StageScan Pick: Miss Julie

Miss Julie at the Jermyn Street Theatre received a 4.3-star average pro score, with two fives. Fiona Mountford (ES) thought “Strindberg’s warhorse … done with monotonous regularity” but added “never before have I seen such urgency and conviction that these few hours on a topsy-turvy Midsummer’s Eve in late 19th century Sweden really are a matter of life or death”. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) admitted to being reduced to “nervous collapse” by “this always alarming 1888 play”. She praised a “new, spare, fluent adaptation” which Mountford found “confident and earthy”.  Clare Brennan (Observer) agreed the piece “remains riveting” suggesting this production “shows why”. Michael Billington (Guardian) saw both Howard Brenton’s new version and Tom Littler’s “very classy production” heighten “Strindberg’s vision of sexual relationships as constantly poised between love and hate”.
He admired “the right note of intimate realism” and Mountford found the initial “smell of something frying on the stove” one of the “many delights” of a production Purves found “particularly and deliciously unnerving … admirably unafraid to start leisurely, almost lazy” before “the pace rises and tragic energy swells, baleful and tense”.  She found it free of “gimmicky updating” and Billington praised “Strindberg played with absolute fidelity”. Brennan suggested “The production, keeping the period setting, highlights the interplay between what is evanescent (time; place – elegantly evoked in Louie Whitemore’s design) and what endures”.
Mountford thought “All three performances superlative” with Charlotte Hamblin “a whirligig of febrile intensity as she captures Miss Julie’s spinning, frantic flirtation and capitulation”. Purves thought her “magnificent… seemingly blithe with Sloaney entitlement” and Billington noted “just the right mix of hauteur, coquettishness and frenzy”.
Mountford saw James Sheldon create “a vivid suggestion of the composed Jean’s ambition and confidence”. Billington said he “reveals both the arrogance and aspirations of the lowly valet”. Purves, describing a character with “the fastidious pomposity of an upper servant who dreads being back amid the ploughmen” saw Sheldon bring “an edge of florid, handsome coarseness, the resentful brute slyly peeping out of the smooth exterior even early on”. Billington also saw Kristin “all too often played as a domestic frump… endowed by Izabella Urbanowicz with a proper awareness of her own attractiveness”.
Brennan concluded: “Finely balanced, well-wrought, emotionally charged performances make the play as real and sensational now as ever” and Billington agreed its “power … lies in the resentful passion and ferocity displayed by Hamblin and Sheldon”. Purves felt it “like spending ninety minutes watching a clear, delicate polished piece of fine glass shiver, creak ominously, crack and finally shatter all over you” as it “holds you gripped in pity and terror, the angst of a bygone age rattling and echoing down the years with perennial truth”. Mountford declared “this razor-sharp dissection of class, money and the (im)possibility of social mobility… An unexpected treat of the highest order”.

Runs to 2 Dec 2017, with some tickets still available from Jermyn Street’s box office at time of writing.

And for another reinvigorated classic, check out our no-booking-fee prices for A Woman of No Importance, which start at £19.50.

 

StageScan Pick: Romantics Anonymous

Romantics Anonymous at Shakespeare’s Globe received 4-star average pro reviews. Holly Williams (What’s On Stage), describing a “big-hearted musical” adaptation of the 2010 Belgian film, admitted: “You might expect Emma Rice’s departure from the Globe to leave a bad taste in the mouth, but her final show couldn’t be sweeter”. Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) found “deliciousness” in the “most kindly way it celebrates experimentation over stale tradition”. Sam Marlowe (The Stage) agreed “there’s not a sour note” and Lyn Gardner (The Guardian) described “a multifaceted gem, chock-full of love, generosity and joy” which “fits the space like a glove”.

Williams detected a “close and communal” feel to this indoor production “staged with Rice’s customary elan” and featuring “knowing nods throughout to the absurdity of people bursting into song”. Marlowe said Lez Brotherston “wittily transforms the Playhouse into glittering Paris” and Gardner found his “exquisite… tongue-in-cheek design… neatly plays up the space’s chocolate-box aesthetic”. Marlowe also praised “blissfully twinkle-toed” choreography.
He found Rice’s book “frothy, yet piquant”, Williams observed “an irresistible romcom drive” and Gardner admired “confident… sensitive” Rice’s “witty stagecraft” and “ability to tug at the heartstrings”. She highlighted the “wry comic touch” with which she suggests “that people sometimes see chronic shyness as an affectation” and found the scenes “at the Alcoholics Anonymous-style meetings… funny and heartbreakingly sad”.

