Category Archives: Three Mice

MONOGAMY Park Theatre N4




In some plays, you reach the interval not exactly dissatisfied but wondering “where is this going next? How will it knit  up the ends.?  So many characters – and their  troublesome characteristics – have piled in, manic sitcom style, with bursts of backstory and downright bafflement, that it seems a problem beyond solution in a final hour. That is why you should not leave in the interval. 


      I wouldn’t have anyway, being keen on Torben Betts, whose INVINCIBLE should be much better known.    And the superscription of the play promised that it was, beyond the satire about celebrity-TV-chef in family meltdown, a reflection on the “culturally imposed aberration” of nuclear family life in general.   I am not sure it achieved that, given that the characters as individuals were so much more (entertainingly) flaky than the norm.


      So we had the great Janie Dee as TV cook in rehearsal , clearly drinking too much,  preparing a family gathering and rather more bonded to a crucifix on the kitchen wall than is normal in cookery celebs. She has   a TV assistant  (Genevieve Gaunt) manically Bubble-y , swerving begin street, Sarf-London PA efficiency,   and a loghorrreic intricacy of sentence .   She is in communication with the Mail over some shaming drunken photos of the saintly cook.  Then there’s Caroline’s son ( Jack Archer)  frustrated by her failure to listen to something he has to tell her (it’ll be Act 2 before he manages) and a hunky builder Amanda fancies and who clearly prefers the maturer mistress of the house. But then, exploding into the kitchen with his gold clubs in comedy woolly pompom hats, there is Mike the red faced banker husband.



At which point you stop worrying about whether Betts will take it anywhere interesting because Patrick Ryecart is just plain hilarious,  from his bristling ginger eyebrows to his ramblingly explosive anecdotes about the glory of golf and his choleric outbursts about “homosexual bolshevist vegetarians” his theory that ‘vegetarian’ is neolithic language for “shit at hunting’.  Every scene he is in lights up.  


        Too many issues of the day seemed to cram in : some current to the characters (Charlie Brooks is very touching as the newly arrived Sally, mistaken for someone else) and many in back-stories.    There’s gayness, infidelity,  religious mania, Syrian refugees, an Afghanistan veteran suicide,  Japanese POW postwar trauma, multiple,sclerosis, autism, benefit cuts and the criminality of the British empire.  I began to wonder whether Mr Betts was fulfilling a side-bet on how many issues he could get in without mentioning Brexit.


     As to where this entertainingly jerky goes in Act 2, –  the answer is drunker, wilder, increasingly funnier (Alistair Whatley of the Original Theatre Company clearly enjoys directing chaos).  Characters do grow, esp Dad Mike:  I was actually slightly tearful at his realization that he’d never told his son he loved him. Janie Dee is as ever credible even at the characters oddest , drunkest and most religiously transfixed,  Archer as  the son poignant and infuriating. The carving knife brandished in scene 1 gets its moment, as is the grand tradition of theatremaking;  the entire act  is constructed in a rising thunderstorm effect. 


box office 0207 870 6876  to 7 july

rating three  3 Meece Rating


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JULIE Lyttelton, SE1


We’re in a Hampstead mansion. The daughter of the house is whooping it up at her birthday party, a deafening, purple-lit rave where tight-buttocked androgynes and glittering hair-flickers writhe and shriek. Below them in a bland grand kitchen the help – Ghanaian chauffeur John (Eric Kofi Abrefa) and his girlfriend Kristin the maid (Thalissa Teixeira) tidy up, take a swig of the absent Daddy’s Chateau Latour and comment on the chaos. Down comes the birthday girl Julie, leaping around barefoot on the worktops flashing ever more thigh at Jean. And so the trouble begins.



The scenario is familiar, you say? Indeed. It’s a Strindberg update by Polly Stenham,  who at 19 famously wrote “That Face” , brilliant on the damage of growing up in a boho, addiction-addled posh family. A few years later she gave us No Quarter, which was frankly just annoying, since rather than any relatable pain it exuded a tiresome conviction that rich decadent bohemians are somehow more interesting than other people . Which is an attitude you can only get away with if you’re Noel Coward, and capable of lightening it up a bit. Which Stenham, as yet, is not.
But this time she joins the endless line of adaptors and updaters of August Strindberg’s toughly nasty, misogynistic Miss Julie: a play soaked in such fin-de-siecle Nordic hopelessness that it makes Ibsen look like PG Wodehouse.


