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Belters and bohemians: Opera Locos @Sadlers_wells

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At the start of the Opera Locos performance, the announcement says that they really are singing. You could be forgiven for wondering that, given the amplification turns up the backing track and the voices so loud that you can't always tell what's real. But this is a mostly harmless and slightly eccentric blend of opera classics fused with the occasional pop classic. However, recognising the pop tunes would help if you were over a certain age. The most recent of them dates back twenty years. It's currently playing at the Peacock Theatre .  Five performers play out a variety of archetype opera characters. There's the worn-out tenor (Jesús Álvarez), the macho baritone (Enrique Sánchez-Ramos), the eccentric counter-tenor (Michaël Kone), the dreamy soprano (María Rey-Joly) and the wild mezzo-soprano (Mayca Teba). Since my singing days, I haven't recognised these types of performers. However, once, I recall a conductor saying he wanted no mezzo-sopranos singing with the s

DIY whodunit: Murder, She Didn’t Write @lsqtheatre @degreesoferror

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Improvised comedy can be hit or miss, but Degrees of Error might be onto something with this do-it-yourself whodunnit. It’s currently at the Leicester Square Theatre on the last Sundays in February, March and April. It could be described as what Agatha Christie might have written if she hit the sherry a bit too much.  Audience suggestions set the scene for the murder and the murder weapon. One person in the audience gets to choose both the murderer and the victim by picking their name from a deck of cards.  The Leicester Square Theatre with its range of bars inside the theatre sets the scene to loosen up the audience with ideas. It seems to work. Much is up for grabs, in this unscripted murder mystery. Not only is the victim unknown until part way through the show to the cast, but so is the murderer.  The end result of this in February was it was at a hen night when the future Bride was murdered by her friend. The murder weapon was a wet tea towel.  It’s fascinating and hilarious to w

Laugh yer bastards: The Grinning Man @TrafStudios

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The Grinning Man bursts on stage at the Trafalgar Studios . And even if you’re not sure if it’s meant to be a comedy or an emotional love story, it’s determined to show you a good time. Although the good time is a little on the dark side. As one character comments in this show, “prepare to shit kittens.” If you like that sort of thing then it’s a welcome break from the relentless cheery musical fare around Christmas. The show, based on a story by Victor Hugo throws in puppetry and style. You enter the theatre as if you’re going to see a fairground freak show. Designer Jon Bausor has framed the stage with a giant disfigured mouth. It’s grim, but its the perfect setting for a story about a boy who’s mutilated, saves a baby, makes a living as a freak and then wins over a kingdom. Louis Maskell as the heroic Grinpayne the disfigured boy conveys emotion and excitement of the character. He’s on stage most of the time and is either controlling his younger puppet self or jumping about as the g

Small yet perfectly formed: King Tut A Pyramid Panto @KingsHeadThtr

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Christmas is coming and so that means that pantomime season is in full swing. Charles Court Opera is back at the Kings Head Theatre with their off-kilter take on the panto genre with King Tut, A Pyramid Panto. Pared back so it’s called a “boutique panto” this one is small but perfectly formed with cheap laughs, a weird plot and some fine singing. Set in the Valley of the Kings, a small troupe of explorers are about to open up King Tut’s tomb only to find themselves whisked back in time to when King Tut ruled with his pal... Who just happens to be a talking Camel.

Smirking out loud: The Diary of a Nobody @KingsHeadThtr

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The Diary of A Nobody returns to the Kings Head Theatre for a short run over the next few weeks. Rough Haired Pointer’s reimagining of the classic Victorian lower middle class tale was a hit a few years back. First at the White Bear Theatre and then at the Kings Head. But something seems amiss this time around. The comedy seems strained and the pacing a little slow. At best it elicits smirks out loud rather than belly laughs. I recalled it being it funnier and full of energy, allowing you to overlook some of the more curious interpretations of the source material. This includes the decision to have an all-male cast play a range of female roles.

Bad stuff happens: Insignificance @arcolatheatre

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Insignificance at the Arcola Theatre takes four famous people from the 1950s and puts them in a hotel room. Is it a nostalgia piece or is there a deeper meaning? Written by Terry Johnson, it’s having its first revival in over twenty years. In the second act, the senator (meant to be Joeseph McCarthy) talks about how heroes, geniuses and stars serve as a convenient distraction. It’s also tempting to see parallels with the present day. Thirty five years ago it was the Reagan era and the threat of nuclear war from a trigger-happy b-movie actor-president. In the intervening years there have been desert storms, coalitions of the willing (with or without poodles). In the future maybe there’ll be a battle between little rocket man and the oversized Oompa Loompa. Horrible stuff happens. And the heroes, geniuses and the celebrities exist just to make us feel there’s hope.

Mother and son: The Busy World Is Hushed @Finborough

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Family and faith is at the forefront of The Busy World Is Hushed by Keith Bunin. The characters here have their faith tested, gained and lost over the course of the piece. It's having its European Premiere at the Finborough Theatre. There's Hanna (Kazia Pelka), a widowed minister and bible scholar. She's received a recently discovered gospel and engages the help of writer Brandt (Mateo Oxley), to help her turn her research into a publication. As they start work her only son Thomas (Michael James) returns home from a trip out in the wilderness. And Brandt and Thomas take an almost-instant liking to each other. But Brandt has just discovered his father has a brain tumour. And Thomas is still searching for reasons why his father died before he was born.

