Theatre highs and lows in 2019

Well it’s been a while. But be assured that’s not because I haven’t been going out and seeing things/doing things- I absolutely have (even if they haven’t always made it to the blog). But I thought, before 2019 ended, I would try and at least do a quick roundup of my favourites (and, er, least favourites) from this year. Some have been on the blog, some haven’t!

Highs

‘The Phlebotomist’, Hampstead Theatre

This really was one of my standout plays of this year, because it was such a shocking prediction of how the future might, quite easily, turn out. For me a good measure of a play is whether I’m still thinking about it when I left the theatre. If I’m still thinking about it months later, that’s really remarkable. And this one, I definitely was (and am). Deserves a West End transfer.

‘A German Life’, The Bridge Theatre

Seeing Maggie Smith on stage was a dream come true. She captivated the entire theatre singlehandedly. Enough said.

‘Small Island’, National Theatre

I really thought I had written about this one at the time and it makes me sad to see that looking back I obviously didn’t, because it was amazing. So many themes to think about, including how Jamaican immigrants to the UK were treated and all that they had to encounter, not to mention a couple of epic love stories. One of the best historical plays I’ve ever seen.

‘Lungs’, Old Vic

Another one I should have written about at the time and didn’t. I mainly booked to see this play because I’m a fan of Claire Foy and Matt Smith in ‘The Crown’, and they were brilliant, but I also loved the topical and funny discussions in this play about children, relationships and gender equality.

‘Follies’, National Theatre

My favourite musical of this year. Big, glamorous and glitzy with a great heart- what more could you want?!

‘High Fidelity’, Turbine Theatre

Second favourite musical of the year! Based on one of my favourite books, there was always a good chance I’d like it, but I was impressed by the energy of the songs and the enthusiasm of the cast. Also my first visit to the Turbine Theatre, and I love visiting new theatres.

‘Noises Off’, Garrick Theatre

Funniest play of the year, it’s that simple. Brilliant farce and a super performance from one of my favourite actresses, Meera Syal.

‘Anna’, National Theatre

Most innovative play of the year for sure. The audience had to wear headsets in order to hear what was happening in different rooms of the house, as a party in East Germany takes place and events unfold. Very, very well performed and staged, another triumph at the National.

‘The King of Hell’s Palace’, Hampstead Theatre

This was another play about a historical event I knew nothing about- when the Chinese government paid people to donate blood and plasma to be sold on to pharmaceutical companies, and the health risks that resulted. Really eye opening and well performed.

‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, Bridge Theatre

Sneaking this one in at the end because it’s still on now (until February 2020) and is well worth a watch. One of my favourite stories as a kid, I’ve seen the various TV and film adaptations over the years but wasn’t sure how well it would work on stage. Magically, is the answer. The cast is brilliant and the staging really inventive.

Lows

‘The American Clock’, The Old Vic

This had so much promise, but ultimately I found it longwinded, confusing and depressing. Which is interesting, because I felt exactly the same about…

‘Death of a Salesman’, Piccadilly Theatre

Perhaps Arthur Miller plays aren’t really for me (though oddly, I did like ‘The Price’ ).

‘9 to 5’, Savoy Theatre

The music was good, but then you could listen to that without paying out for a ticket for this somewhat ridiculous and OTT storyline.

‘Waitress’, Adelphi Theatre

There was SO much hype about this musical that I thought at the very least I would like it, if not love it. I was wrong. Everything about it irritated me, from the appalling morals to the disappointing storyline. Reminds me of ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, another show that everyone loved and I was underwhelmed by!

‘My Dad’s Gap Year’, Park Theatre

A play that could have been brilliant on the topic of father/son loyalties and family dynamics, but crossed just too far into ‘ridiculous’ territory for me.

‘Rutherford and Son’, National Theatre

I thought this would be a powerful play about family and loyalty. While there were some strong moments, I was mostly underwhelmed.

So there you have it- my theatre highs and lows of 2019. Have you seen any of them, and if so what did you think?!

I’m hoping to put together another post in the next few days of the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2020… and not to mention the travel posts I am waaaayyy behind on!! But in the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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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