Monthly Archives: June 2014



Ever wondered what happens to Disney princesses when they grow up boring? Adam Bock has. His new play, premiering at the Tricycle, sets out with such rich pickings: five immaculate sisters, all varying degrees of gorgeous and at the centre of New York high society. The mind can genuinely boggle at this premise; so much to satirise, explore and comment upon. However, this play opts instead to sit and fester. The only injection of drama is that some of the sisters don’t get on that well; a device which is so laboured over and so uninterestingly dealt with that one of the characters takes the initiative and shoots herself. A shocking relief.

Although the play is vaguely threaded around the marital breakdown and eventual suicide of one of the sisters (Patricia Potter), the main bulk of the action concerns a series of extremely flat scenes. At one point they are trying on dresses for the Gala, then they go to the Gala, then they mourn the death of the sister who shot herself at the Gala, then they play tennis. Obviously.

This absolute fluff (not condescendingly satirised, but positively indulged in) is decorated with inane conversation desperately trying to buy subtext. ‘It’s so tiresome not having money,’ Willow sighs, whilst Mouse (these are their actual names) shares that her new boyfriend is a ‘barista, whatever that is. I think it’s some kind of lawyer for the poor’. The entire text is a loathsome cliché with nothing going on underneath. Paparazzi are following them, most of them are extremely wealthy, one has a PA, yet none of it is explained. The poor, poor actors have nothing to get their teeth into and only Claire Forlani (as Willow) manages to scrape together anything interesting as the victim of the others’ snobbery.

The dialogue – a flick switch between dull conversation and raging argument – is exceptionally poor and verging on offensive. We laugh at Made in Chelsea and Keeping Up With The Kardashians because they know it is meaningless distraction, and to some extent play up to that, whereas this production approaches essentially the same group of people but with a worthiness and self assurance that it is something more.

‘Nobody knows us. They think they do. But they don’t,’ Mouse says at the very end of the play, as the three remaining sisters prepare to strut out into the gaggle of photographers. I am here to testify that there is nothing to know. And if there is, this play doesn’t have a clue either.


Rating: One 1 Meece Rating

At the Tricycle Theatre until 26 July. Box Office: 020 7328 1000


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CAROUSEL – Arcola Theatre


If you have never been to the Arcola, imagine the Donmar’s hip cousin; a small and intimate theatre, but with its skirt hitched to reveal even more girders, sheet wood and brick. A rougher venue; smokey and a little too hot for its own good. So too is Luke Frederick’s production of this golden age classic. It is a sweaty and ruffled production which throws a enjoyable but wobbly punch.

We begin with the young Julie and Carrie thrown out of the Carousel and we end with them crying up over their children’s graduation. Carrie draped in furs, husband at her side, and Julie alone, the ghost of her roguish husband watching from the great Carousel in the sky.

This is a tiny production, allowing you to feel the whip of air and a lick of perspiration as dancer after dancer flies past. But however much it got your heart beating, my eyes were increasingly drawn towards the many slips, trips and sloppy steps. Some of the numbers are hit and miss; many a gaggle of limbs, but some, like June is Bustin’ Out All Over, burst from the stage with a tight energy. It is joyful peril as the performers almost spill onto the front row. These instances of classic choreography are refreshing but lost amongst clumsier, stranger numbers.

Where the dancing slips, the performances catch it. Vicki Lee Taylor vocally steals the evening as Carrie; a joy to behold sat only three feet away. Both her performance, and Gemma Sutton’s as Julie, are given a raw and emotional boost by the lack of amplification and the small band. Amanda Minihan as a more raucous Nettie Fowle also shines in this respect. It is strange to hear a musical completely without electrical aid, but at such proximity it forces you into goosebumps. However, as Billy Bigelow, Tim Rogers quickly drags you out of them again as his voice and performance are strained a little too far.

Luke Frederick has crafted some lovely comic moments which dirties the show up a bit and is duly rewarded with big laughs. Its issue is its clunky delivery. The set is a mess which requires loud assembly and wheeling around to little effect. The result, combined with a bland turn from Tim Rogers, is a taming of what could be some really tender moments in between the guffaws.

A rough, saucy production, stitched together laughs but with frayed edges.


Rating: three 3 Meece Rating

At the Arcola Theatre until 19th July. Box Office: 020 7503 1646

Presented by arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe

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MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF B, RSC Courtyard Theatre & touring


Continuing the exploration of the challenge phrase “Well-behaved women seldom make history”, Programme B of Midsummer Mischief pairs a play about a woman so well-behaved she was virtually forgotten by her own family, with a play about a woman so hidebound by modern magazine discourse that she cannot live up to the example of her fearless mother. Directed by Jo McInnes, these naturalistic yet surreal pieces are funny, fast-paced, and unsettling.


Perhaps drawing inspiration from the brilliant recent French TV drama Les Revenants, E. V. Crowe’s play shows a family in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy which turns, rapidly, into deliciously awkward farce, as the much-beloved and dead son comes back to rejoin family life. Robert Boulter is chillingly aggressive and careless as Tommy, the macho footballer son with more than a hint of nastiness about him, while John Bowe is convincing and affecting as a father unable to articulate his emotions. Divisions between male and female are tenaciously gripped in this family: the men ignore, control and domineer over their women, who in their turn are unable to get traction on their own lives and dreams. Marie, the mother who died before the action begins, is offered a similar chance, like Tommy, to come back from the dead.  I must say, I didn’t blame her for refusing. Starkly funny, E.V. Crowe’s play shows us how old-fashioned patriarchal family stereotypes fail to nourish or support anyone, and speaks clearly about why they must be broken.

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT – Abi Zakarian

“I was prepared for you to be many things, darling, but naïve wasn’t one of them.” Julie Legrand (also a magnificent Zoe in Programme A) is unforgettable as tough Northern mother Blanche, who chained herself to Parliament when 8 months pregnant to fight for equal pay. Her baby grew up to be Nora, our heroine, played expertly by Ruth Gemmell (wonderful in all four works), who lives in a welter of glossy magazines, manufacturing soapy bylines (“879 Jeans That Make You Look Thinner”) without hope or end, staring depression and desolation in the face. Cue Scarlett Brookes as the hilarious, glamourous Scouse “find your inner lioness” life coach Gulch, and some of the funniest parodying of magazine empowerment-speak I have been privileged to find. Nora is living with the burden of parental expectation, a fear of failure and a consciousness that failure has already arrived; all she can do is hide in a Cath Kidston pillowcase and growl on demand.  As Gulch and the insouciant, thoroughly modern Riley (“Ain’t you heard lady, there ain’t no girls anymore?”) bully Nora more and more fiercely, we see that they are an externalisation of the million media pressures on women today. Clever, funny, and moving, with a haunting sense of nostalgia for the lost priorities of the past, and some wonderful original music by Johanna Groot Bluemink, Zakarian takes us back to a time when achievements, hopes and dreams were real. Let’s hope they can be so again.


