10 top theatrical moments of 2021

As distinct from my favourite shows of the year, this list celebrates the fact that sometimes the good and the not-so-good co-exist right next to each – some of my favourite moments.

For reference, here’s my 2020 list, 2019 list, 2018 list, 2017 list2016 list2015 list and 2014 list.

Helen McCrory, in memoriam
I still don’t really have the words to talk about how sad the passing of Helen McCrory is, such a favourite actor of mine for so long. But what was joyful was hearing the absolute esteem in which seemingly every one of her colleagues held her, a testament to the person as well as the performer.

Being scared, by women
After having declared that scary theatre just didn’t work for me, the Terrifying Women made me eat my words in quite some style with their Halloween special. Continue reading “10 top theatrical moments of 2021”

Review: Waiting for Lefty, Two Lines Productions

A digital production of Waiting for Lefty, updated to the modern day, breathes some sharp, fresh air into the Zoom theatre format

“Can I help it that times are bad?”

In a week when many theatres in England are preparing to open their doors again, it might seem a little perverse to be launching yet another digital production into the ether. But new company Two Lines Productions’ choice of Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty – as directed here by Phil Cheadle – feels like a real shot in the arm for anyone who might be feeling jaded about another Zoom play.

The structure of Odets’ play, centred around a union meeting, lends itself to this format (Cheadle wisely steering clear of any reference to Handforth Parish Council…!). And as this group of cab drivers ferociously debate strike action for a living wage, we find ourselves fully immersed in proceedings in a radically different yet essentially quite similar way that resonates so powerfully at the play’s striking climax. Continue reading “Review: Waiting for Lefty, Two Lines Productions”

Review: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.

And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story. Continue reading “Review: Network, National Theatre”

Review: Julius Caesar, Crucible

“Why, saw you anything more wonderful?”

 Robert Hastie’s opening salvo as the new Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres might not immediately quicken the pulse as we’ve hardly been lacking for productions of Julius Caesar. But it is soon apparent that this is a canny director at work, making his mark on the Crucible Theatre and how its space is used, on our notions of how Shakespeare is traditionally interpreted, establishing what looks like exciting times ahead for Sheffield.

With designer Ben Stones, Hastie opens out the stage into a space of transformative and unpredictable power – the modern political arena is evoked with its UN-style chambers and mod-cons but it is just as much the powder-keg of changeable public opinion. And the way in which the two intersect, feed into each other, thus feels as informed by hatemongering Sun or Daily Mail headline-grabbing antics as it does by the words of a sixteenth century writer. Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Crucible”

Full casting for Robert Hastie’s Julius Caesar

 
Full casting has been announced for Robert Hastie’s upcoming production of Julius Caesar at Sheffield Crucible, his first at the helm, and it looks like an absolute doozie. Not only has he brought back former artistic director Samuel West and tempted definitive-fave-of-this-blog Elliot Cowan back to the stage, Hastie is continuing his commitment to gender parity by recruiting a company of eight men and eight women and sharing out the roles how he damn well wants. 

So the show features Samuel West in the role of Brutus, alongside Jonathan Hyde as Julius Caesar. Zoe Waites will play Cassius, Elliot Cowan will play Mark Antony and Chipo Chung will star as Portia/Octavius. The cast is completed by Lisa Caruccio Came (Calpurnia), Pandora Colin (Casca), Robert Goodale (Lepidus), Alison Halstead (Metellus), Mark Holgate (Cinna), Arthur Hughes (Lucius), Robinah Kironde (Popilus, Clitus), Lily Nichol (Soothsayer), Royce Pierreson (Ligarius, Dardanius), Abigail Thaw (Trebonius) and Paul Tinto (Artemidorus, Pindarus).

In case you’ve forgotten, Hastie directed Michelle Terry in the title role in last year’s Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and Sheffield is clearly very lucky to have him leading one of the country’s leading theatrical institutions. Julius Caesar runs at Sheffield Crucible from 23 May to 10 June, with previews from 17 May, and I’ll definitely be making my way northwards for this.

Review: The Motherf**ker in the Hat, National Theatre

“Look let’s just go there, to the pie place, and we’ll have, like, some pie, and we’ll just, like, talk, or not even talk, we’ll just eat pie first and be. And after that, we’ll talk.”

On the National Theatre’s website and nearby publicity, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ show is labelled The Motherf**ker with the Hat; inside the theatre, the accepted verbal version is The Mother with the Hat; I hear rumours that TfL have insisted on The Mother****** with the Hat for their posters (though I’ve yet to see one); and on Twitter, the official hashtag manages the neatly encapsulated #MoFoHat. But dammit, I’ve got to get it out just once at least, the title of this play is The Motherfucker with the Hat. And if that offends you, then seriously don’t book a ticket cos it’s just the tip of the iceberg, know whadda mean!

Premiered on Broadway in 2011 with a cast featuring Chris Rock and Bobby Cannavale, it’s a vibrant slice of Nuyorican life on the rough side and lays its card on the table in its opening seconds. Reformed drug dealer Jackie has just been released from Riker’s Island determined to turn over a new leaf but his beloved “Beautiful Boriqua Taino Mamacita Fuck Me Long Time Princess Fuckin’ Beauty Queen” Veronica is still using and just as they’re about to get on down under the covers, he spots another gentleman’s hat on the table and all hell breaks loose, drawing in Jackie’s cousin Julio, his sponsor Ralph and Ralph’s long-suffering wife Victoria.  Continue reading “Review: The Motherf**ker in the Hat, National Theatre”

Review: Dream of Perfect Sleep, Finborough Theatre

“What’s more frightening than death? 
‘Forgetting’”

On a day when our Prime Minister declared dementia to be “one of [our] greatest enemies of humanity” as a new push for a cure was launched, it seems apt that the Finborough’s latest play Dream of Perfect Sleep should open. For dementia is just one of the issues that Kevin Kautzman has woven into his family drama as two adult children return to the family home for Christmas to a father suffering from a terminal illness and a mother who is no longer compos menti.

Mary and Gene are an elderly couple whose devoted relationship is being severely tested by their failing health. She suffers from vertigo as well as dementia and so only has a tenuous grip on reality, which makes his condition all the more tragic as he’s her primary carer and even his infinite patience is being tested. So they’ve made a decision and they’ve invited their estranged kids – recovering addict Robert and new-ager Melissa – to share it. Continue reading “Review: Dream of Perfect Sleep, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Secret Cinema, The Grand Budapest Hotel

“Many of the hotel’s most valued guests came for him”

At a smidge over £50 a head, the latest incarnation of Secret Cinema certainly isn’t cheap. But they are doing things differently this time around – the location is secret as always but the film has been identified in advance as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and the immersive experience into which they plunge the audience will be running for over a month, to allow many more people than usual through the doors of this plush establishment and into its fabulous world.


For where we end up is The Grand Budapest Hotel itself, an evocation of Mitteleuropäische largesse to which we are guided by purple-suited bellhops. Instructions issued beforehand identify the dress code as evening dress, urge you to practice your waltzing and give a list of props to bring along. It’s all voluntary but as with any immersive experience, one gets so much more from it by diving headfirst into the universe that has been so lovingly created. Continue reading “Review: Secret Cinema, The Grand Budapest Hotel”

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”