Monthly Archives: March 2017


Something for everyone here. I like the assonance, alliteration and rhetorical flourishes in Patrick Marber’s reworking of the old Don Juan myth via Moliere. Anyone can rejoice in the antihero’s salty, splenetic updated rants against every modern annoyance, from Donald Trump to self-important vloggers. Meanwhile the simpler of mind – plenty of them sniggering away on the first night – will enjoy the prolonged , laddish comedy blow-job sequence in the first act, which left me as cold as a Russell Brand on Red Nose night.
But everyone, in harmony, can enjoy the performance of the season from David Tennant as the perennial seducer. He spins and capers and lounges, callous and languid, fey , filthy and fascinating. Here is the great seducer, the ultimate hedonist and prophet of unfettered pleasure, “ I am a child, a creature of wants”. Can’t take your eyes off him.



Tennant is an unquestionable star, one of the finest, and it is good to be reminded of that again after a few dreary weeks of him having little to do on Broadchurch beyond the interminable Big Sad Eyes shots. Luckily, most of his Dr Who fans will be just about old enough now to see him lengthily feigning orgasm from a blow-job under a sheet, while his top half is busy poetically wooing a bride whose husband he has put into a coma. Or to have a sudden serious shiver as he taunts a homeless man with a thousand pounds if he is willing to mock Allah (a beautifully dignified cameo there from Himesh Patel).



Oh yes, the modernized Don Juan is wicked all right. And irresistible with it , whether hurling his long white legs around in a romp with four “delicious slatterns”, or casually winnning back the loyalty  of his put-upon factotum Stan with a bag of chips and a spliff.   Marber directs his own play, with elegant sequences of balletic surrealism and smoke, and Tennant’s rangy elegance is beautifully complemented by Adrian Scarborough’s Stan: puglike and faithful, torn between humane disapproval of this monster and unrequited love. “The man is a slag, he’d do it with a hole in the ozone layer!”. They make a marvellous pair, and when at the end of Act 1 the fatal statue speaks, they unite in a marvellous stoned bromance , crooning and dancing in the Soho night until the dark grinding stone warning stills them.

As for the denouement, we get a tremendous moment of dissimulative acting from Tennant, and of real stilling emotion from Scarborough. Then a theatrical spectacular and some earthier violence, a blast of Don Giovanni and a disco curtain-call to celebrate cosmic justice. See? Something for everyone.
And something from everyone, too. The two stars are tremendous, but note the other pleasures: Danielle Vitalis gives an earnest, ankle-socked reality to the wronged bride Elvira, Gawn Grainger is a grumpy reproving Louis, and the smoky dances in white corsets and pants evoke the long-lost dream of louche old unsanitized Soho. And since it’s all over in just over two hours with interval, the audience can head out into a tamer London early, for aphrodisiac oysters and a wistful dream of decadence.


box office 0844 482 5120
to 10 June
rating four   4 Meece Rating


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This is a joyful thing, and it needn’t have been. There is always peril in a play you know too well from schooldays and through a score of performances – some great, some quirky, some straight, several very starry. You flinch a little at seeing it again. But I admire Joanna Carrick of Red Rose Chain, who never fails to find some edge or quirk you hadn’t thought of, whether writing a history-play about Ipswich in the age of Elizabeth I or adapting Beatrix Potter.


So I sidled along, and found Oscar Wilde’s play afresh. I really did. I had, for instance, never noticed that edge of panic in Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism when, after their stroll together, they suddenly find Cecily missing and rather than suspecting girlish mischief, think she may have followed them down the lane. What fearful impropriety were they up to? Nor had I considered sufficiently the passing horror of Jack/Ernest when in the final scene it seems momentarily likely that he might be his beloved Gwendolen’s brother, rather than cousin.

Partly it is the intimacy of this little space, played in the round, which helps; but also the note-perfect, sharp work of the young cast – especially the men, Lawrence Russell and Laurence Pears, amusingly a foot different in height and utterly distinct in character. Pears is languidly head-boyish and Russell an anxious little tyke, clearly not quite over his Victoria Station beginnings and disliking telling the tale. Pears doubles as Prism in a big skirt, Russell as a gorgeously pompous Chasuble in a vast furry clerical hat. Leonie Spilsbury is a self-assured sophisticate Gwendolen, Joanna Sawyer a giggly Cecily: again the girls are defined as sharply against each other as they could be.
Joanna Carrick herself plays Lady Bracknell, as well as directing: as ever wholly free from grandstanding, she gives us a pragmatic old bat who subtly evidences what Wilde carefully wrote in – the fact that she married into money from a lower social caste, and has to keep her end up at all times. As for “A handbag??!!”, a delicious little pause has her turning to the audience (no fourth wall in this show) with a muttered “WHAT did he say?”. The handbag itself is a splendid, very old battered leather Gladstone, a triumph for the props department.


But above all it works because Carrick has set it as a memory play ; we are three generations on, as Gwendolen’s great-great granddaughter clears the attic for sale in the late 1960’s, with old vinyl records and photos dangling from the ceiling as we arrive. The son’s girlfriend Robin arrives with a feminist banner, only to become Cecily, and remind us of how huge was that half-century’s changes. Best of all, the memory which conjures up the gay old story is that of the retiring butler, Merriman, who as we first meet the 1960’s family in their attic is being taken off, wandering a little in his wits, to a Home by his affectionate employers.



