#116 - "Rackety, enjoyable, real life as light ent" - theatre review, Quiz, 11/04/18

Noel Coward Theatre

James Graham’s rackety, enjoyable play got a kicking in Chichester but it's a lot more fun and more finished than the author’s last political drama, Labour of Love. Here, Graham remounts the trial of “coughing major” James Ingram in the style of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the show Ingram and his wife tried to defraud in 2001, and enlists the audience as participants and jurors. It’s real life as light ent, but Graham works in pungent thoughts about class and conformity, and the subject plays well to his popular sympathies. The ensemble cast play multiple roles with gusto: the audience plays gleefully along.

#115 - "La-sir-blah-sir" - Theatre review, The Way of the World 06/04/18

Donmar Warehouse

Congreve’s Renaissance satire on marital and romantic morality gets a respectful, only sporadically lively revival by James MacDonald, performed in period costume but on a minimal set. The standout performances come from Justine Mitchell as a brittle Millamant and Haydn Gwynne - a late substitute - as Lady Wishfort: while I yield to no man in my admiration of Jenny Jules, she looks uncomfortable here as Mrs Marwood and the fops and gents and oafs are lacklustre. I have the same difficulty with this play’s labyrinthine plot and “la-sir-blah-sir” epigramming that some have with Shakespeare, and it’ll take a more lucid and brisk production than this to win me round.

#114 - "Playful, touching, baggily brilliant" - theatre review, The Inheritance 29/03/18

Young Vic

Matthew Lopez tips his hat to Howard’s End and to Angels in America in this playful, touching, baggily brilliant, seven-hour tale of gay New Yorkers 30 years after AIDs and Reagan. At its centre is Kyle Soller’s gentle Eric, struggling with Trump triumphalism, his feckless playwright lover and the new gay politics. The script is sprawling, formally experimental, daringly witty, daringly serious, with a core of idealism and a glossy sheen: almost all the characters are young, buff, cultured professionals and even the rent boy reads poetry. The beautiful boys are bracketed by lovely performances from Paul Hilton and Vanessa Redgrave. Stephen Daldry directs with fizzy brio.

#113 - "Fascinating material, insufficiently dramatised" - The Great Wave 23/03/18

National Theatre, Dorfman

Francis Turnly’s play tells a fascinating story – coast-dwelling Japanese abducted and forced to train fifth columnists in North Korea -  in rather leaden fashion. Teenage Hanako (Kirsty Rider) is bickering with her mum and sister when she’s snatched on the beach, after which we follow their parallel lives. She is indoctrinated, becomes a wife and mother, but retains a spark of independent identity. Her Japanese family become ever more desperate and dogged in the face of government evasiveness. Scenes and dialogue almost always take the most predictable course and Indhu Rubasingham’s production lacks and animating spark. Fascinating material, insufficiently dramatised.

#112 - "Shows a cruel writer to his very best advantage" - theatre review, Summer and Smoke 08/03/18

Almeida Theatre

Rebecca Frecknall’s stripped-back staging of Tennessee Williams’s thwarted romance enables the play’s emotional lyricism to breathe – the triumphant opposite of last year’s bombastic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Patsy Ferran seems almost skinless as Alma, the jittery vicar’s daughter in love with her dissolute doctor neighbour (Matthew Needham, quietly balancing her). The cast, including Anjana Vasan in a great breakout performance, are barefoot and basically costumed on a bare stage edged with nine pianos: it roots the play, stripping it of the hysteria that often characterises Williams. I still find him a cruel writer, punishing female characters under the guise of sympathy, but here Frecknall and Ferran display him at his very best advantage.

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