Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011)

The tragic death of Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011) earlier this month has sadly robbed the theatrical world of one of the more impressive résumé’s of modern playwrights. Harold Pinter may have been awarded the Nobel Prize for his contributions to literature – an award which contained an inherent recognition of the political aspect of his later writing – but Havel can claim to go one step further; he was a major presence in world politics and also a key figure in the transition from authoritarian communist rule to democracy in the ex-Soviet states. Indeed the gulf between the two can be seen in the fact that it was Pinter who played ‘Vanek’, Havel’s semi-autobiographical alter-ego, in a BBC radio play in 1977.

Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989 Havel was elected, by the Federal Assembly, as the ninth, and as it turned out final, President of Czechoslovakia. He was also responsible for introducing democracy to the country following 40 years of Communist rule, and, despite opposing it, oversaw the movement that led to the eventual split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In a world where most politicians appear to be motivated primarily by money and power, Havel can be held up as a shining example professional data recovery of a true public intellectual. Whereas many playwrights can write about politics, Havel lived through his beliefs and will remain in the history books as a powerful reminder that the literary world can engage with the political on an equal footing.


The fact that there is a Havel legacy in the U.K, given the generally dire prominence of any modern playwrights who are not Anglo-American is almost entirely down to the marvellous Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. It has become a bastion of Havel’s work, and has been responsible for staging 12 major productions, including the first English translations of many of his plays. In 1977, on the eve of premiering Havel’s work in England, Charter ’77 exploded and the Orange Tree, a tiny theatre above a pub in the heart of liberal London suburbia found itself at the centre of Czech politics. From this moment forward the Orange Tree, an increasingly influential fringe venue, forged a sustained and meaningful relationship with Havel that continued through to his death.


For more on the relationship between the Orange Tree and Vaclav Havel click here.

Even better than Cook’s chocolate cake

Cambridge Theatre, 21 December 2011 – booking until Oct 2012

There is a long and often inglorious history of converting  much-loved books into musical theatre. The temptation for doing so is obvious; flying in the face of overwhelming critical disdain, Les Miserables has provided a template  for financial success. It has a mantelpiece of audience-choice awards, a global army of devoted fans and by January 2010 it was celebrating notching up 10,000 performances in the West End. In short the tills have not stopped ringing since the original Cameron Mackintosh-Trevor Nunn production in 1985.

A salient and oft-overlooked fact by those who sneer at Les Mis is that this success has seen the RSC (producers of Matilda) through bbq food catering the brutal conditions suffered in the 1980’s under a prime minister who held Andrew Lloyd Webber as a shining example of artistic achievement. No doubt Jean Valjean would not have countenanced betraying his principles in such a manner but clearly the financially imperatives of publically subsidised theatre led to Trevor Nunn’s rather more pragmatic vision.

With Les Miserables teds woodworking finally beginning to flag, transferring to the noticeably smaller Queens Theatre and with the famous Barricade seemingly less than impressive in its new surrounds, the RSC have sought to launch a new cash cow in the form of a major new musical adapted from a well-known book. Clearly it was though that the National’s approach of writing a verbatim musical, ‘London Road’, about the serial killing of five prostitutes in Ipswich was not the way to long-term commercial success.

However the road to the West End is paved with the carcasses of plots from their literary womb untimely ripped. Topping this sad and unfestive tree must be Gone With The Wind, critically reviled and starring a woefully miscast Darius (remember him?), but there is also Carrie The Musical, a concept so clearly problematic that the mind boggles at the commissioning process. For most of 2012 we have been entertained by the sorry stories emanating across the Atlantic surrounding the sheer ineptitude of Spiderman: The Musical; a show that could only have come from trouble-shooting consultants who identified a previously unidentified cross over between comic book fans and musical theatre goers.

The RSC must have approached Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book with some trepidation. He is an author who, like Enid Blyton, never seems to go out of fashion despite offering a nostalgic view of England that those reading the books will find hard to reconcile with a world of X-Boxes and Club Penguin. With a central premise built on libraries, it even smacks of radicalism that seems very at odds with Dahl’s natural conservatism.

Continue to the full review here

And for a special sneak preview…

Ravenhill’s Rise and the RSC

Congratulations to Mark Ravenhill, as it has been announced that he will be the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Writer in Residence for 2012. As a man who is generally held critically responsible for helping to kickstart a new generation of British dramatists with the unexpected popular smash, Shopping and Fucking in 1996, it might come as a bit of a surprise. But as a regular commentator in The Guardian and on Newsnight Review, as well as advising Nicholas Hytner at the National, Ravenhill has been in higher echelons of the cultural elite for a while.

Still this doesn’t detract from what could be a promising year. Hopefully acting as a catalyst to reinvigorate a moribund new writing scene at the RSC since Adrian Noble took the reigns, Ravenhill will also have access to one of the greatest acting pools in the world to take on his work. Whilst it might prove to be a false dawn there is always the possibility, bolstered by a domestic world riven with disputes, that the playwrights may finally reassert their theatrical voice.

For more on Ravenhill, new writing and the RSC in the Guardian, click here.

New World Order is a terrifying Brave New World

New World OrderHydrocracker, Shoreditch Town Hall, Running until 11 December 2011

Winding from the ornate meeting rooms and private recesses of power, where bureaucrats discuss policy and the media is entertained, down to the bowels of the building, through long forgotten corridors where concrete crumbles away from the walls and barren rooms echo to the sounds of clanking boilers and the scurrying of mice; Hydrocracker have created a staggeringly potent panorama of institutionalised state power, a lucid dream that unfolds to reveal nightmarish dimensions.

New World Order is an amalgam of five of Harold Pinter’s shorter work, deriving from head soccer cheats his later period where his output began to more directly engage in questions of politics and control. Despite being a playwright who took fastidious care over every element of the script, it is hard to believe that Pinter, the political animal, would not have given his support to Ellie Jones’ superb reimagining that knits together five separate pieces so effortlessly that the joins between the work are made practically invisible (the only distinguishing mark being subtle changes in the linguistic character of different scenes).

Most impressive is the use of location to create a unity of action. Site-specific and immersive productions may have boomed in popularity in recent years, and as a result become short hand for companies wishing to demonstrate their innovation, but none has managed the unification of text and place that Hydrocracker have achieved through locating their work within Shoreditch Town Hall.

It is an inspired choice and the building is absolutely integral to the success of the piece. As the audience is led through the site, it becomes a living, breathing character of its own. Everything about the building exists in a contextual history of real politics, so when the audience halt on a staircase to let two policy wonks, deep in conversation pass, it is shocking to realise that rather than discussing the minutiae of planning regulations, they are in fact debating how many opposition supporters can be dealt with before they lose support of the general public.

Hydrocracker has clearly understood that location is everything. Led past a plaque detailing all the former mayors and into a conference room set-up for a press conference, the audience are reassured by familiar sights of the political establishment and are empowered to embrace the realism of the situation. It is only when people begin to speak that everything reveals itself to be off-kilter, and from that point on the audience are drawn ever further into the world of state-mandated terror.

Click here to continue to full review

Shelagh Delaney (1940 – 2011)

As has been widely reported, Sunday saw the sad death of Shelagh Delaney. Delaney exploded onto the scene at just nineteen years old when she sent her first attempt at a play, A Taste of Honey, to Joan Littlewood at the hugely influential Theatre Royal in Stratford.

Rough around the edges and raw in the middle, A Taste of Honey, was notable for offering not just a working-class but also a defiantly female perspective. At a time when the ‘Angry Young Men’ of British Theatre were setting their mark at the Royal Court; here was a play that shared their world but offered a vibrantly different viewpoint on post-war Britain.

Written in 1958 and considering the social mores of the time, it is almost inconceivable to think MapleStory 2 that A Taste of Honey contained sexual promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, interracial relationships and homosexuality. A critical hit and a counterpoint to the masculinity of Osborne, Arden and Pinter, A Taste of Honey secured Delaney’s reputation as a crucial figure in the development of female playwrights.

Below is a scene from the classic 1961 British adaptation (a welcome time when adapting a stage play wasn’t the same as clinically removing its very soul)

More on Shelagh Delaney by Michael Billington can be read here

More Shakespeare than you can shake a spear at

Ok, while I may have just been put myself in the running for most laboured pun of 2011, it has been done with the best of intentions. As the Olympics loom into view, it finally appears that the country is kicking into gear and putting together an impressive programme that will deliver on some of things that we undoubtedly do best (and no, sadly it isn’t the 100m).

