Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury at the Young Vic – review

Fairview: Powerful comedy about race

★★★★

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. Invited critics were asked not reveal twists but it’s impossible to review why this play is so powerful without saying how and why. I paid for my ticket so I feel free to discuss the whole play.

Production shot of Fairview at Young Vic featuring Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Rashan Stone & Nicola Hughes
Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Rashan Stone & Nicola Hughes in Fairview at Young Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner

‘What are you looking at?’ says the wife to the husband right at the beginning of Fairview at the Young Vic. And that really is the question. What are we looking at? The answer seems to be a well-off African-American family preparing for a special occasion. But there’s something not quite right. Is Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play going to be a family drama set around a dinner party with bickering, jealousy and secrets such as we’ve seen many times over the years? Or is this more like a pastiche of a US sitcom? The set, designed by Tom Scutt, is so bright and clean and detailed that it could be made for HD TV.

The characters are black, yes, which in our world of middle class theatre is unusual, so we may anticipate that race is going to figure. Then again, these are middle class people. Shut your eyes and the characters could be any colour: the wife Beverly played by Nicola Hughes with a perfect mix of bossiness, insecurity and affection, the playful husband Dayton played with a cheeky likeability by Rhashan Stone, Naana Agyei-Ampadu squeezing all the comedy she can from the fashion conscious, faddy sister Jasmine, the sensitive rebellious daughter Keisha played by Donna Banya, plus, off stage, the unreliable brother hoping for a partnership in his firm, the daughter’s friend and the mother who won’t come downstairs. All very amusing but fairly predictable archetypes.

There are peculiar moments in this first act that make you suspect there is more going on: the radio malfunctioning briefly, a tendency for the characters to break into dance, the daughter appearing in a spotlight to express her discomfort with the situation.

As if a brick wall has collapsed on you

Then we come to act two and everything changes. It’s as if a brick wall has collapsed on you. From here on in, we are in no doubt this is about race and we are looking at what it means to be black: the white gaze, the stereotypes, the cultural appropriation. Not that Jackie Sibblies Drury presents a simple lecture. Fairview is subtle comedy with many layers, presented with a unique theatricality and directed with flair by Nadia Latif. The twists are jaw dropping and lead you to question what happened in the first act and who these people are. So please don’t read any more if you don’t want to spoil those dizzying surprises.

WARNING: SPOILERS

Act two repeats act one but this time it’s acted out silently while the radio- maybe the radio- provides a commentary from four white people. Who are they? They could be the creators of the characters we are seeing or they could be simply ciphers for the white gaze. Anyway they digress into a discussion about what race they would like to be, each time coming up with stereotypical views of those races, ending with black, where they conclude they wouldn’t want to be the kind of middle class black people we are viewing because they are boring. It’s poor black people who are interesting- the rappers, the loud mamas. The voice who would like to be black remembers her black maid.

This does go on a bit but then there’s a delightful moment when the characters on stage, previously unsynchronised, segue into apparently mouthing what the voices are saying, even though we can remember that this wasn’t the dialogue from the first act. So, in a way, the characters come together in a prelude to the third act.

An uncomfortable evening for those ‘identifying as white’

Because, if that wasn’t enough, we then pick up story of the family and it’s not long before the characters we previously heard talking decide to come on to the stage to spice up this middle class family with black characters who are more ‘interesting’. So the missing brother appears as a rapper, although his sister is still asking how the partnership is going. The mother appears twice, once as the remembered black maid, a history Beverley contradicts. The white people confuse, question and provoke the black people. The black people object to being told what they are. It all ends in an amazing food fight.

Then in a final coup, the daughter invites those in the audience ‘identifying as white’ to come up on stage and see what it feels like to be in the spotlight. To not be ‘normal’, but instead to be focussed upon, expected to perform in a certain way, simply because of the colour of your skin. The actors leave the stage; many of the audience climb on to the stage including me. I’m uncomfortable with defining myself by race but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to see the view from the stage.

It was an interesting experience. The lights are blinding. You can’t see the audience (or what’s left of it). You go from being an anonymous member of that audience to being the focus of attention. I tend to think that theatre is about letting you into other people’s lives or letting us see ourselves in different ways but this really took it from an intellectual exercise to a physical one.

Because Fairview is an American play, it wasn’t as much a punch in the guts for me as it clearly was to audiences when it first performed in the US where there is a history of slavery and segregation. Black people in this country have been and are subject to racial prejudice but they have never been divided from the white population. It would be much harder to write a play which involved stereotyping a black British culture.

A subtle layered comedy

Not that Jackie Sibblies Drury presents a lecture about racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation, except right at the end. If she did, I might be saying that she wasn’t telling us much we didn’t know already. Instead she starts with a middle class family, and thereby acknowledges that education and money are levellers. She subtly shows that even they are aware of what is expected of them which manifests as what you might call watered down stereotypes, a tendency to break into dance for example. She also presents the white people as stereotypes (the camp gay man springs to mind) which suggests that Fairview is not only about race.

I took from the evening a strong plea to take individual people as you find them- with a fair view- rather than imposing preconceptions or prejudices. Anyone could be a victim of prejudice if they are in an underprivileged or weaker group.

That’s what I came away with but this is such a good play that I think people, depending on their backgrounds and prejudices, will have come away with many different reactions. Even if you see it and decide, as some critics did, that Fairview is divisive or outdated, you will come out thinking and talking about it long after the audience have left the stage.

Fairview can be seen at the Young Vic in London until 23 January 2020.

Click here to watch the review of Fairview on YouTube

Minor amendments made on 14 January 2020

Gielgud Theatre – Insider Guide

The Gielgud is one of the nicest theatres in the West End


The Gielgud Theatre was known as The Globe for most of its 113 year history. In 1994, after a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe was built on the South Bank, iit was renamed in honour of Sir John Gielgud. You will see many fascinating photographs, programmes and drawings featuring the great actor around the theatre. It was built in the Louis XVI style so there’s lots of gold and many beautiful features including an oval gallery above the foyer.

Interior shot of the Gielgud Theatre in London showing the oval gallery
Inside the Gielgud Theatre

Where is the Gielgud Theatre?

You will find the Gielgud on Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of London’s West End. The postcode is W1D 6AR. The nearest tube station is Piccadilly Circus.

What are the best seats at the Gielgud Theatre?

The Gielgud has 889 seats spread across three levels- Stalls, Dress Circle and Grand Circle. You go downstairs to the Stalls. There isn’t much of a rake or slope but the stage is high so the view from most sets is good. I recommend the seats in the centre, about six rows from the front and 8 seats from the side.

The front of the Dress Circle is more or less level with the street, so that’s the place to go if you’re using a wheelchair. The accessible toilet is in the foyer at the same level. The first few rows in the centre offer a good view if you like looking down on the stage.

Insider tip

You’ll need to wear cool clothes if you visit the Gielgud. By which I don’t mean trendy clothes but ones that keep you cool because the theatre’s cooling system is pretty poor.

What about the bars?

There are bars in the Foyer, at the back of the Stalls and in the Dress Circle.

What are the toilets like at the Gielgud theatre?

Here’s some good news. The Gielgud is among the best of London theatres for toilets, according to The Stage newspaper’s survey. There’s a ratio of 32.3 women per toilet.

This is the official website for the Gielgud Theatre delfontmackintosh.co.uk/theatres/gielgud-theatre

Watch the YouTube review of the Gielgud Theatre on the One Minute Theatre Reviews channel 

Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore

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

Watch the review of The Lieutenant Of Inshore by One Minute Theatre reviews on YouTube
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Production photo of Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh, directed by Michael Grandage
Aidan Turner in The Lieutenant Of Inishmore. Photo: Johan Persson

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Grandage’s comical production

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Home – Young Vic – review

Fun Home is a perfect musical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube review here-

Instructions For Correct Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carey Mulligan in Girls & Boys – review

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

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

A tour-de-force from Carey Mulligan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macbeth at National Theatre with Rory Kinnear & Anne-Marie Duff

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See Macbeth review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews 

Photo of Anne-Marie Duff & Rory Kinnear in Macbeth at National Theatre
Anne-Marie Duff & Rory Kinnear in Macbeth at National Theatre. Photo by Brinkhoff and Moegenburg

The first thing to say about Macbeth at the National Theatre is that Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff as the murderous couple do full justice to Shakespeare’s magnificent poetry and his insights into human nature.

Director Rufus Norris places Macbeth in some post-apocalyptic version of today’s world. Rei Smith’s design is a disaster but not in the way some critics meant. The striking black and broken set underlines that something terrible has happened. Society has broken down into low tech tribes fighting for turf. They exist in ruined buildings, wearing cobbled together clothes and sitting on what looks like furniture salvaged from the tip. The characters’ many different accents take the setting well away from Scotland into what could be any modern war zone.

Beautifully acted by Rory Kinnear & Anne-Marie Duff

Macbeth is an ordinary person who finds himself in this extraordinary situation- and no-one does the complexities that lie beneath ordinary people better than Rory Kinnear. You feel that in peaceful times, his Macbeth could have been the guy from accounts, so low key and sensitive and humorous is his portrayal. Yet, in this time of war, he’s become a successful soldier.

Once his ambition to become the top man is sparked by the witches and his wife, even though he clearly isn’t a leader and despite his conscience and all the horrors, he heroically follows through what he started. Unlike Anne-Marie Duff’s wonderfully agitated Lady Macbeth, who, when tested, can’t cope. Rory Kinnear’s everyman Macbeth does dreadful deeds but makes us wonder what we could be capable of in such violent, anarchic times.

The production is a little lacking in tension at times, especially at the end, which I put down to this grubby small scale war needing to be played out in more confined space than the Olivier. Then again, a smaller theatre would have meant less people getting to see this dystopian, beautifully acted production.

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

Macbeth plays at the National Theatre until 23 June and tours the UK from 29 September- Salford, The Lowry 29 Sep – 6 Oct, Plymouth, Theatre Royal 16 – 20 Oct, Edinburgh, Festival Theatre 23 – 27 Oct, Norwich, Theatre Royal 30 Oct – 3 Nov,  Aberdeen, His Majesty’s Theatre 7 – 10 Nov, Newcastle, Theatre Royal 13 – 17 Nov, Sheffield, Lyceum 20 – 24 Nov, Bath, Theatre Royal 27 Nov – 8 Dec, Oxford, New Theatre 8 – 12 Jan, Dublin, Bord Gais Energy Theatre 15 – 19 Jan, Nottingham, Theatre Royal 22 – 26 Jan, Hull, New Theatre 5 – 9 Feb, Canterbury, Marlowe Theatre 12 – 16, Glasgow, Theatre Royal 19 – 23 Feb, Southampton, Mayflower Theatre 26 Feb – 2 Mar, Belfast, Grand Opera House 5 – 9 Mar, Wolverhampton, Grand Theatre 12 – 16 Mar, Cardiff, Wales Millennium Centre 19 – 23 Mar.

One Minute Theatre Reviews Podcast March 2018

March 2018: Reviews of Howard Brenton’s The Shadow Factory with Anita Dobson at the new Nuffield Southampton Theatres city centre space and J K Rowling’s Harry Potter And The Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre London. Plus my selection of the best theatre shows opening or going on sale in March.

Subscribe to the One Minute Theatre Reviews podcasts by clicking the RSS icon in the sidebar or subscribe via iTunes

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

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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-