#20 - "Tragicomic psychodrama goes up to 11" - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Harold Pinter Theatre

Imelda Staunton is thrillingly unlovely as Martha in Edward Albee’s long, dark, pissed night of a play – a performance as gutsy as her Mama Rose in Gypsy, but more frankly savage and eventually human. She’s matched by Conleth Hill as husband George, a mangy, pouchy old tomcat who can still claw and bite. James Macdonald’s production is meticulously orchestrated: Imogen Poots and Luke Treadaway are great in the challenging support roles. I love this play but the tragicomic psychodrama goes up to 11. I think Albee, who I twice interviewed, was embarrassed by its excess, and the shadow it cast over his other work. But here, you can see why it did so.

#19 - Limehouse:

Donmar Warehouse

London theatre sure feels like a liberal bubble when you’re next to Shirley Williams, watching a play about the founding of the SDP in which she, naturally, appears. An easy shot, but no more pat perhaps than the way Steve Waters equates Labour's problems in 1981 and now. Like his previous Temple - about St Paul's reaction to the Occupy movement – this involves a passionate, provoking, speechifying and necessarily inconclusive rehearsal of the arguments, here enlivened by Debra Gillett’s pin-sharp Williams and Roger Allam’s slyly comic Roy Jenkins. The strongest character, deliberately, is David Owen’s patient, pragmatic wife Debbie, played by Nathalie Armin: the coda the actress speaks, about the state of the world today, is an authorial cop out.

#18 - "Machine gunned by bon mots as sweet at bonbons" - Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, starring Daniel Radcliffe

Old Vic

When ignorance is celebrated in many spheres, maybe cleverness comes back into its own in others. David Levaux’s blissful revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 celebration of theatrical wit, existential joshing and wordplay follows hard on the heels of the author’s similarly intellectually exuberant Travesties. What’s more, this one’s got Daniel Radcliffe, first underpowered, then nicely understated, as a foil to the more expressively anguised Josh Maguire, and a grandstandingly thespy David Haig, mining the theoritetical backwaters of Hamlet. I never feel clever enough for Stoppard and this show is like being machine-gunned with bon mots as sweet as bonbons, plus the odd tracer round of mordancy. But if you get even half of them it’s glorious, mind-stretching fun.

# 17 - Othello: revisionist, sometimes potent, sometimes downright silly

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe

The spate of revisionist Shakespeare continues with this blend of some very potent images and ideas, and a few very silly ones. Othello is a slender, courtly man, out of his depth; Iago a thuggish wrecker. Cassio is a woman (Cassia, surely?) which adds a wonky pansexual slant to the dynamics of betrayal. Snapchat photos, Lana Del Ray songs and a bit of Mockney improve war with the period setting. It’s funnier than most Othellos and there is a stirring focus on the women, with a revelatory Bianca and a Desdemona who transcends childish perkiness at the end. Still, it drags, and one occasionally needs reminding who the title character is.

#16 - "Clever and compassionate" - Ugly Lies the Bone

National Theatre, Lyttelton

A female soldier horribly burned in Afghanistan returns to a hometown destroyed by the loss of the space shuttle programme it served, in Lindsey Ferrentino’s clever and compassionate play, written when she was 25. Ferrentino doesn’t romanticise Kate Fleetwood’s sturdy central Jess, or mock the apparent deadbeats back home, nor does she make big political points. Instead her play pulses with common, awkward humanity. The Virtual Reality treatment Jess receives for pain demands Es Devlin’s splashy set and it’s hard to tell if the occasional clunkiness in Indhu Rubasingham’s production comes from the writing, or from British actors “doing” American. I rather hope the latter: and it’s still great.

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