Sweat at The Gielgud – review

Sweat- an important visceral play by Lynn Nottage.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

There is so much I could say about this play but I want to concentrate on the central story which concerns the deindustrialisation that happened in the US in the early 21st century. It’s something we in the UK are only too familiar with.  Our government, like many others, moved the economy away from manufacturing, letting those jobs go to China, Mexico and other developing countries where labour was cheap.

Production shot of Leanne Best, Martha Plimpton and Clare Perkins in the Donmar production of Sweat at the Gielgud Theatre
Leanne Best, Martha Plimpton and Clare Perkins in Sweat. Photo: Johan Persson

In Sweat the action takes place in 2000 in Reading, Pennsylvania and is based on true events surrounding factory closures. Lynn Nottage has created complex believable characters and we see at first hand their sense of ­betrayal,  loss and anger. They feel betrayed because generations had worked at the factory and displayed what they saw as loyalty. They lose their way of life and their sense of worth.

In a succession of scenes, the main characters meet up in a bar that looks as industrial as a factory. In particular we meet two good friends Tracey and Cynthia. At first all is well but we can see the seeds of what will happen. Unlike Tracey and her son Jason (Patrick Gibson) who see working on the line as their lives, Cynthia and her boy Chris (Osy Ikhile) aspire to get away from the grind of the factory floor. Chris plans to go to college, Cynthia would like to move into management.

Both women apply for a supervisor vacancy, Tracey just for the hell of it but Cynthia because she really wants it.  When the more suitable Cynthia gets it, Tracey who’s white puts it about that Cynthia only got the job because she’s black- in other words, because of positive discrimination. Racism, it seems, is just waiting below the surface like sewer beneath a road. When the factory threatens jobs, the division between old friends just gets worse as does prejudice against any ethnic minority.

Martha Plimpton in Sweat. Photo: Johan Persson

Tracey is repulsive. She’s undoubtedly the life and soul of the party but she’s also ignorant and blindly prejudiced. And very aggressive- Mike Tyson would hesitate to pick a fight with her. It’s a layered character brilliantly conveyed by Martha Plimpton. You are appalled by her but you know enough about her to recognise her as a fellow human and to realise her biggest problem is a lack of education, which leads to her inability to see the bigger picture, and her failure to see that her interest lies in unity not division.

Clare Perkins in Sweat. Photo: Johan Persson

When we go forward eight years, we see the long lasting devastating effects of job loss on individuals when a whole community becomes poor. Frankie Bradshaw’s set now represents the isolation of homes rather than the community of the bar. Clare Perkins breaks your heart as Cynthia who dreamed of improving her life and ends up used, abused and struggling to survive.

There is a shocking act of violence involving Jason and Chris that stems from the threatened factory closure. Perhaps Jason was always likely to resort to violence when under pressure but it is easy to see what happens as a metaphor for the blows against the establishment struck by working class people voting for Trump or Brexit.

Lynette Linton‘s direction is tight and the characters express themselves as physically as they do verbally. While the production might not be as visceral as it must have been in the cockpit of its original venue The Donmar, Sweat remains a harrowing, important experience. It brings home the shocking reality of the effect of deindustrialisation on people and communities.  It also gives us an insight into why we are seeing such a rise in racism and populism.

Sweat can be seen at the Gielgud Theatre until 20 July 2019. Click here for information and tickets

Click here to watch watch the review on YouTube

Rutherford And Son – National Theatre – review

Roger Allam shines in dull play


2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Production photo of Roger Allam in Rutherford And Son at the National Theatre London
Roger Allam in Rutherford And Son. Photo: Johan Persson

Much is being made by the National Theatre of how this play and its author Githa Sowerby are not that well known and that if she had been a man, it would have been a different story. She would have stood alongside Bernard Shaw or even Ibsen in whose footsteps she followed with this realist drama of ideas. Well, I would have to say, on the strength of this production, there’s another reason that this play is not well known and that is that it ‘s dull. Worthy but dull.

