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Grievance culture is not unproblematic

Julian Ovenden and Gillian Anderson in All About Eve.

How seriously should theatre-goers take a reviewer that keeps using the word problematic?

Not seriously at all, obviously.

A trend that, arguably, represents everything rotten & self-destructive about the industry currently. Imposing self righteous 21st century values on the past also means work is now regularly dismissed: sight unseen.

Who needs creative expression anyway? Balance? Forget it.

It’s like Brexit it goes from bad to worse

In an industry that has only recently begun to grapple with the equality issues that have bedevilled it, progress has been made on representation & visibility.

But where does all this agenda-driven, middle class self-loathing & guilt tripping actually lead? Well, it is initially on display in the current crop or preachy ‘woke’ commentary that is entrenched in mainstream culture. See: Theatre Twitter / Exeunt & an increasing number of The Stage’s reviews.

Berkoff as Harvey Weinstein. Photograph credit: Richard Young/Rex/Shutterstock

Berkoff as Harvey Weinstein. Photograph credit: Richard Young/Rex/Shutterstock

Steven Berkoff recently directed himself in Harvey, a one-man show about Weinstein, at the Playground theatre, London. The play attempts to delve into the disgraced movie mogul.

The Guardian went and awarded it 2 stars. This was a workshop run of a new play by an 81 year old man. Press were not invited – they went anyway. Tabloid stuff innit.

Berkoff may not be to everyone’s taste and the timing is undeniably questionable (too soon etc) but he is a man with an international profile & reputation for cutting-edge theatre (East, Salome and Decadence) Berkoff is also one of the foremost actors of his generation. To write him off for having a scrotum & daring to tackle this material is churlish.

Every year a rotating number of individual voices rise above the usual noise on social media but the stupidity remains ritualised. Everyone is offended – everything is problematic. Even Mary Poppins is racistyou know.

Long term, as others are often too scared to point out, though, it’s hardly an unconnected surprise to learn that critics are being culled & informed mainstream coverage is in decline. Who wants to read this stuff? Modern life is already miserable enough as it is.

It’s always a case of fine margins, of course, with The Stage & increasingly The Guardian which are both regularly eulogising patriarchy in a campaign that can best be described as annoyingly woke.

It is, though, hard to escape the sense that all concerned are going through the motions – effortlessly, sometimes brilliantly – but going through the motions, none the less. Chasing trends rather than setting them.

All About Eve

All About Eve

This week, I visited the Noel Coward to see Ivo Van Hove’s production of All About Eve. The play is based on the classic 1950 film, that sees Bette Davis as an ageing star under siege from a manipulative aspiring actress.

Gillian Anderson & Lily James are great & I found it compelling. Technical wizardry aside, the vital element in the brilliance of All About Eve is that the direction & cast are of a phenomenally high standard. Truly.

Anyway, in a review for Time OutAndrzej Łukowski commented: “Her appearance is the first sense that any women exist in this world, and she’s there to mourn, repent, and care for a suffering man, not to have her own agency.” ‘Written in a very different era, ‘All About Eve’ is not totally unproblematic in its depiction of female ambition and its relationship to female bodies. But it is still pretty potent, and apt, and you can see why it appealed to Van Hove.’

All About Eve is geared toward the #MeToo era; most of the audiences are young, smart females. I used to enjoy reading first night reviews. Now, so often, the recurring themes and language around the same complaints about ‘all male’ creative teams week-after week mean that those writing about theatre have talked them self into an opinion.

By which I mean give me strength –  let’s not get carried away chaps, it’s just people jumping on an obvious bandwagon.

Stay strong, readers.

All About Eve is at the Noël Coward theatre, London, until 11 May.

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FOLLIES IS ON FU*KING ITUNES

Follies

As you well know, the National Theatre executed a surprise, everyone-get-out-of-bed-right-now, fucking-hell-what’s-happening-are-we-all-dead-and-is-this-what-the-afterlife-feels-like album release.

Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES – 2018 National Theatre Cast Recording is here.

It’s all very exciting.

