Play – ‘Actually’, Trafalgar Studios, Thursday 8th August 2019

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‘Photograph 51’ was one of the biggest plays in London when it opened a few years ago. Featuring Nicole Kidman playing the role of Rosalind Franklin (surely one of the most underappreciated women in the history of science)- it was a stunning piece of theatre. Anyway, playwright Anna Ziegler hadn’t had another play in London since then… until now. ‘Actually’ tells the story of Tom and Amber who meet as students at a prestigious American university and share one special night… but what really happens?!

I think it’s fair to say there have been a lot of plays in recent years looking at relationships, consent and the contentious issues surrounding this. And I suppose that’s why this play disappointed me slightly (well, that and the playwright’s impressive debut).  I can see the point of ‘was she clear in her refusal’ and ‘who was in the right’, but it lacked the full development of these concepts and certainly didn’t give me the same emotional goosebumps, or even food for thought, as the truly exceptional ‘Consent’ (which impressed me so much I saw it twice).

Overall: not a bad piece of theatre, but it’s certainly no ‘Photograph 51’.

Play – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre, Tuesday 6th August 2019

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You can’t claim to be a ‘theatre person’ and not really like Shakespeare. And I do like Shakespeare, but I find a lot of his plays hard work; they tend not to be the easiest to understand. And hence I have set a ‘rule’ for myself that I will only see the plays I know well- which in practice means the ones I studied at school (this is not set in stone, but it’s worked well for me since I implemented it).

Fortunately, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ falls into this category. I’d already heard a few good things about it, and when the lovely Shikha suggested we go, I was keen. And of course it helps that the Bridge is one of my favourite theatres 🙂

Fortified by some delicious food from the in-house branch of St John, we took our seats in the second gallery. This is an immersive production and I suspect the atmosphere in the pit would have been amazing, but we both agreed we didn’t want to stand for nearly 3 hours (my friend C who witnessed me almost faint at the Globe a few years ago would verify that this is a bad idea for me). Anyway, the gallery seats gave us a fantastic birds-eye view of all the action.

And what action there was. A chorus was singing while we took our seats. As they left, platforms rose out of the floor for the first scene to play out. Later aerial hammocks would appear for the fairies to perform stunts and tricks on (some of which were truly mind-blowing, speaking as someone who’s tried aerial and left the class in a tearful sweaty embarrassed mess). And throughout, the cast really brought the humour and emotion out of the performance. A special mention must go to Hammed Animashaun as Bottom, who was amazing with both the funny and slightly sad aspects of the Rude Mechanicals’ performance. Gwendoline Christie, playing Titania/Hippolyta (and as far from Brienne of Tarth as you can imagine) was also exceptional.

This isn’t classic Shakespeare, anything but. But it’s thoroughly enjoyable, and what more can you ask of an evening’s entertainment than that?

Overall: high-flying, humorous, entertaining and thoroughly modern Shakespeare.

Play – ‘Grip’, Tristan Bates Theatre, Wednesday 1st May 2019

[AD- I was invited to review and I received a complimentary ticket to attend]

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I always enjoy it when I end up seeing something I wasn’t expecting to see, or which wasn’t on my radar. Seeing as I’ve never been to the Tristan Bates Theatre before, that was exactly the case with this play.

‘Grip’ is the story of a young guy called Trev (played by writer, Scott Howland), who’s living with his father following the death of his mother. It starts out with the whole cast on stage displaying exaggerated behavioural tics, and then they melt away to the side of the stage. Trev displays fairly typical teenage behaviour, including telling his father he’s going travelling, which leads to what I thought was the best line of the whole play ‘you’re getting one of those ‘millennial running-away-from-your-responsibilities’ packages!’ But before any of that can happen, Trev meets Louise in a club…and everything starts to unravel…

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I don’t want to give too much of the story away so I’m not going to say much more. But what I will say is that this play is an impressively zeitgeisty look at the important topic of mental health, and how quickly something or someone can fall apart.

Overall: this is a fascinating play performed by a very talented cast. Well worth a watch.

 

Play – ‘A German Life’, The Bridge Theatre, Saturday 6th April 2019

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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.

Play – ‘The Phlebotomist’, Hampstead Theatre, Thursday 21st March 2019

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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.

MALTA – April 2017

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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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Play – ‘The American Clock’, The Old Vic, 4th March 2019

Two Arthur Miller plays in one week? Yes indeed. Not really planned, just one of those strange coincidences. What a shame that they weren’t both up to the same high standard.

Since I’ve already written a glowing review of the previous one, that’s probably already given away that I wasn’t a massive fan of this one. First of all, it’s LONG. 3 solid hours, a testing length for even the best of plays. And I certainly wouldn’t describe this as ‘the best of plays’. It has a good premise- telling the story of the Wall Street Crash and the subsequent Depression, and it’s fascinating to see the different stories being played out. I particularly liked the bit where the girl whose family owns an apartment house becomes popular as everyone wants access to somewhere to live; not to mention the most incisive line in the whole 3 hours, when a black man points out, ‘the Depression only became important when it started affecting white people’.

The staging deserves a mention- played out almost in the round and with live jazz music accompanying some scenes, it showed what the Old Vic does best in innovative theatre.

But. On the whole, I just found it confusing. I didn’t like the use of 3 different sets of actors/actresses to play the main family and I found it really odd how the story jumped around from one thing to another. I was left feeling sad, confused but not with a huge amount of understanding about the Depression.

Overall: Could have been better; a LOT better.