Copy that: Dolphins and Sharks @Finborough

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At the end of the piece one of the characters asks the rest of them “So we’re just going to sit back and accept this?” Before turning to the audience and asking the same question. This is a key question in Dolphins and Sharks, a firey and sassy take on the world of work, dead end jobs, race and power. Written by James Anthony Tyler it’s having its European Premiere at the Finborough Theatre . The story is set in rapidly gentrifying Harlem, where non-white people can’t get a break. But the argument about just going to sit back and accept this might ring true to many of the residents of Kensington and Chelsea, where the Finborough is based. Afterall this is the borough that has continued to convulse over the horror from the Grenfell Tower disaster in June. A disaster that feels like the culmination of negligence, a gulf between rich and poor and general disinterest.

Boys town: Eyes Closed, Ears Covered @BunkerTheatreUK

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In the year since opening,  The Bunker  at Southwark has established itself for new and experimental pieces. Alex Gwyther’s Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is no exception. It’s a dark and confusing world where laughs and kicking about is a cover for something more sinister. It opens with an incident on the beach in Brighton in the late eighties. A boy’s been attacked and the police arrest two boys and question them about the events of the day. The two boys questioned, Seb and Aaron, had planned the day for weeks. They’ve planned and saved enough money and are going to bunk off school. But something has gone horribly wrong. There’s Aaron (Danny-Boy Hatchard), the cocky yet short-fused one. He’s got the plan to make it happen. And it was Seb’s (Joe Iris-Roberts) idea of the wide-eyed to visit his mum in Brighton. They seem like ten year olds as they bounce off each other and run about the stage recounting their mate ship. But as they tell their stories separately neither seem to provide a c

Love and marriage: Mrs Orwell @ORLTheatre

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London in 1949 was a grim time with ration books and strange fish from South Africa. But it's amazing the lengths people will go to keep up morale. Or secure a future income. The business of marriage is explored in Mrs Orwell, currently playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre . It opens shortly after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell is dying of tuberculosis in hospital. But in his rage against the dying light he believes he has at three more novels in him. So to keep up his morale he proposes to his friend Sonia Brownell, an assistant magazine editor. Brownell is clear that she is not in love with him, but she does care for him. And she realises she could be his only hope to keep him going. Her heart is with a French Philospher and her body is often with Lucien Freud. Well, such is the glamorous life living with artists.

Grudge match: The Wasp @JSTheatre

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Just how long can you hold a grudge? Well it probably depends on what exactly went down at school. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's The Wasp is back in the West End. It last appeared in 2015 at Hampstead Theatre and then transfered to Trafalgar Studios. Two years on, it's at the  Jermyn Street Theatre  and just as chilling and just as spooky. Although perhaps having seen it all before, you see more of the mechanics behind the story that evolves over cups of tea.  The story is about Carla and Heather. They were once schoolmates but drifted apart due to their different backgrounds. And one or two horrible incidents. Heather has become a successful businesswoman. She drinks lattes and has nice clothes. Carla is probably just about managing - pregnant and in a track suit - and prefers builders tea. The scene is set for what you think will be a class struggle and then Heather asks Carla if she would help her kill her husband.

Jam: Just To Get Married @Finborough

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What's exciting about watching Cicely Hamilton's Just To Get Married is how it captures the spirit of a changing world. The piece is having its first London production in over 100 years at the Finborough Theatre . It's lost none of its bite with its central argument that women are forced into marriage for their own survival. It's the only way they are judged as a success and they don't get the same opportunities as men. It also captures life in Edwardian England where there was a fine line between living comfortably and just about managing. Here there is no safety net. No pensions. And if you're a woman, no right to vote either. Today, while some of the attitudes and priorities may have changed, some of the values may still seem familiar...

Eat it up: Mumburger @ORLTheatre

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If barbecues and eating bring people together, Mumburger takes it to a new level in dealing with death and loss. Currently playing at the  Old Red Lion Theatre   Sarah Kosar's take on death, family and meat is funny and thought-provoking. And a little off-putting if you're squeamish. Mum's dead. She got hit by a truck on the M25. The two people she left behind - a father and daughter are grieving. There are the usual funeral plans and picking up relatives from the airport. But there is also the arrival of a brown package of meat patties to deal with. Did their mum arrange for them to be delivered on her death, knowing full well that unlike her they were only part-time vegetarians? Or are they symbolic of something more? 

