#95 - "Richly atmospheric but needs cutting" - theatre review, The Grinning Man 21/12/17

Trafalgar Studios

Carl Grose’s wilfully perverse adult musical is richly atmospheric and stylish but could do with a stronger story and punchier score to support its wicked grotesqueries. His face cut into a rictus grin as a boy, Grinpayne (Louis Maskell) becomes a circus freak whose agony and disfigurement is, somewhat mystifyingly, liberating to others. Will his love for his blind adopted sister endure, and will he survive tussles with the corrupt ruling family and their malevolent jester, Barkilphedro? This is Grimm with Gilliam-esque designs and some wondrous puppetry, but the emo-heavy songs ramble and the plot repeats itself. Sorry Grinpayne, it needs cutting.

#94 - "Urgent, sprawling, necessary" - theatre review, The Jungle 19/12/17

Young Vic

How salutary to see this urgent, shaming, necessarily untidy expression of the rise and fall of the Jungle refugee camp in Calais so close to Christmas. Written by the duo who ran the Good Chance theatre in the camp, and co-directed by patron Stephen Daldry, it’s a dense sprawl that nonetheless manages deftly to express global themes, ethnic differences and wrenching individual stories. Among a superb ensemble, John Pfumenojena and Ben Turner stand out as angry, proud refugees, as does Alex Lawther as a volunteer fighting inevitable compromise. One can’t help but feel complicit and guilty while watching, but also stirred by the core of shared humanity.

#93 - "Arch, awkward homage to a TV classic" - theatre review, The Twilight Zone 15/12/2017

Almeida Theatre

Hard to know who this arch homage to the late 50s/early 60s sci-fi series TV is aimed at, especially at Christmas. Rod Serling’s pioneering show is surely honoured more than watched today, and Anne Washburn’s adaptation mocks its dated production values and acting style rather than celebrating its influence. Stories of aliens, missing astronauts, ghostly children and alarming ventriloquist dummies are spliced together and given a typically jarring spin by Richard Jones, who either jolts shows to life or shakes them to death. Some of the urgent underlying paranoia of the period comes across and the design riffs nicely on the original’s graphics, but its altogether awkward and unsatisfying.

#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.

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