Monthly Archives: October 2017




If you need relief from the current outbreak of extreme social primness about male behaviour, you’re going to love the bit with Clive Francis , as the elderly Mr Thwaites, going batshit-bonkers on pickled walnut Martinis when tempted by the generous Teutonic cleavage of Lucy Cohu’s MIss Kugelmann. The first act of this deceptively entertaining play certainly ends with a bang.



I say deceptively, because although there is some wonderful sly comedy from the start, its strength is in a humane, rueful, oddly hopeful understanding of loneliness and of the way we try to make real connections through what one of them calls the “glass wall” of our separateness and suspicion. Tim Hatley’s design elegantly underlines this theme, its elegant sliding changes offering momentary chiaroscuro glimpses of aloneness. No character is all bad, nor all good; even the most minor of them, in fleetingly sketched moments, reveal both their handicap and their hope. It’s lovely.




This was a novel by Patrick Hamilton, whose famous play GASLIGHT was an enjoyable cod-Victorian melodrama. His novels, though, are different: moodier, their important events internal; and they are set in the world he knew: seedy 1930’s and 40’s:London, bedsits and boarding-houses, scruffy pubs and parties. This late one, with more comic vision and a bit more hope, is now brilliantly transformed for the stage by Nicholas Wright.



In a boarding-house in Henley we find our heroine Miss Roach (Fenella Woolgar, perfect in every thwarted, eager, scrupulous move and expression). A former teacher who “couldn’t control the boys”, she saw her flat blown open in the Blitz and fled to this sanctuary, reading manuscripts for a publisher , regretting an affair with her married boss, barely tolerating the elderly company. Miss Barratt and Miss Steele are amiable enough (this play is full of glorious moments for maturer actors playing long-formed characters) but from his separate table, over the spam fritters, Clive Francis’ Mr Thwaites is gloriously nightmarish. He’s xenophobic, mocks Roach’s socialist principles, and rarely deviates from coy, codgerish Wallace-Arnold archaisms (“Dost thou foregather in the Rising Sun” etc). He is far from welcoming her new friend, the dangerously charming American Lt Pike (Daon Broni). Artfully, Wright has made the Yank a black GI, thus enabling sarky Thwaites remarks about our “dusky combatant from distant shores” . Perfect.



On the other hand, despite his hatred of Germans, the old man is very much taken with Miss Kugelmann, a German emigrée. Cohu wickedly gives it her hipswivelling all as a rapidly maturing but determined party-girl with whom the prim Roach has unwisely made friends out of kindness, and introduced in to the boarding-house. The sometimes beautiful delicacy of Miss Roach’s romance with the American is rudely shattered by what Thwaites might call the frolicsome Fraulein, and things escalate disastrously. Indeed Kent has given us a sly flash-forward at the start, which makes us expect something even worse than what happens.



But the joy of it is that not only their denouement but everyone else’s isolation and cures are evident. All the cast catch the Hamilton , period, mood perfectly, not least Richard Tate as the elusive Mr Prest, deemed a mere drunk by the old ladies, but who wisely stays sane by nipping up to the Leicester Square pubs to meet his old showbiz friends. Or there’s a seventeen-year-old soldier (Tom Milligan) who remembers Miss Roach as his old teacher (an extraordinarily moving, transformative moment between them is again delicate , fleeting).



There is a sense of each character’s past, and potential redemption: there’s Miss Steele the Oxford classicist, unwillingly retired after a 35 year career in archaeology, cheerful Mrs Barrett . And the latter’s sister (Gwen Taylor plays both, in a cheeky twin-sister-twinning) becomes a dea ex machina, a GP more than pleased to be back in harness for wartime. She delivers, indeed , the briskly important line “If one is lonely at a time like this, one deserves to be”. Ah yes. It is as if Hamilton’s moody 1930’s fictions (like Hangover Square) grew in the rough soil of wartime into something more purposeful. Maybe much of Britain did. After a fragmenting Christmas chaos in several lives, Miss Roach’s final vision is that life trudges on: “There will be more love, more hate, more goodbyes, more sudden deaths… God help us every one” .

The dry echo of Dickens’ Tiny Tim is no accident.



Box office 020 7722 9301 to 25 Nov
rating five. Because I can’t resist it.

5 Meece Rating


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OF KITH AND KIN Bush Theatre W12



It is a brave theme that Chris Thompson – a former social worker – has chosen. It is also a darkly, and accidentally, topical one since a court case is still running in  which the younger of two gay male partners is accused of violence towards their baby.  Parenthood and its stresses are perennial themes, but as the idea of family changes, it is only fair to imagine and depict ways in which the new structures – so full of optimism and liberal approval – can implode . As  easily as he old heterosexual model. Sometimes perhaps more so if – as transpires  here – there are generational gulfs and unresolved resentments in an age of fast change.



We  meet 46 year old solicitor Daniel (a saturnine, powerful James Lance) with his partner Ollie (Joshua Silver) who is fourteen years younger and a party-planner. They are having a larky baby-shower with Priya (Chetna Pandya) their heavily pregnant surrogate. They vogue their camp wedding dance, snog,  giggle that “Daddy” has had a sexual overtone for them, nudge nudge, so they’d better stick to “Dad” for the baby.  So far, so modern, so cosy, . Priya has a 15 year old son who the boys see a lot and mentor, and once bore a surrogate baby for her sister. All is set fair.
But the second scene (after an elegantly staged suggestion of birth, director Robert Hastie keeps things neat and fast here) is a furious courtroom battle. Priya has reneged and kept the baby and Daniel in particular is eloquently distraught.



I notice that two (male) reviewers complain that we aren’t told what her motivation is to do this harsh thing: but hang on – speaking as a female, I have no such problem. Go back to that opening scene and the point when the consensual cosiness collapses.  Daniel’s mother (“on a freedom pass from Woolwich”) arrives,  not homophobic exactly but feeling they’ll need more help than they admit. Ollie resents here commonness, insults her repeatedly for everything including buying a Christmas turkey at Iceland, and blames her for every hangup that Daniel has, because she was in an abusive relationship and his father threw him out at fifteen. Daniel, defending her against this onslaught, becomes physically violent in no time, and the whole thing becomes so ugly, so revelatory, so testosterone-charged and immature and dangerous, that no sane woman would let the chaps mind a hamster. Let alone a newborn, however donor-egged. Pandya draws the pregnant Priya assuredly and vividly, both here and in the final scene. In court she says nothing, while Joanna Bacon changes role to be a rather man-hating barrister taunting Daniel to more outbreaks of rage and Donna Berlin as a dryly funny family court judge slaps them both down.


There are lots of arguments winding through the play: not least Daniel’s fury that any “Peggy sue from Woolwich” can get pregnant and have full rights over her baby, yet a man must be humiliatingly questioned just to get his son..”. And in the final at, after Daniel has rather chillingly furiously wrecked the planned nursery, we veer off into the problem between the men, which is about generational change, and Ollie being all “entitled” because he never went through the days of stigma and deprivation before gay marriage.   His resentment at not having a beautiful “proposal story” from the tougher, older Daniel – who popped the question under duress, in Nandos – is both funny and telling.


The battle concludes, not entirely credibly. But what sticks in the mind is the abrupt, unrestrained tendency to male violence in Daniel. There’s a briefly sinister moment when Lance walks quietly into the immaculate nursery (we don’t know what happened in court, and who won) and plunges into the cot in rage, to hurl its contents around.
OK, there is no baby there. But if I was Priya, I’d have thought again.


box office 020 8743 5050 to 31 Nov
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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Even ruthless, psychotic gangsters have to fall in love sometimes. And Rodelinda is all about what happens when the people at the top of the cruel power pyramid have got their minds on… other things, like other people’s faithful wives, as well as their crime kingdoms. Director Richard Jones translates Rodelinda’s setting (originally 7th century Lombardy) to gangster warfare in 1950s Milan: a brilliant decision which at once rehabilitates the casual violence and thrilling power games of this constantly developing story, not to mention its dangerously volatile characters, each one plotting and sub-plotting away fervidly, both for and against Fate. Jeremy Herbert’s set design takes us from dilapidated rooms, paired and later stacked on stage to provide us with plenty of simultaneous action, to brutally plain outdoor street scenes, where three treadmills allow characters to chase after each other fruitlessly, and glorious wedding-cake Italian death monuments of statuesque ghastliness. As the evening unfolds, the treadmills can start to feel a little over-used, but just wait till you see the hapless Unulfo’s toe-twinkling dance routine (a fabulously vivid, heartbreakingly loyal Christopher Lowrey). In another stunning scene, exiled kingpin Bertarido drowns his (mistaken) sorrows in an empty neon bar which screams loneliness and despair, a lurid update of Hopper’s Nighthawks. Characters demonstrate love and loyalty by tattooing names on their bodies, which means the faithless traitor Grimoaldo hilariously stacks up rather more names on his skin than he eventually needs: quite something to explain in the shower.

Richard Jones’ production thrums with vigour, his characteristically taut balance of marked formalism with naturalistic acting delivering tension, suspense and above all emotional legitimacy to each twist of the plot, which speaks with faultless clarity. Best of all, Jones opens this opera’s humour vein again and again, comedy hovering dangerously over the dark side of mafia life as hoodlums have fun deciding which murder weapon to use, or threaten gruesome deaths by acted gesture. The best of these come from Flavio, definitely Mummy’s little psychopath, silently acted with unnerving poise by Matt Casey, but a talent for physical comedy runs throughout this fine cast, not least from Neal Davies’ ruggedly coarse murderer-for-life Garibaldo.

Tim Mead’s astonishingly beautiful, poignantly strong-man-down Bertarido has us utterly in thrall from his first note to last, Handel’s plangent arias sounding spellbinding in his haunting countertenor. Rebecca Evans reprises her superb Rodelinda to gorgeous effect, an intoxicating combination of Evans’ cool, creamy, unhesitatingly clear soprano and fabulous acting, an Italian warrior princess in haute couture and heels. Juan Sancho steadily finds his way with Grimoaldo, the creepy usurper who becomes more and more appealing as his hopeless desire for Rodelinda drives him virtually mad. Susan Bickley’s Eduige veers between a force to be reckoned with, and a querulous, ageing spinster on uncertain ground, which brings interesting depth to this smaller role, although sometimes Eduige just lacks presence.

Christian Curnyn conducts the ENO Orchestra with a sense of pliant bounce and energy, listening sensitively to his singers, who repay him in spades. It’s a night of jaw-dropping musicality and intense drama: not to be missed.


At the London Coliseum until 15 November. Box office: 020 7845 9300

Co-production: English National Opera with the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia

Rating: Five 5 Meece Rating

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YOUNG MARX The Bridge, SE1



There is a nice contrarian quality about Nicholas Hytner’s choice for his first production, in the dramatically beautiful new theatre he founded with Nick Starr. Outside is the new Ivy, a river view of the Tower and its bridge and grand modern signage. Inside a chic wide foyer, noble staircase, elegant balconies, leather-trimmed seats… and on this first night, frankly, anyone who is anyone in the social, high-financial and above all theatrical worlds. Dazzling.



Yet on the stage it is another London, Soho 1850: with Europe in restless disarray the young Karl Marx and  a half-starved rabble of emigré intellectuals huddle in filthy rooms, plotting the downfall of the capitalist society and avoiding the newly invented police. Marx has an  aristocratic Prussian wife at the end of her tether:  Jenny von Westphalen is, he explains airily “ is not adapted well to abject poverty”. She frets over her sick child and the bailiffs hammer on the door and remove all the furniture.  Which she could have redeemed, had the boozy wastrel  Marx not taken her last family heirloom to a pawnshop, been chased as a thief, shinned up a wall onto a lofty rotating London roofscape , run back home and dived up the chimney . Rory Kinnear’s Marx,  unrecognizably hirsute, does more physical stuff than you might expect of a towering economic  philosopher – diving into windows, chimneys, a cupboard, a chaotic duel and several low brawls , including a stonking one in the British Museum Reading Room which almost distracts poor Mr Darwin from his new mollusc.


As with Ianucci’s new film The Death of Stalin – set a communist century later –  Richard Bean and Clive Coleman in fact have not needed to embroider much. Marx and his mates did find shelter here, and he did carouse and neglect his family’s welfare while he was blocked or unwilling to get on with some work on Das Kapital.  His friend Engels (played by Oliver Chris with an exasperated decency that makes a good foil) did at least meet and record the really downtrodden industrial proletariat of Manchester: he has a fine speech about them which at one stage cuts hard across the rumbustious selfishness of Marx.


It is as much a personal as a political-historical story: Marx’s heroic wife (a strong, gentle portrayal by Nancy Carroll)  and his equally heroic housekeeper Nym struggle to keep both the family and the flame of revolution alive, hoping that the English poor will understand it and rise. Others in the ramshackle cell, like the menacingly absurd Frenchman Bathelemy -(Milton Yerolemou) want to do it faster, through terrorism and assassinations.  Which feels eerily topical.



Threaded  through the comedy (sometimes sitcom-broad, often bawdy, shading to darkness later)   Marx spouts shreds of social theory, whether to a whelk-girl or while unaccountably stealing a gate.  Kinnear gives him flesh whenever he can, for all the bawdy: he knows that “I have killed our marriage” and that the Manifesto, written a few years earlier with Engels, had already cost lives across Europe with the “virus of hope”. And there was a nice murmur from the stalls at “there will come a day when the markets have crashed. Money has eaten itself”. But it is family sadness which gets him working again in the final quiet lamplight (Engels obviously paid for the lamps. And paper. Genius demands such service).



The play sometimes felt a bit disconnected, between historic politics and the broad larking. But its revolutionary paupers got their applause from the not-at-all broke first night crowd. And I have a hunch that it will find its feet better , the laughs sharper, with a younger, wider audience. The rudery, the angry clever poverty and laddish mateship of the tale may strike its surest notes  with the new theatre’s promised15 and 25 quid seats. All the sightlines, after all, are excellent, so the balconies are just fine. And Hytner and Bean know a thing or two about audiences for unlikely comedies after One Man Two Guvnors.  I sense a Cunning Plan. The launch was grand, but it’ll be the run that proves it.


box office 0843 208 1846 to 31 Dec
The play will be broadcast live on NT Live to 700 cinemas on 7 Dec
rating four  4 Meece Rating


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Not a good week for AA Milne. That “Goodbye Christopher Robin” film about his WW1 trauma comes out – then Philip Pullman sounds off scornfully about how he despises the coziness of the books – now old Otto in Judith Burnley’s play starts inveighing against the “sentimental, sanctimonious, false” stories. It’s an Eeyore chorus.



But help is at hand, as the cantankerous Jewish survivor’s German carer Lotte stands up for Pooh and Tigger, because when she was five in 1939, a sprig of the old (antifascist) nobility,  her English nanny read them to her. She liked how different it was, since with Poohsticks you can cheer for the understick. “In Germany children were indoctrinated to believe that to be German was superior. You had to win. In England they hung over that bridge and watched the natural forces, wind, water, shape, size and above all luck determine which stick won…sometimes you wanted the big one to win, sometimes the smaller”.


The play is a two-hander, set in a pleasant Belsize Park flat in 1991 just as the Wall has come down. , Clive Merrison is angry Otto, hating old age. He has made a good industrial career in England though his deepest love is his music. Lotte , who escaped East Germany when her family estate was cut by the border, has been living in Israel with her beloved Yakov (“the first Jew I eve met socially”) and in widowhood was hired by Otto’s Israeli daughter to be his carer, against his will.  And to make him sign he papers for the property reparations Germany was still making to Jews whose property was seized.


They both have scars of war. His are deep and obvious – Buchenwald , and a final traumatic reveal about his little sister’s horrid death. Here are subtler, both personal about her father’s execution, and more generally in her great cry of “There isn’t a monopoly on suffering. What did I lose? Everything. Lands, heritage, money. But most of all I lost the sense of what it was to be a German, a real civilized traditional German with real and honourable and lasting German values”. It is a fair point, rarely made.



Not that she breaks out often in emotion. Lotte is played with beautiful , intensely felt restraint and gentleness by Issy van Randwyck: beneath her necessary matronly fussing there are layers of sadness, expressed in stillness, half-smiles, and benign attention to the difficult, sometimes disinhibited old man. It is worth seeing for that performance alone; though Merrison is as good as ever, he has been handed an awkward task. The writing is sometimes clunky (there are near the start two unconscionably long and clumsy one-sided phone calls to negotiate, neither of them wholly necessary). Sometimes it is just psychologically odd: once, the fourth wall comes down for a soliloquy about sexual desire, and the most wrenching bit of his wartime backstory – which explains the title –  is unaccountably told not to Lotte but to us, with a strength of delivery which is a bit confusing since he is by then near his end.




There is also a continuity problem, in that we know he was interned as an enemy alien in 1939 and never saw his family again, yet somehow he has vivid knowledge of their final night, later. Maybe I missed a line, but it is not the sort of thing one should – at such a point and on such a theme – be worrying about. Making you do it is a structural flaw.


Indeed often I had a  restless sense that there is a seriously good play trying to be born here and almost making it, and I hope another version will rise.   But von Randwyck’s performance, and the theme, were satisfying. The Jermyn , intimate and intense, has always been a good place for reigniting  history.


Box office 0207 287 2875
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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“Have you ever wondered where dreams come from? Or how they get into your head?” A thought-provoking debut production from House of Stray Cats, The Dream Factory takes us on an intriguing creative journey into the sometimes dark, sometimes brilliant world of dreams from the point of view of Sophie, a young girl who has suddenly lost her ability to dream. Picking up on the sensitive, courageous spirit of recent works for children like Inside Out, The Dream Factory eventually finds Sophie a new way to dream happily again, but, like life, this is isn’t a straightforward journey. Sophie has plenty of adventures along the way, some dreams that go wrong, and even a nightmare, all animated by beautiful puppets who swoop, swirl and swim before us, sometimes floating right up into the audience to interact with delighted children.

Sophie herself is a puppet, and we have a cast of three fully integrated actor-puppeteers who also appear as characters in the action in their own right, while also voicing the puppets we meet: Katriona Brown, Nicole Black and prime mover Maia Kirkman-Richards, who has also written and produced the show, as well as designing and creating the wider cast of puppets. A vividly evocative soundscape by Paul Mosley illustrates each change in mood as the story unfolds with a flowing combination of synths, piano, strings and other electronic samples, bolstered here and there with percussive ‘found sounds’ (like crunching glass) to give texture. We get plenty of good songs – setting Kirkman-Richards’ naively poignant lyrics to simple, clear melodies ideal for children – though the rest of the piece relies mainly on physical theatre and puppetry, largely ‘voiced’ with inarticulate gasps, cries or sighs, rather than any extended wordy narrative. This comparative wordlessness, outside the songs, allows the production to engage even the youngest children, while its elegant dreamscapes appeal visually to young and old. A simple set of white wooden furniture (designed by Maia Kirkman-Richards and Peter Morton) begins as Sophie’s bedroom, but wardrobe, bed and dressing table soon evolve dynamically into mountains, waves and the Dream Factory itself: like a dream, the action constantly develops, and often in unexpected or unspecified directions. Our own imaginations, happily, get to fill in the tantalising gaps.

Although Inside Out and Up were groundbreaking in their unflinching psychological detail after the shiny Disney universe which had held sway over children’s entertainment for so long, emotional seriousness has always been the backbone of any good children’s story, all the way back to the dark, disturbing tales of the Brothers Grimm. The Dream Factory deals with profound themes of grief, loss and fear in a constructive, original spirit which does not seek to minimise or ignore pain, but rather to acknowledge it, accept it and watch life move beyond it into something not necessarily better, but different and more bearable. It’s an enchanting, enlightening and ultimately comforting watch.


[Reviewed at Norwich Puppet Theatre on 23 October 2017]

Touring across the UK until 14 November: details and tickets here Touring Mouse wide

Rating: Four 4 Meece Rating

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The uneasy 1950s: Albert Einstein is exiled in America and called to appear before the unAmerican Activities committee for the “are you or have you ever been..?” question. But he has barely got rid of Senator McCarthy before he gets a surprise visit from a restless, intellectually ambitious Marilyn Monroe who wants to talk Relativity. And whose furious husband Joe Di Maggio will shortly hammer on the door to confront her.  Terry Johnson’s 1982 imagining, rooted in history, scientific thought and profound human need, still sparks brightly.



Because any good play explodes  into fresh topicalities. This imagined night in 1954 has been a 1985 film and a few revivals (notably one set intimately in an actual hotel room). But here and now, in the almost equally intimate Arcola atmosphere, it radiates current themes.  The age of nuclear dread is back, after all, and Einstein’s regret about what his discoveries led to, sharp at the  play’s end, is for us too. America is again producing rightist thugs with a morbid dread of the unAmerican world; only instead of McCarthyist accusations today we have fake news. And – God help us – the poisonous topic of celebrity and exploited , dishonourde female beauty could hardly be more bang-on.



David Mercatali’s production is beautifully acted by all four of the – teasingly unnamed  – protagonists.  Simon Rouse as The Professor has a deceptively vague but suddenly sharp, always kindly sweetness: Alice Bailey Johnson’s breathy Monroe develops convincingly – dropping the famous littlegirl tones – into the restive thwarted intelligence Johnson imagines. Her expatiation  on the mysteries of relativity with balloons, toy trains , Mickey Mouse ears and hand-torches is entrancing, her final distress dark and wrenching.  Tom Mannion is a a superbly crass Senator Mc Carthy  (“the whole damn war [WW2] was a Soviet plot”). Oliver Hembrough as Joe di Maggio hardly stops chewing and popping his Hubbla Bubbla gum, even when threatening the other men or expressing husbandly outrage (“never put a woman on a pedestal, it makes it easy for her to kick your teeth down your throat”. He keeps the gum going , whether wooing his wife, entering into a bizarre philosophical debate on subjective reality with the Senator, or enumerating how many bubblegum card collections he figured in over his glory decades on the baseball field. Einstein can only compete by citing his appearance in the Great Scientific Discoveries series.

For all the comedy, they each fill the parts with humanity, moving the atmosphere away from mere Stoppardian clevertalk (though I do love the Schrodinger’s cat joke). The sparring wit is never far from a kind of sweetness and sadness . Especially from the Professor – “”I want to finish my work and slip off the edge of this dreary painful plant as Columbus sadly never did..”. But it is also there in  Joe Di Maggio ‘s hurt cry to his damaged, tricky wife – “how can a man make love to a wound?”. That turns sympathy on a sixpence: he is no longer just an ape in a suit.
By the way the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, lately adopted to ginger-up into that baggy Simon Stephens romcom, is here a deft grace note at the end : it reflects Monroe’s victimhood as an object of fame, since  “the fact of observing something changes it ”. Not, in her case, for the better.



020 7503 1646 to 18 nov
rating fourn4 Meece Rating

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By ‘eck, luv! They Northern Broadsides, they weren’t hid behind t’mangle when they were handin’ out stair-rods!  Who’d be a mauping mardy-grouse, when that Barrie Rutter sets his cast a gabbling and jabbernecking fit t’jeggle a ticket price out o’yer. Even if you are just a harming  nanny-goat from t’South, fandangering shitehawks that you are, making a face like a ram’s clag, skewerin’ up yer eyes to t’caption screens when our Marlene speaks her mind…



Or, to put it another way, in the final days of the great Rutter’s leadership of Northern Broadsides he is directing and starring in Blake Morrison’s adaptation of Alain-René’s 18c satirical comedy Turcaret, and giving at least half the characters a Yorkshire argot so extreme that my husband – Yorkshire born and bred – rather suspected that a lot of it came straight out of the Old Amos column in The Dalesman. Or in some cases, possibly, the heads of Messrs. Blake and Rutter. Just sayin’.  If it wasn’t Northern Broadsides you’d accuse them of sending up t’North. Practically a hate-crime.  But done with love, fair enough.



At Bury St Edmunds, where we caught it early on the tour, it happened to be a caption-screen night. Maybe it always is. It wouldn’t be a half bad idea, especially when Jacqueline Naylor’s Marlene-the-housekeeper starts up in scene 1 and you wonder what language it’s in. There is more RP language, if not accent, from the heroine Rose – a susceptible widow (Sarah Jane Potts) — and from Rutter himself as the venal and lecherous bank manager Fuller, who lavishes rich gifts on her unaware that she passes the money on to the more presentable, r Teddy-boy-smooth quiffed Arthur, a gambler, and his gopher Jack. I rather took to Jos Vantyler as the cad.



An oddly pleasing double-vision will afflict any theatre scholar, though, because beneath the dialect and the 1920’s setting this is every inch a cynical 18c French comedy: stylized asides, obvious overhearings, capering entrances (people always first appear just as their name is mentioned). The characters are staunchly immune to development or reform, figures straight from commedia del’Arte and Punch &Judy. A simpering but deceitful lady, a rich adulterous banker, greedy handsome suitor, crafty servants, comedy farmer, deus-ex-machina bailiff, etc.



The cast play it that way, which sometimes feels jerky and tends to be psychologically un-engaging (that’s Moliereish comedy for you). But once you get used to that, the second half in particular is farcically entertaining. Rutter booms and blusters, Jim English as the farmer (“nazzled from lookin’ after t’tups since back-end”) finds love with an admirably tarty Sarah Parks as the mysterious Teresa, and Jack (Jordan Metcalfe) gets to run off with most of the money and his prostitute girlfriend (Kat Rose-Martin, even tartier). As he informs us in a final caper, , “A lad and a lass, we may not have class, But we’ll live as we want ter – now we’ve got brass!”


It’s an oddity, but by the end quite fun. And one always enjoys the sight of Barrie Rutter doing a curtain-class Charleston while still in handcuffs.


Touring Mouse wide
Touring. Rose Kingston next, then Newcastle under Lyme, Scarborough, York…

rating three

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LABOUR OF LOVE Noel Coward Theatre WC1




The joyful thing about James Graham is that for all the playwright’s youth, diamond wit and forensic insight, there is a deep humankindliness in his work. He reads the diaries and histories, researches into some bygone crisis and without haughty authorial judgement, reimagines the human motivations of the principal characters. He appreciates, as Shakespeare appreciated both Kings and Dogberries, everything that we are: the combative pomposities and earnest principles of MPs in This House, the knackered , boozy workhorse journalists in INK, the keen election officers of THE VOTE but also the unpredictable electoral rabble of daftheads and drunks, citizens frivolous or earnest, vague or pompous or angry or just proudly new-fledged , all casting their vote. His keen, wondering eye has enough brotherhood to let actors make his characters live as real people, never ciphers or cartoons. Even while we’re laughing.




And so it is in this chronicle of the Labour Party over a quarter of a century, with newsreel flashes from its older, Attlee history. . It is all seen through the focus of a constituency office in a bricky, scruffy street somewhere in Yorkshire, with a gentle, unconventional and very slow-burning love story threaded through it between Martin Freeman as the MP and Tamsin Greig as xxxx, the former MP’s wife who grumpily agrees to be his constituency agent. Told first in reverse from today to 1990, then forward again in the second part, with some quite brilliant costume and wig changes to rejuvenate and re-age the pair in jumps covered by projected news, it is probably the fairest vision of life from Foot to Blair to Corbyn than anything we will to get in print. And it is , though touching and at times eagerly serious about social justice, tremendously funny.



I am over a week late with this one, such has been the disarray of press nights and family life, and much has been said about it already.
So beyond that reflection on Graham himself, only brief observations. First,
the absolute glory of Tamsin Greig as the agent – tough, devastating in putdowns and dryly dismissive Yorkshire jokes; an OU graduate, mother of five, a toughly demanding democratic socialist and working-class warrior set against the Blairy “social democrat” progressivism of the MP. Freeman is pretty fabulous too, moving between puppyish enthusiasm, furious frustration and real sorrow for his constituents.



Episodically skilful, it warms and enlightens, gradually the hard political compromises growing clearer. Labour’s cultural gulf is slyly expressed in the person of the MP’s wife, xxx as a fabulously snooty lawyer horrified that her man’s ambition has taken her to hicksville not Westminster. The future is there too in Tamsin Greig’s character : she could be a prototype of Jess Philips, and reminds us that the Jesses – and xxxx s – took time to fight through the sclerotic masculinity of old Labour.

It shines. It makes you hope that Mr Graham is at work on the evolution of the Conservative party over that period too: until you remember that in 2008 for the National Youth Theatre he wrote Tory Boyz about its trouble accepting gay rights. There’s more material there. One can only hope…


box office 0844 482 5140 to 2 Dec
rating five    5 Meece Rating

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A DAY BY THE SEA Southwark, SE1




This is a lovely rediscovery, the kind of thing Two’s Company has repeatedly offered us in this enterprising theatre (we owe them those extraordinary WW1 plays “What the women did”, and the rare , fascinating “The Cutting Of The Cloth”. Both here on theatrecat. archive, below.




This is a substantial, gently-moving play – 2 hrs 45 minutes – but in its meditation on life, attrition, middle-aged disappointment, family entanglements and memory it is as engrossing as Chekhov can be. But it is set nearer in time – 1953 – and closer to home: N.C.Hunter was a West End monarch in the age of Rattigan, and this ran for a year with Ralph Richardson, Sybil Thorndike and Gielgud ( it was the play during whose run he was actually arrested for cottaging ). He was, like Rattigan and Coward and others, swept out of memory by the Angry Young Men and the Tynan-led revolt against anything involving a drawing room. But in its portrait of midlife, mid-century feelings and doubts and hopes it is fascinating. Some of its emotions are universal and perennial, others deeply rooted in that uneasy post-war time, and in villas like this, away from the city.




20c history is an offstage but vital character. Laura (Susan Tracy) ,the widowed hostess and worried kindly matriarch, has flashes of pure anger at the statesmen who in her lifetime allowed ‘two immense wars and Europe bankrupt’. Julian her son (John Sackville) , is a workaholic, primly. bespectacled and Brylcreemed middling civil servant in the FO. He seems a chill prig but passionately dreams of a tranquil world future , and burns at his dismissal from the Refugee Committee work in Paris. The sense of a world battered by war, searching for equilibrium, wanting to believe in something, is everywhere.



All the generations have their own struggle. Laura cares for ancient uncle David, nearing his end (a nicely cantankerous David Whitworth). Frances, who grew up there, is visiting with her children and her plain, sad shy nanny miss Matheson (Stephanie Willson). Alix Dunmore as Frances is wispy and sad, widowed by war then shamingly divorced: yet a fascinating portrait of female strength gradually asserting itself, even at its own cost. And in the authentic spirit of postwar compromise and muddle, the household is completed by David Acton as an alcoholic doctor who has – we slowly learn – lost everything and is hired to help old Uncle David. Acton is wonderful, in a wonderful part full of desperate jocose gaiety and banked-down anger at the crazy world: funny, moving, a vital source of the play’s energy, keeping it from mere melancholy. His comradeship with David Gooderson’s family lawyer – who also has a history of regret – is wonderful.

Tricia Thorns’ production is strongly paced, but what has to be remembered –  and this applies also to this week’s Oscar Wilde north of the river – is that before TV ruined our attention span, stage plays though it no harm to start slowly, conversationally, almost banally, and work up slowly to their crises. Wilde seasons the wait with epigrams, rather too familiar now; but Hunter does not. So yes, at first it could feel slow.




But  tough directors are right to eschew panicky cutting , and make us all damn well sit still as we would have in 1953, and let the characters grow into reality at their own pace. It is rewarding. It rises to strong, thrilling emotional scenes – some wholly unexpected, even for the seemingly drabbest. Nor is there a cosy last-act resolution, as some might fear in such a middle-British mid-century play.  We do get the new moon moment at dusk (beautiful lighting all through, in Alex Market’s set of overlapping frames with old -ashioned photo corners ). But the balance of hope and resignation in the last act is pure Chekhov, and despite a lovely metaphor Hunter does not insult us with pat answers .
I am glad to have seen it. You have, I fear, only nine more days to do so.



BOX OFFICE 020 7407 0234
rating four  4 Meece Rating


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Ibsen’s 1889 work, The Lady From the Sea has washed ashore at the Donmar in a new version written by Elinor Cook and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, who next year will lead the Young Vic. Set in the 1950s on a Caribbean island the lady is Ellida : the wonderful Nikki Amuka-Bird. She is a lighthouse keeper’s daughter and second wife to the island’s physician: Finbar Lynch as Doctor Wangel. As contemporary audiences will readily diagnose, Ellida suffers from depression. Each morning she gets into the sea: leaving the water becomes a ‘catastrophe’, so she swims until she shivers and her teeth are chattering. It’s an unhappy household. Ellida’s stepdaughter Bolette dreams of leaving the island to fulfil her academic potential, yet feels obliged to stay and look after her father. Bolette’s younger, brasher sister, Hilde, yearns for maternal attention. The girls’ father duly spends much of his time at his surgery, avoiding confrontation with his increasingly troubled wife.




On their island, Ellida and her stepdaughters are trapped, surrounded by a sea of masculinity. The affable Doctor Wangel enlists another man to help heal his ailing wife, the war-veteran Arnholm (Tom McKay). He immediately sets about attempting to seduce his former pupil, Bolette, half his age. For comic-relief, Johnny Holden’s Lyngstrand is a sickly and awkward sculptor who has delusions of going to New York to find fame and fortune. He informs us that a good wife is merely a reflection of an even better husband, and learns her talents from him, by osmosis. It is Ibsen’s prescience that is the most fascinating aspect here. At a time when we are still only beginning to uncover the extent of toxic masculinity in present-day society – this century- old plot, with men assertively controlling and manipulative to each woman’s detriment, feels remarkably current.




Tom Scutt’s set is sparse but effective, white paint flaking off of wooden boards and a large pool of water filled with coral-coated rocks. It is well used, particularly with the rather beautiful effect of mushrooming clouds of sand whenever the cast step into the water. But when Ellida’s former lover appears, and she is torn between him and her husband, the mood is tainted by the staging here. Each appearance of ‘The Stranger’ prompts dark lighting and ominous music – as if the intrigue surrounding this character is more important than her mental state. It was rather a distraction.



Amuka-Bird is captivating, and Ellie Bamber as Hilde and Helena Wilson as Bolette are wonderful as the daughters, their strength, intelligence and humour tempered with the fragility of living in a world owned by men.
It’s a well put-together and impressive performance of a lesser-known Ibsen play:. Less shocking than in the 1880s, but as relevant as ever.


Box Office – 020 3282 3808 to 2 December

RATING  THREE   3 Meece Rating

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ALBION Almeida N1



There’s a lawn and a vast magnificent tree. In dim moonlight before the start a figure in khaki – could be any war – kneels to feel the earth. Your mind flits to every subaltern war- poet dreaming of country houses; a Forty-Years-On mood flickers.  The title has made its intention clear. Yet in the event Mike Bartlett’s play – directed by Rupert Goold – mercifully does not hammer home its metaphors about England, changing values, retrospection, regeneration. You can pick them up, or not bother.



For it is an intimate epic of one family, and the lost soldier is specific. He was the heroine Audrey’s son, blown up in one of our inconclusive modern conflicts. It is his absence, and his ashes, which dominate the play’s emotional explosions. And how! After the trauma of the TV Doctor Foster saga, if there is one thing we know Mike Bartlett can create  it is an obsessively barmy woman who in the grip of outrage and personal entitlement will stop at nothing. There are two, or possibly three of these  in this long play (just over three hours). Only the brilliance of the writing, a welcome satirical edge in the first hour and some remarkable breathtaking performances all through prevent it feeling like a Hampstead Novel made flesh.




Both Audrey and Anna’s behaviour hover often on the edge of psychological incredibility – especially if you actually are a woman – but then so have all the great tales from Medea to Lady Macbeth. And there are moments where Victoria Hamilton’s Audrey and Helen Schlesinger’s Katherine circle one another like panthers: scenes so stunning, so eloquently perfect in every tone, gesture, word, half-laugh and expression, that the sheer dazzle of it silences criticism.


Audrey is a chic businesswoman – owns shops where everything is white . She has abandoned London with her languid second husband Paul (Nicholas Rowe) and her aghast millennial daughter Zara (Charlotte Hope), a  Cambridge graduate with Camden attitudes  who is working as a marketing intern for a publisher (there is perhaps tiresomely much in this play about literary ambition, but this is Islington after all). Anyway, Audrey has bought a 15-room manor house her uncle once owned, with a legendary garden designed in the 1920s and now derelict. She wants to recreate childhood memories and older ideas of grand house life with dressed-up parties and county style.



The early scenes are very, very funny, as her brisk controlling ways – echoes of every Victoria Wood posh-cow sketch – upset the veteran gardener and his slow-moving wife Cheryl the charlady (grand work from Christopher Fairbank and Margot Leicester) . She replaces Cheryl with a go-getting young Pole who works four times as fast, and the village hates her as she bars them from their traditional fetes in the Big House garden. Visiting is her college friend, the crop-haired, satirically laughing boho lesbian novelist Katherine. Like the bored husband (Rowe is very funny indeed) Katherine provides more laughs and perspective. But fifty minutes in, as Audrey clashes over the ashes with the dead son’s girlfriend Anna (Vinette Robinson) there is a turnaround. Bartlett forces us to accept that even an irritating memsahib draped in asymmetric oatmeal cashmere and business-school ethics can suffer deep, disabling grief.




Something Audrey has done, in her unshareable maternal mourning, enrages Anna: who despite only dating the son for three months has her own tendency to possessive entitlement. Indeed if you get lulled into thinking that you are watching a decorously entertaining tragicomedy with some nice choreographed entr’acte shrub-planting, brace yourself. By the end of the 95-minute first act it goes the full hyperGoold: thunderstorm, heavy real rain, furiously demented sexual raving in wet earth, and a shock announcement. And that is even before the stinger involving Katherine and Zara, and another demonstration of breathtakingly selfish parasitical entitlement from Anna as she and Audrey grapple for possession of the soldier’s memory.



Nobody behaves rationally – except surprisingly, the husband, and less surprisingly the Polish cleaner. The London business in the background wobbles, as it would; Audrey’s retro dream dies. Or does it? I have to say that the ending convinced me not at all. But after those marvellous performances, excellent startling laughs and virtuoso explosions of OTT DoctorFosterism, one forgives much. Not all, but much.



Box Office 020 7359 4404 to 24 November

Principal Partner; Aspen
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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A theatrical phenomenon of the 20th century is that some of the most perceptive parts for women were written by gay men: Tennessee Williams, RattiganM Noel Coward; Alan Bennett kindly, Joe Orton cruelly. And, in this case, Oscar Wilde. Because of The Importance Of Being Earnest with its demurely comic Gwendolen and Cicely and absurd Prism, we can forget that he had a savage anger about social justice for women: powerful unease about the double sexual standard and a bracing admiration for tough, outspoken American womanhood. His was, remember, the time when squads of wealthy US girls like Jennie Churchill were coming over and improving our aristocratic breeding-stock no end.



Of all the plays this is the most melodramatically and explicitly angry: at its heart is the long-wronged, virtuously hiding Mrs Arbuthnot, who finds out at a brittle social house-party that her illegitimate son Gerald has met her faithless lover – now titled and powerful – and been taken on as his secretary. There are terrific, and unfashionable, set-pieces: in among the excellent and familiar epigrams come long speeches of great earnestness both in favour of ‘virtue’ and against it.




But it bounces along, director Dominic Dromgoole allowing absurdity (borderline clowning at times) to keep the mood moving. The casting is wonderful: Eleanor Bron ,as arch as her own eyebrows, expresses aged aristocratic complacency and a throttling dominance of her husband. Anne Reid exudes daffy benevolence , and both senior ladies have split-second comic timing, and can throw lines away so that they explode unexpectedly a second later, and we guffaw). Harry Lister Smith is a sweetly tousled, eager Etonian Gerald, Emma Fielding the cynical Mrs Allonby, Crystal Clarke the priggish American reformer who comes good in the end.


Dominic Rowan makes a convincing coxcomb as the seducer. Gorgeous nonsensical cameos are added by William Gaunt’s senile Archdeacon, William Mannering as a drunk lordling, and Phoebe Fildes as poor dim young Lady Stutfield. But at its heart is Eve Best: mournful and troubled in black velvet, hair tumbling, a humble church-mouse amid the quipping brittle socialites. Her wronged Mrs Arbuthnot is the emotional and moral core of the play, and her sincerity carries the melodramatic scenes – no small feat – to just within the bounds of modern tolerance.




As many don’t know the plot, no spoilers. But I will signal to you the production’s grand and suitable joke. Anne Reid, benignly smiling as our stately hostess, turns out to have a fabulous knack for singing the most sentimental and minatory of Victorian parlour songs, trilling thrillingly in a character so extreme that I thought my late and shameless Granny was back to haunt me . She does three unexpected entr’acte moments, so that the three sumptuous sets (by Jonathan Fensom) can be changed in impressive silence as she emerges through the blue velvet curtains with her staff – and Ms Fildes – on fiddle, clarinet and guitars. Thus Reid belts out emotional renderings of “A Boy’s Best Friend is his Mother” and The Gypsy’s Warning, and we melt and cheer. Give that woman an album, now! These appearances, nicely introduced by her butler as if we were guests at the same social weekend, betray that Dominic Dromgoole, late of the warm and larky Shakespeare’s Globe, does not wish entirely to dispense with its spirit cosy inclusivity and confine his casts entirely behind a fourth wall.



Actually, talking of that, here’s a nice irony. This week Nicholas Hytner opens his new theatre, The Bridge, and you can hear him on Radio 4 musing on how the Victorian proscenium theatre, a gilded picture-frame, was ideal for plays up to 1950 but is problematic now. (R4 PLANKS AND A PASSION, 1130 tues 17th). While at the same moment Dominic Dromgoole – late of the Globe – begins his Classic Spring series by demonstrating, in this first Wilde revival, precisely how they did work for those plays and audiences.




But some things linger on for centuries. In this Harvey Weinstein week, there was not a little topicality in the theme of women being sexually shamed and hiding while men get away with it, “Women are pictures, men are problems” scoffs Lord Illingworth. His real nastiness emerges through the charm, just as the real pain of the second act gives a sharp sour jangle to the familiar epigrams. Wilde didn’t only use his teeth to smile.



box office Phone: 0330 333 4814 to 30 Dec
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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When the music stops and the lights click on, your first thought is ‘sweet Jesus what the hell went down at this party”?     I thought twenty year olds were bad. These two late thirty/early forty year olds were knee deep in bottles, stubbed out fags, plates, streamers, scuffs, spills and no doubt smells. They’re the only ones left,  and it’s her flat. It’s a housewarming which has noticeably cooled. But they’re staring at each other intensely.




David Eldridge’s new play is a tense, frustrating flirt. Laura and Danny (absolute champions Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton) don’t know each other but, over an hour and forty minutes,  dig an incredibly intense relationship. Like 2017 Pinter the majority of their chat is bleakly familiar, but still somehow thumps you in the feels. The plot is nicely thin; two strangers lost in loneliness, edging closer to life’s dusty shelf, fall in something resembling love. But Eldridge’s skill –  also down to Polly Findlay’s incredibly naturalistic direction – is in quietly cranking up the tension then puncturing it. Sometimes you feel the dramatist’s direction a little too much, but for the most part you can lose yourself in it. Towards the end as they strip almost naked, kiss and desperately cling to one another, Danny (after a corking pause) asks if Laura could flip the heating on. Reader, we roared.



Troughton steals the show with his nervy, boyish and damaged 42 year old Essexian. His drunken wobbles and neuroses are a photorealistic portrait. Theatrics  have been parked. Mitchell’s too is a witty performance which nimbly negotiates the gags cracking into profundities.



My only hesitation about this play is that occasionally – and very briefly –  the pace dipped and my interest slipped. And a few times Mitchell’s performance veered just far enough out of the outstanding naturalism  into something a smidge stagey. Also social media mentions occasionally feel a bit stale and forced, but it is set in 2015 and don’t forget these characters aren skirting forty so….y’know.



But these gripes are slight. ad I not brought my pen and sharped my critical binoculars as is normally my way, this all would probably have passed me by.   If you’re up for a bleak, honest, comparably brief manifesto for shaky late-love; strap in.

Luke Jones
Box Office: 020 7452 3000  to 14 November

rating  four 4 Meece Rating



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Sometimes you just want a bit of fun. That is the moment to turn to Mel Brooks, master of daft parody. At 91, the master strode onstage tonight with director Susan Stroman, and told us that the only thing wrong with this glorious London launch of his 2007 Broadway show – his own musical based on his film – was that all us bastards got in free. Cue cheers, standing ovations and a wild hoofing reprise from the cast during which I fled to write this.



Because it is a pleasure to tell you that , whatever your doubts about making musicals out of beloved films, this one pretty much works just as well as The Producers did before it. And there is special satisfaction in letting Britain demonstrate that it can effortlessly raise a cast to delight the Brooks and Stroman and the rest of us. So you need a Gene-Wilder type, earnest and bewildered as the grandson of Viktor Frankenstein? We have Hadley Fraser. Want a crazy sinister old housekeeper with a terrifying goose-step and worrying erotic memories? Step forward Lesley Joseph. A diva for a mighty love song ? Dianne Pilkington. Were you worried that nobody can rock a humpback and a bat-flapping cloak like Marty Feldman in the film? Fear not, there’s Ross Noble. He has just the right manic edge. For a one-armed one-legged Mayor doubling as a blind bearded slapstick hermit we can offer Patrick Clancy, who even manages a unique transformation in the curtain call.




And when there is a need for a glorious, shameless, leg-flashing, top-hoofing comedy blonde bombshell who is able and willing to do the splits in frilly knickers on a sinister lab gurney without even holding the rusty chains, Britain can proudly supply a Strallen. Summer Strallen as Inga, in this case, and very fine too. So is the swing chorus: Nathan Elwick in particular getting a nice pair of cameos. Only The Creature himself is a US import – Shuler Hensley. And he played it on Broadway, so it would be criminal not to re-use his talent for roaring, stumping, staggering, and finally bursting into neat tap to Put On The Ritz before miraculously morphing into a Noel-Coward gentleman-roué.



So pure and almost constant pleasure, sharp and witty from Fraser’s opening number “There is nothing like a brain” which reassures us that Brooks is as determined to pay mocking homage to the musical genre itself as he was to 1930s horror films. It is slyly self-referential all the way through, the numbers echoing everything from Oklahoma to Les Miserables. Favourite jokes from the film are there in script, but it is the newness of the musical line that delights. Frankenstein’s frigid fiancée has a particularly original number Please Don’t Touch Me (“You can squeeze me till I scream, if it’s only in a dream”), waltzing touchlessly into a very good gag about Catholic girls’ schools. As for the hay-cart on which Inga takes Frankenstein to the castle (with splendid horse and wolf behaviour) words fail me. So enjoy hers – “When life is awful, just jump on a strawful, and have a roll in the hay”.




Any time, any time. Enjoy the daft jokes, relish the pace (only slows down a bit, in the villagers’ scenes, before the barnstorming Act 1 closer with the Creature rampaging down the aisle). Cheer for the splendidly disgraceful objectification of women with big breasts and a Creature with unusual endowment south of the belt. Take a happy break from news bulletins about Brexit. Mel Brooks loves us, so we must be all right after all.


box office 0844 482 9673 to 10 Feb.
rating four   4 Meece Rating

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HEISENBERG : the Uncertainty Principle Wyndhams, WC1



A quick quantum-mechanics lesson (though this is not a play about science). The Heisenberg principle asserts that there is a limit to knowing what will happen to the position of a particle, even if you know its momentum. As a physicist explains in the programme, “vagueness is built into is simply now knowable”. The author Simon Stephens adds the metaphor of music, in which we cannot know which note comes next. Surprise is good. Uncertainty is life. OK?



Stephens’ own work, knotty and perverse, is rarely as universally loved as his brilliant adaptations like A Dolls House and that Dog In The Night Time. This one has been received with respect, but it was hard to help feeling that this 80 minute two-hander represents one of those cases where an immensity of theatrical talent gets heaped on a work so weightless that it would crumble to dust without that exoskeleton of high craft and sincerity.



For here are two fine-tuned and beautiful actors of great soul, Kenneth Cranham and Anne-Marie Duff; add the marvellous director Marianne Elliott, the abstract design beauty of. Bunny Christie’s set, marvels of atmospheric lighting (Paule Constable) and smooth stage engineering which can pop up and vanish pieces of furniture to create a dreamlike atmosphere. Add the reassuring pretensions  of theoretical  physics and you have a real chin-stroker, blaring “Important! Seminal!” at you and daring you to contradict it.



It is a sort of love story: absurdist and asymmetric. It begins when – I suppose like particles colliding – blonde American Georgie kisses a total stranger on the back of his neck at st Pancras . She is 37 and claims to be an Ottolenghi waitress (Hmm. Very Islington) but is a school secretary. He is 75 , a Bach-loving butcher who likes his job because he enjoys how that animals fit together with “seams”.  A horrid memory arose of this author’s’ “Morning” at Edinburgh, all murderous teenagers prodding a flyblown corpse and snarling ““All music is shit and all art is shit and all television is shit and all sport is shit…there is only terror. There is no hope”. For a while I feared that he was going to dismember her.



But no. The pair sleep together, rather beautifully choreographed (the movement is dreamlike, slo-mo, graceful). She complains about his fridge and asks him for £15k to find her son in New Jersey. At which point one’s inner pedant protests that you can get a NorwegianAir  return via Reykjavik for £700 quid , and airbnb for ages on a thousand, so it’s a bit steep. But his response, after a while, has grace. Unlikely grace, but Cranham can make you believe anything.



For all the plonking significance it’s the good old two-lonely-people-odd-couple tale, which as rom-com writers know depends on charm. This Cranham bestows on his elderly character with ease; but Anne-Marie Duff is given a near-impossible job finding it in hers.  Georgie is a toxic variant on the kooky-yet-troubled heroine from Hepburn to Goldie Hawn, only more annoying. She is what the Germans beautifully call an ich-bin-so – every rudeness airily dismissed with “It’s just something that I do” “I’m like that” and a flirty, hipswivelly “Do you find me exhausting but captivating?”.  Only Duff’s ability to drill down to the sincerity of pain and damage finally redeems her. And then only just.

For the relationship does, in the end, become touching. Though old Alex’s devotion – enchantingly expressed by the glorious Cranham in the best and final speech – depends more on her sexual availability than a feminist would like. The idea that a young woman would adore “clumsy” sex with an old man wrinkled “like Europe” is a bit Woody Allen for my taste. And it is a pity: a similar Heisenberg collision between our hero and someone less physically foxy might be, in the end, more moving.




box office 0844 482 5120
to 6 jan

rating three  3 Meece Rating


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THE LIE Menier, SE1




This is a companion-piece to the stormingly funny, cruelly witty THE TRUTH: Florian Zeller, translated from the French with verve by Christopher Hampton, directed by Lindsay Posner, and once again starring Alexander Hanson. An actor who does wounded-insincere-yet-sufferingly- self-righteous infidelity like nobody else. Once again Zeller is playing around with the question of who is lying, who believes who, and who is pretending to lie in order to conceal that the lie is actually a truth, etc. It is not quite as chokingly and constantly funny as The Truth, which was the most sophisticated of farces in shorter sharper scenes. This one is more philosophical, with possible longueurs in at least one scene where the key couple are persuading one another to disbelieve the lie which they have told one another and which is – at some points – actually true.



Treble-bluff, whip-smart , and it is always entertaining to spot “tells” and think you know better than the protagonists. It begins with the deceptively simple fact that Alice – an elegantly businesslike Samantha Bond – wants to cancel a dinner with their closest friends Michel and Laurence, because she has seen Michel with another woman in the street and feels she should in honesty tell her friend. Her husband Paul – Hanson, who feels sympathy for Michel – says that it is kinder not to, and struggles in the dinner to prevent her having any time with Laurence.


But the very discussion of infidelity makes Alice, with righteous paeans to truth in marriage, ask him frankly whether he has ever cheated. And for a while we think aha, maybe this is the core of the plot, a solid marriage crumbling on suspicion for no real reason. At last her husband admits it, then says he made it up because she pushed him, so was lying about having lied. Whereon she says she has also cheated. And the complications mount as Michel (Tony Gardner, always a touch satanic) comes round to console the panicking Paul. And the diabolical truth-that-is a lie-about- the -ruth builds up between them and spills over into philosophical craziness and sometimes cruelly funny moments. Hanson, Bond and Gardner all have utter mastery of the half-noticed “tell”, and the faux-tell, so we are never entirely sure who is lying. Except that we pretty much reckon they all are. And in a final coda we find out anyway.



The laughs are sometimes pure happy shock, sometimes cruel : the blackmailing moral “you have to believe em if you want me to believe you” being pretty much the closest to an ethic we get. But Zeller does have a moral insight – note his remarkable The Father and The Mother, both recently in London . So one suspects that if you drill down, what he actually thinks is that that infidelity is not the end of the world.. So clever, entertaining, not quite the dazzler his other plays have been, but solid pleasure. Though one hopes Mrs May and Mr Davis don’t see it, or they’ll never trust a French negotiator again.



box office 0207 378 1713 to 18 Nov
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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THE NORMAN CONQUESTS Chichester Festival Theatre



In more rigorous technical times there was an art school exercise: “draw an imagined street-scene in perspective as if from an upper window at one end, then the same street and figures as seen from ground level the other end”. What Alan Ayckbourn did in 1973, with this domestic six-handed trilogy, has that quality of intricate, interlocked perspective. Each play shows what is  happening, at the same time or adrift  by minutes, in three parts of a dilapidated Sussex vicarage: dining room, living room, garden. Sometimes a character exits to join another play, or comes in from a scene you will only see in the next show. The final part begins half an hour before the first and ends after them all, providing prequel and sequel by half an hour.




The maestro has said it doesn’t matter which you see first, as each makes sense: Chichester’s 3-play days (there are four more to come) put them in the order above. Otherwise, take your pick.     The concept in itself brilliant, but could have been hell. It isn’t: being vintage, observational, sad-heartedly compassionate Ayckbourn executed with flair, it is a treat. The Festival Theatre has been set in the round as the playwright intended, as stage seats enable us – like the chaotic, overgrown garden – to circle Simon Higlett’s elegantly evocative sets (love the broken gnome, and the real roses).  Blanche McIntyre directs with pace and wit: the cast – notably Sarah Hadland’s brittle nervously controlling Sarah – are superb. The quality of direction is such that even when Trystan Gravelle’s seductively irresponsible Norman had his back to our side at the table for a long speech, the back of his scruffy neck and his fine Welsh projection were quite enough. Indeed throughout the plays the body language is particularly fine, from John Hollingworth’s amiable lolloping vet Tom to Sarah’s furious trip-trapping step and Annie’s glum hunch. Three of them even use the garden swing in character.




But goodness, among the considerable laughs (you can’t miss at Chichester with the East Grinstead joke) there is classic Ayckbourn pain. It deepens like a coastal shelf, and that Larkin echo is deliberate: glancing references betray that the three adult siblings Reg, Ruth and Annie were well f—d up by their unseen, now invalid, monster of a mother. So their own partnerships take the brunt. Hadland’s Sarah, brisk and neat and nervously controlling, has taken on the peacefully dim Reg (a touching mole-like Jonathan Broadbent in awful driving gloves). He yearns  back to boyhood balsa aeroplanes, and nobody will play his invented board game. Sister Annie (Jemima Rooper) is festeringly lonely and has been landed with caring for Mother in a dowdy life leavened by the big literal-minded hunk Tom who frustratingly never makes a move.  And sister Ruth (a fine striding Hattie Ladbury) is the forerunner of all these 21c women who in profiles find that out-earning their husbands causes problems. But she has scored the maverick assistant-librarian  Norman.




For Norman, wild-bearded in a beanie hat, is the wild card. Gravelle is perfect as the irresponsible spirit of chaos: seducing Annie, beguiling prim Sarah even in her moments of greatest fury like Richard III wooing his Anne, and easily disarming his own scornful wife. His refrain is desire to make women “happy”. His weapon is claimed vulnerability and absurd humour. The strength of this subtle production is that you are quie often rooting for Norman, disgrace as he is. Since none of them are happy as they are, you might as well give it a roll…when he fixes you with that glittering eye, at least fun lies beyond it.




The skill of script and production is that facets of  each of the six emerge , haphazard as life itself. By the last one we understand that Norman’s yearnings and manipulations come from need as well as mischief, and that his relationship with Ruth is necessary to both of them. It is all gloriously achieved, detailed and paced: no cardigan, traycloth, jam spoon, deckchair, lettuce, biscuit box or opaque carrot-wine flagon fails to contribute to the psychological jigsaw. It is as polished as the dining table, as evocative of life’s erosion as the shabby living-room, as pleasingly disorderly as the brambly grass around. The first and last plays are perfection; the middle – living-room – one is play is perhaps the least, though after a slower start its second act springs to vigorous life. The ensemble is a joy.



Box office. 01243 781312    To 28 oct
Sponsors: Conquest bespoke furniture and Irwin Mitchell
Ratings :
Table Manners and Round and Round the Garden FIVE   5 Meece Rating
Living Together FOUR   4 Meece Rating





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