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The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington, Sleeping Trees (online) - ★★★★★ - Until January 5, 2021

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This Christmas, perhaps more than any other, we may well need big helpings of silliness to get us through, and The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington provides endless absurdity and nonsense. Kerry Frampton directs with anarchic aplomb and brings us a mashup of characters focussing on Dick Whittington, his cat and the rats who bump into Moby Dick and 'Doctor' Ahab – now a marine biologist. John Woodburn, James Dunnell-Smith and Joshua George Smith perform tremendously well as a team. Their jokes and clowning will certainly entertain small children who are encouraged to join in the songs and dances, and even build their own whale! There is, however, most definitely enough wit to keep accompanying adults constantly smiling; clever wordplay naturally abounds such as naming their vessel "The Companion Ship." We particularly enjoyed Pinocchio being "puppetually annoying". The joke involving the naming of a certain coffee shop chain after a Moby Dick character provid

Death of England: Delroy, National Theatre (online) - ★★★★ - November 27, 2020 & Spring 2021

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Clint Dyer and Roy Williams' new play, Death of England: Delroy is a compelling ninety minute monologue and a companion piece to Death of England . The reconfiguration of the Olivier Theatre's auditorium into an in-the-round space with a cruciform stage works brilliantly. Aided by superb lighting and sound, Michael Balogun's high-energy performance careers along with torrents of words as he “talks faster than a Tyson Fury left hook.” Balogun doesn't miss a trick and with welcome flashes of wit he captures every nuance of the character as he toys with the unexpectedly glittering language. What is not unexpected, however, is his arrest and mistreatment at the hands of the police. When he is incarcerated in a cell, we learn that he wept constantly for four hours while his pregnant, white girlfriend was in labour. Still, her unseen brother, Michael, attacks Delroy telling him that he will never “be like us - deep down.” Delroy is unapologetically upwardly mobile and admits

Ute Lemper: Rendezvous with Marlene, Club Cumming (online) - ★★★★★ - Until December 5, 2020

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We fell in love again! Not just with Marlene, but with Ute. This production is more than an homage to the great Dietrich. Ute Lemper tells us the story and sings the songs, but she doesn't just imitate ... she channels a cultural icon. Marlene Dietrich was someone who defined the "new woman." Sexually liberated, shocking and iconoclastic, Dietrich challenged her society and its values while anticipating ours. Politically progressive and not afraid to stand up for what she believed in, Dietrich was a portrait in political courage that should resonate for our own time. The show also examines the compelling Marlene persona and yields dark insight into the confines that is the construct of 'celebrity' ... a topic so very relevant to today. But ultimately, this is a show about the woman herself, and Lemper offers us insight into a complex and fascinating human being while contemplating her own personal relationship with the star. This is a one-woman show that has all t

Falling Stars, The Union Theatre (online) - ★★★★ - November 22-29, 2020

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"Smile" was one of Charlie Chaplin's best-loved songs, and it is with a smile that we welcomed Falling Stars – a charming musical revue inspired by finding an album of old songs in an antique shop. Peter Polycarpou writes, sings and tells anecdotes about well known and long forgotten songwriters active in the 1920s, and he is joined in this venture by another West End star, Sally Ann Triplett. Both artistes perform beautifully, individually and together. With their bursts of comedy and delightful song and dance numbers, like "Yes! We Have No Bananas" and "Tea for Two", they also manage to create real interaction with the invisible audience. Aficionados of the Great American Songbook won't find many surprises here but they will find plenty to enjoy. The balance of the popular and the unfamiliar is just right with quite an emphasis on the music of Chaplin. Immaculate staging by Michael Strassen, top-class lighting from Andrew Exeter, plus some excel

Howerd's End, Golden Goose Theatre - ★★★★★ - Until October 31, 2020

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Mark Farrelly's outstanding new play, Howerd's End , brings to life the humour and clandestine gay relationship of one of Britain's best loved comedians – Frankie Howerd. Author Farrelly also brilliantly plays Dennis Heymer, the man in Howerd's life for forty years, who here conjures up the ghost of the comic. It is made abundantly clear that enormous work went into Howerd's act with every tiny moment being predetermined; it is equally apparent that just as much work has gone into Simon Cartwright's wonderfully realistic assumption of the role. Each nuance is perfect without becoming a caricature. Helped by impeccable sound and lighting, and as directed by Joe Harmston, we are conducted through the two men's lives both on stage and off. Farrelly and Cartwright hold us enthralled from the moment Frankie's lugubrious face first peers around a corner to the sad ending which manages to avoid that 'tears of a clown' cliché. Howerd's nonconformist

Next Thing You Know, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle - ★★★★ - Until October 31, 2020

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Terrific talent really takes Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham's charming musical, Next Thing You Know , to a higher level. The show is well directed by Robert McWhir, and David Shields makes very stylish use of the theatre's space. There's nothing too heavy here; we simply have four twenty-something New Yorkers telling us about their relationships and contemplating their futures. However, the piece gives its young performers a real opportunity to showcase their talents. The cast are all straight out of drama school, but based on this offering we predict a stellar career for all of them. Throughout the evening, their ensemble work is spot on and individually they each shine brightly. Bessy Ewa, who has a delightful presence and singing voice, brings a sassy, brassy style to Waverley, the part-time barista. Her soon to be ex-boyfriend, the pleasantly geeky writer, Darren, is extremely well played by Nathan Shaw. Kudos go to Callum Henderson who exudes charismatic energy as

Macbeth, Creation Theatre (online) - ★★★★ - Until October 31, 2020

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Shakespeare knew how to pile on the blood and violence. Macbeth, as presented by Zoë Seaton for Creation Theatre doesn't balk at the horror. Ghostly witches are in control throughout this striking virtual production in which the actors are all performing alone in their homes and coming to us via Zoom. In fact the cast has never even met! This extremely cleverly constructed production gives us virtual locations mixed with real rooms and occasional filmed inserts. At times, ingeniously engineered images of the watching audience pop up as guests at the banquet while the ghost of Banquo passes before them. Nicky Harley's Lady Macbeth is a strangely seductive sociopath spiraling towards disaster. She stands in good contrast to Dennis Herdman's confused Macbeth who vacillates between insecure machismo and being a pawn in his wife's thrall. Both Herdman and Harley speak very well, and his performance grows in intensity as the character's mind disintegrates. The murder of L

Naked Boys Singing, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle - ★★★★ - Until October 25, 2020

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There is still a certain taboo around naked men on stage. Well, Naked Boys Singing firmly grasps the nettle and does exactly what it says on the tin. If the sight of naked guys singing and dancing is shocking for you, this musical revue should probably be avoided, but you'd be missing a lot of good clean fun. There is plenty of talent on display and the six guys perform splendidly; perhaps, one or two of the voices would be helped by microphones but the lack of costumes would make that difficult. So sing up boys! We're not watching 'great art' here, but several of the numbers stand out including "The Entertainer", "Robert Mitchum" and especially "Perky Little Porn Star." One hilarious song reminds a lonely man that the solution to his problem is in his own hands. There is also a beautifully sung chorale using the multifarious names for the male member! It would be invidious to single out individual cast members as all have plenty of opport

Buyer & Cellar, Above The Stag Theatre - ★★★★ - Until November 8, 2020

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Jonathan Tolins' New York cult hit Buyer & Cellar gets a beautifully presented new production by Andrew Beckett. Here we have Aaron Sidwell as Alex More, a wannabe actor who gets a job curating Streisand's bizarre collection of memorabilia in the basement of her home. From the outset we know we are not getting a 'Barbra' impersonator; in fact, Sidwell gives only a fleeting impression of the diva but it is enough to create an ambience. Only in America could one get adoring fans with such obsessions about their idols. Sadly, they simultaneously want to smash that image of perfection to smithereens. Whilst Alex struggles to remain in awe of her, his unseen cynical boyfriend bitches about her over the phone. Streisand is portrayed as self-obsessed, penny pinching, shallow and frankly, weird. We even get an account of the lonely star seemingly 'coming-on' to Alex. If you're looking for the Streisand of Funny Girl and her other films you'll be disappoint

Renaissance, Stephens House & Gardens - ★★★★★ - Until September 20, 2020

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The words dance off the tongue in this new, delightfully amusing ninety-minute verse play by Charles Ward. Under Emma Butler's immaculate direction, Renaissance is performed on a small raised platform in a magically lit garden. The modern, stylish cream and white clothes look gorgeous. We meet Cesare Borgia, Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli who, at Cesare's behest, assume each other's characters. Light-hearted comedy ensues when the women in their lives turn up. In many ways the story recalls Shakespeare's comedies of disguise and mistaken identity. James Corrigan has great fun and is outstanding as the flamboyant Cesare, getting himself into all kinds of predicaments including some amusing exchanges with the sexually ambivalent Machiavelli. Nicholas Limm as Niccolò speaks beautifully, especially as he begins to enjoy his new role at court. Akshay Sharan, masquerading as a bemused Leonardo, is totally charming. Hannah Morrish as Cesare's sister, the infamo