My thanks for your thoughts at this time and for those who contributed to the trolling of our Royal National Theatre.

But how did I feel at the end of this emotional 12 month dual carriageway?

One word: Overjoyed.

  1. Prologue – 10/10
  2. Beautiful Girls 10/10
  3. Don’t Look At Me 10/10
  4. Waiting For The Girls Upstairs 10/10
  5. Rain On The Roof / Ah, Paris! / Broadway Baby (Medley) 10/10
  6. The Road You Didn’t Take 10/10
  7. In Buddy’s Eyes 10/10
  8. Who’s That Woman? 10/10
  9. I’m Still Here 10/10
  10. Too Many Mornings 10/10
  11. The Right Girl 8/10 (a bit of a racket)
  12. One More Kiss 10/10
  13. Could I Leave You? 10/10
  14. Loveland 8/10 (semi-annoying)
  15. You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow / Love Will See Us Through (Medley) 10/10
  16. Buddy’s Blues 10/10
  17. Losing My Mind 9/10 (Imelda lite)
  18. The Story Of Lucy and Jessie 10/10
  19. Live, Laugh, Love 10/10
  20. End of Show 10/10

Anyway, FOLLIES returns to the National Theatre with previews from 12 February 2019, with many of the original cast including Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Peter Forbes returning to their roles. Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding will join the cast in the roles of Ben and Sally. More information and tickets can be found here: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/follies

CD pre-orders will be available ‘soon’ let’s hope it isn’t another year.

Any questions? No? Good. You can buy FOLLIES on Itunes  or stream it right now

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Top 5 Shows of 2018 – (the hype is real)

Top 5 shows of 2018 by Carl Woodward

All these shows are 10/10s.

It has been quite a year for theatre.

But first I thought it would only be polite to look back at some brilliantly shit moments.

Chicago returned with Cuba Gooding Jr as Billy Flynn, which was not ideal. Crumbling shows do these things, of course, in the hope of charming the audience into thinking the show still has legs. Love Island’s Caroline Flack was eventually parachuted in as Roxie Hart – reportedly pipping Cheryl Cole to the part. I know.

Elsewhere, the show most likely to drive business into the assisted suicide sector of Switzerland’s economy: Foxfinder. The West End production of Dawn King’s dystopian play – last seen at the tiny Finborough in 2005 – was a crushing disappointment. A starry affair, though, featuring Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) and Heida Reed (Poldark).

 FoxFinder

FoxFinder

However, it closed 2 months early after reportedly playing to an average audience of 40 people. Oh dear. I was enraged at the stupidity of the production.

It wasn’t the only fiasco of the year, though, ‘cos I was also pretty distressed by Eugenius! Ben Adams and Chris Wilkin’s joyless 80’s musical returned to the Other Palace and looked all set to transfer to the Ambassador’s Theatre.

Sadly, for them, a key investor pulled out. I don’t think a show has ever made me want to eat my own teeth with despair, either. The less said about it the better.

Oh, and cult off-Broadway show Heathers transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket. A horror of a show featuring Carrie Hope Fletcher. ‘The hype is real’ set a new low for witless PR. Note: Heathers was, in fact, beyond criticism.

Off-stage oddity was abundant, The Tricycle in Kilburn rebranded as Kiln Theatre. In one of the most pointless protests of all time. You want to know the location of this outrage, though, simply take a closer look at the people branding placards; they had the Brexit look about them.

But what a terrific year it has been for great theatre.

So, my Top 5 shows of 2018.

  1. Fun Home at the Young Vic, was a radical triumph. The Tony-Award winning musical based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 striking graphic novel memoir was all about growing up gay. But, if anything, it was all about the poignantly beautiful inspired lesbian protagonist and the complicated relationship with her closeted gay father. This was an unconventional 100-minute show set in a funeral home but full of life and bristling with ambition. Enchanting stuff.

A sensational Jenna Russell added majestic authority to an all-too-relatable, everyday drama. Russell invoked absolute magic. I sobbed. As did most around me.

