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.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Bugsy Malone: Review

Set in 1920s Chicago, Bugsy Malone takes influences from the lives of mobsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran, before mixing them together with a cast full of kids and the infamous splurge guns. As Scott Baio, the original film’s star put it, “you couldn’t ask for a better first big gig!”

Brilliant Theatre Arts have brought their production to the Harlow Playhouse for a four-show run, emphasising the “immersive/interactive” nature of the performance. As soon as I walked through the theatres doors, I was greeted by a stern look from two pintsize police officers and rushed away with my head bowed low to collect my ticket.

This form of welcoming committee worked well, however, later on in the performance, it become irritating and distracting as cast members appeared through doorways in the corner of my eyes before running down a flight of stairs and darting off down another exit without contributing anything to the performance, and having to stand up in order to allow actors to barge through the seating. As a director, I appreciate that David Jenkins, who directed the production, has a vision that he wanted to achieve, however it often distracted from the main action taking place on the stage.

The emphasis for this production was, as it should be, on the talented cast.  Guy Trundle was Bugsy, playing the slick smooth-talker well, often appearing as one of the biggest on stage despite the fact he was physically one of the smallest! George Ellaway and Eddie Woodley had excellent on-stage chemistry as the crime fighting duo of Captain Smolsky and Officer O’Dreary, and employed this to very humorous effect. Jenkins and producer, Lee Ellaway, did well in ensuring that the cast were comfortable in expecting laughs and playing off of the audience.

Phoebe Mary Duffy was very good as Tallulah, seemingly intent on stealing Bugsy from Blousey, played by Elyvia Palmer who had an excellent voice. The stand out performance, however, belonged to Lucy Lawson as Fizzy. Her rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ was better than in the original film, and the accompanying dance with Gracie Leader was seamless.

Amanda Black’s choreography was clever and incorporated the entire cast, including the younger performers, combining well with Matt Evans’ musical direction particularly well in ‘Down and Out’.
The set, designed and built, by Chris Musgrave from Set Blue Scenery and Sandra Urwin was possible one of the most ambitious I have seen of a youth theatre production, working really well, especially in providing multiple exits at varied levels whilst Emily Brown’s lighting worked very well in depicting location.

Admittedly, I found it difficult to buy into Jenkins’ directorial vision and believe it actually hampered the performance; however, the more conventional elements of the show worked well. The entire cast of Bugsy Malone showed off their talents and their energy and commitment throughout was admirable.
Tickets for Bugsy Malone are on sale for their performance on the 3rd of May 2015 at the Harlow Playhouse on 01279 446754. More information on Brilliant Theatre Arts can be found here

Friday, 20 March 2015

Bouncers: Review

John Godber’s 1997 play is the most famous of his works, with a new production of Bouncers opening every week. Furthermore, it is popular with young companies and is a set text for GCSE. This, therefore, made it an obvious choice for Phoenix Theatre Arts. This production has made the Studio Theatre in the Harlow Playhouse its home for the last three nights.

The play focuses on the lives of four bouncers, and the people who they meet in their jobs. We meet four girls out to have fun, four boys who seem intent on leaving the club with a girl (any girl!) and the four bouncers themselves, who are all portrayed very well on the whole by the cast.

Prior to getting underway, the four Bouncers came out into the audience and began to abuse the audience, setting the tone for the consistent breaking of the fourth wall that ensued. Whilst this was quite funny at first – I myself was mocked for “sitting like a girl” – the spectacle lasted over five minutes and began to drag which did reduce the effect of this slightly.

Will Edden, who has previously played Gavroche and Dodger in the West End, portrayed each of his characters confidently and very clearly enjoyed his role.  

Drew Gregg, playing Ralph, was physically strong, ensuring each of his moments had purpose, and made a particularly convincing Sexy Suzy! His subtle movements during a scene in which the other bouncers complimented him on the size of his manhood were particularly noteworthy.

Daniel Boulton had the difficult role of playing Lucky Eric who, alongside some of the funniest moments, also had the responsibility of numerous monologues throughout offering a ‘social commentary’. His comic timing was very good, and he was able to use his physicality to his advantage, often co-operating with Edden in a ‘little and large’ style duo.

The stand out bouncer, however, was fourteen year old Joseph Vaiana. The sheer versatility between each of his characters was excellent, and his impression of a typical North-Weald style salesman was spot-on. As Rudd, he never stopped reacting to the other bouncers and did stand out.
Embedded image permalink
Bouncers Set, designed by Trevor Pavely
The design, by Trevor Paveley was minimalistic, as synonymous with Godber’s play, but worked nicely. The nightclub sign was a smooth touch, however the door could have been perhaps secured better as it did expose the actors at points when waiting to enter, which did reduce the clever back lighting, as designed by Rob Dyer.

From watching this production I get a great sense of collaboration between the cast and director, Jeanne Stacey. They worked well to bring the script well into the 21st Century, with references to Uptown Funk and Van trainers, however some elements, for example the inclusion of a Thriller dance, seem out of place and almost superfluous to the flow of the piece. Furthermore, at times, the sound was too loud to hear the actors even in the front row of the intimate studio theatre.


Nevertheless, four very exciting performers managed to entertain their audience for the evening, giving a very honest and funny insight into the UK club culture and, more importantly, a good production of a play I will admit to disliking with a passion.

More information on Phoenix Theatre Arts can be found 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Nether: Review

Between the Royal Court and the innovative Headlong, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the show you are about to see will make you think, questioning your own morals and opinions. In their latest piece, The Nether, recently transferring to the West End's Duke of York's Theatre, they create an online world in which complete and total sensory immersion is the goal. Taste, smell, touch and even sex are achievable sensations. The play debates the role of the internet in our lives now and in the future, as well as crossing the uncharted boundaries of debating paedophilia on stage.

The Nether by Jennifer Hayley
credit Johan Persson
Sims (left), played by  Stanley Townsend, and Morris, played by Amanda Hale.

Jennifer Haley's script is phenomenally written; in a play which is a cross between cop thriller and exploration of this extraordinary realm, she manages to make the time fly effortlessly, even embedding humor at some of the darkest points in her 80 minute play. Combined with the set design of Es Devlin, who was responsible for the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games and Kanye West's Yeezus tour, blows your mind as the interrogative grey wall falls for the first time and we are transported into The Hideaway - where "customers" are able to, through the use of avatars, have sex with children - reminiscent of a Victorian manor house, tall Poplar trees and Elk heads along with the delicacy of Iris' bedroom lulling us into a false sense of security and triggering gasps from the audience each time it was unveiled. Working in cohesion with the excellent videos of Luke Halls, the transformation from reality to virtual reality is insane, questioning which of the two actually is more real.

The astonishing visuals of the production are matched by an excellent cast; Amanda Hale was good as Morris, who interrogates the users of The Hideaway, however at times towards the end of the play lost some volume. David Calder who played Doyle was especially convincing and heartbreaking in the final scene, whilst Stanley Townsend was haunting as Sims, leading us to question the morality of his actions. The role of Woodnut was played by understudy Will Irvine but he put in such a strong performance it is hard to see how he is simply an understudy. The role of nine year old Iris was played by Isabella Pappas who, quite frankly, was extraordinary. Her genuine innocence, love and affection displayed would be unrecognisable in many actresses older and more experienced than her, so watch out for that name!

The Nether by Jennifer Hayley
credit Johan Persson
Iris (left), played by Isabella Pappas, and Woodnut, played by Ivanno Jeremiah. 

The Nether makes you ask very uncomfortable questions: how safe is the internet? Can we allow making our dreams a reality, albeit a virtual one? Is having sex with an avatar in a virtual reality a truly negative thing if it ensures that these men do not repeat their behaviour in the real world? Jeremy Herrin's sublime direction, combined with superb sets, video and an excellent cast to pose these difficult questions in a way which will stick with every audience member for a long time after the show has finished. As a result, the show will never achieve a standing ovation, as much as it deserves one. Buy tickets, I urge you. The Nether changes the way we think, and is superb in the way it does so.

The Nether is currently running at The Duke of York's Theatre until the 25th April 2015. Tickets are available from the theatre box office, by calling 0844 871 3051, or by visiting their website

Monday, 2 February 2015

Full of Joys: Review

The Music Hall was a popular form of entertainment from the mid 19th Century all the way up to the 1960s, providing for the masses a mixture of popular songs of the time, comedy and variety acts, acting almost like an untelevised version of Britain's Got Talent just without the large red crosses, tap dancing dogs and open-shirted judges.

Much like the ITV hit, however, audience participation was encouraged, most passionately by the "magnificently moustached chairman" Michael Branwell, who also directed the production, alongside Henrietta Branwell, and Jenny Southwell. His articulate and linguistically adventurous interludes guided the structure of the performance, along with some rather terrible jokes which would not have been out of place in a normal conversation with Michael!

The evening started with a selection of songs performed by some true veterans of the Music Hall as Jon McNamara who got some laughs from the audience as he 'twittered' about the stage, alongside Ruth Lewis who got a good chorus from the audience in joining in with 'Joshua'. Husband and Wife duo, Geoff and Jacqueline Leeds put in a good show, which Geoff accompanied with his accordion.

The first of two intervals was followed by a melodrama written by Jenny Southwell which proved funnier than I thought it would be, I shall be honest. Special mention must go to both Joan Lanario and Mike Rees, who were particularly funny in their roles, building on recent successes in Woyzeck. Kevin Smith, in his Moot House debut, was also noteworthy for his performance and I look forward to seeing more from him.

The final act was a number of musical numbers and dances along with Gary Shaw, whose jokes, whilst standing outside of the more traditional atmosphere of the performance, were topical and helped keep things ticking over nicely.

Whilst some of the songs and dances weren't the sharpest choreography, or best knowledge of the lyrics, it was a valiant effort from the majority of the cast, with the aforementioned standing out. Special mention must go to two of the audience's favourites of the evening in Claire Quley and Dan Powell who acted as waiters for the entire two and a half hours but, bless them, did look rushed off their feet by the end of it!

Whilst a Music Hall was not my particular 'thing', and a tighter focus on vocals and choreography could have been present, the overall audience appeared to have had a good time, as had the cast who took part. The Moot House Players' season is so varied with German classic Woyzeck previously, followed by the such a spectacle of variety. I look forward to their next production; Kerry Rowland's Metamorphosis.