Monthly Archives: April 2017



Simon may be from the wrong side of New York, a roughneck who ties his wife Anne to a chair and tapes her mouth for being “critical” of his neighbourhood. But he does have a way with words. Encountering a playwright on the sidewalk he snarls “I have no interest in the theatre…I will not pay good money to be told that the world is a heap of shit”.

Huzzah! That’s telling the Almeida set. We titter nervously,  and suddenly everything is great. For Martin Crimp, master of the sour perspective, may veer into surrealismos about blind cab drivers,  and be served by programme-notes speckled with tags from  Kafka, Baudrillard, Egon Schiele , Uncle Tom Cobbleivich and all. But  unlike some writers of the  dark ‘n furious  persuasion, Mr Crimp knows that his job is also to be entertaining.

And so he is, in a deliciously horrid fable about the  unfeeling urban jungle , coupled with the way  that  film and TV elites exploit  real people’s stories. Especially pretty  women’s.  Since half our screen entertainment today seems to involve either memories of rape and abuse, or fictions about it accompanied by the producers’ bragging about how they interviewed real victims,  this 1993  play is well worth a revival.  Especially under Lyndsey Turner’s crisp clear direction.

So Reader, I loved it. Right from the opening  scene where Jennifer the producer,  (a fabulously avid Indira Varma) is hearing Ann’s account of her ordeal and is thrilled by the detail of the gag being shiny-backed tape because it will catch the light better “the glint of it. That’s good”.

Within the general message about urban unease and dehumanisation – blurry , threatening windscreen cityscape  projections between starkly set scenes – lies a straightforward story. Anne’s abuse by a controlling husband is colonized by Jennifer and Andrew’s film idea. The project is assisted by the money and clout of the  actor – Gary Beadle having  hellish good fun as a cocky controlling megastar -and by a fading  playwright who has written an  Edward-Bondish screenplay , rather droolingly,  about a fading artist who gets invited to live with a young couple and watch them have elaborate sex (sure I’ve seen that play somewhere).

There are numerous lines so cleverly tacky that you almost whoop with recognising laughter (“John is attracting a great deal of money to this, Anne. Your new hotel. Your clothes…” reproves Jennifer when the subject protests). There is a truly horrid burst of violence from Simon in defence of his victim-wife’s stolen reality. So the play keeps you  – if not edified – well on edge.  And if you feel unease at Ann’s quiescence about her treatment and imprisonment, at least that too is challenged with shrill feminist disapproval by her screen avatar Nicky  (Ellora Torchia) “I think that kind of passivity is totally degrading…. This”  she cries,  pointing rudely at the actual Anne ” is not MY idea of Anne “.  It reminded me of that terrible film of Mansfield Park which made Fanny Price into a feisty, whipcracking heroine so as to feed the vanity of the star or the principles of the modern-minded director.

Thus the Crimpian shudders come at you in stereo from right and left alike. And the best definition yet of corruption is  there, albeit with the playwright’s voice channelled improbably through the normally blandish Andrew:  “Corruption has three stations. The first is the loss of innocence. The second is the desire to inflict that loss on others. The third is the need to instil in others that same desire”. Brrr.

Aisling Loftus is a superb Anne, sensitive to every flickering uncertainty and pragmatic realism, and the splendid Ian Gelder gives Webb all the pathos of the faded has-been writer.   But to be honest,  the palm this time goes to Matthew Needham as Simon. His dead-eyed, needy, savage realism genuinely scared me.

box office 0207 359 4404 to 10 June

Principal Partner: Aspen
rating four

4 Meece Rating

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The recent spats at the Globe, between the now outgoing Artistic Director Emma Rice and The Powers That Be, have become uncomfortably public of late; they now seem to have spilled onto the stage, and regrettably, made a right mess. The question of sound effects, and sound equipment, was a bone of contention: the result is that Romeo and Juliet barely gets through 15 lines at a time without throbbing universal synths, yearning solo nondescript wailing, or one-size-fits-all dance music blasting (everything blasts, all the time) through the accursed /much-maligned (choose your corner) speakers. Indeed, at the Capulet ball, the entire company go into a fully choreographed version of YMCA, sung in full by Lord Capulet for no discernible reason whatsoever, bar allowing director Daniel Kramer to nick a key idea from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: Romeo and Juliet glimpsing each other through partying crowds. There must be less painful ways to achieve it. Worse, each fight scene gets the same aforesaid piece of dance music. The stage reverberates, literally, with an anger which has nothing to do with this play, and perhaps everything to do with bruised egos behind the scenes.

The larger problem with this production, however, is the insincere treatment of the play itself; everything is brash and coarse, overacting is rife, and delivery is loud, shouty and often faux hip-hop: the effect is patronising and alienating, not accessible as presumably intended, provoking misplaced laughs from a giggly tourist audience. Whenever anyone doesn’t seem to understand their lines, Kramer resorts to meaningless erotic bouncing to distract us. Even the fight scenes get dancers – presumably, in case we get bored – and although the programme lauds the fetishisation of violence, the fight choreography wouldn’t convince a tranquilised toddler, as Tybalt points a gun and says “Bang!” at Mercutio. Kramer’s vision of Romeo and Juliet, like his doubtful Tristan und Isolde in 2016, is more vague associative muddle than pioneering synthesis: a loud, incoherent Romeo and Juliet for the emotionally numb ADHD generation. It’s thoroughly disappointing, entirely unmoving, and at times actual agony to witness.

Warheads hang overhead, everyone wears black and revels in facepaint located somewhere between clown makeup and A Clockwork Orange, the Prince is a Big Brother voiceover: all derivative clichés. You can’t tell the difference between Montagues and Capulets unless you know the play really well; if you do, you can play the confetti game. Kramer has decided to reapportion some lines, and splice scenes together: Shakespeare’s script is now confetti. So, Romeo gets the Prince’s final condemnatory speech at the end, which he declaims while executing all the parents, but before he dies. The wedding is spliced into the fight with Tybalt; Tybalt’s death is spliced into Juliet’s waiting soliloquy. This wouldn’t be so bad if it added tension, or illuminated any theme; but it doesn’t. It merely mauls and maims Shakespeare’s flow of ideas.

A very few actors salvage reasonable performances from Kramer’s car crash: Blythe Duff is a genuinely believable and affecting Nurse; Golda Rosheuvel makes a nice Mercutio, with beautiful diction; Kirsty Bushell’s Juliet is appealingly vulnerable in the main, though shrill at times, and not possibly 14. Biggest disasters are the Capulets: Martina Laird just plain irritating as an exceptionally gross, incoherent Lady Capulet, Gareth Snook permanently shouting as Lord Capulet, with the result that we care for neither of them (and mainly just want them off stage fast).

Until 9 July 2017

Box office: +44 (0)20 7902 1400

Rating: one 1 Meece Rating

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FORTY YEARS ON Chichester Festival Theatre


In his 1994 diaries Alan Bennett described the funeral of a Dunkirk veteran in a village church. “crammed with the men who won the war. Young officers then, now in their sixties, good, solid, old-fashioned faces, never wavering, never doubting and singing their hearts out – “For all the Saints” “Immortal, Invisible”. It’s like Forty Years on – all that one loves and hates”.



This 1968 revue-style play, a tapestry of national memory and mockery, affectionate nostalgia and determined revolution , encapsulates exactly that conflict in the British heart. To revive it in a Brexit year, as we grasp more urgently the dangers of harking-back by the wrong people, is a canny if risky move by the theatre’s new leader Daniel Evans, who directs it himself with all the big-stage brio and playfulness he showed in Sheffield.

Risky, because it is hard to gauge how far the new generation will get its references to another era: schoolmasters uninhibited by childcare-correctness, Confirmation Classes, and legends like T.E.Lawrence and Sapper. On the other hand the WW1 centenary has re-sensitized us to both wars, so at least some history will resonate. For me, fifty years on the echoes were still all there. For newcomers , know that we become the parents and alumni watching, behind a huge posse of grey-uniformed boys, a frequently disrupted end of term play at imagined Sussex public-school, “Albion House”,: a metaphor for England itself. The retiring headmaster remembers starting on Armistice Day 1918, teaching boys who twenty years later fought in the second war. His successor-to-be the progressive Franklin has devised a series of scenes in which a posh 1940’s couple see out the second war with their old nanny in the basement of Claridge’s, remembering and lamenting their childhood Edwardian England which vanished in 1914, and their adult one which in 1945 was replaced by “a sergeant’s world, of the lay-by and the civic improvement scheme”.



So Franklin, Miss Nisbitt, Tempest and Matron and the boys zigzag through riotous sketches guyings of Wildean Edwardiana, Bloomsbury, John-Buchanesque “snobbery-with-violence”, and legendary 20c figures like Bertrand Russell and Lady Ottoline Morrell (strikingly depicted as a 10ft pantomime giantess by two puffing boys in a long frock). Between these, using diaries and poems, songs of the period and a tap-break and revealing political memoirs, the wars themselves are more soberly, movingly taken, still within the play’s odd beguiling structure. Bennett’s balance is artful: for every loopy tap-break, you get a Last Post from the gallery; for every mockery, a tribute. As the headmaster protests to Franklin “Memories are not shackles, they are garlands!”.

