Monthly Archives: October 2014

FIRST EPISODE Jermyn Street Theatre SW1




There’s a rugby ball and a bottle of Oxford Ale, clothbound law books, pipes, a cricket bat, 1930’s clutter. There are tweeds and cricket sweaters and waistcoats and immaculate whites. And it’s not entirely frivolous to start with design and costumes (Neil Irish and Emily Stuart): for that lovingly detailed attention to a particular period and place reflects the care and significance lavished on this first revival of Terence Rattigan’s first play.



Its milieu is important: an undergraduate shared house in Oxford, a male world where best friends Tony and David (Gavin Fowler and Philip Labey) are theatre-minded, social confident pups, sharing with the sporty Philip and the nerdy, bespectacled, prim Bertie. A butler tends their needs, but Proctors and “Bulldogs” police their social lives, making guests leave at midnight and banning them from lustful visits for “Female companionship” at the King’s Head. In those days (indeed, right up to my own late 1960’s when Burton and Taylor dropped in) OUDS plays had the clout to draw down not only national critics but professional female stars: Peggy Ashcroft came to play Juliet. In this play it is the glamorous Margot, recruited as Cleopatra against the youthful director Tony’s Antony. She is given pitch-perfect actressy charm by Caroline Langrishe until – equally perfectly – she stumbles into the emotional pit and becomes, vividly, the ancestress of Rattigan’s great portraits of middle-aged women shipwrecked by wrong love: Alma Rattenbury, Hester Collyer, Millie Crocker-Harris.



Rattigan was only 22, gave a co-writing credit to Philip Heimann his friend (model, probably for the characters’ casual love lives) and he did not include it in his Collected Plays. Probably thought it juvenilia, not to be remembered. But goodness, it’s Rattigan all the way: a first strike at the great themes of his heyday, and not least evidence of his heartbreaking ability – astonishingly young – to write strong woman characters. But youthful high spirits will win through, and until its rueful darkening in the final act, it’s a fine comedy, with real student rumbustiousness (which director Tom Littler amusingly uses to create some dancing, larking scene-changes).
There’s a wonderful turn by Molly Hanson as a dim but amiably willing flapper passed between the young men with a shrug, and a fearlessly hilarious, showstopping portrait from Adam Buchanan of the prim, naive geek Bertie, with his feeble moustache and round specs.



Bertie, indeed, is a very good joke in himself. For the story has Tony and Margo becoming emotionally entangled, despite the twenty-year age difference, with what she exasperatedly calls “you screaming brawling children” and the sardonic David, with homosocial if not actually carnal jealousy, possessively resents his friend’s involvement. It sails near the wind: the Lord Chamberlain insisted on changes of language, the Public Morality Council found it “unpleasant and immoral” and one critic huffed “I cannot commend the morals of the piece, which shows a number of undergraduates a little too preoccupied with sex”. Thus the joke is that Bertie – in a series of wonderful moments when he talks up virginity and cricketing team-spirit and tries to warn the all-too-knowing Joan about the “danger” she is in if she gets kissed – is in himself an embodiment of the censors, and of all that inter-war panic about young people getting out of control.



But the remarkable thing is that this young Rattigan, despite his obvious debt to Coward comedies, is drilling deep already into the dark. Into emotional male bonding, the alien strength and vulnerability of women, and the profound sadness of impossible love. This terrific, close-up, thoughtful production does him honour.


BOX OFFICE 020 7287 2875 to 22 Nov

rating: four 4 Meece Rating


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THE WITCH OF EDMONTON – Swan, Stratford upon Avon




Devils! Not Hallowe’enily cosy at all. Obscenely beguiling, tenebrous creatures of evil, they lurk inside all human nature and they know it. Mother Sawyer’s derisive familiar “Dog” makes that clear, in one of the central couplets of this rural horror-story set in the reeds and fogs of ancient Middlesex:
“Let not the world witches or devils condemn;
They follow us, and then we follow them!”

This finale to the RSC’s “Roaring Girls” season is the oddest of the lot, and by no means the least. Gregory Doran directs the 1621 collaboration between “William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, John Ford&c” (who knows how many spoons in this dark pudding? ) It is a play with two centres, one supernatural and one human melodrama. Mother Sawyer is an impoverished, brutalized old woman regarded locally as a witch (common at the time, not least because of King James I’s obsession with the supernatural). She isn’t one, but in her resentment decides she might as well call up the Devil and serve her persecutors right. It is a marvellous role for an aged woman and Eileen Atkins gives it a brilliant, stroppy, beaky, sardonic presence, with just sufficient pathos to hold sympathy and enough spite to command respect.

The demon she calls up is “Dog” – Jay Simpson near-naked in black body paint, red eyes and a truly horrible tail beneath jagged vertebrae: a starveling rabid cur of a creature who appals and fascinates (worryingly sexy). She sends him to lame horses and ruin the butter of her main foes, but is irritated that he can’t kill the more virtuous.



Because in theology, devils can’t. They work from the inside. So the main tale of the play concerns human misdeeds: seduction, deceit, brutality, hypocrisy, eventually murder. Ian Bonar is the serving-man Frank who has secretly married Winnifride, herself pregnant by her employer. To get a dowry and please his father (Geoffrey Freshwater, all bonhomous bourgeoisie) Frank bigamously marries Susan. His journey from fool to villain is played out with tense, conflicted realism. All the performances are, as you’d expect, fine,: but Faye Castelow as Susan, in her debut RSC season emanates a calm, luminous intelligence, defying the mantra that it is hard to play straightforward goodness. Her scenes with Frank – and her death – are electrifying.



The collision of the two plots, and the local hysteria that “maids who fall” and murderers are being influenced by the Witch, makes it sometimes weirdly and rather excitingly unclear as to what the authors wanted us to believe. This is no CRUCIBLE, because Mother Sawyer does really have a horrid familiar. On the other hand, all her pet Satan can actually do is to upset horses , play tricks and lure poor Cuddy the Morris-man into a bog (nice pondweed on Dafydd Llyr Thomas’ head, I hope he has some good selfies) . Otherwise Dog merely lurks, relishing the natural wickedness of the mortals. Though in a showstopping moment at the end of the longer first act, he takes over the morris-dancers’ fiddle and causes a mass-hysterical diabolic St Vitus’ dance (respect to Paul Englishby’s terrifying score) . What with the skeleton hobbyhorse and the crazed choreography it is definitely one of the must-see sights of this Swan season.



It’s odd, it’s dark, often funny, sometimes touching, and above all it feels like a deep insight into a past moral sensibility: a post-Reformation superstitious unease. The last ten minutes of remorse, forgiveness and wordy justice disengage us, making it retreat into that past again. Unworthily, briefly, you think “Greg Doran could have cut some of that!” . But no. You then reflect that the Royal Shakespeare Company is not just there to give us barnstorming nights out and move us to tears at half the West End prices (both of which it pleasingly often does). It is also there to display, fully and respectfully, our common ancestral past. Demons, moralists and all.


box office 0844 800 1110 to 29 Nov

RATING   four  4 Meece Rating

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’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE Wanamaker, Shakespeare’s Globe SE1




By the end of three hours the gilt-reflecting candlelight of this little jewel-box playhouse is flickering over a birthday party littered with bloodstained corpses. Father, son, bridegroom – plus the offstage corpse whose heart has been waved around on a sword like a kebab. And that’s not counting the one murdered an hour earlier in a terrifying total blackout, his death agonies revealed by dark-lantern. Or the plotter who died a slow, agonizing and eloquent death by her own potion. The robed Cardinal, meanwhile, being Italian Catholic and therefore a convenient satirical villain for post-Reformation England, winds up the play speaking the words of the title and coolly ordering that the matter be hushed up (by sending another victim to be “burnt to ashes”) and confiscating that the dead family’s riches for the Church.



None of these magnificent disasters, however, are the reason John Ford’s dark drama spent a couple of centuries pretty much unperformed. Its real scandal (nicely emphasised this week by Transport for London banning the poster) is sexual. The tragedy is triggered by the incestuous love of Giovanni (Max Bennett, carrying it through convincingly from touchingly young and ardent to deranged) and his sister Annabella (Fiona Button gives her a spirited beauty and startlingly contemporary assertiveness).

That this will lead to disaster is clear from the first tense scene in which Giovanni confesses his desires to the Friar with “It is my fate that leads me on” and then lies to his sister – who is equally inclined – that he “asked counsel of the Holy Church” and got permission. And so, with tumbling naked grace, to bed. While other suitors and side-plotters pursue their ends the knotty text – beautifully handled with clarity and pace under director Michael Longhurst – is studded with fascinating philosophical efforts to justify this incest. Though more endearing is from Morag Siller, a delight as the bawdily robust maid Putana: “If a young wench feel the fit upon her, let her take anybody!”.


Indeed an admirable pleasure of this production is in its balancing of violence, darkness and horror with earthy comic absurdity. One of the most striking performances is from James Garnon – lately brilliant in the big Globe as Dr Scroggy – who plays an idiotic lad forced by his rich uncle to try for Annabella’s hand. He delivers it as Tim-nice-but-dim crossed with a less bright Boris Johnson: larky and tactless and hilarious until the extraordinarily touching moment when he falls in love with another girl entirely with a burstingly boyish “Lass, pretty lass, come!”. Yet this lovely bearer of comic relief is doomed too: murdered by mistake. The ultimate engine of his destruction, and of much else, is a slighted hellcat Hippolyta, given a terrifying energy (and some good rude twerking in disguise) by Noma Dumezweni.



The production is particularly fine when you consider how complicated and treble-stranded Ford’s plot is: newcomers, do not read the synopsis, it’ll only scare you. Onstage there is absolute clarity and accessibility not only in the speech, but in Alex Lowde’s skilful use of costume: tweakingly updated and carefully distinctive to character, whether Giovanni’s student-casual tights, Annabella’s anachronistically wispy dresses, or the slyly absurd, ultimately horrifying presence of gold party hats at the disastrous final banquet.



And there is the candlelight. I am a pushover for the Wanamaker’s rising and falling beeswax candelabras, the handheld candles throwing alarming shadows, and the ritual gradual dowsings. When the Friar describes hellfire to a desperate Annabella, around them like her hopes the flames die out one by one at the hands of dark servants. Brrrr.


Box office 020 7401 9919 to 7 Dec

rating: five  5 Meece Rating

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BUT FIRST THIS… Watermill Theatre, Newbury


Radio 4 announcers tend to have a dry, contained sense of humour, honed by years in their lonely hutches listening to that most literate of networks, observing its idiosyncrasies and reading both news bulletins and programme introductions without ever betraying their secret opinions (you had to know the legendary Peter Donaldson for decades before you could detect the undertones of satire in his bland deep-brown announcements. Even then it was uncertain.)

So there is a real buzz in encountering, in this tiny adventurous producing-house, a comedy musical written by Kathy Clugston, one of those announcers. It has music and additional lyrics by Desmond O’Connor, and a spirit of mischievous affection shared utterly by her first-night audience . You knew she was preaching to the choir as soon as the defunct UK Theme, axed by Mark Damazer, began its Rule-Britannia chords before the start and everyone went “aaahhhh!”.

In moments we were into the first number, with John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie (Michael Fenton Stevens catching the Humph with uncanny accuracy and deadly humour) and Jonathan Dryden Taylor, who actually looks more like Peter Hobday but who got the monologuous questioning style bang on. And as the weatherman (Neil Ditt) and newsreader (Helena Blackman) sparred with authentic dawn ill-temper as the romantic juveniles, we learned the engine of the plot: that the Controller (Louise Plowright) was threatening dreadful cuts to the network, reducing the pips and abolishing Woman’s Hour and the Shipping Forecast.

To be honest, the first number and early minutes made me wonder whether it would sink beneath the weight of insider affection (though the wealth of groanworthy punning programme titles from an invisible Alice Arnold was fun from the start “The Classic serial will be – muesli”.). It is really more of a revue for R4 lovers, sending up musical-theatre itself and disguising a slightly too-fey plot with quick changes and daft beards. But Clugston’s strength is in big numbers, and some of them are lyrically brilliant. A trio led by Naughtie sings of a sneaky male addiction to Woman’s Hour; a marvellous interlude in the Pronunciation And Grammar Pedantry department hits many grudges about language (“What’s the use of saying utilize? And impact is not a verb!”) . It should be played on the real Radio 4 daily. Another showstopper is Humphrys’ confessing his secret love for scented candles, petting zoos and Michael Bublé.


There are flashes of real wickedness, not least the downfall of the evil Controller (Plowright storming the role) as she accepts the standard management punishment of being “moved to a higher position in aa different department”. So I was won right round. And in the style of the Shipping Forecast, whose fate provides a running theme , let’s just say:
General situation: Plot fair, occasionally rough. Scilly, gags advancing , becoming strong. Cast good becoming very good. Intermittent puns, poor becoming adorable. Over-Forties: very happy with occasional singalong. Outlook: possibly moving Westward. Good.

box office 01635 46044 to 8 nov

rating: –    3 Meece Rating ….oh all right, musicals mouse says four Musicals Mouse width fixed

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DON Q – Old Fire Station, Oxford: pre-tour




Cervantes’ story gave us a word: quixotic. From politics to artistic enterprises, it defines all extravagantly romantic, chivalrous, visionary but impractical enterprises. A middle-aged man goes off, inspired by too many knightly romances, riding a skinny horse with his despairing squire Sancho Panza alongside. He seeks adventures to place him in the annals of great deeds, and always fails or is gulled. Next month Carlos Acosta will be dancing the tale at the Royal Opera House. Meanwhile here is the quirky foursome of Flintlock Theatre – artists in residence at the Oxford Playhouse – doing their own take on it.

Or, at least, on its spirit. Anna Glynn’s version, designed by Robin Colyer, is set in a library at closing time where four geeky, fawn-cardiganed figures – Jeremy Barlow, Francesca Binefa, Kate Colebrook and Samuel Davies – bustle ineffectually around, excited by being amid books and stories (the set is a nice stepladder and door) and perform various slightly too long balletic mimes (the first thing to say is that the show would be sharper and more fun at a straight 75 minutes, rather than running with an interval).

The meat of it, and the real interest, comes when they go into character and act out the story of an old man called Norman (Davies, playing it pretty manic throughout). He is confused, causes a scene in the library and is put in a kindly but dull secure home. Assisted by his friend Sam (Kate Colebrook, in an earflap hat and nicely down-to-earth manner) he escapes. Sam has to be his Sancho Panza, as Norman cobbles up a wonderful suit of armour from a tea-tray breastplate, colander helmet and oven-gloves as pauldrons. His steed Rosinante is Sam’s scooter.

