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REVIEW: Angels in America

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‘The Girls’ boasts a solid female cast, inventive design and score and makes for a successful screen-to-stage transfer

The Girls

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s The Girls 

Phoenix Theatre, London.  

The Girls

The Girls © Carl Woodward

Following a ‘tryout’ last year at The Leeds Grand Theatre and The Lowry in Manchester, ‘The Girls’ boldly finds itself lighting up the West End. Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s new musical – based on the 2003 film Calendar Girls, is a delight to behold.
The solid female cast, inventive design and score, make for a successful screen-to-stage transfer. Joanna Riding as Annie is a safe pair of hands,providing a poignant portrayal of marital loss; how will she cope alone in Tesco and Scarborough?
Firth’s production, Lizzi Gee’s musical staging and Tim Lutkin’s lighting, between them, overcome the problem of putting topography on stage; transporting us to Yorkshire Dales. Robert Jones’s set comprises moving kitchen cabinets, inventively framed, creating a dynamic landscape.
Debbie Chazen as Ruth with her “Russian Friend”, gives us a brutal, but hilarious glimpse at the place we feel most afraid to look when everything ahead seems too much to bear. There are some wonderful ensemble performances from the cast. Firth’s staging boasts half a dozen spot-on performances.
In a show with patchwork lyrics, plenty of Northern humour and more than a few cliches, the score is somewhere between mid-tempo and up-tempo, and breezes along for a good stretch with age-defying liberation.
The book is good enough as entertainment, with meaningful overtones of love and loss, rendered with authentic emotional effectiveness.
There is not a weak link in the casting, but the standout performance comes from the bereft Annie, so beautifully full of life. Things really get going in Act Two with the cheeky ladies doing traditional WI things like jam-making and floristry in the nude for their fundraising calendar.
At times Firth and Barlow’s production underuses its design and is a little laboured, but beneath its veneer ‘The Girls’ reminds us that true friendship can overcome even the most challenging of times.

Some photos from THE GIRLS Opening Night, Tuesday 21 February 2017

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Beth Iredale’s take on The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon
Ms Beth Iredale took a trip to see the popular musical. She did a drawing.
The Tony and Olivier Award-winning production is from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and follows a couple of Mormon boys sent on a mission.
The Book of Mormon is currently running at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Click HERE to book your tickets
The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon. © Beth Iredale

Text -The Book of Mormon.

Text -The Book of Mormon. © Beth Iredale

Guest Blog – Beth Iredale’s ‘Dedication’ sketch review

Sketch Review - Dedication

Beth Iredale took part in the original Young Critics project at Theatre Royal Winchester in 2015. Her drawings are a very impressive critical response in the world of online noise.

We went to watch  ‘Dedication directed by Sam Hodges earlier this week at The Nuffield in Southampton.

To say Beth is a promising critical voice would be a gross understatement. Okay great.

You can check out an article she wrote (Exeunt) as well as her sketch reviews here  >> Edinburgh Festival Sketchbook .

Talking about the illustrations done for Dedication, Beth says: “These drawings are a visual expression of the play. This show is built around such passionate design, it seems only right to showcase it. Alex Lowde is on top form. The  illustrations are captioned with quotes from the show. “I’d rather use them to allude to the content instead of describing it” she says.

Sketch review by Beth Iredale of the play  Dedication at Nuffield Theatre in the gallery below:

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SKETCH REVIEW – DEDICATION

You can follow Beth Iredale at:
Twitter @_BethLawless
Instagram _Bethlawless

You can also read my Sam Hodges interview here. Well done everyone.

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Us/Them – a crisp, witty, playful and stylish piece of physical theatre for young audiences

Us/Them is taking Summer Hall by storm. And rightly so. It is a highly impressive piece of physical theatre. This is a crisp, witty, playful and stylish piece for young audiences by Belgian Theatre company Bronks and has super producer Richard Jordan‘s fingerprints all over it.

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Click the image to book your tickets for Us/Them

This striking show tells the story of the 2004 siege of a school by Chechen separatist with breathtaking originality.