Before I go into detail, let me say that the acting is excellent. Roger Allam dominates as an actor much the same as his character dominates. It’s a powerful performance as the bullying father who is more committed to his family glassmaking business than to his family. His beard deserves a star dressing room of its own. It says to all the other characters, I can grow bigger thicker beard than any of you. 

Admittedly I saw a preview, so it may get better. Maybe it’s Polly Findlay’s heavy handed production that doesn’t do Sowerby’s work justice. I’ve no doubt part of the problem is the perennial one of the size of the Lyttelton stage. This is an intimate family drama intended for a stage the size of a drawing room, not one made for spectacle. I’ve seen The Cherry Orchard chopped down by this auditorium so Rutherford And Son is in good company.

Even so, I was not convinced that this play has aged well since its premiere in 1912. The story tells how Rutherford’s grown up children rebel against the repressive businessman. It was revolutionary in its time for its depiction of women as people who could think for themselves and lead lives of their own, not to mention its exposé of the patriarchy, class prejudice and the evils of capitalism.

Well, I’m all for exposing the patriarchy but I found the outcome of their family quarrels too predictable, mainly because nearly all the characters were caricatures of weak men. They just bounced off Rutherford who was the polar opposite, powerful and with depth.

Production photo of Roger Allam & Anjana Vasan in Rutherford And Son
Roger Allam & Anjana Vasan in Rutherford And Son. Photo: Johan Persson

The women were stronger and their engagement with Rutherford more interesting. Anjana Vasan is  the working class daughter-in-law Mary, who realises she needs to be as ruthless as Rutherford. Justine Mitchell is the put-upon daughter who learns she can’t rely on men.

The characters may be weak but, as I said, the cast is strong. It includes Joe Armstrong as the blindly loyal worker Martin and Sam Troughton as Rutherford’s ineffectual, overwrought son John who has been alienated from the business.

Lizzie Clachan‘s set is naturalistic and full of detail as befits a realist drama. It suggests the draughty, high maintenance nature of homes in those days and the bleakness of life with Rutherford.

I recommend that if you want to experience a strong female character and a critique of society in the genre of realist drama, you give this a miss and go across the river to see the wonderful production of Ibsen’s Rosmerholm at the Duke Of York’s.

Note: More about Roger Allam’s performance added on 6 June 2019. YouTube review re-recorded with better sound quality on 13 June 2019.

Rutherford And Son can be seen at the National Theatre until 3 August 2019

Click here to watch the review of Rutherford And Son on YouTube

Rosmersholm with Hayley Atwell & Tom Burke – review

Avengers star Hayley Atwell is forceful co-star with Tom Burke  


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Production photo of hayley at well in Rosmersholm at Duke Of York's theatre in London May 2019
Hayley Atwell in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson

Rosmersholm is about wanting to pursue passion and change but being held back by the past – the political system, religion, inhertitance.

At the beginning, everything is covered in dustsheets in this stately home- Rosmersholm. The walls show signs of flood damage at the lower levels. It’s murky. Until Hayley Atwell playing Rebecca West starts pulling the sheets off and letting the light in.

It’s a year since Rosmer’s wife committed suicide in the lake and clogged up the millwheel, thus causing a flood.

Production shot of Rosmersholm at the duke Of York's theatre in London
Photo: Johan Persson

Her death raised questions, the main one being why did she do it? Rosmer is weighed down by his past. Not only the recent tragic event of his wife’s death but his whole inheritance. The high walls of Rae Smith’s brilliant set are covered in paintings of his ancestors staring down. He is expected to keep the line going.

Production shot of Giles Terera in Rosmersholm at the Duke Of York's Theatre in London
Giles Terera in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson

We are on the eve of an election and people are looking for a lead from Rosmer. But his disillusionment with the political system, where everyone is in it for themselves is profound. He renounces his traditional party- the conservatives, whose representative is superbly conveyed by Giles Terera as the likeable but ruthless Kroll who views women and the working class with contempt. So it seems Rosmer should back the radicals but both sides take against him. Both own newspapers that lie about him. You see there are many modern parallels.

Production shot of tom Burke in Rosmersholm at Duke Of York's Theatre in London
Tom Burke in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson

Mildly spoken Tom Burke as Rosmer pefectly conveys the uncertainty that alternates with his passion for Rebecca.

Good as Mr Burke is, the evening belongs to Hayley Atwell as Rebecca. She is the force of change and she is a force on the stage. Her performance is bravura but always believable. However even Rebecca is dragged down by the past.

This is an excellent cast. Lucy Briers is the housekeeper, representing the dour working class, still mired in superstition and believing what she reads in the papers. Jake Fairbrother is the radical newspaper editor, previously driven out of the town by holier-than-thou outrage, led by Rosmer, who is now the victim of the same high mindedness himself. Peter Wight is the faded leftwing revolutionary who is violently rejected by the workers he wishes to empower.

Nothing in Ibsen is straightforward and, as in his earlier An Enemy Of The People and The Wild Duck, naively believing that all you need is truth is a sure recipe for disaster. 

Ultimately the politics gives way to the personal. Hope and heartbreak mark the love between John Rosmer and Rebecca West and, as this is Ibsen, a happy ending never seems on the cards. There are many questions and no easy answers in this masterpiece but there is much to thrill to as emotions once constrained begin to burst free.

Ibsen is famous for his revolutionary realism and Ian Rickson’s production and Duncan MacMillan’s adaptation triumph in making the characters in this 130 year old play seem totally real.

Also realistic are the set design by Rae Smith and lighting by Neil Austin which emphasise the claustrophobic setting and changing moods. Rae Smith‘s final contribution (which I won’t reveal), as the curtain metaphorically is about to come down, is a coup de théâtre that underlines what has happened and gives final proof of how much the design is another actor in this terrific production.

Finally a quick word of praise for producer Sonia Friedman. Again she has brought a play to the West End that might have been expected to stay in the domain of subsidised venues and, although she has used star names from film and TV, the stars are stage actors of the highest calibre. Commercial producers often look for safe, audience pleasers but Ms Friedman stretches and challenges her audience and, on this occasion, has rewarded them with an evening of extraordinary theatre.
Click here to watch the review on YouTube

SPOILER ALERT! This is a complaint about the publicity material. Rosmersholm is one of Ibsen’s least produced plays (although this may change after this powerful production), so audiences are unlikely to know how it ends. However, having seen the picture on the posters and adverts, they are likely to have a good idea as the play progresses.

Maggie Smith in A German Life – review

Downton Abbey star in clever one woman play by Christopher Hampton


4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Production shot of Maggie Smith in A German Life at The Bridge Theatre
Maggie Smith in A German Life at The Bridge Theatre. Photo: Helen Maybanks

The set comprises a small living room with an old lady sitting on a chair alone on a thrust stage talking to the audience. She never stands up. For 100 minutes we listen, I mean really listen.

The lady is Maggie Smith playing a real person called Brunhilde Pomsel who among other things was secretary to the monstrous Josef Goebbels, a top Nazi during World War Two. Apart from the light around her getting darker and focusing increasingly on this slight figure, Jonathan Kent’s production and Anna Fleischle‘s design are restrained, by which I mean, as gimmick-free as they can be.

The play is based on interviews Frau Pomsel gave in her old age. They may have been intended to show how ordinary Germans behaved during Nazi rule and pose the question, would you have behaved any differently: ‘I had no idea what was going on. Or very little. No more than most people.’ However Christopher Hampton’s play is much more nuanced.

A German Life is partly about the false memory of old age but also the deliberate rewriting of one’s history. And Hampton is brilliant at giving clues as to what the truth might be but leaving you to make your own mind up.

This woman says she was brought up to obey but she got her first job by going off to Berlin on her own initiative. She says she was quite distanced from the womanising Goebbels yet she describes with excitement how she sat next to him at a dinner in his house when his wife was away.

