Theatre – The Upcoming Culture, trends, fashion from London and beyond | The Upcoming Mon, 20 Nov 2017 15:46:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Labour of Love at the Noel Coward Theatre | Theatre review Mon, 20 Nov 2017 11:33:07 +0000 James Graham seems to be becoming ubiquitous in the West End. Labour of Love is the third of his plays to be performed there this year, after the revival of This House and the transfer from the Almeida of Ink. It’s the newest and most sharply topical too, dramatising years of the Labour party’s history right up to this year’s election. That’s where the play starts, before going back through various episodes in the Miliband and Blair years to the first election of David Lyons (Martin Freeman) as the new centrist MP parachuted into his Nottinghamshire constituency with his snooty wife. He clashes with the local party, and learns to get on with Jean Whittaker (Tamsin Greig), the last MP’s wife who he convinces to stay on as his agent. Their relationship is cleverly managed against the background of party politics as the narrative moves forward again through the second half, bringing us back to the present day. It’s reliably funny, though not necessarily gut-wrenchingly so, and while the emotions are not quite as developed as they could be, the characters are engaging and believable.

Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig carry the whole show. One would never guess that Greig was a last-minute substitute – Jean’s acerbic wit feels like a perfect fit for her, and she’s gloriously funny. Freeman is by turns staid and ridiculous, and the changes in his character are deftly managed over the back-and-forward structure. The minor characters are carried with varying degrees of success. David’s wife Elizabeth, played by Rachael Stirling, feels both over-written and over-acted. Her sense of superiority quickly grows trying. Dickon Tyrell and Susan Wokoma are much more successful, thoroughly believable as an old left zealot and a young party member.

The production works well and unobtrusively. The entire piece takes place in the same constituency office, with the portrait of the leader on the wall and the technology being the main differences between the time periods. Overall, this is an excellent performance of a very decent new play. The only question is whether Graham’s accomplished but slightly emotionally shallow and rather glib brand of political comedy really deserves all the attention it gets. We all seem to have a desperate appetite for satire of any kind – is the praise for this and his other plays entirely deserved?

Juliet Evans
Photo:  Johan Persson

Labour of Love is at the Noel Coward Theatre from 16th September until 2nd December 2017. Book your tickets here.

Inside Pussy Riot at Saatchi Gallery | Theatre review Sat, 18 Nov 2017 16:15:32 +0000 It starts with a giggle, it ends with a shiver. In the year of the centenary of the Russian Revolution, Les Enfants Terrible with Bird & Carrot and Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova bring to life an original theatre experience of the authoritarian Russian system. Taking hostage the second floor of the Saatchi Gallery, the immersive production reenacts the crucial stages of the punk feminists’ revolt in 2012, from their protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, to the trial, the conviction and imprisonment.

As in the words of writer and producer Oliver Lansley, art asks questions. The production brings to life the squalid and oppressive conditions those indicted in Russia are subjected to. More than that, the audience is invited to reflect on the value of freedom, so many times taken for granted on this side of the continent.

Bright garments and harsh tones, with shouting voices in the background, are requisite features throughout the play. The public is at the centre of the show, moved from the Cathedral of a Calumnia state, to the police station, to the court-circus and so on. The rooms are mostly dirty and the flickering lamps add to the miserable situation. The tension starts to built after our arrest, as the performers’ orders become stricter. A clue: pay attention to what you sign.

Suggestive are the extracts from the narrative of Tolokonnikova and the factual material scattered along our route, there for the audience to read and hear while forced to wear anonymous uniforms and work on factory tasks.

The grotesque style, so typical of the theatre company, is put to use, especially to accentuate the circus nature of the system. Excessive makeup and extravagant settings – partly folklore mimics, partly emphasising the absurdity of the regulations – gradually lead us to the cold and depressive cells, which still are in use in some countries.

By raising our indignation and giving theatregoers a strong sense of which is the right battle to fight, the poignant performance is effective, really making the participants think and question how much a single voice can help in the awakening of a revolution against a cruel totalitarian machine. However, more from the real narrative of the band’s experiences would have benefited the show – more facts and less moral teaching. The production is to be experienced together with the current exhibition Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism at the Saatchi Gallery. The expectation, then, was to see more of the elements reenacted.

Cristiana Ferrauti
Photo: Denis Sinyakov

Inside Pussy Riot is at the Saatchi Gallery from the 14th November until 24th December 2017. For further information or to book visit the official website here.

