June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward

Poster for the transfer of Girl from the North Country at the Noel Coward Theatre

“What did you expect?”

After a hugely successful run at the Old Vic, Girl From The North Country transfers to the Noël Coward with the majority of its cast and all of its melancholy soul intact. Seeing Sheila Atim transform ‘Tight Connection To My Heart’ into the most heartfelt of laments was one of my highlights of 2017 and seeing it once again made me feel like it could easily be one of the highlights of 2018 as well.

Her performance is symptomatic of what makes this show so fantastic. The secret weapon in Conor McPherson’s production is the arrangement of the Bob Dylan songs by Simon Hale, an interpretative masterstroke which weaves the music into the very fabric of these people’s lives. (Though whether that makes this a musical remains anyone’s guess.)

Continue reading “Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Noël Coward”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2017 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
42nd Street – 2017 London Cast Recording
Bat Out Of Hell The Musical – Original Cast Recording
Dreamgirls – Original London Cast Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original Concept Recording
Girl From The North Country – Original London West End Cast Recording
The Wind in the Willows – Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Anastasia – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Come From Away – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Dear Evan Hansen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Hello, Dolly! – New Broadway Cast Recording
Spongebob Squarepants – Original Cast Recording
Sunday in the Park with George – 2017 Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album/Non Cast Recording
Collabro – Home
Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage
Marisha Wallace – Soul Holiday
Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey With Broadway
Rachel Tucker – On The Road
Sheridan Smith – Sheridan

Re-review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic

“There’s something I’ve got to do tonight”

I’m going to call it taking one for the team. Faced with the prospect of Girl From The North Country disappearing into the ether (albeit having left an excellent cast recording behind), I took the plunge and booked myself back into the Old Vic in the show’s final week. So of course, a West End transfer has now been announced, which is great news for something which (spoilers) is likely to figure highly in my end-of-year round-up. It will open at the Noël Coward Theatre in December (casting news still to be announced though) and will be well worth the trip.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th October

Album Review: Girl From The North Country (Original London Cast Recording)

The pure quality of the Original London Cast Recording of Girl From The North Country means it is almost as good as the show itself

“And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin’ from my broken cup”

The very notion of a Bob Dylan musical was one about which I couldn’t help but be sceptical but the Old Vic’s Girl From The North Country completely confounded me, emerging as a powerfully moving piece of musical theatre (even if it is determined to label itself a play with songs). And whether that success had been predicted or not, we have been given the gift of a cast recording to tide us over while we queue for returns and/or pray for a West End transfer.

For myself, I’d argue that Bob Dylan songs are best sung by other people anyway, so I should have maybe clocked that this show would be right up my street. And it remains the case here – listening to the original of ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’ suggests nothing of the transcendent beauty that Sheila Atim’s interpretation lends it, the spine-tingling ache in her voice supported with skill and sensitivity by some perfectly arranged backing vocals from the ensemble. Continue reading “Album Review: Girl From The North Country (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic

“Everything’s a little upside down
As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped”

I’m no great fan of Bob Dylan, heretical as it may be to certain elements of the theatre clique. But I don’t mind his songs when they’re sung by other people, so a musical featuring his work seems just the ticket. Or is it a musical? Girl From The North Country comes attached with that most tiresome of sobriquets, ‘a new play by Conor McPherson with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan’, as if musical is a dirty word.

Semantics to one side though, I absolutely adored this. Within a couple of songs I had already made a mental note to work out who to invite when I go again; within three, I had decided who was going to get next year’s Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical (Sheila Atim); by the interval, I was texting all and sundry to get themselves booked in whilst half-decent seats are still available. And all to see a Bob Dylan musical!

Continue reading “Review: Girl From The North Country, Old Vic”

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: The Crucible, Old Vic

“An everlasting funeral marches round your heart”

On paper, this latest incarnation of The Crucible at the Old Vic may seem everlasting – early previews hit four hours and with no change to the 7.30pm starting time, it may feel like an endurance test in the making. But settled in at just under 3 hours 30 minutes, Yaël Farber’s production emerges as a slow-burning success, much in the vein of the Streetcar up the road in being utterly unafraid to take its time to build up the requisite atmosphere of horrifying suspicion and fear that renders Arthur Miller’s play a striking and timeless triumph.
 

And creatively it really is a triumph – Soutra Gilmour utilising the in-the-round setting perfectly whilst Richard Hammarton’s pervasive music and sound wriggle under the skin and Tim Lutkin’s lighting creates as much shadow as it does light, all combining to heighten the increasingly nightmarish scenario as the action snowballs to the terrible climax we know must come. The immediacy and intimacy that comes from being much closer than usual (for the vast majority in this theatre anyway) is almost unbearable but completely justifies keeping the theatre in this configuration for a while longer.

Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Old Vic”

Not-a-review: Scenes from an Execution, National Theatre

“Art is opinion, and opinion is the source of all authority”

Not too much to say about Scenes from an Execution as we left at the interval and so any opinion has to take that into account, along with the fact this was actually the first full preview (the previous night’s performance being re-cast as a full dress). Howard Barker’s play, originally written for radio, is centred on Galactia, a sixteenth century Venetian artist who is commissioned to create a giant celebration of the triumphant Battle of Lepanto, but whose strong will and artistic impulses set her firmly at odds with the authorities.

Fiona Shaw returns to the National Theatre to take on this part, directed by Tom Cairns, so it is fair to say that expectations were a little high, but I just wasn’t prepared for the utter lack of engagement that came from the first half. It opens entertainingly enough: a naked man spread-eagled on a rock, an artist sketching him with a smock barely covering her up, a narrator figure flying around (literally) in a big white box (kudos to Hildegard Bechtler’s design). But after the initial set-up, I found little of interest in the portrayal of this fictional painter’s trials and tribulations. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Scenes from an Execution, National Theatre”