Production shot of Maggie smith in A German Life art the Bridge Theatre in London
Maggie Smith. Photo: Helen Maybanks

She clearly didn’t subscribe to the Nazi ideology- for example, she had nothing against jews, she had jewish friends and employers. In that sense she is only guilty of acquiescence, of not doing anything, like many ‘ordinary’ people. But she was not in an ordinary situation- and we are bound to question her claims that she was unaware of what was going on, when she was one of the people in Goebbels’ office.

So how does Maggie Smith do at conveying this? The answer is, in the main,  she plays Pomsel as a doddery old lady. Personally, I found the hesitations and repetitions grated a little but perhaps they were meant to. It’s as if Pomsel is acting, deliberately portraying herself in this way to emphasise how harmless and how naive she was. She fiddles with her glasses, puts her hands to her face. Then every so often, emotion, usually in the form of pride, causes her mask to slip: her face lights up with a vivid memory, her voice gains a steely confidence and her glasses stab the air. 

I accept that a portrayal of a normal person isn’t going to lead to a barnstorming performance but I have to say I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I expected to be. I think the problem was that this was an intimate play and, although I could hear her familiar nasal voice perfectly well at the back of the stalls, I could not see her piercing eyes and facial expressions.

This may have been a performance for people sitting in the first ten rows but it takes a great actor and a great play to hold an audience for an hour and 40 minutes.

A German Life continues at the Bridge Theatre until 11 May 2019

Watch the review of A German Life on YouTube

Anne-Marie Duff in Sweet Charity – Donmar – Review

Anne-Marie Duff adds Wow Factor to excellent production of Sweet Charity

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Sweet Charity with book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

This would be an excellent production with any musical star but Anne-Marie Duff adds a wow factor. She may not be as good a singer or dancer as those who’ve made a career out of musicals but she can sing and she can dance and she brings to the part all the emotional depth of a great actor. You feel her pain and you feel her ecstasy, and her pick-yourself-up-and-try-again smile is infectious.

Production shot of Anne-Marie Duff in Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo by Johan Persson
Anne-Marie Duff in Sweet Charity. Photo: Johan Persson

Charity is a taxi dancer in the 1960s. If you don’t know what that is (and I didn’t), it’s someone who works in a club where punters can hire them for a dance, and sometimes more. Charity believes in love. Despite being conned and let down many times, she remains an optimist and keeps looking for love. When things go wrong, she simply changes reality to suit her romantic view of love.

Ironically, despite being no virgin, she remains an innocent, which is the essence of her vulnerability but it’s also her strength. You could simply dismiss her as a naive fool, instead her way of seeing the best in people and not losing hope is inspirational. We want her to find love, even though we fear she won’t.

Anne-Marie Duff is perfect for the part. Her song-and-dance rendering of If My Friends Could See Me Now complete with a routine with a top hat and cane perfectly conveys Charity’s child-like unaffectedness. And her I’m A Brass Band is a joyous expression of what it feels like to be in love.

Production shot of Anne-MarieDuff and Arthur Darrell in Sweet Charity at The Donmar Wrehouse in London. Photo: Johan Persson
Anne-MarieDuff (left) and Arthur Darrell in Sweet Charity. Photo: Johan Persson

But it’s not a one woman show.

Arthur Darvill as Charity’s shy insecure boyfriend and Martin Marquez as a charming and charmed (by Charity) film star are both superb. Most of all there are the women who make up the rest of the taxi dancers. Their performance and reprise of Big Spender are astonishing. In the intimate setting of the Donmar where the audience is only four rows deep, these women saying ‘Let me show you a good time?’ is very personal.

Production shot of Charlotte Jaconelli and the ensemble in Sweet Charity at The Donmar in London. Photo by Johan Persson
Charlotte Jaconelli and the ensemble in Sweet Charity. Photo: Johan Persson

The stunning choreography by Wayne McGregor, paying homage to the original work by Bob Fosse, evokes Cabaret and Chicago. Robert Jones’ set, a simple open stage with silvery props and furniture inspired by Andy Warhol’s 1960s Silver Factory, suggests Charity’s bright optimism in a harsh world.

