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The male gaze: Turning the screw

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It's been a while since trips to the theatre. I've been busy. But it's nice to see that it's the creative process that is at the heart of Kevin Kelly's Turning the Screw. And what gives rise to it. It's a dramatisation of the creative process leading up to composer Benjamin Britten's premiere of his opera, The Turning of the Screw. With deadlines approaching, Britten seems stuck over melodies and unsure about completing the piece for its summer premiere. But the selection of twelve-year-old choirboy David Hemmings in the leading role of Miles within the opera is the spark that motivates him to complete the piece. And his presence may stir other feelings, too. It's currently playing at the Kings Head Theatre .  Britten's fascination with young boys has been the subject of a detailed book, Britten's Children. The book suggests that Britten saw himself as a young boy of 13. It's almost as if he saw himself as Peter Pan, albeit if Peter Pan was a

Theatre: The Mercy Seat

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The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute is hard hitting and controversial. Originally staged in 2002, it no doubt caused a stir when first staged a dark and cynical look at human emotions against the backdrop of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ten years on, time gives it a different perspective. It feels less shocking and the more understandable. Perhaps it helps having lived in London through a summer of mindless random criminal acts... Riots, police corruption, general economic malaise... Life can seem a lot like how LaBute describes it: random and opportunistic. And given the right set of circumstances anyone can do anything. Against this backdrop is Ben and Abby (played by Sean O'Neil and Janine Ingrid Ulfane). She is his boss and he is married. Both should have been at the Twin Towers but a morning dalliance meant that instead they were at her flat. And now against the tragedy there is a potential opportunity. To give too much away would spoil the play, but watching the chemistry be

Curious and sweet: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

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It was an exciting and enjoyable opening night of the West End transfer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time  earlier this week. Not just because of the various well-known faces and fans of the cast in the audience, but this is an intelligent and emotional play that is hard to resist. While I missed its run at  The National Theatre , you are swept up in the sensitive story of a boy with behavioural problems and his impact on the family. And there is a star performance from Luke Treadaway as 15-year-old Christopher Boone, a maths genius with Asperger's Syndrome. Treadaway inhabits the character and draws out his sensitivities and his vulnerabilities. At times it is exhausting to watch. And as he is a bit of a star (alongside his twin brother ), his female fans in the audience were quite excited when he takes his shirt off. The character may be fifteen, but the demands on the role require a pretty fit actor, so be prepared for audience members enjoying the sight o

Sketches and wit: Overruled

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 The Wilmington Theatre Company's debut production of three short comic plays by George Bernard Shaw makes for a frightfully witty and enjoyable evening at the Old Red Lion Theatre . The acting and production values are quite high as infidelity, polygamy and morality are all explored. Often with hilarious results. In the first piece, How He Lied To Her Husband , a wife loses poems written for her by her young admirer. They fall into her husband's hands and his response is not quite what the wife or lover expect. It is a three hander that plays well in the confines of the theatre space and with a focussed cast everyone was hooked. Well almost everyone as there was a couple in one corner that may have got carried away with Shaw's attempts to hold a mirror up to nature and were passionately making out. The second piece, Overruled , covers two adulterous couples who are caught in the act on vacation. The source of the comedy here is the honesty of each of the couple'

Rough treatments: Dangerous Lady

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Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East's East's new stage adaption of Martina Cole's bestseller is a trashy, violent and funny production that will have you enjoying almost every minute of it.  There are wry observations about criminals, the police and class in this piece. Things are not black and white and what is right or wrong is not always easy to tell. It is a bloody tough life and it is the women who are the survivors and keep things together. The play opens with an unexpectedly frank depiction of childbirth. Later in the first half there is an intense scene depicting an abortion that had members of the audience so engaged they were screaming out in horror as if they were watching the backyard procedure really take place. There is nothing gruesome on stage, but the production manages to suggest just enough to have most audience-members squirming... or about to pass out... It is all part of the gritty depiction of the life and times of a London Irish gangl

Hot August Nights: Drag Divas

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If you have been wondering where you could see a live all-singing all-dancing tribute show to the worlds greatest divas performed by a bunch of blokes, then you could do with catching Drag Divas , which is having a short run at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square. It has been always a bit difficult to see a drag show in central London as the local punters don't seem to go for that sort of thing... But it is great to see there is at least for the moment a place in the West End where you can go for a late night camp fix that doesn't take itself too seriously and gives a touch of hoary glamour to theatreland this summer. The show is billed as being "Fierce. Fabulous. Fearless" and this could apply to both the divas and the drag performers as they come out and sing live in front of an audience that has already had a drink or three and has been warmed up by drag compere Mrs Moore. But what they may lack in the vocal department, they make up for with some impressive costu