The opening section set the tone for the piece, which plays across a range of emotions, as humour and  playfulness coexist with much darker and disturbing content. The harrowing, yet innovative storytelling are edited and integrated from the start of performance, providing a narrative from which the rest of the piece extended.  Skillfulness of movement and expression is evident in the way text is rendered.

What really stands out is the strong communication with the audience through vocal and facial work supported by building anticipation as to what was coming next.

A range of dynamics within movement work prevent any slippage of attention. This means that when the surprises in the devastatingly simple set design are unveiled, a strong theatrical context is created.

This two hander is played electrically by Gytha Parmentier, Roman Van Houtven.
Their duet sequences are magnificently developed to remind the audience of the tragic story of the siege we hear but through subtle re-working of imagery rather than anything sentimental. I’ll never look at chalk in the same way again.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR US/THEM

Pigs and Dogs – Caryl Churchill communicates with vigour, that socially, politically and historically – we’ve got a long way to go

Pigs and Dogs at The Royal Court Theatre.

‘You Western-backed goats,
They forced us into slavery and killed millions. Now they want us to accept the sinfulness of homos.It shall not work.’

Pigs and Dogs at The Royal Court Theatre.

Pigs and Dogs at The Royal Court Theatre. © Alastair Muir

Both excitingly well made and strikingly formulaic. The three highly diverse leads are uniformly excellent. Sharon D Clarke is effortless in Caryl Churchill’s pertinent new play.

The title of the play is borrowed from  President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who said, “If dogs and pigs don’t do it, why must human beings?”

Pigs and Dogs boasts fine performances and nimble direction by Dominic Cooke. It doesn’t entirely evade the issue at its core – a brief history of homophobia and anti-homosexuality laws – instead it efficiently embraces the subject. Characters collide regardless of race or gender in a thrilling fifteen minutes.

This engaging piece succeeds well at what it sets out to do: wrapping an important message in a story told by rich voices. Nevertheless, both excitingly well made and dispiritingly formulaic; the actors pace the stage. The play is substantially based on material from ‘Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands’ by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe.

A riveting short which, were it fiction, might be disbelieved as dystopia. For me, Churchill communicates, with vigour, that socially, politically and historically – we’ve got a long way to go.

Cast (in alphabetical order)
Fisayo Akinade
Sharon D Clarke
Alex Hassell

Director: Dominic Cooke
Lighting Designer: Jack Williams
Sound Designed: David McDeveney
Costume Supervisor: Lucy Walshaw
Stage Manager: Caroline Meer
Dialect Coach: Hazel Holder

Unreachable – a fascinating theatrical experiment that represents ego and art without being overbearing

Matt Smith in Unreachable

Anthony Neilson’s hilarious new play is about a director going through a difficult time. It is like a rush of blood to the head. After five weeks of much publicised unscripted rehearsals there’s no point in resisting – and there’s no need – because it is captivating.

Matt Smith in Unreachable

Matt Smith in Unreachable

As is the way with these things, it’s hard to get a proper feel for a play of this nature  on one viewing, but ‘Unreachable’ feels like a genuine attempt to steal the 2016 theatre throne, as well as being the kind of gloriously all over the shop production that you often get when the country’s acting and production cream of the crop decide that they all want to get involved with a writer while the theatre iron is extremely hot.

Is ‘Unreachable’ difficult to grasp? No. Neilson’s theme, in fact, is less than the crippling uncertainty that stems from not being comfortable in your skin. Leading a fine cast, Matt Smith is superb as the lost and troubled Maxim, intoxicating and uncomfortable to watch, like the show itself.

Though it suffers from tonal inconsistency everything is elevated by an excellent cast. There are off-kilter moments throughout, you’d expect that, but the subject matter and the hilarious performance of Jono O’Neill as Ivan goes a long way toward forgiving the play’s strange anomalies. This is an entertainingly alive psychodrama that hits many of the beats, but lacks depth.

The potency of the evening is magnified by Chloe Lamford’s monochrome design, in which black and white wash the set and cast, and four metallic screens frame the action on the stage. And like all Nielson’s work, this is likely to be a constant work in progress.
I’m already looking forward to the second coming of this show. Seriously, well done all concerned.

Unreachable is at the Royal Court, London, until August 6.
To book tickets, visit  www.royalcourtheatre.com or call 020 7565 5000

X, Royal Court, London.

X” is not what it appears.

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X” is set on a small research base on Pluto. Pluto’s distance from the Sun is 3.67 billion miles. Much like the planet itself, “X” relies on what you bring to it. It is both engrossing and alienating.

X” is not what it seems.

Written by Demi-God Alistair McDowall and directed by Vicky Featherstone with customary assurance, this production is incoherent, but looks good and is mostly well acted. Sure “X” is ambitious. Even startling. But too many plot points are left to the audience’s imagination without absolutely any explanation whatsoever.

Superb as the visuals are, I wish that Featherstone’s production paid more attention to McDowall’s language. Not much is made visually apprehensible.

I liked the huge dead bird on stage and the bird that was flown in – wonderful
opportunities for design and stage management. I didn’t enjoy quite so much
all that mum stuff at the end and the last moment when someone said the tree
was her mother(!).

Science fiction never announces its subtext this narcissistically. Still, it’s a smart response to the excesses of the sci-fi genre. Without wishing to baffle you, people are doing this shit because everything is fucked. Theatre needs to be instrumental in un-fucking everything.

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It seemed like a 6/10 event – slightly above average and, for that reason, an average McDowall play.

McDowall’s got talent but at the moment no very coherent way of presenting his ideas. We shall see how he moves forward.

At the Royal Court, London, until 7 May. Buy tickets for X from www.royalcourt.com 

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (Review)

The Mayflower

So, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…

review1

The stage version of the iconic 1968 British film is not awful. The much-loved songs by Sherman Brothers and the sensational sets coupled with stunning special effects make for an entertaining experience. Oh, and there is a flying car.

The whole thing is efficiently directed by James Brining, Simon Higlett’s design evokes the charming spirit of the original film and some of the acting is good.  Special mention must go to the Simon Wainwright’s innovative video designs, that graphically recreate the high seas escape.

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The wheels start to come off once frankly terrible Michelle Collins and Phillip Jupitus appear as Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Their relentless jokes and hammy performances strain for a laugh. The biggest frustration is the pace. However, just revving up seems to take 50 minutes and when it does it sounds like a volcanic eruption. It goes on a bit. The sluggish first act drags along at a peristaltic pace before we finally get to see the car fly.

The final result is a musical that has all the motorised competence one expects of a show but very little feeling. The best performance comes from Jason Manford. It is Manford as Caractacus Potts, who provides the show with what it mostly lacks: heart and soul. There is, however, laughter to be had from Vulgarian spies Sam Harrison as Boris and Scott Page as Goran. Their physical comedy is well timed and genuinely entertaining. The biggest disappointment for me was Martin Kemp as the not-so sinister Childcatcher. His performance is top-to-bottom rubbish in terms of characterisation and villainy.?

The second act is a fiasco; a sloppy samba section and a reprise that runs like a Ford KA and corners like a Robin Reliant. The car flying is quite something but I was left feeling uninspired by Manford sauntering in and out of the vehicle as if he’d driven a milkfloat, yet this spirited production rarely takes itself too seriously.

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Movie-musicals are not usually a good idea. Let’s hope and pray we come across again someday a new musical based on an original idea. It’s probably somewhere approaching fun. The five year old in front of me seemed to be enjoying himself. Not great, not awful. Good at times in fact. I admire Chitty’s temperament. Maybe we could all learn from Chitty. Overall I’d give it a cautious thumbs-up.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs until Sunday February 21. Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk

ELF the Musical (Review)

Review of Elf the musical playing at the Dominion theatre, by Carl published in Theatre & Performance.

Review of Elf the musical by Carl Woodward