Watch the trailer for Inside Pussy Riot here:


The Suppliant Women at the Young Vic | Theatre review Fri, 17 Nov 2017 12:28:29 +0000 We wouldn’t expect cutting-edge from a 2,500-year-old play, but David Greig’s version of Aeschylus’s classic follows painfully modern themes. It’s a story of feminism and asylum in ancient Greece; Northern African refugees seeking safety, and a city scared of the consequences of granting them asylum. The issues are current, but stylistically it’s hard for something so old to feel modern. The team wisely do not try to cover the cracks of age, but instead embrace them.

A large group of North African women (played by actors from London who apparently were only chosen in September) decide to escape a life of forced marriage to men they are disgusted by, and instead flee to Argos, Greece. On arrival, they speak with the King and request his protection. He takes this request to his people for a referendum, and the woman are left to consider their fate as the ships from North Africa sail to collect them. It’s a moving story, and sadly the plot hasn’t dated at all.

The performers all play their parts well. The women are strong, but scared. The king, dressed like a London banker (presumably as a comment on power-shifts over time), is funny and charming. At times, the piece plays like an old-fashioned comedy: there are laughs, but none of them hearty. Nothing dates a story like jokes, comedy moves faster than drama and audience expectations have changed since 470 BC.

When the cast sing together it’s genuinely powerful. The Young Vic is perfect for strong vocal performances, and the whole production sounds amazing. Even the conversations are punctuated with drum beats, which reminds us that we’re watching a play that predates Jesus – it’s not a technique associated with modern performance. The two musicians are exceptional, a percussionist and another on wind instruments. Between them, they fill the room with atmosphere and the show moves to their beat.

This is an interesting play. To judge it, it’s important to remember that it’s as much an historical artefact as a piece of entertainment, and it’s sad that 2,500 years hasn’t changed the global attitude to women as much as our taste in comedy.

Stuart Ross

The Suppliant Women is at the Young Vic from 13th until 25th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Young Vic Theatre website here.

#Hashtag Lightie at Arcola Theatre | Theatre review Fri, 17 Nov 2017 12:02:56 +0000 #Hashtag Lightie premiered in London earlier this year, and has now returned for a longer run at the Arcola Theatre. It is a masterful examination of how we deal with race in modern culture. The characters are vivid, and serious issues are dealt with deftly, playing out with both humour and heart-wrenching emotion. The piece begins lightly, showing the makeup vlogs of mixed-race teenager Ella (Adele James). She’s superficial, but charming, and her slogan of “hashtag lightie” slowly begins to take on a more sinister tone as we start to examine how she equates beauty with her own relatively light skin. When she introduces her siblings on her vlog, she is shocked at how negative the comments she receives start to become – particularly the ones about her two sisters, one of whom is in a relationship with a white man, the other with a black man. With this, the play’s tone shifts.

The atmosphere becomes gradually darker, capturing the lack of understanding both white and black people have of the experiences of mixed-race people. The siblings’ relationships are painted in painstaking detail that never feels forced: those of Melissa (Grace Cookey-Gam) and her white boyfriend (Jamie Richards) who “only dates black women”, Aimee (Sophia Leonie) and her fiancé (John Omole), who idolises her as a “caramel queen” while refusing to really accept her mixed-race identity, and Aaron (Devon Anderson) and his white-seeming daughter who he’s unable to pick up from school because they will not believe he is her father.

This piece manages the all too rare feat of discussing social media and internet culture on stage without ever seeming trite. The production is minimalist but effective, working well in the small studio of the Arcola Theatre. Video is also used seamlessly throughout, as Ella’s vlogs are projected onto the screen, as are the responses of her viewers. The acting is excellent, and it was clear in the post-show discussion that the cast feel strongly about the characters and narratives they are portraying

What is also remarkable is the relationship the play formed immediately with its audience. People laughed easily, engaged with the characters, and were held rapt at the moments of highest dramatic tension. This is a work that deserves to be seen widely. It takes on under-discussed topics and people, and spins out a drama that feels real and important, and above all it will make us re-assess all our own assumptions.

Juliet Evans
Photo: Arcola Theatre

#Hashtag Lightie is at Arcola Theatre from 14th until 30th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Arcola Theatre website here.

Watch the trailer for #Hashtag Lightie here:

Filmed West End play Cookies is released online for free during Anti-Bullying Week 2017 Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:59:18 +0000 Emily Jenkins’s play, Cookies, which deals with the effects of sexting, radicalisation and cyber bulling and played at the Theatre Royal Haymarket at the end of October, is being made available to watch online throughout Anti-Bullying Week 2017 (week commencing 13th November). The film of the live performance will be available along with teaching resources that include theatre-based, written and creative activities that align with the National Curriculum, along with professional advice from Kidscape, a charity established in 1985 to protect children from bullying and sexual abuse.

