News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added

Ahead of National Theatre at Home’s one year anniversary on 1 December, the National Theatre has today announced the next filmed productions to be added to the streaming service, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Joining the platform today is Simon Godwin’s critically acclaimed 2018 production of Antony & Cleopatra in the Olivier theatre, with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo playing Shakespeare’s famous fated couple. Then the iconic and multi-award-winning production of War Horsebased on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, will be available from 1 December until 31 January 2022 on demand internationally for the first time since its premiere 14 years ago. It will be available with British Sign Language, audio description and captions. Continue reading “News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: Motown the Musical, Shaftesbury Theatre

“I don’t write race music, it’s music for everyone”

You may think that there’s no-one better to tell your own life story than yourself but if Motown the Musical teaches us anything, it’s that an outside ear benefits us all. Founder of the renowned Motown record label, Berry Gordy carried on regardless though and as the author of the self-serving book for this show, based on his autobiography, detracts a little from what is otherwise a fun jukebox musical stuffed with some stonking music from the likes of Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5, and rather brilliantly performed by a cracking cast. Read my 3 star review for Official Theatre here

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th February

Review: Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure in Concert, Adelphi Theatre

“There’s something in the air tonight”

Just a quickie for this semi-staged concert version of Stiles + Drewe’s Peter Pan as my afternoon was pretty much ruined by the young family next to me, two toddlers quite literally running amok, uncontrolled by a mother who didn’t care that her children were repeatedly climbing over me. I’m all for theatres being more inclusive and welcoming to young’uns but the other side of that is that you have to prepare your children for the practicalities of sitting down for a couple of hours along with everyone else.

Which is a shame, as this is a rather sweet musical version of JM Barrie’s evergreen story of the boy who never grew up. Even with weird man-boy Ray Quinn in the lead role and the pantomimish Bradley Walsh as Captain Hook, there’s something really quite affecting about the child-like wonder of Stiles + Drewe’s interpretative skill, which still simultaneously offers up a more mature worldview – it’s easy to forget the deep sadness that lies at the heart of the story, Sheila Hancock’s Narrator providing some deeply moving moments. Continue reading “Review: Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure in Concert, Adelphi Theatre”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Who does she think she is?”

Based on the novel of the same name by Sherley Anne Williams and premiering off-Broadway in 2005, this is a show that has taken its time to reach our shores. And reflecting the hugely diverse nature of their back catalogue, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Dessa Rose adds another multi-layered account of a key moment in US history (see Ragtime) to their account, in the tale of the diverse but complementary journeys of a young black woman and a young white women in the Deep South.

It’s 1847 and Dessa is reaping the results of her wilful temperament as a love affair with a fellow slave has left her pregnant and behind bars. But try as she might to assert her independence, she has to learn to accept the kindness of others, chief among whom is Ruth, a former Charleston belle whose marriage has gone awry due to her husband’s gambling problem. Alone on the plantation, she welcomes runaway slaves and altogether, through their difficulties, they dare to dream of a brighter future.  Continue reading “Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: National Theatre – Fifty Years on Stage

“We’ve got two hours to show the vast range of work the National has done over the last 50 years by staging scenes from some of the most memorable shows – there are more than 800 to choose from”

Celebrating a notable half-century of the South Bank institution, National Theatre – Fifty Years on Stage proved a remarkable evening of theatre, gratefully captured on film so that its reach could indeed be closer to national than the capacity of the Oliver would allow. And Nicholas Hytner did a fine job of representing the illustrious past, showcasing 30 or so productions, mainly through live performance but also with some choice trips to the video archive.

The snippets of archive footage were delightful – from Robert Stephens, Maggie Smith and Olivier carousing in The Recruiting Officer and Smith with Anthony Nicholls in Hay Fever to Fiona Shaw’s incredible Richard II and Ian McKellen’s exceptional Richard III. And always alive to the connections to the past, we opened with the first scene of Hamlet featuring Sir Derek Jacobi as the ghost, revisiting the play in which he played Laertes in the very first production on this stage, And we end in a similarly ghostly manner, as the voices of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear giving us Othello give way to a recording of Laurence Olivier and Frank Finlay from 1965

Of the live performances, I loved Joan Plowright returning to Joan of Arc to spinetingling effect, the same with Judi Dench’s Cleopatra. Dench has a superb night in all, reprising her highly affecting rendition of A Little Night Music’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ too. And also doing it for the dames, Helen Mirren scorches in Mourning Becomes Electra, opposite Tim Pigott-Smith. And the tidbits of ‘productions we’ll never see’ were a constant delight. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch enlivening Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead no end, Ralph Fiennes and Charles Edwards teasing what they could do with Pravda, Andrew Scott and Dominic Cooper promising the world with a near-perfect slice of Angels in America. I also really enjoyed the dream cast of Arcadia, Anna Maxwell Martin and Jonathan Bailey making Stoppardian magic with Rory Kinnear and Olivia Vinall, you just wish that we could somehow get longer with all of them.

Perhaps inevitably, there’s a slight whiff of the largely male, pale and stale to proceedings. Tripping from Coward to Pinter to Ayckbourn is a natural reflection of the way things were but there’s a slight danger in perpetuating that state of affairs. There’s of course a thrill in seeing Jacobi and Michael Gambon’s excerpt of No Man’s Land but you have to hope that the future (100 Years on Stage?) is able to showcase a wider range of dramatic talent to reflect a truly national theatre.

Review: Sister Act the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

“When I was still a school girl, standing just about yay high, I saw the face of Jesus in a coconut cream pie.”

I have to admit to being a little sceptical when I first heard that Sister Act the Musical would be touring the UK. Its run in the West End was relatively well-received (not least by me, twice) but the show itself lacked a certain something to match up to the star quality of its cast, so I was pleased to hear both that this touring production was a reworked version and some excellent word-of-mouth in advance of its arrival at the New Wimbledon.

And it was good word indeed as I really enjoyed the show third time around. An adaptation of the film of the same name in which Delores van Cartier, a nightclub singer, has to enter a witness protection programme which places her in a threatened Philadelphia convent much to her chagrin. But disguised as Sister Mary Clarence and appointed to the head of the dodgy choir which she soon whips into shape, she effects remarkable change on those around her which in turn raises their profile, jeopardising the whole undercover operation and everyone’s safety on the very day the Pope is coming to hear them sing. Continue reading “Review: Sister Act the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre”

DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert: The 25th Anniversary

“There’s a reckoning to be reckoned”

Forming the culmination of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Les Misérables was a pair of concert versions of the show taking place at the O2 centre in Greenwich which brought together the company of companies, over 500 actors and musicians joining forces to pay tribute to this enduing classic of a show. The cast and companies of the touring production and the West End production joined with a massive choir and orchestra and a hand-picked international cast performed the lead roles in this concert presentation which was also relayed live into cinemas and later released on DVD to be enjoyed by those who chose not to go (or couldn’t get tickets).

Concert versions of shows are always a bit funny, performers singing songs to each other but looking straight out at audiences and limited opportunity for acting so they can often feel a little constrained in their presentation. Here, the cast were in full costume and projections and clips from the show used to fill in some of the gaps that the songs could not fill. And it is all really rather good if not quite the self-proclaimed “musical event of a lifetime”. Continue reading “DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert: The 25th Anniversary”