Fans of the comic body-swap genre were certainly well catered for by the cinema of the Eighties. 18 Again! Vice Versa. Like Father, Like Son. All of Me. Feeling nostalgic? Neither am I.Big, the 1988 hit with Tom Hanks, has honorary membership of this category. On the brink of his 13th birthday, Josh, our undersized New Jersey hero, gets an improvisatory test-run of the adult body to come when Zoltar, a mysterious, fairground slot-machine, grants him his wish to grow big. Josh becomes literally and figuratively the kid with the run of the (Manhattan) toy shop. If the movie couldn't disguise its creepiness-quotient in the Eighties, how will the material fare in this musical make-over by Richard Maltby and David Shire? It had a modest success on Broadway in 1996 and was reworked for the 2000 US regional tour. In Morgan Young's zestful production, the show hits London now in a climate that's more than ever aware of the vulnerability of minors to exploitation.
Everyone deserves a chance, at some point in their lives, to see their experiences represented correctly onstage or onscreen. A new production of Falsettos – a musical about a dysfunctional Jewish family set during the Aids crisis – to the best of our knowledge, includes not a single Jewish person among its core cast, creative or production teams.Two weeks ago, I, together with other Jewish artists, published an open letter addressing this; it was signed by actors and creatives including Miriam Margolyes and Maureen Lipman. We had noted and appreciated a culture shift where minority cultures were gaining traction in the long and important fight to define their involvement in the telling of their own stories. Our open letter included various examples of misrepresentation of Jewish characters and erasure of Jewish stories but centred around the case study of Falsettos. We wrote that while non-Jews can and should play Jews, that doing so in processes absent of any other Jewish voices can lead to misrepresentation, caricature and misunderstanding.
It all started here: one woman, on stage, telling a story. In 2013, Fleabag opened in a small, dank fringe space in Edinburgh, before Phoebe Waller-Bridge turned it into a beloved, era-defining TV comedy, the show that launched her career – and a thousand think pieces.So of course, this limited and very sold out run in a West End theatre isn’t actually the same, not really. She probably wouldn’t have written this kind of show for this kind of big grand old space: it inevitably feels rather small, just Waller-Bridge sat on a tall stool on an empty stage. The piped-in sound effects and lop-sided pre-recorded conversations occasionally feel odd, especially when you’ve also seen them spoken by real people on TV.
With the Edinburgh International and Fringe festivals drawing to a close over the weekend, and the 2019 awards in the process of being dished out, it seems an impossible task to pick just a few stand-out shows from amid the festivals’ extensive programme. Yet the cream is rising to the top; for example, playwright Kieran Hurley’s stunning discussion on class and appropriation in the arts, Mouthpiece, won the Carol Tambor Award, and will now transfer to New York, while Caroline Horton’s All of Me won this year’s Mental Health Fringe Award.At Summerhall, meanwhile, the venue selects its own favourite productions with the Lustrum Awards for "Great Festival Moments". While their exceptional programme suggests this might be an impossible task, this year the winners included among their number the intriguing Before the Revolution, a piece about the Egyptian revolution which has already been seen in Switzerland, France, Belgium and Cairo, where it caused predictable controversy and drew calls for a ban. This run in Edinburgh was its UK debut.
Questions of class and accessibility pervade discussions around the elite arts, and these inevitably reach a point of concentration at the Edinburgh International Festival. In terms of its subject matter, this new dance piece by Prime Cut Productions and Belfast-based choreographer and dancer Oona Doherty is a powerful antidote, taking as its inspiration the working class communities of the post-Troubles city.“If you’re in a shithole but you look fuckin’ amazing, there’s something empowering about that,” says the voiceover that introduces the largest-scale and arguably most impressive sequence here. “They’re superstars… (in this) little bubble that has tragedy in the walls… for putting their armour on and getting on with the day.” The unnamed female voice introduces a formation of teenage girls and young women in bright white jeans and dazzling tracksuit tops, whose dance resembles something between Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ and a Maori Haka.
“We get paid to speak on stage,” say each of the four men before us. “You’ve got to be having a laugh.” As well as their maleness and their joint profession, it’s their apparent cerebral palsy that links the quartet. Two use wheelchairs, all of their voices are difficult to make out to some degree – and yet they’re here to present a show filled with physical movement and dance while telling their own stories. What follows is a warm and funny experience that achieves what all the best theatre does: open a window on other lives and experience what the audience might never have considered.Under the artistic directorship of Robert Softley Gale, Scotland’s Birds of Paradise theatre company is breaking down boundaries in how work made for and featuring disabled people is presented. Namely, Gale (who also has CP) has cut away the sense that these subjects have to be treated with a heightened sense of solemnity, self-awareness and suffocating respect.