Once the quest gets well under way it becomes both funny (quite a bit of interaction with the front rows, watch yourself) and oddly touching, as they conflate a modern pensioner’s dwindling sense of reality with Don Quixote’s desire for exotic and heroic adventure out of old books. The best moment is when he convinces himself he has met two hooded holy friars and must confess: they are teenage hoodies (Barlow and Binefa are splendid vocal shape-shifters), and the glow of their smartphone when they attempt a selfie with the old loon has him greeting the bright light as “a blessing!”. The ultimate encounter is with a burger-shop benefactor and with a damsel in distress: an immigrant care assistant at a bus stop (Binefa again) finally realizing that if they are to help the old boy and take him home, they must join in his fantasy. It feels, at that point, oddly serious. Touring through 2015
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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MEMPHIS – Shaftesbury Theatre, WC2


“Ain’t no daytime on Beale Street, only nighttime!’ Delroy’s joint is jumping, Felicia (a glorious Beverley Knight) belting it out at the microphone. Around them, dancers hurtle and dazzle. In walks Huey (Killian Donnelly), beautifully brash and geeky in a pork-pie hat. The dancing stops, Huey wonders why. “You notice anything different?” enquires Delroy sarcastically. Yep. Everyone else is this Memphis joint in 1951 is black. The only “White folks” who call are police requiring bribes.

And there, neat as you like, is the core and the point of this fabulous musical, fresh from Broadway and done with honour and huge heart by a British cast. Joe diPietro and composer David Bryan have imagined the moment in the early ‘50s when rock and roll was born, or “stolen”, for white kids to share and adapt the wealth of black r & b and gospel. Huey is a composite of several radio DJs who championed the music to the horror of white society: the story follows his passion for R& B – “the music of my soul!” and his star-crossed love for Felicia (in Tennessee “miscegenation” was still illegal). She, played with glorious vigour and pathos by Beverley Knight, is another composite of the early black divas. Huey gets his first radio job by literally breaking in to the studio, becomes a star, gets on TV, and perilously – ultimately disastrously – tangles with a social establishment which even “up North” in New York can’t accept mixing.



But oh, how the staid white folks of the ‘50s needed the new music! Some wonderful comic moments show tidily dressed shoppers and passers-by seduced by the energy, hips suddenly starting to wiggle free beneath tight repressed little suits (“Everybody wants to be black on a Saturday niiiight!”). Even Huey’s grumpy racist-Christian mother Gladys (Clare Machin, fresh from Pajama Game and hilarious as ever) undergoes a conversion, slyly assisted by their new financial prosperity. One visit to the gospel church she once shunned , and she is ready to “Testify!!”



There are individual great numbers, both high-energy and plaintive, and Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is breathtaking. But the joy of the show – kept moving with neat transitions by director Christopher Ashley – is in its belief that energy and music and youthful goodwill can win in the end, despite time and tears. There is comedy (racism is always absurd, as are radio studios, and Mark Roper’s Mr Simmons the WHBC boss is lovely). There are brief shocking brutalities. There is an immensely moving subplot involving Gator (Tyrone Huntley) whose father’s lynching left him mute from the age of five but who finds his voice at the crisis.



Altogether, the balance and line of the story work perfectly: on Broadway, I hear the end is more downbeat; here despite Huey’s professional downfall here the explosive joy is restored, if only in the music. Fair enough: “Say a prayer that change is a-coming” doesn’t imply that it’ll be quick.
And on a personal note, let me confirm that the stiff-backed sexual horror of “good white Christian folks” at music crossing the race border rings absolutely true. In my year in a South African convent in 1962, the nuns banned Elvis records because he sang and moved in a “black” way. Cliff Richard was allowed because he sang and moved in a “white” manner. True! So I danced out singing the last chorus “Listen to the beat, hear what’s in your soul, let it make you whole! Don’t let anyone steal your rock ’n roll!”. Even nuns.



box office 020 7379 5399
to 28 March

rating : five  5 Meece Rating

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OUR TOWN – Almeida, N1




Only the dead see life clearly.  In the last strange simple minutes of this undramatic drama, half of Thornton Wilder’s citizens become their own speaking tombstones, drifting towards oblivion or eternity but roused for a moment by a new arrival’s travails . “Wasn’t Life awful?” says a voice. – “And wonderful”. chimes another.  I think a third dim voice assents: or it might be one of us, sitting round and among the action in the never-dimmed auditorium, drawn in to the humdrum wonderfulness of daily doings, marriage, work, failure, success and suicide, birthdays, bereavements. Life.

The 1938  play won a Pulitzer and broke convention: a bare floor, a couple of tables, quotidian jobs mimed, New Hampshire small-town life, hills, homes, horsepower and starlight at the start of he 20c expressed only in description by a wry, wandering stage manager; but enacted by a cast who in fragmented scenes under his direction relive routine, a wedding and a loss. David Cromer’s production – in which he is our affable onstage narrator and guide – ran in New York, but here the universality of it is underlined by the British cast with British accents. Some have cavilled at this, because of Wilders’ US idioms and references – the ‘I declare’, the ‘ma’am’s, baseball and the rest. But after a few minutes I found any awkwardness fading into complete acceptance of character and situation.

That is part of the play’s low-key brilliance, because in its slight two-hour two -interval span there are no situations which a more traditional dramatist would be bothered with. Just small – yet immense – quotidian happenings: family breakfasts, kids growing up, middle aged weary parents, awkward courtship, stifled yearnings to get out of the hometown mixed with love of it. For all its dated, anchored detail – in attitudes and mores from a century ago – it evokes Everytown, every street .

Which feels like a magic trick, or perhaps just one of those moments of piercing universal vision, when you startle yourself by seeing in a flash humanity poised in eternity, and  the littleness and immensity of life.  It feels unlikely that something so unshowy can achieve that:  even with one brief scenic coup de theatre five minutes from the end.   But it is remarkable; and so are the core performances. Cromer himself is assured, anchored, dryly funny and unselfconsciously sincere. He draws the same quality from his cast. especially Anna Francolini as Mrs Gibbs and Kate DIckie as Mrs Webb, and David Walmsley and Laura Elsworthy as the young wedded pair. Elsworthy especially  holds the final scene with mesmeric natural intensity.

box office 0207 359 4404 to To 29 november

Rating.  Four.  4 Meece Rating

Supported by Aspen , Barrow Street Theatre and Jean Doumanian

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This is fascinating: the playwright John O’Connor and Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland mark the centenary of the great man’s two fatal court appearances by dramatizing some recently disinterred transcripts. There is a great deal of dense verbatim recreation, notably in the first hour when Wilde has – rashly – brought a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry for that illiterate note accusing him of “posting as a somdomite (sic)” . When he loses and is arrested for the crime itself, the second hour reproduces what it can of the criminal trial.

So it shows Wilde in a newish light, at first fighting flippantly (with green carnation and flippant asides) for his reputation; then more soberly, broke and disgraced, his children’s very toys sold at auction, trying to keep at least his freedom. We hear his flamboyant defence of any artist to express himself in any damn way he likes, set against the prim prosecutor’s view of ‘normal’ and ‘balanced’ discourse.   And from time to time, we catch him on edge, uncertain, suddenly aware that this is going horribly wrong.

