Any number is a shock” – when it refers to cloned humans. Caryl Churchill’s A Number, which tackles the very modern debate over cloning and genetics, is revamped by Polly Findlay in a brief and unsettling performance at the Bridge.A father places a heavy hand on his son’s shoulder and tells him that he is not his biological son. A surreal play of five acts follows, where he speaks first to his cloned son, then to the original and finally to one of ‘a number’ of the unintended additional facsimiles.
What a strange spectacle The Visit is. Tony Kushner’s take on Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 tragicomedy is a camp, cartoonish pantomime, a vaudevillian nightmare spread – inexplicably – over three-and-a-half hours.It is an unforgivable running time – the decision, presumably, of director Jeremy Herrin – though time does fly whenever the magnificent Lesley Manville is on stage. She is Claire Zachanassian, “the richest woman in the goddamn world”, who makes an ostentatious return to her hometown of Slurry, New York.
Sadler’s Wells Sampled is a dance selection box, a bright assortment of styles and flavours. With special low ticket prices, extra workshops and demonstrations all over the foyer, it’s designed to give audiences a chance to try something new. From tango to hip hop to circus, it highlights the range of the London dance venue’s work.The show starts by putting online dance on stage. (La) Horde’s To Da Bone is a jumpstyle showcase, with 11 tracksuited dancers stomping in hard, fast unison. This style is usually driven by the speed of the music, 150 beats per minute, but this group dance in silence – nothing but the thump and squeak of trainers. It’s a smart opening, quick and sharp.
The plant-invaded living room that frames Ian Rickson’s production of Uncle Vanya is a little like the characters themselves – beautiful, dilapidated and a little depressing. Pessimism and misanthropy hang in the air in this gripping, if somewhat suffocating, adaptation of the 1898 Chekhov classic.McPherson has nimbly stripped back any lofty language from Chekhov’s script. A period piece in all other aspects, his Uncle Vanya nonetheless modernises the way the characters speak, rendering more accessible the psychologically complex original. There isn’t a huge amount of action – Chekhov was a bit of a pioneer in the “play where nothing happens” genre – but when it comes to nuanced character studies, Uncle Vanya is an embarrassment of riches.
Weird is home ground for Belgian physical theatre company Peeping Tom. The Olivier award-winning company returns to the London International Mime Festival with Child (Kind), completing the trilogy started by Mother and Father. It’s an unnerving look at identity and child experience, through a peculiar, sometimes gruesome mix of hyper-naturalistic scenery and very bendy bodies.Directors Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier start with a child living a friendless existence in a forest. Justine Bougerol’s set is huge and detailed, with looming cliffs and bristling pines, full of places for danger to emerge.
The appeal of John Cranko’s Onegin is its leading characters, star parts with stormy emotions for dancers to get their teeth into. It returns to the Royal Ballet with a fascinating mix of established names and rising artists, from Natalia Osipova’s impassioned Tatiana to young Reece Clarke, making a terrific debut in the title role.Created in 1965, Onegin takes its story from Pushkin’s poem, via Tchaikovsky’s opera. The bored aristocrat Onegin visits his friend Lensky in the country, where the bookish, romantic Tatiana falls in love with him. Rejecting her harshly, he flirts with Lensky’s fiancee Olga, leading to a duel and Lensky’s death. It’s not until he meets Tatiana in St Petersburg, grown into an elegant married woman, that Onegin falls in love with her, much too late.
“What must I do to be taken seriously?” bellyaches the Prince of Wales in the film version of Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III.“I tell you, sir, to be Prince of Wales is not a position. It is a predicament.”
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is a love letter to more than one art form. Based on the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film, Bourne’s danced production is a gorgeous swirl of storytelling and style. In its first revival, the show is even sharper than before – and now it has Adam Cooper, original star of Bourne’s groundbreaking Swan Lake with male swans, as the impresario Boris Lermontov.The movie created a generation of ballet-lovers, and was smitten with the possibilities of film as well as dance. Bourne’s version adds a passion for theatre to this story of a ballerina torn between the demands of love and art.
