Red Velvet Jan.25th, ’16

london west end

 

I had seen the play in 2012, when it played at the Tricycle Theatre very off West End and I loved it then. The story of now almost forgotten Ira Aldridge, the first Othello of colour in London, who was run out of town after only two shows, and made it in the rest of the world was gripping and heartwrenching and Adrian Lester, calmly putting white make-up on to play Lear, was an image that rocked me to the core.

It’s even better now. The casual discrimination displayed in every word the fellow – white – actors utter, the thoughtless xenophobia and therefore hostility against Ira Aldridge comes through as even more pronounced in the light of a global refugee crisis. Add to that the artistic “war” between Kean’s baroque and stencilled way of staging Othello, and Aldridge’s much more modern, method interpretation of the Moor and you can see the characters clash. It is due to Lolita Chakrabarti’s writing that is timeless and yet so current, (and Indhu Rubasingham’s directing) that this play elicits gasps from the audience and tears at the end. And it is thanks to the brilliant cast that the play has you entranced.

Ira, now an old man, is playing in a Polish town – best paid actor of all times-, when a very young reporter comes in and tries to interview him. And she asks the one question that you do not ask: Why aren’t you working in London.

It is in flashbacks that Ira remembers the humiliation, the hatred and desperation that had cut his stay short. All that just because his skin was not white. It is a subtle kind of revenge that he has to white-face in the end, to play King Lear …

Adrian Lester is a force of nature, full of passion, fury, desperation and brilliance in this part. His monologues are a joy to watch and listen to. When he recollects his first theatrical experiences in America, his friendship with Pierre Laporte (Emun Elliott) he paints the joy and happiness with his words. When he begs Laporte to let him stay he breaks every heart in the audience. He certainly broke mine.

For me Lester is currently the best and most versatile Shakespeare actor Europe has. To watch him on stage is a privilege.

Peter Pan goes wrong Jan.24th, ’16

london west end

 

Peter Pan. You all know the story. Wendy and her two brothers are “stolen” by Peter, who brings them to Neverland, where they meet the little fairy Tinkerbell, the Indian princess, the crocodile and the pirates, with Captain Hook who tries to capture Peter to exact revenge for his lost hand.

Peter Pan goes wrong. Oh it goes wrong. So much. I cried laughing. Gabe was ordered to pass on a huge electric cable over her head. They were searching for a hammer this time. Then almost threw it over the audience because they needed to secure some of the seats in the theatre. The dog was found, btw (see The Play that goes wrong). They tried to capture the stagefrightened Tootles / Lucy Grove (Ellie Morris) but she escaped numerous times through the audience. Brad Pitt isn’t in the play as well. But Peter Pan / Jonathan Harris (Greg Tannahill) has many and fantastic philantropic causes and adopted two kids, no wait, that’s Pitt again. (yes, those are quotes from the program). Oh and we all mourn the loss of Nadia, the ten foot Nile crocodile that had to be euthanised shortly after arriving in London as it broke loose and wreaked havoc (another quote)

There is not one flying sequence that works. Peter is trying to … mount every woman on his stage and succeeds mostly. The brilliant narrator (Tom Edden) is constantly fighting with his moving chair – and losing. Tinkerbell / Annie Twilloil (Nancy Wallinger) is wearing a tutu with lights – and gets electrocuted (that cable Gabe had to pass on wasn’t as safe as they had hoped). Captain Hook / Chris Bean (Henry Shields) is brilliant with his hook for a hand and slowly losing his cool and his mind when he’s trying to open a bottle of poison to FINALLY kill off Peter. While he struggles with the cork, the audience is “encouraging” him till he mutters: “you’re not helping here. people have to catch trains, you know!” The cork goes back in again and my seat neighbour (3rd row) yells: “Hey, get it on, I have to catch a train!”  I think I died from laughing so much. The look on poor Hook’s face – priceless!!!! Also – Captain Hook insisted that “this is not a pantomime!” – audience: “oh yes, it is!”, Hook “Oh, no it’s not!” …. that went on for quite a while and a couple of times. There was even an incident we all could scream “He’s behind you!!!”

The play’s last scene is making good use of their revolving stage – only the damn thing revolves so fast you barely can see the actors, trying valiantly to stay on the ship, in the bed, on the tree, on the ship, the bed, the tree, ship bed tree, shipbedtree…

they’re having another play out soon. The Comedy about a Bankrobbery, which is a comedy about a bankrobbery. I’ll book as soon as they start selling.