What a way for director Josie Rourke to bow out as Artistic Director of the Donmar.

Sweet Charity can be seen at the Donmar until 8 June 2019

Here’s the link to the YouTube review of Sweet Charity

Review revised on 18 April to add further description of design.

All About Eve starring Gillian Anderson & Lily James

All About Eve directed by Ivo Van Hove at the Noel Coward Theatre London

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Watch the YouTube review of All About Eve here

You may well know the story. After all, the film All About Eve is a classic. Scripted by Joseph L Mankiewicz, it tells of a young would-be actor who ingratiates herself into the inner circle of an ageing stage star in order to further her career. If you’re not familiar with the story, be ready for surprises and twists.

Production shot of Lily James & Gillian Anderson in All About Eve directed by ivo van Hove at Noel Coward theatre London
Lily James & Gillian Anderson in All about Eve. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

The first thing to say is the two leads are mesmerising. It’s worth the ticket price just for their performances. Gillian Anderson as the established and talented Margo Channing conveys the insecurity behind her diva facade that eventually brings out awful behaviour. Lily James as Eve turns on a penny from disingenuous devotion to cold eyed viciousness.


At which theatre can I see All About Eve?

Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0JP until 11 May 2019. Booking line: 0844 871 7629    Website: https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/phoenix-theatre

Who directed All About Eve?

Ivo Van Hove

Who stars in All About Eve?

Gillian Anderson and Lily James


Add to that, a performance of great subtlety from Monica Dolan as Margo’s kindly but naïve friend Karen. Her hysterical laughter during a dinner is hilarious.

Also outstanding in a great cast are Julian Ovenden as Margo’s egocentric but loving partner Bill, Sheila Reid as Margo’s devoted but worldly wise Birdie and Stanley Townsend as the monstrous power-abusing critic Addison DeWitt.

Production shot of Julian Ovenden and Gillian Anderson in All About Eve directed by Ivo Van Hove at Noel Coward Theatre London
Julian Ovenden & Gillian Anderson in All About Eve. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

The production cleverly puts Margo dead centre, because, although the title is All About Eve, the play is much more about Margo, her coming to terms with getting older, her considering her position as a woman in society, and her fears about losing her younger partner. So Margo herself, the great star, is the centre of attention. Anything that happens that doesn’t involve her nearly always takes place off or to the side of the stage.

In this respect the set by Jan Versweyveld does a great job. Her room is the main set and her dressing table is right in the middle. Beyond the main set, we can see the backstage and wings.  Above there are giant video screens that convey live what is happening in these areas.  

Production shot of Sheila Reid, Gillian Anderson and Monica Dolan in All About Eve directed by Ivo Van Hove at Noel Coward Theatre London
Sheila Reid, Gillian Anderson & Monica Dolan in All About Eve. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

I didn’t like so much was seeing close ups of the people off stage. For me, the joy of theatre is its human scale. I saw no reason why these scenes shown on the screens shouldn’t be acted on the stage, maybe off centre.

There are occasions when the screens add to our understanding. There’s a camera in the mirror so we can see her face with all its middle aged details that the theatre audience can’t see. And there’s a great moment when the reflection of her face ages before our eyes.

A View From The Bridge at Young Vic was one of the best nights of pure theatre I’ve ever had, so I will always think of Ivo Van Hove as a great theatre director but sadly I have to say that, if he likes big screens so much, it’s time he went to Hollywood.

All About Eve is performing at the Noel Coward theatre until 11 May 2019

Come from Away – Phoenix Theatre – review

Come From Away, a musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein at the Phoenix Theatre in London

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

9/11 was a tragic event carried out by evil people.  The musical  Come From Away is a kind of antidote, reminding us that most people are basically good and generous.

