The Humans – Hampstead Theatre – Review

The Humans exposes the fears at the heart of a modern family

Click here for my YouTube review on One Minute Theatre Reviews

(4 / 5)
Production photo from The Humans at Hampstead Theatre
The Humans at Hampstead Theatre

I love a family drama and they don’t come better than this. The Humans by Stephen Karam won four Tony awards when it was on Broadway. Now the original production directed by Joe Mantello has been imported with the same cast.

As a portrayal of a middle class family, it is spot on. Two parents meet with at their daughter’s new apartment in New York. Also in attendance are the daughter’s partner, sister and grandmother. The ensemble acting is terrific and they are absolutely believable as a bickering but loving family.

Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell are the mother and father disappointed by how life has turned out and frightened for the future of their family. Sarah Steele and Cassie Beck show a wonderful rapport as the sisters, both unhappy in how their careers are going. The partner could be there simply as a device to enable the family to explain what’s going in but Arian Moayed makes him a real character, nervous and desperate to please and placate.

A play about fear enhanced by a spooky atmosphere

This is a play about the fears that engulf so many of today’s middle class families- fear of failure, unemployment, poverty, loss of love, illness, dementia, death. You can see how these fears weigh physically on all the actors’ shoulders. They’re most manifest in the father, magnificently portrayed by Reed Birney, and they lead to a big revelation at the end.

Production photo of The Humans at hampstead Theatre London
The Humans at Hampstead Theatre

The set designed by David Zinn is a realistic, naturalistic two floor gloomy apartment in New York which the couple have only just moved into. Their furniture has yet to arrive, so, although it is their home, it has a temporary, un-homely feel, like they could depart at any moment. This contributes to a feeling of spookiness that is ratcheted up by frightening noises from above and lights going out, suggesting darkness could descend at any moment.

All of this seems to say that while the causes of their fears may have names- the recession, globalisation, the technical revolution, ageing, and so on- these are forces as mysterious and uncontrollable as the gods and ghosts our ancestors believed in.

I found the play petered out a little at the end but I am so grateful to Hampstead Theatre for providing the opportunity to see this wonderful play.

The Humans is performing at Hampstead Theatre until 13 October 2018.

Watch the review of The Humans from One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube here-

Fun Home – Young Vic – review

Fun Home is a perfect musical

(5 / 5)

Click here to see the YouTube review of Fun Home on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo of Kaisa Hammarlund and cast in Fun Home at Young Vic
Kaisa Hammarlund and cast in Fun Home at Young Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner

Fun Home is a perfect musical- a joyous story driven by mystery and tragedy; songs with clever lyrics and catchy tunes that give an extra depth to the tale; characters you believe in and care about.

The musical is based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. We meet Alison as she’s in the process of creating her book. It’s an attempt to look back and understand how she tackled coming out and how her closet gay father came to commit suicide. As a song from early on says, ‘I want to know what’s true, dig deep into who and what and why and when, until now gives way to then.’

Although there is a central tragic event, this does not stop it being an uplifting evening.

Two younger versions of Alison take us through episodes of her life as today’s Alison narrates and comments. All the cast are tremendous singers and actors- Kaisa Hammarlund as the nervous narrator Alison, Eleanor Kane as the gauche teenage Alison and on the occasion  I saw it, Harriet Turnbull as the troubled small Alison, displaying a skill rare in an child actor.

Jenna Russell plays the suffering mother and Zubin Varla is tremendous as the complex father. There’s also great support from Ashley Samuels and Cherrelle Skeete.

Production photo of Fun Home at Young Vic London
Fun Home at Young Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner

The songs, composed by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Lisa Kron, are by turns  humorous, heartbreaking and, most importantly, totally integrated into the story. Perhaps it helps that Lisa Kron also wrote the book.

A quick word of praise for David Zinn’s clever set which is like an extension to the father’s character. It’s detailed when it needs to be, spins round as scenes change, and is bleak and blank at appropriate times. And there is a wow moment late on.

There’s a lightness and movement in director Sam Gold’s tender, funny production that give the still moments huge impact.

Fun Home is a touching look at the relationship between parent and child and a wonderful celebration of being true to yourself. It’s the kind of evening I always hope for when I go to the theatre.

Fun Home is performing at Young Vic until 1 September. Click here for the Young Vic website

Watch the One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube review here-

Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe – review

Orlando Bloom triumphs in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studio 1

(5 / 5)

Click here to watch review on One Minute Theatre reviews on YouTube

Photo of Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios. Photo by Marc Brenner
Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Marc Brenner

This is the sort of night at the theatre I live for. Killer Joe was written by Tracy Letts, an actor who understands how theatre works and how to create great roles.

Despite all the sex and violence in the play, it is a moral tale. It’s reminiscent of Jacobean revenge tragedy with a nod to the claustrophobic overheated southern dramas of Tennessee Williams. In this case the claustrophobic set by Grace Smart is a convincing, trashy mobile home in a Texan trailer park. The intimate ‘cockpit’ of Traflagar Studio One really helps the oppressive atmosphere.

The literal trailer trash is very detailed and adds to the play’s recreation of the trailer trash lifestyle with its automatic switching on of Prozac television and Fast food diet. (One use of a fried chicken leg may have a permanent effect on how you view a bucket meal.)

Photo of Orlando Bloom and Sohie Cookson in Killer Joe. Photo by Marc Brenner
Orlando Bloom and Sohie Cookson in Killer Joe. Photo: Marc Brenner

The Smith family who live there are poor and ignorant which adds a layer of welcome humour but they could be anyone led by greed and a total lack of morality. They want someone close to them killed so they hire a hitman. Inevitably things go wrong and there are plenty of twists along the way.

In a series of scenes of sexual abuse which are uncomfortable to watch and shocking violence which is extraordinarily well done, we see what can happen when people are not controlled by morality or law.

Orlando Bloom is a revelation as a the smooth talking cold eyed sociopathic Joe. His sinister alpha male dominates the evening but each character is far more subtle than stereotypical trailer trash and every member of the superb cast seizes the opportunity to show a wide range of emotion.

Sophie Cookson is brilliant at walking the tightrope between being frightened of Joe’s sexual advances and, because she is used to being controlled, willing.

Photo of Adam Gillen and Steffan Rhodri in Killer Joe. Photo by Marc Brenner
Adam Gillen and Steffan Rhodri in Killer Joe. Photo: Marc Brenner

Steffan Rhodri as her father Ansel is a subtle mixture of bravado, cowardice, fear and excitement.

Her frantic, gullible brother Chris is the kind of person who always has a plan and the plan is never thought through. He’s a person adrift in a world he doesn’t really understand and that seems to be against him. He recognises feelings of love and regret but doesn’t know how to handle them. Adam Gillen conveys this with jerky body movements and looks of wide-eyed wonder as he realises what’s going on.

When we first meet her, she is confident, sassy which makes her downfall is all the more shocking.

Killer Joe is a unique theatrical experience. For example, there is no substitute for seeing someone hit in the face actually in front of you. The graphic fights directed by Jonathan Holby are incredibly well done.

Director Simon Evans keeps what could easily be an over the top grand guignol production under control right up to a beautifully choreographed violent finish.

Warning at Traflagar Studios

The warnings about this production are many and it certainly is not for the faint hearted. On the matter of nudity, there are three instances. At the beginning, in one of the many humorous moments  in the play, Sharla answers the door to her stepson Chris wearing only a top. Her pubic hair is clearly visible. When Chris complains, she responds by saying ‘I didn’t know who it was’.

Another occasion is a glimpse of Orlando Bloom’s bottom. By far the most shocking is a moment when Dottie is told to undress by Joe. He has his back to her but she is facing us the audience. It’s an unnerving moment which makes us feel complicit in this abuse,  just as the Smiths have become responsible for much more than they bargained for in hiring this monster.

Finally a word about the excellent use of music by Edward Lewis, both his own unobstrusive mood creating music and his sinister use of known pop songs.

Spoiler alert!

Killer Joe is a kind of pact with the devil and involves a sort of virgin sacrifice: the devil being Joe and the virgin being Dottie.

Killer Joe is another great show from producer Emily Dobbs. It is at Trafalgar Studio 1 until 18th August 2018.

Watch Killer Joe review on YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Instructions For Correct Assembly

Instructions For Correct Assembly, a new play Thomas Eccleshare, directed by Hamish Pirie, at Royal Court Theatre, London

Click here to see the review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

(4 / 5)
Jane Horrocks, Bian Vernel & Mark Bonnar in Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court Theatre London
Jane Horrocks, Bian Vernel & Mark Bonnar in Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court. Photo: Johan Persson

If there were instructions for the correct assembly of a stage play, how would they read? First, get a good theme. In Thomas Eccleshare‘s Instructions For Correct Assembly, we have at least two: dealing with grief;and when we create something how much responsibility and control do we have.

Then you need a plot. Again we have two. We start with a married couple, who enjoy DIY, constructing a human robot. It becomes apparent that they are trying to create an improved version of their young adult son who died. The second story- of what happened to their son- is told in parallel.

The two stories don’t always fit easily together. The sci-fi story leads to some hilarious moments as the robot tries to please but reveals his essential amorality. There’s a scene at dinner with friends where his inability to filter leads to sexual remarks so rude I can’t repeat them here. On the same occasion, he states his ambition to sell junk food outside secondary schools before responding to the shocked reaction and eventually muting it to organic healthy food. The other story is a poignant sometimes brutal portrayal of what it’s like when your child is an addict.

Cast of Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court
Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court. Photo: Johan Persson

Then you need good characters and you need to assemble a cast of good actors to play them. Jane Horrocks as Max and Mark Bonnar as Harry are excellent as the fragile but positive parents. They make a believable loving couple. Michele Austin and Jason Barnett are exactly right as their friends- the Joneses, as it were, with whose child Harry and Max can only wish theirs could keep up with.

Brian Vernel is brilliant both as the son and, especially, as his fast talking robot replacement. Alike but subtly different, both try to impress and both lie. Neither ‘son’ turns out how the parents plan- and this is the glue that holds the play together.

A good production also needs a good designer. Cai Dyfan’s superb set starting as a tight aperture through which we view the action gradually opens up to show that the world cannot be controlled.

As with many assembly packs, there is one piece missing. A heart. Perhaps this is deliberate on the part of the author but, funny and interesting as it was, I didn’t find the play emotionally involving.

Instructions For Correct Assembly performs at the Royal Court‘s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 19 May.

See below the review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys – review

(4 / 5)

Click here to see the review of Girls & Boys with Carey Mulligan on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys at Royal Court theatre in London
Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys

A tour-de-force from Carey Mulligan

The lights come up and there on the stage is Carey Mulligan. No set, just Carey Mulligan.

She’s the only person we’re going to meet for the next hour-and-a-half. She holds our attention for that long. We do see some colourless generic sets occasionally during Girls & Boys at the Royal Court but the main image you are left with is that of a single person alone on a blank set.

It’s a tour-de-force. Yes, she’s very engaging with her twinkling eyes and dimpled smile. But, more than that, she has the skill of seeming to speak directly to you. Her pauses make you hang on her words. Her timing is Olympic stopwatch standard.

Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys at Royal Court theatre London
Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys at Royal Court

Now delivery is one thing but, no matter how great an actor she is, she needs the words- and Dennis Kelly’s play, looking back on the story of a relationship from its light hearted beginning to its devastating end is also a grand achievement. It’s funny, insightful and sharp as a 4K TV. The language is at times rich, almost Rabelaisian, and at others pared down to the bone.

I’m guessing that the director Lindsey Turner made a major contribution to this triumphant production. It begins like standup comedy and ends like the bottom has fallen out of the world. Paralleling the course of the woman’s relationship, I began roaring with laughter and ended in shock.

Girls & Boys with Carey Mulligan at the Royal Court continues until 17 March 2018

Here’s the review from One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube-

The Lie at The Menier – Review

(4 / 5)

Alexander Hanson & Samantha Bond Excel In Zeller’s Comedy

Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond i n The Lie by Florian Zeller at The Menier Theatre
Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond in The Lie by Florian Zeller at The Menier Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Watch my review of The Lie at One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube
Is honesty the foundation of a strong marriage or should you lie in order to preserve your relationship? The former is ideal, the latter inevitable: that seems to be premise of The Lie, Florian Zeller’s new play at Menier Chocolate Factory.

A couple may or may not be having affairs. The fast-paced 90 minutes without interval is a constant cat-and-mouse game between them and with us the audience. Truths are stated that may be lies and lies that may be true. As an audience, every time we think we know where we are, the ground disappears from under us and we fall upon the next truth or deception.

Just to rub in that we really didn’t know what was going on, there is a clever moment when you think the play is finished and you get an extra scene in which you find out you really had no idea.

Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbreath are the epitome of French chic

Florian Zeller, as you may know from The Father, The Mother and The Truth, writes clever dialogue, full of tricks, and Christopher Hampton supplies a superb translation from the original French. To work, comedy needs pace and timing. Lindsay Posner’s production is fortunate in having a cast that couldn’t be bettered.

Samantha Bond’s facial expressions are to be treasured. Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbreath are the epitome of French chic. But it’s the facial reactions, the double takes, even the way he says ‘hmmm?’ that make Alexander Hanson the star of the show. You can see his character’s brain working.

This was an exhilarating evening, with many laughs and offering quite a bit of food for thought. It falls down through the lack of depth of its characters. And, although there is a more serious edge than in many comedies, the world of middle class marital deception is overfamiliar, the more so if you saw this play’s companion piece The Truth.

Since deception, of one’s self and others, is the foundation stone of comedy, The Lie should probably be even funnier than it is. Having said that, Florian Zeller slightly below par still provides an enjoyable evening.

The Lie continues at The Menier Chocolate Factory until 18 November 2017

Here’s my review on my YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

P.S. I love Menier Theatre but felt let down by the venue on this occasion. For the first time, I sat in the area of seating near to the air conditioning on the high numbers side. I asked for it to be turned off but it stayed on throughout the show. Consequently my neck and ear were subjected to an uncomfortably cold draught the whole time.

 

Prism starring Robert Lindsay at Hampstead Theatre

Robert Lindsay in Prism at Hampstead Theatre reviewed by One Minute Theatre Reviews
Robert Lindsay in Prism at Hampstead Theatre

A Masterclass in Playwriting and Acting

Watch my review on YouTube

(5 / 5)

Prism at Hampstead Theatre is a double pleasure. It marks a welcome return for Terry Johnson, author of Dead Funny, Hysteria and Insignificance and much more with his first full length play in ten years. And it gives Robert Lindsay the chance to get his teeth into a role worthy of his great acting talent.

Based on the life of the cinematographer Jack Cardiff, Prism tells a story of dementia. It shows us Cardiff’s uncertain grip on present day reality and, in a ‘wow’ moment of revelation, we get to see the world as he is seeing it – memories of his life in the movies. On top of that, we are given a fascinating insight into the art of lighting and treated to some magical effects.

Terry Johnson’s understanding of the art of theatre is peerless.He describes himself as a ‘dramatist’ and rightly so. Here he has directed as well as written this play and has created a pretty much perfect piece of theatre, which is ironic for a play about a filmmaker.

It has sharp dialogue, it’s funny, it’s poignant and it does things only theatre can do. There is a moment when, as the scenery moves, Jack steps from a location in his memory of the past to his present location but still acting out in his mind a past situation which we have already seen from the others’ point of view. It could only work in a live performance.

Robert Lindsay is one of our great stage actors

It’s a play full of metaphors for the process of growing old and dying. Cardiff fears blindness more than death but we realise the obliteration of his brain will be as bad. A prism is the key to making colour filming work just as the hippocampus is the key to a functioning brain. The ‘dying of the light’ as night approaches was Dylan Thomas’ metaphor for death: here it is literally the moment when you can no longer film.

Above all, this is an opportunity to see one of our great stage actors. Robert Lindsay has done a lot of work in light entertainment from the musical Me And My Girl to TV’s My Family to the recent stage version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He has done it brilliantly but perhaps his ability to entertain us has made us forget the depth of acting of which he is capable. This is a timely reminder that his combination of rich voice, rugged good looks, timing and sheer presence are to be treasured.

Claire Skinner, Barnaby Kay and Rebecca Night all provide excellent support but the evening belongs to Robert Lindsay. I hope Prism gets a West End transfer. This is a production that everyone who loves theatre should see.

Here’s my review of Prism on my YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews-

Loot by Joe Orton – Review

(5 / 5)

Joe Orton's Loot reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Sinead Matthews, Ian Redford, Sam Frenchum and Anah Ruddin’s leg in Joe Orton’s Loot

Loot- Still Outrageously Funny After 50 Years

Watch my YouTube review here
It’s 50 years since The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, Berkshire, opened its doors. So happy birthday to them and a big thank you for the birthday present they have given us in the form of Joe Orton’s Loot.

Orton died 50 years ago this year, so it’s appropriate that The Watermill have co-produced a brilliant production that presents us with the original uncensored version of the play for the first time ever.

The play is about two young bank robbers who try to hide their stolen money in a coffin. It may not be as shocking as it must have been to audiences in 1965 but it remains outrageous in its lack of morality and its depictions of the authorities as corrupt and hypocritical.

It’s always been a funny play but it’s all the more hilarious when you experience it as Orton intended without the censorship that was still in force at the time. This means that we can enjoy all of Orton’s intended references to homosexuality, blasphemy and S&M.

Possibly the greatest benefit of seeing Loot minus the blue pencil is that the coffin takes centre stage and the body is played by a real person rather than a dummy. Anah Ruddin‘s limpness as she is taken out of the coffin, placed upside down in a cupboard, stripped naked and wrapped up in a sheet is so funny, she deserves a special category of acting award for playing a corpse.

Among an all round excellent cast, Sinead Matthews is outstanding as the dead woman’s nurse in both her timing and delivery (“had euthanasia not been against my religion I would have practised it – instead I decided to murder her”).

The production does justice to this modern classic  

The excellent Christopher Fulford plays a corrupt and increasingly manic plod with no interest in justice. He delivers his comic lines with no shame nor even irony which of course makes them all the more amusing. When it is suggested to him that the police used to be ‘men of integrity’, he replies in  all seriousness, “That is a mistake which has been rectified.”

The production does justice to this modern classic. Michael Fentiman directs with a comic touch and keeps up the fast pace that a play with so many farcical elements needs. It’s a shame that its ‘tour’ has only taken in the two small producing venues Park Theatre and The Watermill. It deserves to be seen by everyone who enjoys good, irreverent comedy.

Loot continues at The Watermill in Newbury until 21 October.

 

Yerma starring Billie Piper at Young Vic – Review

Billie Piper’s Performance Of A Lifetime

(5 / 5)
Yerma starring Billie Piper at the Young Vic reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
Yerma starring Billie Piper at the Young Vic. Photo: Johan Persson

I was worried that looking through the action at members of the audience in the opposite seats would be distracting. Fortunately there was no chance of that in the Young Vic production of Yerma, thanks to a riveting script by Simon Stone and a visceral performance by Billie Piper.

The traverse stage not only puts the audiences on two sides of the stage but designer Lizzie Clachan encases the acting area in glass. This means you are much more aware that you are part of an audience watching performers, as if in a goldfish bowl or on a catwalk fashion show. You feel you are examining what is being presented before you.

Simon Stone’s brilliant production

Before the play began, for a few moments it was difficult to tell whether you were seeing a reflection of yourself or different but very similar people in very similar seats. I fully expected the glass to fly out but it stayed in place. As a result, I felt I was looking at fish or lizards or some other animal trapped in a tank. This was enhanced by there being no exits for most of the performance (actors entered and exited between scenes under cover of darkness). Not to mention moments when Billie Piper fell against the glass and more.

Director and writer Simon Stone has updated the classic Lorca story cleverly. The central character is still a woman who wants a child but the emphasis has changed from her being pressured by Catholic society to her inability to fulfil her desire driving her to destruction. Billie Piper’s portrayal of a gradual descent from an intelligent, fun woman to someone driven mad by her inability to conceive left me shaking.

This is theatre at its best: a brilliant production serving the acting performance of a lifetime.

A version of this review has appeared on my website seven experience.co.uk

See my video review below or at One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube

Touch by Vicky Jones at Soho Theatre

Amy Morgan and Edward Bluemel in Touch, written and directed by Vicky Jones at Soho Theatre
Amy Morgan and Edward Bluemel in Touch, written and directed by Vicky Jones at Soho Theatre. Photo: ©Tristram Kenton

Funny Bone Not Touched by Touch

(3 / 5)

Touch is said to be a sex comedy from the creators of Fleabag. There’s not much sex, it’s not that funny and it’s no Fleabag.

People often find turning thirty difficult. Touch written and directed by Vicky Jones is about Dee, a woman who’s reached that dangerous age and has found her provincial life so restricted that she has moved to the anonymity of London and embarked on a voyage of sexual libertion.

For a play ostensibly about sex, there is very little actual sex: no nudity, hardly any simulated sex and not even descriptions. Take spanking. Our protagonist wants to try it but we never see the act and later when she says she enjoyed it, we get no detail of what she felt.  Clearly not a play for the prurient then.

The much publicised association with Fleabag (“From the creators of the international cult hit Fleabag”) made me long for the kind of detail that made that TV show so real. Who can forget the opening of the first episode when her willingness to take part in a ‘taboo’ act and then her concern about the implications made it one of the funniest and at the same time filthiest three minutes in TV sitcom history?

Writer Vicky Jones is an excellent director

Much of the dialogue with Dee’s lovers is instead about relationships and an analysis of her motives, leading me to think this play is using sex and potentially ‘shocking’ references to sexual practices to smuggle in a story about a woman seeking liberation, a liberation that is ultimately gained not by using people for sex but by being loved.

Vicky Jones also directs and here she is on more solid ground. The messy bedsit with its broken toilet reflects the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of her life and there’s considerable humour in the cast constantly reacting to and navigating around it. The timing and physical comedy are excellent.

The problem is, the script isn’t funny enough. Amusing, yes, but sex and relationships are such fertile ground for comedy. Despite some laugh-out-loud moments, I was surprised to find there were long periods when I didn’t even smile.

Fine acting from Amy Morgan

I think Vicky Jones should have taken more time to develop her main character who for me remained too one dimensional. Perhaps the link with Fleabag, which started as a play, made me think I was was being used as an audience for a pilot for TV sitcom. I did feel that Touch would have worked much better if each encounter were a half hour episode in which we could really get to know and understand our hero.

That said, Amy Morgan is a fine comic actor and all the others gave good support. Edward Bluemel in particular excelled as an overconfident teenager and James Clyde was very droll as the older roué.

It’s good to see a play about a youngish woman who is defining herself rather than allowing herself to be defined by others, I just wish Touch had touched me more.

A version of this review has appeared on Paul’s marketing website Seven Experience and on the Daily Echo website