Caroline, or Change

Caroline, Or Change

  1. Caroline, Or Change was exhilarating and distinct. Sharon D Clarke made mincemeat as Caroline, a black maid in Tony Kushner’s sprawling civil rights musical. Clarke’s vocals conveyed wilful submissiveness with tenderness, giving the production an incredible, stark atmosphere. Everything about it had a cohesiveness that only the greatest shows possess. Michael Longhust directed everything with exhilarating originality.

The glorious show stared life in Chichester – enjoyed a sell-out acclaimed run at Hampstead Theatre and is running at Playhouse Theatre until April 2019.

Go. See. It.

  1. Company is stylish, charismatic and an unselfconsciously incisive gender-switch Sondheim for the 21st Century. Elliott & Harper riotously rode the zeitgeist with this one. Bobby became Bobbie – a singleton facing her 35th birthday alone and Rosalie Craig embodied the role to classy perfection, which was a relief.

This slick and stylish amazingness also includes two of the best musical theatre performances of 2018 in the shape of Patti LuPone and Jonathan Bailey belting out 5-star, show-stopping excellence every night. Marianne Elliott’s excellent production reinvented Stephen Sondheim for today. A thrilling interrogation of a half-century old musical that deserves all the awards. Bunny Christie’s luminescent set is certainly the best thing on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Company was 2018’s most thrilling and sophisticated musical comedy.

  1. The Producers at the Royal Exchange was very, very funny and beautifully executed. I.e. unmissable theatre. Performed in the round, drawing the audience in, Raz Shaw’s brilliant revival of Mel Brooks’ musical felt horribly pertinent to the present. Timing, chemistry, acting and singing: all note-perfect.

Not for the first time, Manchester set the standard for world class theatre. Alistair David’s choreography was seriously good, too. A side-splitting and hilarious piece of work. Truly.

Anyway, at this point you’re probably wondering what the best show of 2018 is going to be.

Well:

  1. The Inheritance is probably the funniest play you’ll see about AIDS. Matthew Lopez’s two-part masterpiece manages to make you weep with laughter one moment and move you to tears the next. A brilliant rare theatre trick indeed.
The Inheritance

The Inheritance

 This is the play of the year, by the writer of the year, from the producer of the decade (Sonia Friedman), and if the beauty of The Inheritance doesn’t hit you round the head when you see it you might as well pack up and go home because it’s over. Don’t talk to me.

You can be hard pressed to find performances rarely so inspired, defined and compatible with the dozen exceptionally gifted performers. Stephen Daldry’s life-affirming production takes an unflinching look at what makes us tick, success, failure, love and heartbreak.

This is sublime 7-hour play that uniquely explores the lives of gay New Yorkers a generation on from the AIDS crisis, whilst also being a striking love letter to EM Forster and Howards End.

To call The Inheritance a once-in-a-lifetime piece of theatre perfection would be 100% accurate. Hey, even retired critic Michael Coveney liked it and he hates everything and everyone. *thumbs up emoji*

Broadway beckons, no doubt.

And that brings our list to a close. Not great news for Bananaman: The Musical, but pretty good news for theatre’s best people.

Shows that have made it to Carl’s  list of  top 10:

 

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Bridge Theatre: A Very Very Very Questionable Year

Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr’s year-old theatre is testing my patience. The mission statement of the two Nicks was to focus primarily on new plays.

I suppose they did do that.

One thing’s for sure, though – the 900-seat, £12.5m Bridge Theatre, has the best toilets in London. No subsidy either. 100% commercial theatre, folks, and disappointingly, when I glanced a programme, within the core staff: no education department. Poor show, guys.

There’s something a bit unnerving about anyone who isn’t London’s literati giving a damn about Bridge Theatre. The warning signs were there as early as the third production Nightfall (Barney Norris) and who can forget the terminal Young Marx (Richard Bean). Let’s not dwell on the shoddy reunion with long-term collaborator Alan Bennett (Allelujah!) either. I walked out of all three bored rigid.