For he was, decades earlier, a 19 year old servant in the household of Cecily Cardew and remembers the momentous day, occasionally informing us of the fact and taking a bit of credit. In the part Antony Garrick, a proper veteran of the 1950’s Gielgud company and later a Rada instructor and AD of the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, is actually the director’s father. So I now see why this tiny, community-minded theatre in an often unregarded Suffolk town is so very well led, with heart and skill and gaiety.


box office 01473 603388. to 8 April
Rating four  4 Meece Rating

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Here’s the god Dionysius, deprived of his Noel-Coward smoking jacket and unconvincingly disguised as Heracles in a lion skin. He’s having a panic attack on a ferry across the Styx while a chorus of marauding frogs sings a menacing staccato and Charon the ferryman sleeps off a spliff. The frogs represent apathetic conformity – “Brek-kek-kek-kek! Brek-kek-kek-kek Whaddya care the world’s a wreck? Leave ’em alone, send ’em a check, Sit in the sun and what the heck?”. But as the God of theatre our hero is on a quest to bring back a great playwright – George BErnard Shaw of all people – to improve the world with questioning.
There are many fingers in this mad frog pie. Aristophanes, the Ancient Greek playwright who wrote, for the feast of Lenaia, about a journey into Hades to bring back the dead Euripides. Then Burt Shevelove who updated it to include SHAW and Shakespeare in debate, and Stephen Sondheim who wrote the music and lyrics, and had it performed in the unfriendly acoustic of the Yale swimming pool. Now add Nathan Lane, who fell for it as if for “a little homely rescue dog”, messed about and wrote new bits. And here it is at the ever-adventurous Jermyn.
Rarely have I been in a more Marmite show. A couple left furiously at the interval, not getting it at all: another woman rhapsodised in the interval expressing surprise that they didn’t adore it like her, then unaccountably picked up her many bags and left ten minutes in making the rest of the row stand up for her.  Me, entrancedly amused mainly by the Sondheim lyrics, I stayed and enjoyed the character of Pluto the underworld king as a leather queen with a whip, the assorted choruses, and the very funny advent of Martin DIckinson as George Bernard Shaw himself, pompous , emitting his famous epigrams and excoriating the frivolity of Shakespeare and his ‘Purple patches on borrowed rags”,.
Dionysius holds it together, the affable Michael Matus alternately alarmed, determined, and nicely gushy as the top Shaw fanboy, praising his “gravity of subject and levity of manner” , which actually describes this whole show quite nicely. The duel of quotations between Shaw and Shakespeare is wonderful, with quite the right winner.


So I enjoyed it, crazy as it is, and the music – piano, woodwind, trumpet and cello, is beautifully Sondheim, and Grace Wessels directs with cheerful speed. It feels more like a clever college romp than anything else, but it is a romp composed by a genius, an eloquent wise clown. For Sondheimites, it has the buzz. Or croak.


To 8 April. Sold out, but you never know.

RATING three 3 Meece Rating

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ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

..and also, frankly, in the stalls. Some evenings, often here at the RSC, three and a half hours pass in a flash leaving you dazed, affected and tearfully glad to have been there. Not this. After the bracing Julius Caesar, this second in the Roman season picks up – very nicely – design details like he Forum’s pillars and the statue of a lion savaging a horse now high above. Robert Innes Hopkins also creates a credible Egypt alongside it, with Cleopatra’s stiflingly exotic interiors (dig that 7ft sacred cat!) and the pillars of Alexandria remind us pleasingly of our own Needle on the Embankment. It opens with a wild masked dance and Cleo and her man rising on a platform, still a-romping, in a tangle of sheets and flowing nightwear.
So we settle contentedly to the epic tale of disastrous cross-cultural love, of Antony’s dereliction of “Roman thoughts” and the Egyptian queen’s magnetism, defeat and demise. But goodness, Iqbal Khan’s production is slow! Keeping a long text is fine, respecting the complicated politics, betrayals and battles; so is it fine to let a production relax into a few dances, fights, and drinking-bouts.



But even without Antony’s famously protracted death it feels constipatedly slow (everyone else dies briskly after one good stab, but he lasts long enough to be triple-stabbed , manhandled around and hauled up the Monument in an unlikely manner without even dripping any blood). After James Corrigan’s mesmerically fascinating Mark Antony in the last play, we now have him relegated to being Agrippa while here the Roman lover is Antony Byrne: middle-aged, thickset and powerful as a ginger-bearded bull. He bellows like one too, at times, indeed is far better in rage than in love. The other Romans are good too – especially Andrew Woodall’s rough-spoken Enobarbus. Making him a bit geezerish was a good stroke, because it gave an extra poignancy to his descriptions of Cleopatra’s magnetic and exoticism “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne..” . It is one of the few moments when you remember how lyrical the play is.
The weak spot is Cleopatra herself. Josette Simon is on her fifteenth RSC appearance, was a fine Rosaline and Isabella, is experienced, physically astonishing (tall, lithe, a fine mover). She is intelligent too, has talked of her research and reflection on the character and position of this ancient queen. An interviewer the other day, who can’t have yet seen her Cleopatra, talked of her “rare gift for stillness”.
Therefore having seen it, I can only point a trembling finger of bitter blame at the male director. Who must have lost his usual judgement and encouraged her to play it as a cross between a non-singing Eartha Kitt and everybody’s nightmare classmate, the Most Annoying Girl In The School. Oh, the writhing! The capering! The silly voices killing the lines and the meaning, the sexy, playful kittenishness which has to illustrate “O happy horse to bear the weight of Antony” by pretending to ride on Charmian. Oh, the self-absorbed one-note vamping!
In the interval, hoping to be fair, I canvassed some men as to whether this was indeed the kind of woman to whom they were drawn like moths to a flame. After a moment one said “Well… legs to die for, character to die OF”.
This hectic performance, and Byrne’s stumping solidity, means there is no credible chemistry between the lovers. Unless one makes the simple, possibly valid, assumption that every drama queen likes a thug and vice versa. In the second act, Antony finds a certain nobility (in between the bull-bellowing). And at last, at the very very last, Simon herself is allowed to deploy that gift for queenly stillness. And briefly it is moving. But after feeling one’s fingers itch for a venomous asp all evening, its arrival is, frankly, welcome.


box office to 9 Sept
rating three.   Not two, because I might be wrong about what some men fall in love with.  3 Meece Rating

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JULIUS CAESAR Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon


The trumpet sounds for the RSC’s Roman season, the mob is rowdily onstage, and the turbulent politics of 44 BC are reflected through the prism of Shakespeare’s 1599 England to throw light forward onto our own age . Dictatorships, depositions and painful realignments are always with us. Angus Jackson’s thoughtful production is visually classical: togas and breastplates, columns and flickering braziers and a tense atmospheric soundscape by Mira Calix and Carolyn Downing. But the careful, colloquial, muscular handling of the text by Jackson’s cast brings the play’s moralities and relationships harshly close, vivid and often thrilling. Too-famous lines emerge new, hard-edge and even shocking. Characters emerge individual and recognizable, and there is a timeless, sad grainy familiarity in the play’s political shape – conspiracy, assassination and messy, conflicted consequences.


Martin Hutson’s Cassius is particularly fascinating, catching the character’s lean hungry hysteria from the start as he begins to woo Alex Waldmann’s decent worried Brutus into the conspiracy gently , then explodes into passionate fury; his second-act tantrum in Brutus’ tent is nicely all of a piece with every appearance. Caesar himself, in this production, is made a more obvious swaggerer than in the last RSC production with Greg Hicks: Andrew Woodall giving him a rather Trumpish self-certainty from the start, which nicely justifies the chief conspirators’ anxiety. Brutus’ early hesitancy is sharply caught, not least in a particularly touching scene with his wife (the women don’t get much of a look-in in this play, but Hannah Morrish makes a striking Portia). Later, in the military scenes, Brutus’ bereaved despair is the more powerful for having glimpsed the reality of his marriage.


Yet most arresting of all is James Corrigan’s black-browed, faintly satanic Mark Antony . After the big brutal moment (there’s a sign outside warning us about the stabbing, as if we hadn’t guessed) Corrigan’s honest-john handshakes with the killers and faux humility before Brutus do little to prepare us for his surge of focused anger beside the corpse. As for the funeral oration, the pivot of the play, I have never heard its wickedly brilliant artfulness done with such cynical care. Corrigan never, for a minute, lets us be entirely certain of Mark Antony’s motives, and you have to love that. Brutus in comparison is a clear pool, his private griefs and resigned ending quietly moving.



The boy servant Lucius, by the way, meets such a sharp and unexpected ending in the brutality of the ending that the audience gasps in horror. Young Samuel Littell did the press night, a professional debut likeable and tuneful in the moody pre-battle scene. We were all more than relieved to see the little lad back at the curtain call.
box office to 9 Sept
rating four

4 Meece Rating

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Yetta Solomon survived the Ukrainian pogroms when Cossacks raped and murdered her family. But they didn’t get her. Ten years old in 1919 she kicked, bit , scratched. “They set dogs on us. – I bark back. I bark louder!”. In London sweatshops as a refugee she skinned rats for the East End fur trade, scavenged rubber offcuts from tram tyres and carved shoe soles and bottle stoppers, raised her boys on a market stall.  Now she will do anything to keep the family rubber business going, and the family itself together.



And when I say she’ll do anything, I mean it.  No  spoilers, but Yetta’s magnificent croneish ruthlessness doesn’t stop at  jeering at her grandson’s dream of being a hairstylist (“Leo! Nat! We got a situation!”). Nor is it just a matter of double-crossing her feuding sons in a business deal, intimidating their wives , spilling lethal information true or false to get her way, felling a knifeman with a length of rubber tubing without breaking a sweat, or just barking “what are you, a moron?” down the phone to foam cushion  clients while marking the price up.. But that is beginners’ stuff: once you really get Yetta going, major criminality is simply no problem.  Not if it’s for the family! For their own good! because she knows best, how wouldn’t she, she’s a mother,? built up the business from a market stall, you gotta work work work, what do they know?

You could say that Ryan Craig’s salty, cunningly plotted and often unbearably funny family drama is tailor-made for Hampstead , with its hinterland of a long- established, doughty, opinionated, theatrically minded Jewish diaspora. And indeed it is a Jewish play par excellence, like a hypercharged Arnold Wesker with the pathos and respectfulness stripped out. Like, indeed, Craig’s  earlier The Holy Rosenbergs at the NT, with Henry Goodman as a patriarch. It captures that survivors’ vigour, that  intense family feeling laced with struggling fury as members try to make a dash for it.

But compared to matriarch Yetta, no male has a chance.  And played by Sara Keatelman, a compact furious dynamo in a black headscarf, she is breathtaking: whenever Kestelman is offstage, away from the stock-cluttered rubber business or a tense family meal, you hold your breath. Because you know Yetta will be back any minute to upturn everything and regain supremacy. It is, so far,the performance of the year in its humour ,headlong vigour, and a subtlety which allows us to see that it is fear and memory which drives the stubbornness and manipulation.


But this is not just a niche play, reaffirming the legendary Jewish business hearth.  Set between the mid-sixties and the booming Thatcher era it slyly becomes a state-of-England play: there’s a Nigerian illegal worker and her aggrieved husband, a neo-Nazi attack, infighting between immigrant generations (“Latvians don’t buy nothing, I hope they drown in their own soup”). The aftermath of WW2 is there too, and the way that ‘thirties survival morphed into ‘sixties ambition, and then ‘eighties insouciant greed. Leo, the favoured son (Dorian Lough) is sharp and thrawn, with slick hair and an eye for girls, and was a wartime hero; slower, angry Nat (Louis Hilyer) has retreated into choleric helplessness. Yetta found a way of keeping him home on the stall. The youngest generation are divided into those wholehearted about the business, and those who absolutely are not. The second act, in which a number of revelations excitingly unbuckle the strands of plot, see some spirited fights.

There are wonderful laughs, a tremendous coup de theatre involving fire, smoke and crashings (Hampstead loves a big stage moment). And that artful unbuckling of plots includes one line to remember for months. It comes, of course, from old Yetta in the 1980’s section. It just goes “I called in a favour…”. With a shrug.  What a woman.
Box office 020 7722 9301 to 22 April
rating five   5 Meece Rating

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This is the big one, the Broadway spectacular, the one where rom-com meets top-flight ballets in more costumes than you can blink at; where dream-sequences explode into surreal immensity. Credited as “inspired by” the 1951 film with its immortal Gershwin songs and score, it follows the two struggling American artists and Paris socialite with showbiz dreams who are all in love with the same girl; but it stresses – as we more comfortably can today – the idea of a Paris and its people still shaken by years of Nazi occupation: the Jewish dancer Lise hidden by Henri’s family feeling a duty to marry him, Jerry trying to forget the day his buddy’s brains “spilled in my lap”, a massive power cut in the battered city interrupting the first joyful “I’ve got rhythm”, sudden street violence in the first number.



