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The Shark Is Broken ★★★★ Ambassadors Theatre | Oct 9, 2021 - Feb 13, 2022

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In Jaws Steven Spielberg turned waiting into high drama. Behind the scenes, in real life, waiting is not nearly as satisfying an activity. In art, as horrific as the shark might be, it gives meaning to the story whereas in real life it is unclear what supplies that sense of purpose. Without a shark, the three actors, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw engage in mind games and other less cruel pastimes. They escape into alcohol, drugs, sex or, in Scheider's case, a concentration on facts that avoid the existential issue. Their work offers only partial escape and the protagonists' back stories, like the film's backstory, reveal the dark sources of angst which cannot be tidily embodied in the ominous shark. Demetri Goritsas is excellent in the difficult, understated role of Scheider and Liam Murray Scott does a fine job capturing the manic energy and insecurity of Dreyfuss. However, it is Ian Shaw who dominates the stage in the role of his tragically self-aware fa

Barb Jungr, Forgetful Heart: Dylan and Cohen and Love ★★★★ Brasserie Zédel | January 20 - 22, 2022

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When we think of cabaret, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan are not the names that come to mind. These poet/songwriters do not pen moon-in-June lyrics, and their works frequently do not give up their meanings easily. It takes considerable talent and intelligence to tackle their oeuvre and Barb Jungr succeeds on both counts. It is reassuring to have a singer who doesn't just mouth the words but who has clearly studied them and can bring the meaning out of them. Her articulation and emphasis provide drama and clarity to what can often seem obscure musings, and her lovely voice uncovers the complex emotions beneath the sometimes overwrought surfaces. Love in the world of both these writers is not a simple thing of joy. Dylan's "Love is Just a Four Letter Word" explores the emotional tangle of his complex relationship with Joan Baez, and the hauntingly beautiful lyrics of Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" delve into the nexus of friendship, betrayal, reconciliation a

Freud's Last Session ★★★★ King's Head Theatre | Jan 18 - Feb 12, 2022

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Britain is on the edge of war with Germany and Sigmund Freud, who is afflicted with cancer, is on the verge of death. In this dark atmosphere, the father of psychoanalysis and the author, C.S. Lewis, undertake a wide-ranging dialogue dealing with the existence of God, the purpose of suffering, and the importance of sex. It is a rambling conversation that seeks to challenge Lewis' Christian beliefs and to question Freud's resolute atheism. Thought-provoking as it may be, most of the arguments are left incomplete and inconclusive. Neither man is really swayed by the other, but there are some revealingly, ironic moments. We see how Freud's psychoanalytic framework can be uncomfortably applied to both men, and how Freud, despite his professed preparedness for death, clings to life. Julian Bird does a masterful job of capturing the aged, insightful and egocentric Freud and Séan Browne gets it just right as the youthful and rather glib Lewis. Indeed, the strength of the productio

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story ★★★★ Jermyn Street Theatre | Jan 13 - Feb 5, 2022

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In 1924, the press dubbed the murder of young Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb "the crime of the century." The public were horrified and captivated by what seemed the child's senseless slaughter. The question haunting everyone was why two affluent and apparently intelligent young men killed the boy. When hearing about this production the question that might come to mind is why would this particularly grisly event become the subject for a musical. Although the genre, often associated with more light-hearted subjects, has seen some darker, almost operatic, themes in shows like Sondheim's Assassins or Passion , can this particularly shocking subject matter work? Let's just say this production is worthy of inclusion in the that company. Thrill Me is a fascinating study of obsession and codependency in which Stephen Dolginoff extends the range of the genre musically and dramatically. Matthew Parker's tight direction ensures that our interest never

The 4th Country ★★★ Park Theatre | Jan 12 - Feb 5, 2022

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In his Poetics Aristotle proposed the theory of catharsis suggesting that art could serve as a means of purging emotions. In The 4th Country Kate Reid seems to explore the limits of drama in this regard. The attempt to render current events in Northern Ireland breaks down in the face of the cruelty of their reality. The horror of Bloody Sunday and the abortion laws become untranslatable into drama. The anger and division they inspire are left raw and unresolved. Art ultimately cannot convey or provide relief from the tragedy. It is a powerful statement which the talented company do a credible job of presenting, but it can seem rather unsatisfying. While the evolution of Northern Ireland is certainly a work in progress, the unresolved nature of the play, although intentional, undermines the the audience's engagement from the characters and from the subject. The ending seems abrupt and unprepared for. The cast is generally strong. Rachael Rooney and Cormac Elliott create a comple

Force Majeure ★★★★★ Donmar Warehouse | Dec 10, 2021 - Feb 5, 2022

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Who hasn't endured the family holiday? On this ski vacation everything goes down hill, but is it a controlled avalanche or will the family be destroyed? This is a brilliant and hilarious look at gender roles and family dynamics. An unfamiliar and challenging holiday environment plus unforeseen circumstances raise questions that can usually be ignored in the routine of everyday family life. Unspoken role assumptions and comfortable self-perceptions are tested; the individual choices and unthinking compromises hidden by busy lives are imperilled. Director, Michael Longhurst, and writer, Tim Price, have created a world that does justice to Ruben Östlund's cleverly original work, while Jon Bausor's ingenious set design threatens to steal the show. However, all of the cast rise to the occasion and create characters that are both familiar and refreshingly unique. Rory Kinnear as father, Tomas, and Lyndsey Marshal as mother, Ebba, are simply outstanding. Every gesture and intonati

David Suchet: Poirot And More, A Retrospective ★★★★ Harold Pinter Theatre | January 4 - 22, 2022

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If you love Poirot or if you know David Suchet's other work, you are bound to enjoy this evening. However, even those not familiar with his career will find this memoir a fascinating look into the life of an amazingly gifted actor and an intriguing peek into the craft of acting. In this rehearsed conversation with Geoffrey Wansell, we share David Suchet's initiation into the world of the theatre and are regaled with personal anecdotes that are often humorous, and frequently touching. The father's reticence about his son's determination to go on the stage is more than matched by a mother's unflagging, and often amusing, support. The stories give us a heartfelt insight into the making of David Suchet as an actor, and this understanding is complemented by a look at how an actor comes to create and inhabit a character. Suchet offers a masterclass in how to read Shakespeare so that bard's view of his characters emerges. He also provides some engrossing glimpses int

Five Guys Named Moe ★★★★★ Upstairs at the Gatehouse | Dec 15, 2021 - Jan 16, 2022

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In Clarke Peters' Five Guys Named Moe the titular guys invade Nomax's tipsy world by popping out of his radio, and they then give him, and us, a night to remember. This may be a small-scale revival but it is a huge success! Incorporating Louis Jordan's wonderful back catalogue of songs, Peters has created a superb entertainment which ran for four years in the West End. Here it is played on a small traverse stage and yet it works perfectly. Juan Jackson as Nomax uses his gorgeous baritone to perfection. The five Moes – KM Drew Boateng, Andre Coulson, AJ Lewis, Christian Maynard and Kieran McGinn – work brilliantly as individuals and especially as a team, whether singing as a close harmony combo or dancing as a group. They tear up the floor in Mykal Rand's exuberant, and frequently very clever, choreography. This is a wonderfully uplifting and occasionally zany collection of songs – complete with the obligatory chicken feathers in "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chick

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! ★★★★★ Sadler's Wells Theatre | Dec 7, 2021 - Jan 30, 2022

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Matthew's Bourne's version of The Nutcracker first premiered in 1992 and has since become a staple of the Christmas scene. For those familiar with the original 1892 choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, Bourne offers a quite different version from that designed for the Imperial Russian Ballet. In contrast to the lavish and privileged world enjoyed by Clara in the original, she is now among a group of orphans oppressed by the evil Dr. Dross and his wife. She and her friends are also bullied by the couple's children, Sugar and Fritz, and when Clara receives as a Christmas gift a nutcracker who comes to life, Sugar becomes a rival for his affections. The story while more coherent and more politically sensitive than the original is still a bit of a muddle. Clara remains a rather bland characterisation and the role of Sugar does seem to dominate various scenes. However, Bourne's inventive choreography and Anthony Ward's amazing design, both of which have been up

Dick Whittington and His Cat ★★★★ Watford Palace Theatre | Dec 2, 2021 - Jan 2, 2022

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For us the undoubted star of Dick Whittington and His Cat at Watford Palace Theatre is designer, Cleo Pettitt. She gives us a wonderful array of magnificently colourful locations climaxing in a fabulous tropical island of Xanadu. That is not to denigrate the rest of the show which is everything a good panto should be! From the moment Natasha Lewis as the evil rat, Verminia Yobb, leaps onto the stage in a puff of green smoke, we know that we are in safe hands. Reece Evans gives us a handsome and perky young Dick accompanied, for some reason, not by a cat but by Louise Cielecki as a pink striped tiger. OK, it is panto and doesn't have to make sense. Sherrie Trifle, the Dame, is played to the hilt by Terence Frisch. When given scenes alone on stage, his interaction with the audience is quite hilarious and he excels in the slapstick moments. Plus, all of this is accomplished in an increasingly outrageous array of frocks. Indeed, this is just how to play the Dame. We also very much enj

Cabaret ★★★★★ Playhouse Theatre | Nov 15, 2021 - Oct 1, 2022

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Your experience of this Cabaret begins from the moment you enter the theatre. Admission to the Kit Kat Club is via an underground passage which leads to bars that promise all the diversions and decadence of pre-war Berlin. The redolent atmosphere established foreshadows a very special evening. This might be an edgier, darker Cabaret than you remember. Eddie Redmayne's Emcee is a fascinating grotesque whose presence is quite hypnotic. The bravura performance dominates the production and his ironic promise that "in here, life is beautiful" resonates throughout the evening. His rendition of "Money" has an unforgettably chilling cynicism. This Sally Bowles, as played by Jessie Buckley is also a far cry from the perky party girl that we might be accustomed to. She exudes an alluring energy but there is a dark core explored in her stunning performance of the poignant "Maybe This Time" and the rather desperate "Cabaret." Omari Douglas as Clifford Br

Potted Panto ★★★★ Garrick Theatre | Dec 11, 2021 - Jan 9, 2022

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In this variety box of seasonal panto treats, Daniel Clarkson and Gary Trainor put on what is almost a school for pantomime. In seventy minutes they provide their uniquely hilarious version of at least seven pantos. Does Dickens' Christmas Carol qualify as a panto? While giving a tongue-in-cheek history of the genre, they also put on a masterclass demonstrating what fun it can all be. We loved the corny jokes, the commentary on current events and the audience participation moments. It all works because of the incredible pace set by the talented twosome. Missed a pun or didn't get a joke? No problem there's another one coming right up. As they bounce from character to character or from one story to another their timing is perfect. We loved the running gag of Clarkson's Prince Charming and Trainor's princesses were hilarious, even when competing for the former's affections with members of the audience. One feature of the genre that our instructors didn't ment

Manor ★★ National Theatre | Nov 16, 2021 - Jan 1, 2022

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The first thing to strike you about Fiona Buffini's production of her sister Moira's new play, Manor, is Lez Brotherston's amazing set. A gigantic staircase climbs like some sort of Jacob's Ladder almost to heaven, while windows and doors lean at crazy angles. A huge tempest rages outside beneath glowering grey skies shot with shards of lightning. Meanwhile, Lady Diana, the chatelaine of the manor, argues violently with her dissolute husband before the house is invaded by a motley crew of 'orphans of the storm.' Principal amongst these is Ted, an enigmatic right-wing political fanatic – rather like a slightly more charismatic Nigel Farage. The rapacious Diana doesn't take long before taking him below stairs for a sexual encounter. A doddery vicar, a black nurse, a blind girl, and a lesbian kiss all have their moments centre stage. It's as if Buffini has a checklist of topics to cram in. At this performance we found laughs to be scarce except at the expen

Cratchit ★★★★ Park Theatre | Dec 7, 2021 - Jan 8, 2022

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How many times have you seen A Christmas Carol? Ever wondered how Bob Cratchit saw his situation? This innovative show brings a new perspective to Dickens' seasonal story and offers a darker view of the obsequious clerk who suffered from Scrooge's wrath and parsimony. Bob comes to represent all of the poor in Victorian England and their plight at the hands of unscrupulous employers. Desperation and lack of options drive this version of the downtrodden accounts keeper to drink, failed swindles and possible suicide. Alexander Knott has written a chilling and thoughtful piece which has the ring of a Victorian novel. His use of language is quite remarkable and both the characters' syntax and expression ring true to the period. Indeed, there are no pesky neologisms here to distract from the cadences of Cratchit's powerful disquisition, and John Dagleish, as Scrooge's browbeaten employee, does a masterful job of delivering these speeches. He is never off stage and he nev

Trouble in Mind ★★★★★ National Theatre | Dec 2, 2021 - Jan 29, 2022

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Alice Childress' play deserves all the accolades it receives. First produced in 1955, the drama continues to resonate with audiences because it deals honestly with the complex and controversial issue of race relations, presenting that subject in both a nuanced and forthright manner. Childress uses the metaphor of staging a play to explore how people on both sides of the racial divide disguise their reality and how that strategy only exacerbates the problems. This is the story of Wiletta Mayer, brilliantly portrayed by Tanya Moodie, and her discovery of her authentic voice. It is a journey that is ironically aided by her well-meaning, but obtuse director embodied by the excellent Rory Keenan. Indeed, all of the actors are extremely strong and each of them bring their A-game to this narrative about creating a play. However, we were particularly impressed by Cyril Nri's Sheldon. His ability to move his character from two dimensions to a complex and fully realised individual is bri