At the RSC Courtyard Theatre until 12 July: 0844 800 1110

At the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs 15-17 July: 020 7565 5000

Rating: Four 4 Meece Rating

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MIDSUMMER MISCHIEF A, RSC Courtyard Theatre & touring


THE ANT AND THE CICADA – Timberlake Wertenbaker

Zoe is an artist, living in debt in the old family house in Greece; Selina is her sister, who turns up with a practical plan to save her, which Zoe will hate. It may have taken a few gauche strokes to establish this scenario: defensive liberalism, infuriatingly airy-fairy Art versus depressingly selfish Economy – but the final scene, in which we too are immersed in Zoe’s performance art, brings all the agony, frustration and complexity of the Greek crisis to life. Erica Whyman’s sensitive direction allows this brilliant play to speak clearly. Wertenbaker dares difficult questions, encapsulated in Zoe’s furious speech on the vicious nature of “god the market… Your irrational and capricious god”, and involves us (quite literally) in Greece’s uncertain future. Whether you believe Elgin saved or stole his Marbles, there is no doubting the rueful humour of the observation that “the Parthenon… can’t fit into the British Museum”: we are now beyond the old solutions. Using intimate family faultlines, strong-armed semi-legal negotiation and the louring shadow of Fascism to create an explosive, conflicting atmosphere of fulfilment and betrayal, Wertenbaker’s clear-eyed view of how Greece came into this mess, and her anxiety at what its resolution will be, is fascinating and moving.


Like a shot of philosophical adrenalin delivered to the arm, Alice Birch’s series of short scenes provoke us to be honest about the failures of feminism to date. Porn is an ongoing testament to that failure. Associated by certain lingual tics (potatoes, bluebells) but otherwise not following any deliberate plot pattern, Birch’s scenes distort social paradigms, often to comic effect, to soften us up for the philosophical punch to close, while minimalist set design by Madeleine Girling and Whyman’s strong sense of movement bring dazzling energy to the whole.

Birch opens playfully as a woman criticises, objects to and rearranges the words in which a man tells her how badly, and how, he wants to sleep with her, eventually overcoming and emasculating him by her own verbal and sexual power. Brilliantly acted with taste and without blushing by Mimi Ndiweni, it made me proud to be female. Next, a disastrous proposal scene deconstructs the ideas of love and marriage, romantically and practically. Birch moves on to comment on work-life balance, female body anxiety, the world food chain and carbon footprint guilt, children, motherhood and abandonment – all evoked in scenes busy with tension, drama and surrealist bite. The actors constantly impress with their range and versatility: Ndiweni just steals the edge over her companions for sheer presence, magnetism and skill, though Scarlett Brookes also astounds us with her distinctive portrayals of so many different characters.

The word “wastelands” is one of the play’s final thoughts: “wastelands had grown where we thought we were building mountains”. Though her play ends on a vibratingly misandric note (a final deliberate distortion), the subtlety, breadth and richness of Birch’s vision reminded me that, like T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, despair can breed luscious creativity. If every girl and boy in every school in Britain could see this play, we might just possibly grow up in a more equal world.


At the RSC Courtyard Theatre until 12 July: 0844 800 1110

At the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs 15-17 July: 020 7565 5000

Rating: Four 4 Meece Rating

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Tim Crouch has given us a play which is not a play.   It has no
narrative: it does not give you a story; it does not give you characters.
What is a character in a play?    It is a person with a past, a person with
intentions, however simple, crude, or naïve, to create something of his

Do you remember HAMLET?    His Royal Highness of Denmark summed it all
up when he told his actors that to play in a play was “to hold the mirror up
to nature”.


These words are the most simple, most obvious, but also most profound
summing up of why we need and created the theatre: to see our selves, our
nature and the nature of the world we live in.   This is what the theatre
has done from Sophocles, Shakespeare and Moliere to Arthur Miller, Samuel
Beckett, Harold Pinter, David Hare and Lucy Prebble.

Tim Crouch’s play is not such a play.   It is a series of theatrical
installations.   Here, in a series of short scenes, we are presented with
moments of despair, with moments of dark, grim comedy.   Who am I?   Why am
I here?   Why are we loving or hating each other?   Why can’t we be
understood by other people?    You are here but you don’t know why: so what
can you make of it?

This “play” is a lecture of unbreakable pessimism decorated with grim
humour.   The actors get little opportunity to act: they have little time to
create a character.   That is why this “play” has neither beginning nor end.

box office 020 7565 5000; to 8 July
Innovation partner: Coutts

RATING:  three 3 Meece Rating

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SKYLIGHT – Wyndham’s , WC2




Few actors are more instantly recognizable than Bill Nighy, yet his gift is to deploy in faithful service of each distinct part his idiosyncratic, louche grace, his shrugs and closed-lips, headshaking laughs, his light-footed prowling Afghan-hound grace and general air of hangdog mischief. To see this elegant oddness back onstage, after all those films and television dramas, is a considerable treat. To see him opposite Carey Mulligan doubles the pleasure: there is a real rapport there, all the more skilful because of the painful status which David Hare’s play gives to their relationship.
For Nighy  (who did this part first in 1997) plays Tom, a middle-aged successful restaurateur – a sort of Conran – who had a six-year affair with the young, rather earnest Kyra. She became a close family friend, mentor to their son and companion of his wife. It felt, she remembers, almost right: loving. When the wife found out, though, Kyra left. Two years later she is an earnest, devoted teacher in a hard school in East Ham, and lives in an awful tower-block flat off the North Circular. She gets on a six a.m. bus to commute to work and do extra coaching, and listens entranced to the ordinary struggling people on the top deck whose lives, she sees, are more heroic than any business chief’s. She speaks with passion of the mission of schools to provide both “a haven and a challenge” and demand more of disadvantaged children. Very topical, even Goveite.


Into her flat – realized in brilliantly depressing detail, bathroom and all, by Bob Crowley’s set – erupts her old lover’s son Edward , seeking her help because, since the wife died Tom has been depressed and unresponsive in their house in suburban Wimbledon (“a green fortress”) where he built the dying woman a room with the sloping glass wall of the title. Edwardfeels doubly abandoned: Matthew Beard (whose part exists only in first and final scenes) evokes a gangling, awkward gap-year boy who sets off the mentorish composure of Mulligan’s Kyra.


When he goes, Tom himself turns up, striding and swirling round the little flat in his elegant black overcoat, shuddering at its ordinariness (his wince at the geyser in the bathroom is great), criticizing her cooking as, onstage and live with fine aromas, she makes spaghetti sauce. When he discovers the dried-up cheese she proposes to grate, he falls into a gourmet sulk and tries to send his driver to buy fresh Parmesan. Kyra in return lectures him on the unreal bubble of prosperity he lives in and how it isn’t the real world. Which does, at times, feel like being beaten round the head with a copy of the Guardian.


But through all this clash of ideologies and wordy worthy social politicking, a real thread of pain and confusion is drawn tight by Nighy’s needy posturing and guilty desperate longing. Both of them are real people, suffering in the trap of their inability to accept one another’s worlds, atoning for that bygone deception of the dead wife.


I expected a bleak ending, and there seemed to be one. But startlingly, Hare ends on a note bordering on whimsy and definitely sentimental. Actually, too sentimental even for me, as director Stephen Daldry lets the dawn light rise at the end of the long night, with sounds of a waking city and children’s happy cries.

Box office 0844 482 5120 to 23 August.
Skylight will be broadcast live to more than 500 UK cinemas on 17 July 2014 as part of National Theatre Live.
Rating: four 4 Meece Rating

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HOBSON’S CHOICE – Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park


Never underestimate a young woman in a neat blue dress from anywhere North of Watford. Especially one called Maggie. One glare, and bullies like old Hobson grumblingly cede their ancient sovereignty, while meek lads like Willie Mossop accept the stern judgement “I’ve got my work cut out, but you’ve the makings of a man about you!”. Bygone ministers may sigh in strangely affectionate recognition…

Not that the tease is deliberate: just an incidental pleasure in Nadia Fall’s rousing updating of the Harold Brighouse play about a tyrannical drunken widower ruling over a Salford bootmaker’s shop in the 1880’s. He keeps his three daughters in servitude until the eldest rebels, orders the talented junior boot-maker Willie to marry her, sets up a rival shop to take his best customers, and with a sharp smalltown legal plot liberates her younger sisters to marry their own lads . It’s a well-loved play – and film – but Fall has given it new life and irony by updating it to the 1960’s, another time of social change and female rebellion.

Ben Stones’ set, the boot-shop revolving to the street and humble cellar where the newlywed Mossops set up shop, is detailed: but its edges are ragged, ruinous, shading into heaps of bricks, a metaphor for a crumbling way of life. Two theme songs wind in and out occasionally, with the same message of change: Mark Benton’s domineering, pot-bellied old rascal belts out Sinatra, the young ones in their miniskirts twist to Gerry and the Pacemakers. Nice.

And goodness, it’s funny: sharp Lancashire humour and crushing put-downs from Maggie are played with fabulous, faultless, dominating energy by Jodie McNee. Her wooing scene is matchless, with initial cowering terror from her swain (“I’m engaged to Ada Figgins!” “Then you’ll get loose of her!” shading to “I’m resigned. You’re growing on me, lass!”.) Karl Davies hilariously conveys Willie’s progress from semi-literate cowed boothand to rising businessman under her tutelage. The pair work beautifully together, with a sudden wedding-night virginal softness and, in Willie’s final confrontation with old Hobson, a transformative moment. As t he contradicts even his fierce wife, across her face spreads a marvellous triumphant grin: at last she’s made him a man worth having. Worth wearing that penny brass wedding-ring for.

Benton is a treat too: blustering, losing his grip to alcoholism, ranting against his daughters half- Lear half-Falstaff as he sits reduced to dressing-gown, underpants and a single sock-suspender. He succumbs. Who wouldn’t? But like Falstaff he gets some of the best lines, especially against lawyers. And the whole ensemble is joyful around these three: magic moments include Jordan Metcalfe the uppity solicitor embarrassingly forced by Maggie’s magnetic authority to push a handcart of rag-and-bone furniture “in broad daylight down the streets of Salford!”, and Kate Adler as Ada Figgins threatening to set her Mum on Willie if he jilts her.
In high good humour and throwaway wisdom, here to shame the soppy south is the rising North of all ages: the cobbled quintesscence, the ecky-thumpessence of business nous and female ferocity which made it great. A gorgeous evening.


box office 0844 826 4242 to 12 July

Rating:  five 5 Meece Rating

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KISS ME, FIGARO! – touring, caught at BECCLES


I knew I was going to like this operatico-jukebox backstage rom-com (a whole new genre) when Jenny Stafford – as trembling, consumptive Mimi in La Boheme – bared her teeth at Rodolfo and hurled herself backwards in a ferocious thumping faint before sitting up to resume her irritable love scene. Beware the wrath of a miffed soprano whose ex-fiancé – Tom the tenor who cruelly jilted her – has come back to co-star in a struggling touring opera company.

This creation for Merry Opera, now recast and near the end of its tour, is the creation of John Ramster, who also directs. What he has done, within the company’s mission to popularize opera and employ rising singers, is to write a romantic comedy of classic shape (meeting, breakup, reunion, tentative rapprochement, misunderstanding, sadness, reconciliation). He then set it in a struggling touring company so he could use real scenes, arias and dramatic passages from Puccini, Donizetti, Mozart , Monteverdi, Handel and Tchaikovsky operas to illustrate and drive the ‘real’ plot. Then he bungs in some modern standards like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and You Made Me Love You, so the cast break into them as a sort of sorbet between the rich courses.

So skilfully has he done it that the show can work both as an introduction to opera for newcomers and a rich source of in-jokes for those who already love it. There is a bafflingly lovely quartet mashup of The Pearl Fishers and Lakme, and a lovely swipe at ENO style when director Marcus (Matthew Quirk) is trying to get a reluctant cast enthused about a “high-concept non-gender-specific Mikado with a zombie aesthetic” which involves dressing his glum baritone in a gymslip to join a savagely directed “Three Little Maids from School Are We”.

But at its heart, and illustrated in the first half with a comic-opera Donizetti scene and in the second with the more heartfelt griefs and yearnings of Puccini, is the romance. Jenny Stafford has a voice of immense beauty and a modern, pragmatic sincerity, and the magnificent upcoming tenor Thomas Elwin is Tom. All the young singers are terrific, and to hear trained unamplified voices is a treat. The love duet from Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppaea is supremely beautiful, and Elwin’s Una Furtiva Lagrima makes hairs stand up on the back of your neck.


Nice comic moments too: notably Alistair Ollerenshaw as George the gay baritone. As all operagoers know, it is useful for the wicked baritone to make the tenor jealous, and when Jenny hurls herself on his Don Giovanni and deprives him, within a brief duet, of both his fancy shirt and his cherished “rehearsal wig”, you cheer.

And so to reconciliation: tragic Boheme conveniently shades into happy Figaro for the purpose, the lovers are united and the seven others manage to sound like a chorus four times the size (musical director Stephen Hose, take a bow).



Perfect. Now please, Merry Opera, do another of these . Set it in an ENSA army camp entertainment next time, so you can scarph in some rousing bits of Verdi… The only drawback I can see to this strand of backstage-musicals is the risk of making innocent Guildhall trainees think that real opera companies always resolve their personnel and romantic issues by bursting into appropriate recitative and aria. But what a gorgeous double fantasy: opera about opera.
still touring: London The Scoop 18-20 June
Norwich Playhouse 22 June
Kenton, Henley 28 June

RATING:  FOUR4 Meece Rating

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A SIMPLE SPACE – Udderbelly, SE1



In circus tradition feats of acrobatic daring and balance are hyped up by a ringmaster – drumrolls, pleas to keep totally quiet lest you distract them, portentous announcements that this is the “first ever” attempt at a triple backflip or whatever. This Australian troupe of seven, called “Gravity and Other Myths” , do have drumrolls and sound. The musician occasionally joins them, not least for a super-speed strip skipping competion which leaves one member naked. But only one word is spoken, and not a boast uttered in this extraordinary hour.


Joyful as a romping basket of puppies, the five men and two women play, hurtle, leap, swing, climb and defy probability and sense. Their routines – well paced between breathtakingly fast and elegantly, balletically slow – span clowning, dance, and rumbustious party-tricks. For instance, as if a no-hands headstand (there are dozens) was not enough, one member solves a whole Rubik’s Cube while balancing on his head; others balance head-on-head, occasionally with a girl or two attached at some impossible angle to a bare foot; at one point they issue the audience with plastic balls to hurl at them while they adopt still more crazy balancing poses, and find hands to hurl them back. A few of the front row are recruited to lie on their backs while above them – and from nervous hand to hand – one of the young women beautifully balances and stretches, doing the aerial upside-down splits on one hand on a pole. With a smile.

But it is the ensemble grace of the troupe all together which captivated me most. They treat one another as gym equipment – trapezes, swings, skipping-ropes, vaulting horses; sometimes they find immense grace, sometimes merrily pile up their confreres in odd-shaped, ludicrous heaps and dance or spin on top of them. Or they toss one another up and down, create a towering arch of humanity, swing one another by leg-and-a-wing like toddlers.

The whole hour is a delight, and it is unsurprising that they won the physical-theatre palm at the Adelaide Fringe. But for all the subsequent brilliance my favourite memory is of the opening. All seven dash around, making sudden pyramids or handstands, but each suddenly snapping the one word of the evening in turn. “Falling!” – “Falling” . As each topples rigidly backwards as if in a trust exercise, or dives from a high perch on the shoulders of two others, he or she is deftly, affectionately caught by a companion. It is curiously moving. Beautiful. You leave with a lighter step. to 6 Jul

then Edinburgh Fringe 1-15 August

rating  five (note the acrobatic fifth mouse)     4 Meece RatingMusicals Mouse width fixed

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MR BURNS – Almeida, NW3




A child of the Cold War, I have read post-apocalyptic fiction all my life: from John Wyndham and Kuttner to Nevil Shute – even E.M.Forster had a go. New girl on the bleak old block is Anne Washburn, with this serio-comic “post-electric play”. It’s about East Coast USA after a nuclear catclysm (the hand lettered Act I sign says SOON). The power stations are going up one by one, and the first-act characters huddle in (real) firelight in equally real pitch darkness, telling tales.



The idea, much chewed-over in programme notes, is how remembered myths and legends grow, as the oral tradition adorns stories to make sense of life. That could have been very interesting: manna to theatre-addicts hooked on live narrative. But her prediction – and a very depressing one it is too – is that the only thing everyone, even educated East-Coasters, can remember will be The Simpsons cartoons. So they sit round the fire for twenty solid minutes attempting, with a painful disjointed slowness which I fear the author thinks is Beckettian, to remember one episode frame by frame. One parodying a Scorsese film. Very hipster. A lone stranger arrives and joins the gang (after a quite poignant little moment when the others ask whether he has met any survivors they know). He remembers an important line from the episode.and can sing a relevant bit of Gilbert and Sullivan referred to in it.



In Act 2 (“seven years later”) the same bunch, in a makeshift HQ, have developed their obsession into am-dram reconstructions of Simpsons shows, with amusingly makeshift costumes and an empty TV set as a shrine with a mirror and candle in it. The characters do develop, a bit (Adrian der Gregorian, Demetri Goritsas and Jenna Russell particularly). We learn that there are rival groups – “The Rewinds” and “Primetime Players” – and that turf wars rage over the trading of remembered lines. They do commercials too, yearning for Diet Coke and bath-oil, and perform an excerpt from FAME on a home-made wooden pink Cadillac. We suspect they won’t live long.



The third act gives yet more scope to Tom Scutt’s nicely wild design: it is set 75 years later when the whole Simpsons shenanigan has evolved into a chanted operatic solemnity. Robed priests, acolytes and a resplendently golden family enact a bizarre cross between African folk-dance and Aztec ritual, taking in bits of the earlier memories including the G and S, and some nice creepy harmonies by Orlando Gough and Michael Henry. The evil Mr Burns – boss of the nuclear plant in the cartoon, but done up like a geriatric Russell Brand – has a final confrontation with Bart. Some moments are quite moving, thanks to the music.



The Almeida sometimes has a knack for polishing up base metals until you leave thinking hey, maybe there was gold there after all. Until you remember that there wasn’t. However dodgy the play, its staging and performances are invariably fine. When it’s a stunner like Ghosts, 1984, Chimerica or The Dark Earth and the Light Sky then content and presentation combine to shine brighter than any stage in London. When it is just ironic fashionable misogyny like American Psycho, or an undercooked news-quizzy script like Charles III, you at least come away pleased at the high production values and performances.



Here, theatrical skill does its absolute best, but can’t crack it. The final operatic act and the silly Cadillac dance are memorable for goodish reasons – we love a spectacle. The rest is frankly excruciating. Which is ironic, since the brilliance of Matt Groening’s TV Simpsons is that it never milks a joke or outstays its welcome. For all her encyclopadic familiarity with the canon, this lesson seems not to have sunk in to the playwright.


box office 0207 359 4404 to 26 July Supported by ASPEN

rating two2 meece rating

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PRISON WINGS – Intermission at St Saviour’s SW1


Quotes from critics are always helpful. This one has “Drop dead funny and informative” on its flyer: not from a Spencer or Billington but signed “Inmates from Brixton Prison”. It was taken in there a year ago, and now this unlikely theatre, youth and mentoring outfit in a once ‘redundant’ church behind Harrods has a fresh production. That inmate imprimatur is significant because Darren Raymond, Artistic Director of Intermission, sets his 80-minute piece inside a modern UK prison, mainly in one cell. So it had to feel right: to catch the sweaty pointless claustrophobia, despair, disgrace and bravura bitterness of jail, and the black humour of men locked up.

Which, I reckon, it does. The opening parole scene with a weary governor and a severe, sarcastic woman officer (Janine Gillion) fairly catches both the mouthy indignant frustration of prisoners and the half-despairing patience of the staff who deal with them. We see the hero (played by Raymond with a staccato, rap-speed stroppiness) messing up his parole interview with a refusal, as the weary governor jots down “to comprehend the definition of punishment”. Nor does he admit any responsibility for the arsenal of guns found in his possession or the consequent death of a 12-year-old. He snarls that the officers are all just “police rejects and fat kids who got bullied at school”. He despises everything.