Production shot of Come From Away
The cast in Come From Away

I’d forgotten but, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, US air space was closed which meant hundreds of planes were diverted. 35 of them with 7000 people on board ended up in a small Canadian community of Gander, doubling the population. The locals could have been hostile to these unexpected immigrants. Instead they welcomed and looked after them.

In this musical, we meet a diverse number of characters, locals, passengers and crew telling us their story. We get a sense of the panic and fears of the time and we zone in on some of the individuals’ stories and how they are changed by the experience.

It is not all sugar-coated. There is some anti-Muslim behaviour and inevitably some tragedy but the overriding message is one of hope.

I was impressed by the use of an almost bare stage in David Ashley‘s production. A few chairs and tables become a plane, a bus, a café and a community hall. It puts the burden on the cast to create the scenes in our imagination but this is a talented cast who also take on many parts. This is theatre and acting at its purest.

Production shot of Rachel Tucker and other members of the cast in Come From Away the musical at the Phoenix Theatre in London
Rachel Tucker in Come From Away

The players are all really good but I’m going to be unfair and pick out Rachel Tucker as the pilot who loves flying but has to take charge on the ground, Clive Carter as the welcoming Mayor and Cat Simmons as Hannah worried about her firefighter son.

There are a few too many characters to focus sufficiently on individual stories. There could also be more light and shade or, to be more precise, more shade. There are funny moments and there’s a love story but I would have liked to dwell a little more on the moments of sadness.

However the pace is tremendously fast and you really don’t have time to think about that. And the ending which is akin to a hoedown is hugely entertaining and uplifting.

This musical quite possibly paints too rosy a picture but I think, right now, we should treasure this positive view of humanity.

Come From Away is performing at the Phoenix Theatre London until 14 September 2019

Caroline, Or Change – Playhouse Theatre – review

Tony Kushner & Jeanine Tesori’s great musical

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Click here to watch my video review of Caroline, Or Change on One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube channel

Production shot of Lauren Ward & Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, Or Change
Lauren Ward & Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, Or Change. Photo: Helen Maybanks

I managed to miss Caroline, Or Change when it was launched at Chichester, and again when it moved to Hampstead Theatre. Now that it’s transferred to the West End, I wasn’t going to miss it again. So how did I find it when I finally caught up?

Well, I was a little disappointed but not by the musical which is great. I’ll explain my disappointment later. First the good news.

Tony Kushner’s lyrics are poetic and witty and punchy. Jeanine Tesori’s music goes straight to your heart. Whether it’s to make you happy, sad, worried or hopeful, Tesori is masterful. She composes in a range of appropriate styles- Motown, spirituals, klezmer. And it’s sung through, which means it’s a non-stop ride of emotion.

Then there’s the magnificent Sharon D Clarke, with her deep strong voice. You feel her pain and her rage. Her solid presence is so appropriate for the character who is at the centre of what happens.

Sharon D Clarke isn’t the only great singer/actor. Abiona Omonua as her daughter and Lauren Ward as the mistress of the house are both particularly impressive in a superb cast.

Sharon D Clarke & Abiona Omonua in Caroline, Or Change
Sharon D Clarke & Abiona Omonua in Caroline, Or Change. Photo: Helen Maybanks

Caroline, Or Change is set in late 1963, in the South of the USA, at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy. It’s a hundred years since the Civil War ended slavery yet black people are still subject to segregation and discrimination. A new generation is rebelling. Caroline represents the pivot point between the past and the future- not content with the situation but not a revolutionary either. As one of the songs says, ‘change come fast, change come slow but change is coming Caroline Thibodeaux’.

Caroline is a maid, trapped and worn down by her job. The story, though serious, is told in a quirky way. The domestic appliances talk to Caroline, as though she identifies with them. Michael Longhurst’s direction and Fly Davis’ design are wonderfully imaginative.

To add extra interest, her employers are not predictable white racist Southerners. They are a liberal Jewish family for whom the holocaust is fresh in the memory.

