As the Offies Awards have announced their shortlists, I thought it might be interesting to take a look through the finalists in some of the major categories. (You can find the full list here).
When reading through, you can read my Unrestricted Theatre review of the show by clicking on the title of any show which is highlighted.
In the category Choreography / Movement, Oti Mabuse is a finalist for AIN’T MISBEHAVIN‘ at the Southwark Playhouse. Mabuse worked her cast well and I would hope that she would take away the prize for this category. (However I was very disappointed that Robby Graham was not even longlisted for his work on LEAVE TO REMAIN which ran at Hammersmith in January 2019.)
In the Performance Ensemble category, finalists include THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON at Southwark Playhouse, (Matt Burns, Rosalind Ford, Joey Hickman, Philippa Hogg, James Marlowe)(my review here). Also a finalist is LITTLE BABY JESUS at the Orange Tree Theatre (Anyebe Godwin, Rachel Nwokoro and Khai Shaw). (my review here).
Yet another finalist in this category is GHOST QUARTET at Boulevard Theatre, (Carly Bawden, Niccolò Curradi, Maimuna Memon, Zubin Varla). I would hope that Ghost Quartet wins this category as the interconnection between the four actor-musicians was just incredible, one of the main reasons I saw it twice (a rarity for me!).
In the category Company Ensemble the SpitLip company blow all competition out of the water with their superb OPERATION MINCEMEAT.
The Female Performance in a Play category shortlist includes Lucy Briggs-Owen for OUT OF WATER at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre. Frankly all three performances in this play were award-worthy, but I wish Lucy well in this category.
The Male Performance in a Play category finalists include Irfan Shamji for THE ARRIVAL at the Bush Theatre (you can read my show review here). How you can choose one of the two powerful, inextricable performances in this play and not recognise both is a mystery to me. I wish Mr Shamji well -while thinking his co-star Scott Karim deserves equal praise.
The Most Promising New Playwright category includes Samuel Bailey for SHOOK at the Southwark Playhouse, this year’s Papatango Prize winner, and I WANNA BE YOURS, by Zia Ahmed at The Bush Theatre . In my opinion Zia Ahmed should win for his eloquent look at a couple trying to hold on to love in an unequal world. Not only that, the production was beautifully acted and directed too.
Best New Play category finalist Rose Lewenstein challenged us all with her raw slab of a play called COUGAR at Richmond’s Orange Tree. In my opinion she deserves to win. You read an interview with the writer Rose Lewenstein here.
In the Best Director category I was disappointed to see that Max Key had not been chosen as a finalist for his stylish, mesmerising production of THE GLASS PIANO at The Coronet Theatre.
In the musicals categories, I was happy to see that Supporting Male Performance finalists include both Oliver Saville for FALSETTOS and Cedric Neal for THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, the show which also features in Best Set Design for finalist Lee Newby.
For the best Male Performance in a musical I was delighted to see that Keith Ramsay is shortlisted for his role as Rachmaninoff in the brilliant PRELUDES at the Southwark Playhouse. This show is also a finalist for Best Lighting Design (by Christopher Nairne).
Best Musical Director is really a shortlist of riches, with the talented Jordan Li-Smith longlisted twice (he also was an accomplished musical associate on PRELUDES) and shortlisted as a finalist, but for me the winner here should be Benjamin Cox for the detailed and mesmerizingly beautiful GHOST QUARTET at the Boulevard Theatre.
Best Director in the musicals section features Bill Buckhurst as a finalist for the aforementioned GHOST QUARTET, who in my opinion should win for his intricate weaving together of music, mood, whiskey and magic.
GHOST QUARTET is also a finalist for Best Musical Production, which nobody who saw it would quibble about.
Welcome to August’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.
As you’ll know, August brings us the Edinburgh Festival where the austerely lovely maiden-aunt of a city becomes a kind of endless lasagne of performance , with hundreds of shows in every conceivable space. Good luck to everyone up there! But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do or see in the rest of the country. Oh no! Just take a look below for a wide range of ideas to suit your own tastes. Enjoy!
SHACKLETON’S CARPENTER , Harry McNish, was pivotal in ensuring the survival of those who went on Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914-17 Antarctica expedition.
When the Endurance sank, leaving the crew of 27 stranded, McNish, brilliant carpenter and shipwright, defied Shackleton, but went all the way with him and ensured all 28 were saved.
For all his bravery and ingenuity, McNish was – oddly- one of the very few who were never awarded the Polar Medal. His health impaired by these shattering Polar experiences, he emigrated to New Zealand where his condition worsened, and he could only get dock work. Now, alone and destitute, one still night on the dockside, in his fevered mind he relives the Endurance expedition, pitting himself once more against Shackleton whilst still plagued by the ghosts of his past. Playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 17 August.
“It would be abnormal if someone didn’t die. You know, that would be very strange. We’d pay a lot of attention, I think, if that happened.”
THE COLOURS is the latest play from Harriet Madeley, who gave us the highly-praised THE LISTENING ROOM, which was a collection of interviews around the effects of violent crime. In this show, five people lie on a Welsh beach, moving through fantasy, memory and reality as they process the most profound yet ordinary of experiences: nearing the end of life.
As they describe moments from their lives, dig into their present experience and reflect on what the future has in store, we are taken on a rollercoaster ride of the human imagination… and transported all the way to the brink; as far as the eye can see.
THE COLOURS was created from interviews conducted with patients at Ty Olwen Hospice in Swansea and Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff. THE COLOURS plays at Soho Theatre Upstairs until 17 August.
Please Note: this play deals with medical themes and life-limiting illness.
Until Sat August 3rd. Something different! OUT OF THE WINGS Festival presents its fourth annual festival, exploring untapped theatre from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. Over five days, a series of staged readings bring to life new English translations of works by playwrights from six countries, alongside workshops, talks and events, in celebration of theatre in translation. At the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham. More information and tickets here.
Until August 10th. Howard Zinn was an American historian, professor and social activist, widely considered one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. His book, A People’s History of the United States, has sold two million copies and is read in schools throughout the U.S. THE TIME OF OUR LIESexplores Zinn’s personal history, including being a soldier who dropped bombs on Royan, France in WWll. That fateful moment troubled him for the rest of his days and shaped the man who would become a moral compass for the United States in ways that are more relevant today than ever before.
Starring Daniel Benzali as Howard Zinn, and directed by Che Walker, THE TIME OF OUR LIES is a battle cry for democracy, transparency, and inclusion. The play embodies Zinn’s battle for social justice and his lifelong struggle against false historical narratives written by those in power that poison the well for true democracy. At the Park Theatre.
Extended to August 3rd and then opening in the West End 27 Sep-4 Jan – If it’s laughter you’re after then you can’t go far wrong with Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF, returning to the scene of its first success in 1982 at the Lyric, Hammersmith. In this new production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, Meera Syal stars as Dotty, ageing actress who has sunk her life savings into a cheap production of a tired sex comedy, hoping that a quick UK tour will bag her a comfy retirement pot. Naturally, things go awry in ever-more disastrous ways, from the set to the cast to the sardines, as we see the show deteriorate from the rehearsal to the insanity of the end of the tour. With dizzying split-second timing, physical comedy and an incredibly complex plot, at its best this is a show to relax and enjoy to the full! Now where did I put those sardines……..
Playing now at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn, the Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT is in its first major London revival in 30 years . Directed by Susie McKenna and starring Olivier Award winners Sharon D. Clarke (Death of A Salesman, Caroline or Change, Ghost, Amen Corner) and Clive Rowe (Guys and Dolls, Carousel), Blues in the Night is a steamy compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more, it runs to 7 September – and no doubt continuing elsewhere if the ever busy Ms Clarke will find time….
Playing at the Soho Theatre until Aug 24th, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is the European premiere of Max Vernon’s new musical following its off-Broadway season, here starring John Partridge and Tyrone Huntley, amongst a really first-rate cast of powerful performers. It all starts when Millennial fashion designer Wes buys an abandoned building, not knowing that this forgotten gem was the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant ‘70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans, starting an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration in the summertime heat with the rush of lust, sex and incense mixed in the air. Filled with a collection of beautiful love songs and power rock ballads, this is a hopeful musical about friendship, community, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Although the book could be further developed, it’s the music that will win you- it’s carefully-crafted and authentically 70s-sounding. 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).
Now playing at the Coliseum until 31st August, after which it embarks on a UK tour.
Now nearing the close of this 50th anniversary UK tour, the tribal rock musical HAIR carries on with abandon, starring Jake Quickenden, Marcus Collins and Kelly Sweeney. See it in August in Cologne (Germany) before it returns to the UK to play Glasgow as the last date of its tour.
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 August at Manchester, Bournemouth, Glasgow and Woking . Read my review of the show here
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is out on a national tour until September. See it in August at Canterbury, Dublin, Oxford and Worcestershire. Read my review of the show here
See 1927’s ***** GOLEM for free – now! Right here….
For fans of innovative company 1927 (THE ANIMALS AND CHILDREN TOOK TO THE STREETS and GOLEM), you will be happy to know that 1927 are giving you a second chance to watch the brilliant show GOLEM, until 8th August. It’s right here, above. Enjoy!
Thanks to 1927 for making this available and wishing success to their new show ROOTS which plays the Edinburgh Festival in August, details here
NT Live Broadcasts
Throughout August across the UK there are Encore screenings of the much-praised National Theatre productions of THE LEHMAN TRILOGY and SMALL ISLAND. To find screenings in your area check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.
For the whole of August, a child aged 16 or under can go to any participating London show for free (where tickets are available) as long as they’re accompanied by a full paying adult. Adults can also buy up to two extra children’s tickets at half price… and there are no booking fees!
IN BRIEF – Socially significant, superbly cast, sung and written time-slip musical reminds us of the importance of community.
Meet Wes, a man of our times – a neurotic, tech-addicted, self-obsessed Millennial fashion designer who luxuriates in a huge following on social media (“I don’t need community”, he brags). Wes buys an abandoned old building in New Orleans for his new flagship store. The building, however, is still occupied – by the spirits of those who frequented the gay bar The Upstairs Lounge before it was torched in a hate crime in 1973.
Wes is transported back to
that time to meet a disparate group of characters who found refuge at the Lounge,
all in situations familiar to LGBT people in 1973 – a closeted married composer
who missed fame by being too visibly gay, the Puerto Rican drag queen and his devoted
Mother, the ballsy lesbian owner, homeless men forced into hustling… and
several others. Each has a story, told
This is a far from idealised community; friction, jealousy and tension pepper the script, from the crooked cop busting the joint, to internal group fighting, the atmosphere is heady and volatile.
Forced to be tech-free, away
from distractions, Wes focuses on the first-hand experience and lives “in the
moment” for a brief time. As his bewilderment slowly subsides, he finds himself
drawn to Patrick, a young man of about his own young age, whose story like most
of the others is of family rejection, destitution and struggle, who had none of
Wes’s good fortune, and yet he echoes Wes’s own feelings of being empty, alone
and fearful. They fall for each other, but the story already has its inevitable
The culture clash of a “have it all” millennial finding a kind of alter-ego in a bruised, struggling hustler from an earlier time is effective and engaging. Wes is searching for many things but Patrick nails it when he points out that what Wes has is “not community but commerce”.
Based on true events, Max Vernon’s impressive one-man show of book, music and lyrics amply illustrate that he is adept at all three, but Vernon’s biggest strength is undoubtedly in the music. The time-slip idea works for the music in that Wes’s numbers have a contemporary feel but the other characters’ numbers are expertly anchored in the seventies. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the music and arrangements have referenced distinct 70s sounds, styles and themes, weaving through the score and giving it a pleasing authenticity. It’s tough to pick out favourites but the opener Some Kind of Paradise, Are You Listening God? and the penultimate Theme Song work for me; the score is of a consistently high standard, elevated still further by superb vocals.
The entire company are well-cast, giving excellent performances with voices to match. The small but tight band bring the very best out of the music (although at times the sound balance drowned out the lyrics, disappointingly) and the baby grand piano onstage gives value, although hogging centre stage it rather limits the choreography. The static set is appropriately run-down, though enjoyably detailed. Lighting does some good work here too. Direction by Jonathan Boyle is strong and compassionate.
Tyrone Huntley is perfectly
cast as Wes, his “front” turning to something more vulnerable as the show
progresses, with an eloquent, soulful voice (heard earlier in the year in the
superb Leave To Remain) which manages to fit both “then” and “now” into its
range. Andy Mientus is appealing and moving as the young Patrick, forced to
sell himself on the streets after running away from his conversion-therapy
minded family. He subtly conveys the hopelessness of his situation but also the
spark of promise that could have been his life. He sings superbly too, his
songs full of passion and sincerity in simple uncluttered arrangements which allow
his lyrical vocals to shine. Cedric Neal is imbued with sass, class and a gift
of a voice; Carly Mercedes Dyer soars vocally and rocks a great Afro hairstyle;
and John Partridge is convincingly and uncomfortably self-loathing as Buddy
with a singing voice reflecting his experience. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt makes
the most of her moments, her quiet, reflective song about the love for her son particularly
This is a heartfelt and powerfully
sung reminder of how far the LGBTQIA community have come. But for those (like
Wes) too young to remember 1973, it’s also a wake-up call to know and value
your history- and to remember those who fought -and died- for the rights that some
LGBTQIA people now enjoy. In these volatile times, Vernon’s show is the perfect
jolt that’s needed to be aware of the past and alert to the present.
THE VIEW UPSTAIRS plays at the Soho Theatre until 24 August. Information and tickets here.
Welcome to July’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.
CHASING RAINBOWS is an engaging and heartfelt examination of the many tensions of modern motherhood, as seen through the eyes of the first black woman astronaut. As she orbits the Earth, preparing to record a speech for her daughter’s school graduation ceremony, she reflects on the joys and costs of achieving her goals whilst trying to stay true to her roles as a mother and a woman. An ear-catching verse script is brought to life effectively by actor Donna Berlin as Ama the astronaut as she floats through space, separated from her daughter by more than distance. Berlin gives an committed performance which makes this show worth seeing. At the Hoxton Hall, another glorious old survival of a Victorian music hall. Playing Thursdays-Saturdays until July 20th.
SPITFIRE SISTERS is an intriguing-sounding new play at the Space from 2 to 6 July. A long overdue celebration of women in World War Two, this play centres on a 19-year-old Northern lass who takes to the air in a fighter plane, armed with only a compass. Her mission? To deliver fighter aircraft to the forces on the front. And she wasn’t the only one.
Discover the true, untold story of a collection of fierce, pioneering British and American women who took to the skies in World War II to fight for victory alongside the allies, all whilst achieving equal pay with their male counterparts. From award-winning play-writing trio, Three of a Kind, and directed by the Space’s Artistic Director Adam Hemming, SPITFIRE SISTERS is a celebration of the passion and determination of these unsung heroines ‘eager for the air’.
The Finborough Theatre has come up with a full-throttled treat of melodrama which is playing its last week, closing July 6th. Directed by the reliable Phil Wilmott, AFTER DARK is a mid-Victorian hit play by highly-successful writer Dion Boucicault (The Shaughraun, London Assurance, The Octoroon, etc). The tiny 50-seat Finborough hosts a cast of twelve (!) and the many melodramatic scenes include train crashes, river rescues, dastardly villains, plucky heroines, salacious scandal and dark secrets, all crackling with the energy of a London of fresh peril and opportunity. All this and the new-fangled London Underground railway too! A treat not to be missed.
Opening July 2nd and running to 27th July – If it’s laughter you’re after then you can’t go far wrong with Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF, returning to the scene of its first success in 1982 at the Lyric, Hammersmith. In this new production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, Meera Syal stars as Dotty, ageing actress who has sunk her life savings into a cheap production of a tired sex comedy, hoping that a quick UK tour will bag her a comfy retirement pot. Naturally, things go awry in ever-more disastrous ways, from the set to the cast to the sardines, as we see the show deteriorate from the rehearsal to the insanity of the end of the tour. With dizzying split-second timing, physical comedy and an incredibly complex plot, at its best this is a show to relax and enjoy to the full! Let’s hope this production lives up to its promise. Now where did I put those sardines……..
PETER GYNT Weighing in at three and a half hours, this’ll give you value for money! Ibsen’s classic PEER GYNT is reinvented as a riotous musical adventure for the 21st century in this National Theatre co-production with the Edinburgh International Festival (the show visits Edinburgh in August). Peter Gynt is searching for something: himself. Traveling from the mountains of Scotland to the pool-sides of Florida, he’ll meet talking hyenas, two-headed trolls and even an Egyptian Sphinx. But his ultimate transformation may not be all that he hoped for…
Playing the rebellious antihero, James McArdle (Angels In America) is reunited with writer David Hare and director Jonathan Kent, the partnership behind the triumphant Young Chekhov at Chichester Festival Theatre and the National Theatre. This outrageous modern myth is designed by the Tony award-winning Richard Hudson (The Lion King), with an original score from Paul Englishby (BBC’s Luther and Dr Foster) and movement direction from Polly Bennett (Bohemian Rhapsody).