He has also, in an overcrowded prison, managed to be so violent and uncontrollable that he has had no cellmate for ten years of his sentence of eighteen. Gillion, with persuasive bribery, manages to get him to accept a young rookie, Charlie (Eddie Thompson). The first hint of strangeness, in a nice detail, comes when the officers can’t make the ID machine take Charlie’s photo. He comes up blank…

But then in the cell the play becomes a two-hander between this angry inhospitable Ryder, violently possessive of everything from his second bunk to his soap, and the naive lad who has to be told about prison ways like trading cigarettes for double ‘canteen’ credits to get luxuries like orange squash. Quite early on, Charlie says he won’t be there long because he is, in fact, an angel: to which a furiously horrified Ryder cries “A bible-bashing Jehovan’s witness wacko!” and dismisses him as crazy. Eddie Thompson, honed by five years with Intermission Youth Theatre and now in the full company, puts in a superb performance in this enigmatic part: naturalistically naif, good-humoured, nervous in a way which could mean he is a real inmate but could also denote an angel on a first mission. There are some good shivery moments as Ryder slightly softens towards his “nutter” cellmate over several days: not least when Charlie seems supernaturally to know the name of the older man’s wife, and we think “aha! an angel”. But “It’s tattooed on your arm” sputters the youth..

Raymond himself was inside many years ago – indeed first encountered the transformative power of theatre there with the London Shakespeare Workout projects. Since then he has matured into a serious and accomplished actor and created with Intermission some fabulous riffs on the Bard – HMP Macbeth, and before it the “Playground” version of a Midsummer Night’s dream. Here, though, he has gone back to a direct, naturalistic portrait of a prison world, and frames it in his own vision of redemption. And yes, in the final moments the redemptiveness gets you. The over-suave might find its religious underpinning and happy conclusion sentimental. But they’ve never been locked up for years and really needed to believe in hope.


In a week when we learned that reoffending by ex-prisoners has doubled, a good one to see.
020 7823 8979 to sat 14th

4 Meece Rating

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It is a universally recognizable moment: an idealistic student home for summer with revolutionary theories and an adored, even more revolutionary, flatmate. Arkady – Joshua James, earnestly puppyish – is back from St Petersburg and thrilled to introduce his bumblingly incompetent Dad Nikolai (Anthony Calf) to Bazarov. As a sultry, arrogant nihilist with collarlength hair Seth Numrich is perfect casting (even better than in Sweet Bird of Youth last year). At first he is magnificently arrogant in his scorn for everything the estate represents – except old Nikolai’s irregular liaison with his mistress Fenichka, which he approves. As he becomes unwillingly attracted to a rich widowed neighbour Anna (Elaine Cassidy) he shades back to show that the ardent, confused youth still lies beneath the political fervour. It’s beautifully done; so is Elaine Cassidy’s bitter self-containment as Anna, veteran of marital compromise, and the corresponding unreadable quietness of Caoilfhionn Dunne as Fenichka, the “healing presence in this uneasy house”.

This year already the Old Vic has reminded us of the tragicomic brilliance of Ivan Turgenev, who like Chekhov can make the affairs of 19c Russian estate-owners shake 21st century hearts. For all the costumes and polysyllabic names a good adaptation makes us directly kin to their tenderness, disillusion, longing for love and bearing of “the insolence of life”. This time it is a novel which Brian Friel adapts: elegantly compressed, scenes months apart succeeding one another in musical semi-darknesses. Director Lyndsey Turner holds the mood, often keeping one set of characters frozen in their last emotion, looking on like ghosts as the next group move in and assemble in the beautiful, impressionistic barn-plank set by Rob Howell. It gives the play, taut as it is, a novel’s sense of saga as a long summer wears on to harvest. Friel distils its humanity until what could have been a period piece sings its sad song to us all.

The political gap between the young men speaks to all ages too: as Bazarov snarls at Arkady “Your heart never forsook the gentry, the decencies…well-bred indignation, well-bred resignation” the eternal radical confronts the eternal liberal. But the play’s heart is not political. After the central tragedy – not showy, but sorrowfully real – deep moments lie before us: notably an old couple clinging together (Karl Johnson as Bazarov’s old father is enchanting, heartbreakingly bufferish even in deep grief). There are the dry unspoken sadnesses of compromise too, and moments of high humour, as when Bazarov’s first exposition of nililist philosophy goes down very badly indeed with the dandyish Uncle Pavel (Tim McMullan hilariously stiff as his military moustache and silver-topped cane). Susan Engel as the aged Princess Olga only has about eight lines, but every one is a winner (“Do you like October, Princess?” “I detest every month”). Her brief strictures on horsebreaking – hit them in the face with a crowbar – and the need to whip accordion-players are treasures.

Underlying it all is a sense of “the proper order of things”: routine, discipline, normality, and a gentle mourning both for its fragility, and for the way it shuts out bigger dreams. Friel’s treatment ends with – literally – harmony in Nikolai’s house. But it is a harmony which makes your heart turn over in pity.


Box Office 0844 871 7624 to 26 July Sponsor: Barclays

rating  Four  4 Meece Rating


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I reviewed the West End premiere of this new Stiles-and-Drew musical, directed by Richard Eyre and passionately backed by Cameron Mackintosh (the man was happily obsessed with his animatronic pig, which sang in Kylie Minogue’s voice at the curtain call). My Times review (£ paywall was enthusiastic: the story of post-war rationing and snobbery defeated – based on an Alan Bennett TV play – was “witty, rude, lovable, warm, dramatic, hilarious.” I said it “beautifully evokes that Bennett north, preoccupied with good dinners and bad feet” . It was also timely, with its theme of a town preparing a banquet to mark Princess Elizabeth’s wedding, just as William and Kate revved up for theirs.
But for all the affection poured on the show, despite Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith in the lead, it did not run and run. I rather mourned it, with its lovely tunes, its English self-aware nostalgia and bicycling chiropodist hero (few musical lyricists would tackle the words “fetid fungal growth” or hymn verrucae with such elegance). I hoped it would find an afterlife, and suspected that an out-of-London tour was its best hope. Away from the West End audiences are more relaxed, pay less, and perhaps have a little more generosity of spirit.
So I have been wanting to catch up with Daniel Buckroyd’s recast, touring production. And it is lovely. I caught it in Oxford – though an unavoidable late start sadly made me miss the denouement in favour of a train – and can confirm that there’s real joy in Buckroyd’s version, slightly re-tweaked and presented with what he calls a “make do and mend austerity aesthetic.
It may not have major stars but it has even more personality: Tobias Beer booming a ferocious bass as evil Mr Wormold the Food Inspector , Haydn Oakley enchanting as Gilbert the chiropodist, the humble worm that turns. Amy Booth-Steel is plaintively bossy as his wife, dreaming of social advancement, one of those who like Bennett’s portrait of his own mother, will always long for roast pork but suspect that their life will always be spam.
The illegal pig, whose personality, theft and final consumption lie at the heart of the show, is not the clever but limited half-robot of the West End: this time she is a thing of cloth, manoeuvred by Lauren Logan with that magic puppetry which works so surprisingly well on stage ever since War Horse taught us that it could. And my favourite song of any recent new musical made me softly happy again, especially so soon after the D-Day commemorations and the renewed appreciation of that generation. As Gilbert tends the bad feet of war-widows and weary, hungry ration-era wives struggling to hold families together in 1947, they sing their gentle chorus of appreciation: “He reminds me of my husband as he was before the war…he has magic fingers, magic hands..”.
Daft, homely, but tears in the eyes. I’m glad it’s roaming onward and will last. Yorkshire and Liverpool next. Go for it.


