THE WASP ♥♥♥♥

TRAFALGAR STUDIOS.

The torments of the past have not been forgiven or forgotten in this gripping psychological drama.

 

The Wasp, Trafalgar Studios, courtesy Ikin Yum 14

Laura Donnelly

Mean girls are everywhere, in every generation, and their power has been at the heart of some extremely successful pieces of writing – not least Tina Fey’s 2004 film starring Lindsay Lohan.

The key ingredient of the top-grade mean girls is that they can walk coolly away from the victims of their cruelty, apparently unmoved by the devastation they’ve caused.

But in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play, simmering resentment over past wrongs resurfaces in the most startling and sinister fashion, when a meeting is engineered between one-time school friends Carla and Heather. Lloyd Malcolm has created two intense and complex characters, who remain on stage more or less all the time, making this a tour de force for both.

The Wasp, Trafalgar Studios, courtesy Ikin Yum 12

Mayanna Buring

Flinty-eyed Myanna Buring is scarily convincing as the tough, chain-smoking baby-machine Carla, while the repressed rage that simmers in Heather – cool, successful but childless – is chillingly portrayed by Laura Donnelly.

Tom Attenborough’s direction keeps the monologues and bitter exchanges fresh and crisp, steadily building tension throughout with help from the atmospheric lighting by Oliver Fenwick, which signals the subtle changes of mood on stage.

The sleek and striking design by David Woodhead immediately creates a sense of unease, with its wall of hideously outsized insects mounted in picture frames. Pride of place goes to an enormous wasp which has a particularly nasty way of supplying food for its young – and the parallels to human behaviour gradually become more evident as the action progresses.

The Wasp addresses some of the most raw and heartfelt of female insecurities, while painting a remorseless picture of psychosis. It’s a revenge tragedy which has the audience’s sympathy swinging wildly as it reveals an increasingly dark picture of the past and its legacy for both women.

This is extremely accomplished psychological thriller-writing by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, with engrossing performances from Buring and Donnelly. It may not be easy viewing, but it is entirely gripping.

• Trafalgar Studios 2, until 16 January 2016

Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY

www.atgtickets.com/trafalgarstudios

0333 252 1247

 

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THE GREAT GATSBY ♥♥♥

ARTSDEPOT FINCHLEY, and touring

Music plays a key part in this sparkling adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

Max Ross as Jay Gatsby and Celia Cruwys-Finnigan as Daisy Buchanan.

Max Ross as Jay Gatsby and Celia Cruwys-Finnigan as Daisy Buchanan. Pic: Alex Harvey Brown

With gin as the national drink, and sex as the national obsession (according to the New York Times, at least), America in the summer of 1923 must have been quite a place to be.

F. Scott Fitzgerald named it the Jazz Age, and the heady mix of music, illicit drinking and shedding the constraints of pre-war morality combined to create a sense of unbridled freedom.

Of course, pots of money helped too – and in Fitzgerald’s great novel, the battle for irresistible Daisy’s heart is fought between two impossibly wealthy men.

Blackeyed Theatre’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby puts music at the heart of the show, and musical director Ellie Verkerk has done impressive work in arranging a host of contemporary songs. Daisy (Celia Cruwys-Finnigan) opens with the plaintive Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, with other sparkling numbers including Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do, and The Sheik of Araby from 1921.

The multi-talented cast all play live instruments too, with Gatsby (Max Roll) particularly effervescent on clarinet.

Stephen Sharkey’s adaptation starts brightly with the cast all hopping with excitement over the dazzling guests attending one of Gatsby’s outrageously lavish parties. He is faithful to the book’s essence – not least because outsider Nick Carraway’s narration holds it all together – but there are pitfalls in attempting to capture both the grandeur and ethereal nature of this novel.

The scenes begin to feel rather choppy as the play progresses, despite lynchpin Nick, and there are times when a bit of background sound might help to fill out the stage during the big set-pieces.

Adam Jowett makes a charming and engaging Carraway, holding together the stream of other-worldly characters with a calm air of detachment and sound common sense.

The blustering, bullying Tom Buchanan is given a marvellous self-importance and utter assurance by Tristan Pate.

Jordan Baker’s insouciance and tricksiness are captured by the sleek and super-stylish Celeste De Veazey who wears her succession of gorgeous costumes (designed by Jenny Little) with panache.

While the mix of glamour and intimacy that makes The Great Gatsby such a classic is not entirely captured here, Eliot Giuralarocca’s production has wit, sparkle and some fine performances to sustain it.

 At Artsdepot Finchley, (020 8369 5454)

October 13 and 14, then touring.

