My Top Ten Choices of the Week (w/c April 11)

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Les Blancs-danny-sapani

It’s been three weeks since I was last here, information pills so today I’m going to catch up with the rest of March, and from now on I’m going to update this column on a monthly rather than weekly basis! ??In the period covered by the previous column, I’d seen 49 shows in 6 weeks; now, in 3 weeks, I’ve seen a more modest 20, so perhaps I’m slacking!

But it has also included trips to Birmingham, Bristol, Bromley (twice) and Cardiff; I’ve also seen three films, interviewed Katie Brayden and Daniel Evans, and co-hosted a lunch for Maggie Smith to honour her with this year’s Critics’ Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts.  And in the next three weeks, I’ll be in Manchester, Watford and Colchester, plus a week in New York, so my diary is as full as ever!

NotMosesThe period covered here started with a run of bad shows: on two nights running, I saw shows that both got one-star reviews from me – Miss Atomic Bomb at the St James (reviewed here), then Not Moses at the Arts Theatre (reviewed here, pictured right). And then on the third night, another show opened that I wasn’t reviewing but I would have given one star to if I had been (If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me at the Young Vic).

There’s no pleasure in awarding the lowest rating, as I wrote here; and though I can understand that actors may find it painful to be reminded that they’re in a poorly received shows, there’s nothing like blaming the messenger, as I have been, by one of them on Twitter for retweeting a negative review by someone else. As Somerset Maugham once perceptively said, “People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.” The same actor has been only too happy to retweet more favourable comments!

But it’s not been all awful; I also re-visited the ENO’s five-star Akhnaten (and paid £100.50 for my side dress circle seat for the privilege — proof of just how much I loved it the first time!) and the wonderful In the Heights at the King’s Cross Theatre, and returned also to see The Book of Mormon for the first time since its London opening night, as well as the five-star Mamma Mia! as it launched a new UK tour at Bristol. (that I reviewed here).

Iphigenia-in-SplottI also finally caught Iphigenia in Splott (pictured left)— I managed to miss it during is London run at the National’s Temporary Theatre, but at the urging of a friend who said it was one of the best shows he’d seen in ages, took myself to Birmingham instead to catch it at Birmingham Rep’s studio Door theatre. And it was definitely worth the effort; so was another one-person I saw the very next night at the Young Vic, Living with the Lights On; I wrote about both here)

Then there’s Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, controversially revived the National, which got everything from one-star pans to five-raves, so of course I had to see for myself — as  I wrote here, “A one-star review is sometimes a challenge and a provocation as much as a criticism. It dares you to see a show for yourself. I get far more reaction from a one-star review than I ever do from a five-star one.”

theatre-cafe-curtain-upAs a critic, I understand not only that critics are far from infallible — what we write is, of course, always a mater of opinion, though hopefully of informed opinion — but that we only part of the conversation around the shows we see, not the beginning and end of them! And I’m delighted to be part of that ongoing conversation in my various outlets, from here to Twitter, in print and online, and on the radio. In the last few weeks, I’ve participated actively on the radio in shows on national radio (appearing on Will Gompertz’s BBC5 Live Sunday arts programme on March 27), community radio (appearing on Resonance FM’s weekly theatre show Curtain Up Show, presented live from the Theatre Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue, that can be heard online here), and I also do a new live (very) early morning spot on talkRADIO with breakfast host Paul Ross every week on Tuesday morning around 6.45am.

maggie-smith-speechAnd I also know that what critics say resonates with actors. Last week at the Critics’ Circle lunch to honour Maggie Smith, she told a marvellous story as she acceptd her award (pictured left): “I know people say and I’ve certainly said I don’t read the critics, which a lot of actors say very airily,  but believe me, you get to know what’s there. But I did learn a lesson once— I was sitting in a hotel with Frank Finlay who was a wonderful actor, we were filming Othello, but there was a newspaper there and I read it; there was a review in there and it was absolutely lethal and truly frightening. It was for The Master Builder at the National, and I remember bursting into tears. Frank gave me a great big hug and said, ‘what you must think about is how many actresses you’ve made very happy.’ I don’t know if the critic who wrote that is here, but it was a very good lesson.”  And to us, too.

I also made a rather marvellous discovery: as we exchange notes on our respective hip replacement operations last year — she had hers done in October, I followed in November — it turned out that we were both operated on by the same surgeon Mr Robert Marston! What a small world!
It’s been three weeks since I was last here, visit this so today I’m going to catch up with the rest of March, stuff and from now on I’m going to update this column on a monthly rather than weekly basis! ??In the period covered by the previous column, I’d seen 49 shows in 6 weeks; now, in 3 weeks, I’ve seen a more modest 20, so perhaps I’m slacking!

But it has also included trips to Birmingham, Bristol, Bromley (twice) and Cardiff; I’ve also seen three films, interviewed Katie Brayden and Daniel Evans, and co-hosted a lunch for Maggie Smith to honour her with this year’s Critics’ Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts.  And in the next three weeks, I’ll be in Manchester, Watford and Colchester, plus a week in New York, so my diary is as full as ever!

NotMosesThe period covered here started with a run of bad shows: on two nights running, I saw shows that both got one-star reviews from me – Miss Atomic Bomb at the St James (reviewed here), then Not Moses at the Arts Theatre (reviewed here, pictured right). And then on the third night, another show opened that I wasn’t reviewing but I would have given one star to if I had been (If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me at the Young Vic).

There’s no pleasure in awarding the lowest rating, as I wrote here; and though I can understand that actors may find it painful to be reminded that they’re in a poorly received shows, there’s nothing like blaming the messenger, as I have been, by one of them on Twitter for retweeting a negative review by someone else. As Somerset Maugham once perceptively said, “People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.” The same actor has been only too happy to retweet more favourable comments!

But it’s not been all awful; I also re-visited the ENO’s five-star Akhnaten (and paid £100.50 for my side dress circle seat for the privilege — proof of just how much I loved it the first time!) and the wonderful In the Heights at the King’s Cross Theatre, and returned also to see The Book of Mormon for the first time since its London opening night, as well as the five-star Mamma Mia! as it launched a new UK tour at Bristol. (that I reviewed here).

Iphigenia-in-SplottI also finally caught Iphigenia in Splott (pictured left)— I managed to miss it during is London run at the National’s Temporary Theatre, but at the urging of a friend who said it was one of the best shows he’d seen in ages, took myself to Birmingham instead to catch it at Birmingham Rep’s studio Door theatre. And it was definitely worth the effort; so was another one-person I saw the very next night at the Young Vic, Living with the Lights On; I wrote about both here)

Then there’s Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, controversially revived the National, which got everything from one-star pans to five-raves, so of course I had to see for myself — as  I wrote here, “A one-star review is sometimes a challenge and a provocation as much as a criticism. It dares you to see a show for yourself. I get far more reaction from a one-star review than I ever do from a five-star one.”

theatre-cafe-curtain-upAs a critic, I understand not only that critics are far from infallible — what we write is, of course, always a mater of opinion, though hopefully of informed opinion — but that we only part of the conversation around the shows we see, not the beginning and end of them! And I’m delighted to be part of that ongoing conversation in my various outlets, from here to Twitter, in print and online, and on the radio. In the last few weeks, I’ve participated actively on the radio in shows on national radio (appearing on Will Gompertz’s BBC5 Live Sunday arts programme on March 27), community radio (appearing on Resonance FM’s weekly theatre show Curtain Up Show, presented live from the Theatre Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue, that can be heard online here,  pictured above with co-hosts Tim McArthur and Nathan Mathews and my MyTheatreMates co-founder Terri Paddock) and I also do a new live (very) early morning spot on talkRADIO with breakfast host Paul Ross every week on Tuesday morning around 6.45am.

maggie-smith-speechAnd I also know that what critics say resonates with actors. Last week at the Critics’ Circle lunch to honour Maggie Smith, she told a marvellous story as she acceptd her award (pictured left): “I know people say and I’ve certainly said I don’t read the critics, which a lot of actors say very airily,  but believe me, you get to know what’s there. But I did learn a lesson once— I was sitting in a hotel with Frank Finlay who was a wonderful actor, we were filming Othello, but there was a newspaper there and I read it; there was a review in there and it was absolutely lethal and truly frightening. It was for The Master Builder at the National, and I remember bursting into tears. Frank gave me a great big hug and said, ‘what you must think about is how many actresses you’ve made very happy.’ I don’t know if the critic who wrote that is here, but it was a very good lesson.”  And to us, too.

I also made a rather marvellous discovery: as we exchange notes on our respective hip replacement operations last year — she had hers done in October, I followed in November — it turned out that we were both operated on by the same surgeon Mr Robert Marston! What a small world!
MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THE WEEK

1) people-places-thingsPeople, this Places and Things. Harrowing, intense, emotional, gripping and exhilarating, Duncan Macmillan’s transfer from the National to the West End’s Wyndham’s even had the critics on their feet for the first night standing ovation. As Fiona Mounford declared in her five-star review for the Evening Standard, “It’s rare to see a group of critics, cynical devils that we are, rise to their feet for a sweeping standing ovation on a press night. But this wasn’t any old opening, or any old leading actress. For my money, Denise Gough gives the greatest stage performance since Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.” And (for once) I entirely concur with Mountford; my review for LondonTheatre.co.uk is here. Gough deserviedly won the Olivier for Best Actress; I’ve also written here about what a life-changing performance and show it is. Webbsite: http://www.peopleplacesthingsonstage.com/

 

2) lesblancsLes Blancs. The National is on a roll at the moment: as well as People, Places and Things (see above), and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (see below), there’s also an utterly astonishing production of a virtually unknown play by Lorainne Hansberry. Best known for A Raisin in the Sun, she never finished this play before her death at the age of just 34, of pancreatic cancer. But now the National has visionary South African director Yael Farber directing a ritualistic production that burns with rage and feeling in is portrait of an African country falling apart on the edge of civil war. An outstanding cast is led by the magnificent, towering Danny Sapani (pictured at the top of this column), and also includes  Sian Phillips, Elliot Cowan, James Fleet and Anna Madley. Website: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/les-blancs

3) The Book of Mormon. I’ve not seen this gloriously irreverent, hilariously knowing musical send-up of Mormonism and musicals themselves since its 2013 West End opening night — and returning to see it agaion nearly three years later it remains as fresh, funny and brilliant as it was then. The current cast is led by American imports KJ Hippensteel as Elder Price and Brian Sears as Elder Cunningham, while Olivier winning Stephen Ashfield remains in the cast as Elder McKinley. Website: http://www.bookofmormonlondon.com/

4) Nell Gwynn. A ravishing, rambunctious and hilarious new play by Jessica Swale that’s about a love affair both in and of the theatre, revolving around the true story of the 17th century actress who ended up as mistress to King Charles II. First seen at Shakespeare’s Globe (which this week posnell-gwynnted record attendances for last year that saw it account for some 12% of the capital’s total playgoing audience in 2015) for a run of just 11 performances last summer, it now gets a West End transfer the Apollo, starring the wonderful Gemma Arterton in the title role of Chris Luscombe’s production.  Shakespeare’s Globe previously also transferred Twelfth Night and Richard III with Mark Rylance to the same theatre. It has just won this year’s Olivier Award for Best Comedy. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://nellgwynn.co.uk/

