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Macbeth, Wilton's Music Hall - ★★★★★ - Until February 8, 2020

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Paul Hart's thrilling production of Macbeth fits perfectly onto Wilton's split level stage and looks spectacular in Katie Lias' looming design and Tom White's lighting. Some drastic cutting of Shakespeare's text excludes the witches as such but their supernatural presence is always felt. Turning the Macbeths' castle into a sleazy hotel is an original idea and is well developed. Any production of Macbeth stands or falls on the protagonists, and here we have a slightly different take on their relationship. Emma McDonald's well spoken glamourous hotel/bordello owner certainly exuded sexuality, but for once we felt that it was Macbeth himself who was the instigator of the catastrophe. Billy Postlethwaite's charismatic, edgy, gangling thane speaks the words with great intelligence; we almost felt that he could rule alone. Music from The Rolling Stones to Johnny Cash illuminate the play and the multi-talented ensemble of ten worked together superbly, especial…

The Sunset Limited, Boulevard Theatre - ★★★★★ - Until February 29, 2020

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Two strangers meet in unusual circumstances and a wide-ranging dialogue ensues that examines the purpose and value of life itself. One of the interlocutors, White, (Jasper Britton) is an academic, atheist who does not believe in the value of existence. The other, Black, (Gary Beadle) is a reformed criminal who has found faith in the Bible and Jesus. He has renounced his previous life and abandoned material possessions in his new conviction that there is a spiritual reality and value inherent in humanity. Writer, Cormac McCarthy, is noted for his bleak vision of the human condition and the debate seems somewhat one-sided, but the discussion that we are invited to witness is both compelling and disturbing. McCarthy's strength as a playwright is that he can wring so much drama simply out of the power of his words. There is a minimal amount of action in the play recalling the work of Samuel Beckett who was a major influence on the author. However, the power of the piece can only be re…

Sex/Crime, Soho Theatre - ★★★ - Until February 1, 2020

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A man goes to a sexual services provider to act out a murder, or does he really wish to be murdered? Is this play about the relationship between a rather specialised sex worker and his masochistic client? Or is the sex worker actually the murderer whom the client fantasises about? There are lots of questions here and a great deal of humour. The acting is as exaggerated as the plot which parodies the public obsession with serial criminals and amusingly illustrates how that obsession can be turned into a business. Do health and safety standards apply in this line of work? For us, it didn't all quite work – perhaps, because we couldn't avoid reflecting on the sad reality that some people don't know the difference between consensual sexual power play and the abuse of vulnerable people who lack a sense of self-worth. Nevertheless, much of the audience seemed to find a lot of humour here and the comedy was painted in very broad strokes. Jonny Woo and Alexis Gregory both caught t…

Cops, Southwark Playhouse - ★★★★ - Until February 1, 2020

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With the American police drama being the bread and butter of most television programming, we were a little skeptical about whether there could be an original play on the subject. Cops is an interesting response to that skepticism. With echoes of edgy, male workplace dramas like Glengarry Glen Ross, this work is a step-up from the frequently rather shallow pap offered on television. The establishment of the four main characters in Act I seemed a bit slow but it becomes increasingly engrossing. Whilst we anticipated more character development in Act I, we adapted our expectations to the pace of the piece. This led us to anticipate a deliberately drawn-out understanding and a gradual immersion into the interpersonal conflicts of the principals. However, Act II was a quick rush into character revelation and an emphasis on plot twists that was totally unexpected. As a result, Cops now seemed like a rather uneven work in progress. Still, it is worth more than a look-in just for the quality …

You Stupid Darkness! - Southwark Playhouse - ★★★★ - Until February 22, 2020

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“Life goes on” is what Sam Steiner seems to say in You Stupid Darkness! This is borne out in James Grieve's beautifully conceived production, Amy Jane Cook's design and Peter Small's terrific lighting. We are in some undefined post-apocalyptic Samaritans-like call centre as toxic storms rage outside. The team leader (the excellent Jenni Maitland) is at first irritatingly bossy but slowly gains our sympathy as does the skittish Angie (Lydia Larsen); her despair as she loses a caller is beautifully realised. Andy Rush is tremendous as subtly gay Jon whilst Andrew Finnigan (Joey) completes a superb cast. We see Joey's work-experience serve to delicately mature him from a boy to a man. The scene where the undertones of gay attraction emerge is also tremendously well played. There are moments of telling silence and some excellent laughs. The characters deal with people experiencing depression and other mental health issues whilst simultaneously battling their own demons, an…

The Canary and the Crow, Arcola Theatre - ★★★★ - Until February 8, 2020

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The Canary and the Crow seeks to deliver an experience which will bring a new, younger audience into the theatre. 'Gig theatre' is unabashedly political and genre fluid. This is an event with a message delivered through a variety of media from traditional theatrical soliloquies to gig-like audience participation. The music runs from traditional to grime with a narrative incorporating fables and dance. It is all brought together beautifully by director, Paul Smith, and a cast whose energy is totally infectious. The eclectic nature of the presentation also mirrors the theme of Daniel Ward's commentary on trying to find his identity. The narrative of a young black man trying to establish who he really is after his exposure to the totally different environment of an exclusive, largely white, boys' school is a gripping story. We may seek to find identity in the groups we belong to or even from perceptions of others, but ultimately we are alone -- a unique amalgam of our own…

Four Play, Above The Stag Theatre - ★★★★ - Until February 22, 2020

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What makes a successful relationship? Fidelity? Honesty? Both or neither? Jake Brunger's Four Play explores the question of whether an open relationship can work, or are there just romantic, faithful people and sexually adventuresome, unfaithful ones – and ne'er the twain should meet. Pete (Keeran Blessie) and Rafe (Ashley Byam) have been together seven and a half years and have never had another partner. They decide to ask friend Michael (Declan Spaine) to help them explore new horizons. He's a safe bet because he's in an open relationship with Andrew (Marc MacKinnon). No danger of an emotional entanglement there, but he needs to be discreet about the experiment! And so the fun and complications begin. Although historically speaking, sexual fidelity became the gold standard of commitment and love in heterosexual partnerships relatively recently (with women never getting an equal right to play around) it has now also been adopted by many gay people, with all the usual …

Falling In Love Again, King's Head Theatre - ★★★ - Until February 8, 2020

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Before the Meghan and Harry 'scandal,' there was the shock of a royal who stepped back from the throne apparently for love. In 1936, the world was enthralled by and enjoyed arguing about the relationship of Edward VIII and his lover, Wallis Simpson. Depending on your point of view the abdication was a triumph of love or an abandonment of duty. This play focuses on the night before Edward's abdication when he is known to have met with Hollywood screen legend, Marlene Dietrich. Their conversation is not recorded but the play makes use of historical information about the two personalities to reconstruct what they might have discussed. Such facts as Dietrich's well-known distaste for the Nazis and Edward's fascination with Hitler are alluded to. The king's attraction to dominant women and Dietrich's femme fatale persona underlie the dynamics of the evening's interaction, and in this play Dietrich tries to seduce Edward and dissuade him from abdicating. The …

& Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre - ★★★★★ - Until October 3, 2020

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& Juliet is a bold, assumption undermining and mind bending production. It starts with the premise that Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's neglected but determined wife, has ideas of her own about how one of his most famous tragedies should play out. She takes pen in hand and rewrites the plot giving Juliet a second chance to find empowerment and happiness. However, the struggle between the spouse/writers is just the start to the playing with expectations and conventions which this show delights in. Most musicals with pre-written songs simply showcase those songs linked by a thin plot thread, but & Juliet recontextualises hits by artists such as Britney Spears and Katy Perry in a way that gives us a totally new perspective on the originals. The wonderful thing is that much of the audience who came along, perhaps just to hear these hits, appeared completely enthralled by the new readings of their familiar favourites. This is a very clever production which makes us see things we a…

RAGS The Musical, Park Theatre - ★★★★★ - Until February 8, 2020

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This is an American musical for today! Hallmarks of the genre are big production numbers, a compelling story, outstanding music and performances. This production has them all! Director Bronagh Lagan and choreograper Philip Michael Thomas have done a terrific job of bringing the big Broadway feel to a very small space and having the musicians perform on stage works beautifully. The tale of Jewish immigrants coming to America at the turn of the century is a fascinating one and the epic story captures us with its clear but subtle characterisation. However, while using some old tropes like the stories of paired lovers, the show boldly offers a very 21st century version of a happy ending. The music here suggests the melting pot that was New York in those days with echoes of ragtime, klezmer street music and hints of jazz. Songs like "Greenhorns," "Three Sunny Rooms," and "Children of the Wind" become instantly memorable as do some of the performances. Carolyn …

Coming Clean, Trafalgar Studios - ★★★ - Until February 1, 2020

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Is it possible for an open gay relationship to work? This is the central question posed in Kevin Elyot's 1982 play Coming Clean; Tony and Greg have been together for five years and don't find the answer easy. Director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher, gives us a straight-forward production of the play in Amanda Mascarenhas's realistic set. Lee Knight's Tony has great charm and some excellent scenes, particularly in the second act. His amoral friend William played by Elliot Hadley received plenty of laughs, but the performance, perhaps because of the writing, struck us as rather reminiscent of the Chuckle Brothers. To balance this, however, the other two principals struck a more realistic note. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge's beautifully spoken Greg was totally mesmeric. His stillness spoke volumes as the most subtle of all the characters. Nevertheless, it was the cuckoo in the nest, Jonah Rzeskiewicz (Robert), who shone; he was entirely believable throughout - a lovely performan…

Shackleton and his Stowaway, Park Theatre - ★★★ - Until February 1, 2020

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Shackleton's antarctic expedition and the survival of his party after the loss of their ship is a story which has continued to fascinate the public. It is an awesome feat of courage and endurance, and Shackleton's character and decisions have continued to provoke speculation and debate. In this version, the character of the proud, unbending and ever-optimistic Shackleton is set against the more realistic, pragmatic and earthy perspective of a youthful stowaway. The latter holds his hero in the highest of esteem yet questions some of Shackleton's views and decisions. While it is interesting to see how the two are played off against each other, the problem is that neither character seems to develop and the interpersonal drama is quite limited in its scope. Nevertheless, Richard Ede creates a credible Shackleton and Elliott Ross is a delightfully cheeky stowaway. As the characters are essentially flat, the dramatic crux of the piece becomes the situation of the crew of the En…

Scrounger, Finborough Theatre - ★★★★ - Until February 1, 2020

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Athena Stevens, writer and titular protagonist of Scrounger, begins by making the audience squirm, accusing us, possibly accurately, of patronising or sidelining those with disabilities from behind our glass of Pimm's and copy of The Guardian. However, over a lengthy, unbroken 100 minutes, we are absorbed into Athena's struggle with the world after being removed from an aeroplane due to her large wheelchair and the consequences thereof. Aided by Leigh Quinn cleverly playing a truly astonishing range of other characters, we live through the stresses of Athena's fight for justice. Leigh is tremendous, and often very funny, as she switches roles in a nanosecond. Excellent sound, lighting and an interesting minimalist set all add immensely to the performance. However, the evening belongs to the incomparable Athena Stevens who, almost incidentally, was born with cerebral palsy. It takes time to accustom oneself to her delivery but very soon her stoicism and humanity shine throu…

Tom Brown's School Days, The Union Theatre - ★★★ - Until February 2, 2020

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Tom Brown's School Days was an enormously popular book when it was published and it created a genre of writing that is echoed in the current cult of Harry Potter. The story shows public school boys experiencing the hardship, bullying and camaraderie of a 'privileged' education in order to learn life values and emerge as great leaders. The notion seemed more than näive after the experience of WW I, but the simple theme of good values honed by the adversity of a harsh educational environment has remained enduring. This version updates the tale to the World War II period, but it also offers a commentary on many current social and political concerns. Bullying has not gone away in the microcosm of our schools nor in the macrocosm of the political arena. Indeed, it seems to have become almost the stock and trade of current politics. Thomas Hughes saw the public school system as a baptism of fire for creating leaders with values and integrity; Phil Wilmott has largely eschewed ir…

Teenage Dick, Donmar Warehouse - ★★★★ - Until February 1, 2020

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Shakespeare's Richard III reimagined as American highschool election drama. It's an odd premise but it works! This is a thoughtful and entertaining adaptation which we didn't expect from the rather silly title. The adaptation of Shakespeare's characters and plots to contemporary settings has become almost an industry, and this piece does it better than many others. Mike Lew translates Richard and his disability to the world of cliques and physical obsession that fashion the values of adolescent life. Richard's disability lends to him being typed by himself and by others as an outsider. However, the casting of a second disabled actor as Buckingham challenges the audience to see beyond the protagonist's physical presence and to deal with him as the uniquely morally tormented person whom he is. Richard is a victim of discrimination, but he is also an individual making choices. We come to identify with him as such as we see him through his triumphs as exemplified …

A Taste of Honey, Trafalgar Studios - ★★★★ - Until February 29, 2020

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So many of today's hot button issues are here: poverty, class, racism and homophobia. Shelagh Delaney touched on all of them in her groundbreaking play of 1958 and her work still resonates. The story of adolescent, Jo, and her overbearing mother, Helen, is still touching and disturbing. Theirs is a search for affection and validation from others while they express their disappointment and frustration by throwing verbal barbs at each other. The work is as visceral and vibrant as when it was first produced and the characters are thoroughly engaging. Jodie Prenger is amazing as Helen the overblown, overconfident yet vulnerable mother. She gets it just right as she alternately infuriates with her selfishness and insensitivity and then confuses us with flashes of caring and fragility. Gemma Dobson is equally strong as her mother's mirror image, stubborn and headstrong yet needy and confused. The play itself still bears some of the hallmarks of a first work, occasionally rather for…

ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition, The O2 - ★★★★ - Until August 31, 2020

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Everything you ever wanted to know about ABBA! This is the comprehensive exhibition and a must-see for serious fans of the Swedish pop group. London's latest ongoing attraction traces the group's rise and follows their journey and growth album by album. From 1974 with their win at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton ABBA's distinctive sound defined a generation and continues to delight audiences. Here, each of their eight albums is presented in a particular setting and we are given some wonderful insight into the band's creative processes. There is some never before displayed memorabilia, terrific photos and nostalgic film footage. You can even sit down and watch the Eurovision Song Contest Victory or get pictures beside a full-sized replica of the helicopter that was on the cover of "Arrival." A great audio guide comes with your ticket and it provides fascinating background and lots of information while helping to immerse us in the period. The exhibitio…

Singin' In The Rain, The Mill at Sonning - ★★★★★ - Until February 8, 2020

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The Mill at Sonning has another winner! This is a quite wonderful production of Singin' In The Rain with over 1,000 litres of water falling to create the spectacular stage effect of the title. The plot which is about the trials of silent movie stars of 1927 transitioning to the world of talkies is cleverly framed by the idea of the ubiquitous new way of accessing film on a mobile phone, and the narrative is interspersed with some black and white silent movie scenes that hilariously contribute to the atmosphere. But it is not the story that has made this show a favourite; it is the unforgettable songs and great dancing. This production completely delivers on both points. The principals, Philip Bertioli as Don Lockwood, Rebecca Jayne-Davies as Kathy Selden and Brendan Cull as Cosmo Brown are all excellent: their dancing dazzles and their singing soars. Sammy Kelly's comic turn as shrill silent star, Lina Lamont, is also a delight, and the rest of the cast are equally wonderfully…

Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, The Wallace Collection - ★★★★★ - Until April 19, 2020

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This is a show that lives up to its title! There is some wonderful work here that is largely unknown and whose neglected creators are only now being rescued from obscurity. It is such a shame that this has been the state of things for so long. This exhibition which is beautifully displayed and thoughtfully curated by William Dalrymple is a tremendous step in rectifying that oversight. This is art created by Indian artists for British patrons from the later eighteenth through to the mid nineteenth centuries. It traces the blending of Mughal and European traditions, tools and techniques, recording flora, fauna, architecture and some wonderful studies of cultural confluences. The portrait of John Wombwell, a Yorkshire chartered accountant in Mughal attire and smoking a hookah is counterpointed by the Indians pictured sometimes rather awkwardly in western military uniforms. The show honours some amazing artists such as Yellapah of Vellore, Ghulam Ali Khan and Sita Ram and their technique …

Young Bomberg and the Old Masters, National Gallery - FREE - ★★★★ - Until March 1, 2020

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David Bomberg (1890-1957) may not be an artist with whom you are familiar but this small exhibition offers a wonderful introduction to his work. It also serves to bring a fresh perspective to some familiar pieces. Nine works are presented with some of the paintings from the collection of The National Gallery which inspired Bomberg. The exhibition presents his self-portrait which is a quite traditional in its echoing of Botticelli's "Portrait of a Young Man" and then shows the artist's developing boldness in his reworking of tropes from the masters. Michelangelo's "The Entombment" becomes an inspiration for his own masterwork "The Mud Bath." This exhibition is a fascinating look at the development of an artist and a reminder of how 20th century Modernism did not spring from nowhere. The movement had clear antecedents in the past. We are reminded that art comes from a context even when artists' claim to reject the tradition they work in. The…

London Living Large

The City Life Magazine. Reviews and Ratings.