This new play by the Fringe First award-winning writer, which was directed by Olivier Award nominee Anna Ledwich, was commissioned by the Cyberscene Project, a theatre initiative that supports the health and well-being of young people affected by cyber bullying and other online issues. Partners Masterclass – an organisation that supports and nurtures young people through theatre and creative opportunities – and Kidscape spent over a year working with 120 16- to 19-year-old students across four London colleges through a series of workshops, exploring the threats and concerns that affect young people when they are online. 

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation, which funded the project, said: “This innovative initiative from Masterclass mirrors Pureland Foundation’s commitment to promote social and emotional wellness, in particular working with the creative arts to engage and inform audiences. Cyberbullying is an issue affecting not only children and teenagers but also adults. It is very rewarding for all involved that teachers across the country will be able to use Cookies in their classrooms to stimulate dialogue with students on this key issue of our time.”

The real-life stories that inspired the play can be used to engage young audiences and create greater awareness of the problems of living in a digital world. The lyrical and cleverly emoji-laden script brings together seven individuals who are suffering from cyber bullying or are affected by sexting or revenge porn. The piece was performed by an ensemble cast of young actors who gave their voices to true accounts and experiences.

The filmed version of the production and the free resources that accompany it are released today as part of the Anti-Bullying Week campaign to support students and their teachers, and to acknowledge the extent and effects of cyber bullying in particular. The video will be freely available online until November 2018 as Masterclass continues to work with schools and colleges to ensure that this theatrical resource can reach young audiences across the UK.

The editorial unit
Photos: Pamela Raith Photography

For further information, to watch the film or download the teaching resources visit the Masterclass website here.

For further information about Kidscape visit the charity’s website here.

For further information about Pureland Foundation visit the website here.

The Secondary Victim at Park Theatre | Theatre review Thu, 16 Nov 2017 11:21:19 +0000 Amid the current atmosphere of sexual harassment revelations, Matthew Campling’s The Secondary Victim, directed by Matthew Gould, asks whether we have become too much a culture of blame; and who are the victims with regard to misconduct allegations?

Susannah Doyle plays Ali, a happily married, highly respected therapist whose life is going well when she is suddenly accused of sexual transgressions by a former client. Thereafter her world is in a tailspin and she risks losing everything. The accuser, Hugo (Michael Hanratty) – a disturbed young man – does not waver in his claims while Ali insists she is innocent. A case of he says/she says, the question is who is telling the truth, who is misconstruing facts or who is lying? A formal enquiry ensues and Ali is thrust into a battle for her life.

A seasoned performer, Doyle is remarkable in her moving portrayal of an esteemed professional whose world is turned upside down, her reputation badly damaged by these complaints. Gary Webster as her confused husband Victor and Natasha Bain as therapist supervisor Marilyn are excellent. Hanratty is very convincing as the distressed Hugo.

Writer Matthew Campling is a psychotherapist who underwent a similar experience in 2014 when he was accused of malpractice. Although exonerated, the episode was profoundly stressful for him. His tenth-produced theatrical work, The Secondary Victim expresses his frustration with a society in which accusation is enough to ruin a reputation, a career, one’s relationships and one’s peace of mind before a fair trial has taken place. The idea of being “innocent until proven guilty” has been reversed to “guilty until proven innocent”.

The play asks: are we endlessly seeking wrongdoing as a way of punishing others for our unhappiness; and why are we so unable to forgive? In this internet era in which so much is public and news travels fast, do we need to invest more focus on fair trials before we judge? Campling is not proposing that we don’t protect victims, only that we don’t destroy lives before we justly determine the truth.

Presenting intriguing and perceptive questions about a society that tends to place excessive value on hearsay before knowing the facts, The Secondary Victim is a poignant, well-constructed, thought-provoking piece.

Catherine Sedgwick
Photo: Matthew House

The Secondary Victim is at Park Theatre from 14th November until 9th December 2017. For further information or to book visit the Park Theatre website here.

The Tailor-Made Man at the White Bear Theatre | Theatre review Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:30:56 +0000 The White Bear Theatre’s exhilarating 25th anniversary presentation of The Tailor-Made Man could not have been more timely given the recent outbreak of exposés on Hollywood’s brutal history of impropriety. The story of William “Billy” Haines (depicted by Mitchell Hunt), an emerging movie star of the 1920s with a million-dollar smile and polished all-American good looks, must not be forgotten as his struggle is one that plagues the entertainment industry to this day.