It may be somewhat predictable but it certainly looks like the UK are planning to cash in one of their most lasting assets – Shakespeare. And in a fine display of collaboration, venues as dispirate as the Globe, the Barbican, the Roundhouse and the Hammersmith Riverside Studios are embarking on a truly Olympean programming schedule. The Globe alone will be performing every single one of the agreed Shakespeare canon (and on a sidenote for Mr Emmerich, please note that it is the World Shakespeare Festival, not the World Earl of Oxford Festival).

And in keeping with the Olympian spirit, the programmers have scoured the world to bring a truly international flavour to the festival. Whether it is a Tunisian Macbeth, an Afghan Comedy of Errors or a Zimbabwean Two Gentleman of Verona, there is something to suit any palette and demonstrates just how important Shakespeare is to the world of theatre. It underscores that Shakespeare, a playwright occasionally derided my philistines as being too complex for modern audiences, can operate in any language, subject to incredibly varied styles and still emerge as the single most important dramatist in history. And the philistines? To quote the great man himself ”More of your conversation will infect my brain”, and if a country in as much turmoil as Afghanistan can stage a complex identity-swapping play like the Comedy of Errors, I think it is surely not to much to expect an audience to watch it.

5 to watch this summer

1) Timon of Athens – National Theatre, Dates to be confirmed

It is generally regarded as one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. After a first half that generally cracks alone and builds to a crescendo with Timon turning on those he had previously regarded as his friends and retreating to be a hermit on the outskirts of the city, the second half really does present a problem for a director – it consisting mainly of scene after scene of visitors and a more and more unpleasant Timon. However it is this challenge which means it makes the list – Simon Russell Beale is one our finest current Shakespearian actors and if he can’t do justice to the part then it may go down as one of Shakespeare’s very few missteps.

2) The Comedy of Errors – The Globe, 30 – 31 May

A chance to catch something really special. This Afghanistan company performed Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2005; the groundbreaking nature of this shouldn’t be overstated. In a country that was ruled a few years previously by the Taliban and drama completely forbidden, we had reached a point where men and women were able to act together. Along the way many taboos were broken; women did not always wear headscarves and lovers held hands. The Globe has managed to get their first performances outside of Kabul and they will be putting on The Comedy of Errors, a play of mistaken identifies and farcical situations.  The results could be as spectacular as they are interesting.

3) Hamlet – The Globe, 02 – 03 June

Now if anything deserves the title unmissable it is probably this production from the legendary Lithuanian director Eimuntas Nekrosius. His Hamlet is regarded as one of the most celebrated Shakespearean productions of our age and for the first time, after substantial world tours, it comes to London for the first time. Yes, it is Hamlet and it will be 3 hours and it will be in Lithuanian and it is the Globe and you may have to stand up. But there are times when you must suffer for your art and, due to the rather Anglo-american focus of most British theatre, this offers a rare chance to see one of  the true greats of European theatre. Simply: go, see.

 4) The Rest is Silence – Hammersmith Riverside Studios, 13 – 23 June

Yes, I know there are two Hamlet’s in the list and many people think that one is more than enough for one year. However given   that it is a dreamthinkspeak production, it is quite likely that this will be Hamlet only in so far Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights is  an accurate depiction of Bronte’s novel. We are promised a textual and visual deconstruction of the play, which will utilise performance, film and installation to cut through the textual certainties that we may be used to. For some this may already sound hideously prententious and, given their reviews of Ian Rickson’s latest Hamlet at the Young Vic, it is unlikely Messirs Billington and Spencer will be rushing to see it. For those who remain alive to the possibilities that modern multimedia presents to a playwright of Shakespeare’s calibre, it also can be seen as an exciting opportunity.

5) Romeo and Juliet – The Globe, 19 – 20 June 

And deservedly back to the Globe for no. 5. Providing the spine for the festival and dedicating their versatile space to companies from around the world across May and June, hopefully they will get the audience and publicity they deserve for this ambitious and difficult project. An almost guaranteed sell-out – a Brazilian Romeo & Juliet at the height of summer should be a winner. The production is regarded as one of the most famous productions coming out of the Americas’. Grupo Galpão’s brings a carnival atmosphere to the Globe; mixing circus, dance and musicc with traditional Brazilian folk culture to produce something incredibly special. We are talking passion with a capital P.

You can find out far, far more about the World Shakespeare Festival here:

You can find out more about the World Cities Festival here:

And my own earlier witterings on the World Cities Festival is here:

You don’t have to be mad to extemporise here but it helps

Hamlet - Young Vic, Running until 21 January 2012

Ian Rickson’s production of Hamlet at the Young Vic begins with an elaborate entrance through the backstage area, which has been transformed into a passage through a mental hospital. As you wind through narrow corridors, you catch glimpses of action through windows and the pervading sense from the TV screens and telephones on display that we are entering the 1970s.

To be honest all this effort feels a little laboured although it does help to immediately ground the play in its overarching theme: is Hamlet mad?  It is a question that has been raked over many times, be it in productions, literary criticism or psychological analysis. However through Ian Rickson’s radical interpretative staging, it is a question that delivers a revelatory redefinition of how the play can be understood.

The play begins with a striking image; Michael Sheen’s Hamlet appears out of nowhere in long shot, trapped in a solitary light shining upstage. Rickson’s exquisite framing is a feature that runs throughout the play but this first image, with a clear allusion to Carol Reed’s The Third Man is particularly notable. It is a potent reference point, immediately conjuring up thoughts of Vienna; the spiritual home of Freud and the psychology movement. The Third Man itself is indebted to German expressionists of early cinema, such as  Fritz Lang and FW Murnau, who were fascinated by madness and its effect on the human condition.

References abound in this play; the 1970’s institutional setting brings to mind One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, compared to the recent Hamlets of David Tennant and John Simm, Sheen has an alpha-male muscularity that is redolent of Jack Nicholson without, thankfully, adopting any more of Nicholson’s mannerisms.

The other crucial reference point is the work of RD Laing. In a play that has at its heart the discussion and understanding of madness, Laing’s work has a relevance that underpins the perspective that Rickson takes to the play. At the centre of Laing’s theories is the idea that psychosis is not a biological or psychic response but something that can develop out of socio-cultural situations. This has a direct relevance to the understanding of Hamlet. Hamlet is not ‘mad’ per se but he may have become mad due to the conditions that he has found himself within and the drama of the play may be an attempt to break him of that psychosis.

This reading is reinforced through Laing’s idea that ‘going crazy’ can be the sane response to an insane situation. In this, as in so many other cases, we can infer that Shakespeare touched on the principle a few hundred years before the development of psychology as a science. This may be a stretch but it does appear to reflect Hamlet’s understanding of himself; he wishes to assert his own identity, ‘to thine own self be true’, through his understanding and response to his father’s death. However Hamlet’s ideas conflicts with the response demanded by his ‘uncle-father’ Claudius; Laing would argue that Hamlet is stuck between the persona he has created, the avenger of his father, and the one demanded by parental authority and it is in this bind that the context for Hamlet’s ‘madness’ should be understood.

Click here to read full review

Furious speculation and petulant snubs

The Evening Standards are almost upon us, so it is time to cast eyes over the shortlist. Harrumph over those missing from the list and make pointlessly futile predictions over who might be coming out on top. As usual we see the usual suspects vying for position.

This year the National leads the way with nine nominations, squeezing out the Royal Court with eight. Most disappointed must be the Donmar with just two nominations and a complete shut-out in both Best Actress and Best Actor catagories despite a number of barnstorming performances from Derek Jacobi, Jude Law and Ruth Wilson.

As usual the commercial sector is poorly represented and even in the musicals category they are squeezed by a National and a RSC production in London Road and Matilda respectively. However it is possible to see the faintest glimmer around the edges as Theatre Royal Haymarket managed to sneak a nomination for Sheridan Smith in Flare Path and a number of other nominations that never quite made it off the longlist. While it is far too early to say, it could be the start of a private theatre that plans to lead with serious, if understandably traditional and crowd-pleasing, drama.


Best Actor

Bertie Carvel Matilda RSC Stratford and Cambridge Theatre
Benedict Cumberbatch Frankenstein National’s Olivier
Charles Edwards Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare’s Globe
Jonny Lee Miller Frankenstein National’s Olivier

Well the most interesting thing about this year’s Best Actor category is the double-header of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller being nominated for Frankenstein. It would have been cruel to have nominated one without the other but the question is whether they will pull votes away from each other and allow a sneaky victory for either Bertie Carvel or Charles Edwards to slip through in the ensuing mayhem. Either way looking at the shortlist it feels that it may have been a slightly weak year for male leads – with certainly no standout performance to stand alongside Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet of last year and the England-sized shadow of Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.

