Saturday, 5 September 2015

Hamlet: Review

Without a doubt, the Barbican’s production of Hamlet has undoubtedly been the most hyped new production we have seen in years. Whether it be the vastly successful production team who have put the play together – they possess four Olivier Awards and two Tony Awards, not to mention an Ivor Novello nomination and an OBE – or the world-star status of the Hamlet himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.

However, as often it can be perceived, the hype surrounding a production can doom it to an ultimately disappointing finish. The trouble with this production of Hamlet is that, bar the exceptional performance of Cumberbatch, the production simply offers nothing of any consequence.

The resonance of Cumberbatch’s voice is perfect for Hamlet, especially within the famous “To be or not to be” which, thankfully, is no longer used to open the play. His physicality is great for presenting humour in what is often billed as Shakespeare’s greatest tragic play.
Yet, despite the Olivier winning and Oscar nominated actor’s best efforts, Cumberbatch is doomed by the ridiculous direction of Lyndsey Turner. At times, she has her star parading across the stage in a scarlet tunic and hat, before him later hiding from his friends Rosencrantz (Matthew Steer) and Guildenstern (Rudi Dharmalingam) in a toy castle as if childlike, rather than haunted by the murder of his father and the rejected love of Ophelia.

Es Devlin’s set design was characteristically grand, yet her design for the house of Hamlet seemed almost too much for the piece. The fact that portions of the stage – and thus the actors – were completely out of view cemented the irony of the claim of ‘accessible theatre’. Coupled with Luke Halls’ seemingly random periods of video and Jon Hopkins’ music, the overall vision of the piece seemed to depict some of the nation’s best creatives each competing with one another to put their own unique stamp on what culminated in being a rather redundant and noncommittal version of Hamlet.

Siân Brooke’s Ophelia seemed misguided and really offered very little. Ciarán Hinds as Claudius only really impressed with his monologue at the end of the third Act, and otherwise seemed lost, as did his new found wife Gertrude (Anastasia Hille). Leo Bill’s Horatio was interesting and, perhaps, the only worthy performance bar that of Cumberbatch.

The real tragedy in this production of Hamlet is that it doesn’t work. The production favours vast and extreme visuals rather than allowing the narrative and emotional qualities, which have given Shakespeare’s play the irrefutable reputation it possesses, to flow.   

Hamlet is running at the Barbican until the 31st of October. The entire run is sold out; however, 30 day tickets are available at £10 from the Barbican box office from 10.30AM each day.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Miss Saigon: Review

Miss Saigon: Review

It is unsurprising to hear that Lawrence Connor’s new production of Miss Saigon broke box office records on its first day of sales. Boubil and Schönberg’s musical can only be described as epic in all proportions yet still manages to produce a truly superb show.

The musical famously takes its central ideas from the opera Madame Butterfly, yet transfers the location to 1970s Vietnam as Saigon falls, making the doomed relationship between bar worker Kim, and American GI, Chris.

Eva Noblezada (Kim) and Sangwoong Jo (Thuy)
Eva Noblezada shone as Kim in her professional and West End debut, and is clearly deserving of her Whatsonstage Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her desperation in caring for her son, and in discovering she is doomed to never be with Chris, was positively heart-breaking.

Chris Peluso, as Chris, sung well but it was hard to like his character. In contrast, Ethan Le Phong (Thuy) was superbly determined for Kim to return his love. Hugh Maynard (John) left a chilling and poignant message in Act 2 opener, Bui Doi, reminding us how that the true effects of war goes further than just who lives and who dies.

The show was stolen, however, by Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer. Having featured in the original production in 1989, Briones’ Engineer was vulgar and brash, with his rendition of The American Dream a visual masterpiece.
Ho Chi Minh City. The Morning of the Dragon.
Totie Driver and Matt Kinley’s set design was superb, ranging from the neon slickness of Bangok to the extraordinary and impressive scenes at the fall of Saigon featuring the world-famous helicopter which was even more impressive than expected.

What is clear from the new production Miss Saigon is that it if more orientated on the political nature of the musical. The capitalist ventures of America seem mirrored in the doomed entrepreneurship of The Engineer, whilst Kim kills herself in order to ensure her son gets a better life in America. It is a real shame that a musical that takes itself seriously enough to carry such heavyweight themes so well is to leave London in February 2016, but this is definitely a spectacle not to miss.

Miss Saigon is running at the Prince Edward Theatre until the 27th February 2016. Tickets are available from 0844 482 5155 or on

Monday, 17 August 2015

NYT Censorship Reignites Longest Debate in the History of Theatre

Earlier this month (August), the National Youth Theatre made the decision to cancel their production of Omar El-Khairy’s new play, Homegrown. El-Khairy and, director, Nadia Fall, said that voices had been “silenced”, in regards to the cancellation of the play inspired by three young girls from Bethnal Green travelling to Syria to join Islamic State.

Whilst some will argue that in light of the rise of Islamic extremism, it was appropriate to cancel the play in light of any potential fallout, the move by the NYT has been widely condemned by arts figures including Donmar Warehouse Artistic Director, Josie Rourke, and David Lan, who is at the helm of the Young Vic who described the censorship as “a troubling moment for British theatre and freedom of expression".

It is undeniably that the censorship of arts restricts intelligent debate, reduces the quality of work created and binds the artists to a production which often does not fit their vision; however, this has not stopped the squeeze on challenging and thought provoking work since it was considered “thoroughly dangerous” for Shakespeare to prevent tyrannical Richard III in anything but a negative light.

The bard himself often pandered to his patrons, with some historians believing that the inclusion of genealogical information linking King James I – Shakespeare’s patron at the time – to have descended from the line of Banquo, to fuel the King’s interest in the topic.
In stark contrast, Mike Barlett’s 2014 play, King Charles III, depicted the death of Elizabeth II, before seeing Charles, the new king, refuse to grant royal assent, the resulting dissolution of parliament, widespread rioting and the usurping of his throne by his son, Prince William. Barlett’s open critique did prompt, according to Guardian critic Michael Billington, ““titillating shock”, it’s Olivier Award for Best New Play and transfers to the West End and Broadway demonstrate the success that a controversial play can offer.

Unfortunately, some plays do not even get the opportunity to prove themselves. In 2004, Gupreet Kaur Bhatti published her play Bhetzi, performed in Birmingham. The play sparked controversy, due to a scene set in a Sikh temple which conveyed rape, physical abuse, homosexuality and murder. Violent protests by some members of the Sikh community at the theatre led to the production being cancelled.

The actions of the protestors were condemned by numerous industry figures, including Willy Russell, Richard Eyre and Shelia Hancock, who in a joint letter, said “we all have the right to protest peacefully if a work of art offends us. We do not have the right to use violence and intimidation to prevent that work of art from being seen by others.”

This was replicated in Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B. The performance featured black actors chained as if in the human zoos which were popular during the 19th and early 20th Centuries in the US and Western Europe. Whilst running in Edinburgh – a festival which is widely known for the variety and unusual, sometimes shocking, nature of its theatre – the performance was dubbed a “masterstroke”; however, upon transferring to the Barbican in September 2014 faced an enormous backlash. A petition calling for the “racist” production to be cancelled received over 20,000 signatures, before protests on the opening night led to the Barbican cancelling the run of Exhibit B at their venue due to safety concerns.

With the success of King Charles III and the similarly controversial, yet popular, The Book of Mormon flying the flag for risqué and brash theatre, we must wonder how Exhibit B, Bhetzi and Homeland would have fared. The really tragic thing is that we will never know.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Constellations Review

The phrase “best young playwright” is thrown around almost carelessly nowadays; however, Nick Payne arguably seizes the title with no intentions of letting go through his 2012 play Constellations. After an initial opening at the Royal Court, before transferring both to the West End and Broadway, Payne’s masterpiece embarked on its first ever UK tour, which I was lucky enough to witness at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

Tom Scutt’s designs were simplistic but effective. The ever-present pulsing of the chromospheres resonated with Payne’s depiction of the existence of multiverses, alongside the intelligent compositions of Simon Slater and David McSeveney’s sound design. Michael Longhurst’s direction was succinct and sublime, and his collaboration with Lucy Cullingford’s, who focused on movement, ensured that each parallel scene was distinct enough to create a complete different emotional response from the audience, yet demonstrate the essence of Payne’s play.

Joe Armstrong, who has appeared in Flare Path in the West End and The Bill, gave a solid performance as Roland possessing perfect comic timing and demonstrating a strong juxtaposition from scene to scene. His obvious on stage chemistry with Doctor Who’s Louise Brealey shone throughout. Brealey’s physicality was strong and energetic throughout, and her variety of character was superb. Often in plays which use only a cast of two it can seem bare on such a vast stage as in Constellations, but Armstrong and Brealey raced through the 80 minute script.

Constellations was a hit when it was released, and this reincarnation is no different. The original artistic team were reunited, and the success of Constellations is evident through their jobs between the two stints. Longhurst directed the extraordinary ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse and Carmen Disruption at the Almeida, whilst Tom Scutt was responsible for design for King Charles III which transferred from the Almeida to the Wyndham’s after a successful run there. For what is really a simplistic production, it is remarkable how well the creatives have brought to life Payne’s superb script.  

Friday, 29 May 2015

Snow White by Harlow Ballet: Review

Now, I know what you're thinking. Ballet? Really? And you're probably right. I'll be the first to admit that I am not the worlds biggest ballet fan. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy it and I admire ballerinas everywhere for the astonishing things they can do, but seeing The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House at the beginning of the year did not thrill me-although that may have been the poor seats, for which I am, once again, sorry for!

So going into Harlow Ballet's production of Snow White I had this in the back of my mind. However no sooner was it there then it was annihilated, abolished and ignored because I loved it! The production, choreographed by Hayley Burns was truly excellent!

The story stuck to the original fairy tale, as opposed to Disney's adaptation, so there were no little dwarves running around! Instead, Snow White, performed by Emily Bird, was accompanied by the Huntsman, who Joe Bishop conveyed excellently, and a group of rebels, who rounded the group off especially well. They also managed to put their stage combat skills to the test, taking on the Raven Army of the witch, Ravenna, who Claire Hickles shone as, in what was an excellent finale! 

Groups of dancers made up the King's Court, a nearby Village and a bunch of Fairies who arrived to guide Snow White, stretching the story beyond the central characters and truly transporting us into the magical land in which we were a part of.

It is without any doubt, therefore, that I say that this was the best ballet I think I've seen. I thoroughly enjoyed myself from start to finish and I look forward to whatever Harlow Ballet has in store for us next! 
Snow White's final performance is on Sunday 20th of April at Harlow Playhouse, starting at 2PM. Tickets cost £15 and are available on 01279 446754

Monday, 11 May 2015

Inside Job: Review

Spain is a haven for criminals, or so Brian Clemen’s Inside Job leads us to believe. The thriller was the latest production by the Moot House Players, running for three days last week.

When confronted by the gorgeous Suzy, Larry, a professional safe cracker and criminal, thinks he has hit it big – all he needs to do is steal the diamonds from her husband’s safe and run away with her to Rio. That is until Alex, her husband, also asks Larry to kill his wife in order to gain her £100,000 life insurance. Multiple plot twists that could only be found in a Clemen’s thriller ensue before an unexpected conclusion.

Dan Powell’s direction was spot on, ensuring that the pace was kept throughout. As well as directing, Powell played Larry which he did equally well. He combined well with Kevin Smith, as Alex, to create some particularly humorous moments. Kerry Rowland put in an equally strong performance – even managing to surprise me with the sheer amount of time that she can lie dead for!

The professionalism of the cast was clearly evident as they were word –perfect and clearly knew their direction like the back of their hand. It was also nice to see the players elevate their level of effects, all operated excellently by Claire Quley, with a very impressive pyrotechnic being let off at the end of the first act!

Whilst the script itself was not the best written, often digressing and over-explaining simple plot elements, the cast put on a solid performance of a popular genre with the Moot House audience. I look forward to seeing their next offering – Pygmalion in July!


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Comedy of Errors: Review

It is often said that you cannot take Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors seriously, and this is the same in Jeanne Stacey’s production. She adopts conventions of the silent film era – using slapstick comedy, melodramatic gestures, intense physicality and some truly excellent reactions – in her direction for Harlow Theatre Company to bring the farce to life.

The play revolves around the separation of two sets of twins who are reunited as a result of a series of seemingly coincidental events in very quick succession, concluding in both a marriage and a reunion!
The cast were made up of past and present students of Phoenix Theatre School, and worked very well under Stacey’s guidance. Will Saunders and Daniel Boulton played the two Antipholus’, with both portrayals being distinctive enough to create different types of humour, but similar enough to notice, in hindsight, that they actually were twins.

Their confused wife was the excellent Katie Miller, who played the alcohol dependent and hilariously scatty Adriana. Molly Jenkins was her servant, Luciana, and the pair’s onstage chemistry was superbly funny.

Drew Gregg was the scheming goldsmith, Angelo, who stood out with a thick, yet clear, accent throughout and some great physicality. His nervous twitch worked similarly to Rhiannon Bates’ boundless reactions, with both ensuring that they embodied their characters throughout.

Joe Llewelyn, Ollie Stacey and George Jack all multi-roled well, with Llewelyn’s portrayal of the rather plump kitchen maid, Luce, being particularly notable.

The two stand out performers from the production, however, were Will Edden and Joseph Vaiana who played the twin Dromio’s. They were bold and energetic throughout and deservedly took the final bow.

Rob Dyer’s simple set design worked very well in conjunction with Stacey’s directorial vision, and the projections detailing the scene and the context were very effective; perhaps more so than in any production I have seen utilise such a method before. The costumes were very apt for each character and helped us to imagine the true farcical nature of the plot.

It was clear that this production was created very collaboratively between the director and the cast in order to make a really fun piece of theatre. The script was adapted to just the right length and made this a comfortable ninety minutes of playful acting.
Tickets for Harlow Theatre Company's production of The Comedy of Errors are available on 0844 8700 887 and runs from the 6th May - 9th May 2015.