In this musical pain is personal as well as communal. The husband and son are grieving for a dead wife and mother, and the boy won’t accept the new wife (symbolised by a divided set), which is why he latches on to Caroline. She is in pain because her husband has gone. There’s a lot of feeling building up and ready to burst, both in the household and in society at large.

The word ‘change’ has a double meaning because Caroline is allowed to keep the change she finds in clothes when she’s doing the washing. She is humiliated both by the fact that she really needs what is loose change to her employers and by the condescending way in which she is being given it. This humiliation lights a fuse that burns until it sets off an explosion of feeling in the second act.

Caroline, Or Change offers a microcosm of a society in flux. It acknowledges that racism runs deep in society, among all ethnic groups, but it’s ultimately a story of hope. As Caroline puts it, in the stand-out song Lot’s Wife: ‘Don’t let my sorrow make evil of me.’

For all that’s good about it, I wish I’d seen Caroline, Or Change in the smaller spaces of Chichester or Hampstead. The Playhouse doesn’t show the musical at its best because the large traditional proscenium arch stage of distances the emotions displayed in this intimate family drama with its low key incidents. Having said that, so many elements work that this is a show not to be missed.

Caroline, Or Change was performed at The Playhouse Theatre in London until 2 March 2019. 

Click play to watch Caroline, Or Change reviewed on One Minute Theatre Reviews 

The Cane – Royal Court – with Nicola Walker

Magnificent cast featuring Nicola Walker, Maggie Steed and Alun Armstrong

Click here to watch the review on YouTube

Production shot of Alun Armstrong and Nicola Walker in The Cane at Royal Court Theatre
Alun Armstrong and Nicola Walker in The Cane at Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

A much loved teacher is about retire but his home is under siege by children from his school. His estranged daughter comes to visit her parents. His regular use of the cane many years earlier has sparked the protest but when we discover that his school has been declared to be failing by Ofsted, it seems the protest may be more against the old ways of doing things- the patriarchial society in which men dominated through the use of violence.

I’m not sure how much I believed the set up or the ending but Mark Ravenhill has written a powerful script. It not only creates a tense atmosphere and powerful dialogue as the characters prowl round each other and take vicious swipes, it also provokes a lot of thought. It’s a tribute to it that the more you think about it, the more complex it seems.

Although this play is primarily an attack on the patriarchy, its strength is that it also asks questions about why people behave the way they do and whether today’s institutions and the people embracing them- in this case Academies and Ofsted- have more similarities than differences.

Production photo of Maggie Steed and Nicola Walker in The Cane at Royal Court Theatre
Maggie Steed and Nicola Walker in The Cane at Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Because, although the play is primarily about this teacher, it is also about any of us who work for or deal with institutions. The daughter is heavily involved in academies and describes an almost zombie like atmosphere of pupils facing front and silence in the corridors that is supposedly because the pupil comes first but actually sounds like the way the people come first in the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea

She talks about the way schools must conform to Ofsted’s way of looking at things and use their language. She has a rigid belief in her institution as much as her father believes in his.

Powerful script by Mark Ravenhill superbly directed by Vicky Featherstone

We gain insights into why the father, inheriting a culture of violence, continued it because it was his duty. This sounds very like the ‘I was only obeying orders’ excuses of Nazi concentration camp soldiers. It’s clear he liked exercising the power. But his daughter is no angel. In fact, in many ways the play is about her because the older generation are on the way out. The question becomes, does the present generation with its controls and testing, have its own kind of cane and its own closed mindedness.

She is manipulative and coercive in trying to get her own way. She doesn’t want reconciliation, she wants revenge. We begin to suspect she has orchestrated the protest. We see her too flaring into violent language and acts of violence, not dissimilar to her father.

Production shot of Nicola Walker in The Cane at Royal Court
Nicola Walker in The Cane at Royal Court. Photo: Johan Persson

The action takes place in a sitting room, designed by Chloe Langford, that is almost bare of furniture and decoration, so it feels like a cage or a boxing ring. The protagonists are trapped there and nothing distracts from what the they say and do in Vicky Featherstone‘s brilliant production.

