Regular reviews of new London theatre, from the West End and the National Theatre to the fringe, plus occasional dispatches from around the UK and beyond.

Thursday 19 December 2013

The ghost of a L’Oreal advert

Coriolanus, Donmar Theatre, London

Scenes that should feel dangerous come across as funny or even harmless. This isn’t to take away from Hiddleston. He is a hugely talented actor, who can imprison the audience with just one confessional glace. But I never felt him roar. This is largely down to the still atmosphere that ‘engulfs’ Coriolanus.

Monday 16 December 2013

The splendid and fearful isolation of youth

Let the right one in, Royal Court Theatre, London

Eli (Rebecca Benson, in a mature and beautifully balanced performance), the vampire girl who is central to our blood-red romance, hovers between reality and fantasy. She looks fairly normal but sounds weirdly airy. It is as if her voice has no heat in it. She has an elastic way of moving – shimmering up and scaling climbing frames and trees - that gives her a feral and magical quality.

Saturday 14 December 2013

A king who holds his sceptre like a doll

Richard II, Barbican, London

There is a modest beauty to this classy production that forces us to take Richard seriously. This allows Tennant to push his interpretation as far as it will go and make his Richard as silly and petty and small as he dares.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Get married!

Once upon a Christmas, Covent Garden, London

If I’m being generous, I could say it’s charming that these shops agreed to take part. But it is also rather odd to be paraded around shops throughout the production, just at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Commercialism and theatricality nestle side by side in an uncomfortable fashion. 

The head boy is vanquished

There’s a vague weariness that clings to this show. It feels like Grandage is falling back on his greatest tricks so as to avoid offending this new, larger and richer, audience. Christopher Oram’s set encapsulates this elegant poise, which is just a whisker away from stagnancy. The

She screams at the strawberry

Gastronauts, Royal Court Theatre, London

That forced quirkiness also impacts almost all the linking episodes, which hold the show together. There are weird explosions of sound and colour between some scenes, when a drink is spilled, lights flash, sirens blare and the cast stalks about the dining room, screaming ‘Spiiiiiiiill!’

Sadie directs dead people to dance

The Disappearance of Sadie Jones, Pleasance Theatre, London

There’s a mesmerising and hazy quality to this production, which is as soothing as it is unsettling. Sadie Jones (a translucent Stephanie Greer) describes her situation with a childlike simplicity: ‘The tall thin people surround Sadie Jones’.

Saturday 2 November 2013

A detached view of the march of history

Sun, Sadler’s Wells, London

Shechter’s famous signature style is a kind of three-way collision between Jewish folk dancing, the more classical structures and shapes of ballet, and the sort of dancing to dance music that was popular when I was about 15. It’s also reminiscent of the sort of dancing you maybe saw native Americans doing in some old and probably racist cowboys and ‘Indians’ films.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

An endless, oddly glinting daydream

The World of Extreme Happiness, Shed Theatre, London

There’s a touch of the Wizard of Oz to this show, both in design and plot. An exceptional girl, Sunny (Katie Leung), sets off from the countryside to the city, in search of factory work. She meets friends and foes along the way but is ultimately dumped back into reality with one hell of a thud.

A fierce, snatched hug

Routes, Royal Court Theatre, London

There’s something a touch forced about this piece, right down to Paul Wills’ attractive but overly translatable set. Simon Godwin’s production feels important and the characters, authentic - but the play is a little too calculated and concertinaed for my taste.

Monday 16 September 2013

A devastating descent

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, Royal Court Theatre, London

By the end of the play, Gorge Mastromas has been eaten up by evil. He is a crust of a man. But the journey up to this point is taken with small, tiptoe steps. We watch Gorge become possessed by his own desire. It is frightening believable everything is – how reachable and logical every step Gorge takes is, despite the horror he enacts.

Not at the cost of a classic play

Secret Theatre, Show 2, Lyric Hammersmith, London

The aesthetic feels familiar; all strip lights, big white screens and colourful, defiantly incongruous props (Watermelon is used a lot and I have no idea why).  Everything – the props, the acting style, the music – feels odd and jolting yet weirdly measured. There is a faintly mechanised yet unbalanced air to proceedings; as if the production is being controlled by a shoddily wired robot, on the verge of self-destruction.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

As arbitrary and unbiddable as the stock market

Squally Showers Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013

As usual with Little Bulb, the plot swims somewhere beneath the aesthetic, emerging in vignettes of hiring, firing, promotion and demotion within the organisation.

Friday 16 August 2013

I like complex simplicity

Freeze!, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013

There’s something incredibly odd about experiencing a mute man talking to an audience through a disembodied voice. The reason he’s made this choice, apparently, is so he has ‘something to talk about’ and because he doesn’t ‘want to bore the language thinkers’ in the audience.

Candid comedy

Fleabag, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013

It’s an extraordinary piece of writing, making us guffaw with laughter one minute and then become pensive at the thought of what it means to be a ‘bad feminist’ the next. She rattles through stories with a gallop, only pausing to stroke her neck or consider whether or not she has a ‘massive arsehole’.

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