They’re back, those big burly men who sing like angels while dispensing free beer… yes, The Choir of Man has returned to town and it’s just the tonic that we need in these grim times. The term “crowd pleaser” was coined for shows like this concert-revue-jamboree hybrid, with a song stack featuring everything from Guns’n’ Roses, Queen, Avicii and Sia, to showtunes, Celtic folk songs and much more besides.
Mates blogger: Alun Hood
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Pitched somewhere between cabaret and recital, but most definitely a piece of true theatre, Only An Octave Apart (the title refers to the fact that Anthony Roth Costanzo is a classical counter tenor while Justin Vivian Bond possesses a resonant deep baritone at home singing everything from torch songs to disco… so they literally do sing an octave apart) is a strange and compelling melange of the screamingly funny and just (exquisitely controlled) screaming.
As it is, Bright Half Life has much to recommend it, especially the nimble, inventive direction of Steven Kunis which plays out under a rather beautiful kite shaped neon lighting grid (kite flying is a recurring motif in the text) and the exquisite, detailed performances of Eva Fontaine and Susie McKenna as the women who fall in and out of love across decades but never in a chronological order.
The Finborough has a rich and noble history of rediscovering lost dramatic gems, alongside their programme of new work (this year’s Bacon and Pennyroyal are two of my favourite new plays since theatres reopened post-pandemic), and Kate O’Brien’s family tragicomedy Distinguished Villa, seldom seen since its 1926 premiere, continues that line of programming.
Here’s something you don’t get to experience too often: a gritty piece of contemporary writing that gives theatrical voice to people largely unrepresented on stage, and does so with compassion and comedy; a new play that is at once delicately intimate yet epic in scope, and a cracking piece of storytelling that manages to indict it’s audience without ever feeling preachy or worthy. Waleed Akhtar’s The P Word is a plea for tolerance, a study of the power of friendship, a sort-of love story and ultimately a potent political act that grips like a thriller.
The fact that Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman’s production of Into The Woods at Theatre Royal Bath is one of two high profile productions currently running on either side of the Atlantic is testament to the durability and timelessness of Sondheim and book writer James Lapine’s creation.
I wasn’t perhaps as bowled over by Cruise on a second viewing, but it unquestionably delivers on its triple promise of fusing theatre with club culture, a history lesson, and a rambunctious piece of entertainment. If you couldn’t get to see it first time around, don’t miss your chance now… it’s quite a thrill ride.
Another night at the King’s Head, another feat of astonishing transformation by the chameleonic actor-writer Mark Farrelly. Because delivering one bravura turn as a gay icon isn’t enough apparently (his utterly brilliant Jarman – about Derek – is currently running in repertoire as part of the Islington venue’s ongoing Boys Boys Boys season), Farrelly also reignites his heart-swelling, life-affirming tribute to the self-proclaimed “stately homo of England”, Quentin Crisp. The King’s Head is an appropriate venue for the show as well, since Crisp performed here at the beginning of his career.
It would be unsurprising, indeed completely understandable, for a new state-of-the-nation play focusing on the treatment of, and opportunities for, disabled people in present-day UK, to fetch up on stage as a furious, ranty polemic. Francesca Martinez’s dramatic writing debut, All Of Us at the National, goes down a rather more unexpected and interesting route however.
Pitched somewhere between a celebration, a séance and an unusually engaging piece of performance art, Jarman at the King’s Head Theatre eschews linear storytelling in favour of a sensory assault encompassing spoken word, music and direct audience engagement. Some of Jarman’s iconic film works are referenced – Sebastiane, Caravaggio, Edward II, The Tempest, the heartrending Blue which depicts the artist’s slide into blindness – and settings from Ken Russell’s chaotic movie shoots (Jarman designed several of his films) to Derek’s beloved, wall-less Dungeness garden are vividly evoked.
Simon Godwin’s new production of Much Ado About Nothing for the National initially seems to be going for the full-on romantic escapism, from the bougainvillea and sun-kissed (Amalfi?) coast of the front curtain to the gorgeous Art Deco-meets-Italianate Palazzo mixture of colour and elegance of Anna Fleischle’s hotel setting
Lucy Roslyn’s Pennyroyal takes Edith Wharton’s 1922 novella The Old Maid as its initial inspiration but feels immensely immediate and relevant. It centres on a very specific theme – Premature Ovarian Insufficiency, not a Wharton issue, to be clear – but in it’s unflinching, open-hearted depiction of the stresses and dynamics of family relationships it nudges towards the universal. There’s a lot to unpack and connect with here, and it is exquisitely observed.
Theresa Rebeck’s Mad House at the Ambassadors Theatre is a tremendously engrossing and satisfying tragicomedy, given a flawless, blazingly well acted production by Moritz von Stuelpnagel.
Mark Ravenhill’s The Haunting Of Susan A is a creditable and often gripping attempt to marry contemporary issues with Islington’s somewhat grim past, and an interesting, evocative way to commemorate fifty years of the King’s Head Theatre.
Make no mistake, this is a world class Passion, and one which any Sondheim nut, or indeed anybody who wants to see a collection of remarkable talents at the top of their game, would be mad not to make the journey to the Hope Mill Theatre Manchester for.
Daniel Fish’s sexed-up, pared-down version of Oklahoma! at the Young Vic Theatre (co-directed for London by Jordan Fein) is less a revival and more a full blown deconstruction of the original material.
With The Burnt City, Punchdrunk’s biggest show to date, they take on Greek myth, although the aesthetic is anachronistic: boho chic meets old school Hollywood glamour meets monochrome starkness: there’s not a floaty tunic in sight, although there is a fair bit of blood and gore.
We knew Mike Bartlett was brilliant, but with this third piece to come to a major London venue in 2022, he displays yet another facet to his virtuosity while staking a claim to be as prolific as Alan Ayckbourn.
Premiered in New York in 2006, David Lindsay-Abaire’s robust yet delicate piece, which considers the fallout from a child’s death, is a compelling tragicomedy.
There have been numerous screen and stage versions of the Dracula legend over the decades, including a couple of musicals ranging from the misconceived to the riotously camp.
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