The fact that Hytner has still never directed a play by a woman is an obvious concern, which, I think you’ll agree, is fairly impressive. The two Nicks have to start commissioning and involving women writers. Their worrying all-male, all-white line-up will never bring in a diverse audience.

But, hey, why bother with quality control when you can sell tickets to an Evening with Nigella Lawson for £45.00 a pop and shed-loads of Madelines during the intervals.

The Bridge’s latest misfireMartin McDonagh’s objectively rubbish new play A Very Very Very Dark Matter. It might be a contender for the worst play of the year. Why? The plot. Or almost complete lack of it, to be more accurate. No matter how many illustrious writers pen something for that stage and, despite them being an Oscar winner – I still haven’t been able to find one. A Very Very Very Dark Matter never takes off; avoid it at all costs.

A Very Dark Matter, Jim Broadbent

A Very Dark Matter, Jim Broadbent

McDonagh has taken a historical figure and made him a racist idiot– imagining the life he lived at the height of his fame – in this case by portraying Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent) being offensive to a Congolese pygmy woman (Eula’Mae Ackles) in a secret dwelling upstairs in his attic.

As maddeningly incoherent as it sounds.

What did stun me, though, was the sudden realisation that I’d seen it before. It’s a star-fucking Horrible Histories, obviously, but not just the basic grotesque spin on historical events – whether portraying Charles Dickens as a foul-mouthed misery or Christian Andersen as a cockney racist.

The difference, of course, is that Horrible Histories often delivers a powerful message with a charm, subtlety, humour, a proper story and a great script. Matthew Dunster’s production does it with a mallet over the head. The 90-minute evening is full of the F and C words and an attempt to make us laugh at genuinely offensive language, stereotypes about ‘gyppos’ and in-jokes about German directors. How wrong. How sadly, awfully, dangerously wrong.

Either Nick Hytner and Nick Starr have taken their eyes off the ball or else they are working towards better things. However, what they are missing, as yet, is a real sense of vision, inclusion and diversity. Just because it is a commercial enterprise doesn’t mean these things are not compatible.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Sure, the toilets are nice and Hytner’s promenade production of Julius Caesar was smart and gripping. But with the new season containing a victory-lap of monologue My Name Is Lucy Barton and Hytner directing an immersive production of William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’ll pass thanks.

And you can keep your signature Madeleines… For now.

COMPANY is exciting, fresh and relevant

Further proof, if it were needed, there’s not a single theatre format that can’t be improved by the presence of Marianne Elliott. See: Angels in America / War Horse / Curious IncidentElliott & Harper’s gender-switch reinvention of Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy COMPANY, will go down in West End folklore.

Knocked flat by this wonderful musical, I saw stars at the interval, five of them.

People are trying to work out why COMPANY is proving so insanely popular. Theories have ranged from Patti LuPone’s scene-stealing, Mel Giedroyc’s playful comic bravado, to Richard Fleeshman in tiny blue pants, without considering a more obvious possibility. All of the above.

The musical – ambitious book by George Furth, skilful music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim – is all about marriage and single life. But fifty years on from its Broadway debut – Elliot’s entertaining gender-switch reinvention enables a forensic and meaningful account of the pressures on modern women and female agency. Everything builds to an intriguing investigation of commitment, sexual desire and modern relationships.

Deeply brilliant Rosalie Craig absolutely nails the hardest role of reinventing Bobbie: a thirty-five-year-old, New York singleton. Craig’s performance is an unqualified success. Truly. She displays all the quick-fire shrewd observations to perfection and, like all great performers, can melt your heart in a flash. And she’s tailored in her vocal powers to the size of the Gieguld Theatre and the ascending glories of her two solo first act belters: ‘Someone Is Waiting’ and ‘Marry Me A Little.’

Patti LuPone – a Broadway legend of undiminished vitality and comic charm – plays cynical friend Joanne with mega-star sass. LuPone’s entrance at ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ is full of smack and billion-dollar relish. Her performance is out and out astounding and her jaded but larger-than-life persona is truly delicious. A dazzle to watch.

Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone

Elsewhere, Bunny Christie’s chic set is sensational. Lit in it in blue and red neon shades and Alice in Wonderland inspired, it all looks sleek. It’s all the more hypnotising, because clever casting and pure stagecraft is combined with an ability to tug at the heartstrings. This only serves as a reminder of what a great and distinctively talented team is behind this.

In a uniformly strong cast, Richard Fleeshman is hilarious (‘Barcelona’ = joyful) playing chiselled, nice-but-dim flight attendant Andy and Gavin Spokes delivers stirring pathos as Harry – when he sings ‘Sorry Grateful’ I burst into tears, it was kind of shattering. I love theatre that makes me burst into tears. As arrogant hipster PJ, George Blagden is alluring when he sings ‘Another Hundred People’, against a backdrop of two bleak carriages of commuters amid break-out moments of gorgeous movement. Moments later he is wheeled off on a park bench. Fun.

Liam Steel’s choreography is full of precision and shimmer – especially the storming Vaudevillian party game bat-shit craziness of ‘Side by Side’ – the full cast perform this with military precision and it is 100% excellent.

One of the things the show does very, very well – and often with a wry comic touch – is magic. Actual magic; the illusions, by magician Chris Fisher, are executed cunningly, drawing on sleight of hand – it is utterly theatrical. At one point, the female cleric (divine Daisy Maywood), pops up from the floor in a pink neon box, vanishes behind a door, moments later disappears into a fridge.

In ‘Getting Married Today’, originally a bride-to-be (Amy) delivers a nerve-jangling ode to second thoughts and is here invigorated by one frantic half of gay couple Jonathan Bailey. He is the twitchy gay groom Jamie (embodying monotone hysteria). Bailey’s lines are spat out at machine-gun momentum and with bullseye precision – this whole sequence is ingenious and it nearly stops the show.

Marianne Elliott’s superlatively reworked COMPANY never once lets the pace drop. And the results are vibrant; go, just go.

COMPANY is at the Gieguld Theatre until March 30 2019.

Click here to book your tickets for Company

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So obviously ‘The Inheritance’ is fairly incredible

The Inheritance

Right – so I’ve seen The Inheritance (again) and it’s a pretty astonishing piece of work. The Young Vic’s show of the year: The Inheritance, written by Matthew Lopez and directed by Stephen Daldry, is as close to theatre perfection as it gets.

Is the hype real? Yes, folks.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Theatrically, tonally, politically and conceptually it’s right up there with Tony Kushner’s sprawling Angels in America, and with a brilliant cast including Vanessa Redgrave – the only woman in the play.

This, in a nutshell, is where we begin:

A cosy room. A handful of YOUNG MEN sitting around writing.’

Paul Hilton kicks off Part 1 as Morgan, an embodiment of novelist E.M. Forster educating a group of contemporary privileged gay men in New York, lost in the millennial haze of a generation after the AIDS crisis.

Having a production like this at the Noel Coward Theatre (Broadway next – certainly) is more significant than ever. We are living in a divided world; more than two-thirds of same-sex couples avoid holding hands in public and hate crimes against LGBT people has more than doubled since EU referendum.

These are challenging times.

But this is a play of a lifetime – for the time. Release the doves, it’s finally happened. The Inheritance is a thrilling seven-hour, two-parter E.M. Forster inspired epic of New York gay life. Oh, and it is extremely special. Its theatre in all the right ways, it’s noisy in all the right ways, it’s brash and bombastic and funny and audacious and playful in all the right ways, and it’s smart in all the right ways, too.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Along with the world-class sound by Paul Arditti and Christopher Reid, one of the best things about The Inheritance is Jon Clark’s lighting. It illuminates the stage; the naturalistic suddenly becomes impressionistic. Falling shadows make the darkness itself visible. Light is used not just to show detail, but to hide it.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Part 1, though, has possibly my favourite moments ever spent sat in a theatre. Bob Crowley’s excellent bare wooden set enables the exceptional cast to display constant movement and focussed performances, his minimal design of a moving platform creates a striking azure.