But the darknesses are only sporadic, and for the most part this is pure feel-fabulous Broadway . Though one couldn’t be prouder that both direction and the astonishing choreography – ballet and evocative modern and one rousing, crazy old-Hollywood tap number – lie in the hands (and feet) of our own Christopher Wheeldon of the Royal Ballet (and the NYC ballet too, but never mind that). His ability to use dance sequences for pure dramatic purpose and tension, and to break them with musical-theatre skill into moments of dialogue, is stunning, elegantly dovetailed. His gift (with the designer, and we’ll come to that) is also to lift realism into the craziest of fantasy. In the Galerie Lafayette Jerry’s love-dance goes wild, morphing the whole scene into the fantastic, but not forgetting the indignation of the shopwalkers. When Henri’s inept song-and-dance number in the jazz club turns into his glorious dream of Radio City Music Hall, it all happens before our eyes, the ensemble surging forward in tapping triumph. As for the final long ballet near the end, framed in the bright shapes of Rothko, Miro, Picasso which are echoed in the costumes, it is breathtaking.



Robert Fairchild of NYC ballet is Jerry, likeable in character and an astonishing dancer; opposite him our own Leanne Cope of the Royal Ballet as Lise, singing for the first time too, a miracle of grace. Hadyn Oakley’s Henri is fun (we are more than allowed to surmise that he is in fact gay, or as his Mum (Jane Asher, acidly funny) puts it has “romantic interests extending beyond the fairer sex”) . David Seadon-Young is a good moody Adam.



But what blows you away, scene after scene, is also the astonishing design: it’s the creation of Bob Crowley, with projection designs by 59 Productions and Natasha Katz’ lighting. Dreamily without fuss screens slide, rise and fall, swerve at angles to become Parisian streets, corners, alleys threatening or romantic; frames and blocks become paintings, bright Picasso colours; for Jerry and Lise a serene Seine unfolds; for backstage at the ballet we peer out at our seemingly mirrored conductor.. Everything is done to millimetre perfection, so that the simple rom-com tale winds through a world imbued with American romanticism, artistic yearning and Parisian elegance. It takes your breath away. Observe the diversity of mice, below…


Box Office: 02890 313 022

rating five

Set Design Mouse resizedStage Management Mouse resizedCostume design mouse resizedMusicals Mouse width fixedMusicals Mouse width fixed

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Yesterday , on her hundredth birthday, Dame Vera Lynn had her face projected on the white cliffs of Dover and a flight of Spitfires was due overhead . OK, the planes were rained off, but the thought was there. So a beautifully apt night to open a glorious – and rare – wartime Terence Rattigan play . Newsreels were projected on a retro net veil , as a goodhearted, mischievous middle-aged love story disentangled itself amid the mess of wartime moralities, rationing and the rising Leftwing idealism of the Spirit of ’45. It was a night to sigh with nostalgia and forget Article 50. Especially with the peerless, the irresistible Eve Best at its heart: an actor who can turn on a sixpence from Chekhovian despair to frothing farce, express two conflicting emotions at once and still let us laugh.

We saw a version of this play in the Rattigan centenary, small-scale at the Jermyn under the original title Less Than Kind; the author against his better knowledge messed it about and frothed it up at the request of his stars, the Lunts, and it never got very far. Now director Trevor Nunn – whose Flare Path was so stunning a couple of years back – rebuilds it to stay closer to Rattigan’s emotional strength while keeping the jokes. For  it’s a comedy all right, often howlingly funny with the drop-dead timing of Best, Anthony Head and the rest; but it has that Rattigan tang, the streak of honest agony and conflicted love which shakes the heart.

The war is nearing its end, and Olivia, widow of a struggling dentist in Barons Court, has found luxury and love with a government minister – a Canadian industrialist who builds tanks, with a touch of Beaverbrook about him. But they have refrained from troubling prim wartime moralities with a divorce to neutralise his unfaithful wife. Now Olivia’s  son is back from evacuation to Canada after four years, and a prim little lefty he is too, gorgeously evoked by young Edward Bluemel and described by the minister – Anthony Head subtle, funny and heartbreaking by turns – as “a little moral gangster with an oedipus complex”. The lad torpedoes the love affair , carrying on like a cut-price Hamlet, and motherly love takes Olivia back to lonely suburban penury. Until the day when,  assisted by a glorious twist of social politics, her young excrescence grows up a bit.



Eve Best is a marvel, whether in real pain, resignation, maternal yearning or brittle gaiety (“There’s no situation in the world that can’t be passed off with small-talk!”). Anthony Head is her match, absolutely – and a joy it is to believe utterly in the intensity of a middle-aged romance. And as his wayward wife we have Helen George: as magically, vampishly appalling as the heart could desire and yet given, with brittle gaiety, a sort of dignity of her own. Rattigan forgives a lady in his heart, he really does.

It hasn’t the extreme emotional punch of The Deep Blue Sea or Flare Path, but it is in its way a piece of perfection, especially in this careful, loving production. And there are even moments when Rattigan accidentally predicts his own nemesis John Osborne: for the frightful son Michael does seem, in sly moments, like the prototype for Jimmy Porter. Except that Rattigan insists on him growing up a bit. Anyway, it’s another Menier gem. Hurrah.
box office 020 7378 1713 to 29 April
rating five   5 Meece Rating

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MY COUNTRY Dorfman, SE1 then touring


Rufus Norris of the National Theatre is to be applauded for taking on the post-referendum mood, and making an honest stab at understanding why it happened. Last June the theatre community and its followers tended more to utter cries of horror and pour torrents of frank calumny on the 52% : dupes or xenophobes, Ukippers and racists, OMG how could they? It was (and we need a properly funny Richard Bean or James Graham play about this) a bizarre moment in social history, when the left and the Fabian-minded liberals furiously scolded the northern unemployed and the neglected rural poor for disobeying an Etonian, Tory, prime minister and big business…

This is a verbatim piece, billed as a work-in-progress and oddly selective in its regions (East Anglia forgotten, as ever). Britannia, splendidly played as a worried matriarch by Penny Layden morphing into various politicians (she does a cracking Boris), has assembled representatives of each region – Scotland, Cymru, Northeast, Northwest, Midlands, Southwest – who speak the words gathered by researchers, irrespective of gender. They then fall – an hour into the 90 minutes – into some nicely furious argument and movement.

