#226 - Swimming on Piccadilly 23/08/21

The Dilly Hotel, 21 Piccadilly, W1J

Oops. I’d finagled a visit to the Dilly hotel – formerly Le Meridien – on Piccadilly because I’d heard it had a glorious rooftop pool with a curved glass roof behind a colonnade facing the street. And it did once, but sometime in in the hotel’s 113-year history, swimming was shifted into the basement and dining moved to the roof. The current pool is almost square (12x13m), blue tiled, with a fountain to one side and an off-centre column: it’s an attractive, safely shallow, family-splasharound bath though the poolside and public areas have a municipal feel and need love. It’s mostly for residents but you can book one-to-one adult swimming lessons in a roped off lane too.

#225 - Damage Control

Riverside Studios, W6

One of the stranger experiences I’ve been to post-lockdown, Damage Control pairs Polly Wiseman’s verbatim audio play about a selection of London fires and plagues with an exhibition of statues – some whole, some fragmented – by Josie Spencer. The linking thread is human vulnerability, but it’s a strained one. Wiseman rightly suggests the poor suffered more in Grenfell Tower, the Great Fire, and from Covid. But while some of its testimony is powerful the 42-minute play is too strident. Spencer’s classically influenced bronze figures are dynamic but otherworldly, augmented with feathers and coloured patina. It’s a pleasure to look at them while listening but the two elements never fully marry up.

Until 31 Oct, Riverside Studios, W

#224 - Come From Away

Phoenix Theatre, WC2H

If anything, the last 16 months have sharpened the message of hope, generosity and compassion in this full-hearted Canadian musical. David Hein and Irene Sankoff tell the true story of how the tiny Newfoundland town of Gander took in 7,000 strangers diverted from US flights after 9/11, with verve, wit and a sensational ceilidh band. It’s a lo-fi concept with minimal set and an ensemble cast mucking in on multiple characters but that adds to the charm and humanity of the piece. I rarely bother seeing any show twice: this was my third viewing of Come From Away, and it didn’t disappoint.

#223 - The Play That Goes Wrong

Duchess Theatre

Okay, I’m late to the party, but seeing TPTGW nine years into its West End run I was struck by its combination of coarseness and precision. A clownish spoof of a murder mystery – specifically that other long-runner, The Mousetrap – it lays on the slapstick with a trowel. But the wilful excess of the overacting and the badoom-tish underlining of the jokes- which make it comprehensible to young and old, locals and overseas tourists alike - is underpinned by great dexterity and hair-trigger timing, particularly among the stage management team. Covid couldn’t kill it, and it’s currently one year shy of matching the decade-long run of Oh! Calcutta. Hang in there, chaps…

#222 - The Invisible Hand

Kiln, NW6

Rejigged since it’s 2016 run, Ayad Akhtar’s play about a kidnapped banker forced to play the markets for his captors has become even more tightly focused and exciting. In a hectic two hours in a pressure-booker cell, desperate American Nick (Daniel Lapaine) and coiled, furious British Pakistani Bashir (Scott Karim) unpack geopolitics, high finance, religion, friendship and hatred in a way that is simultaneously humane, comprehensible and thrilling. Director Indhu Rubasingham keeps up the pace and also draws fine supporting performances from Tony Jayawardena as Imam Saleem, a guru with feet of clay, and Sid Sagar as reluctant jailer Dar. Terrific.

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