There are some notable omissions from the shortlist and James Corden in particular should perhaps feel most put-out by the lack of inclusion. He received universally rave reviews for One Man, Two Guvnors and the play had a host of 5* reviews and earned a nomination in its own right for Best Play. No space either for the Hollywood A-list of Spacey, Fiennes and Law; with Law perhaps producing the most transformative performance of them all in Anna Christie and re-establishing his right to be called a credible actor.

Will Win

Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein (successfully holding off the split vote)

Should Win

Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein

Should Have Been Nominated

James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors / Jude Law – Anna Christie


Natasha Richardson award for Best Actress

Sheridan Smith Flare Path Theatre Royal Haymarket
Samantha Spiro Chicken Soup With Barley Royal Court
Kristin Scott Thomas Betrayal Comedy Theatre

The formidable Kristin Scott Thomas looms large over the Best Actress category; bringing a stately grandeur and the imperious air of a known winner to proceedings. A handsome, well-acted Pinter play has awards written all over it but it hasn’t caught the eye in any of the other catagories so it is possible that it doesn’t quite have the legs to deliver the prize to Kristin.

It is entirely possible that the mass of goodwill that Sheridan Smith generated in Legally Blonde may transfer over to her first major lead in a straight play. And we are in a Rattigan centenary year as well. So as the stars seem to align for one double S, it appears the other, Samantha Spiro may be leaving empty handed despite an immensely powerful performance in Chicken Soup with Barley.

In a double blow for Anna Christie and the Donmar, Ruth Wilson joined Jude Law in failing to make it off the shortlist. Looking at the plays, we have a Rattigan, a Wesker, a Pinter and no room for any Americans. Perhaps as uncertainty swirls all around there has been a reward for those choosing Britain’s great 20th century playwrights to reflect on the modern psychology of the nation.

Will Win

Sheridan Smith – Flare Path

Should Win

Samantha Spiro – Chicken Soup with Barley

Should Have Been Nominated

Ruth Wilson – Anna Christie


Best Play

The Heretic Richard Bean Royal Court
One Man, Two Guvnors Richard Bean National’s Lyttelton
Becky Shaw Gina Gionfriddo Almedia
Tribes Nina Raine Royal Court

Following my previous point about American plays, I suspect that we can count Becky Shaw out of the running. Undoubtably a strong play, I feel its previous history running off-Broadway may count against it in the final reckoning. Richard Bean can count himself unlucky to be nominated twice for Best Play but failed to even make it to the shortlist for Best Director. If people vote for the man rather than the play, we may see both The Heretic and One Many, Two Guvnors miss out on a split vote.

If this logic means Tribe picks up the award then justice may well have been done, as it would be just reward for a young writer’s elegant handling of the contentious topic of disability. Whilst not containing the full liberating freedom of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, it manages to free the topic from its normal parameters in order to confront the traditional Royal Court audience with a painful dose of reality. After last year’s win for the hugely successful Clydebourne Park, it appears the Royal Court may have found a rich vein of form in forcing its liberal supporters to reassess their underlying beliefs and prejudices.

Will Win

One Man, Two Guvnors – Richard Bean

Should Win

Tribes – Nina  Raine

Should Have Been Nominated

Wittenberg – David Davalos


Ned Sherrin Award For Best Musical

Betty Blue Eyes
London Road
Matilda the musical

Not having seen any of these makes it difficult to comment. However it is hard to see past Matilda the musical sweeping all before it. Rapturous reviews at Stratford for the acting and singing, alongside Tim Minchin’s inspired lyricism; possibly one of the few individuals who would be able to capture Roald Dahl’s imagination. London Road is undoubtably a powerful piece of work but was it so good that you can convince voters to go for such a dour work in traditionally sunny category? Betty Blue Eyes? Reasonably reviews but will  people vote for something that is closing early? I think not.

Will Win

Matilda the musical

Should Win

Matilda the musical

Should Have Been Nominated

Nothing really stands out in what feels like a particularly weak year for musicals despite what the Evening Standard may say on the matter.


Best Director

Rob Ashford Anna Christie Donmar
Dominic Cooke Chicken Soup with Barley Royal Court
Edward Hall Richard III & The Comedy of Errors Propeller At Hampstead
Mike Leigh Grief National’s Cotteslow

As much as I would love to see Edward Hall pick up a reward for the virtuoso vision that drives Propeller and their all-male Shakespeare productions, it feels like a very big ask for a company that doesn’t have the catchy celebrity names and longstanding reputations of the Donmar and the Royal Court. I think Mike Leigh can be ruled out as well, as loved as he may be this does not feel like a Mike Leigh year and Grief passed me by with little more than a whisper.

