Critics’ Circle Awards 2019

At a ceremony yesterday (11 February) in London’s Prince of Wales Theatre, the Critics’ Circle award winners were announced.

The Best Actor Award was won by Andrew Scott, for his performance in Noël Coward’s play PRESENT LAUGHTER. The Best Actress Award this year has two winners – Juliet Stevenson for her performance in THE DOCTOR (soon to arrive in the West End), and Sharon D Clarke for her role as Linda, long-suffering wife of Willy Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN.

The Jack Tinker Best Newcomer Award was won by Sam Tutty for his title role in DEAR EVAN HANSEN , and the Best Director Award was won by Jamie Lloyd for three shows- Harold Pinter’s BETRAYAL, EVITA and CYRANO DE BERGERAC.

The aptly renamed Michael Billington Award for Best New Play went to Lucy Prebble’s A VERY EXPENSIVE POISON, with the show’s design by Tom Scutt receiving an award too. The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical was awarded to COME FROM AWAY.

The Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance was won by Hammed Animashaun for his version of Bottom in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.
Jasmine Lee-Jones won the Most Promising Playwright award, and the Special Award for Services to Theatre Award was given to celebrated lighting designer Paule Constable.

Read my Theatre Preview roundup for London’s Barbican Life magazine (Winter 2019/20 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!


I WANNA BE YOURS plays at the Bush Theatre until 18th January 2020. Details and tickets here

IN BRIEF Articulate and heartfelt play about fighting for love set against a racist environment is strongly played and directed

“Love is the only thing I’m sure of” says Haseeb to Ella during a tense discussion about their relationship. But how do they cope with the pressures of being a young interracial couple? And how can they deal with family prejudices and conflicting loyalties when they are trying to make a life of their own?

Haseeb, a poet meets Ella, an actor at a workshop that Ella is running. We see them grow closer as they go through the delicate, uncharted stages of forming a loving relationship.

Zia Ahmed’s script starts bright and playful, with the excitement and tensions of establishing a relationship carefully and joyfully described, but as the family expectations and outside prejudice slowly weigh in, the characters find themselves under increasing pressure from all sides (as well as from within). In a subtly shifting emotional landscape, darkness slowly creeps in as the forces swirling around and between them threaten their relationship.

A surprise trip presents an opportunity to flee family and focus on each other, giving them room to breathe their own air, and space to deal with the “elephant in the room” between them.

Fleshed out with small, human incidents both funny and sad, this is a well-rounded and relatable play which skilfully captures the youthful enthusiasm of finding love set against the destructiveness of ignorance and prejudice.

The performances are detailed, well-pitched and full of chemistry. One feels for them both, worn down by conflicting pressures of family, prejudice and work. And yes, you really want them to succeed together.

Ragevan Vasan as Haseeb is by turns endearingly bright eyed, fragile and quick; it is genuinely sad to watch his youthful optimism being drained by his environment. The script cleverly integrates (when we least expect it) Haseeb’s poetic talents which are brought to bear upon his despair at being disrespected, which allows him to speak poignantly in a poetic manner about his inner feelings. Emily Stott as Ella subtly captures her character’s initial caution and slow relaxing into the relationship. She makes us believe that Ella is working hard to make it work as she carefully treads each step along the journey. For both characters, the script’s demanding blending of fantasy and reality elements succeeds through the quality of performances and sensitive direction by Anna Himali Howard.

The play also ingeniously integrates Rachael Merry the BSL signer into the onstage action, who as well as signing heroically, provides some humorous moments and is a useful third person for the two leads to play off.

Although the “open” ending risks leaving the audience divided, this is an articulate, heartfelt and hopeful play where we are allowed to hope that- just perhaps – love might conquer all.

The 80 minutes running time flew all too quickly.

I WANNA BE YOURS plays at the Bush Theatre until 18th January 2020. Details and tickets here

Read an interview with Rachael Merry – the play’s BSL signer – on the Bush Theatre’s website here


FAIRVIEW runs at The Young Vic until January 23rd 2020. Details and tickets here

IN BRIEF Radical, provocative play which quietly wields its power to change minds

I love a play that gives you homework.

