October’s top shows

Welcome to October’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.

Off-West End

Opening

From October 24th, the new Boulevard Theatre’s opening production is GHOST QUARTET, an intoxicating musical of love, loss and spirits – of both the spectral and alcoholic kind. Three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy’s hauntingly beautiful song cycle is a story about stories themselves; how we tell them, how we hear them, and how they evolve, intertwine and draw us in. With an intriguing cast including Carly Bawden and Zubin Varla this looks set to be a highlight, especially after Malloy’s other successful show, the excellent PRELUDES which is playing at Southwark Playhouse until October 12th (see below).

But back to GHOST QUARTET. Rose has a problem. She’s been betrayed by her lover, a local tree-dwelling astronomer, with her very own sister. Rose seeks vengeance and a passing bear might just offer the answer. But his services come at a price: a pot of honey, one piece of stardust, a secret baptism – and a photo of a ghost.

A kaleidoscopic journey spanning continents, centuries and the cosmos ensues. But even through the fogs of time and a haze of whiskey, Rose can’t shake the feeling that she’s done this all before…

Dave Malloy is the writer of the Broadway smash-hit Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.


BERYL Discover the inspiring story of Beryl Burton, the greatest woman on two wheels, in this revival of the 2014 trailblazing tale from writer Maxine Peake.

Beryl Burton MBE, OBE – twice World Road-race Champion, five times World Pursuit Champion – was never meant to cycle. In childhood, a serious illness left her with a weakened heart; doctors warned against strenuous exercise for the rest of her life. Yet, at 30, branded ‘the Yorkshire housewife’ and with no financial sponsorship, she became the first sportswoman in history to break a men’s competitive record.

Featuring a host of unforgettable characters and a great big dollop of Northern wit, Peake’s freewheeling play is the extraordinary true story of a woman who pushed at the limits, took on the status quo – and won. Playing at Arcola from 16 October to 16 November.


BABY REINDEER was one of the hits of this year’s Edinburgh Festival. When Edinburgh Comedy Award Winner Richard Gadd (Monkey See Monkey Do) offers a free cup of tea to a stranger, what appears to be a trivial interaction has ramifications far wider than he could ever have imagined.

This is a gripping debut play and chilling personal narrative exploring obsession, delusion, and the aftermath of a chance encounter. Directed by Olivier Award Winner Jon Brittain (Rotterdam), the show plays the Bush Theatre from 9 October to 9 November.



Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas are the internationally-acclaimed theatre makers behind EUROHOUSE and the award-winning PALMYRA. Their stripped-back shows play with humour, brutality and the impressive ability to flip between the two

Bert and Nasi return with a show entitled ONE. Locked in a deadpan double-act and a polarised world, they are both looking for a way to be together. But they get distracted by squabbles, insults, tap-dancing and one-upmanship. How will it end? You decide. 

ONE plays at the Battersea Arts Centre until October 19th


The Finborough Theatre continues its interesting finds from America with the European debut of hit Off-Broadway play THE NICETIES by Eleanor Burgess which runs from 1 to 26 October.

“There is one appropriate way of responding to a woman of color who says, I have an idea to assert, and that is to shut up and listen”

America. 2016. Within the stately office of an elite university two women united by their vision for the future, but divided on how to get there, meet to review a history paper that asks one big question: has America reached the moment for its real, radical, revolution?

When a clash of ideas becomes a complicated discussion about race, the niceties begin to wear thin and one woman is forced to put everything on the line in order to make her case.

As their private dispute explodes into a public war, the devastating consequences of their good intentions are laid bare, as both student and professor ask: Have we left it too late to repair our divided society?


Highly-praised at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, here’s a quick London season for haunting musical ISLANDER, playing at Southwark Playhouse from 2 to 26 October.

Eilidh stares out to sea and dreams of a new life beyond her lonely island. Myth and reality collide when the tide washes a mysterious stranger onto her beach, changing her life forever. Epic storytelling, intimately staged with a contemporary Scottish folk-inspired score.

The two-hander cast of Kirsty Findlay (Olivier Award Nominated, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour) and Bethany Tennick perform a whole host of characters, while weaving, building and layering their voices using looping technology to create an expansive, ethereal soundscape for the ears and imagination.


Okay listen up, you have seventy-five years to be all you can be!

