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‘You leave it thinking hard’: RETROGRADE – Kiln Theatre ★★★★

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If we think we suffer from a paranoid cancel-culture, we should note this reminder of mid-1950s America – notably Hollywood – in the McCarthyite witch-hunt against suspected communists. Retrograde at the Kiln Theatre is a three-hander by Ryan Calais Cameron (who gave us For Black Boys…). It lays out in 90 minutes real time – though sometimes too slowly – a meeting in a movie office.

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‘It gets you with its musical energy & defiant storytelling’: THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES – Almeida Theatre

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The playwright Lynn Nottage – double Pulitzer winner – has plunged here into a full musical version of Sue Monk Kidd’s rather odd novel The Secret Life of Bees at the Almeida Theatre. The lyrics (excellent ones) are by Susan Birkenhead and the music by Duncan Sheik. It’s bluesy, a bit gospelly, sometimes rock, all wonderfully sung. As the characters develop the songs offer every nuance from romantic gentleness to the immense defiant ‘Hold this House Together!’ anthem near the end.

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‘The thoughtful richness of the play is fully realised’: DANCING AT LUGHNASA – National Theatre ★★★★

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Sadness and failure have their own grandeur, like the bleak back-hills projected behind Robert Jones’ sweeping vista of a set. In Josie Rourke’s deeply atmospheric production of Dancing At Lughnasa at the National Theatre, rural Donegal desolation looms behind small domesticity, just as the pagan wildness of human nature threatens the threadbare sedateness of Catholicism.

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‘Anne Reid does an uncanny turn’: MARJORIE PRIME – Menier Chocolate Factory

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Artificial intelligence and robotics have long been a boon to us ethical-scifi buffs, films like AI and I, Robot mercifully saving us from rocket ships and aliens called Xzxvyvrgg. In Jordan Harrison’s play Marjorie Prime at the Menier Chocolate Factory it is inner space – and a recognisable world – which gets invaded by parasitic cyberthink.

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‘Tip your hat & get down there’: GUYS & DOLLS – Bridge Theatre ★★★★★

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Daniel Mays has played a lot of tough-guy roles but has by nature a rather innocent and worried-looking face. It is this quality that Nicholas Hytner spotted as perfect for his Nathan Detroit in Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre: lowlife but hapless, indecisive about the faff and cost of marrying his tolerant fiancee of 14 years standing, Miss Adelaide (an irresistible Marisha Wallace).

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‘It’s an achievement, a proper story’: STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE – National Theatre ★★★★

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It’s an architectural moment. Within the stark brutalist NT is a set in homage to a brutalist landmark: the early 1960s Park Hill Flats in Sheffield, the largest listed building in the world. In Standing At The Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre three generations of tenants interweave in the clean-lined kitchen and living room, ghosts in one another’s lives, telling in their very existence a universal story of postwar British cities.

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‘Magnificent’: THE LEHMAN TRILOGY – Gillian Lynne Theatre ★★★★★

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Three hour-long plays, two intervals, three men in black frock-coats explain some financial history in a revolving glass box in front of a projected, mainly monochrome, cyclorama. When The Lehman Trilogy triumphed at the National Theatre in 2018 I wrote “this show has no right to be so much fun”. Recast and home again, it still is a treat after waltzing Broadway and LA and winning a Tony for Best Play.

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‘A writer who knew that you must both entertain & awaken’: WATCH ON THE RHINE – Donmar Warehouse

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HELLMAN’S LESSON IN HUMANITY      Theatre can offer few more topical messages for a nation which might hesitate over Ukraine’s needs than this neglected one-set domestic play by Lilian Hellman. It is an artfully jolting picture of a comfortable, … Continue reading →

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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.