Frankenstein: How to Build a Monster ★★★★☆ / Trying It On ★★★★☆Beatboxing theatre seems to be in the midst of a mini-comeback at this year’s Fringe. Between the return of Shlomo with two shows, one for adults and one for children, the prevalence of the form alongside tapdancers in Noiseboys, and the enjoyment of Boar at Pleasance Courtyard, it has hardly been better represented. To the above roll call we can also add Frankenstein: How to Build a Monster at the Traverse, one of the most crowd-pleasing shows of the year at Edinburgh’s new writing hub.
The magnetic young actor James McArdle was in his mischievous/despairing element a couple of years ago as Platonov, the title character in David Hare‘s brilliant adaptation of an early Chekhov play, directed by Jonathan Kent. For the same team, he is now being no less dazzling, owning the Olivier stage for an unflagging three and a half hours as the incorrigible fantasist, who here goes by the Anglicised name of Peter, rather than Peer Gynt.In fact, the show is billed as “by David Hare after Henrik Ibsen”. Authorial hubris? No: for my money, in its black hilarity and acute understanding of how the modern world has demeaned the concept of the “self”, this production offers the most laugh-out-loud, feel-bad version I’ve seen of this astonishing, ahead-of-its-time phantasmagoria. It comes, though, with certain strings attached.McArdle is cornering the market in sexy, irresistible s***s. Platonov is a negiligent lady killer who knows deep down that his amoral behaviour is ultimately doomed. By contrast, McArdle’s Peter is in compulsively prattling denial that ultimate authenticity exists. His talk is a non-stop haemmorrhage of defensively vainglorious yarns. Hare’s version latches fruitfully onto the current fashion for believing that our lives are the “stories” we improvise – an ideological position that lets us off the hook, favouring the accumulation of wealth over the accruing of wisdom.Kent’s production gets majestic measure of the Olivier. Richard Hudson’s imposing design bifurcates the stage. One half looks like one of those lovely Eric Ravilious visions of a rather bleached and closely shaved green-and-pleasant-land. The other gives us slinky and pervy glimpses of a psychic dystopia. The kingdom of the terrifying trolls is staged as a candelabra-lit Oxbridge high table reangled at a steep incline, as if in a jeering travesty of a nervous breakdown. Around it congregate dinner-jacketed toffs, discussing the philosophy to which their gilded sty is dedicated: “To thine own self be true – and damn the rest of the world”.McArdle’s Peter pops up all over the place (head first, say, out of the golf holes on a celebrity golf course, like rabbits in a plutocratic retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). The energy is thrilling, as is the nuance. He understands that it is only a short step from cocky blarney to being trapped in the cling film wrap of solipsism. His attempts to wrestle his way out of this packaging are distressing to watch. On the other hand, his aged Peter does becomes chastened and crumbly, as the character has done in many other performances. He remains ornery and protesting. The plays comes full circle to its starting place, but more in a corkscrew shape than in a quietist implication that it would have been better if he had remained home all along.Hare’s very funny script is richly resourceful in finding contemporary parallels. Spirituality? What earthly use is that? In paunchy middle age, McArdle becomes faintly Les Patterson in aspect, pooh-poohing the difference between the Sunnis and Shiites and shouting it up as, in the main, an opportunity to make money; “After all, what’s the difference between them? An interpretation of theology, that’s all! A prophet who wasn’t clear!” I occasionally wondered if Hare isn’t a bit too much on top of the game. He riddlesthe piece with light at the expense, perhaps, of ridding the piece of some of its irreducibly riddling qualities. But in general, this show – sharply etched across the board by populous crack cast – is a mighty achievement and one of which the NT can be justly proud.To 8 October, nationaltheatre.org.uk
There are some dancers – some performers – who are unlike anyone else. Rocío Molina is one of them. She’s flamenco’s wildest radical, punk and glorious, a magnificent dancer whose range takes in the fiery intensity of traditional styles, surreal fantasy and unpredictable humour. In Caída del cielo (Fallen from Heaven), she goes from moon goddess to rock chick, taking in crisps and pollution along the way.Her current tour, appearing at Sadler’s Wells as part of Flamenco Festival London, is Molina’s return to dance after having her first child last year. (Characteristically, she built a show around her pregnancy, adapting the choreography to her changing body). She’s back at full power.She’s the only dancer in Fallen From Heaven, working her way through strange transformations. Her four musicians mix traditional flamenco with rock music and compositions by another iconoclast, Paco de Lucía, a guitarist who branched into jazz and other styles. The show sometimes rambles, losing momentum as Molina pushes at boundaries, but still has her characteristic blend of imagery and powerful dancing.She first appears in an ice white dress, a snowdrift of ruffles around her ankles. Slow as a glacier, she leans this way and that, tilting and morphing from one pose to another. She could be a mermaid, or a sea creature evolving to walk, and dance, on shore.Once she’s got there, all bets are off. She strips off the white dress, then matter-of-factly wriggles into her leggings under a dressing gown, tugging fabric into place. Her footwork is fast and explosive, but she’s a flamenco star who never relies on it: she often dances barefoot, showing off liquid backbends, swinging hips and shoulders, her movement quality as sleek as a cat’s.Elsewhere, she discovers a bondage harness inside a packet of crisps, or dances with a long staff, her feet and the wood setting up cross-rhythms with the intricate clapped and beaten patterns from the musicians. Then she jumps astride the staff, like a witch who has discovered pole dancing.When Molina returns to the mermaid imagery, it’s with a sense of darkness. Pulling on wet plastic skirts, she leaves a trail of fluid behind her, splattering the stage like an oil slick. One of the musicians washes her feet before she changes into a wine red dress. Then she dances perhaps the most traditional solo of the evening, grand and assured, with her knees still muddy.Flamenco Festival London continues until 14 July. Box office 020 7863 8000.
Oddly enough, not many parents choose to name their children after political heroes. So it's all the more telling that the offspring in The End of History – the latest, highly intriguing piece from the hit-making team of writer Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany – have been lovingly lumbered with Carl (after Communist Manifesto writer Karl Marx), Polly (after social anthropologist Polly Hill) and Tom (after political revolutionary Thomas Paine).This collaboration between Thorne and Tiffany has already given us a stage version of the Scandi vampire movie Let the Right One In and the mega-successful Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Their follow-up to the latter is set in Newbury, in the kitchen/dining room of a right-on, left-leaning family that would likely be hostile to Hogwarts on doctrinal grounds. Private schooling? The obscurantist escapism of magic as a pseudo-solution to social problems? Baby-boomers Sal and David have risen from deprived backgrounds to the relative security of this nice, roomy, scruffy-at-the-edges abode, without for a moment ceasing the struggle to educate the world towards the freedom of collective progress.Beautifully directed by Tiffany, the piece moves through three decidedly awkward family dinners in 1997 (the winter before the New Labour landslide), 2007 and 2017. The intervening decades are presented in droll, sped-up dance sequences. By the time we meet this clan, the indefatigably sincere teacher Sal has become – in Lesley Sharp's painfully funny performance – an embarrassing cartoon of herself to her long-suffering kids. And she is desperately aware of this. It's touching and awful how much she longs to share a bed again with her 19-year-old daughter Polly (the gawky, clever child who is excellently played by Kate O'Flynn). Polly has come back from her first term at Cambridge for this occasion. Her older brother Carl (Mum’s Sam Swainsbury is pitch-perfect as a ruefully conscious disappointment) is introducing his girlfriend and future wife, whose parents are Roman Catholics who have made their wealth from a string of service-stations. Late to the feast, because he’s been in detention for drug use, Tom (superb Laurie Davidson) is the sensitive, gay sixth former who'd be quite a wag if he weren't so incipiently suicidal.The piece, in its earlier stages, has a clever, accelerated Posy Simmonds-meets-Ionesco air, and throughout is a devastating verbal spree. But in its piercing look at the liabilities (and benefits) of being the offspring of political idealists, it puts you in mind of Tony Kushner's more serious Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism. It's both satire and celebration. David Morrissey beautifully conveys the maddeningly resilient side of the father, and he breaks your heart as he reads a bare, moving, Quaker-style list of his wife's achievements before her funeral. She did so much good for people. But like many idealists, she saw her children as a “legacy project that would protect the values she held dear”. Which is a big ask – sometimes intolerable, sometimes inspiring. I loved this show, though it could perhaps have been a tad more forthright about its intentions. To 10 August; royalcourttheatre.com
Flamenco star Sara Baras stalks on, dressed in a frock coat and trousers. Even in silhouette, it’s clear that the star of the show has arrived: she carries herself with commanding presence, with a sense of the storms of movement she’s about to unleash.Baras’s new show Sombras (Shadows) opens this year’s Flamenco Festival London with style. This month, Sadler’s Wells will host a packed programme of shows, from traditional galas to the gloriously experimental Rocío Molina. Baras stands squarely in the middle, with classic dancing and modern, streamlined staging. Baras is an international name, leading her own company for 20 years. She’s won a host of international honours – even a Barbie doll in her image. For Sombras, she’s joined by seven dancers and seven musicians, all seen at first as shadows on the backdrop, men and women in trousers. In recent years, flamenco has pushed harder at ideas of gender. Baras is more understated, but has made the farucca, traditionally a male style, her signature dance for two decades.She’ll take stark poses, or stand with one hand to her breast, both modest and proud. Her footwork is flexible and astonishingly fast. In perhaps her best known move, she glides across the stage, heels drumming as she goes – sharp and powerful as a pneumatic drill, but purringly smooth.Warmly lit by Óscar Gómez de los Reyes, the show is framed by sliding panels, with sketched outlines of dancers. Within this shifting frame, there are taut unison dances and moments of improvisation.Returning in a satin dress, she whirls and poses, the layers of her skirts making bold shapes around her body, precise as a bullfighter’s cape. For this show, Baras avoids the traditional ruffled flamenco skirt, but shows a classic skill with fabric, from a flowing shawl to the spiky shapes she creates in a fringed dress. In another scene, both men and women wear simple skirts, showing off long lines of movement.In one wonderfully intimate sequence, Baras and her percussionists trade rhythms as if the stage were their own private space. Her tapped footwork weaves in and out of handclaps and percussion instruments – including the mellow sound of a brass gourd – until she’s just listening, still and smiling, caught in the moment.Until 7 July. Flamenco Festival London continues until 14 July. Box office 020 7863 8000
Secret Cinema was given an easy out with Casino Royale. All they needed to do was knock up a few poker tables and keep the martinis flowing to make the night a hit, allowing throngs of Londoners, for a few brief hours, to delude themselves into thinking they ever had the charm or wit to warrant the title of 007. But, that’s never been Secret Cinema’s style. Yes, there’s the opportunity for (fake) gambling, alongside a generous menu of cocktails, but that’s only scratching the surface of this globetrotting adventure. Launched in 2007, with over 70 productions under its belt, Secret Cinema has, by this point, become a well-oiled machine, now routinely offering its signature blend of immersive cinema, interactive theatre, and good old-fashioned partying (tickets have already gone on sale for a winter run of shows, based on Netflix’s Stranger Things). It’s a mammoth operation. Some of the sets used in its latest production, Secret Cinema presents Casino Royale, look like they’ve been air-lifted straight over from Pinewood Studios. It’s all so much bigger and more elaborate than you could ever expect, yet the experience itself remains as intimate and personal as ever. Attendees turn up to a secret London location with nothing but a fake identity, the knowledge that they’ve been tasked with a top-secret mission, and the kind of wired energy that comes from having no idea where the night is about to take you. What looks like a fairly unimposing warehouse from the outside transforms into the ultimate playground for any James Bond fan. In fact, one of the most consistently impressive things about Secret Cinema has always been its feeling of authenticity. It’s not just about the minutiae, though the costumes for the various characters are all impeccable recreations, but the general sense of atmosphere. Their Blade Runner production undercut its neon-drenched, techno-future design with a genuine sense of menace, while Romeo + Juliet descended into a raucous, joyous celebration of love. It’s no different here. The show leans heavily into the Bond franchise’s allure of globetrotting glamour, giving you the opportunity to visit several international locations featured in the film, eventually leading you to Montenegro itself and the newly opened Casino Royale. Yet there’s also the sense that this pristine glamour could explode into action at any moment. You could be idly wandering across an airport terminal in search of the mac ’n’ cheese stand, when suddenly you’ll hear a burst of shouting and see a gun waving in the air. It’s the perfect way to summarise how director Martin Campbell approached Casino Royale, in an attempt to modernise the Bond franchise by adding a sharper, more dangerous streak to the film. This isn’t the place to turn up and start practising your favourite innuendos, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in attempting to keep a straight face when you’ve lost your third poker game in a row and the locals are starting to get suspicious. Yet neither is this a joyless, self-serious event, by any means. If you’re in a certain place, at a certain time, you might find yourself prowling the catwalk to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” before you’ve even realised what’s going on. Granted, there are some small signs of strain here. It’s evident, more than ever, that Secret Cinema has come up against its biggest hurdle yet: how does it continue expanding and creating bigger, more ambitious experiences, when it all still has to fit in between the time people clock out of the office and the last train home? There’s just so much to do: from the locales, the bars, the storylines, the entertainment. It makes for some tough choices and the inevitable feeling that you’ve missed out on something big. Add to that the fact that, after this whirlwind experience, you’re then meant to sit down and watch an entire two-and-a-half-hour film.There’s always the choice to skip the film and continue exploring, eating, and drinking while everyone’s watching Daniel Craig emerge from the ocean in tiny blue swimming trunks, but it’s at the expense of missing a whole host of surprises. With the help of a dedicated cast of actors and a host of technical wizardry, several of Casino Royale’s most memorable scenes play out right in front of the screen (spoiler: no one’s balls get smashed, don’t worry). On top of that, it’s thrilling just to see a packed audience all watching a film that came out in 2006, reacting with the same kind of excitement as if it were unfolding in front of their eyes for the first time. In the end, there’s no single way to experience Secret Cinema, but that’s always been the point. It’s your chance to find your own adventure. Secret Cinema presents Casino Royale runs until 22 September. More details and tickets can be found here
In [Un]leashed, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) shows off alert, individual dancers in a programme by women choreographers. Didy Veldman’s new Sense of Time lacks focus, but the dancers highlight the delicacy of Jessica Lang’s Lyric Pieces and the nimble characterisation of Ruth Brill’s new Peter and the Wolf.This London season will be BRB's last under director David Bintley, who has led the company since 1995. It shows some of the key qualities of Bentley's tenure: his commitment to new work, his record of programming work by women (all too rare among ballet directors) and, alongside this triple bill, his own popular romcom, Hobson's Choice.Lang’s Lyric Pieces, created in 2012, sets dancers moving fleetly through Grieg piano pieces, weaving in and out of a folding paper set. Maureya Lebowitz and Celine Gittens are standouts in a bright cast.Veldman’s Sense of Time is part of the company’s Ballet Now programme, an ambitous plan for ten new works to new music. Veldman“s theme is the pressure of modern life, but Joana Dias's designs, dominated by a wall of old-fashioned suitcases, suggest an earlier era. Though Veldman aims to evoke the barriers and divisions of present-day politics, with dancers reaching through and across the wall, the emotional punch doesn't land. A dance for Delia Mathews, who never puts down her mobile phone, doesn't move past the obvious point.Gabriel Prokofiev's new score mixes orchestral and electronic sound. The ballet's finest moment is a duet for the wonderful Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence. After a jittery beginning, Prokofiev's music swings into a waltz, sound and dancing opening out into something lyrical and free.Company dancer Brill is establishing a career as a choreographer. Peter and the Wolf shows a sharp eye for movement and storytelling. I had doubts when the curtain went up on Spike Kilburn’s industrial set: when ballet tries to do urban, it can come out looking very prim. As Brill brings on her human and animal characters, introduced by Sergei Prokofiev’s score and Hollie McNish’s narration, the show perks right up.Laura Day is a pugnacious female Peter, all springy energy and fearless decision as she plots to capture Mathias Dingman’s predatory Wolf. Tzu-Chao Chou is a virtuoso bird, teasing and fluttering through bravura steps. Conducted by Philip Ellis, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia bring out the fizz and texture of the music.London season continues until 29 June. Box office 020 7863 8000.
Sir Mark Rylance has quit the Royal Shakespeare Company over BP sponsorship.The Oscar-winning star of stage and screen has ended his relationship with the theatre company, citing environmental concerns.Sir Mark has objected to the RSC's receipt of funding from BP, which he has accused of obscuring its damaging environmental impact by supporting arts organisations.He has questioned the right of BP to be associated with William Shakespeare and the term “British”.The renowned Shakespearean actor has written in The Guardian and Culture Unstained announcing his decision. He wrote: “Today I feel I must dissociate myself from the RSC, not because it is any less of a theatre company, but because of the company it keeps.”Sir Mark added on BP: ”Does this company have the right to associate itself with Shakespeare?“Does it even have the right to have the word 'British' in its name when it is arguably destroying the planet our children and grandchildren will depend on to breathe, drink, eat and survive?”The actor has called on the RSC to set a positive example for the future of sponsorship in the arts.Gregory Doran, RSC artistic director, and Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director, released a statement following the news.They said: ”We are saddened that Mark Rylance has decided he can no longer be one of our Associate Artists, but we respect his decision. We thank him for his long association with the company.“Importantly, no sponsor influences or drives our artistic decision making and we are committed to exploring contemporary issues and ideas in all our work. We have a clear donation and sponsorship acceptance policy and consider potential offers of support individually.”We recognise the importance of a robust and engaged debate in taking these decisions, especially in the light of the acknowledged environment and climate emergency.“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our funding, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity.”BP's sponsorship of our £5 ticket scheme for 16-25 year olds gives many young people the chance to see our work, and the scheme is highly valued by our audiences.”BP has been contacted for comment.Press Association
What would you risk to protect your child? What would you give? The Mother is a danced fairy tale of nightmarish intensity. In Arthur Pita’s production, feverish images spill off the stage, while ballerina Natalia Osipova gives a performance lit up with fear and consuming need.One of the world’s most exciting dancers, Osipova has sought out contemporary projects alongside a ballet career that has taken her from the Bolshoi to world stardom. She and Pita are regular collaborators, with successful small-scale works and the flop of The Wind for The Royal Ballet. Pita works best with tight focus and intimacy: with just two dancers, The Mother shows the best of his talent.The Hans Christian Andersen source is one of his most unnerving tales. When Death takes her baby, a mother pursues him through a terrible journey of tests and sacrifice that include giving up her eyes and hair. In this adaptation, contemporary dance hero Jonathan Goddard plays both Death and all the characters the Mother meets on her way, from a babushka who forces her to dance to the lover who abandoned her.Yann Seabra’s designs set the story in a down-at-heel mid-20th century. A revolve stage moves from bedroom to kitchen to bathroom: though they transform into dark gardens or lakes, the Mother is still trapped in this domestic space. Thorny briars wrap around Osipova’s heroine, staining her nightdress with blood. Goddard’s babushka has a traditional dress and shawl but no face, just an eerie polished visor. He’s a mercurial, uncanny presence, from the clinical, chalk-faced Doctor to the lover who is both smitten and remote.A natural dance actress, Osipova brings a fierce power to her characters’ emotions. This work takes her into new territory, from the domestic to harrowing need. Everything that happens might be her own fever dream, her desperation given physical form. Dancing for the babushka, she finds a stomping folk-dance energy even as she tries to escape. As she runs from room to room, pursuing the sound of her crying baby, feeling chases across her face and through her body. The score, created and played live by Frank Moon and Dave Price, blends folk with electronic crackles.As well as the poverty and sickness of Andersen’s tale, this production stresses the more everyday terrors of parenthood. In the opening scene, Osipova moves with exhausted tenderness, rocking her sleepless baby. By the end, even a glimpse of hope and joy has its own terrors: having children is giving hostages to fortune.Until 22 June. Box office 020 3879 9555
It was a mouth-watering prospect. A play about the Harvey Weinstein scandal written by a man who knows Hollywood inside out and featuring a global movie star who is also a consummate stage actor.David Mamet is the master of witty, piercing and understated dialogue, always hinting at anxieties underneath, the great challenger of politically correct orthodoxies. If anyone could find a human side to a monster, and make us question some of the nuances of the MeToo movement, it’s him.John Malkovich, prowling the stage like a bloated, warped colossus, plays the not even thinly disguised Weinstein figure, Barney Fein. He is present on stage throughout and dominates it with a towering performance that conveys not just the vulgarity, the bullying, and the predatory nature of the movie mogul, but also the paranoia that helped to define Weinstein.As the play opens, Fein is responding to a screenwriter whom he has refused to pay and who is threatening to report him to the Writers’ Guild. “The writers’ guild would drink a beaker of my mucus if I asked them to,” the all-powerful Fein assures him. From the bully, we move on to the predator. A meeting is set up, inevitably, in a hotel room, with Yung Kim Li, an English female actor of Korean descent, to discuss a possible title of her new film, also the title of this play. The meeting is arranged, in full knowledge of what will occur, by Fein’s assistant, Sondra, a seemingly moral void, as was the case with those around the real Weinstein. She is played with steely, blinkered determination, in a rather underwritten role, by Doon Mackichan, former star of TV comedy Smack the Pony.In the hotel room, Fein, as with Weinstein, intersperses a bare minimum of charm with the bullying, before making the request that she come into the next room to watch him shower and masturbate – or he won’t release the film. He has a limited time frame as he has taken a pill, presumably to enhance his libido. Humour in such a wretched and so recent scenario has its own dangers, and it’s hard to laugh at such a contrivance. But there are better moments of Mamet wit. As he makes his outrageous, sexual demands, Fein adds: “I don’t think you understand how much money I gave to the Democratic Party.”Ioanna Kimbook, making her West End debut, gives a remarkably assured performance in the role of the molested young woman, juggling discomfort and distaste with a need to remain polite and accommodating to get her film released. She has just been on a 27-hour flight, she says, and at one moment falls asleep, at which point Fein removes her belt.Mamet does not stint from giving Malkovich the crude dialogue that is all too believable of the real Weinstein. “You want me to make you the Asian Audrey Hepburn, and you won’t kick back one blow job, which would take one minute.”I actually witnessed Weinstein in lascivious action at a film premiere, bending a female actor in an unwanted embrace. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and Malkovich captures so well the bluster and sexual hubris that unfettered power gave the mogul. But he also captures the insecurities that were part of Weinstein’s psychological make-up. As with the real movie mogul, Fein is ashamed of his weight, assuming that the only possible reason his gross advances are rejected is that he is fat.Mournfully, after a complaint is made to the police by the actor and his career is ruined, he laments: “The overweight get no sympathy.”As Fein’s career and life implode, Mamet gives us a surreal and somewhat bewildering subplot involving Fein’s mother being shot dead by an illegal immigrant; the laboured irony is that Fein, again like Weinstein, was a supporter and benefactor of good causes, in this case helping illegal immigrants.It’s diverting but unnecessary, adding to the sense of frustration that Mamet at his peak could and would have explored this affair to reach more complex conclusions. Indeed, Bitter Wheat never fully reveals the psychological depths of this depraved character, or the motivations of those around him who enabled such abuse of power. Malkovich deserved a more rounded and thought-provoking play.