Gardner described a “musical confection – composed with charm” by Michael Kooman, which, said Marlowe, “whisks accordion waltzes into lush flavours of chanson”, and Letts enjoyed “catchy melodies”. Gardner praised Christopher Dimon’s “sometimes droll lyrics”, which Letts found “witty” and “chipper”. Marlowe agreed they “trip winningly along”. Gardner thought it “best described as a play with songs” and Letts agreed “the music is a background seltzer rather than the overwhelming medium”.

Letts saw “characters … sketched with affection and skill” and Williams found leads Carly Bawden and Dominic Marsh “utterly gorgeous”. Marlowe agreed they make “endearing misfits”. Gardner declared it “valiantly served not just by its leads but the entire top-notch, cross-dressing, shape-shifting ensemble”, highlighting “delicious” Joanna Riding and “terrific” Lauren Samuels. Amid “a gourmand’s selection of tasty cameos” Marlowe also praised Riding alongside “a formidable” Gareth Snook.

Letts found the whole “delightful” admitting: “Not for yonks have I been so charmed by a new musical.” Marlowe found it “utterly gorgeous… Souffle-light and swooningly seductive” as it “glows with… starry-eyed wonder… melts your heart and tickles your fancy”. Williams, while admitting it “risks being cloyingly twee” found “cynicism soon melts away”, as it becomes “truly delicious… memorable, bittersweet”. Gardner agreed it’s “definitely sweet-toothed” yet found it “restrained… unassuming and engaging”. She suggested that although it’s “quirky and original… nobody presents sexual desire and the transformative joy of love on stage quite as well or with such febrile intensity” as Rice, making it ultimately “irresistible”.

Runs to 06 Jan 2018, with tickets available from Shakespeare’s Globe. Or for bittersweet romance in a different style, don’t miss This Beautiful Future which ends on 25 November – tickets were still available from the Yard at time of writing.

StageScan Pick: Oslo

Oslo arrives at the Harold Pinter Theatre this week trailing an average 4.1 pro stars for its initial run at the NT. One of two awarding fives, Libby Purves (TheatreCat) found J T Rogers’s “three-hour historical political play about Middle East negotiations” manages to be “absolutely thrilling” and “pins you to your seat”. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) agreed: “For a play that chiefly consists of men in suits sitting around tables smoking and talking” it’s “gripping stuff”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) admired the “deft combination of research, fictional intuition and dramatic compression” in this “justly acclaimed” play and Purves hailed its “perfectly paced, intensely clear structure” and “fast-sparking dramatic dialogue”. Tripney enjoyed “a remarkable lightness of touch… witty, nimble and full of pleasing detail”. Michael Billington (Guardian), acknowledging “a dramatist who delights in process,” felt “Rogers successfully immerses us in the crises of the particular moment”. Tripney, suggesting protagonists Mona and Terje had “made progress” because they repeatedly “returned things to a human level,” felt “the play pulls off a similar trick”.

Cavendish hailed Bartlett Sher’s “riveting… tense and sharply paced” production. Purves found it “clear and fast,” Tripney thought it “assured” and Billington admired its combination of “epic sweep” and “emphasis on the individuals”. Purves found the acting “remarkable” suggesting “seldom do you remember you are watching performances,” rather “you are looking through them… marvelling at history and hope”. Tripney reported “a tight ensemble” working to “a high level of detail” and found many “small gestures… dramatically satisfying”.  Billington agreed “the drama lies in the detail” but admitted “my head started to spin with information overload”.

Tripney felt Toby Stephens “anchors the play” and observed “a dash of arrogance” in his “fastidious” Terje. Billington agreed he “brings out the vanity and self-regard behind Larsen’s idealism” and Purves found him “often very funny”. Tripney thought Lydia Leonard’s Mona “similarly superb”.

Purves also thought Nabil Elouahabi “tremendous” as Hassan, “a tense ball of fury… who moves through sullenness and anger to acceptance”. Billington saw Peter Polycarpou and Philip Arditti “brilliantly suggest men of sizeable ego and seeming intransigence who yet manage to achieve a genuine human connection”. Purves found “comedy” in Paul Herzberg and Thomas Arnold’s economics professors and Billington reported “good support” from Howard Ward and Geraldine Alexander.

Tripney thought it “works” as both “documentary theatre” and “a valuable reminder of just what can be achieved”. Billington described an “engrossing… instructive lesson about the primacy of the personal in global affairs”. Cavendish thought “the way a tiny vessel of hope managed to navigate its way across a great gulf of hostility and mistrust… brilliantly conveyed” leaving an audience to just “watch, learn and marvel”.

Booking to 30 Dec 2017 with tickets starting at £21 available from Stagescan. We also have tickets for James Graham’s latest political drama, Labour of Love.

StageScan Pick: The March on Russia

The March on Russia at Richmond’s Orange Tree received a 4.1-star average pro rating, with none awarding less than four. Michael Billington (Guardian) thought “There could no better tribute” to the late David Storey than reviving his “neglected” 1989 play depicting “an uneasy family reunion”. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) described a “journey… to the heart of family relations… sharp and funny… but bleak too” with a “brutally truthful” feel.  Tom Wicker (The Stage) found “the gulf between young and old… like an ache” and detected “a mournful truthfulness, sketched out beautifully”. Admiring Storey’s “great skill”, Billington saw in the play both “poignant family drama” and “a microcosm of the wider world’s disappointments”. Wicker found its “depiction of a Yorkshire full of closed-down coal pits… hauntingly melancholic” but Fiona Mountford (ES) found this “wistful, elegiac tone underpins much humour” as Storey “exquisitely captures the daily rhythms of long-married, low-level bickering”.

Billington found Alice Hamilton’s production “rightly rooted in domestic detail” and Crompton admired a “simulacrum of a real home, down to the fire, constantly tended” within which “a convincing family emerges”. Wicker admired Hamilton’s “confident grasp of the power of stillness” as “she brings out every detail” of this “finely textured” piece. Crompton found her “gently sympathetic to the play’s quiet, slow unfolding” but often detected “speeches being made rather than words being spoken”. Billington felt she “neatly captures the play’s delicate shifts of mood” and Mountford described a “quiet, accomplished production” admiring the range of “different emotions… signified by the simple act of making a pot of tea”.

Mountford found Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace “both excellent” as the couple. Billington thought Wallace “particularly fine…  “outwardly plucky” with a “sadness… revealed only in her eyes” and found Gelder “captures perfectly Pasmore’s surface bravado and secret vulnerability”. Crompton saw him “beautifully played with a sort of game resignation” until he “comes to life” in telling a wartime story “wonderfully, managing to balance the poetry in Storey’s writing with the rhythm of speech”.

Wicker praised “good, nuanced work” from Colin Tierney, Sarah Belcher and Connie Walker as the children and Crompton saw “all in clearly differentiated ways struggling with dislocation and loss”. Billington thought Walker’s character “underwritten” but found Tierney “morosely haunted” and felt Belcher “pinpoints Wendy’s festering filial resentment”.

Billington hailed “a deeply moving study of the quiet despair behind the materialist orthodoxy of the 1980s” and Crompton praised “a reminder of just how good and pertinent a playwright Storey was” concluding “his darkly compassionate voice deserves to be heard”. Wicker felt this “powerfully affecting” show “belongs to” Gelder and Wallace, concluding “You feel the weight of the years in their every bitterly funny jibe, but also the love. It stings.” Mountford suggested we “celebrate this superlative remounting” of a “crisply bittersweet” play, which she found “beautiful, quietly heartbreaking”.

Booking to 7 Oct 2017 with tickets available from the Orange Tree. And if that’s put you in the mood to venture into another family’s heart of darkness, we still have tickets for the upcoming London transfer of Bristol Old Vic’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, with prices from £29.

StageScan Pick: Follies

Follies at the National Theatre, in its first full London staging since 1987, received a 4.5-star average from pro critics, with most awarding five. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) praised Stephen Sondheim’s “elegiac, eloquent work”. Tim Bano (The Stage) thought it “slightly plotless” and Michael Billington (Guardian) admitted it’s “problematic” despite songs which deftly “combine emotional pain and witty pastiche”. Lukowski suggested Sondheim, though “peerless,” is “very hard to get right”.

Billington saw Dominic Cooke’s “superb revival… without a trace of camp” give “this bleakly festive musical a poetic unity” suggesting he “never lets you forget the astringent sadness beneath the spectacle”. Bano suggested it “has always been about looking back” and here is “as much about looking back from 2017”. Lukowski described a “towering” revival which “pierces both heart and brain” suggesting Cooke brings “the edge you’d hope for, a hard clarity and sense of brooding dread” without neglecting “the fancy stuff”. He described a “frankly extraordinary… huge and prodigious” cast which Bano judged “insanely strong”.

Lukowski found Imelda Staunton “owns the most complex role”, hailing “a great singer”. Bano observed her “dazzling presence” here become “nervous energy with an anxious smile” and saw her “find character progression in a show which, really, has none”. Billington found her Sally “unforgettable” as, by Losing My Mind, she’s become “a lovelorn wreck” whose “voice seems to dissolve on the song’s final syllable”.

He saw Ben “beautifully played” by Philip Quast, who “gradually reveals the desolation beneath” an initial “urbane condescension” and admired the “conviction” with which, in Live, Laugh, Love “he goes to pieces in the midst of a top-hat-and-tails turn”. Bano reported “one of the best voices in the world”, admiring his ability to “act” while “hitting every note”. He thought Janie Dee “excellent” as “caustic, miserable Phyllis”, and Billington found her “brilliantly sardonic”. Lukowski felt “she nails” a “wistful tightrope act” also “showing us the lines that connect her to the vulnerable girl”.

He saw many “remarkable songs… dispatched as ‘turns’” by minor characters. Bano described Tracie Bennett’s “clever take” on I’m Still Here, turning its “list of her accomplishments… into a cry for attention”. Billington found it “simply breathtaking” and Lukowski agreed she “pretty much nukes the house”. Bano also highlighted Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer’s duet as old and young Heidi, “joining their two operatic soprano voices with crystal clarity”. He reported, “every 10 minutes or so… another stunner of a set piece, sung impeccably… with tight tap routines”.

Billington found Cooke “captures the sustained emotional arc of Sondheim and Goldman’s musical” leaving him “admiring” it “more than ever”. Lukowski summed up “a perfect, devastating evocation of the pain of looking back. Plus: tap-dancing!” Bano, reporting “goosebumps”, found it “worth the wait” and declared: “This isn’t just triumphant, it’s transcendent”.

Currently booking to 3 January, with tickets still available from the NT box office. And if you fancy another lavish five-star revival of a musical classic, we have tickets for Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris starting from £22.

 

StageScan Pick: Late Company

Late Company at Trafalgar Studios has scored a combined 4.1 average pro stars across its two short runs this summer, with all awarding at least four. Claire Allfree (Telegraph) described a “tightly coiled evening” that “thrives on the proximity between actors and audience” in both the Finborough and Trafalgar 2. Neil Norman (Express) explained its dinner-party hosts’ “intimate and tragic connection” with the strangers they’re expecting: “A year earlier their gay son committed suicide after being bullied at school by the son of their guests”. Henry Hitchings (ES) saw playwright Jordan Tannahill’s core subject “entangled with questions of intolerance, depression, parental responsibility and our sometimes toxic ideas about what’s funny”.

Norman admired how the playwright “lets the story unravel through the interaction of the characters”. Allfree enjoyed the “clever… way it exposes the carapace of modern social rituals” as “polite chatter” and “overtures towards reconciliation” give way to “the feelings beneath… animal like: huge, furious and mad with pain”. Hitchings saw “increasingly raw emotion… punctuated with toe-curling and often ludicrous scenes of social awkwardness and point-scoring”. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) described “small explosions and rumbles of danger” and admired how “the degrees of delusion in the two women in particular are treated by the young author with a clear and hard, though not wholly pitiless, eye”. Norman expressed “wonder” that it is “so brilliantly balanced between accusatory anger and humane understanding”, adding: “He nails the cultural differences… without making cheap jibes about their differing political views”. Allfree described a “fast-moving, 75-minute nightmare” with “a touch of ancient Greek drama in the way it interrogates ideas of justice, forgiveness and revenge” and hailed writing which “fizzes with authenticity”, finding Tannahill’s “arrow sharp dialogue… by turns comic and excruciating”.

Hitchings thought Michael Yale’s production “nicely observed, peeling back its characters’ layers of delusion and pretentiousness” and Purves found it’s “intimacy and force… riveting”. Allfree hailed “a quintet of impeccable performances”. Purves detected “a real sense of danger” in Lucy Robinson’s “brittle and over-poised” hostess Debora and Allfree felt Lisa Stevenson’s “twittering Tamara, beautifully betrays the nervousness of a woman socially out of her depth”. Hitchings found in the two “a perfect contrast”.

Norman thought it “beautifully performed by all, especially David Leopold” and Hitchings agreed his “apparently ordinary” character, Curtis was the “most intriguing” admiring newcomer Leopold’s “restrained performance”. Allfree found him “fabulously sullen” and Purves declared “I can’t speak too highly” of his ability to “carry a part which moves him from surly embarrassed irritability to… devastatingly open”.

Purves hailed a “neat 75 minutes, bang-on topical and sharply written”. Hitchings thought it “picks a nimble course through some prickly subjects”. Norman admired “a model of controlled information as revelations… leak steadily into the room like dripping blood”. Allfree thought it “unapologetically conventional” yet “in the way it picks apart our misguided hunger for easy resolutions… utterly transfixing” and summed up a “pocket-sized, sucker punch”, admitting “It’s been a while since I left a show feeling so winded”.

Runs to 16 Sep 2017, with some tickets still available from StageScan. And for more dinner-party recriminations, why not catch Apologia at Trafalgar 1. We still have seats from £43!

StageScan Pick: Girl From The North Country

Girl From The North Country at the Old Vic received 4.1-star average pro reviews, including five fives. Fiona Mountford (ES) described “not, rest assured, the Bob Dylan musical, but rather a play” with songs “silkily interwoven”. Paul Taylor (Independent) explained that “Dylan’s team… approached Conor McPherson” declaring, “their instinct… sound”. Michael Billington (Guardian) saw McPherson’s trademark “sense of unfulfilled longing” manifest here in “a run-down guesthouse” in Dylan’s hometown in 1934 “where everyone is staring into a bleak future…”

Taylor noted “a wide cross-section of society” and Billington hailed the “economy and skill” with which McPherson “evokes the mood… the racism… the poverty”.  Taylor detected “conscious echoes of Eugene O’Neill and Thornton Wilderbut didn’t think it “ersatz or dwarfed by the superlative songs”. But Natasha Tripney (The Stage) counted “far too many characters” and thought the story “three parts spun sugar to one part social commentary”. Billington found McPherson’s own production “astonishingly free-flowing” and Mountford described a “slow-burn… unafraid to unfold to its own unhurried rhythms” likening it to “meticulously rendered short stories, soaked in quiet melancholy”.

Tripney observed McPherson “avoids ticking all the obvious boxes” instead “picking the songs that best sync with the story”. She thought setting it before Dylan’s lifetime “frees” McPherson to explore “the seeds from which Dylan’s songwriting sprang”.  Billington felt “the constant dialogue between the drama and the songs” made it “exceptional” noting that, staged “with the actors often singing into stand-microphones,” the songs both “articulate the characters’ innermost feelings” and “reinforce the mood”. Mountford saw them “sculpted into plaintive but beautiful new arrangements” by Simon Hale. Taylor found these “ravishing” and Tripney “glorious”. Taylor declared “the idea… inspired” and “the treatment piercingly beautiful”.

He saw a “superb company” bring the space “to heartfelt life” and Billington judged the performers “uniformly strong”. Tripney detected “not a weak link” and Mountford heard songs “delivered so hauntingly well… they send shivers down the spine” hailing “Dylan like we’ve never heard him before”.

Most praise was showered on Shirley Henderson. Billington found her “mesmerizing” and Taylor saw the character “stunningly played” and found her Like A Rolling Stone “laceratingly lovely, performed with mighty vocal and moral heft”. Mountford hailed a “wonderful voice”, defying “anyone to sit through” her Forever Young “without sobbing”.

Taylor acknowledged an “excellent” Ciaran Hinds, and Billington found him “striking”. Taylor also “particularly enjoyed” Sheila Atim as their daughter, Billington admired her “fine work” and Tripney hailed “vocal prowess”.  Several highlighted Arinze Kene; Tripney reported “magnetism to spare and a voice that could melt – well, pretty much anything”. She thought “the great Ron Cook… underused”.

Billington thought this “fruitful creative marriage” had produced “a remarkable fusion of text and music”. Tripney admitted “the power of the music wins out” and “sends you out on a high”. Mountford found it “beguiling and soulful and quietly, exquisitely, heartbreaking… a very special piece of theatre”. Both she and Taylor judged it “Magnificent”.

Booking to 07 Oct 2017 with tickets from £33 available via StageScan. And for another unusual fusion of play and gig, you can still catch Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – we have tickets from £15.

StageScan Pick: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ at the Menier Chocolate Factory scored a 4.3 average pro rating, including two fives. Fiona Mountford (ES) hailed “that rarest of beasts, a perfectly realised new British musical”, suggesting Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary “have taken Sue Townsend’s much-loved anguished adolescent… and made him the beating heart of a warmly appealing bulletin from more innocent times”. Paul Vale (The Stage) thought “one of the most exciting musical theatre writing teams working in the UK today” had “risen to the challenge” of what “must be a hugely daunting task”, and felt their show “succinctly captures the essence” of the book. Michael Billington (Guardian) regretted the inevitable loss of “some of the deliciously Pooterish detail” and occasionally missed “Townsend’s wry tone” but found the creators “have carefully preserved the period of the original”. Mounford worried the audience for it might be too specific, but suggested ““surely anyone who has ever been a teenager will find much to relate to”. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out), admitting limited knowledge of the novel, found it “an unbridled hoot”.

He praised Luke Sheppard’s “galloping production” for its “exuberantly absurdist humour”, Billington found it “swift, lively” and Mountford said it “fizzes with pep and verve”. She admired Tom Rogers’s “delightfully flexible design” while Lukowski saw him have “a huge amount of fun” with the ‘80s setting. Vale enjoyed Cleary’s “playful score and lyrics”, Billington appreciated songs that “drive the action rather than impede it”, and Lukowski reported “jolly pastiches” which Mountford found “memorable, hummable”.

Vale was among several suggesting “The richly talented ensemble is key” to its “ultimate success”. He praise the “slick team” of Benjamin Lewis (Adrian), Asha Banks (Pandora) and Amir Wilson (Nigel) for “astonishingly mature, witty and articulate performances”.  Mountford felt Lewis and Banks “could not be better suited to the roles”, and, since three sets of young performers share the leads, added: “I can only hope the others are half as good”. Billington saw in Lewis “the perfect blend of owlish solemnity and adolescent vulnerability” adding that he “sings and dances very well”, and Lukowski foound him “so note perfect I slightly worry about him”. Billington thought Banks “suitably self-possessed” and Lukowski judged her “very funny and a cracking singer, surely a future star”.

Vale praised “excellent comic turns” from John Hopkins and a “carefully understated” Barry James and Mountford found Kelly Price “blowsy and bright like her blue eyeshadow”. Billington highlighted “striking work” by both Price and Hopkins, enjoying the way “the adults turn, in a second, into blazered or gym-slipped schoolkids” to fill minor roles. Lukowski reported all “full-throttle performances”.

Vale hailed “a joyous British musical comedy… funny, poignant” and “remarkably fresh”. Billington admired “a fresh and funny show” with “bounce and charm” which “effortlessly recreates a vanished era” and “precisely captures” Adrian’s “growing pains”. Mounford hailed “a lovely, lovely show” and Lukowski found it “totally winning, palpably subversive and, delightfully, entirely free of cynicism… a ray of giddy sunshine”.

Currently booking to 09 Sep 2017, with tickets still available from the Menier box office. And speaking of loveably subversive musical comedy adaptations for the whole family, StageScan has some great prices on tickets for both Matilda and Wicked.

StageScan Pick: Ink

Ink at the Almeida received all positive pro reviews, with an average 4 stars. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) admired James Graham’s ”compressed and much-adapted history of the Sun’s first year” which she saw portray its world “enthusiastically – and sympathetically” through writing’ of “supple power”. Michael Billington (Guardian) judged it “first-rate… good and gripping” because “it doesn’t preach” and praised Graham’s “knack of bringing the past to theatrical life”. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) described a “non-partisan… epic” which “telescopes a sprawling story brilliantly“ yet “takes a joy in historical detail”.

In the first half of Rupert Goold’s production, Crompton saw “scenes unfold in fluid succession” with “a riot of anecdote and zinging dialogue” which even “incorporates song and dance as Lamb recruits a motley crew of journalists”.  Billington found it “breezy, often very funny” and Lukowski enjoyed a ”strikingly Gooldian sequence” which “gleefully details the dementedly complicated process that was the hot metal press”. Only the second half, explained Billington “begins to explore the implications of the circulation-war initiated by Murdoch and Lamb”. Crompton found this part “more problematic” but she found Bunny Christie’s set “wonderfully adaptable” while Billington thought her “Everest of newspaper desks… outstanding”.

Crompton felt “Carvel’s performance as Murdoch” made the piece “unmissable” adding “every time he appears… coiled with the sense of his own power, he sends a jolt of electricity through the entire theatre, perfectly encapsulating the dangerous disruption that Murdoch brought to British society”. While Lukowski, who saw him played as “the actual Devil” as “hissing, hunched and sinuous” he “looks at everyone and everything like they’re his prey” suggested “it almost feels like a brilliant cameo”, Billington saw him presented “not as some horned monster but as a man driven by the ruthless logic of the market”.

Lukowski thought Richard Coyle “excellent” as Larry Lamb, “no sleaze merchant but a smart, funny, working-class Yorkshireman whose mounting disenchantment at the establishment propels him from spirited rebellion to something bleaker”. Billington acknowledged “sterling support” from the rest of the cast. Crompton saw Tim Steed have “a lot of fun” with his “uptight” character and Lukowski admired “a great turn from Sophie Stanton”. Crompton, who found the supporting characters “caricatured” saw them neverthelss played “with zest”.

Billington felt it “pins down a pivotal moment in newspaper history” and Crompton agreed the production “captures all the energy as well as the excess of the era”. Lukowski saw “a personal tragedy, of a good journalist driven gradually to the dark side” and while doubting the truth of this, admitted “it’s a good story, and as any hack will tell you, that’s the most important thing”.

Booking to 5 August 2017 with a handful of tickets still available from the Almeida’s website at time of writing. And for more of the James Graham magic, don’t miss Albert’s Boy or Labour of Love.

 

StageScan Pick: Barber Shop Chronicles

Barber Shop Chronicles at the National Theatre received 4.2-star average pro reviews, with two fives and all others so far awarding fours. Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) found Inua Ellams‘ “all-male, all-black piece… bounces with brio as it whisks us around a series of African barber shops… with a shop in Peckham acting as the central pivot”. Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) described a “roving play” which “reminds us of the sheer cultural diversity wrapped up in blackness” by “opening up a closed space”. Claire Allfree (Telegraph) admired “an instinctive feel for the polyphonous rhythms of dialogue” and saw ”the way his characters use language” as “both a texture and a theme”. Mountford saw “hefty topics ripple and re-echo over the thousands of miles… how to be a father, how to be a son, how to be a man”. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) found it “crammed with questions” as “idea follows idea” and the tone shifts “fluidly from comedy to poignancy to rage”. Allfree suggested “only slowly do individual relationships become distinct and characters gain depth and pathos” but admired “a show full of sadness and great joy”.

She found “to walk into the auditorium… is to walk into a space teeming with life… instantly, compulsively convivial” and Tripney enjoyed these “first, second, third and fourth-wall breaking antics”. Allfree admired the “muscular flair” of Bijan Sheibani’s direction and Tripney saw issues “handled with skill and a huge amount of warmth”. Trueman felt his production “draws its energy” from the “moving” fact that “the cast have skin in the game”. Mountford identified “occasional moments of grandstanding rather than storytelling” but found it “vivid and energetic”. Trueman enjoyed Aline David’s “explosive, expressive choreography” and Tripney hailed “some of the liveliest between-scene dance sequences around”. Mounford felt it “sparkles most brightly” in these “precious… little fragments of interlinking action”.

Allfree described a “crack cast” and Tripney praised their “agility”. Trueman, describing “a play that makes its points through acting”, saw them “swap… with relish” between “all these individuals with their own mannerisms and tics, their own styles and modes of speech” yet remain “absolutely an ensemble”.

Tripney, identifying the “prickly relationship” between Fisayo Akinade’s Samuel and Cyril Nri’s Emmanuel in London as “the thread that connects these narrative fragments” said: “While both are superb, Nri delivers a performance of containment and grace among other showier turns”. Trueman saw them “instilling its emotional heart”. He also admired Peter Bankolé and Hammed Animashaun for “real comic flair” and Tripney highlighted Patrice Naiambana, who “shoulders loaded with regret, delivers a particularly wrenching and difficult speech”.

Tripney summed up “both a fascinating peek into a world of men and a wider act of celebration”. She hailed “rich, exhilarating theatre” and found “the level of joy in the room is high”. Allfree enjoyed “the sinewy pulse and lissom beauty of Sheibani’s production, which throbs with energy and heat”. Mountford concluded: “Make an appointment.”

Booking to 8 Jul 2017 with tickets still available from the NT’s website. And for more exciting new writing contemplating questions of black identity, don’t miss An Octoroon.