The exchanges raise wide issues: of artistic freedom, of defiant individuality – constantly he pleads his right to talk in “moods of paradox, of fun” – but also of Victorian society’s revulsion from his social mixing with the young and the louche: “feasting with panthers”. Why ply a mere valet with champagne? he is asked, and scores a rare point “What gentleman would stint his guests?”.

But it sours: exhaustingly (for Wilde) the barrister Carson reiterates not only lines from the stolen letters  – Bosie’s “slim gilt soul”, red rosepetal lips, etc, but also detailed paragraphs from The Picture of Dorian Gray. We hear the judge’s thundering absurdity about the “worst case he has ever tried” – this in an age of frequent murders and child prostitution – and the legal pomposities of “Acts of gross indecency, against the peace of our lady the Queen, her crown and dignity”. We cheer (but shudder, knowing the end) at Wildean ripostes like “Yes, I gave Alfonso a hat with a bright ribbon. But I was not responsible for the ribbon”. We respect the desperate lofty lines about pure and perfect Platonic love, but know that regarding the carnality he was pretty certainly lying on oath. Because he had to.



John Gorick plays Wilde: the right look, and an accomplished air of self-protective arrogance, but he does not quite have the ability to deepen and nuance the interpretation in this very difficult verbatim task, freeing himself only with the rare interpolations of Wilde’s letters and other writings. But maybe he should not attempt characterization too much: we are watching for history as much as for theatre. The other two players – Rupert Mason and William Kempsell – adroitly play barristers and various witnesses, Mason particularly good switching between Queensberry, Carson, a creepy comedian-cum-blackmailer, and a myopic hotel chambermaid.



It isn’t pure theatre, but has deserved its European tour, and fills an important place in the record of homosexual oppression and of one flawed, courageous, tormented and ill-starred genius.
box office 0844 871 7632 to 8 November

Rating: three   3 Meece Rating

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EAST IS EAST – Trafalgar, SW1




There is a telling moment at the end of Sam Yates’ production of Ayub Khan Din’s portrait of a Pakistani Muslim family in ‘70s Salford. Abdul, the eldest son, after a series of tragicomic brawls and conflicts, resolves to take over control from the bullying patriarch, defend his English mother and ensure that none of his siblings need marry by order or live under duress. Then over the cramped, bricky railside terrace (brilliantly realized by Tom Scutt) we hear an aeroplane. Bringing in another generation of migrants, to face the same challenges and confusions.



The play, first staged by Tamasha and subsequently a West End hit and film, is largely autobiographical: and here Khan Din himself plays the role of “George” the tyrannical father, creating alarming – often violent – authenticity with roars of “Why I tell you my business, Mrs?” at his English-born wife Ella. She is Jane Horrocks, returning to the stage with a drop-dead, pitch-perfect portrayal of long-suffering pragmatism and steely, competent maternal backbone. One son (like the author) has run off to be a hairdresser and is deemed dead (“He’s not dead, he’s in Eccles!” snaps Ella). To the rest the message is “I am your father! I don’t have to listen! You should show respect!”. Despite the cowed obedience of his children working in the family chip-shop and obeying at home, he gets nastier still when roused by his sons’ unwillingness to be married off, assaulting Ella with“Next time you talk to me like that I kill you and burn all your bastard family while you sleep!”.


It is a more uncompromising performance than anyone not directly, physically and authorially involved would dare, but Ayub Khan Din manages to infuse it with glimpses of insecurity and desperation. He is struggling for the status of what he thinks is a proper Muslim father, while loving an English wife and living in a suspicious white neighbourhood; on top of which there is the cheerfully jelloid Auntie Annie, forever off to lay out another corpse, and a pack of children bored with mosque, indifferent to Pakistan, feeling English. George is isolated.


The young cast are a joy, with lovely ensemble rowdiness: Abdul the sober worrier (Amit Shah), Maneer (Darren Kuppan) who wants to be a good Muslim, rebellious Tariq (Ashley Kumar), Saleem the art student whose father still thinks he’s doing engineering at college, and a wonderful blinking, troubled performance by Michael Karim as Sajit, the one they forgot to circumcise until his teens, who refuses to emerge from his parka hood and hides from rows in the coalshed. Among them dances Meenah (Taj Atwal) the only daughter, larkily tomboy, disgusted by being forced into a sari for the visit of the richer Shahs. That scene is a classic of social embarrassment, brilliantly done by all and culminating inevitably in the horror of Saleem’s art project. But beneath all the comedy throbs the reality: that this family can’t last in its present form, and must either revert to something alien, ancient and un-English, or fracture and lose the precious bits: the love which however erratically flows between them.



It would be a shame to take it as mere social history, a Pakistani Taste of Honey. There are modern parallels and contrasts. Much of George’s panic is fed by news bulletins about the Indo-Pakistan conflict and massacres; today plenty of immigrant communities endure similar tortures from the nightly news. Reflect too that in the mid-90s few would foresee that rather than flowering into English freedoms, too many British Muslims clench, close in, radicalize. When George roars that his daughter wears skirts “like a prostitute” Ella exasperatedly says “It’s her school uniform!”. Never would they have foreseen the burqa on the streets, the niqab defiance in British schools. Or the honour killings. Or the grooming scandals fed on contempt for white girls. East is East feels , dammit, almost cosy now.

box office 0844 871 7632 to 8 November

Rating: four   4 Meece Rating

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LOVE’S LABOUR’S WON Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford




This is actually the one we know as Much Ado About Nothing – though some nifty Shakespeareology suggests that it may have had the other title, usually thought of as a “lost” play. The doubling with Love’s Labour’s Lost (reviewed below, well worth catching them in order, and reading them in the right order might help too) was inspired by AD Gregory Doran’s theory that the witty Berowne and spirited Rosaline from LLL should get together in the end, like Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado. Hence director Luscombe’s use of the same company, the same lovely Charlecote Park set, and (not least) the way that Nigel Hess’ fine score weaves through both, moving between Crown-Imperial heroics, subtle atmospherics, and sweetly sung ballads to pastiche Edwardian tunes.



The cross-casting is not all literal (you couldn’t turn Chris McCalphy’s magnificent monosyllabic Constable Dull into a yattering Dogberry, so Nick Haverson ramps up his hectic comedy still further , to the point of mania indeed, with high-speed pomposity, verbal confusion and an unforgettable tic of outrage. As we join them in 1918, as Charlecote Park is requisitioned by the returning army. David Horovitch, still pedantic and bufferish but less absurd, is now Leonato and gives the horrified father real power in the church scene; Michelle Terry is the striding, head-girlish, scornfully witty Beatrice, who like her more delicate cousin Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) has been working as a VAD nurse. That, artfully, makes her air of cynical new toughness credible. And Edward Bennett, who was lively and fun enough as Berowne, now flowers into the most likeable, funniest and most genuinely touching Benedick since Charles Edwards’ fabulous Globe performance.



The Charlecote set comes even more into its own, as does the machinery. The stage has immense depths so that distant rooms glide forward, and far beneath the sliding floor unseen subterranean stagehands (take a bow) enable fine little rooms rooms to rise on that ever-surprising platform: a billiard-room, a boudoir , a bier, and most superbly poor Dogberry’s overcrowded scullery. It is serving as a police station, where Haverson tries to iron his shirt while interrogating, teapots get in everybody’s way, the washing-up is still in progress, and nobody can get out of the room because the towel-rail is jammed against the dishrack. Dogberry gets his foot stuck in a bowl marked DOG, which is particularly pleasing.