LITTLE BABY JESUS, a 2011 work by writer/performer Arinzé Kene, introduces three characters. Joanne is dipped in rudeness, rolled in attitude and is fighting to keep her life afloat. Sensitive and mature he may be, yet Kehinde struggles with an obsession for mixed race girls as he eyes his place on the social ladder. Rugrat, class clown and playground loudmouth, just wants to make it past GCSEs and keep their name on the tip of your tongue.

As their lives collide and intertwine, three extraordinary young people relay the moments they ‘grew up’. Three remarkable stories. Three incredible journeys.

Directed by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, winner of the JMK Award 2019, LITTLE BABY JESUS runs at the Orange Tree Theatre from 18 October to 16 November.


Playing to 19 October at the Greenwich Theatre, BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL was seen in New York in 2004 and now receives its European Premiere, starring Hiba Elchikhe (who was so good in FIVER at the Southwark Playhouse a few months ago) and John Addison (from the West End production of SCHOOL OF ROCK). The show also features Andrew Patrick-Walker (Bat Out of Hell), Sabrina Aloueche (We Will Rock You) and Emily-Mae (The Producers).  The cast alone make it worth a look, but as yet I haven’t heard the score.

BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL is a story within a story. A band of soulful street singers who meet up to share stories from their lives, and their story tonight: a young Parisian coming to America to search for fame and the father she never knew and the journey she embarks upon to find the soul of the city that bears her name.

Featuring a wide range of rock, pop and soul, these stories interweave to create an inspiring and touching musical that celebrates the energy and spirit of New York City.


Praised as “one of the freshest voices in American theatre” by the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Baker returns to the National Theatre (following acclaimed runs of her mesmerising shows The Flick and John) with her latest extraordinary play THE ANTIPODES. Their phones switched off, a group of people sit around a table telling, categorising and theorising stories. This is a world that is both familiar and fantastical. Their real purpose is never quite clear, but they continue on, searching for the monstrous. THE ANTIPODES asks what value stories have for a world in crisis. Playing at the National Theatre from 21 October to 23 November.


We just haven’t had enough shows about sperm recently. So here, from the folk who brought you the sell-out comedy hit Planet Earth III, PRIVATES: A Sperm Odyssey sees Luke Rollason (“amazingly entertaining” Ed Fest Mag), Christian Brighty (“hilarious” List) and Tom Curzon (“charming” Chortle) perform as three sperm on an adventure as big as life itself.

In this new, award-winning show, these plucky Privates must survive basic training, hostile white blood cells and the most dramatic ejaculation sequence ever seen onstage to be the first to fertilise the egg and become a beautiful baby. A very funny, fantastical and very frank look at how we talk about sex, and why. Playing at the Soho Theatre on October 31 to November 2nd.


Sometimes I wake up in the morning and all the missed opportunities of my life stare at me, grind me down until I’m nothing. Nothing but dust.

A new darkly comic, absurdist play by James Mannion, MITES is a sinister exploration of the manipulation that lies beneath relationships, in particular of those who are mentally vulnerable in society.

A lonely woman, abandoned by her husband, lives in an isolated house with her outspoken, anthropomorphic cat, Bartholomew. One day she is visited by Ken, a Pest Controller, who claims to be her ex-husband returned to her. Deceived by his lies and obsessed with memories of the past, the woman accepts Ken into her life, despite the sceptical protestations of Bartholomew. As her self-deception grows and Ken’s true intentions become clear, how will she survive the competitive machinations of her two male companions? And is there more to Bartholomew than meets the eye? MITES plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 7 to 26 October.


Off West End – Last Chance

Until October 12th FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY is an unmissable, quietly devastating look at the dereliction of the UK’s social service through a hugely compassionate lens. In a run-down community hall on the edge of town, a woman has been cooking lunch for those in need. A choir is starting up, run by a volunteer who’s looking for a new beginning. A mother is seeking help in her fight to keep her young daughter from being taken into care. An older man sits silently in the corner, the first to arrive, the last to leave. Outside the rain is falling.

FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY is the culmination of a trilogy that began with BEYOND CARING – ‘Unforgettable’ (The Times) – and followed by LOVE – ‘the National’s play of the year, and then some’ (Evening Standard). Alexander Zeldin’s new play goes to the heart of our uncertain times. Playing at the National’s Dorfman Theatre from until October 12th.

