Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train

3103a25d-481f-4287-a2c6-3b1f0726a69b-284-000000233939d426Young Vic. On until 30 March

This darkly comic, thought provoking play has a perfect cast of characters: a young man awaiting trial for shooting a cult leader in the arse to try and rescue his buddy, a charismatic serial killer who manipulates all but the most sadistic of guards around him, and a defence lawyer who feels a moral sense of purpose to help those who stand up for themselves.

Set on a traverse stage with perspex walls and doors, we’re reminded of the subway ‘A’ train of the title.  Many scenes become verbal battles pitched back and forth between the characters as they tell their stories, lies or myths.  Angel (played superbly by Ukweli Roach) is the angry young man pitched into the American justice system awaiting trial.  We first meet him in his cell attempting to recite the Lord’s Prayer but stumbling over the word “hallowed” as clearly this is an unfamiliar recitation for him, but one he feels he needs in this moment of crisis.  And when he meets his lawyer (Dervla Kirwan) he rejects her for not looking like the type of lawyer he’s seen on TV, like Columbo, in a suit and with a moustache!

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose only previous work I’d seen was the National’s staging of The Motherfucker with the Hat (and which I’ll be honest underwhelmed me), here brings vivid stories and characters to life with a sharpness of writing that is beguiling.  The charismatic serial killer Lucius, played superbly by Oberon K. A. Adjepong, had me convinced I too would be smuggling him in special Oreos for him if I were in there with him.  Whilst Valdez (Joplin Sibtain) as the sadist prison guard had quickly turned the whole audience against him, and yet it was only through his cruelty that he protected himself from the charms and wiles of Lucius.

The themes of good and evil, right and wrong, salvation and redemption are not too far from the surface, but not thickly layered on as you’re swept along by Angel’s story and where it will end.  False prophets are here too, both in Lucius and the unnamed cult leader Angel shoots.  Angel can see the latter as one to rescue his friend from, but fails to see the danger of his fellow prisoner. Like the Mary Jane, Angel’s lawyer, who risks her career to save Angel, we as the audience are willing Angel on to do his best on the stand and be freed.  Whether it was the writing, the acting or the perfect alchemy between the two, but I too would have risked it all to save Angel.  And there perhaps is no better praise for the play and this production.

This current season of the Young Vic is certainly proving to be exciting, refreshing and unmissable.

February 15. (Downstairs B53-4)

17/20

9 to 5

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Clockwise Top Left: Natalie McQueen; Bonnie Langford; Amber Davis; Caroline Sheen with co-stars. Photos by Pamela Raith 

Savoy Theatre.  Booking until August.

This is a fun, crowd-pleaser of a musical that will have everyone up and dancing for the encore (of the title song).

If you know the film, then you know the plot and the characters. Although a few shortcuts have been made (we lose the cop scene with the body in the boot, sadly but understandably hard to re-create on stage), we don’t loose any of the comic drama.

We’re still set in the 1980s and a videoed intro by Dolly herself sets the period and introduces us to the characters we know but obviously don’t recognise in the guise of Caroline Sheen (Violet aka Lilly Tomlin in the film), Amber Davis (Judy aka Jane Fonda) and Natalie McQueen (aka Dolly).

The themes of misogyny, workplace harassment and women banding together to fight oppression necessarily has a current resonance. Which in many ways makes this a bit of a depressing watch. The opening scene where Hart (Brian Connolly who manages to land the sleaze / comedy balance well) chases Doralee around the office, frankly made my skin crawl. And I half hoped there would be some updating.

We get a few contemporary nods – jokes about equal pay and women CEOs (tongues firmly in cheeks) – as well as a scene in the office kitchen where the women eye up one of the guys in the office. But otherwise we’re firmly in 1980 – including the fashions, furniture and attitudes.

Songs penned by Dolly give us some further understanding of characters and their emotional state. Stand out for me was ‘Backwards Barbie’, in which the character of Doralee gives a heartfelt plea for society to not judge a book by its cover. ‘Shine Like the Sun’ brings our three protagonists ganging up together and works well giving us the crescendo to take us into the interval.  Violet’s ‘One of the Boys’ and Judy’s ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ are good solid tunes, very much in the traditional musical mould with ‘Change It’ giving us an anthemic tune for Act II.

Bonnie Langford who plays the company spy to Hart, gets a show-stealing scene and song, ‘Heart to Hart’, where her (frankly unfathomable) lust for Hart is given full vent!

Natalie McQueen does a brilliant job as Doralee – both in belting out the songs, the look and the southern drawl.

For me this was a hugely enjoyable night out. It has weaknesses though, one purely in the depressing nature of how far we haven’t come in terms of equality, the other though is in a lack of ambition in terms of staging and songs. Overall I would say it is a safe musical. And whilst I know it will do incredibly well, and deservedly so, those seeking something more challenging surely know there is more on offer.

February 6 (Stalls D2-3)

14/20

February Picks

img_8991So for February I’ve got the following plays booked up:

9 to 5 The Musical @ Savoy Theatre – the classic comedy film from 80s brought to life as a musical with songs by Dolly Parton, this couldn’t get much camper if it tried!

Berberian Sound Studio @ Donmar Warehouse – probably couldn’t get more of a contrast in film adaptations with Peter Strickland’s darkly comic horror coming to the stage.

Jesus Hopped the A Train @ Young Vic – hoping the combination of the dark comedy set on murderers’ row, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, will maintain the Young Vic’s impressive new season.

Shipwreck @ Almeida – new play by the tremendous Anne Washburn (Mr Burns will never ever leave me!) and directed by Artistic Director Rupert Goold.

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other @ National Theatre – the ballot-only production with Cate Blanchett that had sold out is now garnering some terrible reviews! Oh well only one way to find out if this is a turkey is to see it myself.

Gently Down the Stream @ Park Theatre is a new play by Martin Sherman who wrote the award-winning play Bent.

And I’m still yet to get around to book the following:

Nine Night @ Trafalgar Studios – having failed to squeeze this in at the end of last year I’ve got to get to see it before it ends its run on 23 February.

The Son @ Kiln – the UK premiere of the latest play from the prolific and intriguing playwright Florian Zeller (The Mother, The Father, The Truth, The Height of the Storm) – I’ve seen every one produced in London over the last few years.

Pinter 7 @ Harold Pinter Theatre – having seen all but Pinter 4 so far, it would be quite nice to add this one with Martin Freeman and Danny Dyer, but we’ll see.

 

Leave to Remain

leave to remain
Billy Cullum and Tyrone Huntley. Photo by Johan Persson

Lyric Hammersmith. On until 16 February.

A crowded London street and two young men catch each other’s eye, hook up and fall in love. What follows is the interweaving of their friends and families and personal histories told through a play with songs (written by Matt Jones and Kele Okereke from Bloc Party) and dance.

This is a modern inter-racial gay love story that tackles the issues of families, secrets, lies and trust within a relationship. Told with a freshness and honesty that had me captivated, even though I thought I knew where the story was heading.

Populated with sucker punch songs, some that could easily be stand alone singles – ‘Not the Drugs Talking’ ‘The Sea Between Us’, ‘To Family’, ‘5 Years’, ‘The Lies We Tell’ – which add emotional depth and richness to the characters and scenes. Our lead lovers Obi ( Tyrone Huntley who I last saw as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar) and Alex (Billy Cullum) turn in some terrific performances. But other characters, such as the mothers (Rakie Ayola as Grace and Johanne Murdock as Diane) get some touching moments. Even the ‘bad’ best friend Damian gets to open up his heart in ‘More Than You Know’ with a beautiful performance by Arun Blair-Mangat. (Album details at the end of this post.)

If all this wasn’t enough, you get something truly visually stunning in the choreography by director Robby Graham. You start to get a sense of the power this can bring in an early scene in a nightclub (usually something that falls flat and unbelievable in other plays), but it is at moments of drama such as the family dinner where we get balletic repetitive movements that hint at how each of the characters are themselves stuck in their actions and their ways of seeing the world, that had me doing emotional cartwheels of joy inside.

Running until 16 Feb you need to stop what you’re doing, grab life with both hands and get to see this joyous feast of life, love, music and dance!

January 19 (Stalls L5-6)

20/20

 

leave to remain album artwork
Album artwork by Alex Noble

The album Leave to Remain is now available on iTunes

 

My Theatre Picks for 2019

London Theatre 2019
Clockwise: Death of a Salesman, All About Eve, Blood Wedding, When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, Berberian Sound Studio, Shipwreck

So here are some things that are getting me excited about theatre in 2019.  As there seem to be some themes emerging I thought I’d have a go at grouping under headings.

 

Something old: classics re-told

There is a bit of a revival of Arthur Miller this year, with productions of All My Sons and The American Clock at the Old Vic and Death of a Salesman at The Young Vic.

There are a couple of versions of Chekov’s The Three Sisters with the fabulous Patsy Ferran (currently in Summer and Smoke) coming to The Almeida and a production at the National directed by Nadia Fall (Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East) setting the play in Nigeria during the Biafran Civil War in the 1960s.

David Hare is bringing a new version of Peter Gynt @ National in July with James McArdle taking the lead.

Then we have Lorca’s play Blood Wedding gets a make over with Yaël Farber directing @ Young Vic (19 Sep – 2 Nov).  And the last time Lorca got made over at the Young Vic, it was Yerma and deservedly won Billie Piper an Olivier.  So no pressure!

 

Film adaptations

So I’m excited about Peter Strickland’s 2012 horror film Berbarian Sound Studio coming to the Donmar Warehouse (8 Feb – 30 Mar).  And already booking is the musical of the classic 1980’s comedy 9 to 5 open at the Savoy Theatre 28 Jan and runs until August.

Then there is an adaptation of Thomas Vinterberg’s film The Hunt, adapted by David Farr and directed by Rupert Goold at The Almeida. Runs 17 Jun – 3 Aug.

And then there is possibly the hottest ticket in the West End, All About Eve, directed by Ivo van Hove and starring Gillian Anderson who last trod the boards in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic in 2016. This adaptation runs 2 Feb – 11 May.

 

Novels staged

Andrea Levy’s Small Island comes to the National in May, directed by Rufus Norris.

Richardson’s Pamela gets a re-working as When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, a timely look at sexual politics, but unless you got your tickets in the National Theatre’s ballot already you’ll be unlikely to be seeing Cate Blanchett on the stage except via NTLive. Runs 16 Jan – 2 Mar.

 

New plays

Downstate @ National by Bruce Norris – provocative play which looks interesting (12 Mar to 27 Apr).

Shipwreck by Ann Washburn @ Almeida and directed by Rupert Goold (12 Feb – 30 Mar).

Hansard by Simon Woods staring Lindsay Duncan @ National looks like it might be an intriguing story about a couple and politics. Plus I love Lindsay Duncan!

 

Transfers from America

We have the eagerly awaited hit Broadway musical Waitress taking over from Kinky Boots residence at The Adelphi (previews from 8 Feb).

Fairview comes to the Young Vic in November following a sell out run in New York.

 

PlayTech

Trying out new technologies in theatre can be a risky business, and it has often been set design where the most adventurous (and disastrous) uses of innovation have been seen. in 2019 there are two so far I’m intrigued by:

Draw Me Close @ Young Vic – VR play

ANNA, by Ella Hickson will have the audience wearing headphones to immerse them in 1968 East Berlin with sound designer Ben and Max Ringham, in what is being described as “a ground-breaking new sonic collaboration” at the National (from May).

