I’m Not Running by David Hare with Siân Brooke

David Hare’s new play is contrived, predictable & flat 

Click here to watch the review of I’m Not Running on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

(3 / 5)
Production shot of Sian Brooke and Alex Hassell in I'm Not Running at National Theatre London
Sian Brooke & Alex Hassell in I’m Not Running. Photo: Mark Douet

When the National Theatre announces a new season, it’s always a challenge to decide which events to spend one’s time and money on. But a new play by one of our greatest living playwrights David Hare starring a fine actor like Siân Brooke and directed by the renowned Neil Armfield seemed a safe bet.

So you can imagine my disappointment when confronted by a contrived plot with a weighted conflict and a predictable end, not to mention an acting performance that offered none of the charisma that the role seemed to require. To be fair to Siân Brooke, it may be the script that was lacking rather than her performance.

The plot concerns a clash between a doctor who has run a single issue political campaign to save a hospital and subsequently becomes an MP and a career politician with whom she has, shall we say, history. By the way, Alex Hassell as her ‘sparring partner’ gives a bravura performance ranging from tears to tantrums.

The play jumps back and forth between the present day and the events that led up to it. We see the main character developing her political understanding to the point where she is considering running- or not running- for the Labour Party leadership.

A big auditorium but not a major play

David Hare tries to help our political understanding too. So we learn how the personal and the political are connected, and how we need political parties, in this case the Labour Party, if you seriously want to change things. At Westminster, the play says, we need less towing the party line, less putting efficiency before people and less male ego, and conversely more passion, more belief, more women.

Sian Brooke & Liza Sadovy in I'm Not Running
Sian Brooke & Liza Sadovy in I’m Not Running. Photo: Mark Douet

The play takes its time and, if you’re not interested in politics, you may find it dull- although there are some juicy confrontations between the two main characters. The problem for me is, the arguments always seem one sided, so the excitement never mounts. Far from being carried along to the climax, I had plenty of time to consider how unlikely the ending is.

Although the play is about politics, there are no big speeches. It is an intimate play consisting almost entirely of conversations between two people in small rooms. The Lyttleton stage is too big for it. Ralph Myers’ set comprises a simple triangular white room which spins round nicely to frame the action but the large auditorium seems to create performances that are a bit more shouty than they should be.

Last year I saw both Labour Of Love and This House by James Graham, both about Labour Party politics. I was far more affected by his portrayal of impassioned but flawed people who believe in their cause and understand the need to compromise and work together for change in a democratic system than by David Hare’s fantasy world.

I’m Not Running is performing at the National Theatre until 31 January. There will be an NT Live broadcast of the final performance.

Watch below to see the YouTube review of I’m Not Running on the One Minute Theatre Reviews channel

The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller – review

Jonathan Pryce & Eileen Atkins shine in confusing drama

(3 / 5)

Click here to watch Paul’s review of The Height Of The Storm on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce in Production photo from The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller directed by Jonathan Kent at Wyndham's Theatre featuring Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce
Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Height Of The Storm

Florian Zeller’sThe Height Of The Storm is confusing. If you’re going to see it, it’s good that you know this because otherwise, like me, you’ll spend the whole evening trying to work out what’s going on instead of simply enjoying a moving love story.

The play is meant to be confusing but, unlike Florian Zeller’s The Father where it’s soon apparent that we are seeing the world from the point of view of a brain befuddled by dementia, on this occasion it is never clear why.

We start by meeting an elderly man called Andre. It appears that his wife is dead. Sometimes he seems vague, hardly there, sometimes people are hardly aware of him. Is he living in memory but not physically? Does he have dementia? Then it seems he is dead and it’s his wife Madeleine who has survived. At other times, it seems both could be dead or both alive.

These appear to be various possibilities of how the end days will pan out for an elderly couple.  My take is that they are visions of the future imagined by a couple prior to a suicide pact (there is much mention of poisonous mushrooms) but there are as many possibilities as there are potential outcomes of the Brexit negotiations.

Jonathan Kent’s naturalistic production is perfect for Florian Zeller’s play about enduring love 

What we do know for sure is that we are witnessing a couple at the end of their days who have been so in love for a lifetime that their bond lasts beyond death or perhaps dementia. There’s no sign of age withering Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins. They give an acting masterclass as the couple. They fill their performances with subtle emotions- not only love but compassion, confusion, frustration, anger. Andre’s quiet warmth radiates into the auditorium. Madeleine’s acid comments cut through the air with stiletto sharpness.

Their relationship is the heart of the drama and leads to an immensely sad but uplifting climax, like, to use a key image from the play, a bird singing at the height of the storm of old age.

Jonathan Kent‘s naturalistic production, the detailed set by Anthony Ward that suggests a lifetime’s accumulation of possessions and Christopher Hampton‘s translation provide Zeller with perfect support.

Production shot showing cast of The Height Of The Storm at Wyndham's Theatre London
The Height Of The Storm

Depending on your age, you may also recognise the amusing attempts of the adult children to organise their parents’ lives and indeed shut those lives down by making arrangements for moving to a home.

I’ve read that you need to see this play two or three times to understand it. Since this is being presented at a mainstream London theatre, I imagine few will arrive expecting such confusion and even fewer will be able to afford to pay West End prices to see it again. If you go to see it, you might wish M. Zeller had given you a few more clues as to how to get inside The Height Of The Storm but you will come away touched by this portrait of transcending love.

The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller starring Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins can be seen at Wyndham’s Theatre until 1 December 2018

Watch Paul’s YouTube review of The Height Of The Storm below

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-

Women In Power – Nuffield Southampton – review

Bawdy fun as women turn the tables on men

Click here to see the review of Women In Power on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

(3 / 5)
Production shot from Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres. Photo: The Other Richard

Women In Power at the Nuffield Southampton Theatres’ city venue is a new version of AristophanesAssemblywomen. It sticks pretty closely to the original story in which women take over the government from the weak and incompetent men.

Aristotle was having a go at the male politicians rather than seriously suggesting that women could run things so, while they turn the tables on the men by, for example, making it law that the oldest and least attractive women have first choice of male lover, they also introduce pure communism with disastrous results.

What’s great about this production is that women are in power on stage and off and they’ve produced a very entertaining show that makes some good points about male and female behaviour. It’s written by seven prominent women- Wendy Cope, Jenny Eclair, Suhayla El-Bushra, Natalie Haynes, Shappi Korshandi, Jess Phillips MP & Brona C Titley. The dramaturg is Clare Slater and it has a cast of six women, directed by Blanche McIntyre.

In effect it’s a series of sketches, and perhaps because it’s the work of so many different hands, some work and some are stilted and clichéd but the ones that work are very funny. I should also say, in the tradition of Aristophanes, it’s also very rude, filthy even. I can’t remember ever seeing someone defecate on stage before and, while the scene goes on a bit too long, it’s cringingly convincing.

photo of Lisa Kerr in Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Lisa Kerr in Women In Power. Photo: The Other Richard

There is much fun made of men and their genitalia but also mockery of the women. In one hilarious scene the women vie for a young male’s attention by competing in droopiness and looseness, if you get my drift. In another, Lisa Kerr (whose all round performance skills are very impressive) plays a man who is following the law that he must give up all his possessions. He is persuaded to follow this to its logical conclusion by giving away his clothes, revealing a very funny nude body suit.

The songs which intersperse the production are excellent pastiches of well known musical songs and have uniformly witty lyrics. Whisper it, but they are written by a man Tim Sutton.

Despite the show’s unevenness, Women In Power is well worth seeing.

Women In Power is performing at the Nuffield Southampton until 29 September 2018, then at Oxford Playhouse from 3-6 October.

Here’s the YouTube review of Women In Power on the One Minute Theatre Reviews channel-

Flowers For Mrs Harris – Chichester – Review

A few blooms but no bouquet for a dull production

(3 / 5)

Click here to see the review of Flowers For Mrs Harris on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo of Clare Burt in Flower For Mrs Harris at Chichester
Clare Burt in Flower For Mrs Harris at Chichester. Photo: Johan Persson

Flowers for Mrs Harris, a musical based on a Paul Gallico story and directed by Daniel Evans, is set in East London just after the end of the second world war. In a world of rationing and drabness, Mrs Harris has a dream of owning a Christian Dior dress. She goes about achieving this, mainly by being nice to people and bringing out the niceness in them.

There are set backs along the way but they are easily resolved within minutes. I think this is the essence of why I didn’t enjoy this musical. There is no grit, no tension, no sense that this won’t have (spoiler alert!) a happy ending.

Flowers for Mrs Harris at Chichester. Photo: Johan Persson

Richard Taylor’s opera-style sung-through music is unmemorable.  To complete a dull presentation, the sets are grey. Even when we relocate to Paris for the second act, they offer hardly anything in the way of scenery or dynamic changes to delight the eye. Only the Dior dresses and of course flowers provide colour, which I guess is designer Lez Brotherston’s point but you have to wait quite a while for those.

And just because it’s a musical, don’t expect any dancing.

On the plus side, there are some good characters well acted by a strong cast that includes Claire Machin, Joanna Riding and Gary Wilmot and especially Clare Burt who is brilliant as the self effacing, resilient Mrs Harris.

I admit I did feel like a miserable git when I saw people around me crying at the end.

Flowers For Mrs Harris can be seen at Chichester Festival Theatre until 29 September 2018

Here’s the One Minute Theatre Reviews video on YouTube-

The Goon Show – Tour – review

The Goons- Still crazy after all these years

Click here to watch the YouTube review of The Goon Show tour

(3 / 5)
Production shot of Julian Howard McDowell, Colin Elmer and Clive Greenwood in the theatre tour of The Goon Show
Julian Howard McDowell, Colin Elmer and Clive Greenwood in the touring production of The Goon Show

The Goon Shows are classic radio comedy. Many of us have caught up with them through the eternal repeats on Radio Four Extra. Part of the appeal is the imagination that radio encourages you to exercise. That makes it quite a challenge to present three of Spike Milligan’s Goon Show scripts as stage shows.

Apollo Theatre Company get round that by making it seem like we’re the audience for a recording of the show. That way we can continue to imagine the explosions, falls from great heights and other crazy happenings.

The team of Julian Howard McDowell, Colin Elmer and Clive Greenwood make a good stab at imitating Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. They are well supported by Tom Capper and musicians Rachel Davies and Anthony Coote.

Nostalgia and laugh-out-loud comedy as Goons go on stage

What was brought home to me was just how well these shows were written. Yes, some topical references are sixty years out of date but Spike Milligan’s surreal humour seems as fresh as anything written today. I laughed a lot, even at the tongue-in-cheek corny jokes.

And there was the undeniable warmth of nostalgia for those long departed comic geniuses and their familiar characters like Bluebottle and Eccles.

If the production is short of anything, it’s the sense of anarchy and spontaneity that Sellers and Milligan brought to the original recordings. You know, the corpsing and improvisation (whether genuine or not). To be fair, I did see this production at its first performance at Salisbury Playhouse and I’m sure that missing element will come as the cast relax into both the show and each other’s company.

If you want an evening of nostalgia and laugh-out-loud comedy, I recommend you see The Goon Show at one of its many stops around the UK.

The Goon Show is at Salisbury Playhouse until 8 September and is touring to Churchill Theatre Bromley, Yvonne Arnaud Guildford, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham, New Alexandra Birmingham, Brewhouse Theatre Taunton, Trinity Theatre Tunbridge Wells, Theatre Royal Winchester, Richmond Theatre, Lighthuse Poole, Blakehay Weston-Super-Mare, Octagon Theatre Yeovil, Princess Theatre Torquay, Haymarket Theatre Basingstoke, Theatre Royal Brighton, Key Theatre Peterborough, The Capital Horsham, Lichfield Garrick Theatre, Leatherhead Theatre, Norwich Playhouse, Theatre Royal Bury-St-Edmunds, Waterside Theatre Aylesbury, Grand Opera House York, South Hill Park Bracknell, Mercury Theatre Colchester, Theatre Royal Windsor, Theatr Clwyd Mold and Leicester Square Theatre London (11 November). For links to box offices, go apollotheatrecompany.com

 

Watch the YouTube review of The Goon Show below

Exit The King starring Rhys Ifans at National Theatre

Rhys Ifans is dying to be funny 

(5 / 5)

Click here to watch my review of Exit The King starring Rhys Ifans on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production shot of Rhys Ifans in Exit The King by Eugene Ionesco adapted by Patrick Marber at National Theatre London
Rhys Ifans in Exit The King. Photo: Simon Annand

Exit the King is about how we come to terms with the shocking fact that we’re all going to die. As a character says in the play, ‘everyone is the first person ever to die.’

Patrick Marber has done a brilliant job both as director and as the adapter of Eugene Ionesco’s original play. It sounds contemporary and there are funny lines galore and there remains Ionesco’s intention that theatre itself with its exits and entrances should be a metaphor for life. The characters speak in a theatrical way and the King is  told early on ‘you’re going to die at the end of the play.’

And as the King, Rhys Ifans is extraordinary. He goes through denial and anger and all the other emotions experienced by those who are dying. Physically he declines before our eyes. He sounds like one of those declamatory stage actors of old like Laurence Olivier and his physical comedy reminded me of Jerry Lewis.

Production shot of Rhys Ifans in Exit The King by Eugene Ionesco adapted by Patrick Marber at National Theatre London
Rhys Ifans in Exit The King. Photo: Simon Annand

He’s supported by Indira Varma as the cool first Queen, Amy Morgan as the not-so-dumb blonde second Queen and Debra Gillett hilarious as the irreverent servant. Adrian Scarborough and Derek Griffiths complete an all round superb cast.

My only disappointment was that the ending felt dragged out and momentum was lost.

Oh, and credit where it’s due to set designer Anthony Ward. So often designers are defeated by the size of the National Theatre’s Olivier stage but his solution is to have the small cast at the front for most of the play with a big crumbling palace wall behind them, then, in a gobsmacking ending, the set disappears and the whole grand canyon of the stage area opens up as the king dies and fades into eternity. It’s a theatrical moment of which one feels sure Ionesco would have approved.

Exit The King with Rhys Ifans is at the National Theatre until 6 October 2018

Watch my YouTube review of Rhys Ifans in Exit The King-

Alan Bennett’s Allelujah! at Bridge Theatre – review

Allelujah! written by Alan Bennett, directed by Nicholas Hytner at Bridge Theatre London.

(3 / 5)

Click here for the review of Allelujah! by Alan Bennett on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production shot of Allelujah by Alan Bennett at Bridge Theatre
Allelujah! at Bridge Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Much as I loved many of the Nicholas Hytner era productions at the National Theatre, not least his collaborations with Alan Bennett like The History Boys and The Madness of George III, I did find myself thinking that for all the criticism of his successor, Rufus Norris is at least trying to jolt us out of our comfort zone.

In Allelujah!, one National Treasure writes about another National Treasure- the NHS. What’s the diagnosis?

It’s like Alan Bennett is giving us a bed bath. He covers all the familiar places but there are no surprises. He does have some strong words to say about the care of the elderly and the creeping privatisation of the NHS but his play feels so old fashioned.

It’s set in a geriatric ward of a small general hospital threatened with closure. And straightway there’s a problem. if the play was a patient, the doctor would say it’s confused about where it is. This is more like a care home than a geriatric ward (which by the way are called Care Of The Elderly wards these days). I didn’t believe for a moment there would be time for a nurse to organise a choir among the patients. This play is living in a world of its own, a world we might call Alan Bennett Land.

Like the elderly patients in the play, Allelujah! is confused, unfocused and old fashioned 

Production shot of Allelujah! by Alan Bennett at Bridge Theatre
Allelujah! at Bridge Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The next symptom. Our patient can’t seem to concentrate on any one character. There are 25 and most are little more than clichés or ciphers. I just didn’t believe the kind, touchy-feely immigrant doctor (Sacha Dhawan) who ‘loves old people’, nor the neoliberal privatising consultant (Samuel Barnett) nor the yobbish work experience lad (David Moorst). The only one we get to know slightly better is the stiff ward sister, played by the excellent Deborah Findlay, who has a radical solution to the twin problems of incontinence and empty bed targets.

Repetition is another worrying symptom. The familiar Bennett humour is there but really it’s too familiar. There are some amusing lines but many more fall flat- I’ve gone beyond thinking the names of Yorkshire towns are funny in their own right, like the bathetic threat of Tadcaster.

Mood swings are another worrying sign of a patient who is no longer in control. There’s also an uncharacteristic burst of anger from the patient when the immigrant doctor berates us the audience for the way we have become as a country.

The best bits were when we went into the minds of the elderly patients and saw them as a chorus line performing singing and dancing of old songs. And that apparently was director Nicholas Hytner’s idea, not Alan Bennett’s.

I’m afraid this play felt very dated or, as the doctor in the play might say, the patient is suffering from old age.

So, I regret, it’s a Do Not Resuscitate from me.

Allelujah! by Alan Bennett is performing at Bridge Theatre London until 29 September 2018

Watch Paul Seven Lewis’ review on One Minute Theatre Reviews-

Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore

Aidan Turner is hilarious in Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant Of Inishmore

Watch the review of The Lieutenant Of Inshore by One Minute Theatre reviews on YouTube
(5 / 5)

Production photo of Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh, directed by Michael Grandage
Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore. Photo: Johan Persson

Mad Padraic is an Irish terrorist in the time of The Troubles, he’s too violent and unpredictable even for the IRA. But he loves his cat. When the only thing he loves is killed, Padraic wants vengeance. So begins Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant Of Inishmore at the Noel Coward theatre in London.

If you’ve only seen Aidan Turner in Poldark, you’ll be amazed at how hilarious as well as threatening he is as this man of extremes, flipping from anger to tears to a twinkling smile in the space of a few seconds.

Production photo of Chris Walley, Aidan Turner and Denis Conway in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh, directed by Michael Grandage
Chris Walley, Aidan Turner and Denis Conway in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore. Photo: Johan Persson

He’s well supported by Denis Conway as his father Donny, Chris Walley straight out of RADA but hitting it out of the auditorium as the hangdog youth Davey, Charlie Murphy as Padraic’s equally crazy love interest and, in fact, all the cast. Every character is as thick as two slices of peat- but maybe we all are when it comes to understanding terrorism.

Martin McDonagh’s play is the blackest of black comedies. Written nearly 25 years ago but more relevant than ever, it satirises terrorists and how their distorted idealism, in which violence breeds violence, leads to a blind pursuit of their goals at the expense of morality or even decent human behaviour.

Michael Grandage’s comical production

The first act has some great funny lines. I particularly liked a description of cats as ‘full of themselves’ but it mainly serves to introduce us to the characters and set up all the fastmoving action of the second act. That’s when it really takes off with one violent incident leading to another in a series of twists so ingenious that that every so often they got a round of applause from the audience.

And what violence! Michael Grandage’s triumphant production is so exaggerated that everything becomes comical but even so, it’s still quite a shock to see someone’s brains splattered across a wall, live on stage.

It’s so totally over the top, it goes down the other side and over another top.

The Lieutenant Of Inishmore with Aidan Turner is at the Noel Coward Theatre London until 8 September 2018.

Here’s the YouTube review of The Lieutenant Of Inishmore with Aidan Turner on One Minute Theatre Reviews-

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-