Read my **** review of the show here


Until October 12th PRELUDES is mesmerising – a true original. Based on a true story of the composer genius Rachmaninoff’s sessions of hypnotherapy, PRELUDES is an intriguing new musical by three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Ghost Quartet). It examines the crippling debilitation and harm the world can do to people, and how the dramatic and musical process can be used as therapy to restore them back into the fullest of creative lives. PRELUDES runs until October 12th at Southwark Playhouse.

Read my **** review of the show here


Until October 12th ANNA BELLA EEMA  “Something is coming. It’s either the interstate or the end of the world”. Precocious child Annabella lives in a deserted trailer park. Schooled by her eccentric mother Irene, she learns to co-exist with the vampires, werewolves and monsters that lurk in the world outside. Desperate to ward off the new highway that threatens the demolition of their home, Annabella steps outside to build a girl out of mud. The girl comes to life. The girl is Anna Bella Eema.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour’s (Detroit, National Theatre) part ghost story, part fairytale, part coming-of-age fantasy, ANNA BELLA EEMA plays at the Arcola until October 12th.

Read my *** review of the show here


Until October 13th TORCH SONG, Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning play about the life and loves of a drag artist in 1970s New York runs until October 13th at the Turbine Theatre in Battersea, next to the Power Station. This inaugural production at the venue is directed by Olivier-winner Drew McOnie


Until October 5th FOR SERVICES RENDERED A warm September afternoon in an idyllic English village. Tea is served on the terrace. Sounds of a tennis party float across the lawn. But this England has no place for the heroes of the First World War. No jobs to sustain them, no mantelpieces for their medals, and no money for their debts. Against the odds, three sisters must carve new paths in an uncertain world.

Somerset Maugham’s sharply observed and passionate play is a Chekhovian examination of desire, frustration and hope.

FOR SERVICES RENDERED runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until October 5th, and is directed by JST’s Artistic Director, Tom Littler.


Continuing

FALSETTOS , the double Tony Award winning musical from James Lapine and William Finn finally gets its London premiere (courtesy of Selladoor Productions) at the Other Palace until November 23rd. Featuring a brilliant cast including Laura Pitt-Pulford (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), Natasha J Barnes (WASTED) and Daniel Boys (AVENUE Q) amongst others.

An hilarious and poignant look at a modern family, FALSETTOS revolves around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon to be bar mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist, and the lesbian neighbours, Originally created under the spectre of the AIDS crisis, this ground-breaking musical about family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and satirically perceptive even as it moves towards its heartbreaking conclusion, which reminds us that love is all that really matters.


West End Opening

Opening October 8th Stephen Mangan leads this restyling (by comedy specialist Sean Foley) of the classic 1951 Ealing comedy THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT which originally starred Alec Guinness. All about a scientist who creates a miracle fibre which doesn’t wear out, the discovery is seized upon by both the mill owners and the trades unions who all want to suppress it. It will be intriguing to see how Foley works with the fifties nature of the story and manages to bring his own quirky eye to the story details. Reuniting Foley with Stephen Mangan, (they worked together on JEEVES AND WOOSTER to great success in 2016), this will be an interesting experiment in itself.


Opening Outside London

Manchester

Until November 9th Manchester is excited for this – and me too. After 50 years Jerry Herman’s classic musical MAME is back! When young Patrick goes to stay with his Auntie Mame, he walks into a fast-living world of fun and and joy. It will be a real treat to see two-time Olivier-winner Tracie Bennett (Follies) (pictured above, top right) as Mame, with the great Tim Flavin (above, left) and Harriet Thorpe (Absolutely Fabulous) (pictured above, centre) as Mame’s “old, old, old friend” Vera Charles. Get set for some high-octane musical fun! The celebrated score includes the rousing title number, plus “Open a New Window,” “If He Walked into My Life,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Bosom Buddies” and “That’s How Young I Feel.” Good to see that rising star producer Katy Lipson -who has now made so many excellent smaller-scale musicals – is starting to move into the bigger shows. Great good wishes from me to everyone involved! Previews from September 28th and playing till November 9th. The show visits Northampton and Salisbury in January 2020, and must tour the whole country soon!