Once again, the anachronistic period setting serves the plot just fine: intrigues and jealousies are entirely credible in a regimental setting, all mess-dress and missed promotions. Sam Alexander is a sullenly malevolent Don John, Chris Nayak an over-willing Borachio (his remorseful moment near the end is more convincingly done than I’ve seen it, happy debut-season Mr Nayak). There’s real solemnity and horror in the church scene and the grieving; and broad, beautiful comedy in the eavesdropping. Especially the bit with Benedick and the giant Christmas tree. One of my more solemn colleagues felt that the near-electrocution moment was a bit over the top, but hey – some ideas are just too good to drop.

And that’s a moral which applies to the whole doubling, WW1-referring enterprise. So four each, but between them, they earn a fifth mouse.
box office 0844 800 1110
(and the CD is now released, both plays)
Rating: four 4 Meece Rating
and a fifth director-mouse for  the double…  Director Mouse resized

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LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon


This is the young Shakespeare: making his way, dazzling with wordplay, confecting improbable japes and charades, laughing at absurd elders, revelling in what his Lord Berowne calls “the kingly state of youth”. And in this improbable but finally triumphant treatment, Christopher Luscombe hijacks this lesser play to create one of the merriest, saddest, most unexpected centenary tributes to the 1914 generation.

He sets it in 1914, in a Simon Higlett set which is parquet-’n-portrait perfect , an artful faux-brick reconstruction of the Elizabethan manor at Charlecote Park, near Stratford. Shakespeare’s plot – in which the King of Navarre and his nobles swear a pact to fast, study and avoid the company of women for a period – fits surprisingly well with languid, earnest flannelled young Edwardians: it was, after all, the era of public school austerities, reading-parties, and cold baths to quell lust. And the lads are a delight: Sam Alexander as the slightly preachy leader, his mates Longaville (William Belchambers) and earnest Dumaine (Tunji Kasim), with Edward Bennett as the doubter Berowne, who finally agrees to sign the pact. But the Princess of France and her three gorgeous ladies are nearby, so the chaps obviously fall in love with them, and try to do their wooing without the others knowing. Light relief and confusion is added by John Hodgkinson as a comedy Spaniard with language difficulties (ramped up mercilessly with lines about “Men of Piss” ) various servants, notably a barmily rustic Nick Haverson as Costard, an even more comedy policeman Dull (Chris McCalphy, who scores two rounds of applause all for himself on his RSC debut, once for an inexplicable ballet moment) .



And there’s a wickedly mocked schoolmaster and parson, joyfully the butts of that young Shakespeare: David Horovitch is a harrumphinly, pedantically wonderful Holofernes, and Thomas Wheatley gets a particular moment as the curate which, dammit, brought tears to my eyes.


The plot – think Downton Abbey rewritten by PG Wodehouse with some terrible Elizabethan puns and sudden great poetry – is mainly driven by the men, not least when they dress up as Cossacks and attempt a Russian dance. There’s an absurd charade led by the Spaniard, and in a fabulous rooftop-eavesdropping session in Jaeger dressing-gowns which culminates in Berowne threatening to throw poor Dumaine’s teddy over the parapet. But the women get their moments too, forming a kind of white-satin-clad Girl Gang to torment their four lovers: Leah Whitaker, Michelle Terry, Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Frances McNamee sometimes moving in synchrony, sometimes breaking away to offer moments of real emotion near the end.



Which is – and this is another reason it all fits so well with 1914 – a downbeat end. In the play, the Princess of France’s father dies and they must all delay their happy endings. In the theatre – well, you only need to put the four young men in khaki, and have the civilians left behind singing to Nigel Hess’ lovely score, and you’ve made the point with gentle, appropriate sorrow. Edwardian certainties and jokes, gone forever with the kingly state of youth. Never glad confident morning again.



box office 0844 800 1110
(and the CD of speech and music is released: for this and its companion-piece, Love’s Labour’s Won, aka Much Ado. Whose review will follow tomorrow…)

Rating: four   4 Meece Rating

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GYPSY Chichester Festival Theatre


It is not often in a big musical that you remember the silences: the pin-drop, tense waits. But then, Gypsy was no run-of-the-mill musical, even in the golden age. In most shows the moment when the thwarted, ambition-crazed stage mother Rose cries “Everyone needs something impossible to hope for” should make her a feelgood heroine, a follower of her star, or at least a sad victim. Not a deluded, irresistible engine of family destruction.

But in Jonathan Kent’s superb, tense, funny and melancholy production Imelda Staunton both grips us in her headlong pursuit of showbiz fame for her children, and shakes us in those few deep silences. Her alarming stillness as she reads the letter telling her that the favoured Baby June has escaped her grip makes more violent the explosion when ,like a heat-seeking missile, she turns to her dowdier daughter Louise and cries “I made her – and I will make you!”. The audience actually gasps, even though as loving aficionados of this extraordinary chronicle, we knew that Mama Rose is about to launch into the enormous Act 1 closer, that hymn to dangerous ambition, “Everything’s coming up roses!”.



Staunton was last on this stage – and also singing Sondheim lyrics – in Kent’s equally magnificent Sweeney Todd. But that moment alone tops her Olivier-winning Mrs Lovett. She hurtles at it, jumps in frenzy, claps violently like an out-of-control clockwork toy, filling the immense theatre as if she was standing a foot in front of each of us, forcing us against our will to seek the evanescent goal of stardom. It’s like that all through: stubborn craziness veiling vulnerability, envy, fear of defeat. She is magnificent from the first moment when she erupts through the stalls clutching a terrier and harassing Uncle Jocko to give her daughters top billing . She’s all the Mama Rose that the show’s creators – Laurents and Styne and Sondheim – could have dreamed of back in 1959.


She is not its only jewel. Kent’s production is finely judged, trimmed a little of the show’s sprawl, staged with minimal fuss, the theatre’s new machinery delivering interiors for boarding-houses, dressing-rooms and atmospheric, looming backstage flies. Stephen Mear’s choreography is as witty as ever, expressing all the nuances: the half-baked performances of Mama Rose’s touring troupe, the cheerfully hopeless family ensembles with good old Herbie, and – when Lara Pulver’s gentle undervalued Louise emerges as Gypsy Rose Lee – her gradual transformation from terror to extravagantly brittle flamboyance. Pulver carries it brilliantly. As for Staunton’s own final enraged aria of thwarted ambition, the mixture of extreme foxy moves and sudden lapses into the diffident stumping of the middle-aged matron is both funny and profoundly moving.


What else? Everything, really. Kevin Whateley, beloved as Detective-Inspector Lewis, deploys his gift for intelligent rueful likeability as Herbie (and he can sing, never knew that),. As the child June at the beginning, Georgia Pemberton on first-night duty delivered some atrociously brilliant high-kicks, cartwheels and earsplittingly shrill Violet-Elizabeth-Bottery before being artfully morphed into her adult self (Gemma Sutton) by way of strobing lights and hurtling ensemble dancers. The three Act 2 burlesque strippers are pretty unforgettable too: Anita Louise Combe with some nicely dirty ballet moves (don’t sacrifice your sacro, working in the back row!) Julie Legrande with flashing tits and pubes, and Louise Gold towering muscular and ferocious in her centurion kit and bugle (“if you’re going to bump it, do it with a trumpet”).



Sorry, can’t stop quoting Sondheim lines it’s an illness. But if you can wrestle, wangle or seductively pole-dance a ticket off someone, this one’s well worth sacrificing your sacro for.

box office 01243 781312 to 8 November
rating    five 5 Meece Rating

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Oh, fabulous! Nicholas Hytner could have done lots of traditional things to launch the recreated third auditorium, the jewel of “NT Future” with its great glass walls and grand public walkway over the scenery and props shops. Instead, the Dorf rocks into life with a surging, dancing, jumping, shimmying and shimmering immersive event: joyful yet serious, youthful and historical, throwing its arms out with glee and grace.


On paper, the idea might startle: a political history of the Philippines from the 1950’s to the peaceful and long-overdue 1986 People’s Revolution which sent that corrupt, extravagant, murderously brutal couple Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos packing. It centres on Imelda herself, and started life as a concept album by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (it was first done at the NY Public Theater). All of this might suggest parallels with EVITA – another chronicle of an ordinary girl who used her beauty to marry a dictatorial leader, became obsessed with wealth and prestige, and maintained a conviction that the poor people loved her and that she loved them back, even when milking the exchequer dry. Imelda’s great cry of “Why don’t you love me?” could have been Eva Peron’s, had she lived.



But this show makes EVITA feel thoroughly old hat. It is pretty much sung-through and staged as a club night: a third of the audience on foot used as the People, on a wide and ever-changing floor down below (respeck to Times, Observer, Standard, and The Stage crits, not to mention boppin’ Baz Bamigboye of the Mail). The rest of us are galleried above, but drawn in emotionally by the racket, the wonderful catchy songs . Here Lies Love, Imelda’s anthem, stormed out by Natalie Mendoza, is tremendous, but even better is her bewildered friend Estrella (Gia Macuja Atchison) with “When she passed by”, and a solemnly beautiful lament for her son by the mother (Li-Tong Hsu) of the brave opposition leader Nino Aqino after his murder: singing how as a child he said “I wanna be a drummer” to bring people together, with the beat.



Which jerks the heart, because that is exactly what it does; this rowdy, life-affirming, fascinatingly detailed, newsreel-flashing, full-hearted tribute to a people abused and dignified and finally freed – well, nothing’s final in politics, but impressive nonetheless is the moment when the now diabolic, shrieking Imelda is drowned by helicopter sounds and the DJ – Martin Sarreal – comes down from his eyrie and quietly, with a simple guitar, sings the actual words of Filipinos on that day, with the refrain “God draws straight with crooked lines”.

And then as we wipe our eyes the ensemble dance – many Filipino in reality – dance crazily for us again. And we in the gallery slightly wish we’d opted for the floor tickets. But then I wouldn’t have had a notebook, to tell you about it properly.
Box Office 020 7452 3000 to 8 Jan
rating: four   4 Meece Rating and a Meece with mask tiny compressed salute to the new auditorium

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HENRY IV Donmar, WC1


This is epic and intimate, mischievous and macho, truthful and painful and bleak. A two-hour condensation of the Henry IV plays, set in the grim neon-lit gym of a women’s prison, is the second in Phyllida Lloyd’s trilogy of all-woman Shakespeares, in collaboration with the prison arts company Clean Break. Their Julius Caesar, I wrote last year, was one of those rare theatre moments when you feel  that something genuinely important has happened:  a seismic shift in the possible.  Harriet Walter’s Brutus shook off every preconception about gender onstage, for good.
I was not relying on Lloyd pulling off the same shock again. Bunny Christie’s original set, finessed by Ellen Nabarro (andI have seen drama in enough prison gyms to vouch for it’s authenticity) is familiar. So are the unsmiling warders ushering us in, and the motley cast of “inmates” in grey tracksuits and scraped-back hair. At first, Clare Dunne’s Irish-accented Hal failed to convince me, though I was rapidly drawn in by the gaunt commanding presence of Harriet Walter as the eponymous King, guilt-haunted Bolingbroke in a crown made of Irn-Bru cans, and by Jade Anouka as a superfit, gym-honed passionate Hotspur beating hell out of a punchbag. But we needed to know that this most macho of the History plays could, by being transposed from 15c monarchy to a women’s jail, show us something new.



It can. It did. What Lloyd achieves, with respect for the verse and a series of feinting, elegant scenic overlaps,  is a breathtaking double vision. These are women sometimes wholly being men, sometimes implying that they are women damaged by life, slyly aping male swagger and aggression. Ashley McGuire’s Falstaff is a delight: part natural-born market-stall virago, part cross-dressing parody; always carrying that quicksliver burden of wasted intelligence in Falstaff which fuels that essentially womanly speech despising male “honour” for its inability to heal wounds of war. McGuire does this alone under the pitiless searchlight, and achieves a seriousness as great as Roger Allam’s marvellous treatment of the part at the Globe.



Amother double vision flickers throughout: prisoners of circumstance and their own fallibilities, the cast’s status as inmates remind us of what Shakespeare compassionately knew – that Kings and princes, drunkards and whoremongers, like all of us, are prisoners of circumstance too: guilty anxious Henry, rebellious Hal doomed to change beneath the ‘polished perturbation’ of the crown, impulsive loyal avenging Hotspur, Falstaff in his prison of flesh and flippancy. Just as we forget they are playing prison inmates doing a play, twice quite shockingly they get too involved and the lights go up as warders rush in to break it up. Once it happens when the sexual taunting of Mistress Quickly becomes modern and explicit, and she screams with sudden real womanly revulsion “We agreed we weren’t going to do this fucking bit!”. And once again at the end, when Falstaff’s rejection meets a violent response, warders intervene as we see inmates mastered and wounded by the power of the tale they have enacted. As we all should be.

But the core moments of the play are straight, unambiguous and fine. Harriet Walter, once again, achieves depth and reality to match any of her great predecessors in the role: androgynous, gaunt, thoughtful, troubled, “Myself, mighty and to be feared”. Dunne’s Hal grows in stature, their deathbed scene together superb. Other moments startle with their virtuosity: Ann Ogbomo’s passionate Worcester, Cynthia Erivo’s mischievous Poins. It’s tremendous, a brick in theatre history. I hope they auction off the terrifying paper masks of Walters’ face which her troops wear in the battle. I’ll be bidding.



box office 0844 871 7624 to 30 Nov
Rating: five  5 Meece Rating
Sponsors: Barclays / Simmons & Simmons

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SEMINAR – Hampstead Theatre, NW3


Theresa Rebeck’s play about a creative-writing seminar in New York, directed with pace and flair by Terry Johnson, has met some sniffy reviews. Well, I may be out on my own here, but I thought it was hilarious, touching, and sharp as a tack. Maybe it doesn’t reveal any eternal truths, but then neither do creative writing classes. Perhaps it revels too joyfully in verbal pyrotechnics and has characters in danger of vanishing up their own back-references, but that too is horribly faithful to the subject-matter . Oh yes. Having published twelve novels and then stopped, and struggled through a year’s worth of overwritten literary splodge as a Booker judge, I frankly revelled in Ms Rebeck’s crueller moments. And maybe the fact that the characters are American (though home-grown actors) distances it enough to ease the pain of recognition.


The youngsters paying $5000 for ten weekly sessions include Kate, a child of affluence who after six years of writing-classes perfecting a novel about a girl obsessed with Jane Austen, remains unable to speak plainly her love for her friend Martin. He is an earnest scruff who believes that “constructing a universe out of language is a sacred and reverential act”. There’s Izzy, who plans to write sexy novels and flash her breasts on the cover, and Douglas, who has literary connections and likes to describe “the interiority of exteriority” and “trees so present, you can feel them growing”.

Enter Leonard the tutor: Roger Allam, swagger-perfect in jeans and a tormented scowl. He is a magnificently bad-tempered, pretentious bully enjoying the humiliation of the young, bragging in a style all too recognizable from Vanity Fair and New Yorker journos that he “ate cabbage with a Chechen psychopath” and received confidences from Rwandan amputees, because as a Writer he is charged with the “relevant” and can despise everyone else for being insufficiently “muscular” and unlike Kerouac. Who Izzy admires and feminist Kate despises. Lovely.



The play has no distinct message – why should it? – but for me the intertwined hostilities, subterfuges and bafflements of the five characters (and their sex lives) create a satisfying pattern. Kate (Charity Wakefield) is particularly well-drawn, furiously consuming cookie-dough and Doritos to console herself, and succumbing to silent despair as Martin (Bryan Dick) gets off with the insouciantly vampy Izzy (Rebecca Grant) . Oliver Hembrough’s Douglas is first overconfident, then flattened, then vengeful. And Allam’s great bitter peroration about the life cycle of a literary novelist is showstopping: that hit first novel, the agony of the second, the painful achievement of the third, then the decline into editing or teaching writing-classes to “overprivileged droning children” . Meanwhile the private despair, with no skin left…


It’s a memento mori for those who trap themselves in self-regarding style, vain literary ambition and terrible metaphors (“nail polish bottles like lost and terrified soldiers”). Rather than just, for God’s sake, sitting down and writing a story they want to tell. I rather loved it.

box office 0207 722 9301 to 1 November

rating: four  4 Meece Rating

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SELFIE – Ambassadors, WC1




I am usually too humble about my exiguous visual gift to dare remonstrate with designers, but in this case would plead, tears in my eyes “Ditch Basil’s Act 1 beard!”. Ragevan Vasan does his best to carry it off, huge black excrescence that it is, but the effect is not lessened by the baffling fact that the artist’s friend Harry (Dominic Grove) also has one, and in the next scene yet another character is luxuriantly black-bearded. Possibly this is to indicate that they’re all Brick Lane hipsters and fashion-followers (if you hadn’t already guessed that by the fact that a chap in a girl’s gymslip and monocle is mending a penny-farthing bike). But I am sure Oscar Wilde would have something to say about one beard being a misfortune, three carelessness…

Sorry. But it is Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” which inspires this collegiate creation by Brad Birch and the National Youth Theatre Rep company, running alongside their Macbeth in the annual, enterprising and wholly praiseworthy rep season at the Ambassadors’. Last year they did an excellent production of James Graham’s Tory Boyz, and there is never any shortage of enthusiasm and unruly budding talent. But this one doesn’t quite get there: though it is a neat idea to modernize the tale and make Dorian a young woman who has her head turned by her own beauty and gets corrupted into the modern equivalent of Wildean excess: modelling, wild-childing, illegal drugs, big money earned from celebrity and marketing.

At its core – possibly part of its very inspiration – is the promising, statuesquely tall and strikingly attractive Kate Kennedy as Dorian. Wilde’s artist Basil Hallward becomes an expert photo-shopper who beautifies people’s Facebook pictures; in her case, he has had to do nothing but light her, and treasures the remarkable result. Which, of course, in a nifty bit of projection and adjustment , appears in a screen at the back becoming harder, sourer, and eventually hideous as Dorian’s corruption develops. She becomes ever warier of her iPad as she checks it after each betrayal, seduction and murder: Kennedy carries this well, from initial naive excitement at being taken to cool parties to callousness, brittleness and final despair.

There are problems, though. One of them is that the script is mainly plonking – only occasional faintly Wildean lines like “Lovely is where you go when Beauty has exhausted you”. And “People love you. Can you imagine how profitable that is?”. Another is that in the first act the corrupter – Harry – is played so preposterously, such a manic, gropey, pawing little horror, that you can’t believe this tall beauty would follow him anywhere, let alone to a party in The Hashtag Bar.

Another is that in the second act – possibly to soak up as big a cast as possible – there is too much confusing side-plot about urban regeneration, affordable housing, and someone called Jasper going broke; and that the quite striking character of Sybil Vane’s brother (Fabian McCallum) is not used as helpfully as he could have been. On the other hand the (lesbian) seduction of Sybil herself is well done, and there is a real spinechilling thrill in creating her as a Winehouseian dark-jazz chanteuse (songs by Ellie Bryans, who plays the part with moving conviction). Stuart Wilde is good as the bastardly branding-guru who eventually – dontcha know it, this is yoof talking – gets a safe Tory seat in Parliament. And the final disintegrated face on the screen – video designs by Simon Eves – is splendidly nasty. Must give the gorgeous Ms Kennedy nightmares when she thinks about it….

box office 084 4811 2334 to 29 Nov
Rating: three   3 Meece Rating

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EVITA – Dominion Theatre, W1




In 1978 as a Today reporter the day editor hustled me off to the Prince Edward theatre where this chap Lloyd-Webber (“He did that Joseph thing, and the Jesus one”) was to open a show about Eva Peron (“some 1940s dictator’s moll”). I remember little about the tea-break interview, but as the rehearsal resumed, an immense dramatic voice thrilled through the stalls. “Who’s that?” “She’s called Elaine Paige” said the composer proudly. And so she was, and the rest is history.



Now EVITA is back up West again, honed by a national tour and a reminder of how very good Andrew Lloyd-Webber already was, even before Phantom and Cats. It’s operatic, sung-through, musically urgent , dramatically tight, and studded with tunes so wonderful that they have stuck in our heads ever since. A reminder too of what a lyricist Tim Rice has been in his prime: not a word out of place. Those of us whose romantic disasters of the ‘70s were accompanied by endless mournful singing of “Another suitcase in another hall” are patsies for it.


Having said that, the show’s an oddity. It prefigures the stubborn determination of the Lloyd-Webber who plunged recklessly into celebration of Stephen Ward and the Profumo scandal. There is certainly romance in the tale of Eva Duarte, the low-born actress who slept, wheedled, performed and battled through to be the wife of Argentina’s leader Peron and a national “saint” despite the cruelties and corruptions of their regime. But as a heroine any “dictator’s moll” is problematical, at times downright repellent; nor do many popular musicals attempt to make a big Act 2 number out of an international diplomatic mission by a leader’s wife. But hey, it’s all about the music, and that is still tremendous.


This production is co-directed by Bob Tomson and producer Bill Kenwright himself, with a new star, Maddalena Alberto. She is beyond fabulous: a voice like honey and rosewater which can rise to an acid scream, become breathy or belting, wild or caressing, always under perfect control. Can act, too: whether as the firecracker teen forcing her cabaret-hack boyfriend to take her to Buenos Aires, the ruthless discarder of lovers (flinging their suitcases and pants at them over the banisters), or the artful seducer of Peron (“I would be good for you”). Whether as steely power bitch salting away money, or returning to idealism on her early deathbed, she convinces all the way.