Except that, on the press night, that beloved line didn’t quite make it, for Richard Wilson, taking on at eighty the Headmaster’s very funny interventions and indignations, was not a hundred percent off-the-book, and made slightly more use than expected of his headmasterly stationery. Yet because he is representing just that stiff romantic old England a-dodder – it didn’t particularly matter. My own worry had been that I couldn’t able to shake off the ghost of Gielgud ’s gloriously querulous voice on the classic stage and radio version; but Wilson’s is a strong flavour himself, and I forgot it almost instantly. The odd fluff and fumble almost added to the charm.

And he is supported by not only a beautifully choreographed and flowingly vivid ensemble of boys, but by Alan Cox’s excellent Franklin and an utterly magnificent Jenny Galloway as Matron (ahh.. reminiscing about how fat legs didn’t put off men in her ATS wartime heyday). Lucy Briers is an nicely querulous Miss Nisbett and Danny Lee Wynter the master Tempest, particularly memorable as the pearl-draped, Wildean Aunt Cedelia in a bath-chair. Give that man more drag parts!



Lez Brotherston’s design excels itself too, with a full organ loft above and stone rolls of honour becoming screens with fragments of film or dates clarifying, as the play flits capriciously about, which year it is. So, even if it mystifies the young, it’s good to have it back after fifty years to watch it yearning back another fifty. The final For Sale notice on Albion House – five years before the 1973 vote – has a mischievous topicality, too:
“For Sale. A valuable site at the crossroads of the world. At present on offer to European clients. Outlying portions of the estate already disposed of to sitting tenants. Of some historical and period interest. Some alterations and improvements necessary”.
All that one loves and hates. God bless Alan Bennett.


box office 01243 781312    to 20 May

rating  Four   (the boys deserve no less)

4 Meece Rating


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London is  getting used to Ivo van Hove of Toneelgroep Amsterdam. But his tremendous A View from The Bridge (in a bleak arena)  and his striking NT Hedda (in a bleak white room) were written as plays: whereas one of his great tastes  as a director is adapting film screenplays. Not of the bubblegum family-fun variety, perish the thought: he best likes Visconti. Though the plays are made without re- watching or copying the original’s look and interpretation: rather his idea is to go right back to the screenplay and suck out the essence of it. If tonight is anything to go by, he is actually better with the comparative discipline enforced by stage plays.

But play or movie, the van Hove trademark fascination is with pressure. Put humans under increasing emotional stress and watch them wince, resist, dent and finally blow up: Eddie Carbone with a knife, Hedda with a gun. Here it’s Gino with a lorry,   plus a rubbish-hurling rage from his illicit lover Hanna. The various crises are accompanied by  exceedingly loud – and I fear rather clunkingly  obvious – music: Traviata for forbidden love, hard-rock for a brawl, French chanson for Hannah  throwing dustbins around, Woody Guthrie for Gino running away. Plus a lot of random sinister  angel choirs and some ominous silences. Especially early on, when distant cats miaow and Joseph (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) goes out and shoots them seven times. With all this racket, it is as well that the cast are heavily miked.

This tale, a  timeless one , requires the drifter Gino, an impoverished ex-soldier,  to be as the press release promises  “powerful and graceful as a puma”. So that’s a case for casting Jude Law, and puma-like indeed  he is.   Add a bored young wife in a rough roadhouse, a choleric older husband who takes Gino in to mend his lorry, and we are set for  passion and murder , remorse and disillusion and  classic betrayal and the whole stage suddenly turning into a lot of crashing waves of doom. Projections remind us of its film origins more than once: not least the remarkably sensual giant close-ups  of the skin-on-skin moments.

True to form, van Hove attempts no period or Italian  setting, but in the great bleak stage gives us a  block bar counter, a treadmill insert for Gino to keep trying to run away on, and a bath for Hannah to strip off into, and for the men to shave at in a combative manner. Oh, and  hanging overhead, ready to emit sparks, deafening engine noises and a cataclysmic oil leak , there’s a whole lorry engine which travels up and down on wires. Looming over them. The lorry is in the plot, but one darkly suspects that its suspension overhead has something symbolic to do with Sophoclean nemesis.
Halina Reijn is good as the tempestuous, changeably cautious love object, and van Aschat as Joseph convincingly patronises his wife and  belts out the Di Provenza bass aria from La Traviata shortly before getting lorry-murdered.   An  unusually helpful corpse, he then has to mop up the oil-leak mess while the guilty pair scrub one anothers’ beautiful backs. I think that’s symbolic too.

