Monthly Archives: May 2017

TWELFTH NIGHT Shakespeare’s Globe SE1


“In Love We Trust” – is the motto of the SS Unity, the ship that swiftly sinks moments into Emma Rice’s take on Twelfth Night at the Globe Theatre. Yet there is nothing to trust about love in a play where each of our hapless character’s affections are so easily and inexplicably won.



Set on a Scottish island in 1979, this Twelfth Night has all of the hallmarks that has made Rice’s tenure at the Globe so controversial, and so, well…fun. We have the music of Sister Sledge, we have sequins and we have a show-stopping performance from acclaimed cabaret performer, Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste. The whole performance is caught somewhere between campy 70s sitcom and full blown-pantomime – and it is wonderful.



As Joshua Lacey sweeps to the stage as Orsino, complete with trench coat and mullet a la John Cusack in Say Anything, there isn’t the faintest whiff of a suggestion that Rice has sought to appease her critics and opt for the more ‘traditional’ staging of the Bard that some feel is more befitting of the Globe’s unique setting – and more power to her. Fusing the 400 year old language of Shakespeare seamlessly with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is startling, amusing and just one way of freshening up an ancient comedy and giving it relevance to a younger audience. The gender fluidity in this tale feels modern and well-managed. Annette McLaughlin’s Olivia rolls her eyes and chastises herself in despair for asking Cesario ‘What is your parentage?’ toying with the source material and very much letting the audience in on the joke.



Amidst the funk of a slap bass guitar there were some indisputably outstanding performances. Of our comic performers, Marc Antolin brings the joy as Sir Andrew, sashaying around the stage, chomping on Monster Munch and exposing himself at every opportunity. Katy Owen is an inspired Malvolio – shifting ceaselessly between comic and tragic, a character who explodes before our very eyes in a burst of mad energy, to be seen wildly humping a tree in a fit of passion before ultimately giving us the play’s sincerest glimpse at poignancy.


This was a warm summer’s eve where young and old came together beneath a blue sky to find new life in the work of our most celebrated playwright. The joy of the Globe is that it is inclusive – amongst those standing or sitting there was laughter, applause and a palpable sense of participation and togetherness that is unique to this wonderful space. We shouldn’t, therefore, seek to stifle innovation in the name of historical accuracy, merely because it is in this particular theatre- it should simply be about the sheer pleasure that we find there. This play is silly, powerful and reflective in part, but above all it is a fabulous, sparkling, spectacle that demonstrates clearly that Shakespeare and his Globe is theatre for all.



Box Office – +44 (0)20 7401 9919  to 5 Aug

rating four 4 Meece Rating


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Jack Thorne’s explosive new Woyzeck brings Büchner’s unfinished working class tragedy to Berlin in 1981, with our hero a British Army private, trying to adjust to life on the German border between capitalism and communism after a hideous stint in Belfast. Strapped for cash, patronised by those in authority, and frantic to shore up his fragile new family of girlfriend and baby in the face of widespread disapproval, Woyzeck’s increasingly desperate cries for help fall on deaf ears in a cynical, hypocritical world which only wants to exploit him. Quite what happened to Woyzeck on his service in Troubles-torn Ireland, and what dark deeds he witnessed in an exceptionally traumatic childhood, tease us throughout Thorne’s version; military characters mutter about Woyzeck’s past career, Thorne brings Woyzeck’s mother onto the stage as a terrifying spectre haunting his memories and nightmares (grittily played by a compelling Nancy Carroll, also glorious as callously posh officer’s wife Maggie), and a boy actor represents Woyzeck’s childhood self, witnessing casual atrocities whose psychological impact only deepens over time.

As his mind unhinges, Woyzeck clutches desperately at hope, love and goodness, but the perennial uncertainty implicit in hope steadily drives him mad. We tread the path of insanity with him as his nightmarish insecurities take over during a medical trial; even such staunch realities as the gender of his child become bewilderingly uncertain in his increasingly surreal mindscape. Meanwhile, Thorne gives Marie’s own story more prominence and poignance, her wholehearted commitment to Woyzeck clear, making her murder a final tragedy for them both. A selection of Büchner’s characters are synthesised into Andrews (Ben Batt), Woyzeck’s charismatic comrade with an unquenchable thirst for life, especially other people’s wives. Thorne has certainly been busy: but these additions all serve to build a quiveringly taut narrative structure, full of pathos, with Woyzeck’s disintegration implicit from early on. In other words, it’s a barnstorming success.

Joe Murphy’s blistering production does full justice to Thorne’s text, with no holds barred when it comes to sex, nudity, violence and gore, yet nothing otiose either; pace is relentlessly high, tension even higher. Design by Tom Scutt communicates a brutal landscape almost sterile with constant aggression and inactivity, as menacing walls of rough insulation swoop down from the sky, alternately enclosing and exposing characters who live by definitions, by barriers, and above all by hiding what they truly are. But it is John Boyega’s astonishing Woyzeck which is the powerhouse of this piece, beginning with unassuming gentleness and sincere affection, and culminating in a truly exceptional depiction of madness. In a performance of frankly terrifying physical and psychological intensity, Boyega balances a soldier’s physical machismo with profound inner vulnerability to produce a Woyzeck both utterly lovable and undeniably frightening, ravenous for an impossible level of emotional reassurance from Marie (movingly played by Sarah Greene), and endlessly haunted by his past, always worried that the present is “too good” to stay that way for long. Woyzeck’s betrayals by the two father figures on stage, Steffan Rhodri’s nicely observed Captain Thompson and Darrell D’Silva’s delightfully creepy Doctor Martens, feel as appalling as they are inevitable. Boyega’s profoundly affecting portrayal goes to the very heart of this character, a man driven to madness and violence by a cruel world – and, crucially, by his own doomed determination to do good in it.

In such a generally slick, potent play, it’s surprising to note that we do still find the odd clumsy or under-rehearsed moment, and lines don’t always flow seamlessly; but this is nevertheless an emotionally challenging, deeply unsettling must-see.


Box office: 0844 871 7628. At The Old Vic until 24 June 2017

Rating: four

4 Meece Rating


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This cheerfully macabre celebration of Charles Addams’ famous 1930’s cartoon is off on tour: link below. I saw one of the last shows in its opening Wimbledon week, and judging by the larky atmosphere of both audience and cast the cast are having enough fun to storm very happily round the country. The moment you see Les Dennis as Uncle Fester in a bald wig and banjo, dancing in a graveyard to rouse his random ancestors – a chorus who turn out to be Tudor, Japanese, and everything between – you are swept along in its rather magnificently silly, cobwebby train.
To be honest, the story is weak (it’s basically meet-the-parents, young Wednesday wants to marry a preppy muggle) and the music is – well, it just feels like a musical. Any musical. Only one song stands out, a beautiful “Death is just around the corner” by Morticia. But the general jollity of the evening is unarguable.

Matthew White directs this UK version: the book is by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman, the lyrics and music by Andrew Lippa. Some lines are lovely in-jokes “Trapped! Like a corpse in the ground. Trapped! Like theatre in the round..” and there are some neat jokes about New York – they live in Central Park – and of course about Trump. And, of course, the dark Addamsy jokes. When the parents of the fiancé arrive (Charlotte Page daintily funny as the wife) the question “Do you have a little girls’ room?” is answered “We used to, but we let them all go”.The zombie butler Lurch is Dickon Gough, whose every move sparks gurgles of laughter;



Another focus is on the flirtatious and argumentative marriage of Gomez and Morticia – she a sinuous Samantha Womack, he a sharply comic Cameron Blakely (“Darkness and grief and unspeakable sorrow” – “Ooh I love it when you talk dirty!”. She dreams of Paris, where she wants to see the sewers. Uncle Fester has a sentimental love song to the moon, who is his ideal partner since a quarter of a million miles away is a good distance for romance: Les Dennis is the one you most warm to, and the most rounded romantic character. Which, for a chap playing ““a fat bald man of indeterminate sexuality” up against the gorgeous Womack and Carrie Hope Fletcher’s beguilding Wednesday, is not a bad result. The mainly young audience adored it. The final corpsy chorus “look into the dark and smile” does bring on that smile.

box office
Touring nationwide till 4 November
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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RICHARD III Arcola, London E8


I would not like you to think that I stalk Greg Hicks (though obviously I do: aaah, that odd strong Caesar, that agonized Leontes, that bonkers newspaper editor in CLARION…). But hearing that Mehmet Ergen had cast him as Richard III, close-up in the intimacy of the Arcola, meant a three-line whip. And there he was as we came in: sitting in a leather jacket at a bar table, ignoring us, spinning a brass miniature top, slouching and menacing. Everyone’s most feared biker badboy.

Ergen’s production is casually set, minimally propped, modern dress but with suggestions of robe or crown when we need it. The focus is on the text, served with respect and energy by all: especially Hicks, who always speaks Shakespeare as if he had just, in a fit of anger or mischief, had the thought himself. He has Richard’s irresistible wicked vigour: a painedly malicious tension, and plays him as more seriously crippled than most, dragging his lame foot by a chain to his withered arm. Often he bent almost double, head oddly averted from many of his families’ and enemies’ curses, a twisted satirical child grown monstrous. In the small space it sometimes seems a pity he does not catch our eye. But this Richard never willingly catches anybody’s.

Except by a fierce act of willpower and savagery, when he lasers in on Anne. The first test of a Richard is this: Shakespeare’s most audacious scene when he must convince us that he, misshapen and avowedly murderous, can seduce her over the very coffin of the husband he slew. This extraordinary scene, followed by the shrugfed “was ever woman In this humour won?” is particularly breathtaking in this production. Hicks’ hypnotic energy, and the sensuality in both word and fumbled gesture, is properly chilling.

But Ergen’s production is above all ensemble: a real actors’ show, glorying in the language, the violence, and evoking the perennial unease of any country fresh from wars and murders, under a weakening king (Jim Bywater is excellent – quavering, horrified, weakly blaming others for not making him prevent Clarence’s murder). In such a state nobody knows how the dice will fall. A heady neurosis hangs over every character, anxious and wary.  Each lord in turn balks at some Ricardian horror and is dispatched: from Mark Jax’ bluff Hastings to Peter Guinness’ long-serving Buckingham.

Only Catesby in his business suit and prim glasses (Matthew Sim, unnervingly a dead ringer for Lord Birt) endures to the last battle, an ice-cold functionary. Brackenbury the Tower keeper, is given an unusual gentleness by Jamie de Courcey; Paul Kemp is a poignant gentle Clarence. All serve the play, moving swiftly, too close to us for comfort, so three hours pass in alarmed fascination.

But it has to revolve around Hicks’ Richard: poisonous, sarky, sometimes hitting a one-line riposte to raise a bark of shocked laughter in the close audience, often hunched inside his private world of hollow hatred. Here is Richard the ultimate unreadable creepy uncle, baited by the cheeky boy Duke of York, who jerks him violently off his feet by his chain, rousing God knows what memories of crippled childhood in a macho world. Here is Richard sadistically preposterous in his final demand for the child Princess’ hand and womb: but also here is a Richard who, with a sudden involuntary jerk, reaches a vain hand towards the mother who has terrifyingly cursed him. His final rising fear is genuinely chilling: the hauntings on the battlefield stand quiet, free of melodrama, ruthless in the play’s flat return to moral certainty.

Box office 0207 503 1646.  To 10 June.
Rating four    4 Meece Rating

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Expatiating on the Grand Staircase of a dreary Tudor stately home (built with ironic love by designer Robert Jones) our tour guide Lettice Douffet opens with a virtuosa display of highly embroidered historical legends, growing wilder for each tour party. Felicity Kendal hurls herself through it, bright-eyed and irresistibly overdramatic, plucking ever more nonsense from the air: the gawping ensemble definitely give excellent Tourist, reappearing as a stage-army three days running in satirically diverse leisurewear. Only after her last wild flight about a tragic bride spending years mewed up “howling the wedding song specially composed by Henry Purcell” is Lettice hauled in to the Trust GHQ by the uncompromisingly stern Miss Schoen from Personnel. And sacked. And when Kendal sweeps in to her fate in a Mary Queen Of Scots full-length velvet execution gown, another piece of dream casting sees the desk of judgement occupied by Maureen Lipman in a stern tweed suit, deploying her most reproving bureaucratic staccato.



Yet after the deed is done Lotte Schoen cannot quite let go the acquaintance with this wild romancer who feels that fantasy must “rush in where facts leave a vacuum”; this storytelling self-dramatist who reckons that if an Elizabethan knight didn’t really leap fifteen stairs in one bound to catch Gloriana in his arms and feed her on swans and gilded hedgehogs, he damn well should have. So Lotte reappears, ten weeks and a slidingly ingenious scene-change later, in Lettice’s basement flat. Thence flowers one of the oddest, most beguiling buddy-stories imaginable.


The late Sir Peter Shaffer’s play is revived under Trevor Nunn in memory of his friend: it is not Shaffer’s most famous (that would be Equus – or Amadeus , so brilliantly realized now at the National Theatre. It is a curiosity, not just as an unfashionably rhetorical piece of writing, but because though nearly thirty years old it is startlingly in tune with modern defiances. For it is entirely about the friendship of two middle-aged women: eccentric women, women whose hearts and imaginations gloriously defy their plain-bread histories and single status. Indeed no mainstream play currently onstage would so triumphantly pass for the vast majority of its length the Bechdel Test: “two women talking together about something apart from a man”.


Lettice lures the seemingly stern Lotte into her world of dramatic historical romance; Lotte warms and unbends and tells her own story, with its own startling incident and deep-felt romance about the beauty of buildings and the atrocity of 1960’s architectural vandalism. Artfully Lipman, warmed by a terrifying home-made beverage of her new friend’s, regains a softer German lilt as she recalls her father’s love of lost European beauties: of Dresden.

It is a lovely duet, the two women’s natures and imaginations in contrast and counterpoint. Their talk expands Shaffer’s theme into the shrinking of the communal soul and the hunger for the beautiful and dramatic. Even if – as is generally the case with Lettice Douffet – it tips over rapidly into preposterous invention. As to the dramatic thing which seems to have happened over six months while we were out for the interval, the play is sufficiently forgotten now to prohibit detailed spoilers. Let it just be said that another startlingly unforgettable costume appears on Felicity Kendal, and that for a period Maureen Lipman’s face takes on an unwontedly sullen, grumpy, infuriated expression before lighting up – again and for good .



And that we all sail with the ladies into the mental world of Lettice , where despite the banal mere-ness of the age one may be “enlarged, enlivened, enlightened” . And warmed.
box office 0207 378 1713 to 8 July
rating four   4 Meece Rating

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The year 1632 : we are halfway through the epic conflict between Galileo Galilei and the Holy Roman Church, an authority in its day quite as ruthless as Stalin and as doctrinaire as Mao.  Our hero has wisely gone quiet for eight years after the initial exuberant stirrings of his realisation , deduced from the moons of Jupiter, that the earth does not actually lie “serene and motionless” at the heart of a universe of crystal spheres with immobile stars. No: it is one of many  spinning, orbiting worlds. What every schoolchild learns today is still for Galileo a dangerous doctrine: .the Fathers fear it will make peasants restless, destroy their sense of meaning, upset the orderly disciplines of Christendom and lead (as it did) to the Enlightenment and the age of Reason outranking Faith.


At this particular point, though, near the end of the first half of Bertold Brecht’s sprawling political fable, our hero is returning to his astronomical studies, inspired by a proof involving sunspots. His personal glee becomes ours as, to a great vibrating, deafening roar from Tom Rowland’s disco-dramatic score, we stare up mesmerised. The overhead planetarium screen, until now merely for stars or Cathedral ceilings is boiling and dazzling, the sun’s very surface a sea of golden swirling brightness…


But then comes the Inquisition, and in 1633, Galileo’s forced recantation. The moment feels horribly modern, ideology trumping demonstrable truth and reason overruled by power.
The play is intellectually and politically chewy, but despite one overlong rant near the end it should swirl any half-willing spirit along with ease. Joe Wright’s exuberant direction uses bursts of puppetry, an anarchic carnival scene, and the cast of 11 ripping round Lizzie Clachan’s circular (orbiting!) platform as 68 characters, often invading the sprawled young groundlings in the centre. The staggering projections by 59 Productions finally evolve into the heartshaking beauty of modern astronomical pictures of swirling nebulae. For a serious political play, it’s a hell of a light-show.


Glowing at its centre is the phenomenal Brendan Cowell as Galileo: burly and bearded, moving over its three hours from teacherly excitement and optimism – “People will be is a new age! ” , to incredulity at the dreadful old clerical scholars who refuse even to look through the telescope but prefer an Aristotelian “disputation” about why it can’t be true. Thence he moves into cautious depression, alleviated by his practical empathy with “craftsmen, precision toolmakers “ (Jason Barnett is particularly good as the lens-grinder). He finds renewed energy at the advent of a Pope reputed to respect science. But the sight of the “instruments” of persuasion lead to recantation . It feels, in the hollow, echoing dramatic moment Wright gives it, a real blasphemy. Finally in old age there is Galileo’s self-loathing defiance as his old pupil Andrea (an excellent Billy Howle) returns to reprove him.



It is full of ideas: about power, truth, social structures (including economics) and personal cowardice or courage. When Andrea cries in disappointment “Unhappy is the land without heroes!” the riposte is “No – unhappy is the land which NEEDS heroes”. As true today as in Brecht’s restless 1940’s. So is the core message: “If you don’t know the truth, you are an idiot. If you know it and call it a lie, you are a criminal”.



box office 020 7922 2922 to 1 July
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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A few years ago, when High School Musical and Glee were in their pomp, we were forever seeing beautiful American schoolchildren with immaculate teeth, bursting into song and overcoming life’s adversities in glaring colour and merciless cheer.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour provides the glorious antithesis: directed by Vicky Featherstone, adapted by Lee Hall from Alan Warner’s novel ‘The Sopranos’, it follows six Catholic school girls from Oban on a day trip to Edinburgh for a choir competition. Thy are warned by Sister that they are not just representing the eponymous school (nicknamed ‘The Virgin Megastore’) but also God himself. Their response? ’Let’s go fucking mental’.


What ensues is 105 straight minutes of wonderful chaos , as our girls wend their way through the pubs and clubs of Edinburgh – swearing, singing, searing with energy. At first we have the angelic choral harmonies of Mendelssohn, soon replaced by an angry and defiant burst of Jeff Lynne’s Mr Blue Sky as the school uniforms are inevitably ditched for mini skirts and fishnets as the anything-but-virtuous pupils authoritatively swagger around the set in true rock n’ roll style. It’s sneering and it’s sleazy, in marvellous fashion and Francis Mayli McCann as Kylah, in particular, gives an electrifying, caustic energy to the musical numbers.



The girls are funny – and what a joy it is to see a cast made up entirely of young, funny women. The banter and teasing are quick-witted and constant, in a way that feels almost improvised; their language is filthy. For instance Orla (Isis Hainsworth), recovering from cancer and with less sexual experience than her equally underage friends, asks Manda (Kirsty MacLaren) what jizz is. She is soon matter-of-factly informed that it is ‘just like snot, only warmer.’


Chloe Lamford’s set evokes memories of the worst worn-out British dive-bars of a certain era – a sticky tiled dance floor, inexplicable carpet and colour palette to match any childhood school disco. There is seating at bar stools at the side of the stage for some of the audience, leaving no place to hide for a hugely talented cast who are not given a single moment’s respite in an energetic performance.


The six leads are the only actors, joined by three female band members lingering in the background. The story is cleverly woven together as each cast member ducks in and out to play the motley crew of characters they encounter in their journey across the city- lecherous drunks, nuns, police officers. More to praise than to take issue with, but if there was to be any criticism it would be that the quick pace of the dialogue and static nature of the set sometimes made it hard to pick up when we were encountering a new secondary character, or indeed where we were supposed to be.

As the floor of the stage becomes more prominently coated in empty bottles, shot glasses and cigarette packets, the play fizzes with hormones and the quest for sensation. The six girls’ appetite for the moment is infectious, yet for these young women – of whom only one to aspires to university – growing into adulthood is essentially a process of losing your potential. To burn brightly seems like the most reasonable decision of all.



So for all of its humour and mischievousness, the play is ultimately lifted to a higher level by a flickering poignancy. The girls are perhaps no older than 16 and yet we see Fionnula (Dawn Sievewright) sincerely lamenting on ‘what we could have been’. Chell’s (Caroline Deyga) ‘We’ve got the rest of our lives ahead of us!’ becomes a rallying cry for self-destruction, and not an optimistic claim to a broader horizon. For Orla, death could well be part of that blind journey sooner than the others, and it’s an obstacle she’s ill-equipped to circumvent seeing losing her virginity, symbolising entry into adulthood, as a way to make it ‘all feel ok’. This tension of hopelessness and impending doom makes it more than a reversioning of St. Trinians.

box office 0844 871 7623 to 2 Sept
rating four    4 Meece Rating

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CAROLINE, OR CHANGE Minerva, Chichester


Here’s a pocket musical with huge themes, a blues opera of historic seriousness but with a singing washing-machine in a bubbled minidress. A tiny domestic upheaval opens up deep sorrow and the sharpest of human and civil rights: this intimate epic by Tony Kushner, with Jeanine Tesori’s music, wears far better than his Angels in America which occupied eight hours last week at the National.

There is apparent whimsy – the tumble-drier sings too, only more baritone and Satanic, and the radio is three foxy Supreme-alikes with aerials on their heads and a succession of fabulously tight costumes – but also real darkness. Its ending, balanced between revolution and resignation as Afro-American generations move on, is the first page of modern America. To see it with the fresh memory of the Obama White House farewells is moving.

On the face of it the story is tiny. Caroline – the redoubtable, powerful Sharon D.Clarke – is a maid, doing laundry in the hot humid Louisiana basement of a fractured family – ‘Sixteen feet down and feeling low, talkin’ to the washer and the radio!”. She has three children at home – including the rebellious, stunningly fiercely sung Emmie (Abiona Omonua) and can barely meet the rent and food. The father (Alex Gaumond) is a vague clarinettist, still grieving his dead first wife and disconnected from his 8-year-old Noah: a stunning little Daniel Luniko the night I went. He has remarried the New-York Jewish Rose (Lauren Ward) . She’s homesick for the Hudson river, and Noah dislikes her.

So the lad spends his time hanging out in the basement with the grudging, grumpy Caroline, sometimes allowed to light her one cigarette of the day for her. He has a habit of leaving his loose change in his pants pocket, and she saves it for him in the bleach cup. Until Rose, with a glorious mean-white-madam tactlessness probably all too familiar to many a Filipina here today, decides that it would both teach Noah a good Jewish lesson in the value of money and supplement the low wages she pays Caroline, if she tells the maid she can keep any coins she finds.



This system, and Caroline’s dignity, throw the whole fragile, artificial equilibrium of racism and inequality into a personal and political crisis. For it is 1963: Kennedy is dead, Luther King on the march, black America impatient. The frogs chirp at night in the damp, explosive heat: young rebels have topped the Confederate Soldier’s “Defender of the South” statue .


Under Michael Longhurst’s direction and Nigel Lilley’s musical leadership (its a substantial little orchestra) the almost through-composed score carries this domestic miniature into the huge theme of coming change: there are great blasts of blues and moments of mischievous exuberance : Emmie and two more young children pull out a stunning fantasy, assisted by Angela Caesar flying overhead as the Moon. There are moments mournful, demonic, whimsical, passionate, comic , threatening.



The gulf grows politically between the middle-aged maid- solid, enduring, unhappy and conflicted – and her fiery daughter and equally ambitious friend Dotty (“Some folks go to school at night, some folks march for civil rights!”). Another gulf is opening too, in a Hannukah scene both vigorously funny and dangerously threatening: Rose and her visiting New York parents fail to quench her firebrand grandfather (Teddy Kempner), a 1930’s Communist who thinks the negroes should give up this “non-violence nonsense” and get on with smashing capitalism for all the workers.



Yet the big themes all feed in to one point: the solid, the sorrowful, the melodious, the banked-fire unhappiness of Caroline herself, trapped in a cleft of history. The political is the personal, wonderfully so.

box office 01243 781312 to 3 june
rating four   4 Meece Rating

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THE CARDINAL Southwark Playhouse, SE1




What wonders, sir, are these? How beauteous fringe theatre is! We Tuesday matinee-goers, paying peanuts for the smaller space in an  unlovely hangar near  the Elephant, hardly deserved such riches.   We got an impeccably mischievous RSC-grade performance in a long-forgotten play, a voice from the turbulent London of Charles I rising ragingly agai, with Stephen Boxer himself in Cardinal”s robes (albeit in need of an iron). This actor, seen nicely close-up in the small room rather than across a vast Stratford arena, can be studied rewardingly as he deploys a pleasing ability to express villainy as convincingly with one furry eyebrow as with a crazed ranting fury. Around him a fine – and mainly young – cast must be inspired to what will certainly be higher things. Not least Natalie Simpson as a fiery, passionate wronged noblewoman with a vivid emotional range (the part needs it, they were starting to take women ever more seriously . Simpson’s energetically un-corset-bound  body-language brings her dizzyingly close to any modern miss appalled at being betrothed to the wrong bloke and plotting to cut loose.. And that is as it should be.


This rumbustious tale of old Navarre, unseen in London for nearly four centuries, was a victim of the closure of theatres under Cromwell. It belongs firmly to the English Protestant tradition of Wicked-Foreign-Papists plays – like Webster’s Duchess of Malfi.  And in that genre it is a cracker: taut, clear, personal rather than political, revolving round a strong woman.  It is unusual to have to avoid spoilers in a 1641 play, but since John Shirley’s  revenge tragedy hasn’t been seen – certainly in London – its Blackfriars opening after which  the puritan axe fell,  I will give little away.




Just know that the Cardinal wants the rich Duchess Rosaura to marry his warlike nephew Columbo. She prefers Don Alvarez and begs to be released from the expected marriage, and the Cardinal is not happy about that. The King (Ashley Cook) is prone to trust far too many people who let him down – possibly Mr Shirley was sucking up to Charles I here. Rosie Watt and Sophia Carr-Gomm are entertaining, and involved, companions of the Duchess; Phil Cheadle a pugnacious Hernando, who hates Columbo (Jay Saighal a turkey-cock of offended hyperactivity). Expect masked and murderous revellers, blood on a bridal robe, deceit and anger and letters , lovers betrayed, two cracking sword and dagger fights (it’s a very small space, we flinched in the front row). There’s bloodshed ,spitting, a barely thwarted rape and a poisoning so complicated it makes the end of Hamlet look straightforward.


All shall unfold before you before the last corpse gasps its last, and a storm of applause meets them all as led by the wonderful Boxer they rise from the floor to a well deserved bow. It may be theatrical archaeology, but by God it’s entertaining. Honour to Troupe, director Justin Audibert (another RSC chap) and the Southwark. With luck someone will pick up the play for a candlelit reprise at the Wanamaker. It’s made for it…



box office 020 7407 0234 to 27 May
rating four   4 Meece Rating

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ALL OUR CHILDREN Jermyn St Theatre




It is Twelfth Night, the feast of the Epiphany, 1941. In the Jermyn’s tight intimacy we are sitting in the clinical director’s office of a home for disabled and mentally incapable children: “incurables”.   We watch a series of the paediatrician’s meetings, from chill dawn light to evening candleglow , in a study beautifully evocative of old bourgeois Germany and bathed from time to time in equally evocative Bach and Mozart from the radio Dr Victor impatiently tunes away from broadcasts about Herr Goebbels.
He is ailing, coughing and weakened: his clinic is three months in to a new regime laid down by the National Socialist government. Each week a grey bus arrives (with blanked out windows to avoid distressing “hardworking families of the Third Reich” ). It collects some thirty of the inmates, between infancy and the age of 25, and takes them off to be gassed. The principle is economic: they are deemed “lebensunwurtens Leben” – lives not worth of life . The cost of their maintenance would, in the sternly pragmatic thinking of the New Germany, be better deployed on the productive citizenry,. And of course on armaments.

This is history: in the first two years of war some 100,000 disabled people were killed from such clinics. Writer-director Stephen Unwin, himself devoted father of a son with learning disabilities and chair of the national KIDS charity, infuses the awful record with a powerful and palpably personal eloquence as he imagines Victor’s encounters on a day which may move him from a depressed but helpless complicity to a dangerous moral resistance. Colin Tierney is strong in the difficult central role, not least when the doctor nerves himself to argue the case he cannot really believe; and also when, confronted by a suspicious mother of a boy already dispatched, he cracks and admits the truth.
Sometimes the author’s determination to air enough aspects of the ghastly business creates an unevenness in the hero’s psychological progress, but in the end that hardly matters. It is the meetings which strike home. There is the good motherly Catholic maidservant, Martha (Rebecca Johnson, sweetly credible) and the rather brilliantly appalling SS man Schmidt, seconded as administrative director. Edward Franklin is immaculately Nazi, with clean-cut cheekbones and a cold eye, whistling the Horst-Wessel-lied and punctilious in his Heil-Hitlers. He brings in files of names to which Victor must say “yes..yes…yes… yes…yes…No, not yet for young Karsten I think…yes..yes…No, not Edith Manstein. Really no. I heard her singing the other day…”


At this point one wonders whether the play might have had more bite if we hadn’t been told, in publicity beforehand, what is happening. But the shock is pretty good all the same. Especially when a grateful mother, the widowed Frau Pabst, brings the good doctor some stollen and enquires about her son Stefan, who it inevitably turns out was a “Yes” only last month. Lucy Speed is wonderful in the role: a tiny, bright-eyed, overalled factory worker whose Cockney humility turns into a towering, furious rage when she finally understands.



And then there is David Yelland as a pivotal historic figure in the whole story: Cardinal Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, an aristocratic Catholic prelate and fierce traditional conservative, who during that year preached strongly against the cull of disabled people and challenged the entire ideology of Nazism. He survived Hitler’s displeasure, probably because of fear of alienating the many German Catholics who could just about put up with the regime or preferred not to know. But in Unwin’s imagined encounter Galen takes on the weary Victor with immense eloquence and principle, his unassailable moral confidence battering down all the weak arguments (“all medicine is a matter of priorities..doctors are always involved in making touch choices”) like a sainted bull in a china shop.




So – while the whole theme is historically fascinating, and the character and pathos of each character is well done – it is this duel scene which gives the play proper dramatic fascination. Because what we are watching is a clash of two men: one is a hardworking functionary who is tired, ill and in mental torment and has just been spat upon by a grieving mother and threatened by his SS subordinate . The other is a well-fed, aristocratic, self-confident and bullying presence, a grandee who has been wafted here by his driver from a bishop’s palace, resplendent in a red skullcap and sash. The human instinct to feel for the hectored victim – Victor – is at odds with the plain fact that the overbearing Cardinal is absolutely right. And that is dramatically interesting and unsettling.


After a final swaggering entrance from the terrible Schmidt , voicing drunken disgust at the “blind dumb faces, drooling mouths” of the inmates and glorying in the new Reich, and a corresponding moment of good Martha as she begins to understand the horror, you emerge sober. You feel as if you’d been there, and were more than glad to be home in 2017.
box office to 3 june
4 Meece Rating

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An electrifying moment in this sharp, riveting play sees two bitter rivals, in a moment of stillness between blood-feud brawls, shaking hands. A miraculous moment, inspired by the unity of a young Muslim’s prayer, and a passionate speech about an ancient clay tablet by a naively romantic Scot. “The outlaw days are passing” he says: this land, cradle of civilization, is no longer torn by tyranny but looking for a stable democratic peace…



Ah, if only! This is Iraq, 2003. Rory Stewart (now an MP) was thirty: a Foreign Office drop-out and fascinated Arabist who had walked six thousand miles across the Middle East and Afghanistan. So fuelled by idealism about the reconstruction, he went to Baghdad after the invasion and found himself in charge of Maysan province in the South. He was to organize a democratic council to elect a local governor, himself holding the preposterous title of “Governorate co-ordinator”. But it was all preposterous: how can an unelected foreigner smoothly enforce ‘democracy’, under the protection of British tanks?

Stewart’s memoir of events in his nine months there has been carved with great clarity and drama into a gripping 100-minute play by Stephen Brown and director Simon Godwin. It is riveting, funny, depressing and inspiring by turns: an angry fragment of a history still not played out.


And it is a personal story too. Stewart (played with eerie likeness in speech and intensity by Henry Lloyd-Hughes) addresses us at the start with an apologetic “it is about the confidence of youth”. The overconfidence of the occupying Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad is expressed too, by a breezy John Mackay as Paul Bremer optimistically predicting a “multicultural decentralized democratic state”: Doubling as the Colonel on the spot, Mackay is rather sourer in tone, reluctant to let Stewart even speak to the local Islamist leader Seyyed, whose followers have just murdered six of his men.



He looks with more favour on Seyyed’s more liberal-minded rival, Karim , a Marsh Arab leader and on the face of it more democratically minded and less fanatical. Both rivals fought hard against Saddam, but hate one another with deep sincerity. Stewart must bring them together. And , ideally, not to get them both falling on him with cries of “capitalist imperialist crusader!”, provoking riots in the square and tribalist murders. Even putting the Council together is like getting scorpions to dance a highland reel, or as Stewart says “the table plan for the world’s most awkward wedding”. Every scene has its shocks (and, occasionally, black laughs).

It is played out against a sparse, evocative Paul Wills design of sliding concrete walls, indicating the stern makeshift of a battered land where even getting the electricity and water to work is a fragile triumph. Wonderful performances crackle through it: Silas Carson as Karim, initial dignity blooming dangerously into arrogance, Johndeep More’s stubbornly devout Seyyed, Aiyisha Hart representing the few women who tried to step forward. Abu Rashid, ally of Karim, is Vincent Ebrahim, who doubles as Professor Khaled, an exasperatedly pessimistic non-aligned museum historian of Iraq’s 5000 years. And there is a particularly subtle, touching performance by Nezar Alderazi as Ahmed, trying to assist the impossible process.

It did prove pretty impossible. As the Colonel says, exasperated by Rory’s arrival “You say these people want democracy? They want to be not fucking dead!”. Many more of them were dead before the chaos abated, and what they got was not a multicultural tolerant democracy, but today’s stern brutal Islamism.

But whatever you think of the invasion with hindsight, the Colonel’s last words to Stewart feel right. “Forgive yourself. You should be proud”. Certainly proud of giving us this account, and letting it be staged. An account from a pariticipant, rather than just journalists and polemicists, is useful. And the question echoes in our ears as we leave: what’d we do another time in a collapsing country? “Sit and watch as they blow each other into bonemeal?” Or try to reconstruct?
Box office 020 7722 9301 to 3 June

RATING  four 4 Meece Rating

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Direct comparisons are dangerous, even when – as this week – two consecutive days see major works opening in London, both set in the 1980s and concerned with nation, ancestry and internal division. Butterworth’s magnificent THE FERRYMAN last night showed a Northern Ireland divided in the age of hardline Thatcherism; this NT revival under Marianne Elliott’s direction is of Tony Kushner’s Reagan-era howl of liberal dismay, combined with a threnody for gay men’s victimised alienation in the dawning of AIDS.

So there are parallels. But it is hard, after the fizzing warm naturalism of Butterworth’s farm-kitchen, to bond immediately with Kushner’s often self-conscious wordiness. His characters are sometimes almost Shavian in their  reluctance to stop gnawing repetitively over every socio-political bone. The play’s odd pacing jars too : there is really no need for two intervals, as Ian MacNeil’s setting of revolving roomlets needs no fussy resetting (indeed in the last acts the set does its own tricks, spectacularly). But the double interval breaks up an already episodic play, making it feel oddly more dated than it need be.



It need not, because in the age of Trump the echoes are useful. Kushner uses the real Republican lawyer and keen McCarthyite homophobe Roy M. Cohn as a key character, weaving in and out of the lives of two fictional couples. And when as Cohn Nathan Lane – always a treat! – breaks out into roars of contempt for legality (“Law is pliable! What the fuck is, this, Sunday school? This is enzymes, bloodshed, politics!”) you sense a proto- Trump. There’s the same contempt, the bending of truth, the same dismaying but almost attractive jollity of energy. Though there is no jollity when Denise Gough – normally rather wasted as the disturbed, depressed housewife Harper Pitt – slimes onstage crossdressed in a sharp suit as the Reagan insider Heller.



That sense of a runaway, opportunistically religious political right shouting for “the end of liberalism, of ipso facto secular humanism” is topical. The gay angst at the play’s heart is less so, thank heavens, but it is worth remembering that first terror of AIDS, and the sudden, sometimes unmeetable, duty on young healthy men to become carers for disintegrating lovers. Not to mention the fear of coming out at all, for fear of being branded a danger to society and probably a Commie.



But a play must work on an emotional level too, and here it is fitful. Kushner does fatally over-write, though there are treasurable lines: Jewish Louis’ at a funeral moaning “I always get so closety at these family things” , his dying lover Prior’s “You know you’ve hit rock bottom when drag is a drag”. Or Susan Brown’s Mormon Mum Hannah, losing patience asking for street directions from a rambling homeless woman : “I’m sorry you’re psychotic, but just make the effort!”. There are some tremendous short scenes, too, which keep it moving. Even though caring deeply about these people is harder than it should be.



Some do at moments touch the heart. Russell Tovey’s anguished Mormon Joe is restrainedly moving in his pious, panicked denial of his nature, fascinated from childhood with a picture of Jacob wrestling with a particularly buff angel. James McArdle is Louis, who can’t bring himself to stay with his sick lover, and is at his best in a scene delivering Kushner’s satirically observed paranoid-liberal-Jewish ramblings about racism to the patient, irritated Belize: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the most sympathetic character, an Afro-American nurse and drag queen. Indeed Stewart-Jarrett, fondly tending the dying deserted Prior, is one of the standout stars of the play.

The other is Prior Walter himself, its dying centre: camp but movingly gallant, it’s a humorous, suffering and boyishly open-hearted performance by Andrew Garfield. He is perfect, from the first jokey awareness that the curse has come upon him to the extraordinary near-death hallucination scenes where he is greeted by a 15c ancestor (broad Yorkshire, earthy, grumpy) and a 17c forebear ( Nathan Lane again , flouncing for England this time in a curly periwig). It is hard to play princessy-queeny with so much real, mortal feeling beneath it. Garfield achieves that.

box office 020 7452 3000   to 19 August
Rating for MILLENNIUM APPROACHES : four  4 Meece Rating

Afterword`: regarding PERESTROIKA

It was for critics a two-show day, but I must leave star-ratings and final analysis of this second one to an (angelic?) host of colleagues online and in print. For 95 minutes in, the first interval found me hosting a sweating temperature and spinning head (no fault of the production) so the mice and I had to bail out for everyone’s sake. Nothing spoils a retro “gay fantasy on national themes” like women keeling over in the stalls.
So here’s what I can report for theatrecatters:
Those who know PERESTROIKA, the sequel to the above, will remember that we meet again the same characters, who gradually grope towards personal and political reconciliation, albeit by way of a some ornately written dream-sequence mystico-bollocks involving a multiple-vaginaed angel seducing the still-dying Prior, and a wrenching separation for Louis and Mormon Joe because it transpires that a whiny New York Jewish liberal can never quite get along with a Reaganite, however luscious.
I can confidently report, though, from seeing the long first act that production and design do it even prouder this time, with acrobatic Finn Caldwell puppetry making a sinister angel of Amanda Lawrence, and Tovey becoming a Mormon-visitor-centre diorama puppet. And also note that for anybody with a taste for magnificently villainous invective there is the AIDS-stricken Cohn in a hospital bed now, outraged by only having one phone line, selfishly hoarding AZT. Glad I didn’t miss Nathan Lane splenetically informing the other Nathan – Stewart-Jarrett as the tolerant gay nurse – that when he had pubic lice once, he actually admired them for their itchy tenacity because they exemplified his hard-Republican philosophy : “Fuck nice! You want to be nice or you want to be effective?!”
Enjoy. Hope it makes your head spin in a more benign way than mine.


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It is 1982 in  County Armagh. Not a good time to be Irish, not there. Not with internees still in the H blocks and ten recent deaths on hunger strike. The family farm kitchen (Rob Howell’s design so complete you could almost run up the creaky staircase to bed) is getting ready for the comradeship and craic of harvest day. For half an hour the worst that happens is that the fatted goose escapes, Auntie Pat pours cold water on Uncle Pat’s favourite story, and young Oisin gets teased and wrecks his newspaper kite. But two bus rides away in Derry, impassive before a scrawled-wall curtain, we have seen hard men putting the frighteners on Father Horrigan over a dark, dead secret. Which will by slow degrees, interwoven with hearteningly ordinary farmhouse chaos, raise comedy to tragedy.



For three enthralling hours this is a hell of a piece: theatrical, engrossing, a world unfurling and reaching out hands to the heart in a dozen directions. Fizzes of humour, surprise and shock dart through it. There is immediately a lamp set on fire,  a posse of small and eloquently profane  children, and a real baby staring out the front rows with placid equanimity. There is a live goose and a baby rabbit hauled from the poacher’s pocket of a giant beard-draggled simpleton. There is Quin Carney, father of an extended family with two mothers who each have hard emotional rows to hoe, Uncle Pat who thinks the answer  to most things is in Virgil,  sour passionate Auntie Pat who has wanted to kill Englishmen ever since 1916 and greets the voice of Thatcher on World Service with a fury burning since at Cromwell and honed by worship of Parnell and O’Connell.  There are volatile teenage boys, threatening Provos , an unusual proposal of marriage, and a body in a peat bog all too recognizably preserved. There is every reason for “Aunt Maggie Far-Away” in the chimney-corner to emerge from her placid dementia from time to time with a terrible clarity of prophecy, memory, and justifiable belief in the banshee spirits who wail of death.

Jez Butterworth’s immense, ambitious new play takes us deep into that world and – as in his great JERUSALEM – roams beyond it into universal themes of history and legend, memory and love, childhood, song and poetry and national identity and the way national dreams sour to vicious partisan expediency. It is sometimes ragged, always magnificent. And – though after all that you may not be expecting this news – it is very often dryly, shockingly, tenderly funny. Especially in the superbly directed posse of children and teenage scenes.



Spoilers of plot – or even explaining too soon who is who – would be unforgivable. But know that the performances in Sam Mendes’ production well match up to the material: there is an extraordinary delicacy in the way that apparently comic figures become importantly tragic: not least Dearbhla Molloy’s satirical Pat and John Hodgkinson’s heartbreaking Tom Kettle , a half-witted English foundling drawn into the farm thirty years ago. Notable too are Paddy Considine as Quinn, Tom Glynn-Carney as the half-childish teenage recruit, and Laura Donnelly’s restrained, enduring Caitlin.
And for evocation of the sheer dominant cold-bastard, smart-jacketed IRA commanders of that terrible era, Turlough Convery sends shivers up your spine. The dénouement, half-expected, still shocks.

box office 020 7565 5000 to 20 May. Sold out, but West End transfer in June.
rating Five    5 Meece Rating

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CYRANO Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

NOBILITY AND THE NOSE  on tour  Touring Mouse wide


You’ve hardly sat down before there’s a jolly mass drinking-song in pantaloons, leather breastplates and hat-feathers being romped through in front of cod-17c drapes covered in zodiac signs, followed by a magnificent somersaulting dwarf pickpocket emerging from a bustle, a wild chase, a fabulous spread of patisserie and a violent duel with rapiers in a theatre not unlike our own dear Bury. During which Cyrano simultaneously swashbuckles, leaps on and off tables and recites a complicated duel-poem. Then off he goes to fight a hundred men waiting in ambush for a friend, bring their hats home as trophies and proceed with sighing of love and despairing of his ugliness.


Which is to say, of his huge nose. Which, be reassured ladies, though a fine prosthesis which never falls off even in extreme fight scenes, does not entirely quench the gorgeous Christian Edwards’ appeal. Energy attracts, even accompanied by the strangest of noses, and energy is what Edwards has in abundance.
It’s a mad, poetic, roistering, barnstorming thing, Rostand’s original 1890’s play. Cyrano’s ugliness makes him despair of being loved by the lovely and brilliant Roxane, but also fuels a headlong, pugnacious arrogance and “ferocious integrity”. And, as it turns out, a sort of self-sacrificing but bonkers nobility which (I speak as a past French schoolchild) strikes me as the rich rank fruit of a Roman Catholic culture. There were a lot of martyrs in our convent school curriculum, back then. Also, a lot of rhetorical flourishes, and Rostand is not short of those: so in adapting it Deborah McAndrew goes for broke with the long speeches, rhymes, and almost rap-style rapid assonances dear to Cyrano and his cohort of warlike cadet poets, plus the devoted patissier Ragueano and the drunken yet musically gifted Ligniere.



So, very French, not least in a plot which makes even Shakespeare’s more exotic flights seem realistic. Roxane, here a dignifiedly mournful-looking Sharon Singh, is desired by the wicked count De Guiche, who tries to marry her to a wet nobleman who will be willing to share her favours. Cyrano, her cousin, loves her purely, to the extent that he’ll disrupt a theatre with that crazy rhyming duel merely out of fury that the star once looked lustfully at her. She, however, falls for pretty-boy Christian (Adam Barlow) who has no gift of language. So Cyrano writes the love letters – a beloved Victorian-era trope, that – prompts the dimbo lover from a dark bush and finally takes over, standing aside only for Christian to claim the actual kiss and the bride, leaving our big-schnozzled hero bereft. Everyone off to war, then, and there’s a death, and a revelation of how Roxane really feels. Fourteen years pass and, amid some nuns, there’s the love ’n death scene.

Which goes on too long. That is a problem. At 2 hrs 45 minutes a generally highly enjoyable romp could have done with stern trimming by director-composer Conrad Nelson: too many long poetic flights, so that at some moments you feel you actually have lived through the Thirty Years War. But take away twenty minutes and it’d be perfect. The songs are lovely, Edwards is tremendous, and the ensemble are Northern Broadsides at their merriest: broad Yorkshire and Lancashire voices suiting the military rowdiness and banter brilliantly well .


Indeed all the cast are smart, funny and elegantly choreographed. A particular palm should go to Francesca Mills as the tumbling pickpocket, the patissier’s apprentice and a small but resolute nun . Not because she is of “restricted growth” but because in athleticism, comic timing, clarity and utterly credible sincerity of reaction she’d be a treasure at any height, in any company.
01284 769505, to 6 May Then TOURING on – dates, www.
rating four   4 Meece Rating
joint production by NOrthern Broadsides and New Vic

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How do you get, keep and wield power? What do you use it for, and why? And, if you will stop at nothing, how can the rest of society stop you? Brecht’s satirical attack on the political rise of Hitler and the Nazis, in a vibrant new translation by Bruce Norris bolstered by punchline rhymes and lashings of Shakespeare, bounds onto centre stage blazing pinstripes and Tommy guns galore as part of the Donmar’s timely ‘Power’ season. Simon Evans directs a slick, fast-paced and deliciously brutal production which involves and implicates us in the inexorable success of Arturo Ui, as Evans whisks us into Brecht’s imagined world where “small-time racketeers and fascist politicians…illuminate each other reciprocally.” As Brecht intended, we’re in Chicago, rather than Germany, and the power everyone wants is over the lucrative cauliflower racket – not to mention a dodgy council deal or two, sliding public funds into the pockets of criminals who go on to forcibly wrest public office from the weak, the partially honest, and the easily silenced.

Peter McKintosh’s design welcomes us into a speakeasy bar at whose centre is a clear playing space, ringed by stalls seats collected around cabaret tables – and beware, if you sit in the stalls, audience participation beckons its determined finger. But this is entirely apt for a play which Brecht designed to provoke the German people into understanding how Hitler rose, in the hope of empowering them to resist corrupt populist dictators in future; Norris’ scattering of Trump references show the Western political system is still not immune to the charms of any rich, ruthless bully who sets their mind to power. Scene changes are beautifully and simply engineered by light (designed by Howard Harrison) and scraps of live music, as cast members each take turns to grab a swinging microphone from the air to serenade us with a few gorgeous bars of the Blues; Ed Lewis creates a luscious period soundscape with live piano, scratchy samples, and blistered radio transmissions. Meanwhile, violence is sharp, convincing and bloody, with just enough sour humour to keep pace and tension relentlessly high. Brechtian directness – ‘dead’ actors walking off stage, potted plot narration delivered through the fourth wall – reigns supreme, giving us a riotous evening which is theatrically unpretentious, fun, and sometimes unnervingly profound.

Lenny Henry gives a generally commanding performance as Arturo Ui, though occasionally struggles to exert Ui’s full authority on a stage chock full of frighteningly talented actors. However, Henry can conjure wonderful menace from stillness, and is particularly brilliant at channelling the Shakespearian roots of Ui: wheedling Betty Dullfeet over her husband’s coffin with the revolting magnetism of Richard III, portraying real terror when Ernesto Roma’s bloodied ghost (Banquo-style) appears. Henry finds the self-conscious weakness at the heart of the power-hungry, and exploits it well; still, a more solid sense of nastiness might improve things further.

Giles Terera is chillingly convincing as Ernesto Roma, a keen killer with a short fuse, in it for the long game. Roma’s death, literally stabbed in the back as Ui looks on, genuinely feels like a betrayal of trust – suddenly, we realise how enmeshed we are, Evans successfully warping our sympathies into Brecht’s illuminating web. Guy Rhys is unfailingly and brilliantly oily as Giuseppe Givola. Justine Mitchell makes a spectacularly elegant, proud and vulnerable Betty Dullfeet. Exceptional further contributions from the rest of the strong cast, including Michael Pennington’s memorably pathetic Dogsborough, keep things vivid, as well as lurid, in this finest of history lessons.

~ Charlotte Valori

Box office: 0844 871 7624 until 17 June

Principal sponsor: Barclays

Rating: four

4 Meece Rating

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