12 June – 5 July     West Yorkshire Playhouse
Tickets: 0113 213 7700 or

9 July – 2 August     Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Tickets: 0151 709 4776 or


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DEALERS’S CHOICE – Royal, Northampton



Poker, like good drama, requires an ability to transmit or conceal “tells”: moments of facial or body language revealing or hiding truth. So it’s no bad subject for a play. And if you belong to a poker school, if smoky late-night strategy and risk is your drug of choice – controllable or addictive – this 1995 play will be half treat and half Awful Warning.

Staged at the National Theatre in 1995, and written by Patrick Marber (whose screen persona throughout the Alan Partridge series always did tend towards a pallid, sleepless, morosely superior unwholesomeness) it has a blokey, high-testosterone feeling. Interestingly, that same year Jez Butterworth’s gangster-nostalgic MOJO came out – maybe the disillusioned late-Major years were fertile ground for chic, weary machismo.

Today, its story of one day and night in a restaurant whose staff – all male – have a Sunday night poker game with the proprietor feels a little dated, off-kilter. Indeed when in between braggartly poker-chat even the most sympathetic character, casually asks his mate “Did you give it one or not? The blonde bit?” and Frankie replies “Got the clap”, I found myself strangely glad to know that since then, cool blonde Victoria Coren has wiped the floor with all such wannabe Cincinnati Kids by becoming European poker champion – twice. Ha!

Enough of this female wincing: what about the play ? The long first half sets up personalities: Stephen the wearily paternal boss (Richard Hawley, in a fine performance reminiscent of Roger Allam) is at the centre. His gambling-addict son Carl, who he sees only at the weekly game, is played with nice defiant vulnerability by Oliver Coopersmith; the chef Sweeney is Carl Prekopp, an access-Daddy struggling not to gamble away the money and sleep-hours he needs to take his small daughter to the zoo in the morning. The two waiters are Frankie, dreaming of Vegas, and the even more delusional Mugsy: a moronic enthusiast for poker triumphs and business dreams played with manic, writhing, enjoyable overstatement by Cary Crankson. He is trying to get funding to turn a public lavatory on the Mile End Road into a restaurant. Which these days, would be a hipster haven and get backers in no time; in the play the idea is the source of rich and enjoyable mockery. Indeed Crankson carries, almost singlehanded, all the best verbal comedy. And good it is: Marber cracks out some beautiful lines especially for Mugsy.

Into this group intrudes Ash (Ian Burfield, deploying a sort of still violence which is genuinely unsettling). He is a professional gambler determined to fleece them, and get the hapless Carl or his father to pay a big poker debt. The second and more tautly strung act, sharply staged by director Michael Longhurst, sees them all at the baize table in the basement. Conveying the sense of a long night, scenelets are broken by balletic jerky moves, amplified rattling of chips and slapping of cards, and demonic lightning-flashes on pale tense faces. The men’s various fates conclude, though it is hard to care much about any of them except Stephen. And that owes much to Hawley’s tired, likeable, damaged loneliness. Would like to see more of him.



BOX OFFICE 01604 624811 TO 14 June

rating:  three 3 Meece Rating

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Dawn French – 30 Million Minutes – Lyceum, Sheffield

Guest reviewer   LUKE JONES   appreciates our Dawnie

At the very beginning, with a large clock face ticking behind her, Dawn French describes what we are about to see as a slice of time.  It is not a slice, it is a chunky portion; a whistle-stop tour of her emotional, but strangely not televisual life. Her performance is completely at ease from the starting pistol. Now 56, this is her look back through her childhood, the nature of relationships and her body, all with strange features (i.e a quick audit of ‘women’s holes’). At one point she pulls up her top to show us how her stomach and bum are symmetrical when standing in profile. There is a huge roar and we’re quickly chastised for agreeing with her too readily.



She is most alive when telling stories or profiling characters from her life, only faltering when she errs into glib philosophy.  Golden anecdotes include having the Queen Mother for tea and her picking a shard of glass from her ‘mum’s muff’ (separate stories..) With ease and theatrical flair she conjures figures such as her Evil Aunty Lill, who had an alarm set for 3am to down a glass of gin, and her lionised Father who tragically committed suicide when she was 19. Characters are her trade, and watching her get stuck into them is a treat. In a short space of time we move from her mother accusing her of ‘rimming’ strangers, to an emotionally wrought direct address to her dead father, delivered in recorded voice-over, as she faces away from us and smoke drifts up from the stage.

This is a one-woman show, but with a notable male co-star: Michael Grandage directs. At first it was difficult to see why? Dawn wrote it, she’s performing it, she lived it. How could he have been anything more than a sounding-board with occasional suggestions? But his influence runs straight through the piece; it is a show, not a recitation. Slick graphics, scenic lighting, a darkly simple set and emotive sound bind it together.  Treated as drama not a lecture, it succeeds on those terms. Its buoyancy only droops under the weight of dull existential life-lessons which add nothing. Imperfect but fun; a few misses, but mainly very funny hits.

box office 0114 249 6000 to 8 June

then Touring to 29th Nov

RATING: FOUR   4 Meece Rating

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PRESSURE – Minerva, Chichester

It happened seventy years ago so we know the outcome. D-Day was the biggest amphibious invasion in history – 156,000 men, 6939 vessels, 11590 planes. It was also the most astonishingly well-kept secret, and the moment when most lives – and the freedom of Europe – hung on nail-biting meteorological calculations: precise tidal, sea-state and visibility had to be found on one intensely planned day. On a coast where, as the Scottish meteorologist James Stagg despairingly points out, you get days when “At ten o’clock the beach is packed – and by twelve there’s howling wind and rain, and the Punch-and-Judy man’s packed up”.


We know that Operation Overlord succeeded, after being postponed one day on advice from Stagg, and that this saved thousands of lives and many tanks and guns from flat-bottomed craft which would have capsized on the 4th. We know that only a brief (and daringly predicted) window of calm Channel weather between gales allowed the fleet to sail to success. Yet despite that hindsight, for two and a half hours my heart hammered and tension chilled my neck. Author David Haig and director John Dove have created a play for Chichester and the Royal Lyceum which, should long outlive this commemorative summer.


