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Theatre 2020: Pick of the plays

Here are a just a few of the plays The Man in the Grand Circle has his eye on this year.

Among the star names coming to the London stage are Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke (see above photo) in Anya Reiss’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull for the Jamie Lloyd Company at the Playhouse Theatre in March.  Timothee Chalamet and Eileen Atkins appear in 4000 Miles at the Old Vic the following month, while back at the Playhouse Theatre in June is one of my favourite actresses (I’ve been lucky enough to interview her twice), Jessica Chastain, in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

If you can’t wait that long for your Ibsen fix, then check out Stef Smith’s Nora: A Doll’s House – a “radical” retelling of the story at the Young Vic in February.

For Samuel Beckett fans it’s like Christmas all over again in January. Trevor Nunn directs a triple bill at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre (Krapp’s Last Tape, Eh Joe, The Old Tune) with a cast that includes Niall Buggy, Lisa Dwan, James Hayes and David Threlfall, while over at the Old Vic Alan Cumming, Daniel Radcliffe and Jane Horrocks star in Endgame.

February’s offerings include David Mitchell making his West End debut in Ben Elton’s Shakespearean comedy Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre. I’m also intrigued by Hampstead Theatre’s The Haystack, a thriller by Al Blyth about GCHQ and surveillance.

Those who like their thrillers with a supernatural edge might want to check out The House on Cold Hill, starring Debbie McGee, at The Mill at Sonning in April.

On the National Theatre’s programme I like the look of Lucy Kirkwood’s The Welkin, starring Maxine Peake and Ria Zmitrowicz (opening this month). In April, Thea Sharrock directs  Jack Absolute Flies Again, a new play by Richard Bean and Oliver Chris based on Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals. And in August Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley are the star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet.

Talking of unmissable Shakespeare, Cush Jumbo takes on Hamlet at the Young Vic in July.

Further afield, my theatrical sweet tooth is tempted by Quality Street, Northern Broadsides’ revival of JM Barrie’s farce by  which opens in February in Halifax’s Viaduct Theatre and then tours. Barrie’s play was so popular at the time that it gave the chocolates their name.

And there I was trying to give up chocolate this month…

If you missed Laura Wade’s The Watsons at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2019, be sure to catch it at the Harold Pinter Theatre where it opens in May. This genius trip into the Jane Austen universe owes a lot to Pirandello, as does the title of this play at the Southwark Playhouse in April: Five Characters in Search of a Good Night’s Sleep.

Finally, to the Royal Court for a play (in June) which has quite possibly best title of the year: Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks.

Happy New Year!



A Christmas Carol review – The Old Vic

5 star review

It’s no surprise that this staging of Dickens’ Christmas classic is back for a third year at the Old Vic.  It clearly has the potential to become as perennial as other festive must-sees like The Snowman and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Directed by Matthew Warchus, writer Jack Thorne’s version of the Scrooge story manages to be both pleasingly traditional while at the same time feel like an exciting reinvention.

With the audience on all sides, Rob Howell’s atmospheric set cuts a path through the stalls, lit from above by myriad lanterns. The costumes, beautiful yet battered, might be described as distressed Dickensian chic.

Paterson Joseph plays Scrooge with the grouch dial turned up to 11. His dismissive description of the carol singers at his front door as “singing creatures” is particularly entertaining. And his handling of the old miser’s (spoiler alert) Christmas morning transformation was so well done I found myself grinning with uncontrollable delight.

Warchus doesn’t hold back on the emotional punches. Expect tears among the laughs, not least during Scrooge’s encounters with his lost love Belle (an excellent Rebecca Trehearn) and Tiny Tim (played variously by Rayhaan Kufuor-Gray, Lara Mehmet, Lenny Rush and Eleanor Stollery).

Rebecca Trehearn as Belle and Paterson Joesph as Scrooge (photo: Manuel Harlan)

Not an inch of the auditorium is wasted, with some inventive set pieces popping up on every level, and the whole experience is enhanced by Christopher Nightingale’s exquisite score and beautifully sung carols.

This show is an absolute cracker.  If you’re lucky you might even get given a mince pie or a satsuma from one of the cast as you settle in your seat. Merry Christmas, one and all!

A Christmas Carol is at The Old Vic until 18 January 2020

All My Sons review – The Old Vic

My teenage son informed me that his favourite band Twenty One Pilots took their name from this Arthur Miller play.

Sure enough, watching it at the Old Vic this week, towards the end of act one, there’s a line that makes my ears prick up: “He murdered twenty-one pilots.”

The airmen in question died due to some dodgy engine parts which came from the factory of Joe Keller, the businessman whose sins catch up with him during the course of Miller’s post-war drama.

Jeremy Herrin’s classy revival boasts not just a starry cast list but also one of the most impressively realistic sets I’ve seen in a long while. Designer Max Jones lovingly brings to life the Keller house, with its unroofed porch, and garden fringed by trees, as per Miller’s detailed stage instructions.

The headline US talent comes in the form of Bill Pullman and Sally Field as Keller and his wife Kate.

Pullman’s laid-back Keller speaks in a drawl that’s sometimes hard to understand, but he perfectly portrays a man hollowed out by tragedy and has a great chemistry with Field. She’s excellent in the role of a mother in denial about the death of her son Larry – to the extent that she finds comfort in horoscopes – while showing off her manipulative side with lines like “You gained a little weight, didn’t you darling?”

That particular put-down is aimed at Ann Deever, Larry’s former fiancée, who has been invited to stay by Chris, the Kellers’ other son, so he can propose to her. She’s also the daughter of Joe’s ex-business partner who went to jail over the engine scandal. None of this is going to end well.

Ann is played by Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who, Victoria) and Chris by Colin Morgan (Merlin) – both of whom shine in their roles representing the younger post-war generation.

Herrin lets the tension build slowly in the first half, before delivering two devastating final acts after the interval. Not even some rogue mobile phone bleeps could ruin the atmosphere.

And before anyone writes in. Yes, I know Twenty One Pilots are technically a duo, not a band.

All My Sons is at The Old Vic until 8 June

The American Clock – The Old Vic

Set in the post-crash 1930s America, it’s not hard to see why this lesser-known Arthur Miller play from 1980 will resonate with a 21st Century audience still feeling the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

Subtitled “A Vaudeville”, Rachel Chavkin’s production uses period songs and superb choreography to guide us through the personal and political upheavals of The Great Depression.

The story follows the fortunes of the Baum family, New Yorkers who lose their wealth in the 1929 crash, with Miller channelling his own childhood experiences through the character of Lee.

Clarke Peters is superb as the play’s omniscient narrator and “investment genius” Arthur Robertson, a man who foresaw the crash. There’s a touching early scene in which he advises a shoeshine boy to sell his stocks before it’s too late. The financial meltdown itself is effectively conveyed through a montage of crackly radio clips.

The American Clock is for the most part a sonic and visual delight with some striking set pieces. The on-stage musicians, led by Jim Henson, add lashings of atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed Ewan Wardrop’s tap dance routine as Ted Quinn, the chairman of General Electric. Francesca Mills is also memorable in multiple roles (seven, according to the cast list).

Ewan Wardrop and the cast of The American Clock at The Old Vic. Photos by Manuel Harlan
Photo by Manuel Harlan

But the use of three sets of actors to play the same members of the Baum family – often on stage simultaneously – felt muddled and distracting in a tale which already has so many characters.

The whole experience lasts three hours. There were moments in the less energetic second half where I wanted the hands of the clock to move faster.

This is the first of two Miller productions at the Old Vic this year. The more famous one, All My Sons, arrives in April.

The American Clock is at The Old Vic until 30 March