Silly monkey: King Kong (A comedy) @thevaultsuk

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King Kong (A Comedy)   is currently at the Vaults at Waterloo. A show that needs to tell you it's a comedy (albeit in parenthesis) might give you reason to hesitate. If it's funny why does it need to tell you that it will be? But fortunately it is like a sketch show put together to tell the story of the beast that almost conquered New York.  King Kong is such a silly story that giving it a comic treatment actually doesn't change much of it. Struggling producer needs a leading lady for his next animal picture. No self-respecting actress would work with him and so he finds a lady off the street. Only this time she can speed read ancient texts and maps. There is enough silliness to appeal to children and enough adult themes to keep the rest of us tittering away. A cast of serious (and not so serious) actors; Ben Chamberlain, Rob Crouch, Sam Donnelly, Aix Dunmore and Brendan Murphy play a range of characters that featured in the film.

Gender whatevers: Rotterdam @artstheatreLDN @RotterdamPlay

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The years have been kind to Jon Brittain's Rotterdam. Since its first outing in 2015 the awareness about transgender issues has grown. Whether it is from Caitlyn Jenner or gender-neutral toilets at the Barbican , it's topical and thought-provoking. And following its win at the 2017 Oliver Awards and a run off-Broadway, Rotterdam is back in London. After catching it again it's great to report that it still feels as funny and bitter-sweet as ever. And don't call it a lesbian-transgender-whatever comedy. That would be too binary to give it a label. It's just complicated and that's probably what gives the show its brilliance.

Life goes on: Footprints On The Moon @Finborough

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  There's no place like home. Except when everyone around you wants to leave you and someone has scrawled your phone number on a wall of a dodgy bar. These are all important revelations in Footprints On The Moon. Canadian playwright Maureen Hunter's story of life in a small town is having its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre .  With its well-defined characters it's a fascinating insight into small-town Canadian life. It opens with Joanie ( Anne Adams ) sweating in a dress waiting at the station for her daughter to arrive back home. But even after writing a prize-winning essay about how fabulous life is in her small town things aren't quite what they seem. What becomes clear is that Joanie doesn't want anything to change and as her daughter grows up and wants to leave her world starts to fall apart. I Sharing the abstract set with Jam (with is running alongside this production) makes the audience have to work hard to believe that we're

Batter up: Jam @Finborough

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No doubt there are days when teachers just wish they had a baseball bat to put a little bit of distance between themselves and their students. In Jam by Matt Parvin, teacher Bella Soroush is lucky enough to do just that. It's currently playing at the Finborough Theatre . The premise in this two-hander is that ex-pupil Kane ruined Bella Soroush's life. Something happened and so she moved schools, moved towns and got on with her life. But now Kane has tracked her down and claims they have unfinished business.

Beautiful at the ballet: No Place For A Woman @Theatre503

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No Place For a Woman combines music, movemement and storytelling to present a haunting tale on human emotions and the desire to survive. And that despite it all, everything really is beautiful at the ballet. It's currently at Theatre 503 . Written by Cordelia O'Neil, this two-hander brings out the fine detail of two women's lives that are intertwined during conflict. It is set in Poland at the end of the Second World War, but there is something universal about the themes that make you feel as if it could be any time or place during conflict. The premise is that as allied forces are interviewing the two women a story emerges. The wife of a prison camp commandant was throwing a party and she asks her husband to get champagne. But instead he brings home a ballet dancer from the camp. And they keep her.

The bizarre and the demented: Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road @Trafstudios

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Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road is a great title for a play. And it's a laugh out loud hour or so of bizarre antics. After a run in January at the White Bear Theatre it's at Trafalgar Studios . They've transformed the space into a dump of a motel and it's a fabulous experience. There are stains on the walls, mismatched furniture and endless country music. It's difficult to describe the plot without giving away some of the surprises. It opens with JD ( Keith Stevenson ). He's a friendly kind of hillbilly living in this grimy place. Mitch ( Robert Moloney ) arrives answering an ad JD's placed in the paper looking for a roommate. Mitch has lost his job, his girlfriend and his apartment and so is desperate. But he's surprised to find JD living in motel. And then arrive the neighbours. There's the cranky old Flip (Michael Wade), the owner of the motel. Then there's meth-head Marlene ( Melanie Gray ) and her hot-headed boyfriend Tommy (Alex Fer

Needs a little more mascara: Madame Rubinstein @Parktheatre

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Madame Rubinstein at Park Theatre should be a camp romp covering the rivalry between Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and Revlon. But instead it is a dragged out affair that has few laughs and some  unintended ones. The jokes are so stale you could think that John Misto wrote it in the 1950s rather than the present day. Miriam Margolyes as Rubinstein looks the part and has fun with the role. But in the end she can't do much with a lumbering script and odd looking production. Frances Barber as Arden is terrific as her foil, but she doesn't get much to do other than look fabulous in fur.

It's not the work, but the stairs: The Life @swkplay

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Whores with hearts of gold are back on stage with this slick and star-powered production of The Life at Southwark Playhouse . It's a musical about the sleazy underworld of prostitution and pimps of the 1970s / 1980s New York set to songs from the 1930s. Well, it felt like they did, and it was hard to tell which one was out of place. But even if the piece isn't a documentary of sex workers in the city, it presents a joyful set of tarts and pimps as an opportunity to celebrate being alive. Or at least being alive enough to take seven men in a single night. Combined with a great cast and one of the best looking and best sounding productions in the Southwark Playhouse make it a worthwhile trip.