Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Parts One & Two

Click here for review on YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Photo of members of the cast of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child stage play by Jack Thorne based on idea by JK Rowling Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

A Worthy Addition to the Harry Potter saga

I’ve read the Harry Potter books and seen the films. If you haven’t, you might be less intrigued than I was by this return to Hogwarts because the past looms heavy in this new adventure.

JK Rowling tells a good children’s story that adults can also enjoy, and she does it again with her stage play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, currently at the Palace Theatre London.

Production photo of the stage play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Her chronicle of good versus evil in the world of witchcraft continues with the sons of Harry Potter and his former enemy Draco Malfoy. Both boys suffer from being the children of well-known parents. That’s why they become friends and go an adventure together, an adventure which is as much about the excitement of problem solving as fighting evil.

Good story by JK Rowling- great play by Jack Thorne

The Cursed Child is blessed with a script by Jack Thorne which is full of humour and emotional depth, especially in the difficult relationship between the adult Harry and his adolescent son, both troubled by the past in their different ways, both feeling inadequate. It’s also fascinating to see the way Draco Malfoy is changed and challenged by becoming a parent.

The story is about the effect of the past on the present. Literally and chillingly,  we see that changing the past can change the present. More interestingly,  what the older characters have or haven’t done previously affects how they are now. It is this exploration that makes what otherwise would be a good children’s show into something of real interest to an adult audience.

Production photo of members of the cast of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

There are many very good characters well acted. When I saw the plays, Rayke Ayola showed a good range of emotion as Hermione Granger. I especially liked the Malfoys played with relish by James Howard and young Samuel Blenkin, who was the star of the show.

John Tiffany’s production has some excellent theatrical effects: the appearance of the Dementors is spine tingling. The illusions by Jamie Harrison that provide some real ‘wow’ moments such as the split second in which actors seem to disappear into a telephone.

The difficulty for me is that while action adventures told on a stage work well for children, for adults they can seem a little melodramatic. Despite or perhaps because of an existential threat in the story, this is no exception.

That said, this is a magical production and a worthy addition to the Harry Potter saga.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child can be seen at the Palace Theatre London

Here’s my review from the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

Classic dance and vintage jokes in Young Frankenstein musical

Click here for my review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Photo of Hadley Fraser, Ross noble and Summer Strallen in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein
Hadley Fraser, Ross Noble and Summer Strallen in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

I guess you’ll either love or hate the crude humour of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, currently at The Garrick Theatre London. Think Carry On or Benny Hill. Think corny jokes about women bewitched by men who are large down below and men hypnotised by women who are large up top.

Personally I loved it. It takes a comic genius like Brooks to turn what could seem base and old fashioned into good-hearted fun. And, despite being primarily a movie maker, he knows how to write a stage musical. The Producers was a huge hit and Young Frankenstein, again based on one of his movies, deserves to be.

Mel Brooks has a way of creating hilarious characters and putting very funny words in their mouths. Those words come thick and fast so, if some jokes miss the target, there’s a hit close behind. Brooks’ view of male-female relationships may seem like a relic from the past but the conflict between ego and id is eternal. So the theme of men and women having their ideals undermined by their animal desires is the stuff of great comedy.

Take the number Please Don’t Touch Me, led by Dianne Pilkington, as an example. It contrasts hilariously Frankenstein’s fiancee’s prim behaviour with her filthy mind.

Lots of laughs from Ross Noble and Lesley Joseph

All the song-and-dance numbers are superbly choreographed in classic style by the director Susan Stroman including a wonderful version of Puttin’ On The Ritz.

The cast may change but there is enough meat for any good performer to get their teeth into. Having said that, I’ve nothing but praise for the current team. Hadley Fraser has the biggest part (you see how Brooks’ humour is catching). He is spot on as the high-minded Frederick Frankenstein. Summer Strallenwho was outstanding in Top Hat, shows why she is one the best musicals performers around. They’re a lovely pair- Fraser and Strallen, I mean (damn you, Mel Brooks!).  Lesley Joseph and Ross Noble get lots of laughs as the servants. (Sorry, I’ve run out of sexual innuendos.)

The stereotypes of men and women are dated but if you can accept that, Young Frankenstein is a lot of fun.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein at The Garrick Theatre has now closed

Here’s the review of Young Frankenstein on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews-

Strictly Ballroom The Musical – Review

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

See my review of Strictly Ballroom The Musical on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Promotional photo of the cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Photo: Alistair Muir

I love a good musical and, while Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse might not reach the heights of a Sondheim or a Rodgers & Hammerstein for character and depth of feeling, there is an enjoyable love story and some excellent dancing. The good news is, it can be seen in London in 2018.

Anyone who liked Dirty Dancing or Footloose should love this. If you don’t know Baz Luhrmann‘s film, it’s the story of a pair of ballroom dancers determined to express themselves their way, even if that means breaking the rules. Freedom versus the establishment is always a good story. Along the way they inevitably fall in love and equally inevitably face bumps in the road to finally getting together.

Promotional photo of Sam Lips and Gemma Sutton in Strictly Ballroom at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Sam Lips and Gemma Sutton in Strictly Ballroom at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Alastair Muir. Photo: Alistair Muir

If that sounds like a formulaic show, I don’t mean it to. It’s lively, inventive, often funny and sometimes moving.  In any case, we don’t need the most original story for a musical to work. What’s most important is the terrific choreography by Drew McOnie (his work includes last year’s brilliant On The Town at the Open Air Theatre).  The dancing and the singing are impressive throughout.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical is playing at the Piccadilly Theatre from 29 March 2018. Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen will perform the lead roles with Will Young playing the newly created role of band leader Wally Strand. Drew McOnie again directs and choreographs. 

Here’s my YouTube review of the original West Yorkshire Playhouse production-

Network with Bryan Cranston at National Theatre

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Towering performance by Cranston in unforgettable production from van Hove

Click here for my review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

A scene from Network at the National Theatre London with Bryan Cranston. Photo by Jan Versweyveld
Bryan Cranston in Network. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Before Network even begins, the Lyttleton Theatre stage is full of things going on. There are diners to the right, a TV control room to the left, a big screen in the middle, a shiny reflective centre stage. For someone like me who loves a show that could only be done in a theatre, it’s a case of ‘you had me at hello’.

Jan Versweyveld’s set may be just a bit too fascinating for the good of Ivo van Hove’s production. Fortunately he has one great asset keeping Network focussed: Bryan Cranston. As the TV news anchor suffering a breakdown, he commands the stage even when he is one tiny component in a mass of activity. His authoritative voice, his physical presence and his warmth, as for example when he interacts with the audience, add up to a tour-de-force.

By contrast, the sub-plot about a relationship between two other characters, which are well acted by  Michelle Dockery and Douglas Henshall, tends to get lost in the sea of screens, reflections and general sense of pandemonium.

A scene from Network starring Bryan Cranston at National Theatre London. Photo by Jan Versweyveld
Bryan Cranston in Network. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Like the film it is based on, Network is set in the 1970s when TV news was newer and more dominant than today, so its warnings about the dire effects of treating news as entertainment (echoed by Quiz which opens soon in London) seem overly familiar to nearly all of us who have grown up with a TV in the corner and come to regard it not as a window on the world but more a gogglebox.

The play moves on to ‘expose’ global capitalism before putting in a plea for the humanity of the life we actually live. Lee Hall’s play, based on Paddy Chayefsky’s film script, is preaching to the converted- we are after all an audience of physically present people watching real humans on stage) and I emphasise ‘preaching’. Nevertheless it’s an unforgettable production and a towering performance from Bryan Cranston.

Network runs at the National Theatre until 24 March 2018. 

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

This House – Touring – Review

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

See my review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Promotional photo for This House at Chichester Festival Theatre showing Steffan Rhodri and Nathaniel Parker. Photo by Johan Persson
Steffan Rhodri and Nathaniel Parker in This House at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

I would never have thought day-to-day politics could be so tense. This House, which I saw at Chichester Festival Theatre’s Minerva is set in the 1970s when Labour was running minority governments and ends at the moment the Tories returned to power. But it’s not about Wilson, Callaghan or Thatcher. The play is set in the Whips’ Offices, the people who organise their party members’ voting.

These are dramatic times as Labour struggles to maintain its majority and govern, a situation not dissimilar to Theresa May’s government. The tension mounts when ‘pairing’ is suspended. This is the agreement whereby members absent through government business or illness have their missing vote cancelled by someone from the opposition not voting. To go behind the scenes and see that our democracy can only work by co-operation and compromise is an eye-opener.

Phil Daniels & Steffan Rhodri in This House at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
Phil Daniels & Steffan Rhodri in This House at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Many people- some of the Brexit voters and Trump supporters, for example- seem to be rebelling against the perceived cosiness of the establishment. James Graham, author of This House, shows that there is a purpose to this comity. We have only to look across the Atlantic to see how the extreme differences between Republicans and Democrats have brought government to a halt after decades of working together.

Politicians Are People

But more than the drama and the lesson in democracy, This House reveals the real people behind the parliamentary constituencies. Plays need characters and This House is packed with flawed human beings with feelings. They are sometimes bullies, sometimes desperate and, most movingly, they can be compassionate. We see that in many cases these are people who care passionately but still respect their opponents and act honourably.

Politicians often try to show their human side in PR exercises- a pint down the pub or an appearance on Have I Got News For You– but This House  does a far better job at showing they are as funny, sad, triumphant and tragic as the rest of us.

This House is touring to West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (23 February – 10 March 2018), Cambridge Arts Theatre (12 – 17 March 2018), Theatre Royal Bath (19 – 24 March 2018), Edinburgh Festival Theatre (27 – 31 March 2018), Nottingham Theatre Royal (10 – 14 April 2018), Birmingham Repertory Theatre (16 – 21 April 2018), The Lowry, Salford (24 – 28 April 2018), Theatre Royal, Plymouth (1 – 5 May 2018), Norwich Theatre Royal (7 – 12 May 2018),
Malvern Theatres (14 – 19 May 2018), Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford (21 – 26 May 2018), Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield (29 May – 2 June 2018).

Here’s my review on YouTube

Pick of 2018 Theatre Shows

Promotional image of Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff in Macbeth at National Theatre London
Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear in Macbeth at National Theatre. Photo: Jack Davison

I had a great year of theatre going in 2017. My best evening out was at the Soho Theatre where I saw Mr Swallow in Houdini. It was an hour of continuous laughter at its cleverness, clowning and sheer madness.

As for actual comedy drama, I really enjoyed The Lie by Florian Zeller at The Menier and James Graham’s Labour Of Love with Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig but outstanding for me was the revival of Joe Orton’s Loot at Park Theatre and The Watermill Newbury (where I saw it), now uncensored and funnier than ever.

The best musical I saw, Follies and An American In Paris notwithstanding, was On The Town at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre.

The best drama was the revival of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf with Imelda Staunton. In fact there were many great acting performances this year- I’d also pick out Imelda Staunton again in Follies and Robert Lindsay in Prism but the crown must go to Ian McKellen as King Lear at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Looking forward to 2018

If 2017 was a good year, 2018 looks like being even better. There are so many wonderful prospects that it’s going to be very hard for we theatre lovers to choose what to see. Here’s my choice.

And straightway I’m having to choose between two productions of Macbeth. My money’s on Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff at the National Theatre (26 February – 12 May) but there’s no denying the  prospect of Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack performing for the Royal Shakespeare Company (13 March – 18 September) in Stratford is hard to resist.

Promotional image of Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, Or Change at Hampstead Theatre
Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, Or Change at Hampstead Theatre

There are some fabulous musicals on their way. Tony (Angels In America) Kushner’s Caroline, or Change with Sharon D Clarke was rapturously received in Chichester. In 2018, it reappears in the lovely Hampstead Theatre (12 March – 21 April). Strictly Ballroom The Musical which I saw and loved a year ago at West Yorkshire Playhouse gets a well deserved London run at the Piccadilly Theatre (29 March – 21 July). The emotionally charged winner of five Tony Awards, Fun Home has its UK premiere at Young Vic (18 June – 1 September).

There’s a star studded production of Pinter’s The Birthday Party appropriately at the Harold Pinter Theatre (9 January – 14 April). When I say starstudded, the cast includes Toby Jones, Zoe Wannamaker and Stephen Mangan to name but three.

Promotional image of Carey Mulligan in Girls And Boys at Royal Court
Carey Mulligan in Girls And Boys at Royal Court

I thought Carey Mulligan was wonderful in Skylight so I’m looking forward to her return to the West End in a one woman play by Dennis Kelly called Girls And Boys which describes the unravelling of a relationship. That’s at the Royal Court (8 February – 17 March).