Actually, once the last hysteria about another divisive figure has died down and someone dares write it, this mistress of both breathy charm and ferocious blast-furnace numbers must absolutely star in “Thatcher The Musical: from Grantham To Glory”. You could even recycle Rice’s great lyric as the cream of Argentine society scorns her: “The shooting-sticks of the upper class/ Aren’t supporting a single arse / That would rise for the girl”. It is pleasing to think that the wincing ladies and snobbish generals here (beautifully choreographed) predate the 1979 Thatcher win by just one year. And then you can ironize all you like about the Falklands war…

Thus for all the vigour and tunefulness of the music, it proved impossible not to entertain wandering historic thoughts. I actually felt an (even less fair) pre-echo of another blonde people’s princess when Alberto stands in her glittering yet virginally white ballgown pledging her love of the common people in “`Don’t cry for me”.

The narrator – Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet as Che Guevara – is a bit of a problem, though his fans cheered him to the echo: the lyrics of the part need a drier, more cynical throwaway style than his over-amped, pop-starry delivery. At the start it really grates, especially next to the lovely honeyed tones of Ben Forster’s Magaldi and Matthew Cammelle’s booming bass Peron. By the second act, though, it works better. But our eyes and ears are generally on Maddalena Alberto…

box office 0845 200 7982 to 1 Nov
rating: four    4 Meece Rating

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SPEED THE PLOW Playhouse Theatre, SW1


David Mamet’s angostura sharpness is not everyone’s taste , but few playwrights have such rat-a-tat rhythm and economical impetus. And this swipe at the movie business, a three-hander in three scenes, had a success with Spacey and Goldblum a few years back, and a sensation on Broadway when Madonna took the role of the gorgeous temp who nearly overturns the settled cynicism of two producers dedicated to the simple Hollywood philosophy “get asses on seats, give ‘em the one they saw last year”.
And that’s the draw here: celebrity casting gives that role to Lindsay Lohan: once a Disney moppet, lately a fading movie performer, model, pop star, and – here’s the hook – serial addict, arrestee and rehabee, a reputedly almost “unemployable” wild-child. Creditable to defy this past with a West End debut under the usually infallible director Lindsay Posner, and it is not the toughest of ingenue roles, but all the same it would have been wiser for Lindsay the younger to do some humbler spadework on her stage skills first.

In the first act, no problem: Bob the studio producer (Richard Schiff) and Charlie his old colleague (Nigel Lindsay) are hatching a proposal to sell their boss, the invisible Ross, a prison action movie with a big star. Bob offers Karen the temp the job of doing a “courtesy read” of another book submitted. He plans – nudge nudge – to discuss it with her in his apartment. So far, frankly, an ansaphone could do Lohan’s few yes-sir lines, and she has not the skill to seem human in her reactions when the men continue their fusillade of sexual metaphor (“We’re whores!”) over her head. Schiff and Nigel Lindsay do this with high-speed brilliance, though it is hard to care much about either of these caricatures.

The middle act – between Bob and Karen – is the challenge, though it does allow Lohan to keep her hand pretty firmly on the book they are discussing and sometimes read from it. She got away with only one audible prompt. But the whole point is that she is breathtakingly pretty (tumbling hair, marvellous legs, very short tunic) and that Karen’s enthusiasm for the book requires the spouting of New Age nonsense, so if some of the words fall out backwards, who cares? . The book is called “The Bridge – Radiation, half-life and the decay of sanity” , pretentious bollocks about the end of the world, A Return To The Self and mystical roundness of life. This falls, haphazardly, from her perfect lips, accompanied by an announcement that she will sleep with the raddled old baldie as part of this whole philosophy. So here is an unsubtle middle-aged male fantasy, being ropily performed by a unsubtle tabloid scandalette. Hard to know who is exploiting whom.

The point, of course, that Bob is so overwhelmed by this available goddess that the final scene next morning is the best and funniest. Superb horror and rage erupt from Nigel Lindsay as Charlie, thwarted of his prison-movie , while the converted Bob deploys a stunned-mullet stubbornness. Embedded within it, if you care to engage with it, is the question of whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to bumble vapidly on and earn a living (Charlie “We aren’t put here to mope!”) or to take arms for some enormous wacko principle (Bob bleats “I wanted to do good!”).

It could only work if the female catalyst shone, and became hypnotically real enough to convince us – even for a few moments – that this radiation-holocaust-God-redemption stuff had any value. That doesn’t happen.
box office to 6 Dec

rating (no, can’t do it. Sorry. The men do their noble best, but…Dead Rat

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There’s a great tall door, portal of the ancient house of Atreus; a blighted tree, a votive lantern, a dusty arena. Like Greeks two thousand years ago, we are a ring of witnesses to the shattering power of unappeasable sorrow and anger.

Electra herself is a shock, from her first paces onto the dusty court before the door. Kristin Scott Thomas, free at last from all those cool sophisticated film roles, is gaunt, lank, ragged, primitive, riven with anger and grief at the murder of her father Agamemnon by his wife and her lover Aegisthus. At first you think of her as a Hamlet: grieving a father and complicatedly enraged at a mother’s sharing a bed with his murderer. But Hamlet is a fretful modern in comparison, this raw Sophoclean emotion is something different: the irredeemiable, irreconciliable pre-Christian ethic of the blood feud, the unforgiving need for “the dead to live again, draining the blood of the living”.

The violence of emotion, though, is perennial, recognizable and terrifying: Kristin Scott Thomas roams and flickers like a dusty pillar of flame, distracted , angry, explosive, hurling herself to the ground in rage or grief, a tiny figure becoming the purest human distillation of all rage and misery. She speaks of her servitude in the usurped house, but is self-enslaved by her uncompromising rage ; for her sister Chrysothemis ,obediently resigned ,steps on blooming and groomed by comparison, and recoils from the injunction to murder with the helpless words “sometimes being right is wrong” .

Frank McGuinness adaptation of the old text is strong, simple, unadorned. Peter Wight as the loyal servant is impressive, delivering the long – fictional – account of Orestes‘ death in a chariot race with the vivid intensity of a Formula One disaster report; the chorus of women underline and counterpoint the central ferocious performance of Electra herself. Ian Rickson’s direction , however, and the utter truthfulness of Scott Thomas’ performance, allow this wrought-up intensity to ease three or four times in the hundred tense minutes of the play, to something which allows almost a proper laugh, an ironic moment: Chrysothemis’ recoil, Clytemnestra’s maternal impatience, Electra’s own screams and leaps of intensity when Orestes, the lost little brother, reveals that he is alive and there to take vengeance.

Ah, Clytemnestra! Another face of the female in Sophoclean tragedy: we have the headlong passionate young women,Antigone and Electra; but also the womanly, the pragmatic: vengeful infanticidal Medea and , here, the political compromiser: the damaged weigher-up of options, who knows life must move on and hopes to evade any extremism of curse. She argues that after the killing of her daughter Iphigenia and his return with Cassandra, Agamemnon had to die. “I killed him, but I did not act alone. Justice killed him, too”.

Diana Quick gives the role a bitter humanity: she glides out of the great door at first serene and impatient, a menacing matriarch, a queen. A sleepless queen though, and a thwarted mother riven with conflict. Her exchanges with Electra are beautifully drawn: half exasperated parent, half guilty to be glad of the supposed death of her son, who if he returned would have to kill her. “You do not hate your children, no matter how they treat you”.

The story unreels: Orestes is back, blood flows offstage, and the huge door opens fully at last, gaping into darkness. A final gesture by Electra, unexpected, human and hopeless. brings a lump to the throat.

box office (0)20 7928 2651 to 20 dec
Rating: four     4 Meece Rating

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