The finalists of The Offies 2018

The finalists of the The Offies 2018 have been announced and as ever, there’s much of interest there, in the choices made and the breadth of Off West End theatre celebrated. Play-wise, I’m delighted at the love for The Revlon Girl and An Octoroon here, nice to see the Bunker’s Eyes Closed Ears Covered rewarded too, plus Will Pinchin’s work in Frankenstein.

With the musicals, I’m not down with the love for Promises Promises, an ill-judged revival that added nothing to the conversation (and even less in these #MeToo times) and I’m disappointed that none of the boys of Yank! were recognised. The rest of the Southwark Playhouse’s spectacular year does get the appropriate plaudits though, with Superhero, The Life and Working all getting multiple nominations.

And lastly, at times it can seem like all you have to do is sing in your bathroom and you get an Offie nomination ? so it is interesting to see how the numbers break down, albeit somewhat vaguely. These 80 or so finalists have apparently been whittled down from over 350 nominations from over 190 shows – there’s clearly just a lot of Offies love to share. Should you wish to join in said sharing at the IRL award ceremony on Sunday 4th March at The Albany, Deptford, you can buy tickets here.

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Review: Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, Bunker Theatre

“Don’t you ever say you’re a terrible son”

The latest copy of the Beano, an illicit jar of Marmite and a day trip to Brighton – the stuff of the best kind of childhood memories. So even though they’re bunking off school, now-teenage best pals Seb and Aaron are onto something in trying to recreate the magic. But something’s not quite right, something’s not quite the same, and given that the play starts with Aaron being questioned by a police officer, something’s most definitely up.

Alex Gwyther’s Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is beautifully put together in the way that it reveals just what that is – exploring the intersection of past trauma on present behaviour, questioning the durability of the human spirit and the lengths it will go to try to survive. Tightly constructed by Gwyther and directed with real suspense by Derek Anderson, its a powerful addition to the programme at the Bunker Theatre as its first birthday fast approaches. Continue reading “Review: Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, Bunker Theatre”

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.

But to the production at hand. Nikolai Foster captures much of the delicate innocent magic of the writing through some excellent casting choices. Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard are just gorgeously right as the teenage lovers, the former’s Jamie refreshingly appealing in his geekiness and the latter’s Jamie a fantastic stage debut with a nuanced understanding of the trauma that accompanies difficult family relationships, whether that violence is physical or emotional. The understated way in which both these actors portray their burgeoning connection has its own quiet power but the other characters of the play also add another dimension and a distinctive colour.

Suranne Jones’ fiercely protective mother Sandra prowls with an instinctive wit, she is armed with some cracking one-liners mostly aimed at Zaraah Abrahams’ neighbour Leah, a school dropout with an amusing Mama Cass fixation and an equally engaging bolshiness. And Jones and Abrahams are so good that one is left here wishing that we could explore a bit more of their characters, not least through the fascinating dynamic behind their sparring. Oliver Farnworth’s Tony, Sandra’s lover, sure looks good but is by far the least developed of the roles and doesn’t always feel as comfortable a fit in the role as he could.     

Colin Richmond’s set looks good in forming the council estate backdrop to the story, my only real problem came with the choice of venue – the Arts Theatre isn’t particularly well suited to the telling of such tenderly intimate stories and so I wouldn’t recommend buying tickets too far back in the theatre or in the circle if at all possible. But I would recommend buying them, to witness some of the tenderest performances and one of the funniest scripts in London and to see not just an important representation of the genuine scope not just of sexuality but also of class that makes up our country.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 25th May