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Showing posts from December, 2019

Trends in theatre 2019 (of sorts)...

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As the year draws to a close, many writers decide to write up the best or worst things at the theatre they have seen. Since I try to avoid things I know I won’t like, I'm covering what I've noticed are the all-pervasive trends in London theatre this year... Happy New Year...

Phones in theatres

No theatre space is complete without people wanting to text, secretly film or browse their smartphone. Even at the Royal Opera. As the orchestra started up you could hear the hissing of "turn your phone off" throughout the stalls. I put up with a man sitting next to me who had yet to master the art of silencing his phone by listening to his low battery warning for the first few minutes of the third act. After all, opera-goers can be a tough lot and I didn’t want trouble.

Perhaps we have it all wrong. Theatres could probably win new audiences by having a noisy, phone using section of the theatres. Just like there used to be smoking areas. Just as long as the noisy audiences can …

Death Becomes Her: La Traviata @RoyalOperaHouse

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The original hooker with a heart of gold (and lungs full of blood) is back at The Royal Opera House for the Christmas period and beyond. It’s a bright and stylish production that was first seen at the Royal Opera twenty five years ago. But La Traviata, or the “fallen woman”, is more than just froth, bubbles and champagne. It’s also about the frailty of life and how redemption can come in many guises. In this particular version conducted by Daniel Oren, it’s the somber more reflective moments that stand out. Whether you like that sort of thing or not. 
In case you were wondering if there’s a plot to all these emotions in La Traviata, it centres around Violetta, a courtesan who at one of her lavish parties dumps one lover for another. But her new suitor, a moderately wealthy man called Alfredo, turns out to be more than she expected and they both fall in love. Meanwhile Alfredo’s bourgeois father seeks to restore the family honour while Violetta grapples with moral choices while her he…

Limp Christmas: Pinocchio No Strings Attached @abovethestag

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No Christmas is complete nowadays without an adults-only pantomime. These shows don't have to worry about innuendo, they aim right for the crotch. So it’s no surprise that in Pinocchio No Strings Attached at Above The Stag, the young boy has a different growth to deal with when he tells a lie. But despite an amusing premise and a cast that seems eager to please, the piece is overlong and a bit limp.

Set in the fictional Italian port side town called, Placenta, Toymaker Gepetta and her lesbian niece are on the run from the law. Gepetta seeking a man in her life inadvertently calls on the local lesbian fairy Fatima who brings her toy... boy to life. Meanwhile, there’s a wealthy evil landlord, Figaro who wants a piece of the action, a cat with a severe fur ball problem and a footballer thinking of coming out of the closet.

For a pantomime, it’s surprisingly faithful to many elements of the Pinocchio story. Albeit with gay, lesbian and pantomime dame flavours. But with many possibili…

Tales from the monoculture: One Million Tiny Plays About Britain @JSTheatre

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There is a theatre-sports feel to One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, currently playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Two actors are thrown into the challenge of portraying characters of a range of ages and types across Britain with barely seconds to make costume or wig change. At best, there are some touching moments about chance encounters. But by the end, you feel there's a repetitiveness to the characters and their micro stories so that you feel like it's more like a million tiny plays about the same thing.

The most fun from this show, however, comes from its send-up of the Jermyn Street Theatre and audiences that you likely find here. Before the show begins, the actors are playing ushers telling the audience where to go, with a direct yet amusing twist. The theatre announcements, including when the toilets are about to be closed are delivered with elaborations. And before the second half gets underway, we're treated to a game of bingo.

Playing the various character…

The eighties are calling: The Ocean At The End of The Lane @NationalTheatre

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The Dorfman Theatre at the National is transformed into a thicket of imagination (and a few scares) in this brisk and evocative adaptation of Neil Gaiman's book of the same name by Joel Horwood. Even if you're unfamiliar with the book, this production directed by Katy Rudd, quickly establishes a strange and unusual world. And not just because it was set in 1983 when T-shirts were always pastel colours and hair had to have a perm. With a strong cast and endless theatrical tricks, you'll find yourself enthralled in its exploration around how people remember the past and the blurring of reality and fantasy that come with memories and time.

Opening with a funeral, a man returns to his hometown and stops by the place where he remembers a girl called Lettie who he knew as a young man. There he encounters her grandmother again and soon is transported back to the time when they knew each other as a boy, which just so happens to be the early 1980s.

The boy (Samuel Blenkin) meets L…

Mind the gap: One Under @arcolatheatre

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Winsome Pinnock’s play, One Under revisits the aftermath of a young black man’s suicide on the London Underground. The pieces of his life are recreated in search of meaning. It’s a fascinating (albeit slowly paced) tale about a life not lived. Produced by Graeae, which specialises in placing deaf and disabled artists on stage alongside Theatre Royal Plymouth, it’s been on tour before settling in for a short run at the Arcola Theatre.

He’s Sonny by name and by nature. But something isn’t quite right. He thinks people follow him and watch him. He has lots of money too. Is he paranoid, or are there darker forces at play?

After his death, the tube driver of the train that killed him, Cyrus (Stanley J Browne), goes on a mission to find sense out the senseless loss of life. Befriending his adopted mother and tracking down he is girlfriend at a laundrette, his determination to make sense of it all starts to become an obsession itself.

The play underscores that despite appearances, you never…

Jesus, It’s Christmas: An Act of God @thevaultsuk

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God is back, and she wants to correct the record in 90 minutes on a stage under Waterloo Station. If that seems like a fair enough premise for you, then An Act of God is currently playing through to the new year at The Vaults. It’s such a mild satirical piece that you’ll be smirking out loud rather than laughing out loud. However, as an alternative Christmas experience with a terrific bar and an enthusiastic cast, it’s mostly harmless.

God has come to London to correct the record on a range of misinterpretations of her Ten Commandments. The Palladium was unavailable, but the damp space of The Vaults was free. This time around the tablets are different (an IPad of course) and so are the messages about leaving God out of the war, travelling or sex. New material has been added to keep it topical. But the comic timing seems off and attempts to introduce theological debate into the proceedings fall flat.


This makes the reissuing of the 10 commandments feel a bit of a chore. Or like listen…