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History in the remaking. SIX is a new breed of pop musical that is getting new audiences excited about theatre and history.

8.7front row score

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss‘ retelling of the old Divorced-Beheaded-Died-Devorced-Beheaded-Survived trope, shows the power of musical theatre in reframing a story we think we all know.

SIX is a 75-minute girl power concert that lets Henry VIII’s six wives tell their own stories for the first time.

The musical was originally written by Marolow and Moss for the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017.

It’s fair to say that it was seen by the right people, and it has absolutely taken off since then and is enjoying a sell-out run, a UK Tour as well as international runs in the States and Australia.

The music is distinctively poppy and I can see certain songs (such as Anne Boleyn’s Sorry, Not Sorry) becoming very successful outside of the show as well.

The six Queens were all extremely dynamic and the tempo continued to punch at full throttle for the whole “concert”.

Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn) caught my attention in particular; Boleyn is given some of the best moments in the show – probably warranted as she’s probably the most individually well-known of Henry’s wives.

Though, as Catherine Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed) points out, whilst the premise of the show does without the King himself, no one would know who these six ladies were if it weren’t for him.

I saw Courtney Stapleton (Alternate Jane Seymour & Catherine Parr) as Jane Seymour and she was also very good.

Disappointingly, the Programme (which costs in the region of £1 a page…), is not up to date so the actress who performed the role of Anna of Cleves does not get a mention.

The show is turning out to be one of the Arts Theatre’s most successful productions and they keep extending the current run.

The theatre matches the show really well; Emma Bailey’s pop-rock concert staging fits the space and gives the Queens enough space to strut their stuff, whilst keeping the energy from leaking away.

And credit is most certainly due to Carrie-Anne Ingrouille for her hip and snappy choreography – she gives the Queens their own personal sass and style, whilst nailing the ensemble pieces, effectively emulating the huge arena concerts of the Spice Girls.

The result is a punchy pop concert that is both educational and entertaining in equal measures.

Thank goodness Kenny Wax, Andy & Wendy Barnes and George Stiles (Producers) decided to throw their expertise and weight behind this rule-breaking student show – it deserves every success!

This production of SIX opened at the Norwich Playhouse on 11th July 2018. SIX is currently playing at the Arts Theatre until 5th July 2020.

Running Time: 75 minutes, without an interval.

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The Man In The White Suit is a comic trip down memory lane. The 1951 comedy leaves Ealing for the West End.

9.2front row score

If you’re game for a laugh, head to the Wyndham’s Theatre for Sean Foley‘s stage adaptation of the 1951 Ealing Studios film The Man In The White Suit.

Stephen Mangan stars in this new stage adaptation of the comedy, which centres around a socially-bizarre chemistry graduate from Cambridge who has invented a new type of thread which never tears or stains – meaning you only need to buy one of everything and you won’t have to worry about laundry either!

Despite many villagers of Trimley geeing Sidney Stratton (Stephen Mangan) on towards his dream cloth, Sidney finds himself in a tight corner once his experiments seem to have led to a truly unbreakable and untarnishable material.

The rich textiles barons are terrified that their wealth is about to vanish before their eyes, so will do anything they can to prevent the cloth from being made. On the other side of the factory-divide, the workers have realised that an indestructable material means fewer clothes will be needed… which means fewer clothes will be made… which means fewer workers to make them… which means bad news for them.

Only Kara Tointon’s terribly posh Daphne Birnley – daughter of a textile factory owner – is on Sidney’s side to the end. So much on his side, that she has fallen in love with him!

The ensemble brings the character of the Ealing Comedy to life with new songs, written by Charlie Fink – former frontman of Noah and the Whale.

I would recommend buying a programme if you go to see this show because the interviews with Fink and the writer-director Sean Foley are interesting reads.

Michael Taylor’s set design is also an undoubted star of the show, delivering the punchline of as many jokes as some of the characters.

I particularly enjoyed Daphne’s car journey, with Sidney clinging on to the outside of the car as she continues her cross-country journey nonplussed that he is swinging off the rear of her car like a scarf in the wind.

The Man in the White Suit was originally based on Roger MacDougall’s play The Flower Within The Bud, which I had never heard of before seeing this production. Perhaps it’s one to take a look at – it’s certainly led to some very entertaining theatre in its current mutated form.

This production of The Man in the White Suit opened at the Wyndham’s Theatre on 27 September 2019 and closes on 11 January 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including one 20 minute interval

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Two Ladies: A Somewhat Unbelievable New Play by Nancy Harris premieres at the Bridge Theatre

7.8front row score

They claim this play is a work of fiction, but you can’t help but draw the obvious comparisons to the current First Ladies of America and France.

Set amidst a fictional summit, this play must be considered as a political statement on a very real, and current, situation.

The play is only on for a very short run at the Bridge Theatre, between London’s Tower Bridge and City Hall, and stars Zoe Wanamaker and Zrinka Cvitesic in the leading roles.

Wanamaker plays Helen, First Lady of France – notably older than her Presidential husband (read: Macron). Cvitesic – the undoubted star of the show – presents an Eastern European wife of America’s President (read: Trump).

The characters don’t stray far from the real world. Nancy Harris‘ play, however, attempts to delve into the emotional trials of the First Ladies’ situations – politically and personally. However, it is in many ways a little far-fetched and trite.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner – co-founder of the Bridge Theatre, and former Director of the National Theatre – “Two Ladies” simultaneously unites and divides the two ladies, who are locked in a hotel conference room for the duration of the one-act play.

Do the ladies have more in common with each other than with their powerful husbands? do they, in truth, have more in common with the people out on the street than they do with their husbands?

The set, which I always like to consider, was simple and unexciting. Designed by Anna Fleischle, it captures the corporate blandness of a hotel conference room.

I particularly enjoyed the lift lobby, which is partially obscured by frosted glass and the double doors to the room.

Hytner uses this space expertly to create authentic depth of scene, by having security personel constantly waiting outside the room – on-stage but off, in many ways these unscripted performers had just as challenging a role to play as the two title characters, with their 100 minutes of dialogue to perform.

The play asks many questions, and leaves all of them unanswered. A perfect play for you if you enjoy discussing your thoughts and ideas after the curtain has fallen.

Go with a friend who likes to muse over possibilities and ponder why and what if.

The World Premiere of Two Ladies opened at the Bridge Theatre on 25 September 2019 and closes on 26 October 2019.

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I commend this debut to the House. Simon Woods’ Hansard is a sign of more to come

8.3front row score

The Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre) isn’t a bad spot to stage your first play as a writer. Simon Woods has really landed on his feet here with his 80-minute one-act political comi-drama.

There are certainly more than a few clever, witty moments through the play, though I can’t help thinking that the Oxford graduate is something of a poor man’s Alan Ayckbourn at present.

The play, set in an expansive Cotswolds house, with a garden (off-stage) blighted by foxes, carries the audience through a morning with Diana and Robin Hesketh (Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings).

The Heskeths have been married thirty years – he’s a Conservative MP, whilst she presents herself as resolutely Left.

The comic spite in their political disagreements in the first half of this play were too big a challenge for me to believe in their marriage. They were a marriage of convenience – a writer’s convenience – and not, for me, grounded in reality.

However, there was a real and gritty element to this story. It took an hour or so to discover it, but the clincher at the end is really very arresting.

I would have liked to delve more into the couple’s painful history a little earlier in the play, which might have helped ground some of the throwaway, witty to-and-fros.

Simon Godwin’s stage directions work well on the wide Lyttelton stage. Constant movement, sometimes focused, sometimes aimless, mimiced real life expertly.

But it was mimicry.

The play was an open manifesto. It was not suggestive, but instructive. It was not subtle, but a poster for the political movement of gay rights and the internal struggles of the Conservative Party to get there.

A word, as always, about the set: designed by Hildegard Bechtler the set struck me as almost cinematic in its proportions. Wide – 16:9 wide. And deep too – there was a real depth to the stage, with rooms leading into rooms into rooms.

I liked the open but clear separation between the front rooms, allowing the actors to partake in a wide dance, engaging with each other as if joined by a elastic bungee cord, but never close enough to touch.

Hildegard should have a stern word with Jackie Shemesh (Lighting Designer) about the “sunlight” streaming in from the Stage Left windows. About as believable as the longevity of the protagonists’ marriage.

The World Premiere of Hansard opened at the Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre) on 3 September 2019 and closes on 25 November 2019.

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Florian Zeller’s The Son is a must-see West End transfer

9front row score

The third of his Mother, Father, Son tryptic to strike the London stage; The Son deviates from the other two plays in its style – more direct, less abstract, more graphic.

The three plays, whilst tied together in title, are actually stand-alone plays so you don’t need to have seen The Mother or The Father to make sense of this production.

Translated by his ongoing collaborator, Christopher Hampton, The Son is set in Paris and hones in on the pains and tribulations of a troubled teenager Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston).

Laurie Kynaston’s raw performance in the focal role is convincing and upsetting. John Light, who plays his father Pierre, is also remarkably convincing – exposing the struggles of fatherhood – separated from Nicolas’ mother and with a new-born baby with his girlfriend, Sofia.

The two mothers in this play were less convincing for me, and at times felt like they were saying lines, but the emotion pouring from Kynaston and Light carried the show.

The one-act play, directed by Michael Longhurst, was harrassing throughout and powerfully charged through without me feeling the need for an interval.

That said, it certainly wasn’t light entertainment, and at the final curtain I felt drained and needed a long walk.

I went with a friend who is a Psychologist, she said watching this play was like being at work.

Lizzie Clachan’s set design was simple and clever, with a second room that was partially revealed and obscured at different moments during the play, indicating different locations in an otherwise static set.

The Son opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on 24 August 2019 for a 10-week run.

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)

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Helen Edmundson’s Stage Adaptation of Small Island is a fantastic tribute to the late Andrea Levy

Small Island - National Theatre - 2019
8.7front row score

This powerful stage production of Andrea Levy‘s Windrush-inspired novel opened at the Olivier Theatre (National Theatre) in London, on the 1 May 2019 – two and a half months after the lady who originally penned the story passed away.

This production has now closed.

Andrea Levy’s epic novel, which won the Orange Prize for literature, tells the shared story of Britons in Britain and the Caribbean through the Second World War to 1948 – the same year that the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.

Adapted for stage by Helen Edmundson and directed by Rufus Norris, Small Island features a huge cast of 40, who manage to control the vast Oliver stage – allowing for moments of bleak emptiness amidst chaotic scenes of frenzied crowd activity.

The story movingly presents Britain as an all-too-comfortable home of deep-seated racial discrimination whilst simultaneously offering a more hopeful view of a movement towards racial integration.

WATCH THE TRAILER: Small Island at the National Theatre (Run ends of 10 August 2019)

Hortense (Leah Harvey) yearns for a new life away from rural Jamaica, where she’s been raised by her strictly God-fearing Aunt and Uncle. Her cousin Michael (CJ Beckford) rejects his parents’ orthodox ways, and signs up to join the RAF in World War II.

Through Michael and her husband Gilbert (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr), Hortense’s story becomes intricately entangled with Queenie (Aisling Loftus) from Lancashire and her awkward London bank-clerk husband.

The set, designed by Katrina Lindsay, makes good use of the wide angles in the Olivier Theatre. A wide upstage-centre entrance is strikingly reminiscent of an aircraft hangar, opening and closing its doors to Spitfires through the War. A clever use of understage lifts, built into a large revolve, adds a further touch of style to Rufus Norris’ expertly choreographed scene changes.

Projecting onto a wide, curving back-wall, Lindsay’s set can be likened to Rae Smith’s minimalist design for War Horse (which galloped from this same stage more than a decade ago).

Her use of projection was subtle and useful in maintaining a sense of location in a play which jumps between Jamaica and England throughout.

A story of togetherness and dividedness. This is an important story for understanding the personal impact of the former British Empire on its subjects so many thousands of miles apart.

Small Island opened at the Olivier Theatre (National Theatre) in London on 1 May 2019 and closed on 10 August 2019.

Running Time: 3 Hours, including a 20 minute interval.

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