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.
Mates blogger: Libby Purves
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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.
Everyone’s got mental health issues in Hex: which is the Sleeping Beauty story extended to the troublesome folk-tale aftermath. The tousled Fairy has no wings and low status, while snobbish ones float gorgeously overhead in light-rippling 20ft robes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
in Woman In Mind at Chichester Festival Theatre Susan finds herself in mid-life with a dull clerical husband (Nigel Lindsay really enjoying it), obsessed with his dreary parish history pamphlet. His gloomy beige sister lives with them; Muriel (Stephanie Jacob equally relishing every stumping step and grudge). She believes she can conjure up the spirit of her dead husband, and cooks the worst possible food (for an Alan Ayckbourn play this one is short on big laughs, but the good ones are about her omelettes and coffee). Their son has run off to join a cult in Hemel Hempstead.
So we know where we are with Eureka Day at the Old Vic: joyfully satirising middle-class liberal-cum-hippie angst, parental protectiveness and the age of offence-taking, as in beloved recent comedies like God of Carnage and Clybourne Park. But as it heats, the focus shifts to the even more topical theme: digital misinformation, rumour and fake news getting indiscriminately sucked in and solidified into identity politics.
Martin Sherman’s 1999 masterpiece Rose is an immense monologue – two halves, each over an hour – and Maureen Lipman tackles it with pin-sharp timing, humour, and controlled feeling, sitting on her bench remembering. Her extraordinary performance was streamed during the Covid years but to see it live in front of you in this intimate theatre is different, startling and personal, heroic. With the best will in the world any screen showing fades into being just more TV, more Holocaust history. This does not.
Shiny though the shell is, Richard Eyre’s play The Snail House at Hampstead Theatre becomes a frustrating stew of ideas, attitudes and family tensions which doesn’t quite hit the finishing line. Directed by the author himself it is rarely less than entertaining, always emotionally recognisable and interestingly topical: but it’s too humble, too restrained.
Grimeborn’s “in-progress sharing” of Penelope: Seven Ways to Wait provides 40 minutes of intriguing and accomplished musicality, loosely themed around the concept of waiting, with the classical heroine Penelope (long-suffering, long waiting wife of Odysseus) at its emotional helm.
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