Our picks of London openings from June include a new American hit, Gurinder Chadha’s musical from her own movie, and Robert Icke’s latest reinvention of an ancient classic. All impressed critics with eyecatching stagecraft and fine performances.
The Motherf**ker with the Hat – National Theatre, 4-star average
What Fiona Mountford (ES) called a “blast of a play”, featuring a “roller-coaster of colourful, bubbling language”, received three- to five-star reviews, with most giving it four. Susannah Clapp (Observer) enjoyed “the most expressive cursing since Shakespeare” and Michael Billington (Guardian) described a piece “combining sex-farce and high seriousness” with “exhilarating dash”.
Clapp praised “New York interiors” that “zoom on rails” so that “each scene slides out of darkness, is rowdily animated, then slips back into the night”. Cavendish detected in this “imposing design”, the “bleak overarching suggestion that adulthood is a form of damnation, rehab a passing illusion”.
Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) was impressed by Indu Rubasingham’s success in making “such a New York event… fit snugly in” to the National. Mountford praised a “momentum-packed production” which, Sarah Hemming (FT) found, “delivers both the giddying, verbal virtuosity of the play and the undertow of pain”. Clapp enjoyed “unusually believable” fights.
Almost all judged the cast as “strong” or “first-rate”. Clapp felt lead Ricardo Chavira’s “calm confidence… underpins the evening” declaring him “marvellous… collapsible and incendiary” while Billington detected “exactly the right muscular bewilderment”. Cavendish said Flor De Liz Perez “packs a formidable punch” and Hemming felt Alec Newman “deftly picks his way through” the AA sponsor’s “specious moral relativism”.
Most loved what Clapp called “a knockout cameo” from Yul Vázquez, retained from Broadway. Hemming found him “wonderfully eccentric”, Cavendish warmed to “camp wit and wisdom” and Billington felt his “real peach of a performance… exactly expresses the contradictions at the heart of Guirgis’s astonishing play”.
Billington thought the piece “both funny and profound.” Hemming found it “fizzing, beautifully acted” and Mountford declared “a triumph for the National”.
Runs to 07 Jul 2015
* * *
Bend it like Beckham – Phoenix Theatre, 4.2-star average
Even more reviewers gave full marks to what <strong”>Paul Taylor (Independent) hailed an “irresistibly joyous musical-theatre make-over” which “reinvents rather than recycles”. Quentin Letts (Mail) found it “wonderfully, life-affirmingly, 21st-century British”, describing “feisty shimmers and heart-stopping melodrama”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) thought it “bends the musical” in a vivaciously fresh and welcome new direction”.
Taylor, as did many, praised Natalie Dew’s “wonderfully winning and pure-voiced” Jess and Lauren Samuels’s “attractively headstrong” Jules. Shenton enjoyed a “glorious” 30-plus cast and a “scene-stealing comic turn” from Sophie-Louise Dann, and Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) declared Tony Jayawardena “a natural comic actor of the first rank”.
Taylor was among the majority praising “Goodall’s gorgeous score”. Michael Billington found it “delightfully eclectic”, using Punjabi rhythms “to great effect”, Shenton saw “instantly memorable pop tunes” and Coveney enjoyed choruses of “flat-out Bollywood exuberance”. Like most, Taylor also hailed “witty, well-turned lyrics” from Charles Hart, whom Coveney found “very good at conveying honest emotion” in his “vibrant, lyrical, irresistible set of songs”.
There was similar enthusiasm for what Taylor called Aletta Collins’s “exhilarating choreography”, which, he felt, enabled the production to bring “opposed sides of Jess’s life into phantasmagoric collision”. Coveney praised “brilliant dance footie” and also found the “colourful” and “curvilinear” designs “reinforce the feel-good factor”.
Letts, like most, felt “The plot may never win trophies for sophistication… But the sheer fun of it is irresistible”. Billington thought it “a wish-fulfilling fairytale”, and while Coveney found its culture clash “somewhat cosy” he agreed: “Above all, the show has charm.” Taylor said “As an uplifting celebration of multi-cultural Britain” it “plays a blinder”, and Shenton summed up an “explosion of colour, community and creativity, shot through with exhilarating energy and genuine heart… a pulsating joy”.
Runs to 24 Oct 2015
* * *
Oresteia – Almeida, 4.1-star average
The first of a ‘Greeks’ season received broadly similar ratings. Paul Taylor felt Robert Icke “tackles the questions raised by Aeschylus’s great trilogy in a fiercely fresh manner” and Andrjez Lukowski (Time Out) praised his “root-and-branch transformation” of “language, morality and much of the storytelling”. Michael Billington missed the traditional “formal calm” but acknowledged a “stirring production” which Natasha Tripney (The Stage) found “bold, accessible, resonant and occasionally thrilling”. Susannah Clapp declared: “You can almost see the dust flying off the old master.”
She thought viewing the story via an investigation contributed “a penumbra of uncertainty”. Lukowski found the addition of the “cruelly plausible drama” of Iphigenia’s murder “shattering”, and Taylor praised the resulting “atmosphere of doomed domesticity“.
While Dominic Cavendish saw “Poetry… on the back-burner”, Tripney, more typically, found Icke’s text “modern and open, straightforward yet elegant”.
Taylor described “sliding screens that creepily shift between translucent and opaque” yielding what Billington found “astonishing, deep-focus images”. Tripney reported “horror film imagery” and “sudden, startling blackouts” and Lukowski described “a waking dream”.
Billington admired Lia Williams’s “visceral rage and artful duplicity”, while Cavendish found her Klytemnestra “formidable but far from monstrous”. Taylor described a “towering performance” others thought “astonishing”, “magnificent” and “razor-sharp”.
Tripney detected “great reservoirs of pain” in Angus Wright’s Agamemnon and Taylor “felt the agony of his dilemma”. Cavendish credited Jessica Brown Findlay with one of few “thrilling moments of back-to-basics, heart-on-sleeve acting”.
Tripney summed up “living vital theatre – discoursing both on the nature of justice and the nature of stories”. Billington acknowledged “wit and ingenuity” and others found it “exhilarating”, “tremendous”, or “terrific”. Lukowski praised “Icke’s searingly modern script and superlative cast” and said “What a piece of theatre… remarkable”.
Runs to 18 Jul 2015