‘We need our community, we need our history. How else can we teach the next generation who they are and how they got here?’ asks the beating heart of the story: Eric Glass– played exquisitely by Kyle Soller – on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, while scene-stealing Andrew Burnap as Toby swaggers as his narcissistic partner. He flutters around gayly in a tight vest and speedos like an exotic bird. He’s also very funny and has cheek bones that could cut glass. Deftly conjoining these two central performances are the breathtakingly simple sequences between them that encapsulates Lopez’s jaggedly tender script; harrowing, heart-breaking, nasty and joyful.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Part 2 is a drama littered with characters living an unfulfilled existence, trapped by the great silence and snappy dialogue that is the true villain of the piece. Having been swept along by Daldry’s vision for a day and night of entertainment, heartbreak and inspiration, Vanessa Redgrave appears as a woman who has lost her son to AIDS. Redgrave, 81, puts on a majestic display of stagecraft full of hypnotic pregnant pauses. By the end of the night, you feel that silence deserves to be broken by tumultuous applause. Which it is.

Everything that I have written about The Inheritance seriously understates the level of theatre sorcery going on here; this is a decadent, astute theatre triumph.

It is addictively binge-worthy and I can’t wait to go back.

N.B. Please note that the amazingness of this cast is indeed dangerous and anybody with an aversion to INCREDIBLE THEATRE should avoid.

The Inheritance is at Noel Coward Theatre until 19 January 2019. Wednesday and Saturday matinee performances. 

Top Show: London – The Inheritance (Pt. 1)

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Remembering the worst idea of all time: StageCon

StageCon
StageCon

StageCon

Make it through the first nine circles of hell and you’ll find a bunch of average theatre people, in Shoreditch Town Hall, over a weekend taking selfies with millenials – for £160.

An idea, surely, no one in their right mind would pass off as entertainment or fan engagement.

The inaugural and ironically, probably last ever ‘Theatre Convention’ was just stupid and criminally naive. Looking back now, it’s obvious that in 2018 the industry is caught in the strange no man’s land between commercialism and exploitation.

StageCon, announced in August, was due to take place in November 3 and 4 at Shoreditch Town Hall in London. Sharon D ClarkeCarrie Hope FletcherMichael Xavier and Christina Bennington were among the stars set to appear, but today after backlash the organisers said some of the contributors had to pull out due to offers of professional work.

Translation: they got a better offer too.

The whole thing was not good. In fact it was the opposite of good. It was very, very bad.

Shed no tears, though, for StageCon or the rats jumping ship. Spread out over a long weekend, the point of StageCon was completely lost on me, but our interest was meant to be held by an ‘exciting programme of events.’

Where are we now? Well, this week Michael Xavier pulled out, for starters, the event was pulled from Shoreditch Town Hall’s website and today was officially ‘postponed’ until 2019.

Woah there, folks. Back up the truck.

True to form, It fooled absolutely no one, of course, least of all me. Of all the irritations that came with StageCon over the summer, it was the cost, partnership with the WhatsOnStage and smugness that got me the most.

Additionally, now United Theatrical will now be the sole organiser of the event. All ticket holders have been contacted and offered a refund or the option to transfer their ticket to next year’s StageCon, apparently.

A spokesperson today said: ‘The organisers are also keen to engage with those who have previously shared their feedback, in order that the community has the chance to contribute to an event created for the community, and that it has every opportunity to become a regular and celebrated fixture on the UK’s theatre calendar.’

That’s why the organisers kept defending, deflecting and denying any incentive to cash in. They got dumb and greedy, and quickly discovered, as was inevitable, that supply had outstripped demand.

This is not just my opinion, obviously. Almost everyone who has looked at the nuts and bolts of StageCon have concluded it’s not good enough.

Anyway, StageCon will be postponed until next year after feedback from fans. Don’t, however, rule out the possibility of a last-minute redemption.

I’m not exactly holding my breath here, though.

We live in nutty times.

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Theatre Diary: Sweet Charity, SIX The Musical, Abigail’s Party & Eugenius!