Coming down to Rob Ashford and Dominic Cooke we have two plays that highlight the differences in writing on either side of the Atlantic. O’Neill vs Wesker is a mouth-watering proposition. It is shaped up to be an extremely close run race that I supect will be decided by the fact that we appear to be in a period of re-evaluating Wesker,  Chicken Soup… at the Donmar and the The Kitchen at the Nationa. This extra name recognition and a seeming favouring of British playwrights should be enough to swing the judges towards Dominic Cooke.

A lot of big names have missed out. There is no space for Sam Mendes or Danny Boyle for their interepretations of Richard III and Frankenstein. It’s a shame to see Declan Donnellan has not made the cut for The Tempest, although Russian language plays are always going to be a tough sell.

Will Win

Dominic Cooke – Chicken South with Barley

Should Win

Edward Hall – Richard III & The Comedy of Errors

Should Have Been Nominated

Declan Donnellan – The Tempest


Best Design

Bunny Christie Men Should Weep National’s Lyttelton
Lizzie Clachan Wastwater Royal Court
Adam Cork Sound designer of Anna Christie and King Lear Donmar
Mark Tildesley Frankenstein National’s Olivier

Not much to say on this other than if Mark Tildesley doesn’t win for Frankenstein then I shall eat my hat. The Olivier is a famously difficult to space to work with and while Danny Boyle’s production may have had its problems, the design was not one of them. Visually stunning and a replica steam train on stage; whatever beats it must be out of this world.

Will Win

Mark Tildesley – Frankenstein

Should Win

Mark Tildesley – Frankenstein

Should Have Been Nominated

Jon Bausor -  Lord of the Flies


Charles Wintour Award For Most Promising Playwright

E.V. Crowe Kin Royal Court
Vivienne Franzmann Mogadishu Lyric Hammersmith
Penelope Skinner The Village Bike Royal Court

Not having seen any of these its hard to comment. However based purely on word of mouth I suspect that Vivienne Franzmann is out in front for Mogadishu. A deserving win could be on the cards for the Lyric Hammersmith that has championed new writing but has often been overlooked in favour of the reputation of the Royal Court.


Milton Shulman Award For Outstanding Newcomer

Phoebe Fox For her performances In As You Like It (Rose, Kingston) and The Acid Test (Royal Court) and There Is A War (National’s Paintframe)
Malachi Kirby For his performance In Mogadishu (Lyric Hammersmith)
Kyle Soller For his performances In The Glass Menagerie (Young Vic), Government Inspector (Young Vic) and The Faith Machine (Royal Court)
David Wilson Barnes For his performance In Becky Shaw (Almeida)

In one of the more interesting developments across the nominations, we saw husband, Kyle Soller, up against his wife, Phoebe Fox, in the battle for Outstanding Newcomer. Out of the two my money is on Kyle Soller, if in part for an outstanding performance as Khlestakov in the Young Vic’s version of The Government Inspector and an extremely strong follow-up in The Glass Menagarie.

I feel Malachi Kirby will struggle to match this with just Mogasdishu behind him and there will be no justice in the world  if David Wilson Barnes walks off with the award – as any quick glance at his C.V suggests ‘newcomer’ maybe laying it on a bit thick.

Thursday Afternoon Shakespeare

Here are two trailers.


Today’s challenge?

Above we have two films that are soon to be released in the UK.

The first is an ensemble production that plays to the gallery with an all-star cast filling the roles of appropriately recognisable figures from Elizabethan England, from which  positions they can thesp their way through exponential dialogue to their hearts content, as the Director, already responsible for such sensitive films as 10,000BC, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow, expounds every first year English undergraduate’s favourite conspiracy theory question: did Shakespeare write his own plays?

The second is the directorial debut of a man who has recently finished playing Prospero on stage and who first played the star of his film over 10 years ago. His choice is Coriolanus,one of the most complex of Shakespeare’s play with a depth of plot and psychology of language that makes Romeo and Juliet look like a nursery rhyme.

So the question is this:  which of the two films make me so depressed that I want to stick pins in my eyes? Answers on a postcard and all will be revealed later in the week.