Music that pulls no punches: Soul Sister

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Soul Sister at Hackney Empire is a musical based on the life of Tina Turner . It's an opportunity to set the rhythm and blues music from Ike and Tina Turner to her lifestory with some incredible results. Most of this is due to the incredible powerhouse performances by Emi Wokoma as Tina and Chris Tummings as Ike. Wokoma doesn't pretend she is Tina Turner but is a star turn all the same. It's energetic, musical and thrilling. By the end of the show with the obligatory musical medley the audience was on its feet dancing. It is a pity that the creative team decided to musicalise a story that features domestic violence so prominently. Either from shock or bewhilderment the audience were either laughing at every punch or cat calling. It was enough to make you feel like you were in the audience for the taping of a Jerry Springer show. Here's hoping as the show evolves there is a better solution to telling the Ike and Tina story on stage... And perhaps finding a punchier

Last chance theatre: A Doll's House

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The young and rather attractive cast of The Goat's Theatre Company have produced an excellent production of Ibsen's A Doll's House that's playing at The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone this week. The tale of lies, deceit, a woman's place in society (and macaroons) feels fresh and alive in this no-nonsense production. Caroline Hobbs playing the role of Nora (she shares the role with Victoria Jane Appleton who is in the above clip) brought out the right balance between fragility and her awakening and is a delight to watch. The production focuses on great performances and all of the cast are great. The staging also makes the most of the generous space of the Cockpit theatre as well. I could have done without some of the sound effects (was it children offstage or Gizmo from Gremlins ?) but this is a show not to miss. It finishes today. If you are near the Church St Antique market today head over to Gateforth Street. Performances are at 4pm and 7.30pm.

Theatre: Master Class

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A passion for life (and music) is certainly a message loud and clear from this revival of Master Class , Terrence McNally's play about the original opera super star Maria Callas who is running a master class for aspiring opera singers. Inspired by the classes she ran at the Juilliard School in New York in the early 1970s, she alternates between being repulsed and intrigued by her students and then caught up in how their performances evoke memories of her past glories. The play is an opportunity to see Tyne Daly on stage and she delivers a commanding performance as the no-nonsense diva. Dominating, witty with impeccable timing and occasionally vulnerable, her performance is something to be savoured. And it distracts you from being too bothered by some of the other quirks of the material such as occasional overlong scene and superflous characters. Naturally anything about Callas is going to bring out her groupies en masse (including a variety of homosexual types), but you don'

Theatre: Three Days in May

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Three Days In May, is about the period shortly after Churchill becomes Prime Minister in 1940 and when Britain contemplated whether throwing in the towel and negotiating peace with a stronger, more powerful Germany was an option. It is currently playing to healthy audiences at the Trafalgar Studios . An early surrender seems today to be an unthinkable prospect. But at the time France was powerless to stop the German invasion and worried that without surrendering they would be annhilated. The British were outnumbered and feared suffering a humiliating defeat at Dunkirk. The play therefore unfolds with this context and debate. There is nothing like a bit of Churchill to get people standing to attention nowadays and reflect upon glories past. Or at least perceived glories past. As the play notes, Churchill commented that he expected history to be kind to him as he intended to write it. So it is a shame that the play doesn't attempt to throw more grey on a dark period in the country&#

Theatre: Shalom Baby

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The message from Shalom Baby, currently running at the Theatre Royal Stratford East appears to be that no matter what the circumstances are, there is always a group of people out there that are beneath you. At a time when people are feeling less sympathetic for rioting chavs, travellers building illegally on green belt land, migration from Europe (or elsewhere) and Broken Britain , it is an interesting topic for reflection. Shalom Baby is a love story initially set in 1930s Berlin. Events unfold as the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family falls in love with their black "Shabbles Goy", which is a term used to describe people who assist Jews on their Sabbath with tasks they are unable to do within Jewish Law. The play then moves forward to the present day where a mixed-race couple in modern and unprejudiced Brooklyn have to cope with a dysfunctional family unit. Writer-director Rikki Beadle Blair originally became interested in exploring information about information abo

Theatre: A Clockwork Orange

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The London riots come to mind when thinking about A Clockwork Orange, which has been "re-imagined" at the Theatre Royal Stratford East . While it is not the entire focus of the story, the lawlessness and the violence that features in this story evokes the memories of August when fear and panic gripped the city. A Clockwork Orange serves to remind us that perhaps this is not a new problem for this part of the world... This re-imagining and musicalisation of the story does take a different approach to the book by Anthony Burgess. But taking it on its own merits rather than a faithful adaptation it makes for a engaging and entertaining evening out. There is no classical music in this version of the story. Instead we have some thrilling music by Fred Carl that appears to be inspired by jazz, hip hop and perhaps AfroReggae . For the most part this propels the story forward and gives the performances the opportunity to deliver some emotionally charged songs. Holding the s

Edinburgh reflections 2011: More coverage

After four full days over five days, it was time to bid farewell to Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Fringe (and reviewing for the guys at Whatsonstage.com and The Public Reviews ). Going to the Fringe requires discipline in itself. You need to be able to plan a day of seeing shows, get to each of them in time (and not get lost). And manage to eat and drink something on the way. Sleep is always good too. Adding the requirement to write short and coherrent 200 word review of what you are seen within 24 hours and give it a star rating is really like trying to be too clever for one's own good. Of course nobody reads the reviews (even the performers in some cases). They only read how many stars it has. And the star system could be quite complicated. Not so in Edinburgh. Arriving here Johnnyfox advised of the tendency for everyone to inflate stars and described it in one of his reviews as "reviewers spunking stars up on the wall in order to be bylined on the posters." There

Theatre: Four Nights in Knaresborough

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A play about the men who assassinated Thomas Becket , the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1171 seems an unlikely source of an entertaining night. But this production at the Southwark Playhouse of Four Nights in Knaresborough is so sexually charged, so pumped up and full of machismo and so bloody and funny that it is hard to resist.

