OK, full disclosure. I promised in my last post that I was writing about plays that were still on, and this one is- however it’s completely sold out, except for day seats available from the box office at 10am on the day of the performance. I remain eternally grateful to my friend K who is a member and who booked us tickets a while ago. Why did it sell out so fast?? Need you ask. Because this one-woman show is performed by one of the theatrical greats of our time- Dame Maggie Smith.
She is every bit as brilliant as I expected her to be. So powerful that even though she was sitting on the stage in a fairly large theatre and we were sitting up in the second gallery, it felt like she was speaking directly to us. She portrays Brunhilde Pomsel, a German woman from an unremarkable family, who ended up as the secretary to Goebbels during World War II. Hearing her story was fascinating, and it left me genuinely unsure as to what she did or didn’t know about what happened to the Jews and how they were treated. But even just listening to the behind-the-scenes stories was poignant, with both sad and funny moments.
Overall: Should you queue for this incredibly powerful one-woman show and possibly Dame Maggie Smith’s last performance? Yes, you should.
You will no doubt all have realised that writing contemporaneous blog posts is really not a strength of mine. So I hope you’re as impressed/shocked as I am that today I’m posting not one but TWO posts about plays I saw recently WHICH ARE ACTUALLY BOTH STILL ON. I know, I know…
So everyone knows I love my local theatre, and it’s rare for me to miss any production there. But what’s really exciting is when we get a play that’s Olivier-nominated. ‘The Phlebotomist’ is just that; and what’s more it thoroughly deserves it. I cannot believe that writer Ella Read has come out with THIS for her debut; she is certainly going to be one to watch in the future.
I don’t want to give too much away because watching the story unfold is so brilliant. But if you’ve watched things like ‘Black Mirror’ you’ll have an idea of the basic premise. It’s set in a future where everyone has a ‘blood rating’ based on DNA analysis, which shows how likely they are to have certain diseases or genetic conditions in the future. It goes further in that these ratings start to affect careers, relationships, everything… as the two lead characters (both excellently played by Jade Anouka and Rory Fleck Byrne) start to discover.
It will make you question how you view life, what is important to you and how honest you might be if your life literally depended on it. Once or twice you will laugh, mostly you will gasp. If you’re like us, you will be discussing it for hours afterwards.
Overall: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? It’s on for 2 more weeks. BOOK NOW.
It’s embarrassing to realise quite how far behind I have got on blogging; I keep thinking ‘I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it’… and then… well you know how it goes. Anyway, you all have the lovely Shikha to thank for this post, because she asked on Instagram if anyone had been to Malta over Easter and I immediately thought ‘yes!! yes I have!… but I haven’t written about it…’
Which is a shame, because it was lovely. We usually do a European city break for 4-5 days over the Easter weekend but we try and choose somewhere that’s appropriate for Easter. Malta is known for celebrating Easter in a big way- particularly their huge parades for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s astonishing watching all the people marching through the streets carrying huge, heavy floats -a spectacle which we were to see again when we went to Seville the following year.
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One of the risks when you are part of a group of keen theatre-goers is that someone will message saying ‘do you fancy seeing X?’ and you immediately reply saying ‘yes’ without properly checking what X is (particularly if you generally like the theatre or if you generally agree with your friends’ taste). I’ve made this mistake before, particularly with opera (I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m not really an opera person, I’ve tried and tried but I’m not). Anyway, so that is how come I found myself on my way to the Old Vic with absolutely no idea what ‘A Monster Calls’ is about; because I like the Old Vic and my friend K (whose taste I generally trust) is similar to mine.
And in the end, it’s probably a good thing I knew nothing about ‘A Monster Calls’ because had I known it’s the story of a teenage boy losing his mother to cancer, I might well not have gone (for those of you who don’t know, I lost my mother to cancer, not as a teenager but 6 painful years ago). While it was sad to watch, I didn’t find it anything like as hard as ‘Calendar Girls Musical’ which I sat through in tears… And this stunning production had much to recommend it, from the performance of Matthew Tennyson as a wonderful Conor to the clever acrobatics and rope skills. The music really added to the overall ambience and gave a real feel of magic.
Overall: don’t be put off by the slightly sad subject matter; this is a beautiful piece of theatre.
I’ve mentioned before that I see pretty much everything that’s on at the Hampstead Theatre because it’s my local (never underestimate the appeal of having a theatre 5 minutes from your home). But oddly I hadn’t made any specific plans to see their latest play, ‘Genesis Inc’ – so when I spotted a special offer for last minute tickets on sale on their Instagram last week, I snapped one up quickly for that very evening.
And it’s a good job I did… because it meant I didn’t pay full price for what I can only describe as a disjointed, disappointing and just plain weird piece of theatre. I was excited to realise Harry Enfield was in it (yes that’s right, I hadn’t realised that was who the man was on the posters I walk past every day) but he was woefully underused and oddly cast as the fertility clinic director who was analogised to God. The same applies to the very talented Ritu Arya playing Serina. The basic storyline (of a fertility clinic director making parenthood possible for those who have been unlucky enough not to manage it naturally) is quite a good one, but was cluttered with too many undeveloped and extraneous subplots -the woman in a violent relationship, the gay man trying to buy a flat… why were they there and how were they relevant? I never figured it out.
Overall: Pared down (because it was also too long for my liking at 2h40, you know how I dislike long plays) and without all the subplots, it could have been great, but this version definitely is not.
I will admit that, while I try not to be swayed by a celebrity name, sometimes I can’t help being so. But of course a rollicking good musical is always persuasive too, and I have loved ‘Chicago’ for years – since I saw the stage version in London in the early 2000s with Denise van Outen playing Roxie, through the stunning film version which won Oscars for best picture and for Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma, to the present day version which just so happens to have Cuba Gooding Jr playing Billy Flynn… so of course it was only a matter of time before I succumbed, despite the ticket prices being considerably more than I would usually pay.
Sadly, a show that didn’t quite deliver in the end. The band were placed right in the centre of the stage (indeed the highlight is when there are a few solos from the brass section) which meant there was almost no set; disappointing when you’re expecting the dramatic jailhouse backdrop with the bars and railings which the girls dance on in every production I’ve seen before. Cuba Gooding Jr certainly has mesmeric stage presence, but his singing falls far below par. The only really outstanding performance came from brilliant veteran Ruthie Henshall as Mama Morton, who really owned ‘When You’re Good to Mama’.
Overall: Music great, but still could have been so much better (and for the price we paid, should have been).
If I had to use just one word to describe ‘The Strange Death of John Doe’, it would be ‘divisive’. I am not sure I’ve ever been at a theatre where so many people left at the interval (well, possibly I have, but it’s much more noticeable in a small theatre). And I can only presume that this is because the majority of the first half involved an autopsy taking place. So yeah- not for you if you’re squeamish. Luckily myself and my friends R and J couldn’t be less so, and hence we loved it.
The play is based on the true story of the man, known as ‘John Doe’, who fell from a plane into Mortlake, South-West London, in September 2012. No one knows his true story, but playwright Fiona Doyle has woven a fascinating backstory about his possible life in Africa and what led him to try and stow away on a plane to London. The action flips back and forth between the present day (autopsy room) and the preceding events in Africa.
I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to give the story away. But it’s a fascinating and different story, well worth a try.
Overall: caution if you’re squeamish, but otherwise, definitely try and catch it.