Mates blogger: Libby Purves


Libby Purves is one of over 45 theatre bloggers who are part of the MyTheatreMates collective. This page features Libby's posts on MyTheatreMates. Take a look at our full list of theatre bloggers and our aggregated feed of all our Mates' posts. We’re always looking for new theatre bloggers. Could that be you? Learn about how to join us.
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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The latest from Libby on MyTheatreMates

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‘Its heart is in the right place’: IN THE NET – Jermyn Street Theatre

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Most dystopian visions set themselves quite far in the future. However, for In The Net at the Jermyn Street Theatre Misha Levkov keeps us in 2025, specifying that productions should always be set a couple of years ahead of real time, and the setting is London – Kentish Town. This does keep it recognisable and clear of sci-fi fantasy, but it also demands that Britain has gone downhill dramatically fast.

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‘Fall in love with Corrin maybe, but don’t expect a thunderclap’: ORLANDO – Garrick Theatre

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One bespectacled, anxious-looking Virginia Woolf in a sensible brown skirt and dreary cardigan is never enough, so Michael Grandage’s production of Orlando at the Garrick Theatre generously opens with a whole pack of Woolfs – nine of them – in Neil Bartlett’s new version of the author’s classic whimsical-feminist fantasy.

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‘It’s a show where the ensemble are the star’: NEWSIES – Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre ★★★★

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I love it when the theatre perfectly fits the show. Artists can overcome a wrong space, but there’s gleeful concord when it suits this well. The vast new hangar-like Troubadour uses all its height and industrial chic to convey New York 1899 in Newsies: fire-escapes, iron balconies, vast billboard for the Santa Fe railroad, walls all newsprint and windows and washing lines.

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‘A story of great-heartedness’: MANDELA – Young Vic Theatre ★★★★

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This world premiere of Mandela at the Young Vic Theatre, by Laiona Michelle and composers Shaun and Greg Dean Borowsky, acknowledges “proud partnership” with his family, tells the story with impassioned and rightly partisan simplicity. Michael Luwoye is a towering Mandela: idealistic, sorrowful at violence, deploying his familiar humour and unresentful humanity.

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‘A kind of triumph’: MOTHER GOOSE – Duke of York’s Theatre & Touring ★★★★★

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The pleasure of Mother Goose at the Duke of York’s Theatre is in the feeling that despite the topflight cast and the direction of Cal McCrystal, peerless physical comedy guru, it has the feeling of a local panto, even a community one. No big technical showpieces, but plenty of old-fashioned gags: puppets popping out of pans, a ‘self-raising flower’ swannee-whistling up from a table, a custard pie scene and rapid costume changes.

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‘I loved its wit & pace’: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS – Ipswich

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Joanna Carrick’s skilful stage adaptation of The Wind in the Willows at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich is faithful too: while the show is fun enough for its school matinees – the physical comedy of Darren Latham and Matt Penson in particular is lively and sharp-witted – she does not shy away, as many adaptors do, from Grahame’s orotund dialogue exaggerations.

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‘It is marked by real humanity’: BEST OF ENEMIES – Noel Coward Theatre

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Leaving the former Young Vic production a lad far too young to remember 1968 said sadly to me: “It was the beginning of Now, wasn’t it?” He is right. James Graham’s play Best of Enemies, now spectacularly in the West End, is about the TV confrontations between the arch-conservative William F. Buckley and the maverick gay liberal Gore Vidal during an American election. But it also neatly prefigures today’s divisions, demonstrations and intolerances.

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‘The fun is in the modern message’: THE WIND IN THE WILTON’S – Wilton’s Music Hall ★★★★

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For The Wind in the Wilton’s at Wilton’s Music Hall Piers Torday has adapted the up-Thames rural setting of Kenneth Grahame’s book to be an urban take, London’s own stretch of river. And the weasels? You’ve guessed it: the Wild Wood is the City, the weasels and stoats the financiers and developers.

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‘Remain on the edge of your seat, though you might fall off laughing’: THE MASSIVE TRAGEDY OF MADAME BOVARY – Jermyn Street Theatre ★★★★

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What could be more seasonal than Flaubert’s tale of wifely frustration, romantic illusions, disastrous adulteries and ruinous shopaholic debt? This adaptation of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary at the Jermyn Street Theatre is a clown-skilled four-hander by John Nicholson – founder of the gleefully clever Peepolykus.

