#72 - "Funny and sad, complicated and flawed" - theatre review, Labour of Love 04/10/17

Noel Coward Theatre

James Graham new play is clever but deliberately unsophisticated, funny and sad, complicated and flawed. It compresses 27 years in a Labour MP’s political life, plus the wider history of the party’s struggles, into a plot with overtones of farce, romance and tragedy. It deals in broad strokes and it sprawls: how could it not? Martin Freeman is the moderniser parachuted into a safe Midlands seat; Tamsin Greig (stepping in magnificently after Sarah Lancashire withdrew) his traditionalist agent. Their chemistry is impressive, their physical timing exquisite (though Freeman in his 90s wig looks distractingly like Michael Fabricant). Jeremy Herrin’s production powers through the chunks of exposition, but this impressive, ambitious work isn’t quite a winner.

#71 "I lost myself in it" - dance review, Debut, Acosta Danza 29/09/17

Sadler's Wells

What a gamut of delightful styles and moods Carlos Acosta’s Debut – his first show with his own company, Acosta Adanza – takes the audience through. The five pieces included are by turns muscular, joyful, sensual, percussive and playful. Acosta himself takes to the stage only once, for a tipsily erotic two hander choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and danced with the lissom and expressive Marta Ortega. But his famously exuberant athleticism lives on in his troupe of fellow humans, not least in the extraordinary Carlos Luis Blanco, whose thighs look like the neck of a flayed horse. I lost myself in it completely. A delight.

#70 - "An opportunity myth-ed" - theatre review, Boudica 27/09/17

Shakespeare's Globe

Kudos to the Globe for putting a powerful mythical/historical female British figure centre-stage – a counterblast to all those Shakespearean kings - especially in the form of the wonderful Gina McKee. Shame the play isn’t better. Tristan Bernays’ matriarchal take on Britain’s warrior queen is a cloth-eared mix of archaic and modern language, and a confused attempt to say something about women, war, and (yawn) Brexit. Eleanor Rhode’s production mostly operates on a single pitch of quivering, bellowing intensity. McKee works in some modulation and has a physical grace absent elsewhere, and the two women drummers do impressive work. Otherwise, it’s an opportunity myth-ed.

#69 - "Extraordinary physical and emotional precision" - Oslo review - 22/09/17

National Theatre

How timely, how clever, how sad. JT Rogers’ brilliantly intricate and funny play shows how a Norwegian couple facilitated the 1993 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO by treating the negotiators as individuals – friends – rather than mouthpieces. Toby Stephens and Lydia Leonard are on point in the leads – he jaunty, she cautious – but Peter Polycarpou and Philip Arditti really stun with their extraordinary physical and emotional precision. Bartlett Sher’s recast production from Lincoln Center doesn’t say whether this discovery of shared humanity ultimately worked, or was worth it, given what came after. But it holds out a hope – rare in today’s world – that it might.

#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.

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