 Blackeyedtheatre.co.uk

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F*CKING MEN ♥♥♥♥

THE KING’S HEAD THEATRE.

This tender, brutal and highly charged account of sexual encounters returns in an extended run.

Darren%20Bransford%20and%20Johnathon%20Neal%2C%20F-cking%20Men%2C%20King%27s%20Head%20Theatre%2C%20%28c%29%20Christopher%20TribbleArthur Schnitzler’s play about a sexual merry-go-round, La Ronde, was written in 1897 and despite being an instant hit, selling an impressive 40,000 copies, it was banned within a year of its publication by the Viennese authorities. When it was finally performed in 1920, Schnitzler was accused of being a pornographer and withdrew the play from public productions.

But its appeal, with ten interlocking scenes between pairs of lovers, has stood the test of the intervening century. The play has been reinterpreted both on stage and on film, including Nicole Kidman’s infamous ‘theatrical Viagra’ performance in David Hare’s Blue Room at London’s Donmar Warehouse.

The King’s Head production of F*ucking Men, by Joe DiPietro, focuses on gay subculture in the city, with HIV, porn, and escorts all playing a part. Smoothly directed by Geoffrey Hyland, the production is subtle, funny and highly entertaining in parts, and undeniably disturbing in others.

Jamie Simmons’ clever interlocking design makes scene changes relatively seamless, with stark but effective lighting from Nic Farman.

Hidden desire and fear of discovery are recurring themes, with Anthony Wise’s successful Journalist horrified at the idea of the married Actor coming clean about his broom-cupboard encounter.

And money, fading looks and the irresistible allure of youth are also dealt with as the Other Married Guy – the supercool, urbane Richard de Lisle – is unable to resist the charm of beautiful Haydn Whiteside as The Porn Star.

Whiteside creates a very appealing account of this young man, untouched as yet by the rigours of his work, and displaying a tender vulnerability in his dreams of finding true love at last.

Johnathon Neal is also strong as the double-dealing Actor, toughing out his public confession and sure that his star power will keep him on the big screen. It doesn’t.

And this is one of the play’s bleaker messages – that being openly gay still means trouble at the very least, and career suicide at worst, for many men.

However, the other side of the coin is that for most of the lovers, they do have fantastic sex, and that of course is what La Ronde is all about – sexual contact leaps across the divides of class, money and marriage just as effectively today as it did in Schnitzler’s nineteenth century Austria.

This a no-holds-barred production and not for the faint hearted, but its powerful and tragi-comic stories are played with truth and clarity by a convincing cast.

Until 26th September

 King’s Head Theatre,

Upper Street, Islington

Tel. 0207 226 8561  

info@kingsheadtheatre.com

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A NAUGHTY NIGHT WITH NOEL COWARD ♥♥♥

THE OLD RED LION THEATRE, ISLINGTON

A brief but spirited marriage of two one-act plays by the Master is lifted by its music.

Lianne Harvey and James Sindall. Pic Ben Coverdale

Lianne Harvey and James Sindall. Pic Ben Coverdale

Noel Coward’s writing may be clever and stylised, but there’s a danger in trying to ‘do’ his plays solely as period pieces, complete with clipped, Coward-style vocal mannerisms. Director Jimmy Walters has largely, but not completely, avoided this problem with Proud Haddock’s double bill of one-act plays, which both deal with the sticky subject of adulterous affairs, real or imagined.

The scene is set with great aplomb by pianist and singer Tom Self, with the 1928 song Dance Little Lady, which ushers in We Were Dancing, a story of two strangers who fall passionately, but temporarily, in love over the course of a dance.

Lianne Harvey has a lovely, brittle brilliance as Louise Charteris, who can’t quite understand why everyone is being so beastly about her decision to ditch her husband and take up with a man whose name she can’t remember. John MacCormick is suitably stiff-upper-lipped about the whole business as Hubert Charteris, while James Sindall plays interloper Karl Sandys with cucumber-cool insouciance.

The second play, The Better Half, written when Coward was only 22, is in many ways a much more cynical piece, with bored wife Alice giving her dull husband a blistering talking-to about the tiresomeness of his being ‘splendid’ all the time, and shooing him into the arms of her adoring friend. This is pretty much a monologue for Tracey Pickup as Alice, who throws herself into the part with such vigour that she doesn’t leave herself much room to develop the role. But she’s a spirited and engaging performer, running rings around her dreary husband, played very much in the Prince Charles mode by Stephen Fawkes.

Beth Eyre quietly excels in both plays, dressed down but bringing commitment and conviction to her roles first as an outraged sister, and second as a woman in love with her friend’s husband.

