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: The Suicide, National Theatre

 “Everything was free”

A late jaunt to the National to The Suicide, Suhayla El-Bushra’s fiercely contemporary updating of Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 play, before it closed. Though I have to say I wasn’t entirely convinced by it, Nadia Fall’s production is visually hugely ambitious, retooled for the world of YouTubers and hipsters, but ultimately feeling as shallow as the societal trends that it is trying to satirise.

Javone Prince’s Sam Desai is long-term unemployed and newly bereft of benefits, so disillusioned with the world is he that he decides to top himself but when a film clip of him making that decision goes viral, he’s swept along for the ride as all of society try to co-opt him for their own ends. To publicise a café, to get a music deal, to highlight the lack of adequate mental health care. Continue reading “Review: The Suicide, National Theatre”

Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre

“I wonder how I will make the potatoes understand”

Just a quickie to cover the last of Out of Joint’s rehearsed readings to accompany Our Country’s Good at the St James Theatre which was a world premiere of a new play, Jefferson’s Garden. As a work-in-progress, the convention is not to say too much but I have to say that this will be a play to look out for in the future because I found it an incredibly accomplished piece of work, even at this early stage, and it made for a highly enjoyable afternoon. 

Starting in the midst of the American revolution and stretching from a Quaker farm in Maryland to a politicised Philadelphia to the Virginian gardens of Monticello, Jefferson’s Garden looks at the birth of a nation in all its huge political and social upheaval and examines the price paid by people on all levels, from the statesmen pushing through new laws to the slaves praying for emancipation.  Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre”

2013 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE
Jasper Britton in Mother Adam at Jermyn Street 
Louis Maskell in The Fix at Union Theatre
Thomas Coombes in Barbarians at Tooting Arts Club
William Houston in Uncle Vanya at The Print Room

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE 
Aysha Kala in Khadija is 18 at Finborough Theatre
Eileen Atkins in All That Fall at Jermyn Street
Lucy Ellinson in Oh, The Humanity at Soho Theatre
Matti Houghton in Brimstone and Treacle at Arcola Theatre

BEST NEW PLAY
Lot and his God by Howard Barker at The Print Room 
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan by Paines Plough (Shoreditch Town Hall) 
Shivered by Philip Ridley at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2013 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“I’m going to do an abstract version”

With the best will in the world, it is hard not to carry opinions with you and this is particularly true in the theatre. In the name of attempting to be open-minded, I have continued to plug away at Ibsen in the hope that one day his work might click with me, but truth be told my heart sinks when productions of his work are mentioned. And despite their sterling reputation and rave reviews, Filter’s work has previously left me a little cold, moving the head rather than the heart, so as I filled in at the last minute for a reviewer who dropped out, there was a little reluctance as I waited for the curtain to rise on their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Filter are a company whose reinterpretations of classic texts, as well as the creation of new work, burst with creativity and great imagination as they explore the theatrical potential offered by a radical approach to sound. But for me, that hasn’t always been matched with a similiar attention to story-telling – so SilenceWater and Twelfth Night were not my favourite moments in a theatre. Suffice to say though that in this case, whilst purists may baulk at this treatment of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Filter succeeded in smashing my preconceptions and entertaining me most thoroughly indeed. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Dream Story, Gate Theatre

“No dream is just a dream”

Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story is perhaps best known as the novella that was filmed by Stanley Kubrick as Eyes Wide Shut and allegedly sounded the death knell for the marriage of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Anna Ledwich has adapted it for the Gate Theatre, also serving as director, turning the story into a “part odyssey, part freak out, part nightmare, part psychological thriller” as we delve deep into the sexual imagination of early 20th century Vienna.

Well-to-do doctor Fridolin and his wife Albertine return from a party in high spirits and start to confess fantasies to one another, of imagined affairs with other people. But something is awry, he rejects her sexual advances and as he is summoned to a house call, he enters into a long dark night following his impulses as he is propositioned by patients’ daughters, visits a prostitute, attends a masked orgy, all populated by a set of characters whose faces seem to recur again and again, suggesting that the dividing line between real life and imagination has been significantly blurred. Continue reading “Review: Dream Story, Gate Theatre”

Review: Doris Day – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“You make people think women like me, who’ve tried f**king hard, don’t belong in the police force”

An intriguing final piece for Charged 2 from EV Crowe, Doris Day, pits two young police officers with different outlooks on their experience in the force against each other as they clash over the way women are perceived in that institution, acceptable traits of behaviour and the survival strategies they each have in place. In the macho world of the police, they’ve both been the victim of harassment and sexism but choose to deal with it in mightily different ways with considerably different ramifications for each.

Rebecca Scroggs as the more determined of the two to tough it out presents a convincing argument of the benefits of gritting the teeth and taking one for the team as it were, but Crowe’s writing (soon to be seen too at the Royal Court Upstairs in Kin) carefully shows us a range of viewpoints and allows Emma Noakes’ Daisy to defend her different way of policing and her choices to challenge the sexism she has experienced even though it forced her into a transfer to another police force and thus garnered her a bit of reputation. Continue reading “Review: Doris Day – Charged, Soho Theatre”

Review: Fatal Light – Charged, Soho Theatre

Part of the Charged season at Soho Theatre

“Someone’s been round, some prick from Social Services, some f**king man telling me how to be a mother”

Taking place on the main stage for the first part is Chloë Moss’ Fatal Light. Directed by Lucy Morrison, it unfolds backwards from the starting point of a young policewoman struggling to deal with informing a woman Maggie, that her daughter Janine has died in prison. As we proceed, we discover the events and circumstances that have brought us here as Maggie is now forced to care for her granddaughter Aine, with the main thrust around Janine’s struggles to deal with her mental health issues and get some understanding treatment from the authorities.

The succession of short scenes means that there’s not really enough time to develop much dramatic impetus or the themes that are being covered, though the structure is cleverly portrayed: the three of us all twigged at different times that the storytelling was in reverse (depressingly, I was the last to work it out!). Continue reading “Review: Fatal Light – Charged, Soho Theatre”

Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre

“I’m sick of this rigmarole”

Danton’s Death, the 1835 play about the French Revolution by Georg Büchner, marks an impressive brace of debuts: Toby Stephens making his first bow on the stage here in the title role and Michael Grandage, Artistic Director of the Donmar, making his directorial debut here on the South Bank. Setting up in the Olivier theatre for the summer, it is part of the Travelex season so there’s been plenty of £10 seats available. This was the first preview that I saw, I acknowledge this freely but stand by everything I say here.

The story is set in 1794, a period between the first and the second terrors during the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety has been set up in the name of the revolutionary new order and is summarily executing people whether the accusations against them are true or not. Its creator, Georges Danton, has come to regret his part in the genesis of something responsible for the killings of so many people and has been shocked at the way in which the revolution has been increasingly radicalised. His former friend and colleague Robespierre is at the head of this new faction leading the way and when Danton makes a stand for what he sees as too much, the stage is set for an almighty power struggle between the two political rivals. Continue reading “Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre”