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

The Messiah starring Hugh Dennis – review

Patrick Barlow’s The Messiah is heavenly 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Click here to watch The Messiah reviewed on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production shot of Hugh Dennis and John Marquez in The Messiah, directed by Patrick Barlow
Hugh Dennis and John Marquez in The Messiah

I wouldn’t say The Messiah, written and directed by Patrick Barlow, does justice to the nativity story but it certainly provides great Christmas entertainment.

It’s a tale of hubris as two fallible human beings with very few resources attempt to tell an epic story, stoically ploughing on when things go wrong. Both are aware of the other’s inadequacies but not their own, which leads to much verbal and physical humour.

Hugh Dennis is wonderful as the pompous, egocentric, bullying Maurice whose lack of skills in English or drama has not prevented him writing and directing this story of the birth of Jesus.

John Marquez is exceptionally funny as his put-upon fellow actor Ronald who is so absorbed in his part that he is oblivious to not only of his lack of skill but also whatever else might be going on. His clowning and timing are in the tradition of Norman Wisdom or Eric Morecambe.

John Marquez and Hugh Dennis are comedy gold

Typical is the moment when Ronald was playing the Virgin Mary and got so into his role as a nine month pregnant woman that he went off script to berate Joseph, played by Maurice, for leaving her on her own. And the confusion between a handle you hold and Handel the composer was comedy gold.

It must be the most challenging of roles for an actor to play an actor who can’t act but when it’s done as well as this, the reward is an evening of constant laughter.

You have to admire these characters’ determination to create something meaningful despite their limited talent and resources – yes I know you’re thinking a bit like a YouTube blogger but actually like all humans. As the performance reaches an inevitable crisis, there also comes a recognition- appropriate to the time of year- that love is the greatest gift they and we possess.

Production shot of John Marquez, Hugh Dennis & Lesley Garrett in The Messiah by Patrick Barlow
John Marquez, Hugh Dennis & Lesley Garrett in The Messiah

The third member of the cast is a singer who provides appropriate songs at various points. It was a bonus to see and hear the great  in this role although I would have liked to see her more integrated into the comedy.

For me, The Messiah stands alongside Nativity! as one of the funniest, most uplifting Christmas entertainments I’ve seen.

I saw the last performance of The Messiah at Richmond Theatre prior to its Christmas run at The Other Palace in London which ended on 5 January 2019

Watch The Messiah reviewed on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

A Very Very Very Dark Matter starring Jim Broadbent – Bridge Theatre

Jim Broadbent excels in Martin Mcdonagh’s latest black comedy 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Production shot of Jim Broadbent in Martin McDonagh's A Very Very Very Dark Matter at Bridge Theatre London
Jim Broadbent in Martin McDonagh’s A Very Very Very Dark Matter

A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Martin McDonagh‘s latest black comedy, is very very very dark and also very very very funny.

The lead character is the Danish fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen is portrayed as an egocentric idiot. It is clear from the start that the true writer of his terrifying tales is a woman from the Congo whom he keeps in a cage and calls Marjory.

Click here to watch the YouTube review

Hans loves the public’s adulation but at a public reading of The Little Mermaid he can’t even pronounce the word ‘ether’. Behind the perfect avuncular face is a very unpleasant man totally lacking in self awareness. Jim Broadbent gives us a comic tour de force.

Production photo of Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles in A Very Very Very Dark Matter at Bridge Theatre London
Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles in A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Marjory is far more intelligent, erudite and sensitive than him. Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles, making her professional theatre debut, has a quiet authority that complements Jim Broadbent’s jolly but insecure sadist. She has travelled back in time in an effort to prevent a massacre in which the Belgian colonialists murdered 10 million of her people.

A macabre, bizarre, exhilarating ride

She has seen humanity’s heart of darkness (which incidentally is what Joseph Conrad called his novel about colonialists in the Congo) and it comes out in her fairy tales. Hans wishes she could provide happier endings but doesn’t interfere, except to censor her title The Little Black Mermaid which to him is an oxymoron.

At least one theme of the play is nineteenth century Europeans’ attitude to their colonies, which they saw as resources to be exploited to enrich the West. The title A Very Very Very Dark Matter may not only refer to the dark content of the play but also to dark matter itself which scientists believe makes up 80% of the universe but is invisible even though the 20% we can see can’t exist without it, in the way that the third world’s resources made the western world’s success possible.

Hans, as what he calls her ‘looky aftery’ person, represents European exploiters of the colonies. He has no concept of his cruelty, even though he has cut off one of her feet!  Even his efforts to be kind or provide an upbeat ending are naïve at best, ignorant at worst.

A Jeeves & Wooster for our times

Together Marjorie and Hans are a Jeeves and Wooster for our times. And this pair are as funny as Wodehouse’s servant and master, albeit less actual fun, given our modern awareness of the evil way in which human beings have behaved toward each other.

There are many hilarious moments, perhaps the best of which is when Hans visits Charles Dickens or Charles Darwin as he insists on calling him. He suspects that Dickens too has a ghost writer from the Congo. Andersen can’t comprehend even the most explicit insults directed at him- and the language is both modern and coarse (‘You’re shitting me’ is one of the milder phrases).

Phil Daniels, Elizabeth Berrington & Jim Broadbent in A Very Very Very Dark Matter
Phil Daniels, Elizabeth Berrington & Jim Broadbent in A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Mr and Mrs Dickens, wonderfully played by Phil Daniels and Elizabeth Berrington, exhibit a shocking but significant contempt for their children- they don’t even know their names- and there’s even time for a joke about a skeleton that is both metaphorically and literally in a cupboard.

Anna Fleischle’s set is a superb attic full of dark corners and hanging puppets, very like a scene from one of Andersen’s sinister fairy tales.

If there is a fault, it’s that A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a bit light on plot. I would have liked to have been more excited about the fate of Marjory and about whether Hans learns from his experience. Or simply a few more twists. Otherwise I can’t praise the comedy or Matthew Dunster‘s production enough

A Very Very Very Dark Matter can be seen at Bridge Theatre until 6 January 2019

Watch below for the review of A Very Very Very Dark Matter the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Some minor amendments made on 28 October 2018- paragraphs 6 and 7 swapped and subheading added.

I’m Not Running by David Hare with Siân Brooke

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

3 out of 5 stars (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.

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

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 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)
Production shot from The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller with Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce
Eileen Atkins & 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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

4 out of 5 stars (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.

Click here for my YouTube review on One Minute Theatre Reviews

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-

Exit The King starring Rhys Ifans at National Theatre

Rhys Ifans is dying to be funny 

5 out of 5 stars (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 out of 5 stars (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-