The beginning, though, is pretty static: they state their lives, a bit of childhoods sometimes, and utter their preoccupations before moving on to the Brexit issue. There are a few nice comments which are familiar enough – one seeing the EU as like an older sibling who’s on the dole but buys you presents with money you’ve contributed to anyway, others fretting about immigration, though with the usual failure to distinguish between global influx and actual EU citizens. Unfortunately some speakers, through this selection, end up with particular characteristics: a chippy Scot, resentful Midlander, a comically smug Southerner (who’d have guessed..).



There is a lot of “if I moved to their country I’d keep their rules” and a few stupidities. And here I became uneasy. It is not free from the same flaw that made the artistically brilliant London Road hard to watch for me (and a good few others). Verbatim interviews re-created by actors, however skilfully, create a distance. Since they are usually interviews with unpractised and unguarded speakers, it is fatally easy to seem to send them up. Three or four times in this show, a line raised a laugh from the knowing NT london-liberal audience. Yet when a medley of real recordings was played at the end the voices were less likely to be ludicrous. More hesitant, real, humble.

So there’s a discomfort in the sense that ill-phrased but sincere views are being, however subtly, mocked. One critic complained that the play’s fault was that the metropolitan liberal elite wasn’t represented. Trouble is, it was: it was out there in the stalls, sniggering.


But it was worth a try, and Carol Ann Duffy’s poetic moments, spoken by Layden (who really is very good) are powerful. “I am Britannia. I am your memory, your cathedrals, schools, pubs, hospitals…your rain. I sing your thousand musics” etc. And when it becomes purely theatrical, in a big final row, the vote moment, and the astonished huddle of people who realize that bloody hell, they’ve actually done it, broken the union… then, it is striking.

It goes off on tour round the country soon. Interesting to see what the real regions make of it. I see it gets as far east as Cambridge, but once again the mystery and identity of East Anglia remain unexplored by mainstream theatre.
Box office 020 7452 3000
rating two  Touring Mouse wideTouring Mouse wide

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STEPPING OUT Vaudeville, WC2



A nice gag in Richard Harris’ 1983 play comes in some desultory chat between the ladies of the tap-dancing class. Referring to a play one of them has recommended to another the victim snaps “We didn’t even understand the interval”.


No such problem faces audiences at the Vaudeville, as Maria Friedman’s loving redirection of this gentle classic comedy poses no questions of understanding. We merely spend a couple of hours (plus wholly comprehensible interval) in the company of seven women and a lone man , amateurishly learning tap at evening class with their teacher Mavis and a grumpy middle-aged pianist. It has conflict and a dénouement, because they are preparing for a display in which mere competence is the best that can be hoped for. But it doesn’t sizzle or shock. Its heartbeat is steady.


Which is fine. Anna-Jane Casey, the most distinguished of the dancers in life as well as the show, is standing in as Mavis the leader before Tamzin Outhwaite returns from injury on 1 April, and is excellent: not least in the second act when she loses her temper (and something else). She also dazzles in a brief solo moment under dreamy lights, reminding us that this is, like many evening-class teachers, an erstwhile professional who didn’t make it out of the chorus. Amanda Holden, whose initiative this Theatre Royal Bath production originally was, is perfect as Vera, the upmarket and interfering new member – I have been enjoying watching this performer’s funny-bones develop ever more beautifully from Shrek to Cinderella. And the ensemble give us a nice mixture of shapes, incompetences (until the big brilliant finale) and streaks of personal pain. Nicola Stephenson’s wounded, anxious DSS assistant Dorothy, Sandra Marvin’s rumbustious Rose with bust-bounce problems, and Lesley Vickerage as the tense troubled Andy are particularly good. The gruff , easily-offended Irving-Berlin fan and piano-basher Mrs Fraser is the splendid Judith Barker, who twice wins exit-rounds of applause. The lone man (how rarely one writes that) is Dominic Rowan as Geoffrey: a lonely City insurance man struggling manfully with cane , hat, box-step and female teasing.



The first act is unquestionably slow, for all that the peerless Friedman direction can do with it; the second picks up humour and, gradually and with a discretion baffling until you remember it is a 34 year old play, reveals that it is not only hoofing and body image that make life tricky for these women There are some bad marriages in the background, a termination, loneliness, money worries, and the hint of a really sinister husband-and-stepdaughter relationship. A more recent play would have hammered these home harder. But the sheer enjoyableness of this sweet-hearted play and the hopefulness of the final dance, make it a more than agreeable evening.



By the way my daughter, who is cleverer than me, points out that the nearest thing it reminds her of is the achingly hip “Circle Mirror Transformation” of the Royal Court’s outreach- East-London production a couple of years ago, where participants in a drama-therapy group gradually reveal themselves . So I looked up what I wrote about that play, and it was thus:
‘“”You expect a climax, a comeuppance dreadful but dramatically inevitable. But then, overcome by their own tastefulness, such plays unsportingly refuse to provide any such thing. They peter out in a thoughtful headshake. Just like real life.”



Well, at least Stepping out doesn’t peter out thoughtfully but rises to a double dose of barnstorming, top-hole good old fashioned tapping-up-a-storm. A footshake, not a headshake. So I”ll just about give it a fourth mouse and a hug.

Box Office: 0330 333 4814 to 17 June
rating four  3 Meece RatingMusicals Mouse width fixed

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WORST WEDDING EVER Ipswich, moving to Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch


I really fell for this 2014 comedy by Chris Chibnall, writer of such dark telly stuff as Broadchurch. Not just because it is a hoot, a wickedly joyful take on the hilarity and nonsense of weddings; but because one use of theatre is to reflect us back to ourselves, with a sort of exaggerated recognition that turns the laugh right back in our faces with love.

