#14 - Cut back, dirtied down, alternate realities: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Young Vic

Churned mud underfoot and a mirror behind emphasise the dangerous alternate realities of Shakespeare’s play in Jo Hill-Gibbins’ drastically cut production. Everyone’s on stage throughout, adding a simple, ritual quality as characters are forcibly erotically deranged. The comedy is up and down, the performances uneven. Although striking, with brilliant moments, the show has an unfocused, unfinished air. The lovers and the am-dram artisans don’t know what’s happening and there’s a sense the director isn’t always entirely sure either. It’s splashily refreshing for those jaded by twee Dreams, and probably those new to the play. But as every theatre nerd will note, Robert Lepage did a muddy dream back in ’92.

#13 - A sweet and finely comically calibrated Twelfth Night

National Theatre, Olivier

Regendering Malvolio and Feste here allows Tamsin Greig and Doon Mackichan to essay fine funny turns, and evens up the gender imbalance a bit, but adds no particular new depth to Shakespeare’s comedy of inversion. Simon Godwin’s production is full of finely calibrated physical comedy, sometimes broad, sometimes oh-so nuanced, but the emotions also pack a real punch, especially when Tamara Lawrance’s pert Viola or Phoebe Fox’s mesmerising Olivia are on stage. The revelation/reunion scene is beautiful. The show takes its own sweet time, however and my god – those costumes! The Pythagorean set is eye-bruising, too, but enables this sweetly intimate show to fill the vast stage. 

#12 - The Wild Party and America After the Fall (and the links between them)

The Other Palace/The Royal Academy

Michael John LaChiusa’s hectic, decadent Jazz Age musical is harsher and less arch than Chicago but cut from the same gauzy cloth. Seeing it the same day as the Royal Academy’s superb exhibition America After the Fall is enlightening. The vaudevillians are dancing towards the crash, the painters examining the aftermath. Both shows are less than the sum of occasionally outstanding parts, but the rawness and urgency of both are gripping. The Wild Party (based on the 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March who also penned the line “Excuse me while I slip into something more comfortable” for Jean Harlow) reminded me of the mid-90s. And of right now, of course.

#11 - Review: See Me Now

Young Vic

Real-life sex workers tell us about their lives in this unvarnished piece. It is brave in that it is exposing and confrontational, and awkward not just because of the subject matter but because the non-performers strike an uneasy balance. Some are proud of their jobs, others came to it through abuse, trafficking, addiction or mental health problems, and some to pay for gender reassignment. Some are very funny, even when detailing violence or despair. Collectively, they ask us – no, tell us – not to judge them. And that sex work, which harms only the criminalised workers, should be legalised. Seems fair, needs thought, as the “super-brothels” of Germany show.

Pictures by Matt Humphrey

Terra Incognita - Here Be Dragons

Tower Bridge Bascule Chambers (aka the most dramatic space in London...)

Tower Bridge’s dank, raw-brick bascule chambers have the volumes of a looted cathedral and are the most dramatic spaces in London. Into these below-river voids swing 1200-ton seesaw counterweights when the roadway swings up in a bridge lift. Now Guildhall students have used the huge walls as a canvas for video projection with music and cut-up film dialogue. The installation works best at its trippiest, with abstract CGi or giant images of lithe swimmers, though it’s upstaged by the majesty of the space. But do take any chance you get to see anything here: the huge, dormant drum of the accumulator, a prototype brake battery as big as a house, is worth the trip alone.  

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