But to be honest, for all the aesthetics, the sustained Van-Hovery is as tiresome as it is inventive. So the 105-minute evening stands or falls on Jude Law alone. Fortunately, he is magnificent, and somehow snatches from the overweening directorial pretensions a genuinely felt performance of young Gino’s passion, poverty, damaged emotional confusion, baffled remorse and mournful yearning for the simplicities of the road. From his first seductive swaggering entrance, playing the mouth organ rather badly, to the obsessive need and rage and tragic grandeur of his fate Law moves through the slow, portentous interpretation like an actual human being, restrained and strong and heartfelt. Two of the mice are for him alone.



Box Office : to 20 may
then touring Vienna, Amsterdam, Luxembourg
NT Live in cinemas Thurs 11 May

rating  three 3 Meece Rating

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Full disclosure: I bought a ticket for an early preview, because press night was my husband’s birthday but I couldn’t resist checking out Christopher Hampton’s 1971 play. Not least because it is set in just the sort of donnish room that ‘60s university tutors used to inhabit, blissfully undisturbed by the outer world unless my peers were actually throwing bricks or chanting “Ho ho ho chi Minh” outside. Also Simon Callow directs, and his taste is always interesting.

So I won’t offer a star-rating, as there were six previews left and Mr Callow says it was work in progress. But it was fascinating: I hope younger audiences realize, amid the laughs, how accurately Hampton’s text catches the curious sterile élite manner of that academic cadre. Horribly funny still is their comic indifference to a larger world: barely acknowledging the murder of the entire Cabinet (creepy to have the Westminster terrorist attack just as it opened). Better still is the way he skewers the tricky epigrammatic showing-off of the dreadful star-writer Braham (Matt Berry). HE is the classic intolerable 1960s intellectual, going on about art being just like masturbation while admiring girls in long floaty frocks drape themselves at his feet. Hampton also catches the insouciant new sexual freedom brought on by the Pill: poor Philip the philologist, a man so agreeable he can’t teach Eng.Lit for fear of being critical, is the central character. Turning Moliere’s Le Misanthrope upside down, he is a man who can’t be abrasive: he’s a philologist because he just loves words, all of them! . He is in love with Celia (Charlotte Richie) but gets challenged to a bunk-up by the more voracious Araminta. The run-up to their unsatisfactory night occupies the first half; the aftermath the second.

It is in the second half that the play really begins to bite, though Callow’s cast keep it tripping along (especially Simon Bird, who is rather wonderful as the innocent Philip, indicating subtly how much of his almost inhuman niceness is fuelled by fear). Lily Cole as the vamptress Araminta, with a torrent of hair and endless white hypnotic thighs, is oddly touching: her anger when Philip admits he isn’t, er, actually attracted to her rings eerily true. “Needing to be needed” is a mark of the most voracious of our sex, or certainly was in the treacherous 1960s. Actually, the retro sexual politics depicted in this play is dynamite, when you think of it: Celia is also interesting, desiring a real man like awful Braham to overwhelm her and uninspired by decency and faithful affection. This is a ‘sixties woman, not yet happy in the new age which, thank God, was just beginning to dawn.


So as a period piece, it rang true; and Bird’s and Cole’s performances in particular left me convinced and rather sorrowful. It’s worth bringing back. And kids: if any of your tutors and peers behave like this, just remind them that they are being really, really old-fashioned. Neo-Victorian, almost.



box office to 22 July

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WHISPER HOUSE The Other Palace SW1


“When all the world’s at war, it’s better to be dead”. Pallid pessimistic ghosts roam around a lonely Maine lighthouse in WW2, with heaving sepia seas behind (Mark Holthusen’s projections are ace, atmospheric, and so is Andrew W Riley’s circular pit of a set). The two disaffected phantoms roam around  singing , between the two halves of the band, and serve as narrators, when not looming over the other dramatis personae like singing Dementors, or luring  the young hero Christopher onto the causeway to drown.

He is a doughty child (a fine debut on press night for Stanley Jarvis, sharing the role with Fisher Costello-Rose) . He has lost his airman father, his Mum is in an asylum after trying to drown herself, so he is sent to live in the lighthouse with his curmudgeonly club-footed Aunt Lily who “isn’t used to children ” . She has a dark sad secret sin in her past which the ghosts understand daily resent, and puts cod liver oil in the boy’s  porridge. The ghosts have it in for him too,  and howl in his little ears in his bed as the seagulls shriek and the waves roar, Gothically moaning in mid-market rock “If this doesn’t terrify you, it should”.


So here’s a rock-opera cross between Turn of The Screw and Silas Marner, with – as it turns out – a dash of The Go-Between. For little Christopher is a patriot, determined to do his duty and tell inconvenient truths to the simple hearted sheriff . Which is awkward, since Lily”s longtime assistant and friend is a tall, kindly Mr Yasuhiro, who before long she is ordered to give up as a potential spy an enemy alien. The friendship between the pair – gentle giant Nicholas Goh beautifully restrained, and Dianne Pilkington, gruff and enduring – is the psychologically solid anchor of the story, though needs more work in the script.
The plot thickens,  quite satisfyingly, before a dramatic U- boat bombing, fight, ghost-drowning in smoke, and a resolution happy enough to make is safe enough to bring any child old enough to see Goodnight Mr Tom.  Actually, for an early taste of rock musicals, it’d be ideal.  Tickets go down to £ 15.



That it is here at all is encouraging.  Andrew Lloyd Webber, well on a roll after the smashing School Of Rock – which he opens in workshop form – has taken over the former St James as a crucible for experimenting with new musicals, pocket shows which might grow, and unreviewed experiments. This one is more finished, and up for review, though interestingly its advertised 2 hrs 10 came in at under two hours: one suspects late cuts in Adam Lenson’s production. That makes for a briskly enjoyable evening, though the music is not particularly memorable, and themes recur in both tune and lyrics more than often enough.  The composer is Duncan Sheik, who hit awards with Sspring Awakening, the book and other lyrics by Kyle Jarrow , inspired by true wartime events and sharpened by Trumpian 21c xenophobia. There’s a ghoststory-within-a-ghoststory too, because our moaning phantoms were drowned in a yacht cursed by its owner “Solomon Snell, Ring the Bell, Too much trust is the road to Hell”. He got buried alive. Eeek.


Actually, It’s not a bad yarn, and top marks for not being a movie-echo. Needs more varied numbers, though, to develop the characters of Lily, Yasuhiro and the sheriff. Simon Bailey and Niamh Perry are fabulous as the ghosts though, every bit as petulant, resentful, threatening and glamorous as one could ask.


box office 0844 264 2121 to 27 May
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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With the horror of Syria fresh on us, and Africa’s travails with Ebola still haunting, this sombre, unforgettable treatment of Albert Camus’ LA PESTE feels urgently present. Neil Bartlett has pared down the novel’s characters to five – the central Dr Rieux played with remarkable balanced strength by Sara Powell, and alongside her Joe Alessi, Burt Caesar, Billy Postlethwaite and Martin Turner as Cottard, Grand, Rambert and Tarrou : I note that for those who know the book, but you don’t need to in order to feel the force of this 85-minute play.

Bartlett – who also directs – stages it with just five chairs and two tables, but within that simplicity all the vigour and surprise we associate with Complicité, where he began. We seem to be the audience in a sports hall (the kind of place, in modern disasters, so often turned into emergency mortuaries), and the characters, led by Dr Rieux, urgently tell the story. “Understanding what happened” is their theme. Recording, remembering, accepting its terrifying truth, recording their city’s journey through death and horror, from the time when like any modern conurbation it was “frenetic and vacant”, hardworking and businesslike and neglectful of fellow-men’s reality.


So first there were the dead rats, merely a nuisance, but soon too many to ignore: corpses underfoot. Then the infection, the bubonic swellings, the gaping agony, the medical arrangements holding good for a while but people “properly unsettled”. Then it grew to quarantine proportions with people outraged, wanting exceptions, a reporter (Postlethwaite, swaggering at first) demanding to be allowed to leave because it isn’t his city anyway. As the horror mounts, the uncoffined dead thrown desperately into pits, he changes, and resolves to stay.

The doctor, and the others, flash back into the work they did, struggles with both practicality and despair; the people begin to find even love “useless, unfit for purpose” in this terrible captivity. A sequence when, invisible, a child dies before them is agonizing. But plagues end: the aftermath is strikingly a mixture of rejoicing and blame and the one hopeful conclusion:
“There is more to admire about one’s fellow-citizens than to despise or despair of. Of course it wasn’t a victory. It is what it is: an account of some things that had to be done, and which I am sure will have to be done again…Joy is always under threat”.
The plague bacillus – whether literal, or as Camus may have equally been indicating in that postwar year , political – is only ever dormant. It will be back. But somehow, from this harsh haunting show you emerge into the bustle of East London encouraged.
Box Office: 020 7503 1646 |
to 8 May    RATING four 4 Meece Rating

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