For there is jeopardy, and powerful personalities within the utility bleakness of the Portsmouth HQ where Eisenhower and the service chiefs gather before great synoptic charts hauled up at six-hour intervals. Haig himself plays Stagg, and superbly: precise, a touch geeky, awed by responsibility (“I’m a scientist not a gambler”) , and nicely uncomfortable in the too-long trousers of a RAF group-captain’s uniform “I’ve never been near a plane”. Malcolm Sinclair is a powerful Eisenhower, and Laura Rogers as Kay Summersby his British driver and, in the stress of war, girlfriend. Ike’’s favoured , pally US forecaster Irving P Krick is Tim Beckmann, scornful of the Brit to the point of contempt: refusing to believe in Stagg’s jetstream theory he reads the isobars with insouciant confidence that the Azores High will keep D-Day calm. Their early conflict is fiery, the increasing honest despair of Stagg profoundly moving. We see Eisenhower’s awesome sense of responsibility alleviated by quiet moments sharing a rare orange with Summersby; we see Stagg in near-breakdown as his wife – with , ironically, high blood pressure – is near a dangerous birth. Subtly, we are reminded that not only was three-day forecasting rare and tricky in 1944, but that women often died with pre-eclampsia.


So there are personal dramas; but a finely judged script, with occasional evocative sound effects of bustle or storm outside – resists the temptation to movie soapiness and treats them with subtlety. We are never allowed to forget how many other tragedies hang in the balance, and how many will be lost even in victory. Add the tension of science: when Haig and his colleague scribble and repeat pressure readings at heartbeat speed, you bite your lip. I love synoptic charts and have drawn them on small boats, in anxiety: but even if isobars and tropospheric windspeeds are Greek to you, the pressure will hit you in the neck.


So will the unique tension of a war room. When Stagg collapses in trembling panic in the small hours – few slept in those last three days – Summersby maternally pulls him together, reminding us of servicewomen’s emotional contribution, which must have helped many. And Haig has the nerve not to leave us on an obvious triumph high: a deeply affecting, morning-after anticlimax is probably truer to the reality of those bare, tired rooms. I hope our national attention-span is longer than this brief D-Day commemoration: this play deserves a long afterlife.
box office 01243 781312 to 28 June . Sponsor: PALL Corporation
rating five    5 Meece Rating

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The focus groups, mourns this briefest of Prime Ministers, always come up with the same words about him. “Strong” and “Solid” are fine. “Scottish” is OK, with reservations. Less hopeful are “Dour” and “Headmaster”. The imaginary voters in South-land, he grumbles, fail him on “Likeability – can it really be a word?” They do not invite him to their imaginary barbecues. They prefer the “thieving, deceiving, lying cunt” Blair, who stole his ideas and his limelight and probably wore lifts in his shoes. “Napoleon was shorter than me. So was Tony. That dwarfish thief! Every hour of his was one hour less of me”.

I have to admit I gave this show a swerve in Edinburgh last summer: poor old Gordon seemed too easy a target, already humiliated in sequence by Tony Blair, his fellow-ministers and the electorate. Gone now, not one to bother satirizing. I went this time because, after all, this man was not only Prime Minister but before that our longest-serving Chancellor, part of a project whose effects are still upon us. Maybe he deserved it…

Anyway, I was wrong: Kevin Toolis set out to write this monologue more in fascination than malice, and allows it to grow into a reflection on the oddness of power and those who seek it. “Power has to be taken…it flows from the crushing of others’ hopes”. There are echoes of Lear and the less successful Shakespearian kings, and in a more ancient aside, he imagines that Brown would have hung on to an clay tablet presented by some Uzbekistan or Tajikistan potentate, engraved with ancient vailglory by “Enkimdu, god of irrigation, the good shepherd…I freed the land”.

Ian Grieve is perfect casting: he catches a credible longing, resentment and fury but also idealism and vulnerability. He hints enough at the physicality of Gordon Brown without overdoing the famous angry-fish gaping tic. We find him in a Westminster office, where the clock is stuck at 5.45 am: waiting for his staff, hammering violently at his laptop as if it were a manual typewriter in long-ago Kircaldy, using that time-stopped moment to express the time he was longing for power, his brief spell in it, the moment of the loss and a delusion of return. There are some moments for laughter, but as often with him as against him. I liked his brutal description of any PM’s standard fifteen-minute face-to-face meetings and photos with endless “little brown men from little brown countries” forever sent by the Foreign Office, and the sharp description of those he raised to Cabinet – ”the smirk folded within their dead smiles”.


There is also a sad, recognizable truth in the way a true-believing socialist may speak fondly of “The People” while loathing actual contact with The Public. Wisely, Toolis keeps mention of Brown’s teenage injury and near-blindness slight but telling: hard to forget the moment his son of the unforgiving Manse remembers a mother at his hospital bedside, banning him from self-pity even at that grim moment.


All in all, not an optimistic portrait of our gnomish Westminster world, but how many other PMs, I wonder, would privately echo Grieve’s cry “I have lost count of all the hateful fools I have endured!”.
box office 0844 811 2334 to 30 July

Rating : four   4 Meece Rating

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The main causes of crime, said the famous American defence lawyer Darrow, are “Poverty, ignorance, hard luck and, generally, youth”. A century later, as Kevin Spacey speaks them in the Old Vic’s round arena, the words fall sharp as ever on the city sprawling around us. So do his strictures against the tyrant’s favourite crime, “conspiracy”, and his rage at racism. David Rintels‘ biographical one-man play may be about long-ago murders and workers’ rights in the USA, but even within our shores there are enough echoes and universals to thrill. Across a murderous world of mad laws and extreme punishments, they resonate still more.

And it is indeed a thrilling evening. Darrow is most famous globally for two cases. One was saving the teenage killers Leopold and Loeb from the gallows in 1924, commuting it to life imprisonemnt. It was one of his most controversial defences, based wholly on a passionate lifelong opposition to the death penalty. The other, more comically, was his victory in the 1925 “Scopes Monkey trial” where with deadly ridicule he helped to bring down the Butler Act, which had forbidden the teaching of Darwinian evolution theory in state schools.

But these – and his shiveringly tremendous defence of a negro family besieged by a racist mob – come in the second part. Before that we learn of his beginnings, his abolitionist and suffragist parents and the dramatic fascination of a law career. It took him first into battles over the working conditions of Pennsylvania miners, some mere children, who asked only a twelve-hour limit to their day and a bare wage. He nearly torpedoed his career, though, when his union allies turned against him. He was prosecuted himself, seemingly on a faked charge, after he persuaded the MacNamara bombers to plead guilty to save their lives rather than attempt an impossible defence and risk their necks.
Spacey has played a role based on Darrow here before, in Inherit The Wind. Here he gives us the old man alone: emphatic and confidential, angry and dryly rueful, self-accusing and self-aggrandizing in turn. Here’s a shining rhetorician haunted by the horror of the rope, a dissenter believing in no deity but human decency and mercy in a messy world. In a lovely aside he wanders the aisles explaining how to pick a jury: on no account accept any “Presbyterian with a tightly rolled umbrella”, and always trust Methodists over Baptists. Apparently “they’re nearer to the soil”.