Cinderella ★★★★★ Richmond Theatre | Dec 3, 2021 - Jan 2, 2022

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Cinderella at Richmond Theatre is, for us, the perfect example of that quintessentially English theatrical staple – The Pantomime. It looks glorious and, mercifully, references to the outside world and TV shows are strictly limited. There is no product placement and sweets aren't thrown into the audience. However, traditional panto gags abound and the whole show is a kaleidoscopic rainbow of colour – with a pleasing lack of excessive blue in the humour. It isn't just Edward Chitticks' handsome Prince who is charming. Anton Du Beke as Buttons has charm by the bucket-load as he interacts delightfully with the audience; unsurprisingly he shines in his Fred Astaire-style routine at the Ball. As Beatrice and Eugenie, Darren Bennett and Bobby Delaney have a stunning wardrobe of evermore outrageous frocks as they brow-beat poor Oonagh Cox's sweet Cinders. Rosemary Ashe sparkles as the Fairy Godmother; she is reminiscent of June Whitfield in the role – a compliment indeed. Poo

Kehinde Wiley: The Prelude ★★★★ The National Gallery | Dec 10, 2021 - Apr 18, 2022 (Free Entry)

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This small exhibition occupies only two rooms at The National Gallery, but this does not stop Kehinde Wiley from exploring expansive, universal themes. The first room of the show presents five large paintings which challenge and question the Western landscape tradition. Inspired by Caspar David Friedrich and Winslow Homer, Wiley's works avoid parody while placing issues of ethnicity and identity in the context of the canon. The appearance of black figures in traditional landscape settings sets up a fascinating dialogue with the European cultural inheritance and its social and political roots. However, Wiley does not allow these questions to subsume an even larger commentary on humanity's relation to the natural world and its spiritual implication. This transcendental theme is further investigated in the second room which offers a film showing black figures in the whiteness of a winter landscape. The reference to Wordsworth in the title of this installation again extends the enq

Algorithms ★★★ Soho Theatre | December 6 - 11, 2021

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Imagine a millennial, bisexual Bridget Jones and you have the premise of Algorithms . While often funny and sometimes touching, the show doesn't go much beyond that basic hypothesis. Brooke is a sympathetic young woman who is turning thirty and who is taking stock of her life. From her lover, her mother and from the romcom movies she was brought up on, Brooke has absorbed expectations for what defines success, but as she approaches a milestone birthday, she is feeling woefully inadequate. Time to make a determined effort to get her life on track. While up to now she has only worked to design an online dating app, we get to enjoy her own first foray into that internet pond of possibility. There are a lot of good laughs here, and from many audience members there were probably chuckles of self-recognition. This a show that is very much aimed at a young, tech-savvy crowd who can identify with Brooke's ambitions and her dilemma. Sadie Clark who has written and performs the one wo

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical ★★★★ Lyric Theatre | Jan 24, Feb 21 & Mar 21, 2022

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Once each month, the Lyric Theatre hosts the madcap, improvised musical Showstopper! There's a rotating cast and the entertainment is inspired by the audience. On the night we attended the audience chose for the setting of the show a recently snowed-in pub where patrons had been stranded with an Oasis tribute band. For the music, the performers had to seek inspiration in the works of Sondheim, Miss Saigon , Gypsy and Beautiful . To say it all somehow worked would be an understatement. The five actors came up with a story that wove all the elements together and produced hilarious numbers like "I May Be Perimenopausal." Somehow this talented gang created a coherent narrative, and as they moved and invented at a frantic pace, they kept us laughing all night long. Philip Pellew had some fine dance moves and Lauren Shearing was wonderful as the vamp and divorced wife. Ruth Bratt was an uproarious middle-aged writer and Adam Meggido was spot on as a drunk with father issues.

Cinderella ★★★★★ Various cinemas and online | From December 4, 2021

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Recently, we had the pleasure of viewing Peter Duncan’s Cinderella , which opens this week in 100 cinemas as well as being made available to schools, Scout and Guide groups across the UK. It has all the elements we have come to love and expect from pantos and even includes echoes of the slapstick associated with Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy. Set in a blend of today and fantasy, the film has stepsisters played full tilt ugly by Peter Duncan and Adam Price, while Lucy-Jane Quinlan is a fine Cinderella who smiles and sings her way into our hearts. The show contains a variety of music, including a rap song ably performed by Henry Roadnight’s Buttons. There's also movement and action that a stage just won’t allow for and great colourful costumes and sets. On one hand, we were pleased to see that “no children dressed as animals were harmed in the making of this production,” but we were also gratified to see that the traditions of pantos, in small theatres and enjoyed by generatio

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