#92 - "It belongs to the bellowing, spraying Ifans" - theatre review, A Christmas Carol 05/12/2017

Old Vic

As another critic put it, resistance is useless. Charles Dickens’s evergreen Yuletide morality tale is given a stirring, charming, tumultuous staging by Matthew Warchus with Rhys Ifans dead centre as a youthful, bullish Scrooge. The Old Vic is once again remodelled in the round, which emphasises Scrooge’s isolation – he’s beset on all sides - but also makes us confront our shared humanity. The ensemble is very good, with Erin Doherty and Melissa Allan particularly wringing the heartstrings, but the night I saw it belonged to the bellowing, spraying Ifans, and the young actor playing Tiny Tim.

#91 - "Clever, witty, slightly too pleased with itself" - theatre review, The Secret Theatre, 23/11/17

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

The birth of the surveillance state in Elizabethan England is an allegory for our times in Anders Lustgarten’s clver, witty, slightly-too-pleased-with-itself play. Aidan McArdle is a crabbed and obsessive Francis Walsingham, uncovering or inventing Papist plots against Tara Fitzgerald’s sonorously vicious Virgin Queen, in a story that embraces torture, tennis, the enclosure of common land and the burning of the Armada. The shady tale is admirably suited to this candlelit venue, and Matthew Dunster’s production is hugely enjoyable, but it often feels as if Lustgarten is digging us in the ribs or winking extravagantly as he lays out another smart contemporary parallel.

#90 - "Good-hearted, but there's not enough at stake", theatre review, Everybody's Talking About Jamie 22/11/17

Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue

Everyone’s talking up this new musical about a teenage wannabe drag queen from Sheffield, and it’s easy to see why – it’s charming, good-hearted, and performed with gusto, especially by John McCrea as the titular glamazon. Dan Gillespie Sells’ music is upbeat, Tom Macrae’s lyrics witty, but only one tune – He’s My Boy, belted out by Josie Walker as Jamie’s mum – stayed with me. And the story is too slender: there’s simply not enough at stake compared to the show’s most obvious models, Billy Elliot and Kinky Boots. God knows, a message of tolerance – for hijabis and cross-dressers alike – is welcome, and I hope it succeeds, but I have my doubts.

#89 - "Wonderful and necessary" - theatre review, The Suppliant Women 20/11/17

Young Vic

How wonderful and necessary this show is. Adapter David Greig and director Ramin Grey make explicit comparisons between the Egyptian women fleeing rape and forced marriage in Aeschylus’s play and the displaced female refugees of today. It could be clunky, but the use of non-professional local women as the chorus somehow makes it deeply stirring, a ritualistic playing out of a timeless story. The accompaniment of drum and buzzing aulos double-pipe, even the jokey libation poured by the Bishop of Southwark beforehand – giving thanks for everyone who paid towards the production – add to the sense of something very special.

#88 - "Thrilling, dazzling, pleased with itself" - theatre review, Network 13/11/17

National Theatre

Bryan Cranston rightly steals Ive van Hove’s adaptation of the 70s satire on media and power, which is thrilling, dazzling and slightly too pleased with itself. The Breaking Bad star has just the right soiled humanity for the washed-up news anchor who threatens suicide on air and sees ratings soar. Michelle Dockery is good too as his rapacious producer, but Douglas Henshall is cold as ever as her rival and older lover. With a Kraftwerky onstage band and audience of diners, video projection and visual tricks, this is a rich and overwhelming work, but it pushes glib contemporary parallels too urgently. Those booing footage of Trump at the end did so in an echo chamber.

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