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.

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.

Play – ‘The Price’, Wyndham’s Theatre, 28th February 2019

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My friend S is my perfect sort of visitor. He gives me LOADS of notice that he’s coming, tells me he’d like to go to the theatre and asks me to do a shortlist of things I’d recommend and then we pick one in collaboration.

As usual I had plenty of ideas, but eventually our choice was the revival of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price for several reasons. The reviews were excellent. Arthur Miller is usually a reliable choice. And- David Suchet was in it. Sure, I always think of him as ‘Poirot’, but he’s still an actor of immense skill.

And this production didn’t disappoint. Suchet was mesmerising and electric from the moment he first stepped on stage, but the rest of the cast were excellent too- I particularly liked Brendan Coyle as the hard-done-by Victor, and Sara Stewart as his wife who was so proud of her new suit. The relationship between the two brothers and the tension over the financial situation was beautifully drawn out.

A special mention must also go to the set- I’m a sucker for quirky unusual sets and this was one of the best, with a gravity-defying arrangement of furniture!

Overall: a well performed play with a very good cast; the good reviews are well deserved.

Musical – ‘Follies’, National Theatre, 18th February 2019

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Everyone who knows me knows that big slightly-cheesy musicals are my thing (I am SO EXCITED about ‘Evita’ at the Open Air Theatre this summer!) ‘Follies’ also came highly recommended by my friends K and D, so it was always a given that I’d round up a couple of other friends to go and admire the singing and high-kicks.

It probably doesn’t even need saying that I loved it. Janie Dee and Joanna Riding were spectacular as the two former-friends-who-became-love-rivals. ‘Losing My Mind’ was a haunting and fantastic song; indeed, the whole musical score was perfect, huge credit to Sondheim for not even one dud in my opinion.

But what really blew my mind was the dancing. Stunning synchrony and excellent choreography. I left wondering if I could leave my day job and retrain as a showgirl…

Overall: a beautiful, glamourous, huge show.

Play – ‘Home, I’m Darling’, National Theatre, 17th August 2018

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I’ve mentioned before that there’s a risk when you belong to a group of keen theatregoers, that you find yourself seeing something you know nothing about. And that is exactly what happened to me with ‘Home, I’m Darling’, but luckily, it worked ENTIRELY in my favour because I absolutely loved this play.

Katherine Parkinson is a fantastic actress and I can’t imagine anyone but her playing Judy, complete with a fabulous wardrobe of 1950s outfits; she is absolutely magnetic and you hang on her every word as the story of the choices that she and husband Johnny have made unfolds. Also brilliant is Sian Thomas as Judy’s mum, reminding her that she only has the luxury of loving the 1950s because she never actually lived in it ‘everyone had to make do and mend things that were already broken’.

Overall: funny, poignant, sad and clever and Katherine Parkinson is perfect. NT run is sold out but make sure you catch the West End transfer.

Play – ‘A Monster Calls’, The Old Vic, Thursday 12th July 2018

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.