Now here’s a cast for you! From 18 July, the The Olivier and Tony Award nominated musical BLUES IN THE NIGHT sees its first major London revival in 30 years at the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn. Directed by Susie McKenna and starring Olivier Award winners Sharon D. Clarke (Death of A Salesman, Caroline or Change, Ghost, Amen Corner) and Clive Rowe (Guys and Dolls, Carousel), Blues in the Night is a steamy compilation of 26 hot and torchy blues numbers that frame the lives and loves of four residents of a downtown hotel. Featuring soul-filled songs by blues and jazz icons Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and many more, it runs to 7 September – and no doubt continuing elsewhere….
Also from July 18th, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is the European premiere of a new musical coming to London following a hit off-Broadway season, starring John Partridge and Tyrone Huntley, amongst others. Fashion designer Wes buys an abandoned building, not knowing that this forgotten gem was the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant ‘70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans, starting an exhilarating journey of seduction and self-exploration in the summertime heat with the rush of lust, sex and incense mixed in the air. Filled with a collection of beautiful love songs and power rock ballads, this is a hopeful musical about friendship, community, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It plays at the Soho Theatre until Aug 24th.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN is the much-lauded new production of the Arthur Miller classic from star director Marianne Elliott, with a standout cast including Olivier Award-winner Sharon D Clarke (Caroline, or Change), Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Suits, Selma) who makes his UK stage debut, and Arinzé Kene (Misty), in one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century, as seen here through the eyes of an African American family. Not quite the ground-breaker we were hyped up to expect, nevertheless a very solid production well worth seeing. Running at the Young Vic to July 13, it has been announced to transfer into the Piccadilly from October until January 2020.
Having received very good reviews across the board, the Orange Tree in Richmond continues with Paul Miller’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s World War II hit WHILE THE SUN SHINES until 27th July, after scoring another big hit with Rattigan’s FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS two years ago.
“I’ll tell you but you won’t believe me. I slept in the same bed with an earl… No, not a girl, stupid, an earl.” 1943. On the eve of his wedding, the young Earl of Harpenden – Bobby to his friends – has offered his room to Joe, an American soldier he drunkenly met the night before. When Bobby’s fiancée Lady Elizabeth turns up, Joe makes a move, thinking she must be Bobby’s ex, the wonderful Mabel Crum. But a Free French lieutenant also has eyes for her… And to complicate matters, Bobby’s future father in law turns up too. It’s London in the Blitz, and identities get confused: time to make hay…
Here’s the perfect Summer show to raise the temperature! Now playing at the Coliseum for a season until 31st August, after which it embarks on a UK tour, ON YOUR FEET!has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show.
Gloria Estefan has sold over 100 million records worldwide and is the most successful Latin crossover performer in the history of pop music. Featuring the best of her 38 number 1 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).
Touring the UK
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 July at Bradford, Leicester, Bristol, Birmingham and Malvern . Read my review of the show here
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is out on a national tour until September . See it in July at Glasgow, Sheffield, Birmingham and Canterbury. Read my review of the show here
Now well into its stride, the 50th anniversary UK tour of the tribal rock musical HAIR carries on with abandon, starring Jake Quickenden, Marcus Collins and Kelly Sweeney. See it in July at Sheffield, Brighton, Milton Keynes, Wolverhampton and then a week’s trip abroad to Cologne before returning to play Glasgow.
For musical fans, Lloyd Webber and Rice’s JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT plays the London Palladium, opening on July 11th. Meanwhile at the Barbican Theatre, another Lloyd Webber / Rice musical, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, sets up for a Summer season from 4 July for 60 performances only.
NT Live Broadcasts
25 July – The much-praised National Theatre production of THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is now playing the Piccadilly Theatre and runs to the end of August. With a stunning cast including Simon Russell Beale and Ben Miles as well as having such brilliant reviews behind it, I am sure it will be worth seeing. It is broadcast to cinemas across the country in the schedule of NT Live in 25 July, details here.