Alfred Molina reprises his 2009 success playing the painter Mark Rothko in Red at the Wyndham’s Theatre (4 May – 28 July). It will again be directed by Michael Grandage and will also star Alfred Enoch.

Near to where I live, Nuffield Southampton Theatres open their exciting city centre space with a new play by local lad Howard Brenton. The Shadow Factory looking at Southampton in the Second World War runs from 7 February to 3 March.

Happy theatregoing!

Nativity! The Musical on tour

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Nativity! The Musical- the birth of a Christmas tradition 

See my YouTube review on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo from Nativity The Musical showing Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Nativity! The Musical with Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Nativity! is already one of the nation’s favourite Christmas films, now Nativity! The Musical is destined to become a fixture on theatres’ advent calendars for many years to come.

For this, we have to thank writer and director Debbie Isitt. She did the same jobs on the Nativity films but, before she went into moviemaking, she was a renowned theatre writer and director. And it shows. Ms Isitt knows what works on stage.

So she has taken all the elements that made her film such a hit: the story of the disadvantaged schoolchildren attempting to put on a five star nativity show against all the odds, the memorable characters, the upbeat songs like Sparkle And Shine and Nazareth. Then she’s added many more songs (co-written with Nicky Ager) and some scenes that are pure theatre, such as a satirical number about Hollywood and the nativity show itself,  and turned it all into perfect theatrical entertainment.

You smile all the way through and come out beaming like a red nosed reindeer.

Debbie Isitt knows how to create a hit

This touring production, which I saw at Leeds Grand Theatre, is also blessed with an excellent cast. Simon Lipkin is very funny as the wildly enthusiastic man-child Mr Poppy. Daniel Boys as Mr Maddens finds the same combination of inner sadness, quiet determination and basic niceness that Martin Freeman found before him.

And the children, on whom the show stands or falls, are disciplined, well rehearsed and a total delight- the icing on the Christmas cake.

A bit of sentimental light entertainment is just what you need in the deep midwinter but there’s more to Nativity! The Musical than that. It has something to say about the importance of inspirational teachers, it captures the spirit of Christmas and it’s faultless theatre. Only a Scrooge wouldn’t love it.

Nativity! The Musical is performing at the Eventim Apollo London for Christmas 2018. In autumn 2019, the production will visit Wolverhampton Grand, Aylesbury Waterside, Canterbury Marlowe, Wales Millennium, Theatre Royal Plymouth & Southampton Mayflower. 

Here’s my YouTube review-

Amadeus at National Theatre – Review

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Bold & Ambitious Production of Peter Shaffer’s Play

Click here for my review on YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Adam Gillen & Lucian Msamati in Amadeus at National Theatre
Adam Gillen & Lucian Msamati in Amadeus at National Theatre Photo: Marc Brenner

National Theatre designers abhor a vacuum. Faced with the big space of the Olivier and Lyttleton auditoria, they feel the need to fill them with sets that dominate and slow down the plays.

Not so Amadeus. The stage is filled, but with people, mainly an orchestra. So Mozart‘s sublime works literally take centre stage, not to mention Simon Slater‘s wonderful additional music with its jangling jarring sounds conveying the states of mind of the two protagonists.

Chloe Langford keeps the sets simple and nothing distracts- appropriately a simple piano dominates every scene.

Brilliant acting by Lucian Msamati & Adam Gillen

The two central roles of Salieri and Mozart are acted brilliantly. Lucian Msamati is the wily member of the establishment. You can feel his anguish at understanding the greatness of Mozart’s music while being denied the talent to match it. You understand why he wants to bring his rival down.

It’s a difficult trick to pull off but Adam Gillen communicates the great composer’s annoying child-like innocence while still exuding the power of his genius.

There is so much in Peter Shaffer‘s play that a revival is more than merited: the frustration of recognising great art but being unable to create it oneself; the ease with which a cynical dissembler can destroy a naive open person; that Man tests God’s achievement rather than the other way round; that immortality can be obtained through evil or through association with the immortal; and much much more. All of which is brought out vividly in this bold production directed by Michael Longhurst.

Amadeus returns to the National Theatre  from 11 January to  24 April 2018.

This review, originally written on 21 February 2017, was revised on 19 January 2018. A version has appeared on the Southampton Daily Echo website.