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Rough Sleeper ★★★ The Actors Centre (online) | September 10 - 19, 2021

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Jo Emery's play Rough Sleeper has been filmed for streaming but having the "Man" in a real street adds little to the audience experience. In many ways this decision detracts from the immediacy of a live actor in a theatre. On stage the audience would be drawn in more easily, and occasional laughs and sighs of sympathy would make us feel closer to the character. Much of the seventy minute piece has Haydn Davis as the "Man" in question recounting his life story. One is naturally compassionate as we learn, how following a series of calamities, he has declined from prosperity to his present state of homelessness and alcoholism. Highlighted by some extremely telling close-ups, he shares with us the loss of his parents and how grieving can descend into tragedy. Unfortunately, similar heartrending stories can be heard along most high streets today, and we felt that using verbatim quotations from actual homeless people might have made for a more hard-hitting, realistic

Leopards ★★★ Rose Theatre | September 2 - 25, 2021

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In the foyer of the beautiful Rose Theatre there are notices urging us not to disclose the plot twists in Alys Metcalf's new play, Leopards . Of course we won't, beyond saying there is a clue in the title. At one hundred minutes this is a rather wordy and frequently repetitive piece. We are being encouraged to consider what it means to be a good person and the author is constantly trying to wrong-foot us. The opening scene in a hotel bar doesn't feel well paced with words tumbling out without any realistic time for thought. Later, the action becomes almost too slow as one bullet point after another is laboriously hammered home. It feels as if the writer has a checklist of issues she must introduce and is ticking them off one by one. Martin Marquez is Ben an internationally renowned figure ostensibly helping Niala, a young woman played by Saffron Coomber, onto the ladder to success. Both actors have the near impossible task of making their characters appear sympathetic. Chri

13 ★★★★ Cadogan Hall | August 31, 2021

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For its exuberant production of Jason Robert Brown's musical 13 , The British Theatre Academy fills the large stage of Cadogan Hall with around eighty young singers, dancers and musicians. The show is extremely age specific and centres on a twelve-year-old boy's quest to get his new school mates to attend his imminent Bar Mitzvah. Whilst obviously young, few of the principal cast appear to be twelve or thirteen. This actually improves the audience's experience as more mature voices suit the songs better and these young performers have terrific voices. The show itself feels like it is actually dealing with an older age group, and with its treatment of a disabled boy, a seemingly unattractive girl, and the class jock's relentless search for pubescent sex it often borders on bad taste. Luckily, Dean Johnson directs with a suitable lightness of touch and elicits excellent performances and plenty of humour from the situations. His work is supported by Corin Miller's jaun

The System ★★★★ Original Theatre Company (online) | Sep 8 - Dec 5, 2021

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A man is murdered at his own birthday party and the police must interview the suspects. The premise is quite simple. But, starting from that point, Emily Head has set herself a formidable task as both an actor and a writer. It is not a small feat to individuate a wide variety of characters using only minimal props and without the help of costumes. Head does a brilliant job of capturing speech patterns and idiosyncrasies to ensure that the audience can distinguish amongst her creations. If we had any quibble with the production, it is probably with the 'whodunit' genre itself which, because it is plot driven, always makes character development seem secondary. Head creates some fascinating personae but the format and the time constraint left us wanting more. This show does not belong to Head alone, however. Ben Eeley's camera work is quite astonishing. Filming the production in a single shot, Eeley uses his Steadicam to take on the role of police interviewer while also acting

Salomé ★★★★ Southwark Playhouse | Aug 25 - Sep 11, 2021

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This production of Salomé by Lazarus Theatre Company is stunning in so many ways. Oscar Wilde's rarely performed and bizarre play needs very careful handling. This sumptuous version uses a traverse staging with the audience appearing to be seated on either side of a gigantic banquet table upon which much of the action occurs. Ricky Dukes has updated the play and directs with great confidence; he doesn't shirk from Wilde's tendency towards verbosity and the melodramatic. He has changed the production from that seen at Greenwich Theatre in 2019, eliminating minor characters and returning to Wilde's single act format. Brilliant lighting and sound by Will Thompson and Ben Jacobs create a shattering atmosphere as Jokannan, played by Prince Plockey, prowls incessantly around his prison cell while interjecting occasional ranting outbursts. Re-gendering Salomé to make him a male prince works seamlessly and Fred Thomas brings an ethereal, but evil, calm to his demands. During a

When Darkness Falls ★★★★ Park Theatre | Aug 18 - Sep 4, 2021

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As thunder clapped and lights suddenly blacked out, the seriously scary ghost stories of When Darkness Falls had the audience jumping out of their seats. The plot seems simple: a historian, John, is recording a vlog with an unnamed guest speaker. We are told a number of tales dating back several centuries, all of which take place on Guernsey and end in gruesome deaths. At times, the play which is written by James Milton and Paul Morrissey (who also directs) comes off as a bit cumbersome but it is generally well constructed. We won't spoil the fun by revealing too much, but there are certainly a couple of clever twists. The story takes a little while to get into its stride but when it does, it really works superbly well. The cluttered set by Justin Williams, plus lighting and sound by Bethany Gupwell and John Bulleid, all help create the ideal atmosphere. Will Barton convincingly plays the historian and several other characters while Alex Phelps' Speaker shoulders the bulk of t

Tell Me Straight ★★★★ King's Head Theatre | August 17 - 21, 2021

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Paul Bradshaw's Tell Me Straight charms us by recounting the travails of a charismatic gay guy who seeks out straight and 'bi-curious' young men. We meet several of them as they criss-cross his life. A joke is made of the fact that they all look virtually identical – this is no surprise as they are all played by the same actor. Bradshaw has a rare talent for writing relaxed and frequently witty dialogue. Imogen Hudson-Clayton's direction keeps things moving and provides some very funny business, particularly during an encounter in a cinema. The visual production is minimal in the extreme but that allows us to concentrate on the two actors and the occasional voice-over interjections from Stephanie Levi-John. Bradshaw performs his own work faultlessly, getting the maximum laughs out of his plight whilst retaining our sympathy for his somewhat hedonistic lifestyle. His timing is immaculate and he doesn't flinch from self-deprecation. Playing all the men in his life, G

Jersey Boys ★★★★★ Trafalgar Theatre | Jul 28 - Jan 2, 2022

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Jersey Boys brings doo-wop triumphantly back to the West End in the beautifully restored Trafalgar Theatre. The show shares the touching saga of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: their rise to fame and their background stories. Unlike many jukebox musicals, these songs don't need to be shoe-horned in. They simply fit naturally into place as the years roll by. No less than thirty-four numbers are listed – several of which come as a surprise – but each one is given full value by this terrific cast. Frankie Valli had a distinctive nasal falsetto sound and newcomer Ben Joyce really hits the spot. For us, "Moody's Mood For Love" is a particular highlight. Adam Bailey, Karl James Wilson and Benjamin Yates join Joyce to make up a tremendous band. Each one sings superbly and artfully creates his own persona. We really feel for these guys as the show progresses. Life on the road wasn't easy. The immaculately sharp suits and snazzy arrangements are often at odds with the

Isabel + Helen In Orbit ★★★ Saatchi Gallery | Aug 13 - Sep 5, 2021 - FREE

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On entering In Orbit by Isabel and Helen we are confronted by huge white boards which contain a single circle of colour. We are told that this collection of imperfect circles and the tools used in their creation explore the space between mass production and the creation of unique art works. In doing so they are intended to question our relationship with machines. The artists built a special contraption to produce these pieces; the white boards slowly revolve on a turntable as paint is applied from above by static brushes. A film shows the actual process and the contraption itself is on display. Looking more closely we see imperfections in the circles where the boards come into contact with the brushes. The barren existence brought about by enforced inactivity during the pandemic might come sharply into focus. We see how tiny deviations grow to become disproportionately important. The work of each bristle on each brush is seemingly magnified. A single colour produces many differing sha

Constellations ★★★★★ Vaudeville Theatre | Jun 18 - Sep 12, 2021

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Constellations by Nick Payne receives a sparkling revival in Michael Longhurst's insightful production. The stunning set of magical white balloons by Tom Scutt manages to be both celebratory and sad – not unlike the play itself. Taking quantum multiverse theory as its basis, the play loops backwards and forwards with the short scenes being repeated with slight changes which contradict each other – frequently producing hilarious results. The split-second timing is jaw-dropping. Not everything, however, is frivolous and the tragic elements hit home all the harder when juxtaposed with the comedy. This revival of the two-handed play casts four pairs of actors differing in age and style, and there is now a gay option which fits the writing perfectly. This is much more than simply gender-blind casting, this is an inspired readjustment of an already highly effective script and reinforces the theme of the piece. Doubtless, all the pairings are excellent, but we were lucky enough to see Ru

John & Jen ★★★★★ Southwark Playhouse | Jul 28 - Aug 21, 2021

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John and Jen is blessed with two of the best performances you are likely to see this year. In this engaging tale of family love and loss, Rachel Tucker and Lewis Cornay play a brother and sister, and later a mother and son. Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald's show began life almost thirty years ago but has been neatly updated. We follow these two people from cradle to grave, and there is great humour and sensitivity as the years swiftly pass. Nevertheless, things never feel rushed in Guy Retallack's sharp production which is helped enormously by Andrew Exeter's immaculate lighting. The songs are accompanied by beautiful arrangements for the four piece band, but it is the performances which really make everything work. Given her experience starring in the West End and on Broadway, Rachel Tucker is unsurprisingly terrific; she melts hearts and sings up a storm in her climactic number. She seamlessly moves from stroppy teenager to overly protective mother, and the baseball game

Carousel ★★★★ Regent's Park Open Air Theatre | Jul 31 - Sep 25, 2021

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Carousel is one of the very greatest pieces of musical theatre. Every song is in a minor key and is subtly instilled with a sense of yearning and of the tragedy to come. The whole show stands or falls on the casting of Julie and Billy, and here we are lucky to have the totally believable Carly Bawden and Declan Bennett acting and singing superbly. Bennett's seven minute "Soliloquy" is pitched perfectly as the young wildcat is tamed by the realisation that he is to become a father – something he is ill-prepared for. Bawden brings a sense of foreboding before truly tugging at the heartstrings as she loses her husband. Joanna Riding, herself an award-winning Julie, is tremendous as cousin Nettie – feisty and fun before stunning us with a moving rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone." The huge company was beautifully disposed over Tom Scutt's steeply raked set, creating many wonderfully striking pictures. Drew McOnie's witty choreography uses the consta

Park Bench (Act Two) ★★★ Park Theatre | August 4 - 14, 2021

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Park Bench is certainly a fascinating, original and innovative concept. Acts one and two not only taking place on different days, but one is streamed and the other played live in a theatre. We begin with a Zoom call between Liv and Theo, a young couple whose relationship broke up a year ago. After a chat lasting around fifteen minutes they agree to meet face to face at a favourite park bench. We now move to the theatre for their reunion. Much of the dialogue in Tori Allen-Martin's script has a very naturalistic feel to it which she as Liv and Tim Bowie as Theo deliver with realistic charm. Act two lasts a little under an hour and quite a lot of the time is spent on inconsequential chat about how they coped with lockdown. Would Theo really have watched The Crown and consider Meghan Markle "well fit"? It left us with the impression that Allen-Martin writes better for a female protagonist. The characters wander around a set that simply comprises a bench in a park. They cha

Coppélia ★★★★★ St. Gabriel's Halls | Aug 3 - 6 & 12 - 14, 2021

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Coppélia shows that ballet can really be fun, especially in the hands of a choreographer as talented as William Spencer. He certainly removes the 'elitist' tag classically based dance can be tainted with. In tandem with musical director Aaron Clingham, Spencer makes something interesting and delightful to both the eye and the ear. E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story remains intact, at least in essence, but gone are girls in tutus to be replaced by three handsome young gay men. Our lusty heroes are interested in the wares displayed in a fetish shop run by the lecherous Dr. C., Thomas Edward Buckley, who dances very well as the proprietor and elicits plenty of fun with his perfect timing. It is, however, the three young men who own the show. Hayden Tierney dances superbly and exudes sexuality, especially in his erotic bedroom pas de deux paired with the wonderfully supple dancing of Lewis Rimmer. Jack Buchanan is properly puckish as their friend. All three guys are obviously ve

Die Walküre ★★★★★ Hackney Empire | August 4 - 7, 2021

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Die Walküre is opera at its very pinnacle and to find it at the magnificent Hackney Empire is amazing – especially when so brilliantly performed. Wagner's Ring Cycle, based on the Norse Völsunga saga, lasts almost twenty hours. Here, we have part two in a somewhat truncated arrangement by the late Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove. Dove's reduction of the orchestra to just eighteen players is nothing short of miraculous. Julia Burbach's production, within Bettina John's set of gleaming steel structures, is clear, incisive and frequently exceptionally beautiful. Wagner didn't write conventional opera with arias and choruses. He used wonderful recurring leitmotifs to represent people, situations and ideas, and when his work is performed as well as this, it is quite marvellous. Towering over the show is Mark Stone's meltingly heartfelt Wotan, imperious, glorious in tone and yet finally a broken man. Laure Meloy brings wonderfully rich singing to her moving portrayal o

All That ★★★ King's Head Theatre | Jul 30 - Aug 21, 2021

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Shaun Kitchener's All That draws us into the lives of two young couples sharing a house in suburban Essex. Jamie (Imran Adams) and Parker (Matt Greenwood) are taken as lodgers by Riley (Chris Jenkins) and Taylor (Jordan Laviniere); one couple is strictly monogamous whilst the other relationship is totally open. The line the plot takes isn't exactly unexpected or original but it is well enough written with some excellent laughs. James Callàs Ball directs neatly, but one wishes it was occasionally a little less polite in tone. Monogamy may be accepted as the norm in society at large, but Riley and Taylor's horror at the prospect of their lodgers having a different lifestyle feels rather old-fashioned. Thankfully the performances come to the rescue; Chris Jenkins paces himself perfectly and is totally believable as the former boy band member now working in insurance - when he finally snaps and lets rip he really goes for it! The stand-out performance, however, comes from Matt

I Could Use A Drink ★★★ Garrick Theatre | August 2, 2021

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I Could Use A Drink left us thirsting for more – more of Drew Gasparini's very accessible songs, but also more context for what is simply a live performance of a concept album created in 2013. Like so many gifted composers through the centuries, Gasparini seems to struggle finding a suitable plot to achieve lasting success in the commercial theatre. Performed by nine tremendously talented young singers under Flynn Sturgeon's excellent musical direction, we get a stream of songs of love and loss with plenty of angst and occasional flashes of dark humour. What we don't get is any narrative. This is a shame as these numbers provoke real interest in the listener. However, like so many songs from musical theatre when played out of context much of the impact is lost. Gasparini doesn't flinch from difficult subjects with a chilling trio about high school bullying and another concerning teenage pregnancy's effect on both young parents. The songs certainly hit their mark. M

Wonderville ★★★★ Palace Theatre | Jul 16 - Aug 30, 2021

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Wonderville does what theatre is best at – creating great illusions to make us believe the unbelievable. We know, for example, that the actor playing Hamlet doesn't actually die any more than the woman being sawn in half is actually cleft in two – but we believe what we see. Here, we have a hugely entertaining variety show with Chris Cox as the most amiable of hosts who also baffles us with his ingenious mind-reading act. Cox is genuinely funny and has great rapport with his audience. We then meet Edward Hilsum who, after producing balls and doves out of nowhere, invites a little boy onto the stage and manages to make it appear as if he had become a conjurer – the look of delight on the seven-year-old's face charms everyone. Top of the bill are Young and Strange, and they live up to their name with incredible feats of contortion and, yes, we do get to see them saw a woman in half! This illusion was introduced in 1921 by P. T. Selbit and a century later remains as clever as eve

Dad's Army ★★★ Various venues (on tour) | Sep 3 - Oct 21, 2021

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Dad's Army is part of TV history, having been shown from 1968-77. Here we have two of David Croft and Jimmy Perry's late episodes as adapted for radio. David Benson and Jack Lane play all the characters and have boundless energy; their impersonations are quite superb. There is, however, one hurdle even these talented performers cannot surmount: the scripts just aren't funny without visual aid. Throughout both episodes whilst one 'felt' the audience smiling wryly, there were no laugh-out-loud moments – except on a couple of occasions when things didn't quite go to plan. Much of the humour in the original came from visual gags with all the characters looking silly in various ways; when reduced to just the bare bones of the writing, it seemed that too much had been lost in translation. On the positive side, the performances are great – Lane's Corporal Jones was particularly accurate with every nuance and vocal mannerism spot on. Sergeant Wilson was always actu

Tommy on Top ★★★★★ Above The Stag Theatre | Jul 28 - Aug 29, 2021

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Chris Woodley's hilarious Tommy on Top is without doubt one of the most side-splitting evenings we've had in the theatre in ages. The plot revolves around the premise that no out gay man has ever won the best actor Oscar. Our hero, Tommy Miller, has been snapped in a compromising clinch with his gay partner, George, and chaos ensues as he is threatened with exposure. The glamorous Alexander Hulme is ideally cast as Tommy from his first appearance in just white CK briefs to his touching tuxedoed closing speech. However, the standout performance of the evening comes from Lucas Livesey as George, the boyfriend. His comic timing is immaculate and he doesn't overplay – much. There is little room for subtlety in this sort of farce but Lucas is almost believable. It's a terrific performance. Subtle is not a word to describe Chris Lane's outrageous portrayal of Eddie, the agent, but he is brilliantly funny even when comatose and being lugged around David Shields' opule

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