Friday 20 October 2023

Dear England at the Prince Edward Theatre review: An Ode to the Nation

Dear England
Prince Edward Theatre

It could be argued that James Graham is the master of creating works which capture the intricate fabric of contemporary Britain, and his most recent opening, Dear England does just that, emerging as a heartfelt, thought-provoking piece. This engaging production eloquently delves into British identity, the echoes of history, dreams for the future, and the nation's relationship to football.

Dear England artfully blends past and present, transporting audiences through time in a seamless and captivating manner. This storytelling technique offers a unique lens through which we can view the profound influence of history on our present. The play focusses on Gareth Southgate's journey as manager of the England football team, linking in his own personal history, as well as the histories of his team and England as a whole. It's a very cleverly done show which feels completely relevant, modern and necessary.

The characters, portrayed by a talented ensemble cast, come alive with vibrant, authentic performances. These characters represent a rich tapestry of contemporary Britain, showcasing immigrants, soldiers, activists, and politicians. Joseph Fiennes outstandingly leads the show as Gareth and helps to cultivate the entire cast's emotional depth, forging a genuine connection between the characters and the audience. 

Es Devlin's set design is typically National Theatre and incredibly well done, seamlessly transporting us from one time to another. The use of multimedia elements, including videos, adds depth and texture to the storytelling. With each shift in the backdrop, the mood and ambiance evolve, underscoring the diversity and complexity of the themes explored.

Graham's writing is sharp and insightful, with sprinkles of humour throughout to balance the gravity of the themes. Dear England explores national identity, migration, patriotism, and the ever-relevant question of what it truly means to be British. The dialogue is simultaneously poetic and genuine, prompting the audience to reflect on their own connection to the nation.

It's fair to mention that the play occasionally teeters on the edge of trying a bit too hard, with the odd scene not being as impactful as you'd hope. Nevertheless, this is a small price to pay for a production that aims to encapsulate the very essence of a nation and overall Dear England is a touching and timely exploration of the British identity. It masterfully navigates the waters of history, politics, and human experience, leaving audiences with a deeper understanding of what defines their nation.

This production is a testament to the incredible power of theatre to mirror, challenge, and celebrate our shared story. With its compelling storytelling, exceptional cast, and innovative design, Dear England is a need-to-see performance, that hopefully will engage and resonate with both regular and not so regular theatregoers. 

Reviewed on Thursday 19th October 2023 by Olivia Mitchell
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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Thursday 19 October 2023

Hamnet at the Garrick Theatre review: Emotional, engaging and enchanting

Garrick Theatre

Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and based on Maggie O'Farrell's book of the same name, Hamnet is a truly remarkable production that's captivating, moving and ever so slightly whimsical.

The show's unique take on Shakespeare's life and the emotional journey it explores is nothing short of brilliant. The creative team, with adaptation by Lolita Chakrabarti and direction by Erica Whyman, manage to delve into the personal life of one of history's greatest playwrights, offering a fresh and emotionally charged perspective. The seamless blending of historical accuracy and artistic interpretation is commendable, making Hamnet a compelling experience for theatre enthusiasts and Shakespeare aficionados alike.

The performances are simply outstanding. The cast's commitment to their roles and the intensity of their portrayals completely transport you from pouring Charing Cross road to the world of Hamnet and his family. The emotional depth brought to the characters is both touching and thought-provoking. Madeleine Mantock gives an astoundingly moving performance as Agnes, showing amazing development and growth that has the audience really rooting for her and therefore feeling her pain to the nth degree in the second act. Tom Varey is witty but complex as William whilst Alex Jarrett really comes into her own and provides some of the most understated but emotionally impactful moments of the show. Universally the chemistry and energy among the actors is palpable, with the whole team creating an atmosphere of authenticity that draws the audience in, you couldn't ask for a stronger team of performers.

The set design (Tom Piper) and production values are top-notch. The stage design, lighting (Prema Mehta), and soundscapes (Oguz Kaplangi) add a layer of immersion that transports us to the Elizabethan era. The careful attention to detail in recreating this period is truly impressive, and contributes significantly to the overall atmosphere of the play.

The show is mostly paced well but there are a few moments which pull slightly. While the slower tempo is fitting for the introspective nature of the play, there are moments where a bit more dynamism would've helped. Nevertheless, this is a minor quibble in an otherwise exceptional production.

Hamnet is a theatrical triumph, offering a profound and emotional exploration of the Shakespearean legacy. With powerful performances, and a thought-provoking narrative, it is a must-see!

