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”
Productions like this are precisely why Agatha Christie has endured so long. Witness for the Prosecution is an absolute marvel in the atmospheric surroundings of County Hall
“How could he possibly commit such a brutal murder. He’s such a dish”
Most of what I know about justice comes from Bananarama (guilty as a girl can be) so I’ve yet to be called up for jury service. But Witness for the Prosecution acts as a fine stand-in, especially with this production which makes inspired use of the disused Council Chamber in London’s County Hall. The show opened back in 2017 but it has taken me this long to getting around to see it – more fool me, as it is pretty darn fantastic.
I suppose I was guilty of thinking of the slightly stale Mousetrap side of Agatha Christie, the one of which it is hard to get particularly excited, rather than the Sarah Phelps–inspired revivals which have relocated and reignited the sheer quality of Christie’s writing. Lucy Bailey’s interpretation of the 1953 play rightfully plays it with an extremely straight bat, reminding us just what a unparalleled master she was at this game of crime writing. Continue reading “Review: Witness for the Prosecution, County Hall”
Since it is the season of goodwill to all men, I’m not going to belabour the point that it is a shame that ‘musicals’ have been lumped together as a category here, whereas the likes of Pinter and Kane got their own specials, whither Sondheim, Herman and Tesori. Still, it’s lovely as ever to stretch back over years of musical theatre productions to see some of Tristram Kenton’s most iconic shots for the Guardian:
Photos: Tristram Kenton
“The world is hard, the world is mean
It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”
I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.
The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)”
“You can never go back to before”
Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go ‘Back To Before’ but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can’t help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland’s production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable.
Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they’re working – Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me… If you’ve not seen the show yet, there’s a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there’s less than a month less of the run. Continue reading “Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre”
“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white.”
It’s impossible to watch Ragtime right now without marvelling at its relevance to the current US presidential election campaign and the lessons that were right there for Donald Trump and his team to learn. For in many ways, the show – written by Ahrens and Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally from EL Doctorow’s novel – is about the development of the modern American nation and identifies three key groups instrumental in that societal change in women, African-Americans and immigrant communities, the very people Trump has done his damnedest to alienate.
Politics aside, what’s more significant is the magical touch that director Thom Southerland seems to have when it comes to reconceiving musicals, as his actor-musician production here at the Charing Cross Theatre is an extraordinary success. Keeping most of his 24-strong company onstage throughout amplifies the overarching humanity of its storytelling, reminding us that these are all of our stories regardless of whichever group we ‘belong’. Combined with the expert musicality onstage and an ingenious design from Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher, it’s an irresistible adaptation that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre”
“The boys have gonorrhea, now they burn for you each time they pee”
Not really being a fan of rock musicals, I didn’t make the journey to the Union Theatre to see Bare earlier this year and I was kind of reluctant to go and see its belated transfer to the Greenwich Theatre. And true to form, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. A cast of bright young things sing well and deliver a great level of performance but the show, written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, feels dated both dramatically and musically, its off-Broadway high-school charms very much eluding me.
Set in the senior class of a Catholic high school, these 17 year olds race towards graduation whilst battling with issues of sexuality and identity, religion and reality, all the while rehearsing a production of Romeo and Juliet which ham-fistedly reflects the tortured inter-relations between this tangled group. Clunky comedy turns into deficient drama as boy meets closeted boy meets girl, but the nearly entirely sung-through lyrics rarely give such an emotive issue as homosexuality in high schools the sensitivity and complexity it deserves. Continue reading “Review: Bare, Greenwich Theatre”
“But when the thermometer goes right up, and the weather is sizzling hot…”
So confident in their run of successful summer musicals is Chichester Festival Theatre that the transfer for Kiss Me, Kate (it will play at co-producers London’s Old Vic from 20th November to 2nd March) was announced before it had even opened at its native theatre. But with experienced hands Trevor Nunn directing and Stephen Mears choreographing, Cole Porter’s ever-spry music and a cast headed up by leading light of the British musical theatre scene Hannah Waddingham, it was a reasonably safe bet.
And unsurprisingly, it is one that has paid off. The show follows a theatre company putting on a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, where the feisty relationship between Petruchio and Katherine is echoed by the conflict between director and leading man Fred and his ex-wife Lilli who is playing opposite him. As the offstage drama threatens to overwhelm the onstage, some shenanigans from another member of the company in a gambling room throws matters further into disarray. Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre”