Category Archives: Three Mice

MACBETH Olivier, SE1




You don’t expect robes and battlements these days. This is a shaven-head-and-machete Macbeth, its theme an indeterminate, timeless squalor: possibly a feral modern war, possibly post-apocalyptic. The murder of Duncan, set thus, is hard to see as regicidal sacrilege – ‘his silver skin laced with his golden blood”. Though the always fine Stephen Boxer as the short-lived monarch does, with characteristic subtlety, manage to express something I had never really noticed: that his betrayal by the original Cawdor , who he had t,rusted, distressed and unbalanced him into over-trusting the tricky Macbeths. The problem, however, is that the world Rufus Norris directs in Rae Smith’s tenebrous, crumpled-binbag-and-blockhouse set with its dark steep trundling ramp ,towering diseased trees, disorderly roistering and makeshift armour fastened on with rolls of duct-tape, seems as if it never had any place for loyalty, moral codes or civilized reflection. Indeed the only times we glimpse any furniture that isn’t plastic or a folding old camping-table are in the home of Lady Macduff and the English refuge of young Donald (it may be that the presence of a carpet and sofa and tidier clothes is code for higher moral virtue). Though Lady Macbeth does eventually get out of her vest and pleather jeans into a ragged ,sub-Oscar, sequinned raspberry frock once she is Queen.



The bleak, smoky, savage setting makes Rory Kinnear’s task as the racked, tempted, murderous, hesitant, panicking Macbeth harder than it need be. Of course he is as ever a great Shakespearian, each word and gesture achieved with intelligence and feeling. His relationship with the equally remarkable Anne Marie Duff as his sexy, tricky, maternally hungry and tormented wife is as good as I have seen it. Their first eye-meet, when each knows that the other is thinking murder, is riveting, as is the moment when he holds her dead body in his arms for “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” Norris’ technique of creating action-freezes for soliloquies helps in the first half too, detaching Kinnear for a merciful moment from the thuggish hopeless scene.



Yet somehow, I’m not quite buying it. We are used to gore and nasty things hung on trees and lots beheadings, ever since the technology for reproducing actors’ heads improved. Fine. But unlike the Hytner Othello – set in a modern army camp – or his Hamlet in a recognizable police-state, the misery-world evoked here gives no sense that there ever were nobilities to be breached by the Macbeths. It’s just chaos, and you expect no better. There are excellent Norris touches – the always problematic “comedy’ porter (Trevor Fox) is allowed to have seen into Duncan’s death-room, and weaves into his ramblings bits of Lady Macbeth’s speech about boneless gums and nipples. That absolutely works. So does Alana Ramsey as a cross-gendered Second Murderer, giving it large as a furious slaggy blonde in fishnets , fur boots and machete: the character’s claim that life has treated her so badly that she’ll do anything has a MeToo feeling about it, and Ramsey is superbly vicious, presenting Lady Macduff with her slaughtered babies in plastic bags like a nightmare Ocado delivery. Kevin Harvey’s Banquo is excellent too, with a dry civilized air about him which makes his return as a bloodstained lurching zombie ghost all the more effective.



Oh, and the witches? They’re OK: shamanic, acrobatic, eerie, one wearing what looks like entrails outside her body but which turn out to be bits of dismembered baby dolls. Or possibly actual babies, it’s that sort of show. But on the whole, by the time the three main zombie victims return to watch the final fight (King Duncan endearingly finding a plastic chair to settle down and watch from) there is no sense of a tragic fall. Just of another thuggish gang war,  an East End brawl with no sense to it and not much hope for young Donald.



box office 020 7452 3000 to 23 june
in cinemas NT LIVE on 10 May
and touring nationwide from Sept 2018
rating three  3 Meece Rating


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THE CULTURE – a farce in two acts Hull Truck



Right place, right time, a last flurry of fireworks by the Humber. The hottest of young playwrights, James Graham, lovingly teases the city where he was a student : a place more joked-about than celebrated, but in an unexpectedly enthusiastic mood about itself. He reimagines and larkily mocks the end of its City of Culture year, as a manically overenthusiastic team prepares to hand the baton to Coventry the C of C for 2021.



It’s a great idea, and studded with good jokes both about Hull itself, the wackier events of the year, local authority ploddery and – principally – the absurdity of bureaucrats trying to evaluate the point of art through statistics and surveys. On one side big fat folders and prattle about outcomes and targetation, metrics, amalgamated workstreams and data-capture; on the other the kind of artist who pitches up with equally loopy jargon and a “Transportational Touch Exhibit” involving a blindfold , a caseful of objects and a chanted commentary through a distant microphone.


The inciting incident of the plot itself is the kind of modernism which brings  the aggrieved Dennis the sign-maker to turn up and accidentally disrupt the big day. He put an old fridge and sofa out for the Council refuse collectors, all correct, and it immediately got elected as an artwork, surrounded by keen art students and attracting respectful coachloads from Leeds.



All ll great stuff. And Andrew Dunn as Dennis is, as ever, a gem of grumpy, eloquent, dryly bluff blokeishness.  To get the idea, remember him as Tony in Dinnerladies on TV. Indeed quite often this play feels like James Graham channelling Victoria Wood: and once Ab-Fab too, as Janice the overkeen volunteer is played by Nicola Reynolds (in one of three fast-changing roles ) as pure Bubble.   So we’re rather at an angle from the familiar Graham of tightly researched, purposeful and beautifully structured recent-history plays – This House, Ink, Labour of Love. And he is not a natural farceur, though there are some intricate misunderstandings, crossed lines, redial-jokes and a lot of dashing about through doors.

It comes to life best when the people are more credible than merely comic: shrieking Janice is far too broad, and Amelia Donkor as Lizzie, the manic statistician who is trying to organize the handover and presentation is far too hectic.   There is no sense of how she really is, still less of how she ended up in Hull.   Mark Babych, otherwise directing with pace and farce-door ingenuity, would have done better to slow down her gabble-and-shriek, which  blurs into incomprehension some of Graham’s fine parodic jokes about her trade.



But the second half in particular is full of strong laughs, some nicely smutty, some manic, and many particularly fun for Hull people (I came with my husband, a former Radio Humberside man, who got them all).   Short cameo characters are great – especially Nicola Reynolds as a smugly self-assured DCMS minister, and Matt Sutton doubling as a furious Labour council chief in a red tie and a bored lawyer, who has a late artistic catharsis brought on by blue cake-icing (don’t ask). There are two nice phone events with local heroes Tom Courtenay and Maureen Lipman, and a nicely thrown-away reference to them both melting down in pique later.



Martin Hyder is terrific as both the baffled Coventry council chief (“I thought you just toss some cash to some artists and they do some art?”) and later as another volunteer, an ageing ex-deckie off the trawlers of long ago. He is glowing with pride at having done masterclasses in both CPR and LGBT “so I can both save lives and talk to gay people’. He gets, near the end, a moment of truth when he admits that as the year ends he’ll miss it, the sense of belonging that vanished when the fishing declined. Dunn too speaks for Hull’s pride and insecurity too, in the final moments. And it is in those moments that we’re back with the Graham we know, humane and perceptive.


So not one of his best plays, though the arguments about measuring art are sharp and useful. But at this moment, in this place, it’s a lovely thing. I’m glad to have been there. to 17 February

rating three.  3 Meece Rating

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The first recitative line in this one-act musical, as the little band sounds curfew, is chilling: a Town Crier from the 1760’s :
“Jews and aliens of Frankfurt. Return to your homes. The Ghetto is closed”.
The shopkeeper Meyer Rothschild, yellow star on his sleeve, is baited by local oafs – “Jew, do your duty!” and made to bow. Officialdom cheats him of twelve krone. Returning to his affianced wife Gutele, he speaks ambition and dreams of sons who will “extend a man’s reach!” once the repressive laws controlling Jews allow them to marry. He resolves to build wealth, brushing off the Biblical camel-and-needles’s-eye rule with “when you’re rich enough, you find tiny camels and enormous needles”.


It is one of the very few jokes in the show. Our hero, played by Robert Guccioli with vigorous charm turning gradually to patriarchal authority, strikes banking deals with incompetent courtiers in the kingdom of Hesse. Five sons are born, trained up and spread across European capitals to found the immense House of Rothschild. They are fawned on by desperate and prodigal governments in the Napoleonic Wars. Their unbreakable family network of information and prediction makes them unbeatable.


The one-act, two-hour musical is – with Sherman Yellen’s book – by Bock and Sheldon: who of course wrote Fiddler on the Roof, so gloriously played lately at Chichester with Omid Djalili . Some have expressed disappointment that Rothschild is no Tevye: rather than lovable, traditional and downtrodden, this time the hero is the diaspora Jew as winner. His sons take after him: black-suited, relentless, careful, riding the hard fact that their success and cleverness make them suspect and despised in their chosen nations. Leaflets on the “international Jewish conspiracy” are already circulating. But there’s a lovely, lightly choreographed, sequence when Gary Trainor as Nathan – the family hothead – is being watched by envious London Stock Market top-hats, trying to guess if the angle of his cigar or a gesture of his sleeve means ‘buy’ or “sell’ some commodity.



It is Nathan who first suggests that an offer to fund the Grand Alliance against Napoleon could persuade Britain to put pressure on the arrogant Metternich to abolish the ghetto laws across the Austrian Empire. It is a risk to everything they own ; after some conflict they all agree it, twice over, putting serious fiscal pressure on the brocaded , duplicitous Christian leader.


It may seem an odd moment for a paean to investment-banking and the way that giant fundholders can wield political influence. With nice irony, a few hours after I saw it I watched DRY POWDER (below) about another kind of banking altogether. On the other hand, with Hamilton in town, what better moment to portray pompous royals in brocade and periwigs being outwitted by clever, energetic nobodies from the wrong side of the tracks? And in an time of Holocaust memory and an uneasy sense of reanimated antisemitism, it does no harm to be reminded, from the age of Waterloo, of the troubled, talented, vigorous history of the Jewish diaspora in Europe.


And though the first third of the show is unaccountably slow, and some of the dealings with the Hesse court unengaging, when the father-son conflicts begin it gets peppery and satisfying. The songs improve too; especially “In my own LIfetime” and “Everything”. Cuccioli is tremendous, but so are Gary Trainor as Nathan and the other sons. Glory Crampton, though she is often just background, is moving and melodious when her moments do come. Like Cuccioli she is a personality who can fill far bigger stages than this . It isn’t one of the great musicals, but I left it feeling moved, and thoughtful, and a bit more educated about the diaspora’s journey.



box office 020 7870 6876 to 17 FEb
rating three.   3 Meece Rating

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Everyone loves the film. Something in the nostalgic British psyche likes to think of a gang of ruthless desperadoes lodging with a dear old lady, pretending to be a chamber music quartet, but being foiled by her innocence and their own incompetence. It was a jewel of Ealing cinema and then a wonderful stage adaptation, and now Eastern Angles home in on it, in their Christmassy panto spirit, with their own spoofy account of a similar old lady, Binkie, and her boarding-house in a quiet Ipswich lane (it’ll be a side street in Peterborough when they move it there).


This time, to enable in-jokes about actors, theatre production finances and crazy headgear, the villains have broken out of Norwich jail and their plan is to put on The Importance of Being Earnest, lure in the whole street and nip out to burgle their empty houses during brief periods offstage. A cast of five is valiantly gender-blind (Emma Barclay doubles as Binkie and as CowCrusher the heavy, and Keshini MIsha is Chugger). And, for a lot of the time, they’re very funny. Especially Daniel Copeland as the dimmest, beardiest of them . His veteran drop-dead timing provides the best laughs of the show. Especially when he plays Gwendolen and rather likes it. And it’s quite funny when he plays the flute too, in the musical numbers, because a big bearded heavy with a sweet piping flute always is.



Which is, I fear, a bit more  drawn-out than it need be. Laura Keefe’s direction is full of good gags, not least the meta-theatre moments when they use us as the gullible audience, and Barclay’s turn as Binkie , full of local jokes (again, they’ll adapt them for Peterborough) is fun (“This is Rushmere Community Centre, where I first performed the Downward Dog”) . I loved the music, especially the robbery song, and more of that and less of the slower jokes would help. But, as so often, the spirit of place and the general glee the Angles’ Christmas show carries it through. Even into this filthy January.



box office to 27 Jan
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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The first glimpse of old Geppetto does make you gasp. He is immense, a huge benevolent head bowed attentively as great arms operate the strung marionettes below – who are of course real people, operating him. Like the other two giant characters who appear later, the wicked Stromboli and the deceiving Coachman, he is only a huge head and torso, with a tangle of puppeteers’ legs below. Yet somehow the illusion works, not least because Toby Olié and Bob Crowley, the designers, have given him such an expressive, moving old-man face that the unmoving mouth is somehow not noticed. And of course he looks just like Mark Hadfield, the human Geppetto among his puppetteers below.




Confusing? Well, it’s an old tale and a magical one. The deployment of spectacle and effects under John Tiffany’s direction and the remarkable tech and design team are not allowed to overshadow its old-fashioned moralities, though. The book, rewritten by Denis Kelly, is on touching themes: a child who knows he is different (being wooden), who has to learn unselfishness and humanity; a lonely father who searches, mourns, forgives and is rescued by the son he was trying to save. Joe Idris-Roberts has a sparky Blue-Peterish presence as Pinocchio, and Annette McLaughlin is a dignified Blue Fairy, when not fiddling with her hood or being represented by a really baffling flying blue flame across the Lyttelton’s big stage.



But there’s a curious disconnection at the play’s heart. It’s not quite a musical, not quite a solid play. Apparently this is the first time Disney has allowed the classic film’s songs to be used in a stage production: Martin Lowe has woven round them some lovely arrangements and extensions, and Hi diddle de dee works remarkably well, as does the vaudevillean rearrangement of the No Strings number as Pinocchio dances stringless with a brilliantly choreographed ensemble playing marionettes on coloured  ribbons . But there are few good tunes there, and infuriatingly repetitive -“give a little whistle” can grate, as can the injunction to wish upon a star.  Indeed Kelly’s take on Jiminy Cricket as not only a nagging conscience but a health ’n safety fusspot is a bit too annoying for an adult eye, and gallant though her operator is, she looks so uncomfortable shuffling round on her knees that adults wince.



Children? I think they’ll have fun (the problem with press nights is too few children to judge by. The ones who do come are too well-drilled to whoop). They will certainly be on Pinocchio’s side, not to mention appreciating the lairy Scottish girl Lampy who joins him on Pleasure Island with a Glasgow Saturday night  cry of “wha’s better than smashing things and farting?”.


The Fox, by the way, is not a puppet but a suave, sneering panto villain with an impressively manoeuvrable tail (David Langham) and as for Monstro the Whale, words fail me. With help from a brilliant lighting design, that scene set everyone gasping. And yes, there is flying. Of course there is flying. It’s Christmas.


box office 020 7452 3333 to 10 April
rating three






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After a couple of challenging takes on Strindberg, the little theatre’s new AD Mr Littler (one presumes with a “whoooff!” of relief) has booked in, and jazzed up, an ex-Peepolykus show , co-producing with English Theatre Frankfurt a mercifully un-German interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dartmoor mystery. Through a dense stage fog covering the front row we see a top hat looming, hear a cry of terror and an owowowow barkint. The first victim (Sir Charles Baskerville) falls dead.


Whereon his two colleagues, Max Hutchinson and Simon Kane, trip on, say “thank you Shaun, excellent bit of mime” and help him up before embarking on a metatheatre explanation of what they – with Shaun Chambers – are going to do. Shaun will play Sir Henry, a Scottish doctor, a cabbie, and two distinct yokels, just to start with. Max is Holmes, plus the eventual villain, one glamorous Latina, a butlering couple and another yokel. Simon Kane, in magnificent ginger sideburns which meet his moustache, is the hapless Watson and, in passing, a spare yokel. And that’s it: Lotte Wakeham, fresh off the Matilda team, directs; the writers are Steven Canny and John Nicholson.


What I like – as well as the daft jokes and a ridiculous sauna scene in sock-suspenders and full tweeds — is the disciplined slickness of it: that Reduced-Shakespeare or play-that-goes-wrong quality which lifts shows like this out of the tiresome arent-we-amusing college revue level and into proper theatre. They handle rapid character changes both with and without visible panic, have one interlude of fast-moving slapstick, and cheerfully dart in and out of realism to address us. The production has a neat hand with smoke, the old upright-bed trick, a portable thicket, a fandango interlude and some knee-challengingly convincing sinkings into the Great Grimpen Mire. It is also the first time I learned that the Jermyn can muster the technology to drop a dummy corpse from the roof without anyone noticing it was up there. One of the best bargain 120 minutes-worth of Christmas nonsense around; and they even do two matinees a week.



Box office 0207 287 2875 to 7 Jan
rating three   3 Meece Rating


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THE TWILIGHT ZONE was , long before the phrase was coined, “appointment-to-view television”. In the US in the 50s and 60s families gathered round and gasped at the hokey, portentous suspenseful mystery series (like a precursor of our own Tales of the Unexpected, only with more to-camera moralizing). Adaptor Anne Washburn slightly annoyed me a few years ago with her “post-electric” MR BURNS, in which all that a post-apocalyptic civilization could remember was Simpsons plots. Now she’s back at the Almeida with a mash-up of eight of the original Twilight Zone stories, cut up , interwoven, and presented with an admirably straight face in a style retro-kitsch, camp and knowing. It is executed in a black-box of vague stars with a dangling grey TV and a stage crew half-visibly trundling the furniture around in camouflage star-studded black onesies, as in the golden age of live telly.



The ingredients are all there – Cold War neurosis, space travel nightmares, hospital drama, half-digested psychiatry, aliens, ghostly warnings , carnival grotesques, and worrying erotic dreams about Maja the Catwoman (Lizzy Connolly gets a big number in furry black tights before turning into a Hideous Bandaged Head Lady). One poor woman wakes up post-cryogenically in a future century wearing a tight tinfoil dress and black lipstick. And at one point, pleasingly, someone has to be rescued from the Fourth Dimension by the family dog. The way you know you have stumbled into the Fourth Dimension, by the way, is that there are whirly cardboard op-art discs being carried across the stage, and an upside-down placard of E=mc2.


It is at times hilarious, with some fine deadpan 1950s performances from the cast of 10 and three supernumaries doing the trundling. Richard Jones directs and keeps it moving, a bit confusingly at times, and the only sustainedly long section comes in the second half when the series briefly gives up on sci-fi and supernatural imaginings to portray with unnerving realism a hysterical rivalry between neighbours during a supposed nuclear attack with only one bunker available. That is the most engaging section, with a very topical race row and an attack on the latest immigrant in the striking cry of “This is a nation not a clown car , the entire world is not going to fit in here!”.


At last John Marquez as the (very straight-faced) TV host-narrator concludes by addressing us meta-theatrically with a very 1950s sermonette, reassuring us that as we leave we will not really plummet into an endless field of stars but claiming that “with a few frail bodies, the shifting of artificial light and electronic sound, fabric, plywood, can-do and most importantly your own mental technology, we have created aliens, a living dream, an imaginary child, a dimensional vortex,…” etc .



To which one can only reply “Actually, what you have created is a more like a cheerful holiday-season kitsch tribute to a former age of telly. It passed the time, no more”.



Box Office 020 7359 4404 to 27 Jan
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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