incredible even in the face of great political pressure. But it is a slow, long play with little variation of tone or voice; there’s no attempt to question this version of events and even the joy of seeing these actors in fascinatingly different roles did not really mitigate against this. Continue reading “Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”
“A man may see how this world goes with no eyes”
A double bill of Shakespeare is something that not even I would undertake lightly but as an opportunity to visit the newly opened Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was something I couldn’t resist: King Lear in the afternoon for the first time and a revisit of Romeo & Juliet in the evening. Typically, the old maxim about not booking shows to see particular actors came and bit me on the posterior with a depressing predictability, as the main reason for seeing this King Lear was in order to see Kathryn Hunter’s Fool, but as she unexpectedly withdrew from the ensemble at the beginning of the year, the role is now being covered by Sophie Russell.
This was only my second ever Lear, Derek Jacobi’s at the Donmar being the first and whilst I enjoyed seeing that with fresh eyes and not knowing the story, it was nice to watch this one with a little more comprehension of exactly what was going on! Though I was still a little perplexed by the mix of time periods covered in the costumes, the courtiers in classical garb but the outside world seemed to be inspired by the First World War, a mixture that was a little too haphazard for my liking. But overall, it did actually combine to quite epic effect, led by Greg Hicks’ powerful turn as Lear. I got more of a sense of a man going mad from Hicks, as opposed to the fragility, even possible onset of senility, of Jacobi’s interpretation, with his viciousness towards Goneril being particularly shocking in a way I didn’t remember so much. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”
“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”
Never mind ‘the Scottish play’, it appears that it’s the role of Mark Antony that has some kind of a curse attached to it. Last year saw the Dutch Hans Kesting break a leg before The Roman Tragedies arrived at the Barbican (he delivered a barnstorming performance from his wheelchair), and now Darrell D’Silva is having to perform with his left arm in a sling after suffering severe injuries to his hand after a prop firearm malfunctioned during the technical rehearsal. He has now rejoined the cast after surgery, but press night has been postponed to try and make up some rehearsal time. So my first trip to the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC in Stratford which should have been to one of the final previews actually ended up being earlier in the run than planned.
This is a modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra, featuring guns and suits to tell this great tragic love story of two powerful individuals brought together yet unable to escape their circumstances. Rome is ruled by a triumvirate (what a great word!) after Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet all is not well. Mark Antony has had his head and heart captivated by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is spending more of his time there than in Rome. Taking advantage of this is the ambitious Octavius Caesar who turns on the third triumvir Lepidus, setting the scene for an almighty showdown between the two rivals. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”