SO here, dealing with a crisis in a middling, non-metropolitan side-street family – good grief, they may even be Brexiteers – Chibnall’s wittily written comedy hits right home. It was a joint commission by Salisbury Playhouse, the New Wolsey and the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, and I saw it at an Ipswich Saturday matinee where the audience contained at least two hen-party brides in sashes and a great many potential wedding-day Mumzillas howling with laughter. It reflected a good bit of Britain all right. A third reason is that it is not the kind of play which makes reluctant intermittent theatregoers murmur that it might as well be on the telly: there are coup-de-theatre technical surprises, lighting used surreally at times, an improbable rotating sandpit and members of a live band appearing from the ground, a shed, a Portaloo. It is, as theatre must be, an event. It’s fun to be there.

The story deals with Rachel – an extraordinarily attractive, responsive evocation of decent if battered young womanhood by Elisabeth Hopper – and her fiancé Scott, Nav Sidhu. He has a very good line in looking appalled, as well he might. Money is short, for reasons we discover late on, so they want a very basic wedding. Mum Liz – Julia Hills with a barnstormingly chirpy bossiness we all recognize – says they must have the full marquee ’n guestlist deal, so she will organize it cheap or free in the garden and a bit of waste land, assisted by her hippy-dopy dog-loving builder husband Mel – Derek Frood, very funny – and the other daughter, Alison. The latter is mid-divorce with skirts at mid-thigh (Elizabeth Cadwallader , again hilarious). Add a nerdy vicar and a self-obsessed idle brother so feckless and untidy that he “even broke Buddhists” into throwing him out in fury, and there you are.

The first act has the young couple desperately trying to wriggle out of being “wednapped” by the insistent Liz (when the groom cries “It’s my day too!” she replies briskly “Not really, but you are a welcome participant”.) The second act covers the hour before the event. There are great gags – some offstage dogs, Mel’s dubious DIY skills, Alison’s tipsy rapprochement with the vicar and indeed the groom (“I’m a good listener and an even better shag”). And despite some revelations which shade a bit too close to the melodramatic in the second half, every shock of sadness is followed by a line so funny the laughs rock the room, , and there’s a bracing moral. That, as Liz says “We’re family, and nobody comes out of a family unscathed”.

I arrived in a gloomy mood and emerged giggling, wanting only to high-five one of the be-sashed hen-party brides. I wish it had a wider run: I’ve had far worse nights in the West End.
Now at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch: Box Office 01708 443333 to 1 April
Rating five  5 Meece Rating


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One audience tweeter emerged calling James Macdonald’s fine production “exhilarating”. A wet rag after three hours’ exposure to it, I wouldn’t echo the word. More stunned than exhilarated. And anyway, Edward Albee himself wanted his work to be “ attack on the unconscious” and decried the idea of art as “pacification”. He was out to get us,. And he does.

I am a good guinea-pig for his effectiveness, since by chance it is the Albee play I have never seen (not even the Burton-Taylor film) or read. I considered reading it by way of preparation, but for the sake of experience opted to arrive as innocent as the 1962 audiences (who kept it running for 664 performances ) and the Pulitzer committee (who found it “filthy” and refused it the prize). So I got the full shock of its hideous raging vigour, its violent brilliance in an unsparing portrait of a toxic, drunken co-dependent marriage in a stiff New England academic community.
The crisis portrayed is between 2 am and dawn as Martha – the Principal’s daughter – and George, who feels a failure as writer and academic, host young newcomers Nick and Honey after a faculty party. It hit me like a truck, as it should: not least because of the explosive substance that is Imelda Staunton, firmly at its black bitter suffering heart as Martha.
There is deep cunning in the way it opens, as the couple burst in half-tipsy and quarrelling with Martha effing and blinding because her – apparently – wearily enduring klutz of a husband can’t help her remember the name of a Bette Davis film. We’ve all been there. Well, a bit. But before long George too reveals his nightmare side, as Conleth Hill’s performance ranks alongside Staunton’s in its fury and pain. Despite its classic status, I will eschew spoilers in case there are other Albee-virgins out there: but we are plunged into shocks, sudden revelations which might not be true, unspeakably painful torrents of scorn and the spectacle of the guests- Imogen Poots both fragile and hilarious, and Luke Treadaway struggling to hold on to his preppie-scientist dignity. They are drawn in to the hosts’ rackety fantasy world. It is the nadir of social hell.


The play’s gruelling brilliance is served superbly by all the cast. But then, it has to be – especially by Martha – or it would be downright unbearable. It edges towards that, but is always drawn back by the profound identification of Imelda Staunton as the damaged and desperate harridan; especially in the third exorcising act, her intensity draws out compassion and understanding. But it is still terrifying.

Albee was fighting against an enduring 1950’s stuffiness in American society (itself a reaction against the disruption of war) and attacking the safe hokey image of the perfect, indissoluble American marriage and family. It flits through one’s mind occasionally that we are now so far from taking that sort of image for granted that the play might be dated. Would not this terrible pair have torn themselves asunder today and found quieter lives? But maybe not, God help us. The play’s pitiless razor-sharp humanity is universal enough for a good shudder, anyway.


box office to 27 May
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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Some moments of modern history deserve reimagining by honest playwrights: we need to remember and reflect, shake our heads and laugh and recognize that politics is just people. It is passion and personalities, vanity and absurdity, comradeship and betrayal, faith and hope and often a distinct lack of charity. This funny, serious, timely play brings all those qualities to the forefront in 105 minutes. Steve Waters, who gave us the marvellous TEMPLE about the St Paul’s Occupy protest, turns now to the year 1981, the day after a disastrous Labour Party “special conference” at Wembley. Four of its rebels met at Dr David Owen’s kitchen table in Limehouse to see whether they could agree to form a new party. There were two MPs of shadow cabinet rank, Owen and Bill Rodgers,; the redoubtable Shirley Williams, who had lost her seat but remained on the Labour NEC; and the orotundly magisterial Roy Jenkins , once Home Secretary and now back from four agreeable years as President of the European Commission.