In several parts of Nicholas Hytner’s gloriously funny, immersive take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre, I was reminded of Michelle Obama’s pitch-perfect put-down: “When they go low, we go higher”. Except that, in regards to this production, it’s as if the former first lady had continued, with a dignified wink: “Oh, and lower too – just to be on the safe side.”There is not a tutu in sight amongst Hytner’s band of adult fairies. They are a troupe of insubordinate show-offs of all genders and sexualities. Non-human and often downright inhuman, these wayward creatures end the first half in synchronised aerial display to the strains of Beyonce’s “Love on Top”. It would be misleading, though, to give the impression that this is a strenuously louche Dream. True, this is a play that has a deceptive reputation as being the most child-friendly in the Shakespeare canon – hence the mould-breaking productions over the years. In the 1970s, Peter Brook’s version had a simple white box set, designed by Sally Jacobs and influenced by the Chinese circus; in the 1990s, Robert Lepage’s National Theatre transformed the wood outside Athens into a mud bath symbolising the Freudian id.Hytner’s Dream – which reunites the team responsible for last year’s smash hit Julius Caesar – is in this tradition but more approachable (literally so if you choose to plump for being a promenader in the pit).The bunch of rude mechanicals who rehearse and mount the inset “Pyramus and Thisbe” play are enchanting because they are not performed as buffoons but as innocents. I won’t insult Hammed Animashaun’s performance as Bottom the weaver with the summary description “adorable”. Oh, it’s that all right, but mixed in with the traditional bumptious enthusiasm are exquisite touches of shyness and vulnerability. Felicity Montagu, deliciously funny as the gender-changed Quince, is brimming, all-purpose benignity. Bottom asks her to write a special prologue for him: if she had time, you would feel that this Quince would happily oblige. I love it that she has aide-memoire stickers for her cast like Madge, Dame Edna’s sidekick.A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that revels in cock-ups with the magic love juice that sedates and causes characters to wake up infatuated by the first person they see. Here it’s not the Queen of the Fairies, Titania (a charismatic Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones); it’s Oliver Chris’s superlatively funny Oberon. From butch-as-hell hippy, he becomes a highly strung male diva with a possessive, neurasthenic passion for his new chum. This might seem to sail uncomfortably close to gay stereotypes if it weren’t for the affectionate way the production ridicules camp convention. In the venerable tradition of doubling the human and fairy potentates, he plays Theseus too. The latter is, in his hands, a bit of a Draconian fool. Chris is actually never more majestic than when emerging from a his’n’his champagne bubble bath – his modesty preserved only by a strategically placed wisp of foam.David Moorst excels as the obstreperous hobgoblin Puck. In his vest and vegetable tattoos, he sometimes looks to be blending Lily Savage with twitchy version of Smike from Nicholas Nickleby. The production often encouraged the promenaders to clasp hands in a ring round Bunny Christie’s rectilinear, Bedknobs and Broomstick set. Talk about good fellowship.Despite its frivolous reputation, this is a work that touches on serious issue: it begins, after all, with two forced marriages. Hytner’s version raises the stakes by giving the “fierce vexation of a dream” a perversely nonchalant edge at times. Puck ends by dangling upside down and clutching the hands of a punter in the front row. A gesture of magical grace. I am delighted to give the show a very enthusiastic welcome.To 31 August (bridgetheatre.co.uk). In cinemas through NT Live from 17 October
One of the great joys of Breakin’ Convention is its range. Back for its 16th year, the festival of hip hop dance theatre can take in big names and emerging stars, from teenaged breakdancers to the stupendous South Korean Jinjo Crew. This year’s festival kicked off with the event’s first adult cabaret night, and will end with the outdoor, family-friendly Park Jam. All hip hop life is here.The main stage show is still the heart of Breakin’ Convention. Jonzi D, the founder and artistic director, hosts the night alongside the marvellous sign language interpreter Jacqui Beckford curator. Together, they keep a varied show motoring forward, framing its many changes of mood.At one extreme, British dancer Theo “Godson” Oloyade leads a powerful team in RAW, using the driving force of krump to express emotional and political turmoil. It’s a fierce, relentless work: movement bunches and seethes through the bodies of masked dancers, like anger boiling up with nowhere safe to go.Then there’s the poised elegance of Logistx, a 15-year-old breakdancer from San Diego. She has a superb sense of stillness and flow. Her flexibility and gymnastic strength aren’t ends in themselves: she uses them to colour and open up her dancing, so that a backflip becomes the highpoint of a curling phrase.There’s a focus on hip hop for storytelling, for exploration. In her solo Finding Me, American popper Angyil McNeal uses the robotic, flickering qualities of the dance to suggest a fragmented personality, switching from one identity to another. Throughout, there’s a sense of community. There are danced and spoken tributes in memory of performers Jack Saunders and Paul Trouble Anderson, while the event builds connections from the Sadler’s Wells stage dance world to the Instagram stardom of champion dancers. It’s the only