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.

StageScan Pick: The Ferryman

The Ferryman at the Royal Court received almost unanimous five star pro reviews. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) said Jez Butterworth’s new play “was always going to be big. And so it proves” describing an ”epic family drama… set in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles”. Michael Billington (Guardian)  found this “hot ticket… a rich, serious, deeply involving play about the shadows of the past and the power of silent love”. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) described “a huge event… Literally… in the scale of its cast, of its ambition, of its rich themes… massive in its capacity to hold an audience rapt” and “like Jerusalem before it, an extraordinary, thrilling act of belief in the power of theatre”.

She praised its “compellingly intricate” story and found “Butterworth’s writing, both flexible and controlled, makes every moment, whether funny, tender or tragic worth leaning forward to catch”.  Tripney described a play “loaded… with close-up studies” of “over 20 characters”. Billington saw it “dramatise the intersection of politics and private life” while deriving “shattering force” from a “Hardyesque love of rural rituals and its compassionate exploration of unspoken love”, noting “many other themes coursing through this abundant play”. Crompton thought “it in its own way haunted by its past, by all the Irish plays that have gone before it” yet with “its own tone and texture”.

Tripney praised Sam Mendes for “a production of abundance” adding ”he knows how to orchestrate large group scenes” and   Billington thought it “terrific” praising its “power…a sense of the mysterious” and a “microscopic approach”. Crompton felt he “brings poetry to the most immensely detailed naturalism”. Tripney also judged it “handsomely designed”. Billington praised Rob Howell’s “antique beams and time-weathered walls” and Crompton admired  his “beautifully detailed, cluttered set”.

Tripney declared the acting “pretty spectacular all round“ and Crompton found it “so realistic that it seems to spring from the very soul of people”. Tripney found Paddy Considine’s “impressive stage debut… contained, quiet yet charismatic”. Billington saw him endow Quinn with “an unflinching integrity” and Crompton admired “extraordinary stillness and presence”. Billington thought “his brother’s wife, Caitlin, beautifully played by Laura Donnelly” and Tripney suggested she “makes the play’s heart beat”. Crompton saw in their shared scenes “a gentle grace that is utterly heart-breaking”.

She also enjoyed Dearbhla Molloy’s Pat’s “caustic wit and heart-felt passion”.  Billington praised Bríd Brennan, “eloquent in her watchful silence” and thought Des McAleer, John Hodgkinson and Stuart Graham “equally fine”. Crompton found “the children…  the most unaffected and convincing I have ever seen”.

Billington described an “engrossing and haunting play” which tells us that “the violent past can no more be suppressed” than our “private passions”. Tripney, who found it “compelling even in its quiet moments” sensed Butterworth  “repurposing some of his former tricks” but admitted “they’re brilliant tricks and that’s what all magicians do”. Crompton hailed “a triumphant, bold piece of theatre, an old-fashioned play full of life and heart and passion”.

Ends 20 May 2017, and is completely sold out, but a transfer to the Gielgud has already been announced, with tickets available from StageScan. And for more top class new writing, don’t miss This Beautiful Future.

StageScan Pick: The Treatment

The Treatment at the Almeida scored unanimous four star pro reviews. Tim Bano (The Stage) described Martin Crimp’s 1993 “satire on art” and “the artificiality that’s suffused everyday life” explaining how, in “a lurid New York City… Anne sells the story of how her husband ties her up and places tape over her mouth to two movie executives” only to see it “warped beyond recognition”. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) saw a “depiction of a civilisation turned sour” and Aleks Sierz (Arts Desk) hailed a “satirical epic… a fabulous work” in which the “title alludes to the outline of a film…. and, crucially, to the way we treat others”. Michael Billington (The Guardian) enjoyed this “rich ambiguity” and saw “both meanings come together”. Sierz hailed “a city drama for our times… full of urban cacophony… dense with ideas” and Crompton described “a series of dislocating and dislocated scenes… both sharply funny and profoundly disturbing”. Billington enjoyed its “fascinating use of recurring motifs, especially concerning ‘vision’”.

He thought it “immaculately” and “stunningly staged” by Lyndsey Turner. Sierz found the production “beautifully lit and vividly clear” and Bano called it “crisp” with “performances and text… exposed”.  Crompton, who found it “tightly controlled” said its “dazzling darkness is held as coiled as a rattlesnake, ready to bite”.

Billington saw a “fine cast perfectly catch the characters’ internal contradictions”. Bano thought it “immaculately performed” and Crompton said: “The entire cast” display “just the right mixture of self-obsession and pain”. She felt “Aisling Loftus catches both Anne’s vulnerability and her mystery”. Billington saw her “plausibly” blend “victimised vulnerability with a savage vindictiveness” and Bano found her “stunning… full of poise, and panic… a bubbling fear”.

He praised Indira Varma equally, thinking her “at her best when sharp and dismissive”. Crompton agreed she’s “compelling as the monstrous Jennifer, who never quite understands anything but never lets it stand in her way”. Billington saw Varma and Julian Ovenden “skilfully suggest that they feed off other people to camouflage their own emotional vacancy”, while Crompton admired Ovenden’s “kind of predatory confusion”. Billington thought Matthew Needham “a compelling mix of the humdrum and the demonic”. Sierz found Ben Onwukwe’s blind cab driver “unobtrusively funny” and Ian Gelder and Gary Beadle “powerful stage presences” and Crompton praised Onwukwe, Beadle, Gelder and Ellora Torchia for “pitch perfect support”.

Sierz summed up “a brilliantly written, metaphor-rich depiction of perversion and desire” and found its “satirical barbs and darkly humorous one-liners… as fresh as ever” declaring: “Crimpland has rarely been so brittle, and so relevant.” Billington agreed it “has acquired new potency” and Bano felt it “depressingly fresh”. Crompton found it “unsettling to watch” but thought “seeing it here in so good a production makes it a mystery that it has been so little revived” concluding: “It shimmers with dark brilliance and insight. Catch it while you can.”

Booking until 10 June with tickets still available from the Almeida. And for more crackling contemporary drama, check out new play Late Company.


StageScan Pick: 42nd Street

42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane opened to a 4.2 average pro rating, including five fives.

Tim Bano (The Stage) found this “ultimate backstage musical… an extraordinary thing, crammed with songs… full of the sound and fury of tapping feet, illuminated by dazzling colour”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) agreed it’s “the mother of all showbiz musicals” and, describing “a tightly drilled army of hoofers” admitted “size is absolutely everything in this shiny, streamlined homage to a vanished world of razzmatazz”. Neil Norman (Express) thought it “designed to blow you away” observing “Its key ingredients may seem like clichés but this is the musical that invented them.”

Norman praised director Mark Bramble and fellow adapter Michael Stewart for “sticking to authentic production values”. Bano observed a director who “clearly knows this piece inside out” and saw “occasional flashes of real complexity” as “layer upon layer of artifice is built up”. He described a production that “recognises the rust that’s bloomed” on its “MGM-era tropes” and “paints them with silliness, rather than seriousness”. Cavendish  praised “tremendous spirit” with “no let-up”.

Norman described dialogue that “zings” and  songs which “may be politically incorrect” but are” just so damned singable” they “put a smile on your face that just won’t fade”. Bano noted designs with “every colour dialled up a hue” as “opulence and escapism meet Depression-era America head on” and hailed “a brilliant hat-tip to the iconic film” as “a giant art deco mirror hangs above the stage and we see the dancers blossom and grow into abstract geometric shapes”.  Norman described “Busby Berkeley dance routines” with “scores of girls in feathers, sequins and not much else”. Cavendish acknowledged “the female objectification” which, alongside a lack of diversity, makes it “almost the un-reinvention of the musical” but admitted  he “loved it in the way one can’t help loving achingly beautiful things”.

Norman felt there “isn’t a weak link among the performers” and Cavendish tipped his hat to the leads. Bano found “the good ones… great” and  saw Clare Halse “without doubt, a phenomenal dancer” also demonstrating “acting skill”, portraying an  “endearing brew of optimism and bewilderment” with “a sharp comic sense”. He saw Sheena Easton “embracing the silliness” by “almost pushing her diva routine into panto villain territory” while Cavendish found her “thrilling of voice”. Bano thought Jasna Ivir “hilarious” and  enjoyed Tom Lister’s “powerful baritone” while Norman praised his “sterling work”, also highlighting “fleet-footed” Graeme Henderson.

Cavendish thought “the garlands belong to the ensemble, dancing on the spot as if gliding on ice, wind-milling arms furiously yet gracefully”. Norman, observing “so much glitz you’ll need to wear sunglasses” hailed “old-fashioned entertainment on an epic scale” adding “I wallowed in every spangled moment of it”. Bano agreed: “When that army of dancers gets going, when the rows of lights start twinkling and tap shoes hit the bleachers extending towards the audience from the back of the stage, it’s simply, overwhelmingly, stunning.”

Currently booking to 22 Jul 2017 with tickets available from StageScan.

StageScan Pick: An American in Paris

An American in Paris?

An American in Paris has opened at the Dominion theatre to 4.5-star average pro reviews, including nine fives. Sarah Crompton (What’s on Stage) explained: “Writer Craig Lucas and director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon have effectively created a new musical, which grounds the love of GI Jerry Mulligan for the Parisian waif Lise in the realities of post-war Paris”. Michael Billington (Guardian) described “a magical transformation” with “radically improved” story and “a wealth of Gershwin classics” while “it is the look of the show that stuns”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) admired Wheeldon’s “intricate command of both narrative and bold stage pictures” and Crompton enjoyed “unique texture and tone”.

Billington detected “a touch of genius” in Bob Crowley’s designs that “not only seem part of the choreography but also offer a painterly kaleidoscope” and Crompton described “a fleet and gorgeous mixture of stage flats and projections”. Shenton saw “Paris… magically conjured in line drawings that come to life”.

Crompton said Wheeldon “lets his action flow” and “plays to his strengths” in ballet as “in a succession of dazzling sequences” he lets dance “tell the story… whisking Lise and Jerry through their romance in danced duets rather than sung ones”. Billington described a show “never still” as “he lets dance emerge out of daily life” and Crompton found the choreography’s “bold use of balletic idiom, mixed with a more casual musical style… striking”.

Crompton saw “his purpose and instinct… perfectly served by his stars”. Shenton thought the two dancers “both effortless singers as well as dazzling movers” and Crompton felt they “inhabit” their musical theatre lead roles “fully”. She saw in Robert Fairchild as Jerry “the sly, sexy instincts of a Broadway hoofer” and “a megawatt charm”. Billington thought him “excellent” with “the capacity to glide effortlessly into a number”.

Most praise went to Leanne Cope, whom Billington found “beguiling”. Crompton felt she’s “grown into her role” since the show opened in Paris, adding “always a graceful dancer, now she sings and acts with a quiet confidence, creating a fully-rounded portrait” of Lise and giving “a glorious show its gentle heart”.

Crompton thought all roles “well-played”, also finding Jane Asher “striking”. Billington judged the supporting cast “impeccable”, highlighting Haydn Oakley who “lends Henri an unexpected complexity”, and “highly stylish” Zoe Rainey and “suitably wry” David Seadon-Young.

Billington felt “as if the tarnished silver of the Vincente Minnelli movie has been turned into theatrical gold”. Shenton hailed “a gorgeous, completely enveloping portrait of post-war Paris” declaring it “sheer musical theatre magic”. Crompton found it “unlike any other musical on the London stage: sumptuously beautiful and heartfelt” with “a romantic pizzazz all of its own” proclaiming: “S’wonderful.”

Currently booking to 30 Sep 2017 with tickets available from StageScan. And for more sublime ballet-theatre, there’s another chance to catch Matthew Bourne’s 4.2-star The Red Shoes as its tour visits Wimbledon in April, with tickets from ATG.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets through StageScan where available. You’ll get all the safeguards you’d expect from our ticketing partners, SeeTickets, while supporting the site at no extra cost.

StageScan Pick: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter Theatre received all positive ratings from pro reviewers, with five awarding five stars. Henry Hitchings (ES) hailed a “fierce revival” of Edward Albee’s “lacerating Sixties play”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) described this “dark, sour portrait of a marriage” in a “finely calibrated production” by James Macdonald. Michael Billington (Guardian), noting it’s also “a comment on the state of the Union” suggested this production “scores heavily” because “rooted in psychological realism” and Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out), despite arriving “braced for impact,” found it “unexpectedly shattering” because “horribly, plausibly human”.

Hitchings hailed “a performance of wounding intensity”, from Imelda Staunton in which “Initially… the laughs come thick and fast” then, “in the frenzy of debate” she’s “sharper than an assassin’s dagger, yet… every bit as memorable in the play’s quieter moments”. Lukowski agreed she’s “as good as you’d hope – playful, witty and malicious, but also desperately, desperately vulnerable, lonely and sensitive”. Billington thought her particularly “magnificent” and “memorable” in moments of “desolate sadness” and Shenton admired a “ferocious howl of existential crisis”.

Hitchings declared Conleth Hill “superb” detecting “both violence and a malign cleverness” and Billington agreed he “superbly suggests an old scrapper… a pensive intellectual who delights in scoring points” yet “never lets you forget” his “despairing marital love”. For Lukowski he was “the real revelation… peculiar, frightening… charming and even likeable, but with a shockingly caustic nastiness underneath”.

Hitchings saw the actors “fathom the depths” of this “poisonous duet” and Shenton was thrilled by “how delicately the balance of power keeps shifting”, glimpsing “an underlying kindness, affection and amusement that has kept them together”. Billington found “watching the two of them pummel each other… exhausting” yet “ultimately uplifting and cathartic”.

Billington also thought “the young couple… excellently portrayed” and Lukowski hailed a “world class cast”, suggesting Luke Treadaway “clearly relishes the chance to be a selfish drunken shit”. Hitchings found him “plausible” and thought Imogen Poots “skilfully suggests the jittery bewilderment” of his wife. Billington felt she “strikingly” portrays this “childlike” character and Lukowski found her “painfully sad and sweet”.

Billington thought the play “tragic” yet “optimistic” in that the couple “finally shed their illusions”, hailing “one of those rare occasions when play, performance and production perfectly coalesce”.  Hitchings felt “Macdonald’s precise and finely balanced production ensures that this modern classic still feels lethal, the humour is merciless and the pain exquisite.” Lukowski, suggesting “the hosts’ performance” could potentially seem “a familiar ritual” found that “here it all feels horribly fresh and avoidable… uniquely disastrous,” and described a “horrible, vertiginous sense of fast-moving tragedy, of crashing descent”. Shenton agreed the “brutal and bracing” play “all feels too plausibly, unbearably real” here, finding it “utterly heartbreaking”.

Currently booking to  27 May 2017 with tickets still available from Stagescan.  And don’t forget to book ahead for Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?.

StageScan Pick: The Girls

The Girls

The Girls at Phoenix Theatre, dubbed by Neil Norman (Express) “the musical of the play of the movie of the calendar,” received predominantly positive pro reviews, including three fives and a four-star majority.

Mark Shenton (The Stage) thought it “celebrates as well as commemorates” a “spectacular example of quiet English heroism”. He found it “stays faithful to its sense of time and place, but also deepens and amplifies the sense of intimate connection to the audience” and observed “authenticity” arising from the involvement of original Calendar Girls dramatist Tim Firth. Paul Taylor (Independent) found it “fresh and joyous… contributing something new to a familiar tale”. Michael Billington (Guardian) judged it “delightful… far superior” to both play and movie, suggesting “the story has now achieved its ideal form” with the “the collective disrobing” now “less of a lark than a means of overcoming issues such as grief, age or physical self-consciousness”. He thought “it destroys the traditional demarcation between composer and lyricist” giving it a “rare…  seamless quality”. Shenton agreed Firth and Gary Barlow “mutually enrich one another”.

Norman saw ”each character… sketched out through custom-made songs” which he thought “lyrically brilliant and musically adroit” and Shenton found “instantly catchy and moving”. Taylor found the lyrics’ “wry observational wit… ideally suited to tracing the permeable boundary in the show between quirky humour and heartbreak” and detected a “distinctively British sound” in “the lovely melodies” of a “beguiling score”.

Taylor reported a “cracking female ensemble” and Shenton found “extraordinary” this “spectacular line-up… holding the stage so compellingly yet utterly sympathetically”. Shenton admired Joanna Riding’s “hauntingly beautiful and radiantly lovely performance”. Billington praised “a moving portrayal of marital loss” and Taylor thought her “superb” admiring “unforced poignancy” when “she sings with a piercing, down-to-earth poetry about the painful practical chores that face the bereaved”. Shenton thought her “gloriously partnered” by Claire Moore’s Chris’s “effervescent practicality” and Taylor found Moore “gloriously gutsy”. Norman saw Michelle Dotrice deliver an “anti-ageist song… with kick-ass energy” and Taylor found her “a delight”. He also thought Danny “adorably played” by Ben Hunter while Billington acknowledged “good work” from Debbie Chazen, Claire Machin and Sophie-Louise Dann. Norman acknowledged Firth’s “tight direction” which Billington found “keeps them well this side of caricature”.

Norman praised a “hilarious peek-a-boo climax” and Taylor found it “well-timed… inspiring and poignant” suggesting: “If you think that ‘wiping away tears of laughter and sorrow’… only happens in reviews… give this show a visit”. Billington agreed it “works beautifully” hailing “a show whose feelgood conclusion is genuinely earned”. Shenton admired “a story that feels honest, raw and powerful” with a “pay-off” that “fills the heart and theatre with sheer joy” predicting “the biggest British musical hit since Billy Elliot”.

Currently booking to 15 Jul 2017 with tickets available from ATG and more dates to be released at the end of March.

StageScan Pick: The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie at Duke of York’s Theatre received a 4.4-star average from pro critics, including two fives. Michael Arditti (Express) observed “Thinly disguised portraits” of Tennessee Williams’ “domineering mother and fragile sister” in what Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) called “the original memory play”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) hailed an “exquisitely lyrical breakthrough masterpiece” which he thought “would have endured… even if Williams had written nothing else”.

Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage), acknowledging a “celebrated production,” felt John Tiffany “sews” the play ”tightly into its historical context with illuminating results”. Suggesting “other productions… tend to be sour or cynical, but… Tiffany’s absolutely isn’t” Lukowski thought  it “deceptively simply staged” yet “infused” with “magic” and found the result “pretty stunning”. He admired “stylised” movement, within an “inky void, a couple of rooms in a St Louis tenement surrounded by obsidian pools of water” and “haunted” by an “eerily beautiful score”. Truman felt “the warm fug of nostalgia” created by “a burnished sepia glow” adds “the most remarkable backspin” as Tiffany “serves up frustration as if fondly remembered”.

Arditti saw “the pain and the humour of Williams’s writing shine through” in “splendid performances” judging Cherry Jones “magnificent”. Lukowski described an “overwhelming” character “virtuosically” played and Trueman felt she makes Amanda “altogether more reasonable,” detecting  a “hustler” acting only from “hardened realism against a bleak economic climate”. Cavendish thought her “perfect” as she “effortlessly elicits… endurance and a kind of heroism” hailing her “wonderfully animated” depiction of a character “as confined as the son she goads and nags”.

Lukowski thought Kate O’Flynn’s Laura “fantastic… picking out the most delicate of paths between tragedy and comedy”. Cavendish hailed “an understated, introverted marvel” and Arditti found her “deeply moving”. He thought Michael Esper’s Tom “mannered” finding his  “assumed gaucheness” distracting, but Lukowski thought him “exemplary” as a narrator “existing in both the past and the present… wracked with guilt and irritation at the family he abandoned”.  Lukowski found Brian J Smith’s Jim “unexpectedly charming” and Arditti thought him “the picture of flustered decency”.

Trueman, observing, “Tiffany pulls our sympathies in unusual directions” found it “shattering” with an “emotional heart” that “lands late on, in the dark”. Cavendish, admiring the “domestic subtleties,” felt this production of the play “casts a greater, more shiver-making spell than most”.  Lukowski found it “generous” with “an extraordinary, dreamlike feel, halfway between hope and terror, innocence and despair, nostalgia and obliteration” and summed up “a vision of love, guttering in the void; a strange dream of America, falling through the night”.

Booking to 29 Apr 2017, with tickets available from StageScan.