 

 

Hangmen Jan.23rd, 2016

london west end

 

On first glance this is “just” a very hilarious comedy. The story of rivalling hangmen, now made obsolete through the abolishment of the death penalty, still bickering about who was better, had more or at least more gruesome perpetrators under the noose is fun to watch from the safety of a theatre seat. But there’s also a second story told: a story about how easily any given run of the mill person can turn into a vicious part of a lynch mob, given the right push.

Hangman Harry Wade’s last job was the hanging of  rapist/murderer Hennessy who vehemently denies that he’d committed what he’s being hanged for. He’s putting up a fight, too and finally insults Wade by crying “They could’ve at least sent Pierrepoint. Hung by a rubbish hangman, oh that’s so me.” That doesn’t go over too well, so Wade retorts: “If you’d have tried to relax, you could’ve been dead by now.”

In his pub (for every hangman gets himself a pub after his job’s done) Wade has a round of admirers, even a shady police inspector, to keep him company and drink his beer. His wife Alice and his moping teenage daughter Shirley are also behind the bar and life is good, as long as Wade’s allowed to spin the yarn. Then a sneering, wisecracking young Londoner comes in and everything changes. Because Mooney tells of a rape/murder in one of the coastal towns not too far away – just like the ones Hennessy had been hanged for. So while Mooney flirts with blushing young Shirley, doubt starts to nag on Wade’s mind. What if his idiot then assistant Syd was right all along and there is a killer still on the loose…

But it was Syd who paid and sent Mooney to stir up the self righteous life of Harry Wade as a late revenge for all the crap he had to endure while working for the hangman. And Mooney got almost too good at his charade…

Hours later Shirley is missing.

And when Mooney turns up at the pub, an enraged, fearful father Wade captures and tortures him with the help of his three drunk clients. When Pierrepoint shows up to confront Wade with some not so polite words he’d gleefully uttered in a newspaper interview they have to hide Mooney – but Pierrepoint stumbles over a chair behind the curtain – and Mooney hangs himself. When Pierrepoint leaves it is already too late for Mooney. He died, not telling where he’d hidden Shirley.

Shirley, who swirls into the pub, enraged, because Mooney had left her stranded in the rain. She mopes upstairs to her room, while the men just stare. And then get rid of the body.

It’s a dark, dark comedy, one that makes you feel uncomfortable and insecure about your own judgement and leaves you with lots to think about. David Morrissey is fantastic as the self centered, egomaniacal hangman who seems to have no morals at all. Mooney (Johnny Flynn) gives you the creeps and makes it totally believable that he indeed kidnapped and hid Shirley (Bronwyn James and absolutely brilliant!!!). And the three drunks have been compared to the stooges and rightfully so. They are the perfect “side show”.

The brilliant writing is by Martin McDonagh. The house is sold out, btw.

A Winter’s Tale oct 19th, 2015

london west end

This is a fairy tale, a magical story children listen to on long, dark winter evenings, a tale about love, trust and jealousy, about betrayed friendship and repentance and the moral that love, in the end, is supposed to win and that is what makes life bearable.

In this realisation we are part of a Christmas party, musicians come from the audience, singing chorales, and snow is falling on us. An old home video shows two boys playing together,at school, with families, having fun. It’s document to the deep friendship between the king of Sicily and the king of Bohemia.

Leontes of Sicily (Kenneth Branagh) tries to convince Polixenes of Bohemia to stay a little longer but it takes Leontes’ heavily pregnant wife Hermione to make the king extend his stay. It is then that Leontes’ jealousy kicks in – in every kind gesture, every harmless glance or touch he sees his wife betray him with Polixenes. So he hatches a plan to have Polixenes poisoned. Lucky for the king of Bohemia, the appointed killer, Camillo, shies away from the deed and warns the king. Together they leave immediately. Enraged that his plan had been usurped, Leontes throws his wife into the dungeon where she gives birth to a girl. But not even his new daughter, brought to him by Paulina (Judi Dench), softens him. He leaves for Delphi to hear confirmation of his jealousy by the all knowing oracle.

But: the gods are not with him. They tell him that his wife and Polixenes are innocent and he won’t have an heir until his daughter is found.

Returning home, his first born son is dead, as is his wife and his daughter, who had been sent to exile, has vanished.

16 years pass, Leontes is in mourning, seeing the error of his ways but not being able to right the wrong…

In the meantime his daughter, found by a shepherd and called Perdita, has grown into a beautiful young woman and drawn the attention of a brash young man – the son of Polixenes of Bohemia, who is not happy that his heir is in love with a shepherd’s daughter. In order to escape his wrath and stay together, Florizel and Perdita flee with Camillo’s help (you still remember Camillo from the third paragraph? he just wants to go home again) to Sicily where Florizel tries to convince the friendly Leontes that he’s here on a diplomatic mission. That doesn’t work out – but! Polixenes and Camillo arrive at court with the shepherd who unveils he is not the real father of Perdita and it turns out – Perdita is Leontes’ daughter! Together they go to Paulina’s house to bring her the news. There a statue of Hermione is just being finished – and – you guessed it: it’s Hermione herself, living in reclusion, waiting for her husband to forget his jealousy. They are reunited and even the prophesy of Delphi is correct: Florizel is the heir now that Leontes’ daughter is back.

Kudos to set design and costumes by the way: the stage is never crammed but has this airy, light feel to it that lets you concentrate on the beautiful language, executed by great actors. The costumes are an interesting mix of late 19th century but with artistic licence. It’s a period that has extremely gorgeous dresses and suits that make each man look taller and more regal than he is. ;)

It’s a convoluted story with a strong morale and to make it palatable it needs great actors – and this cast is amazing. There is not one weak link in this play, they’re all outstanding. Also: I’d never thought that Branagh himself is such a teamplayer – his often mocked huge ego was nowhere to be seen on stage. He was just absolutely awesome, the scenes with his young son seemed as if taken from another home video, light and easy and loving and real. I knew of course that he was good (I’d seen his DVDs as Hamlet, Iago) but live he’s truly marvellous. A stark contrast to Cumberbatch, even down to the bows where he urged everyone else on stage to enjoy the well deserved standing ovation after this second show of its run. I wish I could see more.

cast: Pierre Atri, Jaygann Ayeh, Tom Bateman, KENNETH BRANAGH, Jessie Buckley, Vera Chok, Jack Colgrave Hirst , John Dagleish, JUDI DENCH, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, Rudi Goodman, Matthew Hawlsley, Taylor James, Pip Jordan, Ansu Kabia, Stuart Neal, Michael Pennington, Zoe Rainey, Miranda Raison, Michael Rouse, John Shrapnel, Kathryn Wilder and Jimmy Yuill

The play that goes wrong oct. 18th, ’15

london west end

That one killed me. It really killed me. My cheeks are still aching. My make up was a mess. I cried laughing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as funny as that.

And I’ll fail at reviewing it. Just… go and watch it. You’ll love it.

It’s a play within a play. A group of terribly amateurish actors and stage hands tries to get a murder mystery on their stage: murder at haversham manor. But where’s Winston, the dog? Is he in the audience? He has a skin condition. It’s not contagious. Hopefully. Trevor, the stage manager, also has lost his Duran Duran CD set. Have you found it?

The damn door on stage doesn’t close properly, probably because they utilised a loo door from the gents room. The mantelpiece comes loose.

There’s a dead body on the sofa. His fiancé has an affair with his brother, the understudy. Who is understandably nervous but loves the attention of the audience and keeps winking at us, with a sly little smile. The elevator to the second floor gets wonkier with every trip until it breaks, the second floor isn’t on its best behaviour either. The props vanish. There’s no whisky, so the butler serves white spirit, which is highly flammable (yes, we have flames on stage).

The phone chord isn’t long enough. The second floor gives way. The fiancé is knocked out, a stage girl steps in. Don’t ask what happens when the fiancé wakes up again. The butler is stuck in a loop and keeps serving white spirit, pronouncing words he’s written in his hand hilariously wrong. The dead brother wasn’t dead at all, but now his brother is killed after a sword fight better than the one in Hamlet. The blades snap under the enthusiasm of the fighters, so with “swish, clank” they fight on.

In the end everyone is worse for the wear and the audience is breathless and gives a more than well deserved standing ovation. I’m sure I missed some of the gags just by laughing so hard. It’s a rare combination of intelligent witty dialogue and slapstick performances that rule!

Brilliant: Adam Byron as the understudy, Matthew Cavendish as Trevor, Bryony CorriganAs the duck faced fiancé, Leonard Cook as her brother and Harry Kershaw as inspector and director.

Stage door: yes, they’re all so nice. And cute. And oh lord, so very very young. And brilliant!

Kinky Boots oct.17th, ’15

london west end

Music by Cyndi Lauper. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Six amazing drag queens who gorgeously light up the stage. And Lola, the queen of the queens, strutting her stuff in kinky boots. Nothing can go wrong!