All three actors give subtle, nuanced performances. Maggie Steed as the oppressed, bullied, proudly loyal wife but also nasty when cornered.  Alun Armstrong with calm reasonableness, red faced anger and underlying weakness all somehow present whichever was being displayed at the time. And Nicola Walker so natural in the way she talks and moves, so incredibly still when she was observing the others, making her reasonable character’s unreasonable behaviour deeply disturbing.

At the end, the play is pulled back to look at the sins of the now ageing patriarchal generation but such is the intelligence of this fine play you question your own values.

The Cane continues at Royal Court Theatre London until 26 January 2019

Watch the YouTube review of The Cane starring Nicola Walker on the One Minute Theatre Reviews channel below

A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic – review

Stephen Tompkinson’s Scrooge is pitch perfect

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Click here to watch the review on YouTube

Production shot of Stephen Tompkinson as Scrooge and Michael Rouse as marley in A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic London
Stephen Tompkinson as Scrooge and Michael rouse as marley in A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan

As you’d expect from writer Jack Thorne, who wrote Harry Potter And The Cursed Child and director Matthew Warchus who directed Matilda The Musical), their adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is both magical and totally theatrical. In fact, it could only be performed in a theatre.

From the moment you walk in to the Old Vic auditorium, you are immersed in the atmospheric production, designed by Rob Howell. Members of the cast wander around offering clementines and mince pies (courtesy of Waitrose- that’s what I call sponsorship). The ceiling is filled with glowing lanterns that shine more and less brightly in synch with the narrative and that’s only one of many bewitching lighting effects designed by Hugh Vanstone.

The stage has been placed in the centre with seating all around and on stage. So characters appear from all directions and even in the circle.

Simon Baker‘s sound is all around too but particularly noticeable when it comes in a sinister crescendo from under the stage in supernatural moments, so loud that you vibrate in your seat.

A perfect Christmas entertainment

It’s a terrific idea to intersperse the performance with Christmas carols, accompanied by bell ringing, because they are about redemption and hope, just as the story is. This production certainly is, in the way Jack Thorne tells it and Stephen Tompkinson acts it.

Stephen Tompkinson in A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic London
Stephen Tompkinson in A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The story may be entirely familiar- the book has been around 175 years and there have been countless adaptations including one by The Muppets- but this production makes it feel as fresh as Waitrose mince pie.

Stephen Tompkinson‘s subtle Scrooge, unpleasant and misanthropic as he may be, retains a humanity that gives us hope that he can change. He has taken a wrong path and Jack Thorne’s script explores the reasons for this, primarily trying to avoid becoming like his cold, debt-ridden father. The father and Marley are both played by an excellent Michael Rouse.

We also see that Scrooge was capable of love, for his sister and for his first employer’s daughter Belle (a delightful performance from Francis MacNamee). We also see through the eyes of people like his nephew Fred (Eugene McCoy) and his employee Bob Cratchit (Peter Caulfield) who believe he has a good heart despite his treatment of them.

A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic
A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The ghosts are terrific. First Marley in his chains, then Past, Present and Future (all played by women) who are both spooky and funny as they show Scrooge the effect of his life on others. The mortality of Tiny Tim is key to his conversion. The part is played by four different actors during the run. I saw Lenny Rush who was very moving in the role.

When Scrooge finally realises that he has wasted his life and ruined that of others by becoming obsessed with making money and by ignoring the effect of his business on others, the liberation is joyous. You can feel the weight lifting from Stephen Tompkinson’s shoulders as he sees the possibilities in helping others.

Food pours onto the stage, there is dancing, more singing and bell ringing, even snow. It is glorious and I, for one, didn’t want it to end. The Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol is perfect Christmas entertainment.

A Christmas Carol starring Stephen Tompkinson is performing at The Old Vic until 19 January 2019

Watch below the review of A Christmas Carol on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews