Review: Disco Pigs @ Trafalgar Studios

Pig and Runt have been inseparable since birth. Born to different mothers as Darren and Sinead, they came into the world in hospital beds next to each other and were raised in houses that stand side by side. The two are each other’s whole worlds. When their seventeenth birthday arrives, they decide to make a wild night of it. Disco Pigs grabs the audience and pulls them along on a journey of excitement, discovery and looming violence.

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In this one-act play by by Dublin playwright Enda Walsh, two teenagers stuck on an estate in dismal Cork City create their own world in which they are ‘king and queen’. Written in a thick Cork dialect, with almost poetic, whimsically grammarless language, the play requires strong performances to bring it to life and make it understandable to an audience. Evanna Lynch (Harry Potter’s Luna Lovegood) as Runt and Colin Campbell as Pig do this brilliantly. They are full of relentless energy – beware, you may end up being sprayed with bodily fluids. Pig burns with desperation for sexual contact with Runt, which he details in an explicit monologue, and is ever on the cusp of violence, whilst Runt’s sparkiness contains a wistful dawning realisation of a world beyond Cork City. Part coming-of-age story, part love story, part working class drama, this play defies stereotypes through its eclectic structure and skilled, lyrical use of language. At times, it’s almost like watching spoken word.

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The staging serves the play very well. In the small dark space of Trafalgar Studios 2, the intricate lighting design, the many sound effects and an old TV create the whole set. Lynch and Campbell run, hop and dance along with the lights, the whole 75 minutes expertly and intensely choreographed. Alleys, taxis, clubs, the seaside – all are created in the audience’s imagination. While Lynch retains some of the dreamy quality she brought to the role of Luna Lovegood, Campbell gives his role brute force mixed with a gangly quirkiness, the sweat running of him.

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One could criticise that a strong emotional bond cannot really be formed between the duo and the audience. Perhaps it is because we are too close in the small studio space, perhaps it is due to their heavy accents or ever-escalating violence depicted. Nevertheless, Disco Pigs makes for a fast-paced, captivating evening, prompting us to consider our own dreams and fantasies as well as the consequences of loving.

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Disco Pigs is playing the Trafalgar Studios until 19 August 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

Review: Cunning Little Vixen @ Arcola Theatre (Grimeborn Opera Festival)

The Cunning Little Vixen is a strange little opera. Peter and the Wolf with a love story, or perhaps The Wind In The Willows with a dark side? This innovative production at the Arcola Theatre’s annual Grimeborn Opera Festival delves into Leoš Janáček’s 1920s work with energy and imagination.

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The story seems, at first, a strange subject for an opera. It tells, at times cheekily, at times movingly, but always simply and strangely plausibly, of the life of a young vixen. She is captured by a forester and lives in captivity before escaping and falling in love with a handsome boy fox, eventually coming to a tragic end. A host of anthropomorphic forest animals and some humans accompany her on this journey. The whole thing is set to experimental yet folk-like music that bears resemblance to the works of Debussy.

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The Arcola’s Studio 1 is not easy to work with. The ceiling is low and space is limited. Performer entrances and exits take a long time, and the tiny space stage right for the musicians barely accommodates this production’s piano quintet, along with skilled young conductor Oliver Till. However, Vixen deals well with the Arcola’s restrictions and manages, through the use of an inventive set and and an arsenal of props, to believably conjure a woodland clearing, a pub and a barnyard in the space.

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The Cunning Little Vixen is all about orchestral music. For an opera, there isn’t actually that much singing going on, and the many characters (over twenty) don’t get  a lot of time to develop. However, with such able and lovely voices as Alison Rose’s (Vixen) in the cast, that hardly matters. Most of them take on a few roles each and differentiate the various parts with great skill, helped by the bright visual aides that are designer Alexander McPherson and Denisa Dumitrescu’s costumes.The music is less glaring and more murky, in a good way. In this scaled-down new arrangement for piano quintet, Janáček’s haunting, textured melodies swirl and glimmer like soft light dappling a forest floor. The many periods of solely instrumental music, for which the composer gives little stage direction, have been well-dealt with – Nina von der Werth’s wonderful choreography sees dragonflies, frogs and other creatures gliding and leaping about in simple, entrancing sequences.

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This opera, which contains everything from tragedy and dream sequences to sex and comedy, gives an audience much to talk about afterwards. My only criticism would be that even in English translation, the narrative was not completely clear and could have done with surtitles. Nevertheless, it sent my group discussing and praising well into the night, and was, for a Janáček novice like me, a perfect and approachable way to discover this gem of early 20th century opera for the first time.

The Cunning Little Vixen is playing the Arcola Theatre in Dalston until 4 August 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

Musical review catch-up: Lady Day, Trial by Jury, Don Giovanni

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill @ Wyndham’s Theatre

When the wonderful Masterclass sent round an email offering £5 tickets to the first performance of Audra McDonald’s west end debut, my reaction was, of course, I’m there. True, I hadn’t really had the chance to see her in anything other than James Corden’s ‘Carpool Karaoke’, but I knew of her Broadway standing. And besides, pretty little Wyndham’s is one of my favourite West End theatres. I was completely unaware of the show’s content, but I was willing to risk it.

Lady Day is a show about Billie Holiday’s life – a first person-narrated play interpersed with her songs. We are led from her troubled childhood through the rise and fall of her career by way of struggles against racism, reminiscences about musical inspiration and a fluffy pet dog (it’s very cute and very real). All of this occurs within the framework of a performance in a jazz club towards the end of Holiday’s time, to which we are ostensibly the audience. The Wyndham’s stage has been turned into a club with appropriately faded glamour and a bar in the corner, and McDonald is a vision in white, a characteristic flower in her hair.

I rarely see one-man/woman shows, which is really what this is, though a very good jazz band (and a good handful of audience members) are onstage with McDonald. It needs a certain type of energy to sustain a story and a character for the duration of a show and keep me interested. However, McDonald does this beautifully, never letting her characterisation of Lady Day slip. I was most surprised by her ability to so consistently reign in her powerful singing voice, capturing Billie Holiday’s strange warble so perfectly and not overshadowing the character with her natural, much better, vocals.

I’m glad it did not go on too long, as it isn’t the most interesting of plays. It may also have been better in a smaller venue – the piece’s conversational nature and jazz club setting would suit a more intimate location. However, McDonald is wonderful and it is worth going for her (if your ticket isn’t terribly pricey). At least, I found this a lot more worth it for the star casting than what ran at Wyndham’s before this (yes David Tennant’s great and all but I really did not like Don Juan in Soho..).

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Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill is playing Wyndham’s Theatre until 9 September 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

Trial by Jury @ ENO Studio Live (Lilian Baylis House)

Confession time: this is the first Gilbert & Sullivan production I’ve ever seen onstage. Filmed school productions featuring my cousins, Youtube videos and other sources have familiarised me with the core repertoire, but this was the loss of my live G&S virginity.

For some reason not having made the mental leap that ENO’s Hampstead rehearsal space and the Coliseum are not the same thing, I arrived just in time, dripping with rain. I immediately warmed to the casual nature of Lilian Baylis, even managing to squeeze in a friendly conversation with an usher before finding myself a seat and settling in.

Trial by Jury is Gilbert and Sullivan’s 40-minute one-act comedy about a jilted bride who puts her rogue husband-to-be on trial and, spoiler alert, ends up marrying the trial’s judge instead. It is sung-through, fast-paced and rather silly.

With something so typically light opera-esque and fluffy, its understandable that ENO couldn’t resist modernising things a bit – this groom is a slick, white suit and Shades-wearing modern-day slimeball, and the bride quickly changes from her wedding gown into rock-and-roll, all-black tight jeans and tank top. The production mixes these new elements with traditional gowns and wigs and generally goes for a very colourful and in-your-face style. Physical comedy abounds, and there is much movement onstage.

Over in such a short time, it is what I might call an appetizer show – one could easily go on to another, a main course, afterwards. It is quick, frothy and enjoyable – if you like G&S you will like it, if not, you won’t. No matter what one does with the visuals, G&S music always stays very G&S.

With the piano and conductor to one side of the stage, the construction of the performance space obvious and the lack of reserved seating, this show has an obvious studio feel, which I found very refreshing in ‘an evening at the opera’. I’m not sure there is much deep exploration to be done with Trial by Jury – in any case, I thought the ENO Chorus, directed here by Matthew Monaghan, did a pretty good job with it.

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ENO Studio Live’s production of Trial by Jury played at Lilian Baylis House until 6 June 2017.

Don Giovanni @ Opera Holland Park

After interning at Opera Holland Park in January, and sending out who knows how many score packs to chorus members, it was high time I saw one of their shows. Don Giovanni was the free ticket that was offered to me, and I happily accepted.

Director Oliver Platt has set this new production on a cruise ship in the 1930s. At first I wondered why, but it’s probably because I’ve never seen Don Giovanni live that the reasons for this weren’t immediately apparent. The tragi-comic story of a womanizer who can’t stop seducing married women, the intrigues that ensue and the way his upper class standing often excuses his scandalous behaviour can really only be modernised up to a point, and the claustrophobic but ostensibly luxurious atmosphere of a cruise ship, in which many different people are forced together, suits the story perfectly.

The design was excellent – the 1930s costumes sparkled and the cruise ship’s plethora of doors and hatches enabled many a ‘chance’ encounter. The principals each had their own style of dress, while the chorus looked beautiful as sailors, dancing partygoers and more.

It might be that Leporello is just the funnest role, but I greatly enjoyed John Savournin’s performance. His Leporello was very concerned with maintaining appearances, conscientious and loyal. This of course created much comedy between him and his rogue, audacious master, Don Giovanni.

A smooth, enjoyable, amusing production, this Don Giovanni sat very comfortably on the Opera Holland Park stage. On a balmy summer’s eve, it was wonderful to be swept up in this. I can imagine that in torrents of rain, which is what occured on press night, it would be an altogether more realistic experience!

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Don Giovanni played at Opera Holland Park until 24 June 2017.

‘Real love is never ambivalent’: Angels in America @ National Theatre

Perhaps it’s my youthful energy, but I absolutely loved this. Eight hours standing in the dark to watch some of my favourite actors perform a classic of American theatre? Sign me right up. At only £10 (the price of a standing ticket to both parts, bought on the day), this was surely a steal.

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I know that some people have, not unreasonably, pointed out flaws. And sure, the show finishes after many a last train home has departed. However, nothing could spoil what a great time I had. The all-round excellent performances, the operatic staging, the experience of having such an epic text wash over me for the first time – all of this contributed to a really good night, I mean day, at the theatre.

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Angels in America is Tony Kushner’s great Aids play and the behemoth of that genre. Spanning eight hours and incorporating many large and small roles (managed with surprisingly few actors in this production – quality over quantity, it seems), it tells the tale of Prior Walter, a young gay man in New York City who is dying of Aids. After his lover Louis leaves him, unable to deal with the illness, Prior is visited by a strange Angel who imparts a prophecy to him about how human beings are bringing about the fall of heaven. Other storylines include that of a Joe Pitt (a convincing Russell Tovey), a Mormon clerk who won’t come to terms with his homosexuality and has a difficult relationship with his unstable, Valium-addicted wife, Harper (a strong Denise Gough). Joe, who is a Republican, knows and looks up to Roy Cohn, a corrupt big-time lawyer who is outwardly homophobic but has many relations with men. Roy contracts Aids but insists the doctors call it liver cancer. Belize, the black gay nurse who cares for Roy in hospital, is a good friend and former lover of Prior’s. On and on, the many characters’ stories weave around each other to create a large-scale drama.

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This production is so important because it works against how much Aids has faded from the public consciousness. The horror of what happened to the homosexual community during the 80s is brought home to those watching. Prior is utterly lost, watching his friends die around him without explanation. Angels shows a collection of fascinating people trying to find answers to their lives in this environment.

The show is mainly about the Aids crisis, but comments quite a lot on American politics, too. The characters represent many different political viewpoints – left-wing Louis, portrayed very well by James McArdle, can’t stop plaintively and eandearingly spouting his politics, while Joe glibly insists that Democrats and Republicans really want the same thing. The over-all atmosphere however is much more negative, telling of horrible things to come for America. It is sad that Kushner’s apocalyptic predictions no longer seem over-the-top – the many rueful laughs which the political comments illicit from the audience undoubtedly had everything to do with the current American president. It’s not surprising that Roy Cohn was Trump’s political advisor for ten years.

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The stand-out performance for me is Andrew Garfield’s. Boy, what stamina that boy must have. His energetic, sweet and compelling performance, which he sustains over both multiple-hour parts of Angels, really surprised me. I guess I never know what to expect when I see actors I only know from the screen onstage for the first time. For me, Garfield makes the best kind of transition.

Another highlight was seeing Nathan Lane onstage. Surely everyone who has seen his screen work, from The Producers to Modern Family, must love him, and he was just as wonderful as I expected. His ability to remain consistenly funny yet horrible as Roy Cohn is astounding and I found him a joy to watch.

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The set changes are managed by a team of dark-clad actors who lope and crawl around the stage with fluid, animalistic movements as they push and pull doors, beds and walls, ever hiding in the shadows. They are also puppeteers, responsible for the complex choreography of the Angel’s wings. These wings are not attached to the Angel but instead are giant bendable apparatuses that seem to float alongside her. I always find a childlike joy in seeing the workings of theatre onstage, so I greatly enjoyed all this.

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What you would not expect about this seemingly heavy social-political drama about gay rights, black rights, women’s rights..is that it’s actually hilarious, a lot of the time. It also has a wonderful dream-like quality – the narrative is playfully free, many scenes are hallucinatory. I feel like this show has to be experienced. Especially if you have never seen Angels in America, this theatrical extravaganza should not be missed. Everything from the development of relationships and individual characters’ breakdowns to the flashing lights and colours of the ever-changing set is extremely watchable.  The National does this kind of thing very well – taking a classic and giving it the size, star casting and big-budget design it deserves.

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Angels in America is playing the National Theatre in two parts until 19 August 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

‘Pity the land that needs a hero’: Life of Galileo @ The Young Vic

Growing up in Germany and studying German literature at secondary school, I became very familiar with Brecht, ‘epic theatre’ and his distinctive writing style. I studied The Good Person of Szechuan in class and have seen multiple productions of the Threepenny Opera. However, I was as yet unfamiliar with Life of Galileo, Brecht’s great history play, if you could call it that.

This production certainly ticks the Brechtian box of making theatre a forum for political debate – its themes are relevant to pretty much any age. These days, it is almost blatantly pertinent to such conflicts as science vs climate change deniers, science vs creationists, science vs those ‘tired of experts’..science vs any non-progressive views. Galileo’s struggles against the ideological constraints of the Catholic church are at the heart of this play. It’s easy to see why Brecht chose this subject matter to represent the struggle of progress against backwards institutions and societal norms.

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Brendan Cowell, who was previously seen in the Young Vic’s Yerma, plays Galileo as a powerhouse of loud, seemingly inexhaustible energy. Casually dressed in a graphic tshirt, jeans and trainers, his stocky frame bounces around the stage, commanding it yet enticing the audience to join in. He does reign it in during the more somber bits, which I won’t spoil, but keeps a great rapport with the audience throughout. On the date I saw the play, this involved giving a group of schoolchildren in the front row a line to say, as well as improvising funny little asides, rather like an MC of his own story. True, his monologues would be long-winded in some actors’ mouths, but he does his best to keep them fresh and exciting.

Though this Galileo’s exuberance is at first very unexpected in a character one might assume to be a venerable, scholarly type, it is in line with Brecht’s desire to disconcert his audiences. However, it probably stems from Joe Wright’s obvious joy at directing this production. Primarily a film director, Wright is known for such successes as Atonement. He hasn’t directed many stage plays, and it’s clear he decided to use this opportunity to try everything out. From puppets to masks to projecting the universe onto the ceiling, this production goes all out in the most obviously theatrical ways – no special effects here. Lizzie Clachan’s wonderful design generally makes great use of the space – the in-the-round staging serves this production well. The Brechtian scene introductions, narrated by an expertly handled puppet, have a lovely childlike quality. The use of an apple throughout the show (an obvious nod to Newton, a scientific genius yet to come) is indicative of the show’s simple yet effective symbolism.

The cast are all strong, no matter the size of their role. To name a few – Anjana Vasan is convincingly youthful and wonderfully poised as Galileo’s young daughter Virginia, while Joshua James is delightfully smarmy as her rather thick suitor Ludovico. On the whole, it looks like the cast are having a lot of fun, and they are very good at absorbing the audience into the spectacle of it all.

This show has much of the storytelling quality that made me love the National’s Peter Pan (though that was even more enjoyable as a theatrical experience!). Overtly Brechtian, the actors in Galileo are clearly trying first and foremost to tell a tale, not inhabit characters. Watching Life of Galileo is like watching an educational and very captivating puppet show in which the puppets are bursting with life, and I mean that in the best way.