It is hard to see why – apart from the obvious marketing reason – Stenham would need to borrow the classic. There are other ways to tackle the hypocrisies and inequalities of rich London versus its immigrant servitor class – the stated intention here – without piggybacking on the miserable old Swede. Stenham’s Julie is not an 1888 ingenue for whom sex with Jean would be momentous , but a 33-year-old trust-fund waster, returned home to live with her affluent father, party, and self-medicate with everything from Xanax to cocaine. The gang upstairs is not Strindberg’s estate peasantry but the usual upmarket druggy ravers; the heroine’s degenerate behaviour and distress has less to do with social pressures than with the fact that she’s off her face and with a bolted-on back-story about her mother’s death.



Only the character of Jean with his hard-edged ambition and eye for the main chance feels close to the original, and he is a man for all ages. Stenham’s social-outrage intention is clear enough, especially when the chauffeur (good line) exasperatedly tells the wealthy messed-up Julie “We don’t have the luxury of being sad like you”. And again when Kristina the maid is given a very un-Strindbergian speech of indignation near the end about how she has washed our heroine’s blood-stained underwear , picked her up from abortion clinics, listened to her endlessly but despises the faux-liberal pretence that they were ever any kind of friends.


But with the glossy visual values (Tom Scutt design, amazing) and some remarkably directed movement by the ensemble of non-speaking partygoers (Ann Yee clearly should be booked for your next rave), the howling flaw is that Carrie Cracknell’s production feels more like a zoo – “see the rich posh ravers!” – than any sort of polemic exposure. There is one particularly enjoyable moment when – in what may be a dream sequence – the dancers creep down from above with cockroach-like crawling movements and vanish into the mysteriously changed kitchen appliances. It’s not often you encounter the stage-direction “Exit through the dishwasher”.


And there’s the extreme audience giggle when (back to Strindberg’s detail again) our modern Julie rather improbably insists on taking her pet canary with her on the fantasy flight to Cape Verde with Jean. When told to kill it, she puts it in the Magimix. Vanessa Kirby’s Julie (a tremendous performance, as one would expect) then collapses in sobbing grief about her terrible traumatic past experience. But the Magimix giggle ’n groan has spoilt that. So we feel nothing. What a waste.


box office 020 7452 3000 To to 8 Sept
Travelex season. NB in cinemas 6 Sept, NT Live

rating  three 3 Meece Rating


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The elegant new Bridge continues to demonstrate – firmly — that it is uniquely versatile. After one traditional tragicomedy (Young Marx) we had a swirling mob-riot immersive Caesar , then an intimate pastoral quartet , and now the 900-seat space offers a bare square of light, thrust forward for intimacy. And ninety minutes of sparse projections, artful lighting, a single hospital bed and chair and one narrator talking about a not particularly exceptional life.


Risky? On the other hand, the performer is Laura Linney, fiercely intelligent star of screen and Broadway, the source bestseller is by the Pulitzer winner Elizabeth Strout, the adaptor Rona Munro who dazzled us with the James Plays at Nicholas Hytner’s NT. And the director is no less than Richard Eyre. So, not such a risk.


And if you have a taste for this particular tone of intense, forensic emotional autobiography with a strong tang of the creative-writing course, it’s top of the genre. And it isn’t entirely fair o say “not particularly exceptional’, because Strout’s novel sets her heroine – a successful writer – at a moment of private crisis . She is remembering nine weeks in hospital with some undiagnosed serious condition, apart from her rather unengaged husband and two small daughters. But to her surprise her mother, long estranged, turns up and sits by her bed relating nicely sour stories of old neighbours. It reignites the writer’s memories of a fairly grim and lonely childhood in the Illinois croplands, in an isolated house without books, television or friends, and a father emotionally war-damaged and difficult. The twist is that Lucy Barton, rather than being a bit irritated and wanting to get the hell out, finds immense solace in her mother’s undemonstrative but positive presence. A slow catharsis takes place.


Linney is brilliant, evoking in turn both Lucy and the twanging, tough-nut mother. Elegant projections give us the Chrysler building outside the window, memories of wide fields , of her first married apartment and of the louche , alarming but stimulating freedom of New York and its people during the AIDS crisis. The strongest aspect is her evocation of childhood loneliness and a sense of never quite identifying and belonging, even in marriage. It tips over, though, typical of its post-Salinger genre, into a righteous affirmation of writerliness and its “ruthless” need to centre on itself and tell its “only story”.