By early afternoon the “Gang Of Four” had drafted the Limehouse Declaration and founded the Social Democratic Party. Some Labour loyalists never forgave the defection, and blamed them for giving Mrs Thatcher a free run: by the 1990s the remnant had united with the Liberals as Lib-Dems. But it was a quixotic moment, and not for nothing does Nathalie Armin as Debbie Owen – wife, hostess, and often peacemaker through that tempestuous morning – deliver at the end a plaintive “what if?”.

The personalities are gloriously, sometimes mischievously created. Tom Goodman-Hill as Owen is a striding, short-fused impatient crusader, a doctor-knows-best column of energy still coping with a young family and insufficient sleep. Paul Chahidi as Bill Rodgers tracks a finely judged, nuanced progress from playing it plumply prattish , wincing at his bad back, humbly awed by “Woy” Jenkins, yet rising to painful sincerity in his foreboding about the people in Labour he will hurt. Debra Gillett is Shirley Williams, spry and determined and knowing her value, at one point walking out to do the World at One and threaning to derail the whole idea. The final arrival (having got lost in Shoreditch and come via Mile End) is Roger Allam, gloriously funny as Roy Jenkins: a man so used to deference that he has no idea what do do when nobody takes his coat. Within moments he is suavely deploring anyone taking “umbwage” and asking plaintively , as he reminisces on Brussels, whether Wiesling can “even be classified as a wine”. Debbie, who emerges as heroine of the play, plies him with two vintages of Chateau Lafite and takes no umbwage when he cannot manage her homely Delia Smith macaroni cheese.



The glory of this surprisingly moving play, directed by Polly Findlay at a sharp pace, is that it is no cynically hopeless Thick Of It. It does not despise politicians. It gives each of this ill-assorted quartet credit for real faith and real decisions: for caring about voters who “deplore extremes but hunger for justice”, who feel deep loyal roots in Labour but see it collapsing, who remember Attlee and the spirit of ’45 and doubt their own ability to conjure a new party out of a tasteful middle-class kitchen. People who suspect one another , too, and have come from different directions. As Owen says “Bill thinks I’m a wrecker, Shirley thinks I’m a lightweight, Roy thinks I’m Oswald Mosley..”.

But hey, they did it. It was a good try, and could hardly be more timely for the yearning leftie in any of us: again today there is an ageing and ineffective leader of the opposition, a Tory PM, Labour divided and mocked; again it ought to be the centre-left’s big moment, if only the LibDems were not obsessed with overturning the referendum. You could feel the sighs in the audience as we centre-lefties trooped out into the night, with nowhere to go.


Box Office 0844 871 7624 to
Principal sponsor: Barclays
rating: four   4 Meece Rating

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I first and last saw this play whilst at school. It was slowly and quite unforgivingly murdered by fellow sixth formers. The morbidity, fear and blood-pumping humanity of it was drained, clearing the way for a flat single-note attempt at the play’s playful side. It was a matter of heads or tails which speech or run of dialogue they would have a stab at next, so unsteady was their grasp of the text. It was hard to appreciate this is one of the best plays a person has written or an audience heard.

But this Old Vic 50th anniversary hoo-ray revival knows that Tom Stoppard offers more than just bouncy a turn of phrase and logical fireworks. Although it does have all of that as well.
Its premise – the offstage story of two of Hamlet’s minor characters – seems predisposed to intellectual fluff and literary grandstanding. But David Leveaux’s production balances the coin on its edge, giving Stoppard’s wit, but also the incredible stench of tragedy. You can see the roots of this in the casting of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Josh McGuire has the spark of a thinking-man’s sitcom lead and Daniel Radcliffe looks like death. But both do both. Each manoeuvre through the semi-automatic dialogue perfectly (and I mean that – not a single misfire) but they also allow space to let the play’s ruthlessness fester and take hold.


The perfect tragedy of two unwitting pawns, manoeuvred by events beyond their understanding to an end they have no explanation for suits these two actors beautifully. McGuire is well known on the stage for his zippy tempo and sharp delivery. But to see this collapse every now and again, revealing flickers of despair, is heartbreaking. Likewise Radcliffe’s morose Guildenstern, whipped up into a frantic and repressed fury, is wonderful.  The players are a tightly choreographed musical band of interesting freaks and the proper characters from Shakespeare’s side of the proceedings are nicely hammy.

But the over-and-above treat we don’t deserve is David Haig as The Player (the leader of the ragtag group of players who so convincingly replay Hamlet’s uncle’s crime back at him). If life is the terrible game of odds his character convinces us it is, Haig shows us most convincingly both the heads of joy and the tails of cruelty. He plays with more camp abandon than anyone else on stage, he’s slimey, mystical and oddly pervy. He has some of the best speeches and wrings out every last emotional twist.

Roll this into a double bill with the Almeida’s knock-out Hamlet up the road and not only will you feel like the cleverest person walking the earth, you’ll also be emotionally knackered.
Until 29th April
Box office 0844 871 7627
rating five   5 Meece Rating


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BANG BANG Mercury, Colchester


Farce. French farce. Feydeau farce. Fin-de-siecle farce with curly cornices and ladies in corsets. Feelings about the genre are always, for me,  mixed. You can sigh at bit in these post-stigma days at attempted infidelity being quite so compulsorily hilarious; at emotional improbabilities camouflaged by a formulaic comedy of embarrassment. You know there’ll be wardrobes, doors, beds, trousers, comedy policemen , possibly (as here) a bribeable nephew. You can feel – as I did in the last two Feydeau revivals, despite great talents from Tom Hollander, Hannah Waddingham and the like – something I glumly recorded as “a despondent sense of being trapped in a museum of bygones”.

