#53 - "Stagey and lacklustre" - Theatre review, Queen Anne 16/07/2017

Theatre Royal, Haymarket

It’s fitting that the RSC should redress its gender balance a bit with this thoughtful play about Queen Anne’s relationship with Sarah Churchill, written and directed by women. But the personal, political and religious complexities of the troubled monarch’s early 18th-century reign – and the painstaking echoes drawn with today’s fraught polity - eventually overwhelm Helen Edmundson’s script, and Natalie Abrahami’s production is stagey and lacklustre. Romola Garai makes an imperious Sarah, Emma Cunniffe a whiny and underpowered Anne, though part of the point is the tyranny of the sickly queen’s weakness. The realities of the relationship between the two women remain unresolved, and the ending fizzles out.

#52 - "Short and savagely blunt" - theatre review, Bodies, 14/07/2017

Royal Court Theatre

Outsourcing by the rich to the poor is the subject of Vivienne Franzmann’s short and savagely blunt play. Childless Clem (slightly off-key Justine Mitchell) pays carer Oni to look after her failing trades unionist dad, and surrogate Lakshmi to bear her baby in an Indian clinic. The child also appears as a teenager with whom Clem converses about life in Lakshmi’s womb. The rights and wrongs of these arrangements are too neatly explored in Jude Christian’s production (from which the actor playing Clem’s partner withdrew through illness on opening night) but the play has wit and a conscience, and is an interesting counterpoint to the Young Vic’s returning Yerma.

#51 - "Crackles with sex, threat and conflicted loyalties" - The Ferryman - 29/06/2017

Gielgud Theatre

Jez Butterworth’s wonderful play is, to use his own sly term, “unhurried” – to give its rich, dense humanity room to breathe. In early 80s rural Ireland a dead Republican returns to haunt a brother and a wife thrown together by his loss - and their raucous, cantankerously extended family. Butterworth and director Sam Mendes boldly juxtapose tragedy and comedy, sectarianism and whimsy in a play that crackles with sex, threat and conflicted loyalties. A raw-edged Paddy Considine evokes Odeipus and John Proctor as Quinn, while Laura Donnelly is heartbreaking and admirable as Caitlin. But this ensemble piece, triumphantly transferred from the Royal Court, sees youngsters shine as brightly as stars, alongside a writer and director at the top of their game.

#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.

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