THEATRE TIP January 2017
If you have never visited the Almeida Theatre in
Islington, London, then now is your chance to see a classic play,
MARY STUART (Almeida Theatre, until 21 January
2017. Box office: 020 7359 404)
The two actresses play the different Queens according to a toss
of a coin at the beginning of the plays. Then one is Queen Elizabeth
and the other Mary. At the performance I went to Juliet Stevenson
was Elizabeth and Lia Williams Mary (as in the picture here). The
actresses start in identical costumes and have hairstyles which
are almost the same. The play, though, as directed by Robert Icke,
who has adapted the play by Schiller, is performed in modern dress
until the end. The two actresses often circle each other and are
played here as two sides of the same person.
Lia Williams as Mary Stuart
and Juliet Stevenson as Elizabeth I
It's an exciting play which tells how Mary has been kept in prison
for 18 years by Elizabeth who won't commit to the final act of sending
her cousin (once removed) to her death. Although Schiller wrote
his play in 1800 and it is set in 1587, there are modern dilemmas
which the audience recognises. Here we have a head of the Government
who is torn between different religious, legal and political views.
She is forced one way and then the other and talked at by all sides
- the country is divided and she isn't sure about what the people
really want - Brexit anyone?
There is much intrigue within the court. Elizabeth
is surrounded by men who tell her to execute the Catholic Queen
while others say save her life. We have Mortimer (an excellent Rudi
Dharmalingam) who is a fervent supporter of the Catholic Mary and
Leicester (John Light) who is basically on the Protestant Elizabeth's
side but also attracts Mary. It's good to see a now older Carmen
Munroe as Mary's elderly maid.
In Schiller's play he has the two Queens meeting at Fotheringay
(an entirely fictional meeting as in real life they never met) and
in the Icke version they hiss at each other and when Mary calls
Elizabeth a " bastard Queen" the two are truly at loggerheads and
end up fighting on the floor. This is the death knell for Mary and
an angry Elizabeth signs her death warrant. Even having signed Elizabeth
is distraught with worry over whether she has done the right thing
and at times wants to change her verdict.
The Queens mirror each other often in dress as well as actions
until the end which is magnificently staged. We see Mary dressed
in a white simple tunic dress going to be hanged while Elizabeth
is dressed in the bodice, hoops for her farthingale and extravagant
dress and wig, with a white face as in the picture we know of her.
The music is exactly right for this play. Laura Marling has composed
new music which includes a lovely song played as Mary goes to her
While the play is made up of speeches and what could be just talking
is never static in this production - there is constant movement
and tangible emotions from the two actresses who equally deserve
Although it might well transfer to the West End, go now and catch
this play in the more intimate setting of the Almeda Theatre.
The pantomime season is still on and here are reviews of two pantos,
both away from the centre of London. One sounds as though it was
very worthwhile and is reviewed by TOFF TIPS contributor SHARON
MICHAELS, the other was not quite the success we hoped
Here is Sharon's:
SLEEPING BEAUTY (Richmond Theatre just finished)
This is a very jolly evening of complete escapism and it is great
fun to indulge in this fairy-tale world of Sleeping Beauty.
The traditional story was hardly altered which makes this Pantomime
even more enjoyable and easily accessible for the younger members
of the audience. The costumes and scenery are glorious, lavish and
indeed truly magical which more than compensates for the script
that is, at times, somewhat sedentary in the first half of the show.
However, the second half of the show bounces into top Panto gear
and provides a great deal of surprises and laughter. A special mention
to the sound and lighting at the back - the effects are brilliant.
The cast are all good in their pantomime roles; the Dame, Nursey
Molley Coddle (Matt Rixon) is outrageous, the Prince ( Dan Partridge
) and Princess Beauty (Lauren Hood) are sweet and pretty, with lovely
singing voices. Chester the Jester ( Chris Javis, who also directs
the show) holds the plot together well - and he is also very good
at managing the children called on stage at the end, who (the night
I went) included delightful little Solomon, who star - jumped through
the whole of his stage experience, whilst telling us he did Hanukkah
and not Christmas. He was a picture of seasonal happiness.