Theatre: Rumours

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Rumours-Teaser Trailer from Rob Watt on Vimeo . If the eighties were the decade of big hair, big angst and big dramas, then Neil Simon's comedy-farce Rumours probably fits in rather nicely. It is a sex scandal, political intrigue, power dressing fetish extravaganza rolled into one.  Farce isn't every one's cup of tea but I was in the mood for cheap laughs on Thursday evening and it did not disappoint. This production transfers the setting from its original New York to Oxford, which makes the cultural references more relevant. The premise is that as guests arrive at the home of the finance minister and his wife for a tenth anniversary celebratory dinner, there is an attempted suicide and the hosts are nowhere to be seen. Given the status of the hosts and the guests, everyone decides it is in their interests to conceal the truth rather than risk a political scandal. Cue pandemonium. While I wasn't sure if anyone in the cast was born in the eighties let alone li

Theatre: London Road

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Suffolk murder musical angers Ipswich by itnnews The Ipswich serial murders that took place around December 2006 quickly captured the nation's attention. So much so that I remember the tales such as: How do they know it's Christmas in Ipswich? Because they keep finding prossies under the trees... I also remember have a frightfully engaging conversation with the woman at the supermarket about how many strangled prostitutes had been found in Ipswich. It was all gripping stuff. And easy to make jokes and have silly conversations about something that was taking place in far away Ipswich. So I was intrigued to see London Road , best described as a play with music, that attempts to recount and make some sense about the serial murders and the community that lived through it. The red light district, seamen, police tape and neighbourhood watch meetings are all set to music in a sung-spoken kind of way. It has captured the immagination of the National Theatre -going public an

Theatre: The Cherry Orchard

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It was only two years ago when I last saw a production of The Cherry Orchard . Either I have seen too much theatre, or this play is a favourite in this town. It is probably a favourite given its subject matter of class and the property ladder. Now that is something everyone who goes to the theatre here can relate to. And I really don't get out and see that much theatre surely? The last time it was at the Old Vic , this time around it was around the corner at the National Theatre , and in a new translation by Andrew Upton. The most discernible difference I could note about this new translation was that there are a few more potty-mouthed words, which in the context of the drama and its setting makes the performers come  across like they are frightfully naughty schoolchildren. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the characters in this play could be construed as being a little naughty I suppose (or at least incapable of making sensible decisions). There is also the problem tha

Theatre: Fing's Ain't Wot They Used T'Be

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Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be is not so much a musical but a music hall revue of songs with a very loose excuse for a plot. It feels a little like a downmarket Guys and Dolls (or at least one transferred to the East End). There are busty prostitutes, gamblers, fights and a sissy male... But not much of a story. That is not to say that it is not rather enjoyable with the songs being a pastiche of music hall styles where humour and melodrama are more important than characterisations or  driving forward a plot. This current production at the Union Theatre has an energetic cast and is a slick production. It sounds good too, with a small orchestra that is supplemented by the actors playing instruments as well. It is amazing to think that Lionel Bart had written this the year before Oliver! as this is not in the same league. But perhaps that isn't the point. This is much more of a sing along. It's tempting to sing along at times and I am sure @Johnnyfox was doing it e

Theatre: A Delicate Balance

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There was something odd about this revival of Edward Albee's 1966 play A Delicate Balance , which is playing at the Almeida Theatre . It's not just being warned upon entering the theatre to switch off rather than silence your phones as the slightest noise will upset the actors. It is that almost without warning, the actors will emote at such intensity that things become so disturbing and painful to watch it feels like you are watching someone's mental collapse. At one point during Wednesday evening's performance a mobile phone went off behind me and I feared that suicide on stage may have been next. It is a play about a respectable middle class couple, their family, friends and perfect life. Although naturally being an Albee play nothing is quite what it seems and there is a secret terror ripping at their lives. Despite the drama, this is also a very funny play with some incredibly witty lines. But all the while you are kept on edge as you are never quite sure wh

Theatre: Clybourne Park

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The first thing that strikes you about this Olivier-award winning play is how great the production looks. You feel like you are transported back into the 1950s in a living room fashionable for that time, and populated by people you would expect to see. As the play gets going however it becomes apparent that this is going to be a darkly comic night at the theatre that looks at property, neighbourhoods and the enduring value of real estate... It was worth finally getting a chance to see it before it ends its run...

Theatre: Thrill Me

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Thrill me sounds like the name of one of Max Bialystock's little old ladies with a cheque (or perhaps if it were a little old lady it would be Thrill Me, Kill Me), but there was something intriguing about a musical based on the unlikely subject of a couple of homosexuals in 1920s Chicago who rob and kill for kicks. It is currently playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre .