Monthly Archives: January 2023



         It must be challenging to play a psychiatrist at work , maybe especially in Finsbury Park   where there are bound to be a few in the audience.  You have to convince :   catch the silences, the questioning ,  and  in responding to your client  the  professional detachment from their powerful ability to generate  mental storms.    Jon Osbaldeston does a very convincing job as Dr Greenberg, so respect for that;  equally adept in Nicolas Billon’s odd, intimate  75-minute play is Gwithian Evans as the patient, Michael.   He’s adolescent, impertinent, dead-eyed and pale and as the Nurse  says,  he is likely to play mind -games with staff.     The portrayal is of a young man both intensely dislikeable and palpably damaged;   as a performance it is admirable  but not enjoyable.  For Michael’s desire to  cause unease and irritation succeeds too well. 

         Therefore a slight problem  for the actual audience is that by the point, an hour in, when we are designed to  get some understanding of all his talk about a dead elephant shot by his Dad  and an opera singing neglectful mother,  the risk is that we don’t care enough about him.  Not Mr Evans’ fault:  even if Mark Rylance or Hugh Grant was playing him he couldn’t be likeable with this text.

  Anyway, Michael  is an inpatient and  Dr Greenberg the Director of the hospital. The psychiatrist is  trying to find out why a colleague has vanished and is uncontactable ever since his last session with the lad.    We sort of get an answer,  after a great deal of quite tedious lying and hints about  sex scandals in mental institutions.  We  certainly get a lethal final moment.    But alas,  by then both sympathy and credibility are gone. It’s  a shame, given the quality of acting and atmospheric use of the set, especially the metronome.   Billon has had this odd piece filmed and won plaudits, and the writing is sharp at times.   But it neither teaches nor entertains. Which is really unusual for this terrific little theatre.   to 11 Feb

rating two 


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Just a few new notes on this , as its completes its triumphant national tour with (amazingly) no stopping-injuries despite the heroically vigorous slapstick direction by Lindsay Posner (movement and fights, Ruth Cooper-Brown). Especially in the first section of Act 2.

Well, you know the play by now – below is my review from the opening in Bath with this production – but I just want to add a note or too , equally five-mouseable.

I had forgotten how good Joseph Millsom is as Garry, both in the physical work (OMG that stair descent with laces tied together) but also in his characterisation of a type of actor generally and mercifully rare, the pretentious yet inarticulate. A special shout-out too to Pepter Lunkuse as the exhausted, insulted ASM~: often in the background of more exuberant scenes but worth watching in horrified reaction. Soit was a joy to see this cast still so beautifully together , and one hopes on speaking terms, after a real tour as challenging as any of the old rep trudges which Michael Frayn so gleefully was sending up. His essay on farce, and spoof blogs, in the programme remain a joy every time too.

The only difference for me was seeing the production first in Bath with contemporaries of mine, who vaguely remember rep and awful bedroom door-slamming comedies, and seeing it with a much younger friend who was, frankly, gobsmacked that theatre ever got away with the sexism of “Nothing On” farces . I equally noted, in such modern company, that there were times not all the long ago when you could bung a sheet on your head and say you were “an Arab sheikh” without getting cancelled and told off in the Guardian. Anyway, here’s what I wrote about its marvels earlier…long may it live, right into the sternly correct future when rubbish rep farce is ancient history and even poor Freddie’s disability (fainting triggered at the mention of blood) is considered wrong to laugh at….

BOOKING is now to 11 March so ignore the old details in the review below..

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     Theatre can offer few more topical messages for a nation which might hesitate over Ukraine’s needs than this neglected one-set domestic play by Lilian Hellman. It is an artfully jolting picture of a comfortable, secure and affluent society abruptly reminded of an angry wolfish world in conflict,  and why turning a blind eye to it is both shameful and imprudent.   By coincidence it seems to be 1941 week on. Theatrecat:  two nights ago I saw (scroll down) Allegiance,  set in  an America which had hesitated  over joining WW2 but then was shocked by Pearl Harbour, and abruptly interned its citizens of Japanese heritage.   Then came this play, set in that limbo just before the US joined.  It ran on Broadway in 1941,  and with American mobilization was a hit film in 1943 with Bette Davis, the ending expanded to suggest an ongoing duty of conflict.

         Ellen McDougall’s  Donmar direction  plays on the idea of a ’40s film, a screen flickering, widening to frame the live action.  I thought at first this might be mere retro-chic and distance it from today,   but somehow it did the opposite as the flesh-and-blood players emerged and made one aware that no war is properly distant.  

        The Farrelly household in Washington DC – widowed Miz Fanny,  her bachelor son, the black butler Joseph and old retainer Annise  – are to learn this sharply.   Staying with them is an old friend’s daughter, Martha,  who married Teck, a Romanian Count now on his uppers as a refugee.  Fanny’s daughter is coming home with her German husband Kurt and their three children after twenty years away,  in which (as Fanny gradually discovers) Kurt has been daringly active since the early ’30s in anti-fascism across Europe, wounded in Spain.  

          Artfully, Hellman gives us a lot of breezy domestic comedy:  Patricia Hodge is superb as Fanny,  prickly and grand and rich but clever and observant,  and the three children are wonderful, meeting their Grandmother for the first time and proving very un-American,  German  in their polite earnestness. The youngest is a treat.    The gulf between their European lives and Miz Fanny’s is neatly indicated when they are offered breakfast on arrival. “Anything that can be spared” they say politely “Eggs, are not too expensive?”   Another layer of family life is that Martha’s marriage is crumbling,  the son of the house besotted with her.   

        The household  gradually feels the tension between the Europeans:  Count Teck clearly has a tendresse for Herr Hitler’s National Socialist Party and its values, and mistrusts Kurt to the point, we will discover, of unleashing a horror.   The contrast of the European men is impeccably done, right down to the costume clues : Mark Waschke’s engaging, warm, slightly shabby Kurt and the three-piece pinstripe and hair-oil of Teck.  The second half darkens as news comes of anti-Fascist arrests, the task Kurt has before him in going back, and the cost to his family.  Caitlin Fitzgerald as Sara is marvellous, restrained, palely steadfast in her readiness for the coming loneliness as her husband resists Fanny’s hope he will stay in family safety with the breathtaking Hellman line  “My children are not the only children in the world. Even to me”.   As we have been enjoying and laughing with those children for two hours, that hits home hard.   

     So, weirdly, does Teck’s smugly strange line about his treachery “I do not do it without some shame”. Both sides are trapped in the wickedness of the war – “thousands of years and we cannot yet make a world where old men can die in bed”.  A shocking violence breaks the drawing-room atmosphere, and Fanny has a decision to make.  

       Getting here was a third attempt – covid, the show’s own delay, rail strikes.  I could not be more pleased to have made it to a last seat in the gallery.  Power to the Donmar,  and a last salute to Hellman, a writer who knew that you must both entertain and awaken. 

Box office.  To 4 Feb

Rating five.  

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IN THE NET Jermyn Street Theatre


       Most dystopian visions set themselves quite far in the future. Misha  Levkov, however, keeps us in 2025, specifying that productions should always be set a couple of years ahead of real time, and the setting is London – Kentish Town. This does keep it  recognizable and clear of sci-fi fantasy, but it also demands that  Britain has gone downhill dramatically fast.  Laura and Anna, half-sisters, and their  father Harry are living in “The Emergency”,  with borders closed and immigration surging. A global drought and sudden  temporary local powers are  severely rationing water (while keeping plenty for officials, we gather ) and cracking down on asylum seekers with a battery of biometric tracking and brutal authoritarianism. 

      Tony Bell,  tripling as an Immigration officer, councillor and predatory estate agent taking their flat off them,  does an excellent job but is offered pretty cartoonish  lines,  representing every Nazified jobsworth the north-London liberal might detest. “No place to run, nowhere to hide. Vigilance. Total eyes and ears and global positioning” he says. And. “…I like the duty chart, the office caff and the khaki. The spiff. The tech. Also – why not say it? – I like the chase…it gets very primal very quickly”.   

        Against him are pitted three women. Carlie Diamond is admirable in a headlong professional debut as Laura,  afire with idealism about the ancient Jewish idea of making an “Eruv”.It is an ancient Judaic custom, originally declaring a neighbourhood as exempt from the strict Sabbath interdict on working or travelling.   Laura sees it as a way to create, by winding threads of yarn between homes and gardens, a sort of sanctuary.  Not just for Jews but for everyone.  Her sister Anna Is a bit of a Buddhist, fresh from a stint at a monastery but disillusioned about the exploitation of pilgrims there.   Finally Laura persuades her that their eruv will not be a ghetto but inclusive, loving,  supportive to all  -“It can be lovely inside a web”.  There is a lot of overwritten gush about this, and though it is all handled by Diamond with great skill and likeability it becomes  increasingly irritating.  Especially as she seems to have, or want, no actual work beyond winding thread round the neighbourhood.    Dad is not impressed either – “daydreams are as bad as nightmares” 

        This fey defiant impracticality is,  it is admitted, basically  part of the girl’s grief for her mother.  Who was the rescuer of the third, more interesting and better-written woman, Hala the Syrian asylum seeker (Suzanne Ahmed, impressive). I could have done with a lot more from her,  not least because she is unconvinced for most of the play by the threading protest.  She also raises the most interesting ideas in the play, questions about expected gratitude, the difference between hosts and friends, and what happens “when asylum seekers want more than we will give”.  

        My sense of frustration eased a bit in the second half, largely because – with a small-space elegance often found in the Jermyn – director Vicky Moran and Ingrid Hu the designer get them climbing, threading, creating the web in reality – with clever projection to exaggerate it into a big mad web in which the wicked Immigration Officer can be trapped and defeated. That at least is properly theatrical,  though the overwrought lines continue to come at you “Is that a yellow moon beyond the clouds or the white sun…Looking down on merry Eruv jugglers who keep the stars in their sky..”.

         Its heart is in the right place, though the fact is signposted so glaringly that it risks a perverse reaction (like being rather sorry for the officialdom  represented by Tony Bell).  I wish I was moved and inspired by it, but wasn’t.  To 4 Feb

Rating two.

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ALLEGIANCE Charing Cross Theatre WC1


      An old man steps onstage alone:  upright, soldierly in khaki as a former US war hero who is,  he says resignedly,  “brought out every year on the Pearl Harbour anniversary” .      George Takei, 85 years old, is the most beguiling of figures these days (even if you aren’t a Trekkie who misses Mr Sulu at the dashboard or a follower of his liberal campaigns and  frank remarks how nobody liked William Shatner) .  And this, fresh off Broadway,  is a serious, personal Takei telling the story of a great injustice done to fellow countrymen of his race.  

      At five years old, after a sunny and prosperous Californian infancy, he found himself sleeping on horse-scented straw alongside his bewildered family at a racecourse stable in Arkansas,  hastily adapted into an rough camp.    Japanese-Americans lost businesses, land and homes in  political hysteria after Pearl Harbour:   abruptly classified as enemy aliens they were cleared off the west coast and interned,  in squalid conditions and under armed guard between 1941 and 1945.  It took until the 80s for the Civil Liberties Act to offer proper reparations, apology and admission of its racist absurdity. After all, as one character says,  “we’re at war with Italy and nobody’s putting Joe di Maggio in a camp”. 

        Takei has long spoken about this period,  and is at the heart of this musical by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione.  As the old soldier, Sam,  he book-ends a memory play in which Sam’s young self – played with fierce endearing energy by Telly Leung – is passionately patriotic and  wants to enlist, save American values from Germany and the distant Empire of Japan.  In the family Takei plays the grandfather,  insisting on building a garden in the grim dustbowl to which they are condemned .  Briefly we see them first as a contented group in California, full of immigrant ambition and energy. Sam’s Dad (Masahi Fujimoto) is urging him towards law school,  his big sister Kei (Aynrand Ferrer, a beautiful singer) ever anxiously maternal. She becomes  the one most urgently trying after the arrest to make everything all right for the extended family in their undeserved humiliation.   Overhead looms the figure of Mike Masaoka in Washington,  pleading the loyalty of his fellow Japanese-heritage Americans:  he is both an advocate and, as time goes bitterly on,  seen as a traitor who hang them out to dry.  

       We sit in ranks either side of the central camp (neat, evocative design by Mayou Trikerioti) and watch them  being hectored by guards,  their dignity ignored, issued with the notorious “loyalty questionnaires” demanding extreme patriotic affirmations.  Papers which some, rather magnificently, make into origami flowers.   But young Sam still loves America,  enlists even as his father  rips up his insulting questionnaire. He becomes a reckless war hero,  America’s token “good Jap”,  and the rift in the group widens as his friend and eventual brother-in-law Frankie in the camp leads a rebellion burning draft cards.   

       The book is, as Broadway requires, a rom-com at times:  Sam falls for the camp nurse (a lovely, endearing performance by Megan Gardiner) and Frankie the rebel loves  Kei.   But the real engine of the plot and its best moments, is the ideology and division of loyalties which drag the family apart, through hardship and a tragic loss, all the way to the embittered figure played by Takei at the start.  

           The numbers are mainly generic Broadway, though rise wonderfully when  with high flute sounds they draw  most closely on Japanese music.  And indeed words:  like the urgent “Gaman” meaning “carry on, keep going” and the mournful Ishi Kara Ishi about moving a mountain stone by stone .   There are understated but  very Japanese moments:  the old man hanging a wind-chime,  Grandfather Takei’s meditative gardening, and his  respectful bow to his middle-aged rebellious son who is being led away in handcuffs.   

      It drew me in ever more, especially in the harsher second act as the war takes its toll with two real coups-de-theatre: the huddle of helmets and shots as Sam’s Japanese regiment faces a sacrificial raid,  and the news of Hiroshima:  the ensemble stilled with horror and the “light of a thousand suns” blinds us in turn before suddenly a mic-waving DJ leads a Victory Swing.  Nothing is said about the Japanese-Americans’ feeling about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it does not need to be.  The shock is real.   And as the fog of war clears, Sam is back and finds out how much he has lost , and how bitter is one seeming betrayal.  

     Good musicals can face tough bleak stories and irredeemable losses, however necessary the upbeat final moment and triumphant curtain-call. And this is a good one.  Not perfect,  not perhaps among the musical greats,  but a piece of storytelling and performance which holds you fast.  And there is shivering power in watching how much it means to old Takei to tell it. 

Box office    To 8 April

Rating 4.

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