My 10 favourite shows of 2021

Just a little bit late… Here’s 10 of my favourite shows, both online and onstage but fully acknowledging that I saw a lot less than usual, I might actually have broken the back of this theatre obsession – it just took a global pandemic to do it…!

1. Anything Goes, Barbican
A joyous shot in the arm that felt like the perfect welcome back into the theatre this summer. Naturally, it is coming back next year to the Barbican and a UK tour but will it be led by the irrepressible Sutton Foster? You have to hope so as she was the epitome of Broadway class.

2. The Normal Heart, National Theatre
Almost unbearably moving, Larry Kramer’s 1985 loosely autobiographical play got a masterful revival from Dominic Cooke, making the most of the Olivier being in the round and blessed with a cast full of commitment and compassion.

3. Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre
Perhaps predictable for those that know me, but the four-way revival featuring Omari Douglas & Russell Tovey and Anna Maxwell Martin & Chris O’Dowd and Sheila Atim & Ivanno Jeremiah and Peter Capaldi & Zoë Wanamaker turned out to be a great way to revisit this play.

4. Cabaret, The Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre
At least there’s a sense that they’re earning a bit of their hugely inflated ticket prices, as Rebecca Frecknall and Tom Scutt’s reinvention of the theatre is matched with a fearless reinterpretation of the classic musical which proves hauntingly effective.

5. What They Forgot To Tell Us (and other stories), BOLD Elephant
One of the more unexpected theatrical experiences of the year. I had no idea of what to expect and no real idea of why it moved me quite as much as it did. 

6. DJ Bazzer’s Year 6 Disco, Golden Goose Theatre
Gently immersive and quietly heartbreaking, this playful and powerful monologue really took me by surprise, totally captivating as Jack Sunderland’s emotionally broken Baz tries to chase the demons of both the past and present.

7. Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now
5 short stories of lockdown life in Nottingham turned out to be hugely affecting, featuring a wide range of the intimately human stories that make up a global pandemic and star performances from the likes of Frances De La Tour and Julie Hesmondhalgh.

8. Mum, Soho Theatre
Led by a scorching performance from Sophie Melville, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s new play took a sledgehammer to Insta-perfect narratives of new motherhood to offer up something of a nightmare of early parenthood. Absolutely exhilarating.

9. Gay Generations, White Bear Theatre
With a loose focus on older LGBT+ narratives, this double bill of new gay plays was quietly impressive and in the case of Michael McManus’ A Certain Term made me sob like a baby

10. Romeo and Juliet
The National led from the front in lockdown, able to parlay its resources into transforming its intended stage production of this teen tragedy into a deluxe filmed version with a delicious cast led by Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor.

Review: Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now

Julie Hesmondhalgh and Frances De La Tour, among others, star in the heartbreakingly excellent Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now

“So, this is where the magic happens”

At a moment when theatreland is full of news of planned reopenings and hopes for the future, it is good to still be able to look at the cultural contributions that reflect on the recent past. Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now does just that by offering up 5 short tales of what life in Nottingham during lockdown has been like, stories that speak to the human impact of a global pandemic.

Writers Olu Alakija, Nathan Ellis, Amy Guyler and Emteaz Hussain take us through the full gamut of experiences – from volunteering at food banks to life as a delivery driver, students dealing with disrupted schooling and the strange ballet of getting a COVID safe Uber. And not only that, there’s a special short but spiky sketch from Alan Bennett performed by the luminous Frances De La Tour. Continue reading “Review: Still Life: Untold Stories of Nottingham Now”

News: Nottingham Playhouse reveals a Spring Loaded season of 23 events

Nottingham Playhouse has announced a season of live and digital productions that celebrate local stories and support East Midlands’ talent. The shows and events range from dance, music, drama, and Bollywood to horror, comedy and romance. Most the productions will be available to rent for On Demand viewing over five days, with others livestreamed. Prices start from just a small suggested donation to its Curtain Up appeal, to £20 per household. Bookings for live events will go on general sale on Tuesday 23 March. On Demand productions will steadily become available for rental from 16 March 2021 through to June 2021. Continue reading “News: Nottingham Playhouse reveals a Spring Loaded season of 23 events”

Review: Royal Court’s Living Newspaper #2

Sneaking in in the nick of time, I catch the delights of the second edition of the Royal Court’s Living Newspaper

“A slither of hope…hmmm”

I do love what the Royal Court are doing with their Living Newspaper series, rapid-response pieces being created with a limited shelf-life creating a sense of urgency that isn’t always present with digital content, but spreading the week of availability over Christmas does feel a little tricky even if festive plans for so many of our plans were forced astray.

Nevertheless, I was able to get stuck into the second edition before the digital shredder cut in and I’m glad I did as it continues to be an entirely fascinating and engaging disruption of theatrical form. Adopting the various elements of a newspaper (horoscopes, dating columns, cartoons as well as news and opinion pieces) and delivering them from various nooks and crannies around the Royal Court building (the originally planned in-person experience would have been conducted in promenade), the result is fierce and fresh. Continue reading “Review: Royal Court’s Living Newspaper #2”

News: Cast announced for Royal Court’s Living Newspaper #2

Moronkẹ Akinola, Hammed Animashaun, Ayesha Antoine, Alex Austin, Lisa Hammond, Mariam Haque, Zachary Hing, Siu-see Hung, Wendy Kweh, Tasha Lim, Ntonga Mwanza, Rochelle Rose and Liza Sadovy have been cast in Edition 2 of the Royal Court Theatre’s Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative.

Living Newspaper is a weekly live newspaper running over six weeks. It is urgent, responsive and fast – with writers filing their pieces by Tuesday and actors performing from Thursday, script-in-hand, hot off the press. Continue reading “News: Cast announced for Royal Court’s Living Newspaper #2”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

Review: Blood, Soho Theatre

“Starts with family, ends with family, family in the middle”

From deliciously awkward beginnings involving self-penned rap, Nando’s hot sauce and shisha pipes, it is clear that college students Caneze and Sully have got a definite spark going on as their teenage passion ignites. But whether in Shakespeare’s fair Verona or this Midlands Pakistani community, family is the thing and her mother and over-protective older brother with his gang connections are dead set against the relationship. So what do they do? They meet in secret, Sully sneaking into Caneze’s bedroom through the window like a wannabe Romeo.  

Emteaz Hussain’s Blood is a co-production from Tamasha and Coventry’s Belgrade theatre and is a striking two-hander, inspired by Romeo and Juliet but forging its own path through the complex maze of family and community ties both in the UK and Pakistan, trying to force our young lovers into age-old predefined notions of marriage, religion, duty. Written in a free-flowing mix of Mirjuri-Punjabi and English, Hussain delivers an utterly convincing world of youth speak and yet one in which understanding is never sacrificed for authenticity.  Continue reading “Review: Blood, Soho Theatre”