The women look uniformly gorgeous in the clothes designed by Rosemary Elliot Dancs, and there is also some subtle lighting work from Philip Jones.

This isn’t an entirely satisfying evening, not least because it’s so short – both plays together amount to just over an hour. But it’s bright and entertaining, and the music gives it a sparky edge. 

• Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London, EC1 4NJ

Until 29th August

Oldredliontheatre.co.uk

Box office 0844 412 4307

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RICHARD II ♥♥♥♥

SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE THEATRE

Charles Edwards excels as King Richard, whose divine royalty faces iron-willed rebellion.

RICHARD 2ND by Shakespeare,           , writer – William Shakespeare, Director -  Simon Goodwin, Designer – Paul Willis, The Globe Theatre, London. Credit: Johan Persson/

Amid a cascade of gold confetti, director Simon Godwin opens this production of Richard II with a coronation scene which provides a glittering reminder that this king was a mere boy when he ascended the throne.

That, at least, provides some excuse for the unseemly and dangerous behaviour that ensued as his reign progressed, eventually alienating even his natural allies, and ending in a spectacular fall from his divinely appointed role.

Charles Edwards makes a mesmerising Richard, whimsical, capricious and utterly self-serving. His mastery of all the comic possibilities of the king’s foibles and callous asides is done with such bright-eyed humour that it’s hard not to have some sympathy with this dangerous charmer, even as he dismisses brave John of Gaunt’s death with his cool,

‘So much for that. Now for our Irish wars:’

His abiding interest in fashion and fabrics – beautifully realised by designer Paul Willis’ sumptuous costumes – is belied by this fatal insistence on going to Ireland in person, but the steely Bolingbroke, played with authority and vigour by David Sturzaker, has become an irresistible force in the meantime.

The abdication scene was considered too incendiary to be played during Elizabeth I’s lifetime, and its power is fully realised here by Edwards and Sturzaker, as Richard and Bolingbroke engage in a tug of war over the handover.

And as Richard finally relinquishes the authority represented by his ‘hollow crown’, he becomes a pitiful creature indeed, his confidence and stature shrivelling before our eyes.

The entire York family shine. Sarah Woodward is a superbly determined Duchess, whose kneeling scene as she begs forgiveness for her rebel son (Graham Butler’s bitchy Aumerle) is one of the dramatic and comic highlights of the production. William Chubb is a lynchpin as York, whose decision to support Bolingbroke proves so decisive.

John of Gaunt is played with both subtlety and passion by William Gaunt. His parting with Bolingbroke, knowing he will never see his son again, is deeply moving in its affectation of diffidence, and the dying man’s assault on the Richard’s record of misrule is delivered with such conviction that it’s no surprise the king considers the threat of beheading a suitable riposte.

Oliver Boot brings a meaty swagger to Mowbray, flinging down his gauntlet with gusto, and Richard’s doom-laden queen Isabel is given a fiery heart by Anneika Rose, though there are some issues with audibility, not aided by the roar of jets flying overhead.

Designer Paul Wills has given the entire set a golden shimmer, including a dusting of gold to the stage itself, which lends Richard’s court a sumptuous, cloying sense of a rule that has over-reached itself.

Although this may not be the most nuanced reading of the play, it’s nevertheless a thrilling production, full of the Globe’s unique energy.

Until Sunday 18 October

To book call  +44 (0) 20 7401 9919 or visit  www.shakespearesglobe.com

Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT

 

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SINATRA, THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC ♥♥♥

THE LONDON PALLADIUM

Frank Sinatra takes centre stage once again in this celebration of his life and musical legacy

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In the centenary of his birth, Frank Sinatra is back in London. His daughter Nancy was at the opening of this show and in an emotional address, explained how much her father had loved the city and the Palladium itself, where he had spectacular success 65 years ago.

‘‘Sinatra, the Man and his Music’’ is an honourable attempt to recapture the experience of seeing Frank live, using a fabulous orchestra and a team of eager dancers. There is no attempt at recreating Frank as a performer, either through hologram effects or by using other singers (as Thriller does very successfully with the music of Michael Jackson, for example).

Instead, we see some of his finest filmed performances projected on a large drop-down screen, or on other backdrops. Technology has allowed the largely black-and-white images to have new brightly coloured backgrounds, and the video design by 59 Productions fills the stage space with a restless energy. But the main focus is inevitably the screened Frank, singing through a medley of his best-loved numbers alongside a biography made up of clips from interviews and a trawl through the photographic archive.

