#84 - "Very sweet, bordering on sickly" - theatre review, Romantics Anonymous

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Emma Rice’s musical about socially inept chocolate makers, adapted from the French film of the same name, is sweet, bordering on the sickly. The book could easily be for a kids’ show, although the spirited, jaunty songs (by Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman) indulge in sophisticated wordplay about erections and psychological disorders – the number by the self-help group Les Emotifs Anonyme is a high point. But though shy “chocolate savant” Angelique (Carly Bawden) obviously belongs with her awkward boss (Dominic Marsh) the process of getting them into bed together feels rather laboured and awkward. Fine supporting performances from Joanna Riding and Marc Antolin among others ensure that, ultimately, it pleases more than it cloys.

#83 - "A swaggering start" - theatre review, Young Marx

Bridge Theatre

The spanking and glam new Bridge theatre gets off to a swaggering start with Richard Bean’s comedy about Karl Marx’s days as a young, penurious, unfaithful and mostly drunk exile in Soho. Rory Kinnear is a terrific in the lead - brilliant, desperate, weak, confrontational, unlovely yet somehow admirable. He makes a fine double act with Oliver Chris’s benign Engels, while Nancy Carrol is largely wasted in the thankless part of Mrs Marx. Bean boldly plays up the modern parallels and blends farce and slapstick with dialectical materialism. Nicholas Hytner directs proceedings with immense verve: it’s just a shame Mark Thompson’s boxy design is so relentlessly brown.

#82 - "Ambitious, thoughtful but slightly forced" - theatre review, Albion, 31/10/17

Almeida Theatre

Brexit, parenthood, literature, war, relationships… you can’t fault the ambition of Mike Bartlett’s state-of-the-nation play. But even though it’s beautifully acted Albion feels a little unfinished and inchoate. Victoria Hamilton is Audrey, an ungiving businesswoman intent on restoring a historic garden – metaphor klaxon! – to bygone glory. This causes ructions with her daughter, her dead soldier son’s girlfriend, the locals, and her oldest friend who is, oh god, a writer. Bartlett’s writing is dense, timely and provoking, Rupert Goold’s production both pacy and detailed, and the play passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. But there is a slightly forced air to both character and plot. Perhaps Bartlett and James Graham, our most prolific playwrights, are spreading themselves too thin.

#81 - "The fish tank doesn't help" - theatre review, The Lady from the Sea, 24/10/2017

Donmar Warehouse

Ibsen’s trickier plays are like the girl with the curl: when they’re good they’re very, very good; when they’re bad they’re horrid. Unusually, eirector Kwame Kwei-Armah and adapter Elinor Cook manage something in between with this ponderously symbolic drama. The Caribbean setting and ensemble playing stoke interest, but the staging feels tin-eared and slow, perhaps because the women are so much stronger than the men. Nikki Amukah-Bird is a magnetic and emotive Ellida, matched by Ellie Bamber and Helena Wilson as the daughters of Finbar Lynch’s laconic Wangel. The fact that the aquatically-inclined (i.e. free-spirited) characters have to wade through a fish tank in the corner at times doesn’t help.

 

#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.

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