place I can image hearing the words, “Make some noise for the Arts Council”.Jinjo Crew’s Rhythm of Korea is a knockout finale. This champion crew open with a traditional Korean play in masks and costume (though you can see the Nike trainers peeking out from the satin trousers). Then they erupt into dazzling, acrobatic dancing. Dancing in loose overshirts, they wind in and out, so that when the shirts come off, they’re tied into knotted lengths of fabric. Then the dancers use those as giant skipping ropes, leaping and flipping over and through.The solos are astonishing: impossible spins on heads or hands, soaring jumps that switch direction midair. In my favourite move, one dancer holds his body in a horizontal handstand, then sprints forward in a waggling, wriggling run on his hands, like a very cool crocodile in a hurry. It’s a sensational end to a happy night.Until 5 May. Box office 020 7863 8000
The Broadway musical Hadestown leads the nominations for this year’s Tony Awards with 14 nods, followed by Ain’t Too Proud, a jukebox musical built around songs by the Temptations.Hadestown, which intertwines the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone, first premiered in 2016 and is the Broadway debut of American singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell.It elbowed aside more familiar names, including stage adaptations of Tootsie and Beetlejuice, which both also got best musical nods.Ain’t Too Proud, named after the Temptations song of the same name, picked up 12 nominations.The five nominees for best play are Choir Boy, The Ferryman, Ink, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus and What the Constitution Means to Me.Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird unexpectedly missed out on a nomination for best play, as did Hillary and Clinton, which tells the story of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston was nominated for his role in Network, the adaptation of the satirical 1976 film.Veteran stage actress Rosemary Harris and playwright Terrence McNally will both receive special Tonys for lifetime achievement in theatre.With only two musical revivals all season, both Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and Kiss Me, Kate were nominated for best revival.The ceremony, to be hosted by James Corden, will take place on June 9 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It will be broadcast live on CBS at 8pm local time, or 1am BST for UK viewers.Corden won a Tony for best performance by a leading actor in a play for his 2012 performance in One Man Two Guvnors, and also hosted the ceremony in 2016.“I’m thrilled to be returning to host the Tony Awards. The Broadway community is very dear to my heart, and I’m beyond proud to be part of this incredibly special night,” Corden said in a statement.Additional reporting by agencies
With La Fiesta, flamenco star Israel Galvan stages the aftershow party. A cast of nine dancers, singers and musicians tease each other, swap roles, climb on the furniture and, eventually, unleash virtuoso performances. It’s a mix of pratfalls and real exploration, with the mesmerising Galvan at its heart.
Hugh Bonneville is perched on a small chair eating a prawn salad in the Sunday school room at the American Church in central London. Passion might seem unlikely for the 55-year-old best known for playing such archetypally English, buttoned-up characters as Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey, Ian Fletcher in W1A and Mr Brown in Paddington.
In this war-battered city, acting students pick their way to rehearsals over chunks of concrete, avoiding stairs that might give way, circumnavigating puddles of fetid water and always keeping their distance from men with guns. “We do not need to act a tragedy,” says Mustafa Dargham, 19, gesturing at the blasted shell of the former Fine Arts Institute as he takes a break from rehearsals of The Oresteia, the ancient Greek trilogy by Aeschylus. “This play is just talking about the reality of Mosul,” he adds.
All My Sons, Arthur Miller’s early tour de force from 1947, is a grand tragedy painted on a small canvas, the front garden of one middle-class home in Ohio, shortly after the Second World War. Bill Pullman (Independence Day) plays factory owner Joe Keller, whose life is back on an even footing after a brouhaha during the war, when his firm supplied cracked cylinder heads for P-40 fighter planes, causing the deaths of 21 pilots. Sally Field (everything) is his wife, Kate, still refusing to acknowledge that their son Larry, who flew different planes in the war and was reporting missing three years ago, isn’t coming home.
Co-produced by the Royal Opera, Repons Foundation, BAM, and Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg, and with Comic Relief funding the Isango Ensemble who perform it, this production premiered in Cape Town, was adapted for staging at the Young Vic, and has now made its landfall at the Linbury. It’s based on a book about a refugee’s true story as he progresses through Africa after setting off from Mogadishu, and it presents that book’s author, Jonny Steinberg, in fictionalised form as he faces the people whom he has himself fictionalised. There are moments when the libretto addresses domestic issues for a domestic South African audience, but it’s essentially a tale of pathos and anger, courage and despair, finally ending up in battered, philosophical triumph.
In fact, it can be roundly questioned in just six words: Dame Maggie Smith and the pig. The porker in question was her co-star â alongside Michael Palin â in the movie A Private Function (1984), directed by Malcolm Mowbray and with a script hilariously tailored to her talents by Alan Bennett.