For fans and interested music lovers alike, the show reinforces Frank Sinatra’s status as a magnificent singer and a charismatic performer, whose gaze gets a hold of you and doesn’t let go. And therein lies the problem for the rest of the cast – all dancers – who struggle to get a look-in despite their best efforts to give this show the effect of a musical spectacular. When all eyes are raised to the screen above, the on-stage action is easy to overlook, and this disconnection of the key performers from ‘Frank’ himself is a problem throughout. Nor is it aided by the efficient, but curiously bland, choreography.

The main strength of this as a live show is its band – superbly led by musical director Richard John, with musical supervisor Gareth Valentine and orchestrations by Don Sebesky and David Pierce. Tight as you like, full of energy and with virtuoso soloists on trumpet and clarinet, they could perhaps have spent more time on stage rather than being tucked away behind banquettes on high. After all, Frank himself acknowledged his huge musical debt to the band leaders he worked with, not least Tommy Dorsey, credited with teaching him all he knew about phrasing and breath control.

‘‘Sinatra, the Man and his Music’’ is an immersive musical experience that shines the spotlight back on Frank’s inimitable talent. But its fragmented feel makes it a sum of its parts, rather than a fully satisfying whole.

• First published on What’sOnStage.com

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD ♥♥♥♥

THE BARBICAN THEATRE

 This stirring stage revival captures the essence of Harper Lee’s classic novel.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird UK TourTo Kill A Mockingbird has inspired countless readers with its potent mix of deadly bigotry and moral courage in a 1930s small Southern town, all seen through the eyes of a child.

Written by Harper Lee in 1960, the book won the Pulitzer prize the following year, was made into an Oscar-winning film, and has never been out of print. It was her only published novel until now, but with the recent publication of Go Set A Watchman (July 14), there’s been a renewed surge of interest in the reclusive Lee and her classic novel.

Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation has had a long life too – it’s been performed annually in Lee’s home town of Munroeville, Alabama, since 1990. The current Barbican show is a well-deserved revival of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production. And while the 2013 original had the advantage of magical twilight descending on the action and a backdrop of wind-rustled trees, this indoor staging has retained all the charm of Jon Bausor’s ingeniously simple set, with its single tree suggesting the carefree pleasures of childhood as well as the sinister possibilities of the lynch mob. The exceptional lighting design by Oliver Fenwick also helps to recreate the sticky, oppressive heat of Southern summer days and nights.

Director Timothy Sheader has ensured that the book itself and its brilliant storytelling remain at the heart of the production. The stage is littered with copies which the cast retrieve and use to read aloud chunks of the text (in English accents) alongside the dialogue, which is performed in by-and-large pretty convincing southern American accents.

Sheader has assembled a strong cast, led by Robert Sean Leonard, reprising his Regent’s Park role as Atticus Finch, the defence lawyer with an unshakeable moral compass who will do right, cost what it may – and who is also, by-the-by, a dead-eye shot. Leonard brings gravitas and authority to Finch (perhaps aided by his Gregory Peck-inspired glasses), and is especially impressive in the courtroom scene where the house lights rise to include us all in the jury he addresses with such passionate conviction.

Zachary Momoh as Tom Robinson. Pic: Johan Persson.

Zachary Momoh as Tom Robinson. Pic: Johan Persson.

Zachary Momoh is intensely moving as the gentle, generous-hearted Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman he had the temerity to feel sorry for. His deadly fear is all the more heart-wrenching for its restraint, and Robinson’s one outburst of anguish is quickly quashed by a court that’s decided his fate long before the case opened.

Susan Lawson-Reynolds bustles, chides and guides with a perfect mix of warmth and authority as Calpurnia, the maid who manages the motherless Finch household. Her charges, Scout and Jem, together with bookish neighbour Dill, are played with real charm and conviction by Ava Potter, Tommy Rodger and Connor Brundish. The children are at the heart of the book, and these are challenging parts by any standards, but the young performers all capture the drama of the roles – and Timothy Sheader’s sure-footed direction ensures they don’t miss any of the laughs either.

Jamie Kenna as sheriff-with-a-heart Heck Tate and Geoff Aymer as the loyal Reverend Sykes also give standout performances, but this is very much an ensemble piece, with the cast all watching from the perimeter, manoeuvring the props and even chalking the outlines of the streets and houses onto the stage. Some other character roles are perhaps played a little over-zealously, but this is a moving and uplifting show that captures the heart of Harper Lee’s work.

At the Barbican theatre until July 25.

Monday – Saturday 7.30pm
Matinee performances (Thurs & Sat) 2.30pm

For tickets http://www.barbican.org.uk

• This review first published on goodhousekeeping.co.uk

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