Maureen Lipman looks fabulous as the evil Bad Fairy, Carabosse,
and plays it extremely well in her dark green, brightly sparkling
costume, but her most unexpected, and thereby funniest moment is
her change of character into Teresa May. Perfect!
There are jokes from Maureen Lipman's advert days which would have
completely passed-by little ones and hardly any double entendre
funnies but the comedy timing is snappy and romps along. There are
many clever political references apposite to the Richmond audience.
The dancing is beautifully choreographed.
There is certainly something to enjoy for everyone with many audiences
surprises. Thus it is a good show and well worth seeing with or
without being escorted by a young person!
The New Wimbledon Theatre's DICK WHITTINGTON (until
15 January 2017) doesn't match up to the pantomime above. Drawn
to it by the lure of Arlene Phillips as Bowbells, the Good Fairy,
my companion and I found her performance sadly lacking acting ability
and surprisingly her dancing is very minimal. She acts out her rhyming
couplets in a doggerel kind of way with no real emotion behind the
words. I'm not sure if she has some injury or condition which renders
her unable to move smoothly or with verve - if so it is a great
pity as she is known for her terrific choreography. Sadly she didn't
choreograph this production. There was very little choreography
of note here.
On the plus side Tim Vine makes a wonderfully lively Idle Jack
and Matthew Kelly as the Cook, Jack's mother, makes an exuberant
Dame. The two work well together. Vine very obviously ad-libs much
of the time and provides most of the laughs in the pantomime while
Kelly looks super in a variety of colourful costumes.
Also the young couple in the show - Sam Hamilton and Grace Chapman
- sing and act charmingly.
I was surprised that director Ian Talbot, who directed so many
superb productions in his time at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's
Park, didn't manage to get a more meaningful performance out of
Phillips. He even allows her to invite the audience to join in songs
after the interval - she manages this but in a most unexciting manner.
It is no use just getting a well-known TV personality and putting
them in a show where acting is the chief component if they can't
perform this well. Come on Ian and Richmond - do better next year!
Unfortunately this will probably have closed by the time you read
the review, but the stupendous THE CHILDREN at
the Royal Court Theatre, London is so suited to the older audience
and so good that you need to see it. I am sure it will transfer
to the West End in the near future. Apart from the excellence of
the writing by Lucy Kirkwood, it has a very fine cast.
A married couple of nuclear scientists are living in a cottage
just outside the danger area caused by a terrible meltdown. Living
in an isolated state near the sea they are settled in their post-retirement
life, putting up with power-cuts and tap water unfit to drink following
a nuclear disaster. Then Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron
Cook) are unexpectedly joined by their friend, Rose (who had an
affair with Robin many years before). Rose (Francesca Annis) feels
guilty at the thought of leaving behind an unliveable future for
Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay
and Francesca Annis in The Children at the Royal Court
She suggests that the three of them go back to the
nuclear plant to clear it up. Hazel points out that Rose has no
children or grandchildren and she and Robin have. But faced with
this request from Rose, who believes that over 65s should sacrifice
themselves for the younger generation, what will they decide?
Beautifully acted: the women come from different ends and Ron Cook
as Robin shows that he knows them both. At one point they do come
together when they perform a dance to a record which they used to
do together in their youth. A joyful moment within an intelligent
and thoughtful play, which has humour built in to a somewhat terrifying
Matthew Bourne's ballet, THE RED SHOES (Sadlers
Wells Theatre, London until 29 January 2017, Box office: 020
7359 404 then touring *), ticks all the boxes.
Ashley Shaw as Victoria &
Sam Archer as Lermontov in The Red Shoes
A ballet about the ballet - its dancers on stage and off are
in constant conflict between their personal life and their professional
life as an artist. Following the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric
Pressburger acclaimed film Red Shoes pretty much, it differs in
that here the music, orchestrated by Terry Davies, has been taken
from Bernard Herrmann's scores for Hollywood films, in particular
Citizen Kane and Farenheit 451. And wonderful music it is too, absolutely
suited to the story and the dancing.
The story remains the same as in the film: Victoria
Paige (Ashley Shaw) dances before the renowned director of the Lermontov
ballet company. Recognising her talent, Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer)
takes her into his company. He also takes on Julian Craster (Dominic
North), a young composer. Victoria becomes a star and Julien is
also successful until Lermontov realises they are in love. He too
is in love with Victoria, but in a different kind of way, he wants
her to work for him professionally and believes she should have
no life but the one on stage. The ballet which makes her a star
is The Red Shoes in which a young girl is forced to keep dancing
until she dies once she has put on red dancing shoes. This ties
in with Victoria's own story and the love triangle can only result
The set and lighting and costumes all enhance the story and dancing.
Les Brotherstone has given us a set which turns to reveal backstage
or in front or a scene set in the Riviera or in a grand house. The
dancing is outstanding with the three leads acting their parts as
well as dancing. I would have liked to see more of Liam Mower (who
was in the original cast of Billy Elliot), who plays one of the
members of the Lermontov company, Ivan Boleslawsky. But the beauty
of this ballet is that is so beautifully directed and choreographed
by Matthew Bourne and the music is so superb that the production
will stand on its own whichever of Bourne's excellent dancers plays
*London Sadler's Wells 6 December-29 January 2017 020 7863 8000
Woking New Victoria 31 January-4th February 0844 871 7645
Birmingham Hippodrome 7-11 February 0844 338 5000
Milton Keynes Theatre 14-18 February 0844 871 7652
Norwich Theatre Royal 21-25 February 01603 630000
Nottingham Theatre Royal 7-11 March 0115 989 5555
Cardiff Millennium Centre 14-18 March 029 2063 6464
Southampton Mayflower 21-25 March 02380 711811
Bradford Alhambra 28 March-1 April 01274 432 000
Bristol Hippodrome 4-9 April 0844 871 3012
Wimbledon Theatre 11-15 April 0844 871 7646
Canterbury Marlowe 25-29 April 01227 7877 87
Newcastle Theatre Royal 2-6 May 0844 811 2121
Edinburgh Festival Theatre 9-14 May 0131 529 6000
Leicester Curve 16-20 May 0116 242 3595
Sheffield Lyceum 30 May-3 June 0114 249 6000
Glasgow King's 6-10 June 0844 871 7648 Wycombe Swan 13-17 June 01494
Liverpool Empire 27 June-1 July 0844 871 3017
Salford Lowry 11-15 July 0843 208 6000
Birmingham Hippodrome 19-22 July 0844 338 5000
Two new plays at the lovely little Park Theatre, Finsbury Park,
London: In the main theatre we have RAISING MARTHA
(until 11 February. Box Office: 020 7870 6876). This is a delightful,
very funny farce in the Joe Orton vein with a touch of Harold Pinter.
Detective Clout (Jeff Rawle) narrates and plays a main part as he
tells how animal rights protestors have dug up the bones of Martha
who has been dead for five years. Detective Clout is soon on the
track of Marc (Tom Bennett) and Jago (Joel Fry). When the detective
reports back to the owners of a frog and toad farm, Gerry (Stephen
Boxer) and Roger (Julian Bleach) they are upset that not all the
bones have been recovered. Soon they are being given an ultimatum
that means they need to sell their farm. Surprisingly Roger's daughter
Caro (Gwyneth Keyworth) sides with the animal rights lads and demands
the brothers sell the farm. Not only have the brothers not seen
each other for years, but neither really liked their mother, Martha.
Matters are complicated by the fact that Gerry has been growing
and selling cannabis combined with toad extract.