Life of Galileo is playing the Young Vic until 1 July 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

‘I love me’: The Ugly One @ Park Theatre

Written in German by Marius von Mayenburg, The Ugly One received its UK premiere in 2007 at the Royal Court. Buckland Theatre Company and the Park Theatre now present a new production in the Park’s smaller 90 space. This play is directed by the 2016 winner of the prestigious JMK Award for young directors, Roy Alexander Weise.

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Lette works in plugs. His life seems normal – he is happily married, and doing well in his firm. But then he is told that he may not present a new product at a convention because his face is ‘unacceptable’. It turns out that Lette’s visage is unspeakably ugly, and no one ever told him. His wife confesses to only ever looking at his left eye. Horrified, Lette decides to undergo plastic surgery. In a bizarre turn of events, the intensive operation transforms Lette into the most beautiful man in the world, altering his career, his relationships and the lives of those around him forever.

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This high-octane production features a talented and collaborative ensemble cast. However, each actor gives an individually praiseworthy performance. Charlie Dorfman, though his reactions at being called horrifically ugly by his wife and boss do not at first seem realistic, develops into a captivating Lette. Indra Ové is a relentless bundle of energy; her exaggerated portrayals of Lette’s wife Fanny, and later, an older exec Lette strikes up an affair with (confusingly also called Fanny), seem to sizzle.

Authoritative and no-nonsense T’Nia Miller is boss Scheffler, and hilariously unprofessional plastic surgeon, you guessed it, Scheffler. Arian Nik, a recent Mountview graduate makes his professional stage debut in this show. Excellently portraying Karlmann, the plug firm’s assistant who aspires to a higher position, Nik also plays another character called Karlmann, the exec’s vain gay son (a stereotypical and nevertheless amusing personage) who has a disturbingly adulterous relationship with his mother and is himself besotted with the new and beautiful Lette.

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There is no doubt that this show makes for an enjoyable evening. The acting, so deliberate and big as to be farcical, has the audience in stitches. Though many of the jokes rely on repetition, Maja Zade’s translation of the comedy works very well. Nevertheless, most of the humour is down to Weise’s direction, aided by movement director Jennifer Jackson.

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Nothing about this play is naturalistic – the acting is over-the-top, the production is near-expressionistic. However, all this is well-constructed and the overall effect is convincing. The scene changes, though not always smooth, are cleverly orchestrated – the last line from one scene becomes the first of another, with the actors deftly stepping out of each other’s way. The slightly raised stage is placed in the middle of the black box Park90 space, with two rows of seats on each side. It is less an intimate experience – the play is too unrelatable for that – than one in which the audience is very close to the action.

The actors occasionally address a line to the audience, or sit amongst them to watch the main action on stage. The stage itself is fascinating, used most effectively as a kind of multi-purpose table. As the main playing space is the floor around the stage, which is lower than the seats, the audience is mostly on eye-level with the actors, an unusually involving experience.  This show is obviously a team effort – the creative team seem to be as good an ensemble as the actors.

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One of the most striking things about this play is the use of fruit. Perhaps in allusion to the on-going health food fad, fruit stands in for Lette’s body during the fated operation. Aided by a microphone for amplification and some surgical instruments, the actors perform a well-choreographed sequence in which the slurping of water, the slicing of an apple, the squeezing of an orange and more make gruesomely realistic sound effects, sending the audience into uncomfortable fits of squirms and giggles.

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This play does not explore its themes – from ideas about acceptable appearance and self-portrayal to the career-driven nature of our society – as deeply or as subtly as it could have. This is largely due to its overtly satirical style. However, this is just as well – this production, rather than making you quietly chuckle, grabs you and shakes the laughs out of you. Eventually, Lette’s vanity spirals into a dark and refreshingly un-funny last scene, breaking the pattern of the rest of the show. At a crisp 90 minutes, it’s over before you’ve got the full measure of the story’s implications. Though it doesn’t plunge you into contemplation during the performance – you’re much too busy watching the spectacle – it gives you plenty to think about as you leave the theatre.

The Ugly One is playing at the Park Theatre’s PARK90 space until 24 June 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

‘All you have to do is dream’: Dreamgirls @ Savoy Theatre

When my friend won a £15 front row lottery seat to a Dreamgirls matinee but couldn’t go, I jumped at the chance. I confess I had never even seen the film, but I knew Amber Riley from Glee and was, of course, familiar with the show-stopping number ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’.

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Of course, I ended up with one of the days Riley was scheduled to be off. This was in no way a detriment to my experience. The role of Effie White was played by Karen Mav, who only graduated from LIPA in 2015. Mav gave a wonderful performance, with all the energy only an understudy can bring to a performance. The trio of Dreamgirls had wonderful chemistry. My favourite might have been Asmeret Ghebremichael’s ditsy Lorrell, with a pingy-ness to her voice that suited her character and was perfect for her big number, ‘Ain’t No Party’. As for the men, Adam J. Bernard was excellently, almost uncomfortably high-octane as Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Early, and Tyrone Huntley was sweet and likeable as Effie’s younger brother C.C. However, the rest of the men seemed more to be performing a role than inhabiting a character, something I find to be musicals’ eternal problem.

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The best part about seeing this show for me was sitting in the front row. As an all-too-regular theatre-goer and a student, I can’t remember the last time I was in such a goof seat! Sitting almost directly behind musical supervisor and conductor Nick Finlow was a unique experience. He was incredibly involved with the other musicians – seated below him in a covered area and communicating with him via screens and mics – and the actors onstage, conducting, playing and bobbing along to the music with relentless energy. The cheeky smile he gave me once or twice only made it better.

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All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this show. The familiar narrative and characters did nothing to intrigue or surprise, but the cast’s dedication, the powerful singing, the wonderful band and the colourful, glitzy design thrilled and delighted the audience, which gave the cast and crew a well-deserved standing ovation.

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Dreamgirls is booking at the Savoy Theatre until February 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.

Review: Madame Rubinstein @ Park Theatre

The life of Helena Rubinstein, one of the make-up industry’s first giants and a Jewish immigrant from Poland, and the story of her rivalry with Elizabeth Arden, seemed like a fascinating and unusual subject for a play. Thus, I was looking forward to Madame Rubinstein at the Park Theatre. My only experience of Miriam Margoyles so far was watching her play firm but kindly herbology teacher Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films – and if I hadn’t known the formidable presence with slicked-back black hair and bright red dress was that person, I would not have recognised her.

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And indeed, Margoyles is this play’s strongest asset. Her performance in the title role is acerbic, funny and very watchable. Equally, the teasing, friendly but nasty back-and-forth between her and Arden has great chemistry. The production as a whole however, is not carried by this. It’s a slow play, narratively but not thematically bulky, with over-long scene changes. It was the middle of the afternoon (I saw a matinee), and I hadn’t had a huge amount of sleep the night before, but I found myself nodding off during the first half. The second half is definitely better – the jokes, while not clever enough for my Stoppard-loving tastes, come thick and fast, and it feels like the action has speeded up a bit. Overall though, the play loses much by skating over many interesting themes – anti-Semitism, homophobia and the rise of the feminist movement are all there and could have made for a much meatier production if they had been explored in depth.

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Sitting up on the balcony all the way to the right in the Park Theatre’s 2000 space, I unfortunately couldn’t see the actors’ faces a lot of the time. As the play has such contrived-feeling staging, one might have hoped that all the possible sight-lines would have been thought of. Though I enjoyed myself more than I did at the last Park Theatre production I attended – the cringe-inducing Chinglish – I again felt that the women onstage delivered much better performances than the men and that the play chosen did not really merit the production.

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Madame Rubinstein is playing at the Park Theatre until 27 May 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

‘I (don’t) want to be loved’: The Treatment @ Almeida Theatre

Anne is selling herself to the movie industry – her life, that is. Jen and Andrew (I kept wondering why there were two characters were named Anne and Andrew), keen New York movie producers, are lapping up her bizarre tale of being regularly tied up and gagged by her husband when he left the house. Jen (a brilliant Indira Varma) is hilariously businesslike, and completely unsympathetic, about Anne’s tale. Her relentlessness lends brightness, if not warmth, to every scene. Her husband Andrew (a cool and composed Julian Ovenden) is a more enigmatic character. The way they calmly accept Anne’s disturbing and unusual past is the first thing that discomfits the audience.

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What follows is an absurd tale featuring a wonderful cast of characters including a failing playwright, a blind taxi driver and Anne’s Stanley Kowalski-esque husband Simon. The theme of blindness is present throughout the play, and though many have called it a satire on the movie industry, I feel its message goes deeper than that. I was fascinated, but left the theatre wondering what it all meant. And that can sometimes be a good thing.

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Writer Martin Crimp’s gripping dialogue, framed by an utterly stylish, very Almeida-y production, with an excellent performance by Aisling Loftus in the central role, made for a great evening. If only the scene changes hadn’t necessitated constant interruptions to the story by the lowering of a black curtain, it would have been perfect.

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The Treatment is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 10 June 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

Other plays I’ve seen lately

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Don Juan in Soho @ Wyndham’s Theatre – April 14th

It baffles me that this play has been getting 5 star reviews. Though David Tennant is a great actor, and many, if not most, people will go to see Don Juan for him, this is not the vehicle I would have wished for him. And that is because I found the story so implausible and boring. No doubt most of the audience will be familiar with the general gist of the tale of Don Juan, or Don Giovanni. However, the transition to modern-day Soho did not work. Sure, it was funny, but it seemed a bit pointless. Even the tale’s vulgarity is no longer shocking. David Tennant and Adrian Scarborough as his butler did not disappoint in their performances, but this slightly gimmicky production with its meagre plot did.

Don Juan in Soho is playing Wyndham’s Theatre until 10 June 2017. For more information and tickets, click here

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Whisper House @ The Other Palace – April 14th

Sadly, this show left me cold. A fan of Duncan Sheik’s Tony Award-winning hit Spring Awakening, with its energy and many great numbers, I was expecting to enjoy Whisper House. Instead, I found the plot dated and unable to support a musical, while the music was repetitive and without imagination. I feel like Spring Awakening has a much better foundation – it’s based on Frank Wedekind’s classic turn-of-the-century play Frühlingserwachen. Whisper House, on the other hand, lacks a good story. I didn’t understand why the two ghosts who sing almost all the songs (Niamh Perry and Simon Bailey in two admittedly good performances) were there. Andrew Riley’s initially intriguing whirlpool-like, lighthouse-inspired set ended up looking cramped and impractical. Though it held my attention enough to watch it all the way through after having seen a disappointing Don Juan in Soho earlier that day, Whisper House failed to achieve what I believe new musicals must aspire to do – be memorable.

Whisper House is playing the Other Palace until 27 May 2017. For more information and tickets, click here

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All The Things I Lied About @ Soho Theatre – April 25th

Katie Bonna’s one-woman show is ostensibly a TED talk – which TED hasn’t actually asked her to give yet. What initially appears to be a comedy show – Bonna’s charmingly, sometimes painfully, awkward vulnerability elicits many laughs – soon turns into a much more meaningful and serious, but no less vulnerable, conversation with the audience. Bonna explores the concept of ‘gaslighting’ – emotionally manipulating someone into doubting their own sanity – and relates it to both her family history and (who knew) Donald Trump. A few heartbreaking moments and many laughs and water pistols later, the audience leaves with much food for thought – about relationships, about the lies we tell ourselves and others, about the future of out ‘post-truth’ world. A well-executed evening.

All The Things I Lied About is playing the Soho Theatre until 6 May 2017. For more information and tickets, click here

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Edward Albee’s The Goat or Who Is Sylvia @ Theatre Royal Haymarket – April 27th

This play didn’t grab my attention as much as I expected it too – other people have obviously enjoyed it or been shocked by it. Neither particularly applies to me. Though I was initially fascinated by the story of Martin, a successful architect who breaks his marriage apart by falling in love with a goat named Sylvia, I wasn’t as gripped as I might have been. Most have praised Sophie Okonedo’s performance as the incredulous and broken wife Stevie, but my favourite was relative newcomer Archie Madewke as Billy, Martin’s auspiciously named gay son. In fact, I think I liked the play a lot more than the performances or production, which just didn’t do it for me – I couldn’t really say why, other than that I found the music intrusive and unnecessary and the middle chunk of dialogue between Martin and Stevie repetitive and exhausting to listen to. A fan of cleverness in writing (I’ll take a Tom Stoppard any day), I enjoyed the many little grammar jokes and the clever use of the concept of the goat – the word ‘tragedy’ comes from tragōidia, or goat-song, and the line ‘Who is Sylvia?’ is taken from a Shakespeare poem.

The Goat or Who Is Sylvia is playing the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 24 June 2017. For more information and tickets, click here