And sometimes that can wear you down a bit. Make you feel a bit – well, I dunno, British. Suddenly the spell breaks and you wish she’d talk about something else. I would pay a lot to see the wonderful Linney, in a space and production like this, telling any number of other stories. But maybe not this Strout one. But it’s a class act, and could well be absolutely for you.


Box office: 0843-208 1846. to 23 June
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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PETER PAN. Open Air, Regents Park

Peter Pan has now flown into every medium possible. He is a play, novel, pantomime, musical, television programme, cartoon and a Kate Bush single. This version, at the leafy, fairy light-twinkly and on this night, bone dry and sunny Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, is another twist. 
Directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel have melded World War One and circus. Despite the play being written a full 10 years before Franz Ferdinand took a ride through Sarajevo, the allegory is snug. Neverland is the escape, the idea of adventure and derring-do which Barrie himself peddled during the war, alongside many famous authors, in the War Propaganda Bureau. 
This production opens in a field hospital outside the trenches. Wendy is nurse, soldiers are limping in. Their suffering soon slips into the dream of Neverland. The device may be snug, but this is where the play is weakest. 
Give it ropes, give it flight and fight; that’s where things get cooking. When Sam Angell’s Panto Pan clambers through the window and into this scene, it’s as if someone has dropped a tea tray. Why is it so broad, so camp and so green? I slumped into my squeaky outdoor chair and prepared to lose an evening. But as the sun dipped behind the park, and the spotlights clicked on, things mightily picked up.  Dennis Herdman’s Captain Cook and his catalogue of tunes and gurns had us all chuckling, Tinkerbell (in the hands of the brilliant Elisa de Grey) had grown men cooing and even the Lost boys (who had a strong whiff of mid-morning kids TV) made sense. Cora Kirk as Wendy, (with a corking Hull accent we need to hear more of) was a solid attempt at the kind of generically defiant female lead of a musical, although this wasn’t one. Once everyone accepted it as just a very well-executed panto, things clicked.



The clutter of props, carried from wartime England, were transformed. Hospital beds were fireplaces, islands and boats. Curtains became fish. A briefcase and collection of hankies became a gull. Most importantly, the tick tock tick tock of the crocodile cumulated in a beast made of beady lanterns, a swishing tail of corrugated iron and a snapping jaw of deckchair. The entire evening is owed to puppet designer Rachael Canning. Her creations somewhat save the night from the concept. 
Even when Peter exclaimed that “to die would be a great adventure”, I was thinking pirates and canon, not soldiers and trenches. Which is why the war is nodded to, or when finally the lost boys return to the army uniform they started the night in, it all falls to pieces. They make a serious point; about lives being lost and wasted. But the performances are still loud, the dialogue still basic and cliches abound.
At the end of the war, in what’s described as Barrie’s first and last public appearance, he spoke of the war and of how they had told the “youth, who had to get us out of it, tall tales of what it really is and the clover beds to which it leads.”.
Box Office  0844 826 4242 
rating.  Three.   3 Meece Rating

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HAMLET                 Shakespeare’s Globe, SE1




Here’s a vulnerable Hamlet:  a lonely lad in proper tearful grief and disappointment at his mother’s remarriage.    A Hamlet who, in feigning madness,  loses his grip for a while on sense and kindness;  whose treatment of Ophelia we can wince at but understand.  Above all it is a Hamlet whose progress through the switchback of grief and anger and self-doubt and superstition and affection is diamond-precise,  driven by the text.  His final brief adult nobility where “readiness is all” is all the more effective for that.  I have seen more spectacular Hamlets and more arresting ones, but few with such intimate, credible accuracy in the arc of his suffering and resolution.



This Hamlet is a woman, Michelle Terry.    Horatio is female too, as is Marcellus, and Laertes is the tiny, sparky Bettrys Jones. On the other hand Ophelia is a man:  Shubham Saraf,  with a delicate and touching  performance but also an uncompromisingly schoolboy short-back-and-sides above the ballgown, standing a head taller than her brother or Hamlet.   Rosencrantz – looking a bit old to be a schoolmate -is a conventionally bearded Pearce Quigley, but Guildenstern is  Nadia Nadarajah , who is Deaf : she communicates with sprightly good humour in BSL -British Sign Language – to which Hamlet responds skilfully and Rosencrantz sometimes translates.



This production is a key moment in Michelle Terry’s new role as Artistic Director of the Globe, after the less than happy departure of Emma Rice. And power to her:  not only kicking off with two plays (often running  on the same day, as yesterday) but using a hefted, identical company for both,  and in the second playing Hamlet.  I call that leading from the front. 



         I missed the As You Like It, in which she took a smaller part. But towards dusk saw Hamlet. Terry has made it clear that in  casting she plans 50:50 gender equality and greater diversity; she also  runs rehearsals more startlingly open to outsiders than most actors have ever known.  The actors,  composer, choreographer,  two directors ( Federay Holmes and Elle While)   and the designer Ellan Parry are equal partners, she says,  and use rehearsal as a “test tube” of experimentation.  With Parry by the way we are instructed to use only the pronoun “they”, though there is only one of they. Fine but confusing: I prefer “xi” myself.. 


           Do not flinch. Gender politics are in the air, women do need a better break in theatre, and there is a place for free thinking collaboration.  As a fine and seasoned actor and scholarly Shakespearean  – but not a director  – Michelle Terry  might as well rattle the cages of the old school “auteur-director”  with a personal vision of  a classic. That, after all, has lately led to a couple of quite tiresome  Macbeths.   But  as an  audience we too are in the experiment and collaboration.  And for all the engagement and skill, for all the leader’s strong Hamlet, the fine blaring trumpets and stellar performances like Helen Schlesinger’s Gertrude,  Colin Hurley’s Ghost  and a wonderful, slyly funny Poloniusn from Richard Katz,   there are moments which jar.  



     For, this  humbly collaborative audience member ventures to say,  it jars when the physical casting and mixed costumes impede the storytelling, slow us down, make the watcher  think “ah, another 21c sensibility there!” rather than feeling the line of the tragedy.    Honestly,  get rid of that bobble hat in the battlement scene, tone down the clown suit sooner,  restrict some of the BSL moments.   We need to be transported and the Globe, with the pulsing energy of the groundlings , can do that better than many.    Interestingly, there was far less interaction with the groundlings than we are used to here, and that matters  ( Terry’s Hamlet is better at it than anyone else. She knows how to Globe-it from earlier performances). 



  And  one should not have to feel sheer relief when the gravedigger is not another modishly diverse gesture but just Colin Hurley again,   curmudgeonly male in  a hi-vis vest, 100% proof traditional as Shakespeare would remember.     Terry does no arms-length skull-work but just  hops into the new-dug muddy grave beside him.  The prince’s memories of Yorick are properly affecting. Moments like that stay with you as strongly as the jerky 21c devices.  May there be many more .


box office 0207 401 9919    

 to 26 aug

rating   three  

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MINDGAME Ambassadors, WC2



    Gotta  love the buccaneering quality of west end theatres: the Small Faces musical at the little Ambassadors off Cambridge Circus closed early , and David Haig’s  wonderful Pressure doesn’t come in for another fortnight. So a quick pounce by  producers hauled in this pocket psycho-thriller by the alarmingly prolific Antony Horowitz ((he of the junior James Bonds and sexed-up Sherlocks, plus TV Foyle’s War).  The play has been touring for years in bursts, having just delighted the Isle of WIght:   so tell the cast of three they’re coming Up West for a couple of weeks, keep the tickets well under the fifty mark,  set up bargain packages and hope for thrilled bums-on-seats.



By serendipity this weary but gallant little theatre is bang next door to that very un-thrilling geriatric landmark, The Mousetrap.  So I slithered in.  Always  worth observing the vagrant, less-celebrated creature that is UK theatre in the wild. Especially when it’s a retro,  schlock-horror mystery psycho bamboozle.


      I can certainly tell you, hand on heart, it’s better than the one next door. Though I had better be careful, since two-thirds of the cast and the producer are ex mousetrappers, with natural affection for the fusty old beast.   This one is set in a psychiatrist’s office in an improbably bijou secure hospital for the criminally insane in Suffolk.     A certain artificiality about this is, you find,,  part of the delusion under which which one or other  – or all three  – of the characters are labouring. So is the view through the window,  a portrait on the wall which it is worth keeping an eye on, and a full skeleton in a remarkably camp hand-on-hip pose  as if saying “Duh! Can he really be a doctor?”.  



 Added to the usual task of persuading us they’re not actors, the cast have the burden of acting as if they might be acting.  On the face of it Styler (Andrew Ryan) is  a supercilious true crime author  who has arrived, in eyewateringly tight Dad jeans,   to persuade Michael Sherwin’s Dr Farquhar to let him interview a serial killer in his custody.   An occasional scream in the distance,  a strangely tense nurse and an unnerving malfunctioning speaker system create the required traditional loony-bin atmosphere.  Not quite the ticket for Mental Health Week,  I suppose,  but it feeds nicely into two of our favourite worries:  fear of psychiatrists,   and a conviction that murderous insanity involves  devilish superhuman cunning.  Blame Anthony Hopkins and his damn fava-beans.   Tyler’s fascination with the subject is questioned by the shrink,  who lectures him for slightly too long on  reformation,  psychodrama therapy etc. 



 Who is deluded, and what is real?  What is the significance of this stuff about wisteria and dogs called Goldie ?  What is wrong with the  presumed nurse  (Sarah Wynne Kordas,  who valiantly maintains her own confusing is-this-acting-or-acting-as-acting ).  What is in that sandwich?     Why is  Dr Farquhar  growing ever more elfin in his manner?   Sherwin conveys a powerful air of an accomplished light-comedy actor wondering how far he dares push the camping-up.  When he asks “Is this spiralling into farce?” the urge to shout “Oh yes it is!”  is extreme.   There’s a strait-jacket and some nasty menace (not one for the kids, this).    But the skeleton in the corner has, by Act 2, assumed an even more “ooh-Matron” pose with one hand on hip and one in front of his mouth.  That won the third mouse, to be honest.   


box office 0844 811 2334    to 10 June

rating   three  3 Meece Rating

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PRESENT LAUGHTER                  Chichester Festival Theatre




         In the final outburst from our hero Gary Essendine –  silk-dressing-gowned philanderer,  arrogantly insecure darling of the West End    his backer Henry reveals that he has booked the Forum Theatre and the actor howls that he cannot do a light French farce in a space like Wembley Stadium.   A similar faint misgiving afflicted me at the thought of this lighter-than-air Noel Coward comedy surviving in this big airy theatre (especially after the cocktail-sharp intimate miniatures  of Tonight at 830 in the teeny Jermyn last Sunday, see below) .   And for much of the first half deep unease persisted.  On Alice Power’s detailed, towering, detail-perfect set (some very funny touches)  there was shouting.  Yelling.   Overdoing it to the point of mania.  



       Didn’t matter with Lizzy Connolly’s ditzy, Sloaney invader of her hero’s apartment ,  voguing around in his silk pyjamas the morning after “losing her latch-key”.  Nor did a bit of extreme upstaging bother me when Tamzin Griffin as the housekeeper repeatedly hobbled around the stage in the manner of Mrs Overall.  And Katherine Kingsley as the ex-wife and Tracy-Ann Oberman as Monica the secretary both were as tart , emotionally restrained  and deadly on-the-lines as they should be.  



     But Rufus Hound –  better known as a standup, TV host and fiery left activist –   is the oddest possible casting for Essendine!     He is thuggish not smooth,  laddish not sophisticated.    Coward wrote for the smooth, the clipped, the swish deployer of killer asides.      Even Essendine’s dramatic  absurdities, designed to fend off clinging girls ,  are cool Charles-and-Fiona stuff.    “There’s something awfully -sed – about heppiness”  “I can’t be free like other men..I belong to my public”.    Hound just  yells them.    Thus by kicking off at top volume Mach 3 from the start  he eaves himself  no space for the real panics into which his entourage throws him  as the farce speeds up later.  



      Ben Allen’s Maule, the obsessed stalker-worshipper,  goes hell-for-leather too,  giving us no time to wonder whether he is as mad as he seems.    Great laugh lines are wasted: at times the first act is like hearing Bach played on kazoo-and-tuba,  or brain surgery in boxing gloves.   When at last Lucy Briggs-Owen sashays on as the man-killing Joanna you sigh with relief: at last a classic classy Coward-cool character, a long streak of slink and scorn and sexual threat. She’s wonderful.



        But what begins as a  comedy of manners does turn gradually into true farce,:  wrong people behind doors,  disastrous  revelations of affairs, panic.   And in this area director Sean Foley is wholly reliable: a master when it comes to sofa-bounces,  painful handshakes (an excellent joke here near the end),  and the possibilities of soda-siphons and spilled drinks.   So the second half is properly full-on funny.   And the curtain call is a full-cast rendering of “Why do the wrong people travel?” and a dance. So we all leave happy.  


box office 01243 781312   to 12 May

rating three  3 Meece Rating

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