#68 - "Subverts America's lascivious cannibalisation of its showbiz past" - Follies review - 22/09/17

National Theatre

Stephen Sondheim deftly subverts America’s lascivious cannibalisation of its showbiz past in this 1971 musical, where a group of ageing showgirls and guys gather at the doomed theatre they once illuminated. Though half the songs are upbeat, the tone throughout is mournful: the glitzy past is ghostly, age and disappointment are real. Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton are good as ever, ably supported by Philip Quast and Peter Forbes: but the central tale of two thwarted couples becomes a drag, especially in the closing quartet of sequences. But Dominic Cooke’s revival is worth seeing for Tracie Bennett’s wrenching I’m Still Here, alone.

#67 - "Lively, warm, slightly too good to be true" - theatre review, Lions and Tigers 06/09/17

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

As with 2013’s Blue Stockings, about women’s education, the Globe tackles another subject largely neglected by the theatre world: in this case the anniversary of Indian independence. Tanika Gupta’s play comes laden with swathes of information, which she lightens by tying it to the story of her grandfather’s brother Dinesh, executed for assassinating a colonial officer, later recognised as a revolutionary. It is a lively, warm, thought provoking work, although Shubham Saraf’s Dinesh is too good to be true: witty, clever, chastely in love with his brother’s wife, saintly in death. We learn, though, how the colonial experience brought a vegetarian who wept at a goat sacrifice to kill a man.

#66 - "Featherlight, nuanced, textured, idiosyncratic" - theatre review, Against 06/09/17

Almeida Theatre

I may never pick all the bones out of Christopher Shinn’s thrillingly challenging new play, in which a tech-nerd billionaire (Ben Whishaw) feels called by God to solve humanity’s problem with violence, but stirs only resentment. That isn’t the half of this dazzling work, though, which touches on the way we police thought and sexuality today and, I think, the impossibility of perfection. Whishaw is stunning: featherlight, nuanced, textured, idiosyncratic, utterly believable, and he’s matched by Amanda Hale in two roles as his current and past lodestars. There are glib touches – an addict savant, for example – but Ian Rickson’s galvanic production is a delight.

#65 - "Doh, of course it should be done al fresco"- theatre review, King Lear 01/09/17

Shakespeare's Globe

Doh! Of course Lear should be done al fresco! Even on a balmy night the Globe’s bare, exposed stage seems apt, giving Nancy Meckler’s production an admirable simplicity. She mines humour from the play without tipping into farce, for there is aching pathos too in Kevin R McNally’s blustering, bristling Lear, whose apparent haleness is belied by spasms of pain. There’s richly characterful support from Burt Caesar’s Gloucester, Joshua James’s nuanced Edgar and Saskia Reeves as Kent – the latter proving gender changes can go unremarked. The use of drums to indicate both battles and storms is stirring and inspired. Doh! Again. Obvious, really.

#65 - "Simple, rough theatre, deftly directed but given a kicking" (1/2) - theatre review, Knives in Hens, 30/08/17

Donmar Warehouse

David Harrower’s play is an earthily austere portrait of sex, power, language and belief – and of how self-expression affects all these things. I’m biased in my fondness for it: my first date with my wife was to the London premiere 22 years ago at the Bush, and I interviewed and liked the director of this revival, Yael Farber.  True, on one level it’s a writer banging on about how great writing is, and the muiddy formality of the dialogue borders on the Pythonesque at times. But the rural pre-industrial love-triangle of ploughman, wife, and despised miller is acted out with vigour and brio…

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