Edmond Rostand’s play about the eponymous and nasally over-endowed poet has been endlessly revived and recycled since its premiere in 1897. Derek Jacobi and Gerard Depardieu have excelled, the former on stage, twanging the heartstrings as one of nature’s great go-betweens – swordsman and virtuoso, bearing a rapier wit in more senses than one – the latter on screen, putting a real sense of the outsize into Cyrano’s verbal rodomontade and urgent desire for rhinoplasty. You could well argue that since its emergence, the play has been destined to be set in a world of rap. Verse is used to compensate for a perceived physical deformity in Rostand’s drama, and for the intolerable silence of the oppressed in the art form’s black roots.Certainly, Edwin Morgan thought so in his racy Glaswegian-accented version for Communicado in the early 1990s. “I cannae rap,” revealed one of the fractious male divas of the play’s world of white factional politics and literary infighting. Roxane – the cousin whom Cyrano adores but feels too shy and disfigured to woo except by proxy – colloquially captured the link between the hero’s testy idealistic drive and the streak of low self-esteem occasioned by his conk when she said: “Inaction/ Get right up his nose, right to distraction.”
McGregor + Mugler does not add up. A collaboration between choreographer Wayne McGregor and fashion designer Manfred Thierry Mugler, it weighs its stars down with plumed wigs and shiny codpieces, gesturing at concepts that never come into focus.You’d think fashion and ballet would be a good fit. They’re both visual forms, both work with the body, both skilled in fantasy and glamour. Yet collaborations often come unstuck. Designers pile detail onto bodies that need to move, like the time Karl Lagerfeld decided what The Dying Swan really needed was a feathery neckbrace.
Taking a break from The Nutcracker, the Royal Ballet turns to another 19th-century classic for the festive season. Coppélia is a splendid alternative, a tale of dancing dolls and quarrelling village lovers. It’s revived much less often than the big Tchaikovsky classics, even though it has a lilting Delibes score and a cracking role for a ballerina. On opening night, Francesca Hayward showed her sense of comedy and mischief, while finding tenderness in the most formal ballet steps.Hayward is one of the Royal Ballet’s brightest young stars. Already hitting the heights in the classical repertory, she’s also appearing in the movie Cats, complete with “and introducing” credit in the trailers. In Coppélia, she dances the village girl Swanilda, dealing with her boyfriend Franz’s roving eye and with the antics of the toymaker Dr Coppélius, who creates dolls so real that they can be mistaken for people.
Cross-dressing was rife on the Shakespearean stage. Women were not allowed to perform in plays, so men and boys had to do a kind of “restrained RuPaul” to bring the Bard’s marvellous heroines to life. And these female characters (Rosalind, Portia, Imogen et al), when plot and occasion demanded, would slip into the drag of male disguise: men dressed as women dressed as men.They did not come across the same difficulties as Dennis, the 12-year-old modern-day hero of David Walliams’s best selling children’s book, a much-loved classic now given a theatrical makeover by the Royal Shakespeare Company for its main-stage Christmas attraction.
Theories abound as to the identity of Elena Ferrante. Thanks to the Neapolitan novels author’s aversion to publicity, some believe her to be the alter-ego of male writer Domenico Starnone. April De Angelis – who has adapted Ferrante’s novels into a lively, generous four-part play – doesn’t buy it. “It’s so female,” she said of the story. “The passions, the menstruation, and f***ing from a woman’s point of view. Women live secret lives and they are never allowed into the big narrative of what it means to be human.”This five-hour National Theatre production – which has transferred, with a few tweaks, from The Rose in Kingston – deftly brings those secret lives into the open. Growing up in 1950s Naples, Lila and Lenu start their friendship with a betrayal. Lila (Catherine McCormack), headstrong and fearless, persuades Lenu (Niamh Cusack) to trade dolls, and then coldly drops Lenu’s through a dark grate. When Lenu instinctively does the same, Lila leads her by the hand to retrieve them.
“What if Juliet... didn’t kill herself?” asks Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson) in this gloriously silly, unexpectedly poignant jukebox musical. “I mean, what do I know, but it seems like she’s got her whole life ahead of her, she’s only had one boyfriend…” It’s a fair point. Will gets to work on a rewrite.& Juliet, built around the music of songwriting savant Max Martin, takes this wry premise, douses it in glitter and runs with it. Every moment of the Luke Sheppard-directed production is soundtracked by one of Martin’s power-pop hits – songs made famous by Katy Perry, Ellie Goulding, Kelly Clarkson, Robyn et al.
“You can’t arrest the internet,” exclaims the bereaved father in this superb Tony-winning musical. The primary meaning of his words is that you can’t apprehend it as if it were a criminal. But the secondary meaning has here become the primary one: you can’t stop dead a phenomenon that is as weightless as the ether, and yet can crush individual lives like a conscienceless juggernaut.Steven Levenson’s script is unflaggingly wily and kicks off from a very intriguing premise. It focuses on a socially awkward teenage boy (the eponymous Evan, played by Sam Tutty) who, at the suggestion of his shrink, tries to raise his spirits each day by sending himself a pep talk email.
No play by this acclaimed young American dramatist is ever going to be caught breaking the speed limit. Annie Baker’s much-deserved relationship with the National Theatre began in 2016 when it produced the English premiere of her Pulitzer Prize-winning off-Broadway piece The Flick, a studiedly downbeat, very unrushed and ruminative look at three minimum-wage misfits as they go about their routine work cleaning a fleapit cinema. The era of traditional celluloid was about to give way to the digital world.Relatively snappy at two hours straight through, this superbly cast production of The Antipodes, directed by the author and Chloe Lamford, makes us privy to a succession of brainstorming sessions about how to pitch a particular story. It’s arguably left too moot and unspecified. Aficionados of the characteristic Baker rhythm – uptight fretful lassitude, which occasionally breaks into laugh-out-loud hilarity – will not be disappointed.
The mistake people made with the election of Barack Obama,” says Wendell Pierce, staring intently, “was claiming, ‘We are post-racial.’ What? Tell that to all those guys who just got killed by police during traffic stops.”Sitting in his dressing room at the Piccadilly Theatre, where he is about to embark on a 10-week run as the star of Death of a Salesman, the 55-year-old is an engaging mix of humour and gravitas. One moment, he is doing a witty impression of New Orleans jazz legend Sidney Bechet; the next he is suddenly intense and forthright, particularly when he is talking about racism in America, a problem ingrained “since the original sin of slavery”. He says the US is still blighted by discrimination. “We keep people enslaved under the false pretence that they are free. We have a criminal justice system that, over the past 150 years, was all about criminalising an under-class. To this day in Louisiana, our penitentiaries are working plantations.”
Mary Poppins sniffs as if at a slightly improper suggestion when Mrs Banks brings up the subject of references. “I make it a rule never to give references,” she declares airily to the mother of Jane and Michael Banks in the stage musical, now in previews at London’s Prince Edward Theatre. “A very old-fashioned idea to my mind,” she adds, with a faint hint of Lady Bracknell. “The best people never require them.” She’s not being rude, exactly, but her tone leaves little doubt about who is interviewing whom in this encounter.This suggestion of inscrutability – of the stern, slightly droll briskness with which she refuses to explain herself to anybody – is a characteristic which literature’s predominant diva of the nursery shares with her creator, PL Travers, who first wrote about her in a book published in 1934. It’s not that Mary Poppins needs to fear adverse testimonials from previous employers. It’s more that a testimonial might well expose those glaring, imponderable gaps in her back story. How would you get your bearings on a figure who seems to have blown in on the east wind, “to have existed as long as recorded time and to be friendly with the powers of the universe”? That’s how she’s described by Richard Eyre, director of the stage-musical version.
Two planks are lowered on to the stage at the start of Mike Bartlett’s disgracefully funny adaptation of Vassa. They descend in deadpan sequence. One reads, “This play is set before a revolution.” The other, after a mock-solemn fade, “Capitalism is showing its age.”Not the revolution, note. Experience suggests that revolutions are inclined to devour their young. Written after the failure of the 1905 Russian revolution, when the Imperial Guard fired on a peaceful demonstration, causing many fatalities, Maxim Gorky’s 1910 play is a savage reminder that capitalism too is no slouch at tearing itself apart greedily. It is this gleefully baleful early version – published but never performed at the time – that Bartlett has adapted, and not Gorky’s 1936 revision.
A woman escaping her abusive partner franticly seeks refuge at a domestic violence shelter. A prisoner pleads for her TV to be taken away because she knows exactly how to electrocute herself with it. An inexperienced probation worker is sent to speak to the mother of a dead inmate she’s never met.There are 100 scenes in the full script of Alice Birch’s [BLANK], all inspired by women affected by the criminal justice system, and which Birch describes as an “invitation to you and your company to make your own play from these scenes”. Director Maria Aberg has picked 30 of them for this potent performance at the Donmar Warehouse, which marks 40 years since two female prisoners founded the reformative theatre company Clean Break. Two of its members – Shona Babayemi and Lucy Edkins – are in the cast.
This programme by The Royal Ballet combines gorgeously lucid dancing with an exploration of influence. It celebrates the centenary of contemporary dance pioneer Merce Cunningham with a world premiere from in-demand choreographer Pam Tanowitz and Frederick Ashton’s luminous Monotones II. Always rigorous, it’s an evening that ranges from prickly to serene.Tanowitz formed her own company in 2000, but her international career is skyrocketing after the recent success of Four Quartets, which responded to T.S. Eliot’s poetry with dance of glowing, spacious beauty. The new Everyone Keeps Me is on a smaller scale, focused on connections: between dancers, between Tanowitz and the choreographers who came before her. The intimacy is very appealing, though it’s frustrating that The Royal Ballet keeps putting female choreographers in smaller spaces like the Linbury, away from main stage.
I did question whether I deserved it,” says Richard Gadd. “Where did my wrongdoing stop and hers begin? When she started doorstepping me? When she attacked me?”The 30-year-old comedian is talking about his stalker. The woman, “Martha”, who sent him 41,071 emails, 350 hours of voicemail, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages, 106 pages of letters, sleeping pills, a woolly hat, a pair of brand new boxer shorts and a cuddly reindeer toy. Who turned up at his shows, and outside his house. “All,” as he says in his new show Baby Reindeer, “within the realms of legality.”
Estate agent Garry Lejeune (Daniel Rigby) is standing in a tattered suit, with a stunned look on his face. “The sardines,” he cries, “they’re gone!”. Before him on set sits a full plate of sardines. Something has gone wrong.In Michael Frayn’s brilliant meta-farce Noises Off (1982), the fourth wall is not so much broken as smashed down, along with much of the set. This is the “play gone wrong” par excellence.
The Royal Ballet’s new season opens with Manon, Kenneth MacMillan’s tale of doomed love and sexual exploitation. It’s a ballet that shows off the whole company’s gift for storytelling, conjuring up an 18th-century world that is greedy, gilded and desperate. Rags and riches literally jostle together in Nicholas Georgiadis’s brilliant designs, poverty looming over the characters’ passions.Created in 1974, Manon has become one of the company’s most popular works. The title role is coveted by ballerinas around the world: a heroine who falls for the young hero Des Grieux, even as she’s being lured into life as a rich man’s mistress.
Caryl Churchill pushes boundaries. Your wits need to hurry to keep up with the audacious, haunting and often horribly funny games the veteran dramatist is playing in Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. This latest quartet of works is unveiled in James Macdonald's immaculate, imaginative productions on the Royal Court's main stage.It's conceivable that other dramatists might have come up with the idea of a grotesque correspondence between the alleged depravities of Weinstein, Trump, Epstein et al and the career of Bluebeard, the serial wife-killer of fable. But Churchill's approach here has her distinctively inspired stamp in its almost laconic outrageousness. The brothers of the murdered women have already put the offstage ogre into intensive care with fifteen, frustratingly non-fatal stab wounds. The full title of the play is Bluebeard's Friends; the focus is on his erstwhile moneyed intimates, seen foregathering in his castle for a post-mortem over a few bottles of wine.