It’s a popular misconception, and one frequently held by opportunists, that low quality, no-redeeming-features musicals are easy to palm off on theatre fans. See: Heathers / The Band.

Far from being guaranteed to rock your world, EUGENIUS! is guaranteed to bore you rigid. It is with deep regret that I inform you this sci-fi super hero show is not a good musical in any world.

There are moments you feel the show wants to get out of first gear; when the bizarre dancing fish people appear. Aaron Renfree’s choreography is perfectly satisfactory. Oh, and he was an S Club Junior as well.

This production has been tottering around London for 2 years now – originally staged as a concert at the London Palladium in 2016. But it is 2018 and Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ 80’s inspired show is back at The Other Palace. It has very few redeeming features, aside from Rob Houchen. He plays the lead role of Eugene well.

Most of the music doesn’t work, but it scores a palpable hit with ‘Comic Book Kind Of Love’. Every other line, every other character, seems mechanical. It just doesn’t know what it is or who it is for. I also take issue with the grossly stereotype homosexual character – played by Scott Paige. It’s just not funny to have an effeminate individual just for their gayness. Basic.

The Warwick Davies produced musical starts off being far better than you might have expected, ends up being far worse than you could ever have feared. Sadly, it swerves anything meaningful and hurls itself into a sort of risible parody of a parody affair with basic gender stereotypes, a ropey design and misguided sexual politics, which is a bit disappointing but, well, it’s 2018 isn’t it. Avoid.

Life in prison for Warwick and the other two, please.

At Nottingham Playhouse, Rebecca Trehearn demonstrates how Sweet Charity should be done. Everything glides by like a dream.

As Charity Hope Valentine Rebecca Trehearn enters like a ditzy lioness in Bill Buckhurst’s triumphant revival of the 1966 Broadway hit – the first musical produced by the Playhouse in over a decade. Everyone is in most assured hands with choreographer Alistair David, master of clever choreography that animates everything. Sizzling stuff.

SWEET CHARITY

SWEET CHARITY

Things soar with a dazzling interpretation of Big Spender and Buckhurst brings his particular gifts to the show: nimble direction, razzle-dazzle, pinpoint characterisation. Yes, it goes on a bit, at nearly three hours long. Nonetheless, an evening of many enchanting charms with a winning vitality.

Another year, another revival of Abigail’s Party. Douglas Rintoul’s treacle slow production both stages and stays faithful to Mike Leigh’s acidic comedy about 1970s social norms at Queen’s Theatre, HornchurchMelanie Gutteridge is beautifully contained as the ghastly host Beverley, though. Her delivery of: “Laurence, Angela likes Demis Roussos. Tony likes Demis Roussos, I like Demis Roussos, and Sue would like to hear Demis Roussos: so please, d’you think we could have Demis Roussos on?” brought a wide smile to my face. Brilliant.

There are plenty of quietly enjoyable moments. But everything lacks depth that would give it savour. The design helps; Lee Newby’s smartly 70’s kitch work frames the action acutely.

But this is a safe evening: a retrieval rather than a rediscovery, it adds nothing new. The greatness of Leigh’s play lies in its unspoken wish that aggressive suburban consumerism might itself one day have the courage to confront reality.

A new British musical that’s as brilliant as it is absolutely daft, Six The Musical has made the last few years of Arts Theatre, London worth all the hassle.

Managing to be an inspiring piece about female empowerment without being trite and generally shit, SIX The Musical enjoyed a sell-out run at Edinburgh Fringe this year and arrives in town evolved with a real buzz.

Cheers all round for a resounding bunch of queens. A royal affair, sassy performances and a show-making all-female crew stir in tinselly costumes. This concert-style show about the six wives of Henry VIII is a real joy.

SIX

SIX

Yes, the message here is probably as substantial as Girl Power once was / is, but this is stompy musical theatre perfection nonetheless. There’s a strong sense of ‘imperial phase Little Mix’ in this musical, which is to say it’s close to pop musical perfection. There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Eugenius! is at The Other Palace until 21 October.

Sweet Charity is at Nottingham Playhouse until 22 September.

