#80 - "Preposterous and absurdly enjoyable" - theatre review, Venus in Fur 18/10/2017

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Sado-masochism? Beats me. In David Ives’ preposterous but absurdly enjoyable play, an actress auditions for a writer who is staging Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s hymn to erotic domination Venus in Fur. This sexy Brooklyn ditz, mistakenly in fetishwear turns out to be more than just a Harvey Weinstein fantasy. The power shifts. Who is master and who slave, what is fantasy and what is reality, blahdiblahdiblah. Ives likes to flash his intellectual knickers, his characters constantly explaining the plays classical and philosophical sources, but director Patrick Marber wisely ramps this up into an erotic melodrama with clever-dick undertones. GOT’s Natalie Dormer is OTT but riveting as Vanda, and David Oakes’s smug Thomas justly crumples before her.

#79 - "Humane but needs more focus" - Theatre review, A Woman of No Importance 17/10/17

Vaudeville Theatre

The first in Dominic Dromgoole’s old-school stagings of Wilde plays feels pleasingly novel in today’s London, though it’s not an entirely successful evening. The contrary witticisms that kick off a deeply serious tale of sexual predation and moral double standards would be tiresome if Anne Reid didn’t pull everything into focus with her utterly impeccable timing: Reid also sings to cover scene changes. But the play truly takes off when Eve Best’s drawn but resolute Mrs Arbuthnot squares off against Dominic Rowan’s silkily cruel Lord Illingworth. Best has the most expressive face, and it enables Wilde’s humanity to shine through, even though other cast members slide into eye-rolling archness. Needs more focus.

#78 - "Fundamentally slight" - theatre review, Heisenberg 13/10/17

Wyndham's Theatre

The week of Harvey Weinstein’s disgrace is an unfortunate one to premiere a play about an old man’s relationship with a younger and more attractive woman. True, the power is ostensibly on her side – she initiates contact, friendship, sex – but the fact she then asks for money (to find an errant son) adds a regressive taint. Simon Stephens’ play discusses the unknowability of the human heart but it’s a fundamentally slight work, given ballast by a stately, shrewd Kenneth Cranham and brittle, mercurial Anne-Marie Duff. The first production from director Marianne Elliott’s new company, Heisenberg surfed into the West End on a tide of goodwill towards all involved. But it pretty much wipes out on the beach.

#77 - "Hilarious theatrical gold" - theatre review, Young Frankenstein 12/10/17

Garrick Theatre

At 91, Mel Brooks strikes theatrical gold. His horror spoof musical, reworked since its disappointing Broadway run, enhances its cinematic source. You don’t have to know the film to enjoy the show, but all the gags and set pieces are securely in place, just given a jolt of electricity by Brooks’s wittily intricate but reassuringly bawdy Vaudevillian songs and exuberant dance routines. The intimacy of the Garrick preserves the raucous, cultish feel of the show and its sources. The madcap, charismatic Hadley Fraser, an uninhibited Summer Strallen and a gurning Ross Noble are exceedingly well cast as Frankenstein (“that’s Fron-kon-steen”), Inga and Igor, but Lesley Joseph steals the show from under them as Frau Blucher (*horses whinny*). Hilarious.

#76 - "Like listening to poetry during a firework display" - theatre review, Wings 11/10/17

Young Vic

Arthur Kopit’s play is less than the sum of its virtuosic parts. Juliet Stevenson is Emily Stilson, a pilot and wing-walker scrambled by a stroke. Her speech and perception garbled, she is suspended from a stage-flying harness as a metaphor for her confusion. Stevenson handles Emily’s synaptically misfiring language with aplomb, as well as physical moves that would challenge seasoned (or younger) circus performers. The faltering steps of Emily’s improvement are painstakingly delineated. But it’s like listening to poetry during a firework display – sensory overload. Kudos to Kopit for addressing a condition so common and terrifying in such dashing fashion, though, and to Stevenson for tackling it with such brio.

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