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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

Common divisions: Returning to Haifa @Finborough

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The stage adaption of Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace is fiery and emotional. It’s having its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre . The piece puts you in the living room of a family who had to flee the city of Haifa in 1948, and the family that subsequently occupied it.  The injustice of finding your own home and your belongings legally occupied by someone else is only part of the anger in this piece. It also extends to the staging of it. The programme notes that it was due to have it’s world premiere by the New York Public Theatre. But political pressure from their board led to the proejct being abandoned.  But New York’s loss is London’s gain. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the events you begin to understand it. It humanises enemies and explains motives. And the sensitive portrayals by the ensemble add to emotional impact. The piece crosses three separate time periods. It opens before the dispossession in 1947. Then the period of the exp

Only an older woman: Harold and Maude @Charingcrossthr

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There’s something irresistibly cute and whimsical about this adaptation of Harold and Maude. It’s not as dark or shocking as the film. But the performances and production of this tale of living life and enjoying every stage of it make it a delight. It’s currently showing at the Charing Cross Theatre . Colin Higgins wrote the script to Harold and Maude as his third year film school thesis. Directed by Hal Ashby and starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort it bombed on release. Only later did it develop into a cult following. Higgins, who would go on to write and direct the movies Foul Play and 9 to 5 ,  would later adapt it into the play we have here.  The story centres on Harold. He’s a young man stuck in the straight-jacket of middle-class early seventies suburbia. He stages suicide attempts to shock his mother. He goes to funerals of strangers and has generally withdrawn from life. While at one of these funerals he meets Maude. She’s constantly borrowing things; cars, trees, money from the

Sexual depravity in Norfolk: Imaginationship @Finborough

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Mum’s a nymphomaniac. The daughter’s learning Greek at night school. There’s a Hungarian with an erection problem and a tired old Lesbian who wants to live the quiet life in a bungalow. It could be anywhere but it’s what goes down for fun in Great Yarmouth. Apparently. The piece by Sue Healy is having a short run at the Finborough Theatre. It was first seen as part of the Vibrant 2017 festival as a staged reading. Now in its full form, the town that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit seems like a cesspit of debauchery. Never mind the migrants taking jobs, it’s the migrants with the big nobs you need to watch out for. As a piece of post-Brexit theatre you leave the theatre knowing even less about Great Yarmouth than you did going in. If you didn’t read the programme notes or wasn’t familiar with the area already, you’d be none the wiser about the place and its history. This includes that it was a seaside resort and fishing port. It also services the North Shore oil rig industry. Most of t

Drifting on edge: Heartbreak House @theuniontheatre

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Heartbreak House, currently playing at the Union Theatre , is a glorious production with a strong cast. Funny, a little bit bonkers and intriguing. But too bad George Bernard attempts to layer everything with meaning and substance. Afterall underneath various subplots there are sharp observations about British indifference. These seem as relevant now as it was when the piece premiered in 1919. It opens with Hesione (Helen Anker), a bohemian Edwardian hostess inviting her friend and protégé Ellie (Leanne Harvey) to a weekend at her father’s house. She wants to prevent Ellie from marrying an older industrialist, Boss Mangan (JP Turner). And so she’s arranged a gathering of friends to prevent it from happening. Hesione’s father is the eccentric and cantankerous Captain Shotover (James Horne). He made his money in munitions and is trying to invent a weapon to explode enemy dynamite. They need a new invention as the money’s running out. Complications arise when Shotover’s estranged daughter

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.

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.

Sisters doing it to themselves: Everything Between Us @Finborough

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If a playwright ever wants to get the undivided attention of the audience, opening with: "Fuck you, you fucking bitch, I'll tear your fucking eyeballs out ya cunt!" sure does the trick. And so begins an explosive 70 minutes of Everything Between Us by David Ireland. It's having it's English premiere playing in repertoire with Late Company at the Finborough Theatre . It's about the conflict in post conflict Northern Ireland and the conflict between two sisters. Both unionists and both divided. But its power lies in how it can be funny and provocative at taking aim at Northern Ireland conflict and the people caught in it.

Keep on truckin': The Understudy @Canalcafe

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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.

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

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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.

Myopic memories: This House

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Top ten things about politics you might learn from catching This House at the Garrick: 1. It's a game of cat and mouse It's a relentless cat and mouse game set in the bowels of the Palace of Westminster as the whips for the conservatives and labour try to keep their members in line. There isn't much drama but an awful lot of comedy in retelling the period of the minority Labour government from 1974-1979. 2. It ends in tears There is so much comedy that it is easy to forget that country was a mass. Mass strikes, garbage on the streets, high inflation, policies failing to pass. It's all fun and games until someone needs to go begging for an IMF loan ... 3. Maybe you just had to be there Whether you understand or care about the show probably does depend on whether you lived through the period. The piece does hurl large chunks of parliamentary tradition at the audience in the guise of dialogue to new members. But ultimately it feels like a memory piece for th

The sweet smell of rising damp: After October @finborough

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A life in the theatre may be a threadbare, but there is always hope of tomorrow. Rodney Ackland's After October is getting its first London production since its premiere in 1936 at the Finborough Theatre . It's fascinating to see how it captures a slice of life but also the enduring drama of working on the edge of success. Some things may have changed since when it was set. Nowadays waiting for the papers has given way to post show tweets and instant web reviews. And nobody would believe there is a shabby basement flat in Hampstead. Set designer Rosanna Vize seems to have seen the same London flats I have in her inspired transformation of the Finborough into a 1930s dive. Beige walls and bland 1930s fixtures dominate the space, along with a sense of rising damp. Perhaps she took inspiration from the Finborough's neighbours. But all told the piece focuses on the characters and their motivations so that it still feels relevant.

Hard times, hard drinking, hard men: The Boys In The Band @ParkTheatre

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The glass may be half empty but it's always going to be full of liquor or bile in The Boys In the Band. The alcohol starts flowing and next follows the loathing. But something unexpected watching this piece. Even amongst the bleak depiction of pre-Stonewall New York you get the sense they're a family. And they will probably patch things up in the morning. Once they get over their broken noses and hangovers. It is now playing at the Park Theatre before heading on a tour. Mart Crowley's play was the first to present gay life to a mainstream audience. It is important to appreciate that it was once unique. Nowadays there isn’t a week that goes by in London when there isn’t a play about gay men in London. Usually it involves the actors getting naked. But this takes you back to an earlier time. It is before chemsex. Before AIDS. Before Stonewall. Just drinking, poppers, a bit of dope and a whole lot of self hatred.  But an excellent ensemble and a brisk pace makes it for

Oh Canada: Proud @Finborough #Proudtheplay

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The former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper is the subject of Proud currently playing at The Finborough. It asks what havoc he would have wrecked if he won a larger majority in 2011? Written by Michael Healey in 2011, it suggests a nightmare situation of a petty-minded leader who uses whatever means possible to achieve his vision. A small-minded vision focused on making the government just a little smaller than it currently. And of course annoying the Canadian Liberal establishment. Viewing it from the United Kingdom with our shambolic political system, you may be tempted however to think Canadians never had it so good.

Loyal and obedient: A Subject of Scandal and Concern @Finborough

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John Osborne's incisive look at freedom and intolerance is given a fresh look in this resourceful production playing for a short run at the Finborough Theatre . Originally written for television in 1960, simple staging and riveting performances will have you transfixed. The story follows George Jacob Holyoake, the last man to stand trial for blasphemy in England. He is played here by Jamie Muscato who gives the role a dark intensity and determination as a man whose world crumbles around him while he holds onto his beliefs.

Tender horrors: Firebird @TrafStudios

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Drama ripped from the headlines and an intense, emotional performance from Callie Cooke in the lead make Firebird at Trafalgar Studios a must see show. Leaving the theatre you might feel as if you have seen first hand a traumatic event. And perhaps you have. This piece conveys some of the brutal realities victims of child sexual exploitation experience. It leaves you drained, shocked and angry that this is probably still going on. But that is no doubt its intention.

Opening tonight: Neville's Island

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The West End production of the comedy Neville's Island opens at the Duke of York’s Theatre tonight, Tuesday 21st October. Following its run at the Chichester Festival last year, the show is booking to Saturday 3rd January 2015.

Theatre: The Ladykillers

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The Ladykillers , which is playing at the Gielgud Theatre is a surprise treat. Even if you are not familiar with the Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness , the tale of a sweet old lady who is up against a gang of crooks who are using her room to hide out following a heist near Kings Cross is a lot of fun and everything a civilised night out at the West End should be... Murder, heists, little old ladies, car chases and moulting parrots... How some of the material translates to the stage is often a joy to behold. Actually it is all so enjoyable that you wonder if they took the pace a bit quicker, choreographed the action a bit snappier and occasionally broke the fourth wall it might even be funnier. Still, everyone is so likable and the performances are wonderful. Particularly by Marcia Warren as Mrs Wilberforce, who creates a wonderful character that is equal parts daft and clever.  And of course the production looks great. People have raved about the set and it is a sight to behol