Spacey admits that he has never before done a solo play, and never performed in the round. Under Thea Sharrock’s direction, though, quite apart from the power of the piece he gives us (assisted only briefly by sound-effects) one of the most impressive of technical performances. He is audible, whether in rant or quiet nuance; gives every angle of seating a chance, his shoulders almost as expressive as his face. As intimate with the audience as Darrow with jurors, he is also creditably “on” his props. Which is no mean feat, as he riffles apparently absently through chaotic boxes and drawers to pull out the right photograph bang on cue, or move a chair or stool to represent an invisible witness as he re-enacts interrogations.

It will be one of Kevin Spacey’s last performances in this famous theatre, which his determination and persistence brought back to shining life. A modest short run, yet this and the memory of his Richard III should make us grateful enough. America has lent us, these past 11 years, a magnificent throwback to the days of the great actor-managers.

box office 0844 871 7628 to 15 June Sponsor: Bank of America Merrill Lynch
In-the-round sponsor: theCQSspace
rating: five  5 Meece Rating

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Here is Summer Strallen as Cinderella, ripping off her rags and scorning the ballgown for a dominatrix PVC corset and whip. Here is Caroline O’Connor glittering menacingly as a predatory, glamorous middle-aged lesbian knocking hell out of a party. Here’s Damien Humbley as Uncle Fester from the Addams Family singing a heartrendingly beautiful love song to the moon, with a ukelele accompaniment. And a divorced baseball Mom expressing her terrified love of a son growing away by shrieking at him from the touchline. And here’s a rude sadistic nun , Sister Severia.


And here is the Menier audience, shy but game, being persuaded by a slight, dapper figure in a grey suit and schoolboy haircut to sing along an extended, melodious line of the one word “Joooooooo-ooooy”, in honour of an unproduced, unfinished musical about Betty Boop. The man in the suit is Andrew Lippa, Leeds-born lyricist and composer but thoroughly New York now. Towards the end of this beguiling evening he sings something right from the heart, fresh from a work-in-progress about a writer of musical flops encouraging a small nephew whose ambition is to draw comic-strips. “I do what I do and I like what I do” he sings defiantly. “I do what I do, for the many or has to be true”. It is the credo of the determined artist down the centuries, expressed with such joie-de-vivre you have to smile.

Lippa is certainly not such a flopster as his hero: a Tony nomination met his music and lyrics for The Addams Family on Broadway, and The Wild Party had cult success. But he is less known here, and with evangelical enthusiasm David Babani – whose sparky Menier has breathed new life into forgotten musicals from La Cage Aux Folles and Candide to Merrily We Roll Along – persuaded him over. Together they devised a showcase evening of songs from eight musicals (four still in progress), plus a revue and an oratorio on Harvey Milk. It makes a rich, funny, rewarding night.

I say a showcase, and had expected pure cabaret. But Babani was determined to be more theatrical, so the four cast whip in and out of costumes to perform each number in context, framed by a clever set of changing screens. There are two pianos (one must, obviously, provide an extra one for Summer Strallen to dance on in a pink satin petticoat) and a four-piece orchestra. Once or twice you struggle to grasp where a piece would fit in a musical’s plot, but the emotions of Lippa’s songs are strong and universal enough to carry that. The sequence from the Addams Family, with O’Connor as Morticia bouncing through “Death is just around the corner!” is unmissable. As for “The Wild Party”, a vision of 1929 decadence, it ranges from enormous belting numbers from Strallen, Connor and Humbley to a remarkable quartet (“based on Rigoletto”) with Lippa joining them in the shivering, haunting “Poor Child”.

As with his hero Sondheim, Lippa is at his best when working with his own lyrics (a few here are others’). There is a finish and a sharpness in them, dry wit and wickedness, a tattered but defiant heart on the sleeve, and an unashamed gift for melody. He is equally at home with sentiment and cynicism, rhymes and rambling, hokum and heartbreak. I fell for him. Hurry. It’s only got till Saturday week…


box office 020 7378 1713 to 14 June

rating: four

4 Meece Rating   and an illustrative rare outing for Musicals Mouse:Musicals Mouse width fixed

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“What” asks the calm academic , “should our attitude be to people who have committed atrocities?”. From Belfast to the Balkans, Syria to South Africa, the problem is perennial. How can you judge and acknowledge torture and murder without corroding your own nature with hatred? How forgive without forgetting or belittling horrors? Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a South-African born Harvard psychologist who returned to her homeland to work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, warns against too saintly a response. “To fail to judge the perpetrators may feel like kindness. But it is treating them as less than human”.

Her book about an extraordinary series of interviews with the police officer Eugene de Kock, nicknamed “Prime Evil” is the basis of this intense and tightly drawn short play by Nicholas Wright. From a brief conference-room opening we are led in silence, as she was, round a cage of black iron bars where de Kock sits, shackled. The light streams from some unseen skylight, the only splash of colour his orange prison uniform. Much of the conversation is verbatim, from Pumla’s tapes and Commission reports.


It is riveting, horrifying, and finally illuminating: Jonathan Munby’s unobtrusive direction holds all the drama within the pair’s words and their telling, expressive body-language. Nomo Dumezweni is tautly professional, betraying inward shakings with tight control; Matthew Marsh as the former covert “counter-insurgency” cop and torturer seems at first unnervingly ordinary, a middle-manager with old-fashioned chivalry towards the woman. He grows in stature, ironically, the more he reveals how and why he did terrible things, including random “pre-emptive” murders of black people suspected of being potential rebels. Terrible things, I should say, which are described just enough to make the point , but not (as lesser authors might) dwelt upon pruriently.

De Kock’s journey is no facile one: he rants against those who, equally guilty, testified against him, and the clean-handed politicians who gave the orders which steeped him in blood. He builds a hideously comprehensible picture of being an Afrikaner cop in the years of white paranoia, fed by ANC militancy and that weird communal denial which is hard to imagine unless you lived there. “White South Africans had to sleep peacefully in bed – they were happy to be protected, and didn’t care how”. This is true: I lived there for two years as a young teenager, and even from those early 1960’s well remember the sense of hysterical dread of black insurrection, mingled with denial of the overarching injustice of apartheid.

But de Kock, like others, did fearful things and got used to them. Under Pumla’s quiet insistence we watch his conscience seeping slowly through the professional reminiscence: faces of the dying swim before him, moments of horror when he is forced to see that the “enemy” are not the crazed Communist monsters he was taught to fear and hate. Marsh’s performance is stunningly real; opposite him Dumezweni too goes through painful changes, forced to cast off her academic determination not to feel. It is as if this 85-minute experience distils and condenses that extraordinary process of South African reconciliation, with all its anger and all its hope. When de Kock ends his final anecdote with a blurted, choking “A human being died that night” you feel, with a shock, that one was born, too.

Box office 020 722 9301 to 21 June

rating: five 5 Meece Rating

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