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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 by the se…

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 prob…

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 evening.…

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 handsome…

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 create…

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 Gosling…

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 transmis…

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 by M…

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 wit…

On Blueberry Hill, Trafalgar Studios - ★★★★★ - Until May 2, 2020

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"Though we're apart, you're part of me still" goes the song. Separation cannot break some bonds. Parent and child are indivisibly linked in Sebastian Barry's play, but can one reconcile with someone who has tried to break that bond? Two men in physical and mental prisons look at where life and death have brought them. Social impositions of self-loathing and vengeance are challenged by the recognition of a common humanity but can they find it? It is hard not to see this very thoughtful, and often humorous, piece as a metaphor for the challenges that Ireland has faced in its recent cruel and divisive history; however, it always remains a fascinating insight into two flawed, yet surprisingly sympathetic, characters. The story may be dark but its eloquent script makes it riveting. Sebastian Barry's mastery of the language is positively Shakespearean. The two prisoners' rich and comic recounting of their lives keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as t…

Titian: Love Desire Death, The National Gallery - ★★★★★ - Until June 14, 2020

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Know as the poesie, Titian's epic series of paintings has not been together since the sixteenth century. This ground-breaking exhibition brings them together and adds a seventh, The Death of Actaeon, which was conceived as part of the series but executed later and never delivered to Titian's patron, King Philip II of Spain. The works all treat stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses but the emphasis is on the female nude in a series of beguiling poses. They are testaments to Titian's skills as a painter and as a storyteller. Behind their obvious erotic component, however, there is often a darker point. The Renaissance was a period that celebrated rationality but Titian's works here focus on the irrational nature of desire and the often cruel and capricious reality the humans are faced with. Zeus, the king of the gods, follows his desires where they lead him regardless of consequences, whether that is the rape of Europa or the assault on Danaë. They have no say in their f…

Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, Victoria & Albert Museum - ★★★★ - Until June 21, 2020

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For many the word "kimono" may long have been simply a synonym for housecoat or dressing gown. This fascinating exhibition first looks at the history and importance of this most versatile of garments in its Japanese home and then considers its impact after being introduced into Europe. Some stunningly beautiful examples of traditional kimonos from Japan's Edo period through the Meiji restoration are on display. These are sumptuous garments that reflect the growing fashion interest of a rising merchant class and offer lovely examples from both the geisha and kabuki theatre cultures. Indeed, the history of Japan is woven into the story of  the materials and techniques employed to create these wearable works of art. The post-war period saw the kimono's use relegated to cultural and ceremonial occasions, but there are some delightful examples of its resurgence in Japan's contemporary youth culture.  Since its introduction in the west, there have been a variety of use…

The Time Machine, The London Library - ★★★★ - Until April 5, 2020

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Science fiction is notoriously difficult to present theatrically; this immersive version of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine succeeds where many have failed. In groups of twenty, we were whizzed through the glorious galleries and bookshelves of the London Library. It is difficult to describe unless you can imagine travelling through 'The Crystal Maze' in the company of Doctor Who on steroids! This new dramatic version, written by Jonathan Holloway in November 2019, is loosely based on the novel's premise. The Traveller gives a lecture to his weekly dinner guests suggesting that time is simply a fourth dimension and he then demonstrates his invention. It was rather bewildering at the beginning because the narrative has been updated and jiggled about, but as we went with the flow, the anachronisms, ambience and theatricality of it all became enjoyable and, unexpectedly, spookily realistic. The idea that when we visit the future sections of the population have been infected …

Cecil Beaton's Bright Young Things, National Portrait Gallery - ★★★★ - Until June 7, 2020