His career was cut short following revelations of his homosexuality by production titan MGM’s homophobic studio boss, Louis B Mayer (expertly played by raspy, veteran actor Dean Harris). In an act of vengeance upon hearing the news of Haines’s latest “indecent” act, Mayer ordered the destruction of his stills, threw his films into a vault, and wiped out almost every trace of his career from showbiz history.

The play begins with a fast-paced scene chock-full of the glamour and glitz of 1920s Hollywood. In marvellously authentic costumes (which earned the production one of four Offies nominations), the cast lures the audience into a multi-faceted, picturesque clip straight out of the backstage of a silent film. In fact, the piece is essentially a collection of such clips separated by shouts of “Cut!” and “Action!” and derived from the story of Haines’s life through a documentary-like recollection by his lifelong partner, Jimmie Shields (Tom Berkeley).

The cast of this Off-West End production give audiences a magnificent performance – one that we would only expect on the centre stage of London’s finest theatres. Love, heartbreak, scandal and seduction are just the tip of the iceberg in Claudio Macor’s play, and the actors chosen for this adaptation could not have been more perfectly suited for their roles.

Every single character is depicted remarkably on-point, from the beaming glow of stardom oozing off of Hunt’s portrayal of Haines, to the electrifying performances by Rachel Knowles, whose talents are evidently never-ending as she takes on multiple roles as Carole Lombard and Pola Negri; and Yvonne Lawlor’s enigmatic and hilarious Marion Davies. In the minor roles of producer Irving Thalberg, multiple butlers, and even a charming, trouble-making sailor, Peter Dewhurst shines along with Edwin Flay’s depiction of Howard Strickling, and Henry Felix as scriptwriter Victor Darro.

The presentation is not only flawless in its execution, which says a lot given the show’s difficult start-and-stop nature, but the actors are so deeply in character that one could not help but feel the same awe they would experience had they been real-life Hollywood superstars. If there is only one fringe-theatre production to see in London this month, it has to be Bryan Hodgson’s The Tailor-Made Man.

Kari Megeed

The Tailor-Made Man is at the White Bear Theatre from 7th until 25th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the White Bear Theatre website here.

Son of a Preacher Man at New Wimbledon Theatre | Theatre review Wed, 15 Nov 2017 12:44:24 +0000 One thing’s for certain: Son of a Preacher Man sure does love Dusty Springfield. And not just because the characters declare it every second sentence. The jukebox musical love affair has been touring the UK with a songbook from the legendary singer, and has a big name director/choreographer in the form of Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood. However, matched with an unfortunately one-dimensional script, it comes down to the cast to bring a bit of life to the dazzling songs of Dusty.

Springfield sang a lot about love, so Warner Brown’s writing hones in on some unintentionally comical love and heartbreak-related dilemmas. She also sang about the Son of a Preacher Man – famously – so Brown takes this literally and introduces three random strangers simultaneously searching for a Swinging 60s record shop owner. His nickname was “The Preacher Man” and he moonlighted as a miracle-working agony uncle; these three characters adamantly believe he’s the only one who could ever teach them…except in the modern day they’re stuck with his son instead. See what happened there?

Poor son Simon (Ian Reddington) is pressured into getting involved, and so begins the blending of Springfield with a bizarrely unexpected plot. There’s I Only Want to Be With You about Kat (Diana Vickers) falling in love with an online dating profile; All I See Is You, an uncomfortable description of widowed Alison (Debra Stephenson) falling for a teenage schoolboy; and I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten, Paul’s (Michael Howe) fixation with his mystery man from the past. Not all the songs fit logically nor have their desired emotional impact, but nevertheless they are performed well by the seasoned leading cast and ensemble where many double up as talented instrumentalists.

The cast are let down by a slightly cringeworthy and forced script, be it the three characters constantly speaking in cannon, or the protagonists who don’t come across as likeable and are hard to relate to. High expectations for choreography shouldn’t be heeded either, for it is (not strictly) limited to messy meandering and chair grinding.

However, there is Good News. The groovy production features a versatile and bright stage design. Vickers, no stranger to big stages, is a standout voice that lends itself perfectly to the music. The show itself is also littered with Dusty in-jokes for the devoted fans, and a surprisingly large number of songs are covered with endless gusto. This is a double-edged sword as it makes it tricky to credibly match the plot without shoehorning, but at the end of the night it is still a fun celebration of her music.

Bev Lung

Son of a Preacher Man is at New Wimbledon Theatre from 14th November until 18th November 2017 before continuing its UK tour. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.

Watch the trailer for Son of a Preacher Man here:

Real Magic at Platform Theatre | Theatre review Wed, 15 Nov 2017 12:11:06 +0000 Forced Entertainment are an experimental performance-art troupe, who have been appearing together for 30 years. According to their website, their work “tries to explore what theatre and performance can mean in contemporary life”. A bold statement; they are clearly not out to entertain the masses. A blend of surreal comedy and frustration, Real Magic is typical of their work, but far from typical output.

