#233 - Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike 16/11/21

Charing Cross Theatre

British audiences have never really ‘got’ US favourite Christopher Durang, and this arch 2013 work blending high and low culture, nostalgia and future dread, seems unlikely to change matters. Inexplicably a winner of Tony and Drama Desk awards, it features five characters acting out OTT Chekhovian or Euripidean character tropes in modern Pennsylvania, plus a vain lunkhead called Spike who’s always stripping off. Every joke and every reference is explained, sometimes in triplicate. Janie Dee is suitably hard-boiled as tough broad Masha and Michael Maloney deliver’s an anguished extended monologue well. But this show is too lame, mechanical and referential for the comedy, or the message about the ravages of time and technology, to work.

#232 - Footfalls and Rockaby 16/11/21

Jermyn St Theatre

Written and initially staged five years apart but now invariably paired, it’s tempting to see these two Samuel Beckett miniatures as part of the same narrative. Perhaps the old woman (Sian Philips) ebbing towards death in Rockaby is the mother of the weary, pacing May (Charlotte Emmerson), measuring out her own narrow life in Footfalls. Both works are typically gnomic and allusive, but they’re strongly atmospheric and generate a hypnotic sense of existential despair, and a counterbalancing desperation to cling to life. Emmerson is impressive but it’s Philips, at 88, who captivates, imbuing her single live-spoken word “more!” with a yearning ache.

#231 - Only Fools and Horses the Musical 06/10/21

Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Blimey, who’d have pegged this shonky but agreeable musical riff on the 80s sitcom as a keeper? Opened in February 2019, it was the last of the long-runners I hadn’t seen (apart from Magic Mike, over which I may draw a veil) before returning to theatre criticism. Me and my guest, a superfan, certainly laughed: it's a warm show with nice work from Tom Bennett and Ryan Hutton as the street-trading Del-Boy and Rodney, and from Paul Whitehouse (who also co-wrote the rickety book and cheery songs with OFAH’s creator Paul Sullivan) as both grandad and Uncle Albert. A compilation show, only for classic gags, eliciting a Pavlovian response. All together now: lovely jubbly.

#230 - Wicked the Musical, 07/10/21

Apollo Victoria

I’d almost forgotten what the classic, eyes-aloft, hit-the-back-wall, full-throated American musical looked like - Follies doesn't count - then I finally caught up with Stephen Schwartz’s revisionist take on The Wizard of Oz. It’s a classic subversion of fairytale tropes: Elphaba (Laura Pick) is grumpy because she’s green, bullied and blamed for her sister’s disability. Glinda (Sophie Evans, covering Helen Woolf’s maternity leave) is an appalling posh girl. After much hugging and learning, both emerge as better… witches. Though the mixture of ironic babytalk and high vocal emoting left me mostly unmoved, I admire the execution, the intricacy of anthems like Defying Graviry, and the way Eugene Lee’s superb design meshes with the magnificent Deco stylings of the Apollo. A kind of magic, then.

#229 - Witness for the Prosecution 01/10/21

County Hall, SE1

First opened in 2017, this version of Agatha Christie’s courtroom drama is London’s best site-specific performance. Lucy Bailey’s stylized production is precisely tailored to the grand volumes and hierarchical furnishings of the council chamber at County Hall. The remorseless drive of the story is accompanied by simple but striking scene changes while the actors turn in broad but efficient caricatures. Billy Wilder, who directed WFTP on film, said that Christie could do plot but not character, and Raymond Chandler, vice versa. Here, the setting and the story are the stars: I thought I’d remembered every plot twist and was delighted to realise I hadn’t. Bravo.

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