Review: Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic

Gorgeous chocolate-based musical Romantics Anonymous works another coup de foudre as it briefly returns to the Bristol Old Vic before a US tour

“What if we try and take a chance?
Whit if we simply shift our stance?
I’ll admit that just the thought of change terrifies me too.
But what if we try something new?”

In this remounting, Romantics Anonymous proves that rare thing – a show that can survive losing Joanna Riding from its cast. It’s a good couple of years since this musical adaptation of the French-Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes took the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse by storm and in the meantime, it has reached an almost mythic status among its devotees calling for a revival. This might not be what they had in mind but it’ll certainly do for now.

Wise Children and Plush Theatricals are taking the show on the road in the US, so this short opening stop at the Bristol Old Vic feels like a bit of a treat. For its new outing, Romantics Anonymous has been spruced up a bit – composer Michael Kooman and lyricist Christopher Dimond have added a couple of new songs and director and book writer Emma Rice has rejigged here and there too, whilst necessarily recasting some of her ensemble. Continue reading “Review: Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic”

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: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending may not be his greatest play but Tamara Harvey’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory proves most affecting in the end

“What on earth can you do on this earth but catch at whatever comes near you, with both your fingers, until your fingers are broken?”

Any project that tempts Hattie Morahan back onto the stage has to be worth checking out (qv Anatomy of a Suicide, A Doll’s House, but maybe let’s not mention The Dark Earth and the Light Sky). Orpheus Descending, a Menier Chocolate Factory & Theatr Clwyd co-production directed by Tamara Harvey, proves no exception, bolstered by the presence of the ever-excellent Jemima Rooper in the cast, plus a brooding Seth Numrich.

Orpheus… is something of a minor Tennessee Williams work (one I didn’t much enjoy when I saw it at the Royal Exchange a few years ago) but one which feels stronger here. Navigating the stifling heat and social strictures of smalltown Deep South in the 1950s, Lady seeks escape from her loveless marriage and small-minded neighbours. And in the arrival of handsome drifter Val Xavier, it seems she might have found it – doesn’t it? Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory”

TV Review: Press (BBC1)

Mike Bartlett’s Press has a fantastic company and big ambitions but is probably best enjoyed as feisty entertainment than an accurate portrayal of the world of journalism

“We do it through the most outrageous storytelling in the world, not statistics”

A lot of the chat around Mike Bartlett’s new series Press, as written by journalists at least, was around how the show fails to represent life at a contemporary newspaper in an accurate manner. So I hasten to remind us all, as if it were really necessary, that Press is a drama and not a documentary, and that dramatic license and a real, and frankly essential, thing.

Soapbox done, this six parter is an interesting if simplistic look at duelling newsroom as it follows the teams at Sun-a-like The Post and Guardian-a-like The Herald as they follow stories, set the news agenda and battle for the very soul of journalism. It’s all highly watchable in a popcorn-munching kind of way but – perhaps ironically given my first paragraph – the shadow of the real world occasionally looms a little too large.  Continue reading “TV Review: Press (BBC1)”

Review: Beyond the Fence, Arts Theatre

“We are Greenham”

For all the hoopla surrounding the genesis of Beyond the Fence – “a musical conceived by computer and substantially crafted by computer” – one does have to wonder would any of us have noticed had we not been informed in advance. The show is the product of a wide-ranging experiment to use artificial intelligence (including a computer system called Android Lloyd Webber) to crunch actual intelligence (about well over 1,000 musicals) to come up with the ideal book, music and lyrics for a machine-tooled West End hit.

Naturally, it isn’t quite as simple as that as the extensive credits (included below for your convenience) demonstrate, the results of all this considerable data analysis actually being shaped or curated into fully fledged musical theatre form by human hands, specifically those of Benjamin Till and Nathan Taylor (they who made their nuptials into Our Gay Wedding: The Musical). Thus Beyond the Fence was born, the response to the statistically-most-likely-to-come-up-with-a-winner scenario “what if a wounded soldier had to learn how to understand a child in order to find true love?” Continue reading “Review: Beyond the Fence, Arts Theatre”

2015 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Linda Bassett for Visitors at The Bush and the Arcola Theatre
Laura Jane Matthewson for Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse 
Shannon Tarbet for The Edge Of Our Bodies at The Gate

Best Supporting Female
Leila Crerar for Martine at Finborough Theatre
Vicki Lee Taylor for Carousel at Arcola Theatre
Thea Jo Wolfe for Singing In The Rain at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Best Male
Patrick O’Kane for Quietly at Soho Theatre
Harry Lloyd for Notes From Underground at The Print Room, Coronet
Robin Soans For Visitors at the Bush and Arcola Theatre Continue reading “2015 Offie Award Finalists”

Winners of the 2014 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

BEST ACTOR
WINNER Tom Hiddleston, Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse
Ben Miles, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, RSC Swan and Aldwych
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge, Young Vic

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS
WINNER Gillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic
Helen McCrory, Medea, National Theatre’s Olivier
Tanya Moodie, Intimate Apparel, Ustinov Bath and Park Theatre
Billie Piper, Great Britain, National Theatre’s Lyttelton
Kristin Scott Thomas, Electra, Old Vic Continue reading “Winners of the 2014 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

The 2014 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

BEST ACTOR
Tom Hiddleston, Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse
Ben Miles
Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, RSC Swan and Aldwych
Mark StrongA View From The Bridge, Young Vic

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS
Gillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic
Helen McCrory
Medea, National Theatre’s Olivier
Tanya MoodieIntimate Apparel, Ustinov Bath and Park Theatre
Billie PiperGreat Britain, National Theatre’s Lyttelton
Kristin Scott ThomasElectra, Old Vic Continue reading “The 2014 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: Dogfight, Southwark Playhouse

“Lock your door and hide your daughter”

After the extraordinary success that was In The Heights, the Southwark Playhouse have gone for another American musical theatre import in the shape of 2012’s Dogfight. But whilst expectations were high – something heightened by the auditorium being in the same configuration as for that previous show, the reality fell far short. Peter Duchan’s book, based on the 1991 film of the same name, follows a group of boisterous marines in San Francisco on the night before they’re due to fly out to Vietnam as they look to maintain the (dis)honourable tradition of holding a dogfight.

As we come to realise, their version of a dogfight is distinctly unpleasant, a cruel game played on unsuspecting women and though he is a part of this world of pent-up testosterone and hints of sexual violence, the young Eddie Birdlace soon comes to regret his choice of victim – a sweet waitress called Rose – and tries to make amends, though whether this is because he has fallen instantly in love with her or he has spotted an easy way to get laid on his last night is anyone’s guess. So what is trying to be a sweet love story is overlaid with this troubling sour note throughout. Continue reading “Review: Dogfight, Southwark Playhouse”