Salisbury

5th – 29th October Here is a most welcome revival of BREAKING THE CODE, a play first seen in 1986 when it starred Derek Jacobi. At the height of the Second World War eccentric genius Alan Turing was breaking the complex German code, Enigma, at Bletchley Park. Since his work was classified top secret for years after the war, no one knew how much was owed to him when he was later put on trial and publicly humiliated by the revelation of his sexuality. Hugh Whitemore’s compelling play intertwines an account of Turing’s most heroic hour with that of his betrayal by the nation he had helped in its darkest hour. Turing’s story went on to be told in the 2014 Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Breaking the Code stars Edward Bennett and Julian Firth and is directed by Christian Durham.


Touring the UK

C’est Magnifique! Achieving the near-impossible task of translating a unique French movie to the stage, and doing so in some style, this UK tour of AMELIE will bring a smile to your lips and warmth to your heart, as we follow our heroine helping others but finding it hardest to help herself. With a tuneful score and dynamic Audrey Brisson as Amelie, this is your passport to joie de vivre. See it in October at Southampton until October 5th when the tour ends. The show then prepares for a transfer to London in November for a Christmas season at The Other Palace.

Read my **** review of the show here


If you love the Latin crossover music of Gloria Estefan you will enjoy ON YOUR FEET! It has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show. It looks good and sounds just great, with a brilliant band (worth the price of admission alone) who never let the energy flag.

Featuring 26 hits, this Tony Award nominated show ran on Broadway for two years, for over 750 performances. ON YOUR FEET! is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and charts their journey from Cuba to the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom. Featuring some of the most iconic pop songs of the era, including “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, “Conga”, “Get On Your Feet”, “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “1-2-3” and many more.

ON YOUR FEET! is directed by two-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), with choreography by Olivier Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and book by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman). See it in October at Sunderland, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Cardiff and Manchester.

Read my ***.5 review of the show here


NT Live Broadcasts

October brings another NTLive broadcast to screens around the UK and further afield. On October 17th The Bridge Theatre’s highly-acclaimed production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM will be coming to a venue near you.

To find screenings in your area check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.


Read my Theatre Preview roundup for London’s Barbican Life magazine (Autumn 2019 issue)

If you are a resident of the Barbican Estate in London, you may already have seen my regular theatre preview articles in the excellent quarterly BARBICAN LIFE magazine, covering all the exciting and innovative theatre productions staged in the next three months at the world-renowned Barbican Centre.

If you haven’t, then please click on the link to go directly to the theatre preview article here. Enjoy!


Richmond Theatre’s 120th anniversary

Image via Richmond Theatre publicity

Last week the glorious Frank Matcham-designed Richmond Theatre turned 120 years old. On 15th September the theatre held an open day and evening celebration to mark this special occasion.

One of the finest surviving examples of the work of master theatre architect Frank Matcham, the building, externally in red brick with ornate buff terracotta is listed Grade II*. It opened on 18th September 1899, under the name Theatre Royal and Opera House, with a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The auditorium seats 840 on three levels and the ornate auditorium includes beautiful gilding, acres of red plush and luscious plasterwork.

The theatre has had some difficult times, including a period in the 1960s and 70s when it was not certain that it would survive, but thankfully common sense prevailed and the theatre has since gone from strength to strength.

Maintained in beautiful order after a major 1991 refurbishment, the theatre itself is a treat to visit, despite the rather cramped front of house areas and box office corridor; once inside the auditorium enchants you – superbly designed with excellent sight lines at all levels. For those interested, tours take place on a regular basis and can be booked through the theatre’s website here

Richmond’s luscious proscenium and curtain. Photo copyright Unrestricted Theatre.
Richmond auditorium from the stage, via ATG theatre website.

Hulme Hippodrome in UK’s most at risk Victorian buildings

Hulme Hippodrome, photo courtesy Victorian Society website

The respected Victorian Society has included Manchester’s Hulme Hippodrome in its Top Ten most endangered buildings for 2019.

Opening on 10 October 1901 in the Manchester suburb of Hulme, the Grand Junction Theatre and Floral Hall (as it was originally known) seated 2,000 upon opening (with a further 1,000 seats in the adjoining Floral Hall.) It was designed by J J Alley, who designed a number of Manchester theatres including the Hulme Playhouse which was built the following year right next door to the Hippodrome, both theatres being joined by an arcade. Both theatres were part of the Broadhead circuit, which built its head office along the arcade between the two theatres.

The theatre fell into disuse in the mid-1980s and has been slowly decaying ever since.