The comedy escalates as the two lads bungle their scheme, Roger
gets drunk and the detective is something of a clottish Detective
Clout. Jeff Rale (of TV's Drop the Dead Donkey) puts across witty
lines in a deadpan manner and the rest of the cast act up to the
hilt going full blast at the physical and verbal inter-action. It
is splendidly written by David Spence and directed with a sure touch
by Michael Fentiman, with well-directed action. There is lovely
comic timing from all five performers. It's laugh aloud throughout
with lots of physical action. Do go and have a real enjoyable evening
And in the Studio theatre at the Park, not so many laughs in what
is billed as a comedy,
THE ALBATROSS 3RD AND MAIN (until 4 February.
Box Office: 020 7870 6876)
What could have been an exciting story by writer, director and
scene designer (!) Simon David Eden is performed in a rather mundane
fashion. It's not that the actors are bad, it's just that the material
doesn't really add up to much.
L to R Charlie Allen (Spider),
Andrew St Clair-James (Lullaby) & Hamish Clark (Gene)
In a realistic set of a shop which also sells coffee, the two
running the store, Gene (Hamish Clark) and Lullaby (Andrew St Clair)
are forced to listen to Spider tell them about how he found an eagle
which was splattered on his windscreen. It's worth a lot of money
he says, but Lullaby quotes Samuel Taylor's Coleridge's poem, The
Rime of the Ancient Mariner and says the bird is an albatross and
will bring them bad luck.
Although the play is a bit brisker in the second
half, it is not very exciting. Simon David Eden has to take full
responsibility and I hope he does better with his next effort.
One of our top British actors stars in NICE FISH
(Harold Pinter Theatre, London until 11 February 2017, Box office:
0844 871 7627), a lovely play written by Mark Rylance with
Louis Jenkins, using the American poet Jenkins' own prose poems.
It starts beautifully with an expanse of frozen ice and snow with
a miniature train in the background, a small wooden hut and a tiny
figure. Gradually the stage opens up to show a frozen lake in Minnesota
and two men fishing through a hole in the ice.
The men are Ron (Mark Rylance) and Erik (Jim Lichtscheidl), with
a family originally from Sweden. All they do is chat in very short
scenes - about their families, the cold, food allergies - and sometimes
they are silent. Although they are joined by an official and later
by a young girl, nothing much happens. But even though the play
is virtually plotless, it is so charmingly directed (by Claire Van
Kampen, Rylance's wife) that we are fascinated by the men and their
chatter, quiet times and the beauty of the setting.
Mark Rylance and Jim Lichtsheidl
in Nice Fish
In addition the two men are just about perfect. While
Lichtscheidl is somewhat taciturn and slow moving, Rylance is full
of physical activity and very lively. Do go and see this!
Some you may have missed:
The Print Room now occupies the Old Coronet cinema in Notting Hill,
London. A lovely large venue, which, when I saw THE TEMPEST
before Christmas, was extremely cold. It was a somewhat average
production. Director Simon Usher had chosen to do a very full version.
At times it was difficult to make out the words, particularly in
the storm scene at the beginning. There was black gravel all over
the floor of the stage; when the actors were down on the ground
it got all over their clothes and bodies - nasty! But the building
is great and the bar particularly attractive.
Antony Sher as KING LEAR at the Barbican Theatre,
London was a real treat. He seems made for the part. The production
originated at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon and the cast were all
superb, not only performing with the confidence of good actors under
an expert director (Gregory Doran) but relating so well that all
come across as believable. Very different from the Glenda Jackson
version at the Old Vic, the men are all men and the women all women
here. Sher really is magnificent; he never over-acts but is so moving
in many of the scenes, that, even though we may know he has, to
a certain extent, brought his downfall on himself through hubris,
we still feel for him. There is a real heart beating fiercely behind
his cry of "Howl!"
The tiny Tristan Bates Theatre, London was host to SCENES
FROM THE END, a one woman singer who performs with percussive
music, using mainly her own body to beat upon. All the sounds come
from the singer. Dealing with the universe and planets in part one,
Heloise Werner went on to do a lament to the end of humanity. She
has a sweet chirping voice and it was certainly an unusual evening!