5) Motown. Not everyone loved this one — critical opinion was, to say the least, mixed. But even though I thought it was a bit of a cruise ship revue when I first saw it on Broadway, seeing it again in London, with a really fine mostly British cast pumping out the hits, warmed me to this show’s infectious and multiple pleasures. There simply hasn’t been a songstack quite like it in a jukebox musical ever — sure, it’s a pity some of the songs get cut off in their prime and the book makes Rock of Ages seem deep, but I still loved it! See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://motownthemusical.co.uk/

ma_rainey-bw6) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The National revisit August Wilson’s early play in his ten-play cycle of American black experience across the last century that they previously presented the UK premiere of back in 1989 to offer a stunning new production in the Lyttelton, starring Sharon D Clarke in the title role (pictured above). Lucian Msamati, just announced last week to play Salieri in the NT’s new forthcoming production of Amadeus, is extraordinary, too, amongst a superb ensemble that also features Clint Dyer and Giles Terrera. See my review for The Stage here. Website:  http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/ma-raineys-black-bottom

bedella

 

7) In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony winning Broadway musical returns to London in the exhilarating production first seen at Southwark Playhouse last year, and now at King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to October. I saw it again recently and it remains brilliant — and a vivid reminder that Hamilton, the current smash hit Broadway show, didn’t happen kn a vacuum, but its creator’s musical and lyrical inventiveness was on full display already in this show. It saw David Bedella (pictured right) win his second Olivier Award this year for Best Supporting Performance. The thrilling choreography is by Drew McOnie, who won his first Olivier for it as well, and who will soon be represented at the Old Vic by Jekyll and Hyde that he is creating for the venue, opening in May. See my review here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/

8) How the Other Half Loves – Garrick. Alan Ayckbourn — soon to premiere his 80th play at his home base of Scarborough — sees his 1969 comedy revived in the West End, with a cast that includes Nicholas Le Prevost, Jenny Seagrove and Tamzin Outhwaite. Absolutely ingeniusly, it has two dinner parties on consecutive nights staged simultaneously staged in different houses on the same set. See my review here. Website: http://www.trh.co.uk/whatson/how-the-other-half-loves/

Oliver-Tompsett9) Guys and Dolls. I can’t wait to go back to see Guys and Dolls now that it has newly transferred from the Savoy Theatre to the Phoenix, with three of its four principals re-cast. I am especially looking forward to seeing Oliver Tompsett (pictured right), who is possessed of one of the best male voices in British musical theatre, inheriting the role of Sky Masterson from Jamie Parker, and Samantha Spiro as Miss Adelaide. It is also simultaneously on a UK tour I can’t wait to see, too, because Louise Dearman and Richard Fleeshman are playing the roles of Miss Adelaide and Sky there. It has long been my absolutely favourite of any musical: as I wrote when this production premiered at Chichester in 2014, “Guys and Dolls is, to my mind and even more my heart and soul, simply the greatest of all the classic musicals of Broadway’s golden age of over half a century ago. No show for me summonses a mythical, virtually mystical version of its own mean but colourful streets with as much serious style and witty panache as Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’s incisive, clever distillation of Damon Runyon’s classic story and characters, set to Frank Loesser’s irresistibly tuneful but acerbically pointed songs.  This slice of Broadway is set in and around Times Square itself whose famous advertising billboards loom large in a stunning fanned vista of them in Peter McKintosh’s design for this polished, stylish new production.” Website: http://www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/

 

10) Mrs Henderson Presents. Transfer from Bath Theatre Royal of this touchEmma-Williams-stage-interviewing, terrific new musical version of the 2005 British film set backstage and frontstage at the Windmill Theatre, which offered audiences live, nude (but completely immobile) women. The cast includes Emma Willimas (pictured above) as one of the showgirls, plus Tracie Bennett in the title role, originally played by Judi Dench in the film. My review of the original production at Bath last summer for The Stage is here, and my review of last week’s opening of the transfer is here. Website: http://www.mrshenderson.co.uk/