The musical tells the story of Charlie Price (Killian Donnelly) who doesn’t really have a plan in life. He should follow his father’s footsteps and produce high quality shoes but doesn’t really want to. He has a career oriented girlfriend and therefore rather follows her to London. But then his father dies and when he goes back, the factory is basically broke. On a drunken night out he tries to “save” a lady in distress and gets hit – not realising that the gorgeous woman in question is Lola,(Matt Henry) who wouldn’t have needed his help at all, but in saving him breaks the high heel of his boots. Boots that are expensive but cheaply made. Well, even if Charlie doesn’t know it yet, we do: he’s destined to make “kinky boots” , a niche market that will save his factory and subsequently his life as he finds help and understanding in Lauren, while his fiancé leaves him for a life in London. Until then there are a few obstacles, though. Not everyone accepts Lola as a designer, Don hates her and finally even challenges her to a fist fight, not knowing that she was trained as a pro boxing champion by her father. But Lola let’s him win and thus saves another soul – Don realises that his help will save the production of boots in time for Milan.

The huge shoe event in Milan almost doesn’t happen for Charlie, who had miscalculated so there’s no money for models. Desperate, he himself tries to walk his boots until – to the rescue come Lola and her angels.

Any Lennox is a fabulous Lauren who emulates Cyndi Lauper without being a cheap copy. Her voice is strong and made for blues and rock. Killian Donnelly is a charmingly lost Charlie who plays his innocence in a very cute way. Matt Henry is brilliant – he won the voice UK and rightfully so. Plus to sing and dance in those boots – kudos! He does have the depth to deliver the more serious parts of the role too which is a blessing.

Loved every moment! Both Gabe and I were dancing and clappyin the end, so a great time was had!

Farinelli and the king oct.17th, ’15

london west end

A little history before the review: Philip V of Spain apparently was a sex addict. He was also very catholic, so he was torn between the lust for his wife and the guilt of experiencing such lust. His first wife died after four pregnancies, having been just14 when married to him. He had to be pried off her dying body. His second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, ruled him and Spain through his sexual needs. But even she was at a loss when manic depression kicked in – he abdicated in favor of his son until the young man died of small pox. Philip took the crown again, but his depression was severe. Elizabeth tried to interest him in music and for a while a semi normal life was resumed. The king worked at night, slept by day during a manic phase of his illness. This lasted a few months. Depression took over again until he one night said he felt like vomiting. His tongue was swollen and turned dark and he died, officially from a stroke.

Philip’s interest in music, the means that had him lead an almost normal life, is where the play starts. We are introduced to his court and to his mood  when the king tries to fish a goldfish from a glass bowl. He seems to have intimate conversations with the fish as well.

What intrigued me most this early into the play was the marvellous proscenium stage that was lit by dozens of real candles and had audience members sitting in the boxes on the side, in front of the musicians on the first floor and in the first three rows up front. I got the feeling I was actually in a baroque theatre and it was glorious. The smell of candle wax was new and added to the experience.

Philip (the brilliant Mark Rylance) is only roused from his depression when his wife manages to bring the world’s most famous singer of the time, Farinelli, to court. His voice, the clear light yet powerful notes of a castrato, does what doctors of the time couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do: bring him out of his melancholy and have him rule again.

It is Rylance’s self deprecating dry wit that makes his part so outstanding. He is the frustrated, guilt ridden, sex and peace wanting man who needs music to reconnect with life, to stop the voices in his mind, to keep him from howling in desperation.

Farinelli is played by two men –  a brilliant solution: first there is Carlo Broschi, the man who has a deep compassion for the ailing king, who keeps him company when no one else does and who simply talks to him, even about his castration at 10 through his brother. Sam Crane plays him and he is good looking and charming as he falls in love with the queen. And then there’s Farinelli, his other self, the divine singer who mesmerises even uneducated peasants with his three octave range – played by Rupert Enticknap. The counter tenor has indeed the voice of an angel (even though musicologists don’t believe that a counter tenor sounds all that much like a castrato. Good for him I say!) and makes it believable that this first form of musical therapy actually had the desired effect.

When the king finally dies, Farinelli’s influence is gone. Decades hidden away in the king’s castle in Spain have hurt his career, so even when his brother asks him to come back on his stage (influenced by the widowed queen) he refuses, only lifting his incognito life to a servant who had seen him sing for the king some 25years ago. But Farinelli’s life in the light is over….

The play is a brilliant historic glimpse in contemporary English, domineered by the skills of Rylance and the magical voice ofEnticknap. Together with the authentic stage it created a glittering bubble full of sarcasm and truth and wit and three lives – the king, the queen and the singer – entangled in each other’s emotions, helplessly captured with no way out. A brilliant play, a must see and a joy at the stage door, where it turned out that incredibly talented Enticknap not only speaks German but will star in Berlin next year. Good to know!