The ornate, Grade II-listed building was bought at auction in May this year by a church group and there are major concerns for this vulnerable landmark building which is in a very fragile state of health.

Christopher Costelloe, Director of the Victorian Society, said ‘There is nothing sadder than a shuttered theatre. Central Manchester’s increasing prosperity has not yet spread to Hulme, which cannot afford to lose assets such as this splendid building.’

I managed to find a short film (below) taken in 2012 which allows us inside the Hulme Hippodrome, which as you can see was already rotting away under an undignified amateur paint job. Thanks to YouTube poster lazyeyebailey for the video.


Review: FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY

Cecilia Noble in FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY at the National Theatre. Details and Tickets here

IN BRIEF Unmissable, quietly devastating look at the dereliction of the UK’s social care system, with an award-worthy central performance from Cecilia Noble

For all of its two hour running time, Alexander Zeldin’s self-directed new play FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY is quietly devastating. A window into a world that most have chosen to look away from, Zeldin stealthily attacks our conscience by simply allowing his characters a voice. The cold, harsh strip lighting which thrusts out into the audience remains mostly on throughout, bringing the audience into the play- they cannot observe unseen in the dark.

Set in a run- down community centre, all hard bucket chairs, cold strip lighting and leaking roofs, centre manager Hazel runs the place pretty much on her own. This warm, kind-hearted surrogate mother figure tends to society’s most marginalised and vulnerable, a vital beacon of humanity, giving a hopeful word here, a reassuring touch or hug there, and always trying to offer the small disparate group of centre users what others have given up trying to. It’s easy to feel the weight on her shoulders as she attempts to pay the price of austerity for others.

With a quiet, calming voice and a wealth of small ways to manage the many different directions in which she is being pulled by the demands of the users, Hazel is played exquisitely by Cecilia Noble in what is easily one of the performances of the year. Hazel is the beating heart of this dilapidated building. She cooks the one hot meal that the users get each day, serves it with care and manages the food donations that come in – always tins, she notes. Hazel is the sole provider of humanity here- a smile, a hopeful word, a hug, a small morsel of encouragement – that in some way helps the users get through their long, rainy days.

The arrival of Mason (Nick Holder), a reformed ex-prisoner who grew up in the care system, brings a little hope in terms of help for Hazel and the restarting of a choir. Mason makes suggestions and contributes, but he has his own complex needs too. His parrot fashion positivism gives him something to cling to.

And as time goes by, small bonds begin to grow between the centre users, albeit fragile ones. Fragments of their stories begin to emerge, while others stay closed and inaccessible, their single common bond being need. Small gestures mean a lot where there is so little. Arguments that arise are defused and settled amicably between the participants in a sign that they still retain their humanity and respect.

“It’s hard to find people to talk to ” says Beth (Susan Lynch), vocalising a common issue between the characters. Beth is at risk of losing her own child to care authorities and visibly disintegrating before our eyes as the play progresses, finally desperately abandoning her dignity in ways which are both moving and deeply disturbing.

Even in the aftermath of a flood, Hazel finds a scrap of hope. “There must be something we can do”, she says, and true enough, she produces sandwiches. She even organises a petition to try to stop the closure of the centre, ” If I get enough names they’ve got to listen.” Hope is what resolutely keeps raising its head, through Hazel.”There’s always someone worse off than you” she says with humility.

Later we learn that Hazel’s caring instincts have many more drivers than we may have realised, but what is undoubted is that her care impacts on all the other characters; and in the one instance when she is unable to help she is truly devastated and bewildered. “All the animals take care of each other” notes Hazel about her beloved animal documentaries. The unspoken question hangs – so why can’t we?

The British vocal fallbacks marble the conversations- “sorry”, ” thank you”, “can I help?” in ways that convey a spectrum of meaning. What is plain is that these people are the human fallout of systems which cannot afford to care, and the burden shifts onto those dedicated individuals desperately trying to keep it going with sheer humanity, fighting an impossible battle… but fighting it anyway.

Brilliantly written, cast and directed, Zeldin’s vital and heartfelt final play in a trilogy holds a strip-lit mirror up to a society that seems to be almost past caring. Can this be the impoverished society we truly want? We still have time to do something about it; but that time is running out.

Please take this opportunity to see this very important play while you can.


FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY runs at the National Theatre until October 12th. Details and Tickets here