Plugging the Park

The Park Theatre Jan - Jun 2019
A selection of images of shows in the Park Theatre 2019 season

A few friends have recently asked what I’m booking up ahead of time, rather than finding out after the event what they should have seen.  Which is a fair ask, given that I’m sometimes catching the last night of a run and / or not getting to blog about it in a timely manner.

So the Park Theatre 2019 Jan – Jun Season has been available to book for a little while, but I’ve just got around to booking a clutch of plays coming up.

Now whilst I have no direct affiliation to the Park Theatre (a stone’s throw from Finsbury Park Station) I can proudly claim it as one of my local theatre’s and hence I’m more than happy to bumble along and see what’s on.  That and the fact it has consistently been putting on some interesting and challenging plays.

The Park Theatre has two stages, the smaller Park 90 and the larger Park 200.  In the smaller you tend to get more intimate productions, often more experimental, whilst on the larger stage you may find more popular plays or higher profile actors who will possibly ensure a packed production (such as David Haig in Pressure recently). Yet the theatre manages to keep a local and friendly feel, which makes it feel like a place you want to spend time in.  And because of this local feel you often find yourself meeting and chatting with the actors and directors after a show.  This gives it a reality and a personal feel that lies at the heart of its charm.

So you’ll find me propping up the bar (before, during and after) the following shows:

The Dame – story of a northern pantomime Dame, staring Peter Duncan, written by his daughter and having had previous outings up in Edinburgh the last two years. 2 -26 Jan.

My Dad’s Gap Year – Dave and his gay son on holiday in Thailand and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair (who recently directed Alexis Gregory in The Riot Act). 30 Jan – 23 Feb.

Gently Down The Stream – A UK debut of this play written by Martin Sherman who wrote Bent, which charts a gay history leading to marriage equality. 13 Feb- 16 Mar.

The Life I Lead – Based on the true life story behind the actor David Tomlinson, best know for playing the uptight father in Mary Poppins, and played by Miles Jupp (and my favourite current host of The News Quiz). 18 – 30 Mar.

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson – A comedy drama written by Jonathan Maitland who wrote An Audience with Jimmy Saville. Given this will be playing post Brexit, it will either be painfully funny or hilariously painful! 9 May – 8 Jun

There is much more on in the new season and more that I’m still highly likely to go see, but these are my first picks.  For more details check out their website.

November Picks

So a number of friends have asked me to share what I’m booking and what tickets I’m looking to get my hands on.

So in November and December I don’t plan too far ahead to allow for work / client Christmas parties but here is what I’m going to:

The Greater Game @ Waterloo Theatre – this I’m going to with my theatre wife (I’ll explain later) as her plus one. This is my First World War One themed play for November, based around the true story of the Clapton Orient football team who all joined up together to fight in the war. On until 25 November.

Hadestown @ National Theatre – this musical which mixes modern American folk music and New Orleans jazz to become an off-Broadway smash. Musical + classical myth of Orpheus’ decent to the underworld = my sweet spot. On until 26 January

Company @ Gielgud Theatre – this has been a hot ticket for a while, and I do love Sondheim! Booking until 30 March 2019

Forgotten @ Arcola – I was fascinated by this lost story about how 140,00 Chinese came to support Britain and the Allies behind the front lines during World War One. In the run up to the 100 years since Armistice Day, it felt important to keep learning about the history of this time. On until 17 November

I’m also looking at booking :

Honour @ Park Theatre – this was recommended to me and looks to be a gripping play about marriage that is compared to Pinter’s Betrayal and Hare’s Skylight – and that’s sold me. On until 24 November.

King Lear @ Duke of York – yes I know, it’s been on my list for ages to see Sir Ian McKellen in this lauded production and I’m hoping to grab a single ticket for myself before it ends this Saturday 3 November.

OthelloMacbeth @ Lyric Hammersmith – I like the audacity of bringing both plays together, described as “two iconic plays, seven deaths, fourteen characters, one unique evening”. I’ve got to move fast as it also finishes this Saturday 3 November, so this maybe one I miss.