The night before Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination on the balcony outside of his Memphis motel room, Katori Hall’s play The Mountaintop takes us inside Room 306 where he was staying.
Having come to Rock of Ages with no prior reference other than the 2012 film version (mostly memorable for featuring a surprisingly entertaining performance from Tom Cruise) I was, let’s say, unprepared for the stage show. It’s an altogether louder, more unsavoury affair.
A Very Very Very Dark Matter lacks the coherence and pleasing culmination of the playwright’s other works. Despite the ‘upbeat ending’, this play displays none of Martin McDonagh’s trademark pitch-black farce.
To say Calendar Girls The Musical is celebratory seems cliché, yet there’s no better description; Calendar Girls is an unashamed celebration of love, life, and community (and cake!).
Overall, Cilla the Musical is a watchable and well-produced show. On the other hand, I think there’s possibly a more interesting story in there.
Bourne’s Swan Lake is timeless, this production as fresh as ever, while a company that embodies a tireless amount verve, ingenuity, precision and emotion ensure this is a revival to be universally celebrated.
Despite a lack of connection, The Wipers Times celebrates a great, previously untold story, about war, journalism, tenacity, and the need for humour in difficult times.
The Lovely Bones is one of the best plays I’ve seen this year. In fact, Melly Still’s vital production is the best page to stage adaptation I’ve seen since Curious Incident.
In Bill Buckhurst’s production of Sweet Charity we benefit from the delicate balance between the seediness of the New York backstreets with the technicolor of Charity’s blithe daydreams.
Whatever criticisms people may have of McDonagh, his neat plotting and big jokes are enough to entice people not usually interested in theatre. It may be Aidan Turner drawing the crowds in, but it’s Martin McDonagh keeping them satiated.
Exit the King’s interest in the crumbling of a kingdom is relevant, and I found its musings on death – and Anthony Ward’s visual representation of this – emotionally affecting.
By turns cynical, touching and with a rogue twinkle in its eye, Allelujah! doesn’t set the stage alight, and as both a black comedy and state-of-the-nation play it feels underpowered, but Bennett remains a bastion of not just British playwriting, but Britain as a whole.
Claire van Kampen’s decision to eschew gimmick/concept is a bold statement in a production of Othello that generously places the focus firmly on plot and character, and pays dividends for it.
Like America promises so much to Henry Lehman when he stands on the dock side, The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre promised so much as well.
“Wherever there’s trouble, I can guarantee you I’ll be there”
Apparently this stage adaptation of Raymond Allen’s 1970s’ classic sitcom was conceived when writer/director Guy Unsworth was directing Joe Pasquale in Monty Python’s Spamalotin London. It was a hot summer’s day, the story goes, and Pasquale’s unsuccessful attempts to fix a fan gave Unsworth a lightbulb moment of casting Pasquale as hapless Frank Spencer and making him fall down a set of stairs seven shows a week. If only Unsworth missed a train that day and couldn’t make it to that sweltering matinee of Spamalot. If only the dressing rooms weren’t in the basement at the Playhouse and not so stuffy. If only the Playhouse’s management invested in a better fan to cool the company down. If only Unsworth was directing Stewart Lee in a play and he ended up playing the role immortalised by Michael Crawford. Any number of slight changes to that day and this production of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em might not have graced the stage and where oh where would British theatre be then? It seems churlish to be this po-faced about the production even if I am cynical in the endeavour of adapting old sitcoms rather than creating new comedies that appeal to family audiences. Although it’s certainly not without criticism, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em has a relentless giddy charm. Born in 1992, I had an avid interest in comedy from a young age, including watching repeats of Some Mothers, and going to see Joe Pasquale perform live. Although my tastes might have since altered, this is an odd nostalgia trip to see the mash-up of the two.
Unsworth has taken Allen’s scripts and amalgamated some memorable moments from throughout the series as well as focusing on the episode(s) where Betty tries to tell Frank he’s going to be a dad and the one where the BBC films his DIY achievements for a new TV show. Add to that Betty’s mother (played very well by Susie Blake) who has become alcoholic and desperate for a man, a vicar and a rather implausible through-line of a missing ring and some stolen money, and you have the ingredients of a classic farce. Add to this Simon Higlett’s comedic playground of a set complete with 70s wallpaper and a loaded staircase and you would think it’s enough to give Mischief Theatre a run for their money.
Pasquale has an affable quality that makes him easy to warm to, but he doesn’t quite match Crawford’s performance. Pasquale does great service to the part by capturing Frank’s innocence, his optimism, performing the malapropisms believably, and getting through verbally dexterous tautological speeches. It’s to be applauded that he doesn’t do a carbon copy of Crawford – hearing Pasquale say ‘I’m a man’ in his trademark squeaky voice has its own joys – but there are also flaws in the performance. Pasquale sets off at such a pace there’s no wonder the whole thing comes in at under two hours. The problem with this is that it occasionally feels like he is regurgitating the script and it means that the humour found in Crawford’s pauses, as you saw him working thoughts through, is lost. Having said that, Pasquale sure knows how to slide down some bannister railings. Aside from the slapstick, he boasts a strong quality for farce, trying to keep the whole thing together whilst it’s simultaneously falling apart. The whole company is strong, especially Sarah Earnshaw is as Frank’s long-suffering and devout wife, Betty. Praise also has to be given to the stage management team led by Nik Ryal; I can imagine them running around the back of Higlett’s set throwing chicken feathers, squirting water, exploding kitchens, and knocking things off walls.
In sitcom, there are often no consequences, as explored to great effect in Terry Johnson’s play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick. But by the end of this two hours, Unsworth throws in a surreal dance routine made of several Frank Spencers as well as a contrived tidying up of the plot – as if the plot was anything we were ever bothered about! In the last couple of months, I’ve seen a gamut of what small-mid scale touring theatre has to offer from the superb Fleabag to the wasted Sherlock Holmes. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, thanks to clever casting, a popular TV show of yesteryear, and amplified microphones so no one can complain of audibility issues, is sure to pack in and satisfy audiences for the remainder of its tour.
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is playing at Curve, Leicester until 21st July and touring the UK.
Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer. Credit: Scott Rylander
Fun Home exceeds all expectations. It’s one of those productions where everything – book, music, performance, design – comes together in perfect harmony and by the final notes you know you’ve witnessed something sublime.
If I have been overly harsh, I apologise, and I’m sure many audience members found aspects to enjoy in The Final Curtain, however, if ‘cosy crime’ is your thing, I think you’d be better off sticking to ITV3 repeats.
In all of the hot air, there’s been lately about the 25 greatest plays since Angels in America, I cannot argue against the decision to include An Octoroon high on the list.
Mischief Movie Night is enormous fun and the cast clearly loves what they do. The sense of kinship is refreshing and invigorating as we giggle alongside the actors on stage at the absurdity of what we are asking of them.
Polly Stenham has updated August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie to contemporary London. Why? Well, it would be foolish to think that this new version is modern only because of its language, setting and clothes.