Category Archives: Theatre

Single Spies | Richmond Theatre

Review of the Alan Bennett plays that form Single Spies, at the Richmond Theatre, March 2016. First published in Essential Surrey

single-spies-alan-bennett

In the 1930s, the British security services were penetrated by a group of double agents who passed on many secrets to Stalin’s Soviet Union over the next two decades. The group became known as the Cambridge Circle (they had all been friends from university) and included Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and the art historian Sir Anthony Blunt. Burgess and Maclean fled to the USSR in 1951, Philby followed in 1963. Blunt was granted immunity from prosecution and anonymity on the basis he cooperated with the authorities.

Alan Bennett’s Single Spies, at the Richmond Theatre until Saturday, actually consists of two plays. The first is an adaptation of the script for the 1983 TV movie An Englishman Abroad, about a meeting in Moscow between the actress Coral Browne and Guy Burgess. The second is A Question of Attribution, an imagined encounter between the Queen and Blunt, who was Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures until he was exposed as a traitor and stripped of his knighthood in 1979. Continue reading

Merry Wives | Northern Broadsides

Review of the Northern Broadsides’ production of Merry Wives at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. March 2016

Northern Broadside’s Merry Wives, at the Rose Theatre in Kingston this week, is Shakespeare redone as a classic English farce, with entrances and exits timed to perfection, and all the characters that have become staples of the genre – the lecherous old man, the jealous husband, the dopey servant, thwarted lovers and the bawdy old woman.

In a fast-paced production the cast pull off the performance with great energy, communicating their enthusiasm to the audience throughout. Continue reading

Beryl

Review of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Maxine Peake’s Beryl at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. March 2016

main-image-listing-recoveredBeryl Burton is the cycling superstar that you’ve probably never heard of. British All Round champion for 25 consecutive years from 1959 to 1983, she held every national title (at one point simultaneously), won seven world titles, and her 1967 record for the 12 hour time trial is unbeaten to this day.

Maxine Peake’s Beryl is an entertaining celebration of this extraordinary woman’s life, told with a cast of just four, in a series of short scenes linked by narration.  There’s humour as well as drama, as we go from Beryl’s childhood in Leeds and her marriage to Charlie, to the years when she was the all-conquering champion of the road and track.  Samantha Power captures Beryl’s single-minded dedication to becoming the very best, and her refusal to give up, whatever the odds. Continue reading

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Review of the production at Woking Theatre in February 2016. Published in Essential Surrey.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is a breathtaking visual feast from start to finish, an incredibly rich box of delights that oughtn’t to be missed.

Bourne has reimagined Tchaikovsky’s ballet as a dark gothic tale that starts in a fin de siecle royal household of servants and garden parties, and comes right up to date with its final scenes in a neon-lit nightclub. There are new characters and a new narrative structure that allows Bourne to take the old fairy tale and inject humour, wit, elegance and sex, and combine classical ballet with variations inspired by 20th century dance styles. There are even vampires (yes, really). Continue reading

King Lear – Richmond Shakespeare Society

CTUg3yNU8AABksuThis review originally appeared on the Sheengate Publishing site. The production ran from 7-14 November 2015.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies. Old men make fatal misjudgements, the younger generation are corrupted by ambition and the blackest parts of human character are revealed. Nature itself seems to rise in rebellion, but love and loyalty offer hope, and through suffering comes the wisdom to see the truth and the goodness of the human spirit. Continue reading

The Glass Menagerie – Headlong Theatre

Erin Doherty in The Glass MenagerieThis review first appeared on the Sheengate publishing website. The production, by Headlong Theatre, was at Richmond Theatre from  3-7 November 2015.

The Glass Menagerie at Richmond Theatre is an impressive and moving production of Tennessee William’s “memory play”, with strong performances from the entire cast.

According to Tom Wingfield, one of the protagonists, the play is “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion”, a memory of events that happened several years before, when he was living at home with his overbearing mother Amanda and his disabled and painfully shy sister Laura.

The staging is one room, set back on the stage to emphasise its distance from both the audience and the present. As Tom says in his introduction, as a memory play it is “dimly lighted… not realistic” and we see a stage stripped of nearly all furniture and props, with no windows and no homely touches. The actors are barefoot and, although the play is set in 1937, their hair and costumes belong to no particular period, as if to show that that such details are unimportant and distracting, and that it is only the interaction of the characters that is significant. Continue reading

King Lear – Northern Broadsides

[Northern Broadsides production, Rose Theatre Kingston, 19-23 May 2015]

Shakespeare’s King Lear is one of his most powerful tragedies, with fathers estranged from the children who truly love them and betrayed by those who merely pretended to. At the end of the play the dead outnumber the living and what redemption has been achieved has been painfully and fatally bought.

Northern Broadsides’ production at Kingston’s Rose is plain and unadorned, staged by the director Jonathan Miller as if in a Jacobean court theatre with no scenery, subdued lighting, the minimum of props and with the cast wearing 17th century dress. Continue reading

Each His Own Wilderness – Doris Lessing

Joel MacCormack with Rosie Holden
Joel MacCormack with Rosie Holden

[Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. 15 April – 16 May 2015]

Myra Bolton leads a hugely complicated life. Her house is littered with books, pamphlets and newspapers, as well as friends, lovers, ex-lovers, would-be lovers, and the lovers of ex-lovers. They all discuss politics “with the passionate intensity others reserve for sex”. She moves from protest march to committee meeting to yet another campaign.

Back into this chaos comes her 22 year old son Tony, returning from two years of National Service. The army gave him the order and stability his life had never had and now all he wants is to be back in his old room in the house that was the only constant part of his childhood. Continue reading