The setting is a manicured suburban American house where the inhabitants are a black family who are preparing for ….Grandma’s Birthday. Yup, a setup that was creaking with age way back in the 50s when Lucy was still mocking Ricky’s Cuban accent. This? This won the Pulitzer?, I sat there thinking. The script ploughs along – it’s almost like an 80s sitcom.

In fact, it takes a while before things start to get interesting. But when it does, well, hang on to your headgear.

In order not to spoil the show’s surprises I must limit my words, for this is a show that deserves to be discovered on its own terms.

The subjects raised are race and racism and how the projections of stereotyping and ignorance have placed an overwhelming pressure upon black people. Only the youngest member of the family, daughter Keisha is not yet fully tainted, carrying the hope of change, and so she becomes a sort of conduit between fantasy and reality. As the show progresses it becomes “infected” by outside forces and it escalates into bizarre territory before being re-grounded by the daughter who initiates a brave coup de theatre which pulls the show’s title sharply into focus and sends the audience out quietly buzzing.

The ensemble work is excellent from the cast who work tightly throughout this challenging staging. Particularly memorable is the young daughter Keisha (Donna Banya) who literally closes the show on her own. Director Nadia Latif has worked with great care to ensure that audiences can still piece it together despite the text’s challenging and fragmented nature. In my one small criticism, I did feel that the middle section of the script was rather too unstructured and it flailed about before finding a way to its conclusion.

As a wake-up call this works superbly, but it says so much more. This is daring, disturbing, radical theatre that challenges – and then changes- the way that you think, and I recommend it to you.

FAIRVIEW runs at The Young Vic until January 23rd 2020. Details and tickets here

An Appreciation: Nicole Scherzinger In Cabaret at the Boulevard Theatre

On December 8, a sold out house at London’s intimate Boulevard Theatre enthusiastically welcomed Nicole Scherzinger who shared that this is her first venture into cabaret (following two nights in New York last month). One would never have known, such was the polish and skill both in choice and organisation of material, and the craft of her performances. It is easy to hear that hers is an accomplished voice which is not only highly versatile but also ideally suited to the rigours and subtleties of show songs.

Nicole has a natural ability to make people relax – she makes herself -and you- feel right at home from the start. Her personality shines through in authentic, warm and funny interactions with both audience and her impressive eight-piece band squeezed onto the smallish stage. Opening with a cheeky and smoky I Put A Spell On You, Nicole ran through a nicely-shaded selection of songs, from the show tunes of Sondheim (Losing My Mind/Not a Day Goes By), Lloyd Webber (Memory/Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), Paul/Pasek and Yeston (a tender recital of the haunting Unusual Way) to a soulful evocation of Prince’s Purple Rain and a brief mixed revisit to the meaty beat of the Pussycat Dolls’ Don’t Cha.

There was much fun, too, as Nicole not only gently lampooned her star status, but gave us a very funny parody of Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park, which pulled off the tough trick of making the audience giggle whilst simultaneously admiring her vocal power.

Finishing with a costume change and a bravura display in the very funny Show Off (from the underappreciated The Drowsy Chaperone), this was a fantastic, tight and consistently engaging show. The 75-minutes set literally flew by.

In the audience were Sir Trevor Nunn and designer John Napier as well as many more show-folk who were no doubt enjoying this sampling of her impressive musical CV and filing the memory away for potential future castings. Quieter moments were sensitively and carefully chosen and it was particularly heartwarming that Nicole dedicated her show to her “friend, acting coach and mentor” Leigh Kilton-Smith, in the audience that evening, who it turns out had worked hard together with Nicole in polishing and refining the format of the show prior to its New York dates.

As regards the intimate 150ish-capacity venue, on a night off from its debut show, the fantastic GHOST QUARTET, the recently opened Boulevard Theatre showed its versatility in being reconfigured very successfully for cabaret.

Showing a masterly command of excellently-chosen and arranged material as well as showing her delightful, playful personality, and judging by the huge appreciation and standing ovation of this audience, there is a lot more that Nicole Scherzinger could do in the cabaret sphere should she choose to.

Nicole Scherzinger played The Boulevard Theatre on December 8th and 9th