Reviewed on Wednesday 18th October 2023 by Olivia Mitchell
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

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Wednesday 18 October 2023

The Barricade Boys West End Party at the Adelphi Theatre Review: Everything Great About Musical Theatre

The Barricade Boys West End Party
Adelphi Theatre

After extensive touring, The Barricade Boys were back in the West End last night for a heaping dose of feel-good fun. The brainchild of Scott Garnham and Simon Schofield, the Les Misérables-alumni-super-group (completed by Craig Mather and Kieran Brown) performed a maelstrom of musical theatre numbers, alongside pop, rock and swing numbers. With effortless rapport and smooth moves, it's clear to see why the group have gained such a strong fanbase who turned out in full force to the Adelphi Theatre. 

What truly sets The Barricade Boys apart is more than just their extraordinary vocal talents and impeccable harmonies. It's the genuine friendship and affection they share, and the fact that they truly seem to be having a ball on stage. Amidst their impressive musical performances and polished dance routines, they weave in personal stories and charming anecdotes from their experiences in various shows; effortlessly connecting with the audience and creating an atmosphere that feels wonderfully welcoming.

Their repertoire spans a wide range of emotions, from the heartfelt intensity of Les Misérables to the joyful doo-wop harmonies of Jersey Boys. Through this musical journey, they showcase melodies from some of the world's greatest musicians, including The Beatles, Bon Jovi, and Queen, all interpreted in a specifically Barricade Boys way. It's a show that will lift your spirits and induce pure joy and serotonin.

There's a certain charm that makes the whole thing feel superbly carefree and entertaining, and whilst there is an element of cheesiness that comes with this sort of show, the group do a spectacular job of keeping everything high quality and entertaining for all, whether they're the target audience or not.

It must be said that at some points the sound balance was a little off, with the backing slightly overpowering the singers but as a whole it was a spectacular sounding evening and the team must be applauded for balancing a show with so many moving vocals, especially for a one night only performance at this venue. It must also be said how outstanding the Barricade Band are, perfectly matching the energy of the boys as well as having a ball themselves. 

All of this plus the special guests Courtney Bowman, Fra Fee and Matt Henry, really made it an evening of musical theatre magic.

In a time when so much hatred and pain is prevalent in the world, it's such a privilege and honour to be able to escape to the comfort of the theatre, and this show is a glorious illustration and celebration of the joy and unity the art form can provide. 

Reviewed on Tuesday 17th October 2023 by Olivia Mitchell
Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

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Wednesday 4 October 2023

Life of Pi on Tour at the New Victoria Theatre Review: A Painful Story Vibrantly Brought to Life

Life of Pi (Tour) 
New Victoria Theatre 

Before last night I had no prior exposure to Life of Pi. I hadn't read Yann Martel's acclaimed novel or watched Ang Lee's award-winning film. Approaching the play with no preconceptions, I found it enchanting. While it may not resonate with everyone, I personally adored the captivating production by playwright Lolita Chakrabarti. It held my attention from the very beginning to the end of the performance. I found myself deeply engrossed in Pi's perspective on faith, humanity, survival, brutality, and mankind, and I even wished there hadn't been an interval as I was so enthralled.

The narrative revolves around Piscine "Pi" Patel, the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, who claims to have survived a shipwreck on a life-raft with a Bengal tiger as his companion.

Some readers might initially think this story isn't their cup of tea, but let me assure you that the magic lies in the simplicity of the stage design, the visual effects, and the lighting that interweaves the tale. The incredible collection of large puppets portraying the captive animals from the zoo adds to this magic.

The play centers around Pi, portrayed by Divesh Subaskaran in his impressive professional debut. Divesh truly shines in this role, immersing the audience in Pi's world. I was particularly impressed by his performance, seamlessly transitioning from a mischievous young man-boy to an overwrought, delusional individual grappling with the world's cruelty. He later revealed a kinder, gentler side, yearning to believe in the world of storytelling and escape the horrors of the boat's events. The two actors who questioned the young Pi about his experiences greatly complemented Divesh's portrayal, contributing to the unraveling of the story with their strong performances.

Credit must be given to the entire cast. The stage was always vibrant with energy, the performers transforming it in seconds as Pi recalled flashbacks of his voyage. The mastery of the remarkable puppeteers, animating butterflies, shoals of fish, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and the Bengal tiger, was truly commendable. Special acknowledgment goes to those who skillfully maneuvered the Bengal Tiger, creating a sense of predatory readiness on the boat.

For me, the imaginative world that offers solace from the world's atrocities, coupled with the magical animals brought to life through outstanding puppetry, are the true stars of this show. This made the theatrical event a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone.

Reviewed on Tuesday 3rd October 2023 by Glenys Balchin

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