Abigail’s Party is at Queens Theatre Hornchurch until 22 September, then touring. 

SIXthe Musical is at Arts Theatre, London until 1 December.

 

 

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Kiln Theatre: why the north London theatre rebrand is cause for celebration

Indhu Rubasingham

Indhu Rubasingham

The Tricycle is no more: earlier this year Indhu Rubasingham relaunched it as the Kiln theatre.

Before going any further, let’s nail this idea that Kiln Theatre is a mistake. It’s a dangerous half-truth which seriously underestimates artistic director Rubhasingham. So it should be pointed out as a matter of urgency, that it is not the end of the world.

This week, though, former artistic directors and board members of the north London Theatre, are urging the venue to revert to its previous name, the title it held for 38 years.

In a letter to The Observer 15 people signed a letter in the Observer criticising the decision. The list includes all three previous chairs of the board – Andree Molyneux, Patricia Macnaughton and Stephen Phillips – as well as the theatre’s original architect Tim Foster, and others.

In the letter, they say: “The Tricycle was a landmark in London, and a brand locally, nationally and internationally. In our view this change of name throws away a valuable legacy and history.”

I’m kind of over this obsessive and credibility-destroying campaign. Yes, renaming Tricycle Theatre has misfired. But it is the opposite of an attempt at demolishing an old identity.

Understood? Good. Then let’s proceed in an open-minded fashion with the Trike, the focus group years, where there is a £7 million capital development programme, not dissimilar programming to before and a new name: Kiln Theatre.

A Kiln Theatre spokesperson said “Theatre is not, and never has been, primarily about preserving a legacy. Theatre by its nature is ephemeral and impermanent, it’s about reflecting the world around us, provocation, and ultimately change. We are representing the theatre for today as we embark on the next stage of the company’s story in the newly refurbished building we have worked incredibly hard to deliver over the past five years, and one that we are futureproofing for the next generation.”

Elsewhere, Michael Billington also put the boot in this week. Writing in The Guardian, he says: “Even the restructuring of the building is no reason for changing the name. In recent memory both the Bush theatre in Shepherd’s Bush and the Orange Tree in Richmond have moved from spartan rooms above pubs into more spacious premises, but they retained their original names.”

Thank God, then, for Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton who sent a letter into The Guardian urging ‘everyone who professes to have loved the Tricycle’ to support its new name and its artistic director’

I asked a few people for their thoughts on the debacle. Slung Low’s Alan Lane said: “I have some sympathy with Kiln. We’ve a small group of men in Holbeck who when ever they get the chance denounce us as communists and sodomites and all sorts of things. The criticism is occasionally aimed at us by others that we haven’t brought the whole community with us. And of course we havent. I don’t care what the place is called and I’m bored of this little cabal of dickheads who keep theatre stuck in this dreary relationship with the past and with money and with community. We’re meant to be the dangerous art.” Amazing.

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

On the other side of the fence is critic Dominic Cavendish: “I can’t quite see the point in the name-change, you need innovation and continuity when you effect a major exercise in rebranding. As someone who writes for the Telegraph, I’m fairly used to the anachronism of the ‘title’ I work for – and for some the name itself might suggest a newspaper that hasn’t kept pace with modern technology; but even if there are things a paper, or a theatre, can do to widen its appeal and demographic, I think there’s something self-defeating about a name change; all theatres are built on legacies; unless those legacies are completely toxic, embrace the ghosts of years gone by! The Tricycle programme as was is, incidentally, nothing any artistic director should feel the need to disown, which some might infer is the subtext.”

On the surface the rebrand has misfired badly and people have lined up to throw bricks at the decision, but I think it’s just cosmetic. Which seems like a shame. If we ever needed someone to shake up a staid theatre industry, it’s now.

Cynics be damned – there’s an uncomplicated reason why Indhu Rubhasingham has had so many hits and secured a £7 million facelift for the building. It’s that people like really good theatre, and she makes it happen.

Kiln Theatre is a cause for celebration, a new era – and it’s exactly what 2018 needs.

Give her a break, folks.