Posts Tagged ‘Soho Theatre’

Contemporary Music

It took a while for me to get into the cinema relay of the Les Miserables staged concert, largely because it doesn’t really come alive until the prologue of sung dialogue gives way to the first act, but when it got going it was superb. The encores of a handover to the next Javert and four Valejeans from the first to the next were inspired, and very moving.

Rufus & Martha Wainwright’s Not So Silent Night continued their family’s tradition of charity Christmas concerts with lots of guests. At the Royal Festival Hall they included Guy Garvey, Neil Tennent, Chrissie Hynde, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, opera singer Janis Kelly and American actress Martha Plimton, who it turns out is a rather good singer. It proved to be a lovely experience, albeit charmingly shambolic at times.


I think I’ve only seen Britten’s Death in Venice once before, but then again the night I went was only the 23rd performance at Covent Garden in the 46 years since its premiere, so the opportunity doesn’t come along that often. I’ve never considered it up there with masterpieces like Peter Grimes and Billy Budd, but this David McVicar production changed my mind. Mark Padmore was wonderful as Ashenbach, Gerald Finley terrific in no less than seven roles and Leo Dixin danced Tadzio beautifully. It was just about faultless in very way and the full house cheered wildly. Maybe that will encourage The Royal Opera to broaden its programming. We must have had 230 or even 2300 La Traviata’s in the same 46 years.

Classical Music

The LSO Chamber Orchestra Milton Court concert of early music was a freebie for subscribers but it proved much more than that. The orchestra played the Purcell, Handel & Rameau pieces beautifully under the highly enthusiastic Emmanuelle Haim and there were two great soloists too – Lucy Crowe and Reinoud Van Mechelen. Freebie maybe, but a treat nonetheless.

The Sixteen‘s Christmas concert at Cadogan Hall was a delight from start to finish. Normally unaccompanied, this time there was the occasional addition of percussion and harp, the latter absolutely gorgeous. The programme included lots of rare carols, some mediaeval, and ended with Britten’s lovely Ceremony of Carols.


I don’t see much stand-up, other than at the Edinburgh Fringe, but made an exception for Jordan Brookes at Soho Theatre after last year’s Edinburgh buzz. I admired the originality and there were superbly funny moments, but it was perhaps too surreal and off-the-wall for me and didn’t really sustain its 70 minutes length.


Knives Out is a whodunit, with its tongue firmly in its cheek, which keeps you guessing, and smiling, until the final scene. I really liked its old-fashioned style and it’s hugely convoluted plot.

Having not read the book, I struggled a bit with the hopping around in time of Little Women, but I eventually succumbed to the charm of a beautifully filmed story.


I went to see Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Rembrandt’s Light exhibition on the morning after an attempted robbery when the gallery had closed, so I had to go back 10 days later to see it without the two paintings that almost got away but are now back with their owners in Paris and Washington. There were some nice pictures and it was well lit – by the man who did Star Wars! – but I have to confess to being a touch underwhelmed. Not a lot of pictures for a high profile exhibition and a lot with subject matter that doesn’t really appeal to me.

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This musical has been created to raise awareness and pay tribute to the victims of a little publicised 1973 hate crime when a New Orleans gay bar was subjected to an arson attack killing 32, the biggest toll of such a crime before Orlando in 2016.

We meet fashion designer Wes in the present time. He’s relocating from New York to his home town of New Orleans, buying premises to showcase his work, without realising it’s the scene of the 1973 attack. As soon as he’s signed the deal, the magic of theatre brings the club alive again and we’re back in 1973 on the evening of the tragedy. Thus begins a conversation between two generations of gay people across more than forty years, with the seventies set as shocked at Wes’ openness as he is at their secrecy. The eight characters tell their stories, which together show the contrasting lives in the two periods.