Pippin, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle - ★★★★ - Until October 11, 2020

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Happy hippie troubadours invade this intimate space only to charm their way into our hearts and minds. It might be interesting to discuss the existential crisis which inhabits the heart of Stephen Schwartz's entertainment, but it is far better to relax and let this exceedingly talented troupe entertain us with their superbly directed and choreographed performances. The whole panoply of life in the time of Charlemagne is laid out before us on a pocket handkerchief of a stage. It is all festively strung with fairy lights and surrounded by forests of potted palms. As Pippin himself, Ryan Anderson displays extraordinary talent including some jaw-dropping athleticism. The ambiguity of Pippin being trapped but happy with his lot is nicely developed. Harry Francis is a delight as the fit-but-dim stepbrother, Lewis, and he dances up a storm. Dan Krikler's fine voice serves well as King Charlemagne. However, the clear audience favourite is Joanne Clifton as Pippin's stepmother and,

Showstopper! The (Socially Distanced!) Improvised Musical - ★★★★ - Until August 30, 2020

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'Adapt and change' seems to be the way forward for theatre in 2020. Showstopper! , which has been running successfully in the West End for several seasons with an Olivier Award already under its belt, has created hundreds of improvised musicals before our eyes and ears. This, however, is its first foray into online entertainment and, judging by the audience feedback, it will prove very popular. Four very talented performers – Ruth Bratt, Justin Brett, Pippa Evans and Adam Megiddo, backed by Duncan Walsh Atkins and Alex Atty in the band – work incredibly hard creating and linking songs in the style of favourites from Hamilton , Les Miserables and many more. We also enjoy seeing them flesh out the flimsiest of plots as suggested by audience members; on this occasion, the story involved a hot air balloon trip and time travel. The reimagined format is obviously still unfamiliar to the performers and without a live audience the show takes a while to get into its stride, but

Godspell 50th Anniversary Concert (online) - ★★★ - Until August 29, 2020

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'Can we see a ray of hope?' is the question which this concert version of Godspell intends to ask. Although virtually all of the plot has been jettisoned and replaced by simple buzzwords flashed before each song, we do eventually get the message. The vocal performances are generally good, but outstanding is the beautiful singing by the trio of Jenna Russell, John Barr and Sally Ann Triplett in 'On the Willows.' Ruthie Henshall has great fun as a temptress in a bubble bath and 'Day by Day' is very effectively performed as a duet on mobile phones by Natalie Green and Ronald Brian. Most musicals tend to dip towards the end of Act Two but with Godspell Stephen Schwartz definitely kept his best work for the last fifteen minutes. In theatrical versions the plot becomes linear at this point for the first time. In this interpretation without dialogue and staging, this is difficult to accomplish, but the performance does finish exceptionally well. The concert would

52 Souls, Chronic Insanity (online) - ★★★ - Until September 6, 2020

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Do life and death depend upon the turn of a card? In this remarkably constructed entertainment written by Joe Strickland and Nat Henderson, no less than fifty-two performers have recorded short monologues. Reactions to mortality and death are put under the microscope, sometimes to devastating effect. The different pieces are viewed over the course of an hour and are randomly available to the viewer depending on which playing card from the pack one turns over. Unsurprisingly, some of the monologues work better than others both in terms of writing and delivery, but the experience is always enthralling. Several pieces stand out, none more so than the very first one I happened to choose: this monologue about the Aztec view of the after-life, is beautifully performed by Helena Rimmer. TL Thompson's very dark monologue about a child finding a dying lady's diaries is charmingly delivered and is accompanied by childlike drawings. It was probably the most poignant point of the eveni

Fanny & Stella, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle - ★★★★ - Until August 28, 2020

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Live theatre is back in all its glory! Playing outdoors and socially distanced, this is a little gem of a show. Juxtaposing high drama with low comedy frequently succeeds as a theatrical device and this musical is no exception. Revolving around a notorious Victorian court case where two young, cross-dressing men were charged with sodomy, the show uses elements of Music Hall to get its points across. David Shields' simple design cleverly compliments the unusually florid accessories to the gentlemen's dress suits. Fanny and Stella, our drag queen leading 'men', are played with great aplomb by Kane Verrall and Jed Berry. They create believably lovable characters and bring joyous humour balanced with heart-rending pathos. The company of six perform Nick Winston's delightfully slick routines immaculately. Mark Pearce stands out in a myriad of cameo roles; it is a tribute to Pearce and director, Steven Dexter, that he never outstays his welcome. Alex Lodge's han

