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.
‘The thoughtful richness of the play is fully realised’: DANCING AT LUGHNASA – National Theatre ★★★★
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.
REVIEW ROUND-UP: Hamnet at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon takes a look at what critics have said about Lolita Chakrabarti’s staging of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, Hamnet.
‘The fact that it’s actually coming to fruition is crazy’: Owen Chaponda & Merryl Ansah take over the iconic roles of Simba & Nala in The Lion King
Emma Clarendon chatted to Owen Chaponda and Merryl Ansah about returning to the West End production of The Lion King to star as Simba and Nala, having previously been in the ensemble.
REVIEW ROUND-UP: Head Over Heels at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
We take a look at what is being said about the European premiere of the musical Head Over Heels, playing at the Manchester based Hope Mill Theatre until 4 March.
‘Intriguing & tightly written’: ALL BY MYSELF – Vault Festival
The question All By Myself at the Vault Festival leaves you asking is would you still be curating your personal life for just one online click if it was the end of the world? Co-writers Charlotte Blandford (who also performs the piece) and Jessica Bickel-Barlow (who directs) have created an intriguing piece that shows that Part of the Main continue to explore the boundaries which drive fringe theatre.
‘Its heart is in the right place’: IN THE NET – Jermyn Street Theatre
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.
‘It drew me in ever more’: ALLEGIANCE – Charing Cross Theatre ★★★★
AN OLD INJUSTICE REMEMBERED An old man steps onstage alone: upright, soldierly in khaki as a former US war hero who is, he says resignedly, “brought out every year on the Pearl Harbour anniversary” . … Continue reading →
‘It’s a show where the ensemble are the star’: NEWSIES – Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre ★★★★
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.
‘I loved its wit & pace’: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS – Ipswich
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.
‘Everything is poured in to give the show a chance’: Hex – National Theatre
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.
‘A whole lot of spectacle sprinkled in with the silliness’: CINDERELLA – Woking ★★★★
It’s that time of year again (oh yes it is) where audiences flock to their local theatres to see the seasonal panto, and this year the New Victoria Theatre, Woking are providing the glitziest of night’s out with their version of Cinderella.
‘Hard, clever, truthful, sometimes funny’: BLACKOUT SONGS – Hampstead Theatre
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.
‘Rona Morison is shiveringly powerful’: MARY – Hampstead Theatre
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.
‘It’s a piece of bravura & massively entertaining’: TAMMY FAYE – Almeida Theatre ★★★★
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.
‘A 5-star triumph’: FAME WHORE – King’s Head Theatre
The first of a double-bill I watched last night at the King’s Head Theatre Pub, Fame Whore (the creation of Tom Ratcliffe – writer/director, and Gigi Zahir – lyricist/performer) finally sashays its way onto the stage after a COVID enforced absence.
‘Never a false note’: JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN – Bridge Theatre ★★★★★
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.
‘Couldn’t be more topical’: EUREKA DAY – Old Vic Theatre ★★★★★
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.
‘Rarely less than entertaining but too restrained’: THE SNAIL HOUSE – Hampstead Theatre ★★★
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.
‘The audience involvement is what makes it special’: Julian Forsyth is thrilled to be returning to The Woman in Black
Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon chatted to Julian Forsyth about starring in The Woman in Black as Arthur Kipps in London’s West End.