Three performers are on stage in an uncomfortable, looping game show. It’s all very dark, though to talk in any detail about what actually goes on would be to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it – but the butt of the joke is definitely the audience. The repetitive nature of the show, the laughing tracks and intentional overacting leave theatregoers exhausted and confused at times. There are scattered laughs throughout, some of the spectators pleased to be in on the joke, some moments are genuinely funny. It’s the typical mixed bag of responses earned during performance art. For long stretches, the reaction of the audience is silence, they are quietened by strangeness.

The piece is edgy on that level where one needs to be interested in seeing something different. Do not come and see this show after a bad day at the office, you will be annoyed. There is no swearing, no nudity, no violence, no references to anything that is unsuitable for children, but this is unsuitable for younger audiences.

Forced Entertainment are famous within their scene, more or less unheard of outside of it. This small run has sold out already, from a devoted fan base, made up of people who know what they’re letting themselves in for. This kind of devotion can often lead artists into woeful areas of self-indulgence and it’s difficult to say if that’s what this is. It’s too self-aware to be accused of complete self-indulgence, but too indulgent to be called entertainment. It’s interesting, daring and brave, but fundamentally it’s too painful to be enjoyable.

Real Magic can’t be compared to most shows, it’s not escapism, relaxing or funny in the conventional sense. It plays to an audience in an art school theatre, almost all of whom are excited to a see a cast they’ve probably studied – so unsurprisingly it goes down well.

Stuart Ross
Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Real Magic is at Platform Theatre from 14th until 18th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Platform Theatre website here.

Watch the trailer for Real Magic here:

Network at the National Theatre | Theatre review Tue, 14 Nov 2017 11:57:26 +0000 It seems that Ivo van Hove is moonlighting as a film studies student. The Belgian maestro’s latest screen-to-stage adaptation is Network, the 1976 cult classic that, fashion aside, could have been written yesterday.

News anchor Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) has been fired. Howard Beale has had an onscreen nervous breakdown. Howard Beale is now the hottest property in television, a veritable “latter-day prophet”. Howard Beale is Bill O’Reilly. Howard Beale is Jon Stewart. Howard Beale is a Frankenstein’s monster of outrage, created by ratings-hungry producers and amoral execs. Howard Beale is the marketisation of subversion; an angry, different voice weaponised by capitalist forces. He’s Topshop selling feminist T-shirts, and McDonald’s using punk imagery to shill tasteless wraps.

It’s tempting to say that van Hove has done Network in the most obvious way possible – it’s a story about television, so let’s swamp the stage in screens. Let’s ensure the audience never forgets those black mirrors, for want of a better term, that now dominate our lives by making them watch half the play through them. The production almost ends up eating itself – almost.

Bizarrely, van Hove is at his absolute best when tackling the indelible images from the film. Unlike Ned Beatty’s fire and brimstone version, Richard Cordery turns CEO Arthur Jensen’s remarkable speech about a nation-less world made of companies into the assured, softly spoken word of a higher power. The ending turns away from the nasty satiric bite of the original, instead offering an earnest plea for humanity. And in the iconic, rousing “Mad as Hell” scene van Hove outstrips Sidney Lumet’s film, utilising homemade videos in a way that avoids being unbearably naff.

For all van Hove’s wizardry, the unshakeable quality of Network lies in Paddy Chayefsky’s script, here shepherded on stage by Lee Hall. It’s a scathing, prescient satire that managed, somehow, to bottle our current social and political moment over 40 years ago. However, Hall could have shown a bit less fidelity to the original text. The play really doesn’t need the relationship between Max and Diana; it’s a jarring, distracting (sometimes unpleasant) departure from the Beale stuff, especially since Douglas Henshall and Michelle Dockery don’t have any chemistry to speak of.

Anchoring this swirling, sensory overload is the magnetic Bryan Cranston. He never succumbs to a bug-eyed, “crazy” version of Beale; he is a sincere, broken man who desperately feels he has a message to deliver (and perhaps, through male hubris, thinks he is above the machine that eventually swallows him). It’s an incredibly touching performance, which isn’t a guarantee given the bombast of Beale’s monologues. Cranston seems to have taken his cue not from the infamous “mad as hell” rant, but something that comes just before: “I’m a human being, goddammit. My life has value”.

Connor Campbell
Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Network is at the National Theatre from 4th November 2017 until 24th March 2018. For further information or to book visit the National Theatre website here.