Alice: A Virtual Theme Park, Creation Theatre (online) - ★★★★ - Until August 30, 2020

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“Topsyturveydom” certainly rules in this enthrallingly strange interactive version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland . This is a piece which may be more baffling for adults than for children of five to nine, which I would suspect is the ideal audience. Youngsters often simply accept things which oldsters can find mind-boggling. Sent down the rabbit-hole that leads to Lewis Carroll's bizarre version of Utopia, we get drawn into games and dances all charmingly mixed together. For example, the synchronised swimming led by the March Hare is a delight; additionally, interactive croquet with hedgehogs is great fun. The presentation allows families to join in both on and off screen, and many of the children's faces and reactions are a total delight. For me as an adult ( I think ) I've always loved The Mad Hatter's Tea Party with the answerless riddles and sleepy dormouse. It works beautifully here. Using art and technology as well as theatre, director Zoe Seaton has

Moment of Grace, The Actors Centre (online) - ★★★★ - Until August 9, 2020

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At the heart of this hybrid between theatre and film is the visit of Diana, Princess of Wales to an AIDS ward in 1987. The action is seen through the eyes of three characters superbly performed by Luke Dayhill, Lucy Walker-Evans and Andrew Paul. Dayhill is outstanding as the articulate patient, Andrew, movingly awaiting death. He worries about being outed on television and says "Doing this isn't easy." At times, sharing the challenges of these characters isn't easy either. Patients and nurses alike have to get through with a mixture of humour and hope; their experience is described as "clinics and crematoriums." Walker-Evans superbly portrays the young nurse, Jude, terrified to come into work each day while wondering which of her patients has died during the night. Paul, as firefighter Donnie, has a difficult task – embodying The Sun reader, wrapped in misconceptions, who finds that his gay son, a nurse on the AIDS ward, is HIV positive. Author Bren Gosl

Declan, The Actors Centre (online) - ★★★★ - Until June 28, 2020

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"Thinking about thinking" says Jimbo in this solo performance where we seem to enter the protagonist's mind as he talks to us about his relationship with Declan - an unseen ghost/vampire/friend. The line between dream and reality is blurred as the pyjama clad and somewhat fey young man talks about his experiences. How real Declan actually is remains an enigma as we delve into Jimbo’s mixed-up mind. His mum, the old lady with cats, a neighbour and his nan’s 90th birthday are all conjured up. Vampiric overtones make the whole atmosphere slightly surreal, and by using minimal props in a bare studio, director, Alexis Gregory successfully creates an unworldly atmosphere. The isolation of this young man is palpable and many of Jimbo’s situations are extremely comprehensible as past, present and future merge ahead of the tragic ending. Author/actor, Alistair Hall, gives us an excellent performance as Declan, and with live theatre being unavailable, this video-streamed transmi

A Kind of Magic, Multiple theatres (online) - ★★★ - Until June 13, 2020

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A Kind of Magic is a kind of charming interactive show presented by the definitively charming Richard Essien, aka Magical Bones. Richard is a multi-talented performer familiar to many from Britain's Got Talent but here we only see his work as an up-close magician. This is a highly laudable attempt to bring live entertainment to us whilst theatres remain closed. Not only do we have Magical Bones, but also no less than four other acts crammed into a little less than one hour. It was a little obvious that this is a new concept and we're sure that it will pick up the pace as it continues; all of his tricks worked and were impressive – especially what seems to be his signature work with Rubik's cubes. The fact that this is all performed in close-up makes it all the more impressive. Guest magicians, Brendan Rodrigues and Magic Singh joined by aerialist Shelley Baker and body-popping dancer Brooke Milliner, bring elements of variety to the show but it is the interactive work b

Peace In Our Time, The Union Theatre - ★★★★ - Until April 4, 2020

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This is a Noël Coward you are probably not familiar with. After WW II, he wrote this more serious play based on the premise that the Nazis had won the Battle of Britain and had occupied the country. There are flashes of Coward's usual humour but the overall tone is quite serious. There is an almost Orwellian tone to the work as we see the new regime bombard Londoners with propaganda about how they have been liberated and the country is now back in business again. Coward, who was a committed patriot, based the play on his experience of occupied France. We are shown how a variety of people respond to what in France's case we now term the German occupation, but which at the time could easily have been a new, permanent reality. The present production beautifully creates the eerie quality of this life with its half-lit set and candles that suggest the fragile light of hope in this place. Situated in a pub near Sloane Square, the regulars run the gamut in terms of how they deal

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