#50 - Bravo Audra: Poor Billie - Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill - 28/06/2017

Wyndham's Theatre

Here’s a consummately skilled and soulful performance in a show suffering from biographitis – the kind of ovation-demanding star turn that beguiles Broadway but to which I suspect London is less susceptible. Not to detract from Audra McDonald’s achievement: the six-time Tony winner carves an amazingly vivid incarnation of Billie Holliday from her own flesh and rich voice. She captures the singer’s swoony, hiccup-y delivery and also the pathetic increments of slow disintegration. And she remains both funny and deeply affecting despite a script that fits the oft-rehearsed tragedies of Holliday’s life – and of the wider black experience in America – around a series of greatest hits. Bravo Audra: poor Billie.

#49 - "The Fleet Street Faustus" - Ink - 27/06/2017

Almeida Theatre

It’s the Fleet Street Faustus. In James Graham’s clever, overwrought play, Bertie Carvel’s obliquely controlling Rupert Murdoch eggs on editor Larry Lamb (a driven Richard Coyle) to turn the failing Sun newspaper into the model of a modern tabloid. So we get tawdriness, tragedy (a Sun deputy’s wife is kidnapped and murdered) and finally, tits, as the first page 3 girl unpeels in 1970. Graham seems half in love with sweaty, inky newsprint, but his deserved reputation for prescience leads to awkward foreshadowings of social media, Thatcherism, even Brexit. A scene between model, mogul and editor smacks of authorial wish-fulfilment. Rupert Gould drives a fine cast through this rackety, exciting stuff with skill and speed, but it lacks the texture of Graham’s best work.

#48 - "Galvanisingly surprising" - Gloria - 21/06/2017

Hampstead Theatre

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ galvanisingly surprising play begins as a witty but glib workplace comedy about whiny, privileged NY magazine folk and turns – via a devastating coup de theatre – into something much more interesting. On one level it’s about old media struggling to keep up with new, on another about how we process and repackage trauma. And ultimately, I think it’s about how we aggrandise ourselves with stories, whether in book, tweet or selfie form. It sometimes obvious but always clever, and a fine British cast of familiar faces and interesting newcomers, directed by Micahel Longhurst, navigates the evolving permutations of its three acts with aplomb.

#47 - "Knockabout and perfect for a summer evening" - Tristan and Yseult

Shakespeare's Globe

Kneehigh’s knockabout 2003 adaptation of the ancient chivalric love story is perfect for a summer night at the Globe. Here, the love triangle of the titular leads and King Mark of Cornwall are played out on aerial harnesses and a karaoke stage, in front of a jealous chorus of the unloved, and the panto overtones disguise the rigour of the cast’s physical comedy and musical playing. Hannah Vassallo is a pert, feline Yseult, Dominic Marsh a wirily romantic Tristan, but the show is stolen by Niall Ashdown cross-dressing as Brangian – very funny, and in ‘her’ account of the bed swap to disguise Yseult’s lost virginity, very moving.

#46 - "Achingly sad and technically brilliant" - Anatomy of a Suicide

Royal Court Theatre

The stories of three generations of women in a family harrowed by mental health and suicide densely overlap in Alice Birch’s achingly sad play. It’s a technical tour de force by director Katie Mitchell and a challenge to which the actors – including the lambent Hattie Morahan – more than rise, though it can be confusing to watch. Or, more precisely, to listen to. The onstage costume changes also distract. But with mental health and the lack of what’s euphemistically called ‘social care’ in the news, Birch’s play feels timely, urgent and honest, and Paul Clark’s music fluently underscores the sombre mood.

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