Time to cast your votes

As the nights draw in and the idea of schlepping down to the West End for an overpriced seat in an underheated auditorium begins to lose its appeal, it is time to join the Evening Standard in casting an eye over the years productions in order to bestow upon one the arbitrary title of Best Night Out. It is of course unfortunate that ‘Best Night Out’ is indelibly linked in my mind to provincial towns and phrases like ‘Mega-Bingo’ and ‘introducing Top Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood’, but we all have our crosses to bear.

So without further ado, the shortlist:




BATMAN LIVE (The O2 Arena, SE10)

Really, REALLY. It is hard to imagine the shortlist getting off to a more inauspicious start. I am not sure which marketing consultant drew a venn diagram between regular theatre goers and fans of Batman films. It is perfectly possible there are many. However they probably didn’t also consider whether all of these fans would rather rent The Dark Knight for a £3.99 than fork out extorniate prices to see Batman battle against a trio of his most deadly enemies: plot, character and action. Like all wars, there were no victors




CHICAGO (Garrick Theatre, WC2)

Yep, still here. After 14 years. As we move from Ute Lemper to Ruthie Henshall to Claire Sweeney to someone from Ugly Betty, one can only presume it is just as good now as it was then. If you are the last remaining person in London not to have seen it, rent the DVD. Its not great but at least its got Queen Latifah in it.




CRAZY FOR YOU (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, NW1 and Novello Theatre, WC2)
Ok, I actually like this. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre are building a bit of a reputation for themselves carving out interesting musicals. Last years Into The Woods was revelatory and whilst Crazy For You doesn’t reach those exceptionally high standards, it is great to see a traditional Chorus Line musical hit London, and is comfortable the best musical of its type since the last major revival of Anything Goes.




JERUSALEM (Apollo Theatre, W1)

Still excellent. Still the best play of the 21st century. Still one of the best performances of the 21st century. If you haven’t seen it yet then beg, borrow or steal tickets for its latest London run. The staggering tour-de-force that is Rylance’s performance as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron makes it hard to imagine it being revived with any other actor in the role.




LA SOIREE (Magic Mirrors, SE1 and Roundhouse, NW1)
Saw La Clique. Sure its much the same. Seen one burlesque show seen them all. Law of diminishing returnsprobably applies. At least it’s not Cirque de Effin Soleil.




LES MISERABLES (Queens Theatre, W1)

Do you hear the people sing? Not if I can help it.





OFFICE PARTY (Pleasance Theatre, N7)
Oh god, by its own admission its interactive. Please, please, please will companies stop making us poor audiences become part of the action I am paying you to act, not me. If I could act I would be up there to begin with. Probably best for stag nights and hen parties of people who feel a little bit above Spearmint Rhino.




ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (National’s Lyttelton, SE1 and Adelphi Theatre, WC2)
Far better than anyone expected. It is fair to describe this as the breakthrough hit of the summer and a reminder to everyone that James Corden is far more than ‘James Cordon star of Lesbian Vampire Killers’. A fine actor, a fine translation and an absolute comic treat that more than deserves its West End transfer.




THE PITMEN PAINTERS (Duchess Theatre, WC2)

Haven’t seen it. By all accounts it is very good and deserves its West End transfer for taking a wonderful story that is made even stronger by its veracity. Before deciding to book tickets it should be noted that it was created by Lee Hall; a man also responsible for Billy Elliot. My understanding is there is less dancing in this.




THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (Waterloo Station, SE1)
I really, really wish that I had managed to see this. By all accounts a lovely idea exceedingly well executed. In hindsight it makes perfect sense to stage this with a vintage steam train but actually using the former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo was a magical touch and all those who have seen it have managed a smile while stoically dabbing their eyes with hankies.




SHREK THE MUSICAL (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, WC2) 

So here is a great idea – we have a much loved character that has been slowly eroded by sequels that don’t quite live up to the imaginative reinvention of fairytale stereotypes of the first. Now how can we rejuvenate the brand? There must still be some money that can be squeezed from the pockets of parents somehow. How about a musical that strips all the magic from a fantasy land by spending an extorniate amount on a set, props and make-up that has 1/100th of the charm of the original film? C’mon people you might as well send a cheque straight to Stephen Spielberg.




WICKED (Apollo Victoria Theatre, SW1) 
Actually better than you might imagine. And now with Matt Willis from Busted. Hmm bad news for both the musical and Matt Willis’ solo career then.

If you actually want to vote in this thing (admittedly its not quite X Factor but its always nice to have a say) then you can do so here:

Let the best play win (and please please please don’t be Batman Live).


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