Review: Rocket To The Moon, National Theatre

“None of you can give me what I’m looking for”

Set in the waiting room of a dentist’s office in the oppressive heat of a New York City summer, Rocket To The Moon focuses on the midlife crisis of Ben Stark, an unhappily married dentist who encouraged by his father-in-law, a man dealing with his own frustrations in life, to pursue his own dreams. This leads him to have an affair with his new dental assistant, the luminous Cleo Singer, which starts off as a bit of fun but soon turns into something much more profound in the latest show to open at the Lyttelton.

As Stark, the handsome (and finally released from Coney Island) Joseph Millson is excellent, his nervous smile betraying his emotions all-too-easily as he struggles to balance his moral position with his desire to follow his heart and even as he tumbles for Cleo, he still maintains a certain integrity to the character which is most involving. And making her theatrical debut after a well-received television career, I was quite impressed by Keeley Hawes in the rather thankless role of his highly-strung wife. She managed to bring some humanity to this woman Belle suggesting that she is as much a victim as Ben, even if Odets doesn’t allow her character that much development beyond that of the exceedingly demanding, a heartbreaking moment as she closes the door on her husband encapsulating her performance beautifully. Continue reading “Review: Rocket To The Moon, National Theatre”

Winners of the 2011 What’s On Stage Awards

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
WINNER – Zoe Wanamaker – All My Sons at the Apollo (31.2%)
Helen McCrory – The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse (7.9%)
Jenny Jules – Ruined at the Almeida (8.5%)
Kim Cattrall – Private Lives at the Vaudeville (21.7%)
Nancy Carroll – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton (10.3%)
Tracie Bennett – End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios (20.4%)

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
WINNER – David Suchet – All My Sons at the Apollo (23.2%)
Benedict Cumberbatch – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton (21.4%)
Matthew Macfadyen – Private Lives at the Vaudeville (13.7%)
Rory Kinnear – Hamlet at the National, Olivier & Measure for Measure at the Almeida (14.4%)
Simon Russell Beale – Deathtrap at the Noel Coward & London Assurance at the National, Olivier (16.7%)
Toby Stephens – The Real Thing at the Old Vic (10.6%)
Continue reading “Winners of the 2011 What’s On Stage Awards”

2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Zoe Wanamaker – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Helen McCrory – The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse 
Jenny Jules – Ruined at the Almeida
Kim Cattrall – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Nancy Carroll – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Tracie Bennett – End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
David Suchet – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Benedict Cumberbatch – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Matthew Macfadyen – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Rory Kinnear – Hamlet at the National, Olivier & Measure for Measure at the Almeida
Simon Russell Beale – Deathtrap at the Noel Coward & London Assurance at the National, Olivier 
Toby Stephens – The Real Thing at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi

“Beneath this mask I wear, there’s nothing of me”

I hadn’t originally intended to get a ticket to see Phantom: Love Never Dies, being appalled at the ticket prices when it was announced, but when the National Lottery gods smiled on me and I got four numbers and £64 (the price of a middle stalls tickets plus booking fee) I decided to take the plunge to see if indeed love never dies or whether I needed a defibrillator in my manbag.

It has been billed as a stand-alone story, ie not a sequel despite the strapline being ‘the story continues’… and most of the main characters being taken from Phantom of the Opera, the only new addition amongst the leads is Gustave, Christine’s 10 year old son. The action here takes place ten years after the events of Phantom, the masked man having fled to New York and set up a fairground/freakshow at Coney Island called Phantasmaland. Madame Giry and daughter Meg travelled with him, Meg being one of the performers in the show and looking to make it big in showbusiness through being showcased here.

However, Phantom anonymously invites Christine Daaé to come and sing at this prestigious new venue, an offer she is forced to accept as husband Raoul is now a heavy gambler, and a drunk. So they arrive in New York with son Gustave, and it soon becomes apparent that there’s more than just singing on the menu, as secrets and lies from the past rear their head, long-suppressed feelings rise to the fore and frustrated ambitions boil over with shocking results. Continue reading “Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi”

2009 Most versatile actor of the year

This late addition of a category came out of a couple of things: one a conversation over Christmas mainly about how many of the actors in Cranford I had seen onstage this year but in non-bonnety roles and the realisation whilst watching Twelfth Night that I had seen onstage more than once this year. Hence this award: it’s necessarily limited by the number of plays I’ve seen this year but is still a bit of fun.

Most versatile actor
Nancy Carroll,
Arcadia & Twelfth Night / Simon Burke, When The Rain Stops Falling & La Cage aux Folles

From the aristocratic Lady Croom in Arcadia to the convincingly boyish Viola in Twelfth Night, Nancy Carroll impressed me immensely with her range this year, playing flirtatious, upper-class hauteur with as much dexterity as Shakespeare’s ambiguous, lovelorn twin.
And in equal first, demonstrating just as much versatility is Simon Burke: the very essence of Australian heterosexual blokeishness in When the Rain Stops Falling, he was barely recognisable as the same actor singing his heart out and flirting with all the boys in La Cage aux Folles


Honourable mention
Toby Jones, Every Boy Deserves Good Favour & Parlour Song
From the tormented prisoner with an orchestra in his head to a suburban husband with a cheating wife, Toby Jones displayed a full array of dramtic skills, with a particularly delicious show of comic acting in the latter, with razor-sharp timing and bags full of charisma.

Joseph Millson, Judgment Day & The Priory
James Fleet, The Observer & Twelfth Night
Elliot Cowan,
A Streetcar Named Desire & Edmond
Samantha Spiro, Twelfth Night & Hello, Dolly!

Leading Man of the Year 2009

Perhaps in one fell swoop, I am undoing all the work I have done this year to try and mould myself into a semi-serious theatre critic, but darn it, it is Christmas and I am shallow, so I proudly present to you, my top ten hottest guys I’ve seen on stage this year! And I know, there’s no consistency about whether it’s the actor or the character who I found attractive, but it’s hot guys, who cares!

NB: I did actually book my tickets to see The Priory before the casting was announced, it was purely fortuitous that all 3 main guys happened to end up on this list, true story!

Review: The Priory, Royal Court

“No-one wants to be associated with failure…”

Following on from the mammoth successes of the over-rated Jerusalem and the equally highly praised Enron, The Priory has a lot to live up to in maintaining the Royal Court’s current run. A new play by Matthew Wynne, it follows a group of 30-something old friends as they convene on a country house to celebrate New Year’s Eve away from the rat race. Brought together by their mutual friend Kate for reasons of her own, secrets are uncovered and tempers flare as the frustrations of modern living are brought into sharp relief and the question of ‘what is success’ is repeatedly challenged.

Jessica Hynes’s Kate is the emotional centre of this work. Sifting through the emotional detritus of a highly traumatic year, her search for some kind of meaning is what drives the play. Whether its seeking refuge in the company of old friends, the solace of an old love or the temptation of a new faith, Kate’s attempts to deal with her angst seem doomed to failure, and her loneliness, even when surrounded by others is heartbreaking to watch: I found Hynes to be utterly convincing in this part. Continue reading “Review: The Priory, Royal Court”

Review: Judgment Day, Almeida

“The train is coming…”

Judgment Day is a play by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth, which has been translated here at the Almeida theatre by Christoper Hampton. One of the first commissions after Michael Attenborough’s arrival as Artistic Director, Hampton has long been a champion of this writer and this is the first full production of this play in this country. Von Horváth wrote much of his anti-Nazi work in Germany in the 1930s, but opted to remain in the country to study the encroaching rise of Nazism, instead of fleeing like many of his compatriots such as Brecht.

It’s the story of Hudetz, a stationmaster of a small village who, distracted one evening by a popular local girl eager for a kiss, fails to make the necessary signal to a passing train causing a devastating fatal crash. The girl Anna then perjures herself to defend Hudetz as he seeks to escape justice, despite his unhappy wife also witnessing the events. We then see the effects of overwhelming grief on this pair as they struggle to carry on with their lives, exacerbated by the ever-changing moods of the townspeople, whose vicious, bigoted anger seems to be refocused with every new piece of gossip that comes their way. Continue reading “Review: Judgment Day, Almeida”

Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, National Theatre

I was pleased with myself when this play was announced because I paid attention in my piano lessons when I was 10 and I knew that the title was the mnemonic used for the notes of the treble clef (although I remembered it as football). Not being familiar with Every Good Boy Deserves Favour though, I found it quite a refreshing thing to watch, being something completely different to anything I had seen before. That said I am not sure if it was a complete success.

Joseph Millson plays a political dissenter locked up in a Soviet mental institution and shares a cell with another patient, played by Toby Jones, who believes he has a full orchestra in his head. The set-up with the orchestra being right there on stage is quite effective, and the sections where the characters interact with the orchestra were very funny, and the players played on very gamely in the face of some severe distractions. Where I felt this didn’t work however, was when the acting was just front-stage, the orchestra ended up being a distraction or vice versa. Continue reading “Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, National Theatre”

Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre

From where preconceptions come I am not entirely sure, but I’ve never been a fan of Ibsen’s plays even when they come as highly recommended as this production of Pillars of the Community at the National Theatre. The play marks the centenary of Ibsen’s death and is apparently one of his lesser performed works, something that doesn’t always inspire the greatest of confidences.

The play centres around Karsten Bernick, an avaricious and deceitful man who has climbed the greasy pole to become something of a bigwig in his small Norwegian town and managed to create an allure of benevolence and good standing in the community. But skeletons in the closet have a way of re-emerging and when two members of his extended family, who know all of his dirty secrets, return from America, Bernick is challenged to discover just how far he is willing to go to protect his reputation and continue to ignore his conscience. Continue reading “Review: Pillars of the Community, National Theatre”