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‘Hard, clever, truthful, sometimes funny’: BLACKOUT SONGS – Hampstead Theatre

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Blackout Songs is another sharp, pared-down studio production: in 95 minutes Joe White delivers a necessarily painful two-hander about youthful alcoholism and the disaster of colliding addictions. We watch two lovers, over an uncertain wavering timeline, who can neither control nor remember their lives and real selves: we get flashes, snapshots of their meeting, coupling, celebrating, fighting, betraying.

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‘Rona Morison is shiveringly powerful’: MARY – Hampstead Theatre

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For 400 years the reputation of Mary, Queen of Scots, has been battled over: she has been called victim and whore, murderess and heroine, flighty and heroic. Romance flowers in drama and opera: she was a young mother, beautiful, imprisoned, finally executed by her cousin Elizabeth I. But in this static but powerful 90-minutes, in which the Queen herself is offstage except for two glimpses, Rona Munro concentrates on the period before her forced abdication in 1567.

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‘It’s a piece of bravura & massively entertaining’: TAMMY FAYE – Almeida Theatre ★★★★

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Rarely in the history of Islington playgoing have so many first-nighters whooped so enthusiastically at Gospel rock. When cheers for Elton John’s anthems in Tammy Faye at the Almeida Theatre briefly abate it is often for quite different whoops, laughter at James Graham’s dry sharp script or moments of enchanted shock at an unexpected popup.

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‘Has a melancholy beauty about it’: SOMETHING IN THE AIR – Jermyn Street Theatre ★★★★

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OLD MEN DO NOT FORGET        Peter Gill’s  new play has a melancholy beauty about  it;  it’s a sort of poem as the veteran playwright and director engages with  age, regret and memory. The one-act, hour-long piece, performed … Continue reading →

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‘A loving, haunting play, done very beautifully’: BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY – National Theatre ★★★★

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Pearl Cleage’s 1995 play Blues for an Alabama Sky creates a world, the world of dreamers in the fading Harlem renaissance, the Depression starting to bite. It’s domestic: Frankie Bradshaw’s fabulous set has two fire escapes, a hallway, steps, rooms high and low, balcony (where we glimpse other neighbours, sometimes with quiet harmonies sung). Outside the street is barred with lamplight.

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‘Juliet Stevenson is a marvel’: THE DOCTOR – Duke of York’s Theatre ★★★★

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This is the return of Robert Icke’s modern version of Schnitzler’s 1912 play The Doctor, transferred from he Almeida. And no question, it is an opportunity to see one of the finest stage actors of the age – Juliet Stevenson – firing on all cylinders at the centre of a painfully topical play.

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‘Magnificent’: THE CRUCIBLE – National Theatre ★★★★★

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This is the big one. The Crucible is the National Theatre at its strongest: unapologetic, classic, unsparing, gripping, impassioned. Here’s the heavy artillery, intellectual and dramatic, a big ensemble on a bare stage conjuring – in Es Devlin’s moody set – an illimitable blackness beyond. Hell and hysteria rage and choke and howl out across the centuries with all the power of irrationality.

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‘It’s just all very beautiful’: NOISES OFF – Bath & Touring ★★★★★

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Millions know it by now, but in case like my enthralled companions last night you aren’t among them, grant me a moment or skip the the penultimate paragraph. Noises Off has been a national treasure since 1982, written by Michael Frayn after realising that the hurtling backstage business of doors, props and actors under stress is funnier than most actual farces. He wrote a squib called EXITS, the great producer Michael Codron encouraged something fuller.

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‘Never a false note’: JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN – Bridge Theatre ★★★★★

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In great plays a scene, character or domestic confrontation can be both appalling and comic: pity, terror and barks of shocked laughter are not incompatible even within a sentence. Ibsen knew that, but in the Norwegian rebel’s grim late works it takes a relaxed director and some weapons-grade actors to keep that balance. Cue Nicholas Hytner, Simon Russell Beale and Lia Williams: rescuing, for me and for good, a play (John Gabriel Borkman at the Bridge Theatre) I hated last time I saw it.


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