Max Vernon‘s score goes from one ballsy number to another for the whole 120 minutes, with the vocal honours going to Tyrone Huntley as Wes, Carley Mercedes Dyer as bar tender Henri and Cedric Neal as Willie, with excellent backing from Bob Broad’s invisible band. Declan Bennett and Andy Mientus bring the homeless hustler Dale and Patrick, the boy abandoned by his parents at fourteen who ends up doing the same, to life with fine acting. It’s great to see Victoria Hamilton-Barritt again and she’s superb as Inez, the Latin mum of drag queen Freddy, a breathless high energy performance from Garry Lee. Lee Newby has created a realistic period bar and director Jonathan O’Boyle and choreographer Fabian Aloise use the small Soho space well.

You have to go with the fantasy of the time warp, but if you do you will be rewarded with a fascinating contrast between gay life then and now illustrated by some great songs.

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Neil McCormick was at school in Dublin with a boy called Paul Hewson. They both had bands, Neil with his brother Ivan, who played briefly with Hewson’s band and could have been part of it. Hewson started using his nickname Bono, and the rest is history. After abandoning his own musical career, McCormick went on to be a rock journalist, spending the last twenty-two years with the Daily Telegraph, contributing to U2’s biography. This play is based on his memoir, originally entitled I Was Bono’s Doppelgänger, filmed as Killing Bono, now on stage as Chasing Bono.

The adaptation is by comedy royalty Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, responsible for sitcoms like Porridge, gritty comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet and the screenplay for one of the greatest rock films ever, The Commitments. They were also responsible for the screenplay of Killing Bono, introducing a plot device where McCormick is kidnapped by gangster Danny Machin (a real character in McCormick’s history) so that he can write about him and whitewash his reputation. We move between scenes of imprisonment and flashbacks to their youth. In a lovely touch, McCormick’s own music is resurrected and played live by the actors playing the brothers.

I’ve never seen such as detailed design at Soho Theatre as Max Dorey’s brilliant cottage, with an office above. The performances are excellent, led by Niall McNamee as McCormick and Denis Conway as Machin, with a lovely cameo from Ciaran Dowd as Machin’s sidekick. I found Gordon Anderson’s production charming, but it left me wanting more. At eighty minutes (shorter than the film, with a lot less of the story) it felt insubstantial, perhaps unfinished. The audience that lapped it up seemed full of U2 fans, so I was glad I didn’t wear my ‘Make Bono History’ t-shirt, a satirical comment on the multi-millionaire tax-dodger’s anti-poverty campaign!

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I first saw Vicky Jones’ work as a director – Jack Thorne’s Mydidae, then Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag (which became a bit of a phenomenon, stage to TV series, already re-commissioned). Then her first play, a 60-minute gem called The One. Now as both writer and director with a 90-minute play about a 30-something Welsh girl moving to London that’s just as frank, funny and fresh as the others.

Dee has taken a temporary job, maternity leave cover, and got herself a tiny flat, where untidiness rules, with every surface covered with stuff. A series of five visitors represent relationships and sexual adventures present and past. There’s ever-so-conservative, ever-so-dull Eddie, wanting a proper relationship, as long as he can be in charge. Vera’s her gym friend who becomes a gay dalliance. Older man Miles came via the internet to satisfy a fetish. Paddy’s a fun-loving toy boy from work. Sam’s the ex from Swansea, a bit old school, who clearly wants to take her back home. 

There are a lot of scenes and the pace is fast as we navigate the journey of Dee’s complex web of relationships and ambivalent sex life. Though it’s very funny, it seemed to me a realistic slice of life for 33-year-old singleton (a sort of racy Bridget Jones) which has a lot to say about contemporary attitudes to relationships and the characteristic conflict between independence and settling down at this age. Amy Morgan carries the play, on stage throughout, changing her behaviour in response to her five visitors. In the supporting cast, I particularly liked Edward Bluemel’s Paddy, a very different role to his recent one in Love in Idleness, and Matthew Aubrey’s archetypal Welsh lad.

Ultz has designed a brilliantly claustrophobic space which revolves to facilitate a 360 degree view of Dee’s world. Jones’ own staging is unsurprisingly sensitive to the material, with a great sense of life changing and moving forward. I liked it.

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I missed the (imaginary!) curtain the first time I tried to see this a couple of weeks ago, so I’m a bit late to the party, but a party it is and I’m very glad I caught it, though its only four years since I saw it at Soho Theatre.

George Stiles, Anthony Drew and Elliott Davies’ contemporary spin on the classic fairy-tale finds us in seedy Soho with gay Robbie as our Cinderella character running his late mum’s launderette with his friend Velcro and his ugly sisters Clodagh and Dana running a strip-club across the road. Our Prince is James Prince, mayoral candidate, in the closet. Robbie has a sugar daddy, Lord Bellingham, who’s a major donor to James’ campaign. Spin doctor William George is our baddie. It all kicks off at the fundraising ball hosted by Lord Bellingham when Robbie’s connections to both the Lord and the Prince are revealed.

It has some of Stiles best tunes and Drew’s lyrics and Drew & Davies’ book are very clever and very funny, but have more serious and tender moments too. The musical standards are very high and there’s witty, athletic choreography that fills the Union space by Joanne McShane. I think it’s only Will Keith’s third show flying solo as director and a fine job he’s done too.

The ugly sisters are show-stealing roles for girls willing to give it their all and that’s exactly what Suzie Chard & Beverly Rudd did in Soho and what Michaela Stern & Natalie Harman do here – terrific. That said, the rest of the leads are excellent and the ensemble is packed full of talent, enthusiasm and energy. Joshua Lewindon is a charming Robbie and Lewis Asquith has great presence, and a great voice, as James. I was hugely impressed by Emily Deamer as Velcro, particularly in her scenes with Lowri Walton, also excellent as Prince’s girlfriend Marilyn.

A great, more seasonal revival, well worth catching in its last five days.

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Well I’ve never had a goodie bag on my theatre seat before…..or wore a party hat…..or played bingo and participated in a raffle…..or played along with a tin mug and wooden spoon…..or been brought a nice cup of tea to my seat….. or laughed as much as I did on Friday……

James Graham’s brilliant idea for his biographical play about Screaming Lord Sutch is to play each scene as a comic routine (Pete & Dud, Morecombe & Wise, Tommy Cooper….) or a sit-com (Steptoe & Son, ‘Allo! ‘Allo!, Hi-de-Hi!….) or a sketch show (TW3, The Frost Report, Monty Python…..) or a comedy film franchise (Confessions of…..Carry On…..) from British culture, and the idea, and the staging by Simon Stokes, is inspired. It so suits the subject matter, one of Britain’s greatest eccentrics, but it also manages to get under the skin of its subject, his loneliness and his tragic demise.

We’re at a party in a social club in his home town of Harrow and we follow his story from teenage years through to his premature death, 41 general elections / bi-elections later, from his first party-less one in Stratford after the Profumo affair in 1963 through contests with Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher to his final stand in 1997, now leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party. In addition to his political life, it covers both his performing career and personal life.

He captured the heart of the nation because he sent up politicians and the political system as it so often deserves. Oh I so wish he was still with us to inject some of this into the current horrendous, scary referendum. A character like Sutch could only exist in the Britain of the last forty years of the 20th century, not before, not after, not anywhere else, and we’re a poorer country without him.

The superbly talented cast of six – Samuel James (Sutch), Joe Alessi, Joanna Brookes, Jack Brown, Vivienne Achaempong and musician Tom Attwood – play him, politicians and returning officers and people in his personal life, as well as a multitude of characters from just about every classic British comic creation over a forty year period. I’m not sure how they keep it all together, with some uncanny impersonations and an anarchic quality that sweeps you up in warmth and nostalgia. I was having the time of my life.

I cannot recommend this lovely show enough in its final week at Soho Theatre. Completely unmissable.




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Best New Play(s) – The James Plays

First up its plays, new ones, and when I counted I was surprised to find I’d seen 75 of them, including a pleasing half-dozen at the NT. My long list only brought that down to 31 so I had to be real hard to get to the Top Ten short-list of Versailles at the Donmar, Good People & Wonderland at Hampstead, Wet House at Soho, The Visitors at the Arcola (now at the Bush), 1927’s Golem at the Young Vic and 3 Winters & The James Plays from the National Theatre of Scotland at the NT – a three-play feast which pipped the others at the post.

Best Revival (Play) – shared by Accolade and My Night With Reg

I saw fewer revivals – a mere 44! – but 18 were there at the final cut. The Young Vic had a stonking year with Happy Days, A Streetcar Named Desire & A View From a Bridge, the latter two getting into my top ten with the Old Vic’s The Crucible, the Open Air’s All My Sons (that’s no less than 3 Millers) the NT’s Medea, Fathers & Sons at the Donmar, True West at the Tricycle and the Trafalgar Transformed Richard III. In the end I copped out, unable to choose between My Night with Reg at the Donmar and Accolade at the St James.

Best New Musical – Made in Dagenham

I was a bit taken aback at the total of 25 new musicals, 10 of which got through the first round, including the ill-fated I Can’t Sing, Superman in Walthamstow (coming soon to Leicester Square Theatre) , In the Heights at Southwark and London Theatre Workshop’s Apartment 40C. I struggled to get to one from the six remaining, which included the NT’s Here Lies Love and five I saw twice – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dogfight at Southwark, Hampstead’s Kinkfest Sunny Afternoon and Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studio Two – but eventually I settled on a great new British musical Made in Dagenham.

Best Revival (Musical) – Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s Pie Shop, Tooting

An extraordinary year for musical revivals with 38 to choose from and 22 serious contenders including 7 outside London (two of which I short-listed – Hairspray in Leicester and Gypsy in Chichester) and not one but two Sweeney Tood’s! Difficult not to choose Damn Yankees at the Landor, a lovely Love Story at the Union, more Goodall with the NYMT’s The Hired Man at St James Theatre, Blues in the Night at Hackney, Sweeney Todd at the ill-fated Twickenham Theatre and Assassins at the Menier, plus the Arcola’s Carousel which was so good I went twice in its short run. In the end though, expecting and accepting accusations of bias, I have to go for the other Sweeney Todd in Harrington”s Pie Shop here in Tooting – funnier & scarier, beautifully sung & played and in the perfect location, bringing Sondheim to Tooting – in person too!

Best Out of Town – National Theatre Wales’ Mametz

I have to recognise my out-of-town theatregoing, where great theatre happens too, and some things start out (or end up!). The best this year included a superb revival of a recent Broadway / West End show, Hairspray at Leicester Curve, and one on the way in from Chichester, Gypsy, which I will have to see again when it arrives……. but my winner was National Theatre of Wales’ extraordinary Mametz, taking us back to a World War I battle, in the woods near Usk, in this centenary year.

Best Site Specific Theatre – Symphony of a Missing Room (LIFT 2014)

Finally, a site specific theatre award – just because I love them and because it’s my list, so I can invent any categories I like! Two of the foregoing winners – Sweeney Todd and Mametz – fall into this category but are  now ineligible. The two other finalists were I Do, a wedding in the Hilton Docklands, and Symphony of a Missing Room, a blindfolded walk through the Royal Academy buildings as part of LIFT, which piped the other at the post.

With some multiple visits, 2014 saw around 200 visits to the theatre, which no other city in the world could offer. As my theatrical man of the year Stephen Sondheim put it in the musical revival of the year – There’s No Place Like London.


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My relationship with Flemish theatre company Ontroerend Goed goes back five years, when they kicked off my 2009 Edinburgh Festival visit with a ‘show’ for a handful of people which started as speed dating and continued as group therapy (and ended weeks later with a personal letter from my ‘date’!). A year later they staged a teenage riot inside a cube and projected it onto the surface of the cube. They are seriously inventive and off-the wall. They’ve been back since, but this is the first time I’ve caught their later work.

It starts in darkness with strange breaths and sighs. When the lights come up, we see six women in evening dress in front of music stands. The first part consists of loud, tuneless, wordless, shrill vocals which resonate in your ears, almost hurting. In the second part, we hear them recite a whole range of short sexist and misogynistic comments. It continues to make it’s point about sexism for an hour in similar ways, long past the point we’ve actually got the point.

As with their other work, it’s clever and edgy but this time I thought it was somewhat laboured. In truth I felt a bit patronised by its attempt to tell me something that I already knew and to relentlessly make a point I was already sympathetic to (like everyone else in the Soho Theatre audience, I suspect. Preaching to the converted again). The NT did something similar at the building that used to. be called The Shed with Blurred Lines but with more subtlety and humour; in comparison, this felt like a hammer to that show’s kick up the backside.

Soho Theatre has form with perverse seasonal programming and this continues the trend. I have no objection to that, but I do feel a bit grumpy paying 30p a minute to hear people make an important but obvious point crudely.

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I didn’t know what a wet house was. It’s a hostel where those with drink and drug problems can continue to use in relative safety, for them and the community. In this hugely impressive first play by Paddy Campbell, we visit a wet house in the North East and peep into the lives of three residents and three staff.

Ex-army Mike is a bantering misogynistic bully, scarily free of repercussions. He terrorises the residents and controls his colleagues. It doesn’t take long before he’s turned new boy Andy, naive and fresh from university, into a drinking pal prepared to turn a blind eye. He sexually exploits lonely colleague Helen. Spencer, a paedophile who was himself abused as a child – his mother would sell her house keys to punters who could take their pick of her son or daughter – gets the worst of Mike’s treatment. Digger is a long-term drunk who hasn’t seen his children in years. Kerry is pregnant; she’s been exchanging sex for drugs and seems to have lost all humanity. You can see how being a ‘carer’ for these people is a tough job that messes with your head and turns you to drink, but lines are crossed unacceptably.

It’s a brilliantly structured play with strong characterisations and brittle, edgy dialogue containing much black humour. It oozes authenticity, no doubt because Campbell worked in a wet house himself. The parallels with last Thursday’s Wildfire are uncanny. That showed us another difficult job, the police, which damages too. Though it has the same hopelessness, it ends with a sliver of hope as Digger tries to clean himself up for his daughters 21st and for once everyone cares, and Mike shows us a glimmer of humanity and remorse. This is both a better play and a better production, in a more appropriate theatre.

I don’t know whether the fact this was their last show had any effect, but the six performances were all stunning. Chris Connel is extraordinary as Mike. One minute you’re laughing at his gallows humour and seconds later horrified by his verbal and physical violence. Riley Jones as Andy carefully and cleverly steers his character from charming rookie to Mike’s partner in crime. Jackie Lye’s delicate performance as Helen show she really does care and is seemingly unaffected by the cynicism and disillusionment around her. Joe Caffrey positively inhabits Digger and you so want to help him and root for him; a marvellous performance. Simon Roberts plays Spencer like a rabbit in the headlights with such realistic injuries you can’t help but wince. Finally, Eva Quinn presents us with the tragedy that is young Kerry in a performance that breaks your heart.

This is a triumph for Live Theatre Newcastle and their director, who directs this, Max Roberts. It is clearly a candidate for this year’s best new play and I can’t wait to see more of Paddy Campbell’s work. The run is now over, but keep a look out in case it turns up again as it’s absolutely unmissable.

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I think my self-imposed monologue ban has to be lifted. For the second time in a fortnight I’ve been wowed by one that took three opportunities before I succumbed. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s outstanding achievement is that she’s responsible for both the writing and a virtuoso performance.

Fleabag is obsessed with sex. She runs a guinea pig themed cafe, her best friend and business partner has died and her boyfriend has left her (again). We also meet, through her eyes though sometimes with the help of recorded voices, her father, sister, a customer and a couple of casual sex partners. She brings all of this alive with the most mesmerising performance and impeccable timing.

Fleabag’s story is very explicit, so it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I found it an enthralling and often very funny hour that packed in more characterisation and story than plays twice its length. You leave the theatre feeling you know this woman. I’ve admired Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s acting on a number of occasions, now you get to admire her writing too.

More monologues like this please!

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