This Mercury production is interesting, though, because Feydeau’s little-seen “La Chasse” has been reworked, and well and truly fiddled with, by no less than John Cleese. It has sparks of more modern comedy , despite an elegantly complete plasterwork-to-parquet set which becomes both the bourgeois home of the Duchotels and a love-nest apartment where Monsieur the lawyer – Oliver Cotton, in the role one suspects Cleese fancies himself in – is to meet one of his client’s wives while pretending to go hunting,. And where his wife Léontine – naturellement! – agrees on the selfsame night to a revenge bonk with Dr Moricet. Leontine is quite beautifully played by Caroline Langrishe, decently convincing in her initial stiff virtue turning to indignation and in her panic in the door-and-trouser moments, but really coming into her own in the second act when a kind of mumsy exasperation suggests an actual reality inside her marriage to the straying Duchotel. The lustful doctor os Richard Earl, Sarah Crowden makes the most of being a countess-turned concierge at the lovenest, and Jess Murphy as the maid Babette deploys sone great expressions as the maid. Whose absurd French accent gives Cleese a chance for a splendid non-Feydeau joke when a character asks “Why’s she got that funny accent?” “Must be Belgian or something..”



Indeed is interesting is that he real barks of laughter are, as often as not, provoked not by the skeleton of the old farce but the furious vigour of Cleese moments – the Doctor’s mutter of “stupid hint!” and the very un-Feyddeau “I suppose a blow-job’s out of the question?”, some brief asides like “Bit corny, isn’t it?” and a moment between Duchotel and the baffled husband Chassagne – Peter Bourke – which is pure Basil-and-Manuel. The more conventional  shrieks, hidings  under the bed etc are far less effective triggers; the philosophical musings on infidelity just plain dull. But Langrishe is a treat. Ironically, it just needs more Cleese and less Feydeau.


box office 01206 573948 to 11 March
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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ROUNDELAY Southwark Playhouse, SE1




In Arthur Schnitzler ’s LA RONDE was a scandal: a chain of sketched sexual encounters in which one of each couple moved on to a new seduction; Count, whore, soldier. and so forth. Sigmund Freud liked it though: he wrote to Schnitzler “”you have learned through intuition—though actually as a result of sensitive introspection—everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons.”
The sense of emotional understanding, at least, is reproduced in Sonja Linden’s new 90-minute version for VIsible – a company founded to make use of older professional performers.

There are seven encounters: first former spouses meet at a wedding and are tempted, then we meet one of them in old age and dementia, with her fond second husband (a wrenchingly touching moment thanks to Holly de Jong’s remarkable performance as the wife). But that husband is then awkwardly exploring whether he is drawn to a male sex worker; who we then meet with a very old bedridden widow who craves once again to feel human touch…and on it goes until the first character finds a final resolution.


All the main protagonists are in middle age or older, and the theme of continuing desire and yearning for love develops a real earnest beauty as it does on: wooing, betrayal, tactility, memory, confusion, the lure of youth, the advancing shadow of decrepitude and dementia, the perennial hope. Linden and director Anna Ledwich, however, have framed it as circus – a pun on “ronde’ – as we surround the action and are lectured , whip-cracked and threatened by a Weimaresque ringmistress in fishnets and top hat , who introduces each section as an act. And indeed between the acts some good professional work on the aerial silks is there to divert us, while the rest of the cast doa few dances and juggle-and-hoop tricks not quite as smooth as they might be.
To be honest, this presentation distracted more than it engaged me; we are all now well used to La Soiree and the paraphernalia and Weimar-wannabe cabaret style of the genre. But despite mild irritation – and the ringmistress was perfectly competent, within what was awkwardly required of her – it won me round with the very fine acting, economical scripting and a sort of firm, adult reality of character. It’s a curiosity worth seeing.


box office 0207 407 0234
rating Three  3 Meece Rating

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HAMLET Almeida, N1




We’ve had so many ‘great’ Hamlets it’s hard to either keep track or care. Cumberbatch, Peake, Kinnear, Tennant, Branagh. Older readers can summon more. But with its wit, emotional intelligence, absolute clarity of thought and execution, Andrew Scott’s shits on recent ones from a height.
The court of this Hamlet is fashionably Scandi. The clean, grey, glassy set has been ethically recycled from this theatre’s Oresteia and the Royals who populate it are exactly the kind of Cos-wearing, slender Middletons we’ve come to expect in palaces. Robert Icke –  surely the most accomplished director working – has blown the stuffiness from this too often seen play. Twice tonight – once with a fellow critic, once with a muggle – I had the conversation “have they added bits. Some of this seems very new…suspiciously fresh”.



Although there has been some clever pruning, to my ear there’s been no wholesale rewriting. Icke has instead fired up a cast with the most natural direction; the most thrillingly believable and sympathetic performances.
Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude perfectly navigates the torments and twists in logic her character demands. Laertes (Luke Thompson) is exactly the right mix of wimpish and headstrong. Ophelia – always an unconvincing turn with a descent into madness even Alton Towers would reject as ambitious – is quietly devastating;  Jessica Brown Findlay turns it round perfectly.



The entire cast (except, IF I’m being mean, ever-stodgy Angus Wright as Claudius) has this incredibly tactility. They hug, kiss, pat on the shoulder, even shake hands in the most human, un-actorish way I’ve ever seen. The result is something so un-Royal, fluid and passionate. Still moments, the kind always sped past in Shakespeares like this, are properly exploited with flesh, not just words.



Hamlet’s direction to the players could have been Icke’s own;  “in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.”



All of this, of course, falls perfectly into place because of the unfailingly watchable Andrew Scott as Hamlet. Yes, the madness suits the range we’ve already seen him exercise in Sherlock. But this has deep and sturdy emotional foundations. He matches like no actor I’ve ever seen the explosion of passions and the precision of logic Hamlet requires. He centres him, makes sense of him and picks a line, rather than giving himself to some undefined frenzy. Every line (literally – see above) sounds like I’ve never heard it before. Even the battle weary catchphrases (to be or no to be, get thee to a nunnery, alas poor Yorick) are touched up with new life. Where most Shakespearean performances veer between sounding meaningless or over-thought, Scott’s streams out like source water.

So rare, but so fortunate, that this star performance is backed up by an equally star production. If you have a dear friend with a hard to come by ticket, I’d seriously consider harming them to get it.

Until 15th April
Box Office 020 7359 4404
5 thrilled, galumphing mice.

5 Meece Rating

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