Monday, March 20, 2017

Drain the swamp: The Frogs @JSTheatre


The search for a great playwright to rescue society seems an odd subject for a musical-comedy. But these are no ordinary times we are living in. A frog called Pepe is now a symbol for the alt-right movement. So now may be the time for a show where frogs appear to be a symbol of conformity, distraction and mediocrity.

The Frogs was an ancient Greek comedy from 405 BC by Aristophanes. It became a short musical piece performed in the Yale Swimming Pool in the 1970s by Burt Shevelove. And it is now a somewhat fully fledged musical thanks to Nathan Lane's obsession and fascination with the piece. It is having its UK premiere at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Kosher cougars: A Dark Night in Dalston @ParkTheatre


No matter what your religious or cultural background, all you need is a warm hearted older woman to perk you up. And chewable painkillers. And tea in a paper cup. These are all important in A Dark Night in Dalston which is currently playing at Park Theatre.

In the piece Council estate resident Gina brings in a young devout Jewish man lying outside her flat for a plaster and hot cup of tea. Some of the lads on the estate roughed him up after he was visiting the local slapper.  It wasn't so much as anti-Semitism as robust local banter.

Anyway while she is tending to his cuts and bruises and offering him tea the sun sets. And so he can't go home as it's the sabbath.  He doesn't want to face his father and he doesn't want to face his fiancee. Gina is an ex-nurse and full-time carer. But what care does young Gideon need? What draws him to Dalston in the first place since he comes from Stanmore? Couldn't he find what he was after in Kilburn?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mad as duck: The Monkey @theatre503


A debt, a bad nickname and an obsession Reservoir Dogs come into focus in John Stanley's funny and dark play The Monkey at Theatre 503.

Stanley notes that he has distilled the four characters in the piece from the larger than life characters he has encountered. They bring to life the many traits of London's sub-culture of addiction and criminality. It's part of the Homecoming's season of new writing by prisoners and ex-prisoners. The stories are about getting out and going home.

But what is fascinating in this hilarious piece is how he has created a unique character in Terry. Terry (or Tel as his mates call him) has left Bermondsey and trying to leave his old past behind. But an old mate Thick-Al owes him money (or a monkey)  His mates think he has a bit of screw loose but also that he is a soft touch.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Flashers, savages and gluttony: You're Human Like the Rest of Them @finborough


It's a bizarre, odd sort of world. Nothing makes sense. Gluttony, communism, flashers in cemeteries. It's all laid bare in You're Human Like The Rest of Them. Three short works by B.S. Johnson playing at the Finborough Theatre. The three pieces include two world stage premieres of pieces originally broadcast on television and radio and the first production in over forty years.

B.S Johnson was a radical and an experimentalist.  He wrote plays, poems and novels. A collection of his films are also available. His pieces are about the big themes of life, death, religion. Nothing is quite like it seems. In 1973 a month after completing a short filmed piece called Fat Man on a Beach (well he probably was a little overweight but that title seemed an exaggeration), he committed suicide.  Since then his work has developed a bit of a cult following. Given the theatricality and originality of his works it is surprising that there has never been a staged performance of them. Until now.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Talking about an evolution: Darwin's Tortoise @SpanishTheatreC


Just what would happen if a nearly two-hundred year old tortoise stood up and started walking around.  Bearing witness to the great events and catastrophe's of the twentieth century?

Well naturally she would want an historian to recount it all. Or at least correct what he had already written.

And thus is the central premise of Darwin's Tortoise by Juan Mayorga, with an English translation by David Johnson. It's currently playing at the Cervantes Theatre.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Daddy's girl: I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard @finborough @praysohardplay


Family ties are at their tenuous best in I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard at the Finborough Theatre. It's a great title for a play and refers to when you really hate someone for what they did, you pray for them. The piece charts the damaged relationship between a successful playwright and his aspiring actor-daughter.

Sharp and shocking, at times it feels like you're eavesdropping on a famous neighbour that you know is a little unhinged. And you can't help but keep listening.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Keep on truckin': The Understudy @Canalcafe


With the Oscars now over, the self-congratulatory season of handing out awards for movies has ended for another year. The Understudy at The Canal Café Theatre seems relevant.

It's a funny take on how theatre and film seem to be at times competing art forms. But in the end it is always about money.

Jake is a big star. He has had a hit action movie open but he is currently on Broadway in a three hour Kafka play. Jobbing actor Harry is going to be his understudy. Stage manager Roxanne has to get them through a rehearsal but it turns out Harry and Roxanne have a history.

And so sets the scene for debates about the worthiness of theatre versus the cheap thrills of the screen.

Life upon the wicked stage: The Wild Party @theotherpalace


The St James Theatre gets a new name and a hot new show that never lets up with The Wild Party. They dance, they sing, they party as if it were 1928.

Based on a notorious poem by Joseph Moncure March, Michael John LaChiusa with George C. Woolfe turn it into a sung through musical vaudeville.  Kander and Ebb did something similar with Chicago, but it always felt tongue in cheek. Here it's as if the tongue is planted in some other filthier crevice. It's darker. And dirtier. And sometimes horrific.

Set over the course of a party hosted by two vaudville performers, it revels in sex and sleaze among their show-biz friends. People arrive. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They have sex.

And with director choreographer Drew McOnie's dance and movement, the piece feels provocative, relentless and breathtaking. Perhaps it isn't a party to suit all tastes. But its frenzied pace, complex score and terrific lineup of talent make it hard to ignore, even if you feel like you need to shower after seeing it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

You're Never Fully Dressed: Beau Brummell An Elegant Madness @EuropeanArtsCo @jstheatre


No matter how stylish you might be in your heyday, in the end you'll end up a bit daft and alone in a bathtub. That seems to be the central message in Beau Brummell, an Elegant Madness. It's currently playing at Jermyn Street Theatre.

The man famous for creating an understated mens style - dark coats, full length trousers, white shirts, cravats - is now living in dubious quarters in Calais. He switches between dreaming of making up with his old friend the Prince of Wales (now George IV) and contemplating suicide.

The play opens with Brummell (Seán Brosnan) in a bathtub about to cut his throat. Or at least threatening to do so. His vallet (Richard Latham) rushes in and manages to take the blade away from him. But his long suffering valet is not quite suffering as you would expect. And so beings this two hander that is part history lesson about the man and a reflection of the times.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Monster chills: Frankenstein @Blackeyedtheatr


There are more than just the usual chills in Blackeyed Theatre's Frankenstein. And it wasn't due to the lack of any perceptible heating at Greenwich Theatre last week during a particularly bitter cold snap.

Mary Shelley's tale is given a theatrical flourish in this adaptation by John Ginman. Percussion instruments underscore the tension and the monster is depicted by a giant puppet. He isn't particularly hideous and that makes you even more sympathetic towards him.