Posts Tagged ‘Theatre 503’

Sometimes an avid theatre-goer like me traipses into or across London to see something underwhelming, often overpriced, when there’s quality, fun and value on your doorstep, and so it was with this quirky piece at Theatre 503.

Mathilde Dratwa’s play takes place on US election day 2016. While Clinton and Trump are fighting it out, Vera is in hospital giving birth to her first child. The hospital staff, and her husband, have as much of an eye on the election as they do the birth. Everyone conspires to hide the emerging result from Vera to avoid even more anxiety than the childbirth is creating. When she is discharged, we witness the twin traumas of new motherhood and the new president.

It’s a clever idea turned into a well written and funny piece, with some very surreal moments (possibly writing, possibly staging, probably both) that combined to produce something intelligent about both the trials of motherhood and the birth of a new political order, but above all it’s entertaining theatre. MyAnna Burling is terrific as understandably neurotic Vera and there’s a fine supporting cast. It’s particularly good to see Jenny Galloway again, brilliant as both mother and mother-in-law, plus others. Director Lisa Spirling and designer Mona Camille make great use of the pocket-size stage.

Dratwa seems like an original new playwriting voice to me, and I’d very much like to see more of her work. Great fun.

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Best New Play – Violence & Son / Iphigenia in Splott

What a bumper year for new plays. I saw more than 80 and almost half of these made it onto the long list. The final cut saw a very diverse bunch competing. At the NT, a brilliant adaptation of Jane Eyre and a stunning ‘mash-up’ of three D H Lawrence plays as Husbands and Sons, a very radical adaptation of Everyman, the somewhat harrowing People Place & Things, the highly original Rules for Living and the expletive-loaded Mother*****r With the Hat. Two ‘minimalist’ Mike Bartlett contributions – Bull at the Young Vic and Game at the Almeida, both original and hugely impressive. The Young Vic also staged Ivo van Hove’s stunning Songs From Far Away. The Royal Court gave us Martin McDonough’s black comedy Hangman, Debbie Tucker Green’s distressing hang and a play about the NHS, Who Cares?, which took place all over the theatre. At The Donmar, Temple was a more conservative but beautifully written piece about the impact of Occupy outside St. Pauls on those inside. The Bush surprised with The Royale, a play about boxing, my least favourite sport, and The Arcola hosted one about rugby, the deeply moving NTW / Out of Joint verbatim collaboration, Crouch Touch Pause Engage as well as the lovely Eventide and Clarion. Jessica Swale graced the Globe with another superb historical play, Nell Gwynn, with the lovely Farinelli & the King next door in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I was much more positive than most about Future Conditional, a topical analysis of our broken education system, which kicked off the new regime at the Old Vic. Elsewhere in the West End only Photograph 51, Taken at Midnight (from Chichester), Oppenheimer (from Stratford) and Bad Jews made the cut. The Park continued to make itself indispensable with The Gathered Leaves and Theatre 503 punched above its weight with Rotterdam, a sensitive and very funny exploration of transgender issues. Southwark Playhouse found one of the best Tennessee Williams’s rarities, One Arm. Earlier in the year, Hampstead gave us the very underrated Luna Gale and topped this with Ian Kelly’s Mr Foote’s Other Leg, and even the late Arthur Miller was a candidate with the belated world premiere of his first play No Villain, but it was Gary Owen’s contributions that pipped everyone else at the post – Violence & Son, a striking modern family drama at the Royal Court Upstairs, and Iphigene in Splott, a Greek adaptation (but radical enough to be considered a new play) which packed more punch than most in a year abundant with Greek adaptations, which started in Cardiff and toured via the Edinburgh fringe ending up at the NT’s temporary space.

Best Revival – Les Liasons Dangereuses

I saw half as many revivals as new plays, and only a quarter of them made the long list. The best Shakespeare’s were both at the Young Vic – a shockingly modern Measure for Measure and a dance-drama Macbeth. The best of the Greeks were the Almeida’s Orestia and Stratford East’s Antigone, which out-shone the high profile Barbican-Van Hove-Binoche one. The Donmar pitched in with Patrick Marber’s Closer, embarrassingly better than his NT contributions this year, though the NT did shine with both Our Country’s Good The Beaux Stratagem, with particularly good use of music. The Globe gave us a very quick revival of Heresy of Love and the Open Air Theatre’s adaptation of Peter Pan was a triumph, but it was the long-overdue revival of Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece that ended the year with a theatrical feast.

Best New Musical – Bend It Like Beckham

Of the 50 musicals I saw in London, only 40% qualify as New Musicals and only seven made the final cut. I very much enjoyed wallowing in the nostalgia of both Carole King’s biographical Beautiful and the brilliantly staged Bert Bacharach compilation What’s It All About? (renamed Close to You for the West End). Xanadu was a hoot at Southwark Playhouse, which also hosted the very original Teddy, and the ever reliable Union pitched in with Spitfire Grill and The White Feather, a winner in any other year I suspect. Kinky Boots was great fun, but it was Howard Goodall’s brilliant Bend It Like Beckham, the a feel-good triumph which I’m about to see for the third time, that brought a breath of fresh air and a new audience to the West End.

Best Musical Revival – Grand Hotel

A better hit rate for musical revivals, with half of the 30 I saw in contention. The year started with a stunning revival of City of Angels which benefitted from the intimacy of the Donmar and ended with a very rare revival of Funny Girl which didn’t benefit from the intimacy of the Menier (but was still a highlight, and which I expect to be better at the Savoy, which hosted Gypsy which is also on on the list). It took two attempts to see the Open Air’s thrilling Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but well worth the return on a dry evening. Ye Olde Rose & Crowne in Walthamstow gave us notable revivals of both Face the Music and Bye Bye Birdie and the Landor chipped in with Thoroughly Modern Millie. A rare treat at the Royal Academy was Michel Legrand’s Amour and a unique experience at Belmarsh Young Offenders Institute where Pimlico Opera staged Our House with the residents and Suggs himself. I missed the same show at the Union, but did make three other revivals there – Whistle Down the Wind, Loserville and most especially Spend Spend Spend, my runner up. However, Thom Sutherland’s production of Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse was as close to perfection as you can get and made me look again at a show I had hitherto been underwhelmed by, and that’s what makes it the winner.

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After the previous day’s disappointing new play, here’s a superb piece of writing, brilliantly staged, with terrific performances. A candidate for Best New Play if ever I saw one. Theatre 503 doing what the Royal Court gets a lot of money to do!

Jon Brittain’s play is set in Rotterdam, where three Brits live and work – gay couple Alice and Fiona and the latter’s brother Josh. It explores the impact of Fiona’s conclusion that she has always identified as a man when she tells her partner Alice. What will it mean to a lesbian if her lover becomes a man? We learn that Josh is more than Fiona’s brother. We meet much younger gay Dutch girl Lelani, who works with and is attracted to Alice. The characters are extremely well developed and the exploration of the issues has great depth and sensitivity, but it’s also very funny, captivating and entertaining.

Ellan Parry’s has designed a small bright modern apartment which turns with ease into other locations like clubs and streets; it brings great intimacy to the piece. There isn’t a moment wasted as the fast-moving story unfolds over four months between New Year’s Eve and the Netherlands’ King’s Day, which is a tribute both to the writing and Donnacadh O’Briain’s direction.

All four performances are outstanding. Alice McCarthy is conservative and passive Alice, who hasn’t come out to her parents; a beautifully nuanced performance. Anna Martine brilliantly navigates Fiona’s complex emotional journey. Ed Eales-White is gloriously funny as Josh, but switches to serious with ease when required. Jessica Clark is loud, brash and lovely as Lelani, who seems to grow up before your eyes towards the end of the play.

It’s unthinkable that something this good is only seen by c.1500 people. Transfer!


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Trafalgar Studio II continues to give fringe work a second outing, this time with Theatre 503’s 2013 hit, an excellent debut play by Chris Urch on the unlikely subject of six miners trapped down a mine as Thatcher triumphs for the first time as Tory leader. It’s extraordinary how many laughs you can get from such a situation without in any way detracting from the tragedy; indeed, probably heightening it.

Six miners are trapped after a rock fall. They have to decide to wait or dig. Deputy ‘Chopper’ takes the lead and insists on waiting in the first instance, switching strategy to digging if it becomes too long. The length of the wait stretches plausibility, but it provides the opportunity to explore the men’s lives, motivations and relationships and the characterisations are superb. Old lag Bomber with the driest of humour and naive young Mostyn, mummies boy and the most unlikeliest of miners on his first shift. Brothers Chewy & Curly, as dissimilar as brothers get, bickering but underneath loving. Thoughtful and calm Polish war hero Hovis and Chopper, the deputy in charge – well, initially. At first they cope through loyalty and humorous banter, but as the days without rescue mount up, everything breaks down. It gets ever more claustrophobic and intolerable, as the banter is replaced by argument and division.

The dialogue sparkles with realism and the 1979 setting anchors the piece in recent social history, without trying to score political points. Signe Beckmann’s brilliant set provides an appropriately claustrophobic, grubby environment – they really are on top of one another and the audience there with them. Paul Robinson’s direction squeezes every ounce of tragedy and comedy without being sentimental or disrespectful of the situation. In a fine set of performances, veteran Clive Merrison is superb as Bomber (though we do miss him in the second half) and Kyle Rees is hugely impressive as Curly.

Great to see a debut play in the West End, a rarity indeed. It ends today, so you’d better get your skates on!

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