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In many ways Cecil Beaton and his images created the world of the 'Bright Young Things' that existed between the two world wars. His pictures of young artists, socialites and aristocrats were about reflecting his own social aspirations and aesthetic values. Beaton wanted to escape what he considered his dull middle-class background and to enter his imagined playground of high society and celebrity. The people in these pictures are frequently posed in costumes and are invariably striking an attitude. The subjects' demeanour is frequently an aloof detachment and the settings are consciously theatrical. These photographs are about surfaces, and while there is a striking lack of vitality in the sitters and in their 'fun,' the work is not a conscious commentary on the vapidity of it all. In his diary, Beaton wrote "I don't want people to know me as I really am, but as I'm pretending to be." These pictures bear the same relationship to their reality as…

Andy Warhol, Tate Modern - ★★★★★ - Until September 6, 2020

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Andy Warhol's fame has certainly extended long past the proverbial fifteen minutes. He probably is one of the most recognised artists on the planet, but there is more to his work than the Campbell soup cans and pictures of Marilyn Monroe. This show focuses on three main aspects of Warhol's identity and sources for his work. His parents' immigrant experience, his own sense of being a sexual outsider and the influence of religion and death are all explored. The exhibition largely develops these themes in a chronological overview of Warhol's life, highlighting the Pop Art period, moving through the Factory, then his 'retirement' from painting, the shooting, his return to work and finally his concern with mortality. We are given a look behind the persona that Warhol so carefully cultivated (wig and all) and see how his obsession with Americana and celebrity culture come from a place that is far more complex than simply satirical humour. His fixation with the Statue…

Not Quite Jerusalem, Finborough Theatre - ★★★★ - Until March 28, 2020

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What happens when some young British volunteers take up residence in a kibbutz outside of Jerusalem in 1979? This is a story which explores a clash of cultures and some complex personal growth stories. Perhaps even more, it uses these young people's experience in a society built on sharing and equality to reflect upon the class and social realities of Britain. Paul Kember's script almost feels like pages ripped from a diary chronicling the oddly assorted, idealistic and directionless people who showed up on kibbutzes and who then had to face the hard and practical realities of that life while coming to terms with their own issues. The first act seemed to take a long time to establish the characters, but a stronger second act took the narrative to more interesting places as we got a deeper look into the forces that had formed these young people and brought them to their present undertaking. Ryan Whittle did a fine job as Mike but the character of the moody, university dropout n…

Relatively Speaking, The Mill at Sonning - ★★★★★ - Until April 18, 2020

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The words "Alan Ayckbourn" usually summon up fun and this production is no exception. It is a delight in every way. As soon as we see Michael Holt's clever set with all those doors we are anticipating a good time. It's not long before the characters are popping in and out of them and the laughs begin rolling in. Thanks to director, Robin Herford's perfect pacing of this piece the audience is completely taken into Ayckbourn's world and never given a pause to question the delightful absurdity of it all. The wonderfully silly plot twists and hilarious cases of mistaken identity all work beautifully. The entire cast get it just right with performances that make their unbelievably credulous characters entirely credible. James Simmons as the philandering husband on the verge of exposure is suitably self-serving and lecherous, and Rachel Fielding as his wife strikes just the right tone of gullible and knowing. The other woman, Lianne Harvey's Ginny, radiates the…

Nuclear War, Buried, and Graceland - Old Red Lion Theatre - ★★★★★ - Until March 21, 2020

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“Oh death, where is thy sting?” could well be a subtitle for Alexander Knott's enthralling triptych comprising Buried, Graceland and Nuclear War. The first of these, Buried, is brilliantly performed by James Demaine as a man temporarily entombed in a collapsed building. His entire life flashes through his mind in a torrent of words and actions. His first drink, his first sexual experience, military service, boxing are all presented with tremendous physicality. In Graceland, Anthony Cozens plays an endearingly dysfunctional teacher who is pilloried by his class. By using the audience as his class, Cozens gains a terrific and often hilarious rapport. Kids can be both perceptive and cruel so when they discover that he is being cuckolded a different side of the teacher emerges. Using combustion as a metaphor for life we enjoyed this ingenious play and the performance enormously. Nuclear War comes as a shock when we meet two women, played by Zöe Grain and Freya Sharp, who portray two s…

London Living Large

The City Life Magazine. Reviews and Ratings.