For a very short time we were able to meet with actor Mark Lockyer
at the Young Vic in LIVING WITH THE LIGHTS ON.
Under the direction of Ramin Gray, we see Mark tell us about his
mental breakdown which started when he was playing Mercutio in an
RSC production. Mark invites us in and offers people tea before
the start of his narration. Covering himself by saying he is an
unreliable narrator, he gives a moving account of his breakdown
and, hopefully, recovery.
THIS HOUSE (Garrick Theatre, London until 25 February
2017 Box office: 0330 333 4811), a very political play
about the Labour party's minority government in the '70s written
by James Graham, is on again in London.
It was first seen at the National Theatre in 2012. As then, but
in a different way, the play has relevance to today. It is set in
the Whips Office in the House of Commons. Both Labour and Conservatives
struggle to be in power. During the years 1974-1979 the Labour Government
had such a slim majority that they had to get all their MPs in to
vote especially when the Tories withdrew from pairing so that everyone
had to actually be in the House and attend in order to vote. We
see very ill and dying Members being brought in, some still attached
The Bills they vote on are often not very exciting but it remains
crucial to win the vote and the writer makes it all very dramatic
and fascinating to watch. A realistic set inside the offices in
the House of Commons and a range of music including David Bowie
songs bring the play to life. There is even some stylised dancing.
Unfortunately seeing the Labour Members arguing amongst
themselves brings to mind Labour's current squabbles. But overall
it shows that the traditions of Parliament are loved and revered
by most working inside the House.
A great cast, directed sensitively by Jeremy Herrin bring real
characters to life. A lovely performance by Nathanial Parker as
Tory Deputy Chief Whip, Jack Weatherill is matched by Steffan Rhodri
as Walter Harrison. Kevin Doyle is the chief whip Michael Cocks
and Malcolm Sinclair is his opposite - both carefully delineated.
Worth seeing, particularly if you are interested in the politics
of yesteryear or of today.
What a gorgeous musical! Of course SHE LOVES ME
is on at the very user friendly Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre,
London (until 4 March 2017 Box office: 020 7378 1713).
This is a production that is beautifully presented with great dancing
and singing from a bunch of actors who really can act as well as
dance and sing. The tuneful music is by Jerry Bock, and simple yet
attractive choreography by Rebecca Howell. Matthew White directs.
It's a revival of the 1963 musical which was based on the original
film The Shop Around the Corner and the modern version You've Got
Set in a parfumerie in Budapest in 1930s - a very pretty and
practical set - it deals with the romantic affairs of the staff.
In particular, Amalia (Scarlett Strallen) who is writing anonymously
to an unknown man and Georg (Mark Umbers) who is doing the same
with a young woman. When the two find out that they are writing
to each other they are not best pleased.
Mark Umbers & Scarlett Strallen
in She Loves Me at the Menier
It is interesting to see another one of the Strallen
sisters back on the stage. All are good and Scarlett puts on a very
mature performance here. Both she and Umbers sing and interact charmingly.
Another couple, actors Katherine Kingsley and Douglas Tighe have
a tempestuous relationship and sizzle in their parts. Make an effort
to get a ticket - you won't be disappointed.
SAINT JOAN (Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London until
18 February 2017 Box office: 0844 871 7624)
In a dramatic production by Josie Rourke, Gemma Arterton excels
as the French soldier who became a saint after her death by being
What jars a bit is that we see Joan in full armour as in the
picture here, but the rest of the time she and the bankers and warmongers
she has to report to wear modern clothes, have television screens
and other very modern aids. The cast are all excellent and Arterton
as the Maid of Orleans in George Bernard Shaw's play is to be praised
for virtually turning her back on a lucrative film career to appear
A worthwhile play given an intelligent interpretation by director and cast, it is highly recommended.