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31 January 2014


Ocean of Loneliness
Etcetera Theatre, Camden
Friday 31st January 2014

Aaron Anthony Wallace's sharply paced exploration of the differing effects of loneliness is revived in an intimate new production, directed by James O'Donnell at Camden's Etcetera Theatre this weekend. Told through three intertwined monologues, each of the neighbouring characters addresses the audience as though answering interview questions, gradually revealing the idiosyncrasies of their personalities and the effects of their isolation.  

The volley of short, choppy, overlapping lines that make up the opening scene start to introduce the traits of each character.  Requiring a daunting pace to maintain the flow of the piece, the feeling of emptiness and solitude that is later suggested in the lives of the three individuals is compromised a little in this bustling opening scene, instead perhaps suggesting the hubbub of the city they live above.  It isn't until further into the piece, when longer portions of monologue are revealed at once, that the three characters' individual threads start to take shape.

The style of the piece requires a real team approach from the small cast, whose concentration levels must be acutely focused in the close, intimidating space.  Listening to one another, ensuring an awareness and generosity with fellow performers, is essential to allow each of the stories the space they need to grow.  Tightly directed, the success of this was impressive for an opening night, although further familiarisation with the environment will only improve the smoothness across the weekend.

An intimidatingly small space in which to perform any piece, especially one in which the entire discourse is conducted towards the very nearby audience, performances were generally well achieved.  Alex Barclay's poet, with both delusions of grandeur and crippling writer's block, proves the inaccuracy of his comparisons to Shakespeare and Milton when beginning to write about his neighbour.  The character with the most depth, the affects of his solitary situation are clear in this darkly comic interpretation.  The comparative insanity portrayed by Helen Bang sits as an uncomfortable juxtaposition, with the initial humour of her eccentricity making way for genuine flashes of mental illness.  The distractions of Shian Denovan's character, body image concerns familiar to so many in our appearance obsessed society, have become irrational obsessions through her seclusion.  

The space of the Etcetera Theatre allows for limited staging options, yet the staging was designed with smart creativity.  Each character's space was kept personal and separate with a careful choice of furniture complimenting each individual.  Encounters in the lift - the only communal space in which the neighbours share periods of socially awkward discomfort - are tightly staged, with the imagined liaisons between Man and Woman 2 thoughtfully lit (Lighting Design by Luis Alvarez) to suggest a dreamlike quality.  The use of original music, by Damon Burrows and Orpheus Papafilippou, is also an important choice in generating the required atmosphere.

A thought-provoking evening of exploratory theatre, that proves the value of London's fringe venues to the development of new and experimental writing.

29 January 2014


The Weir
Donmar Warehouse Production
Wyndham's Theatre, London
Wednesday 29th January 2015

Conor McPherson's lauded Irish drama won widespread critical acclaim when it first premiered in 1997. Josie Rourke's new production for the Donmar has brought together a stellar cast in a stunning revival, now beginning a twelve week West End transfer.

Set in a rural pub in Ireland's quiet countryside, the play on the surface is very simple - a small group of locals drinking heavily and telling one another ghost stories. It is McPherson's captivating writing talent however, to explore the minutiae of a situation and extract an enthralling dramatic tension, that elevates this play to an exciting piece of must-see theatre. Each of the small group of characters are individually developed as stories are gradually revealed, maintaining a dramatically steady pace throughout.  Tiny, carefully chosen phrases are richly steeped with meaning, and pregnant pauses sing out with dramatic significance.

This production brings together a wealth of Irish acting talent, but it is Brian Cox as Jack who most enthrals the audience with his effortless charm and intelligent wit. His final speech of lost love is heartbreakingly delivered, offering a beautiful emotional intensity while retaining a relaxed realism. Ardal O'Hanlan is also delightful as the simple Jim and Risteard Cooper's Finbar is ideally pitched as the local-boy-made-good entrepreneur.

Is this production commenting on Ireland's collective distraction by the supernatural? Or merely using the ghost stories to examine the loss and loneliness displayed by each of the intricately characterised locals? Delicately directed, it is left open for to the audience to decide, and made all the more intriguing for the open ended resolution.

A thought provoking piece with some superb performances - a must-see for lovers of tension-filled, character-based drama. Booking at the Wyndham's Theatre until 19th April.

21 January 2014


Twelve Angry Men
New West End Production
Garrick Theatre, London
Tuesday 21st January 2014

Reginald Rose's 1950s drama depicting the deliberations of an all-male jury on a murder case was most famously brought to audiences via the 1957 Henry Fonda film.  Originally written for television, the stage version was first seen in 1954 and has been faithfully revived in this new production at the Garrick, starring Martin Shaw. 

The jury room set is intricately realised with the open walls to the bathrooms allowing constant view of the tense hours of decision making.  With little other furniture, the twelve-seater table clearly dominates the space, but an ingenious revolve - rotating so slowly the eye can barely see the movement - gives both a practical solution to the potential blocking hazard and a creative visual interest for the audience. 

One of the joys of this piece for the audience are the deliberate gaps in detail about the twelve jurors.  Gradually we get to know their professions, some very minor details are revealed regarding home life, but we don't even find out their names.  It is a testament to the quality of the writing therefore, that each of these men are given individual, distinct and absorbing opportunities to develop, allowing the audience to discover each personality.  The success of this style however depends upon the skill of the actors to convey this gradual character development with enough control to maintain a consistent tension throughout.  This cast, led by Martin Shaw, has no weak link, with each actor portraying a true and intricate understanding of his own character in a plethora of intelligent performances.

As deliberations descend into arguments, facts about the trial are slowly revealed, and interpretations and opinions debated, each juror comes to understand more and more about himself as much as the importance of the term "reasonable doubt" which underpins the entire judicial system.  A fascinating piece that delves into the depths of human nature and displays both the power of the legal system and in doing so its inevitable weaknesses.  Tense, exciting theatre with some captivating performances - well worth catching.

16 January 2014


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Original West End Production
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
Wednesday 15th January 2014
A second Golden Ticket to Sam Mendes' triumphant production of the Roald Dahl classic after my original visit to the final preview back in June. 
I stand by that original review, with the only exception that the show is now slicker, more confident and even more sugary-sweet than in those early days.
Worth a visit for the spectacular sets alone, Douglas Hodge is also fantastically charming as the creepy Wonka. 
A hot ticket to a fabulous show that can be enjoyed by the entire family.  Tickets booking until November 2014... 

13 January 2014


Henry V
Michael Grandage Company
Noel Coward Theatre, London
Monday 13th January 2014

This final jewel in the richly laden crown of the inestimable Grandage season at the Noël Coward sees the run of five productions play out with a bang. Having been privileged enough to see all five star-studded shows over the last year, it is clear that Grandage's directorial vision and careful choices of clarity and design have matched up to the expectations delivered by his A-lister leads.

There is little doubt that the majority of the audience have been drawn to this production not for the opportunity to see a play by the world's most celebrated playwright, acted in the city in which he worked, about one of the country's most successful soldier-monarchs. Instead the draw for this sell-out winter production is Hollywood heartthrob Jude Law, playing the war-hungry and charismatic King Harry. Law's Shakespearean credits most notably include his 2009 Hamlet at the Donmar, transferring to the West End and then for a week in Denmark's Elsinore Castle itself before enjoying an additional Broadway run. His characterisation of Henry V is compelling, drawing out the proclaimed ordinariness of the soldier, a monarch more accustomed to the battleground than to courtly splendour. His passionate "Once more unto the breach" speech makes convincing work of rousing the troops, bettered only by the carefully directed "Band of Brothers" scene bringing a patriotic lump to the throat on the eve of St Crispin's day. His playful wooing of the French Princess in Act 2, regally played by a beautiful and poised Jessie Buckley, adds another dimension to the grounded King and Law once more achieves a convincingly charismatic performance.

The supporting cast hold some equally captivating characterisations, with several of note, although none achieving less than an entertaining and convincing portrayal. Ashley Zhangazha as the explanatory Chorus maintains immaculate clarity that displays a true depth of understanding, and his impassioned delivery is absorbing and extremely entertaining to watch. Matt Ryan's Fluellen is also excellently played, displaying a careful comic timing without the need to play for laughs, relishing his leek scene with the deliciously unpleasant Pistol, played by Ron Cook.

This is a Henry V well-pitched for first timers; there are cuts aplenty to which the relatively early finish time will attest, and which may not satisfy the Shakespeare purists, but it helps to keep the pace and intensity manageable for all.  No prior knowledge of the true history of the period is assumed, this was generations earlier than Shakespeare's original audience would have known too, yet the precision and understanding of the entire cast gives an easy clarity to this historical piece. Grandage's ability to make the potential challenges of the Bard's verse easily accessible to a modern, unaccustomed audience is absolutely key to this production's success and his hand can be strongly felt throughout.

A wonderfully entertaining and successful finale to what has been an exciting season from Michael Grandage.  He seems to have achieved his aim, to attract new, younger audiences to West End plays through both head-turning casting and affordable ticket pricing.  Long may this attitude remain.