FringeReview UK 2023
“Death is the most natural thing in the world.” Not to five—year-old Gracie, whose life of resistance as Gracie, Grace but mostly Graciela Jacob Marx Rice traces in A Brief List of Everyone Who Died. Yet again Finborough have mounted – and nurtured – a first-class work miles from larger fare that fades. Do rush to see it.
Julia Pascal’s A Manchester Girlhood is a rich work, a slice of generations happening. Rosie Yadid’s musical arrangements furnish the greatest amplification of this lighting-sketch of heritage, rendering soul and hope, the essence of generations.
Enough questions with the child, cruelty and othering, to raise questions that don’t dissolve in a dream. Yet there’s light enough to resolve this too. A warmth between the lovers somehow drags us out from the mask of branches Terry revealingly doffs at the end. Absorbing and a must-see.
This is a far more ambitious work than Sam Holcroft’s Rules For Living, and grounded in things she’s wished to write for a decade. It’s ingenious, necessary and occasionally at the end needs a tweak more to land. It’s still unmissable.
Here, the hurtling much shorter second act contains a thrilling impulsion and catastrophe that had the audience on its feet. Mostly that’s responding to a great play, but latterly this production carries that charge.
The adage that farce is tragedy speeded up met its greatest progenitor in Dario Fo. In a ferocious new version by Tom Basden of Franca Rame’s and Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, directed by Daniel Raggett in a stunning production now at the Haymarket, the target here is squarely the London Met. And if you slowed down Basden’s brilliant, no-holds-unbludgeoned telling, details prove tragic enough.
Psychological Thriller – sci-fi at it’s finest! New writing, not to be missed!
Giles Cole’s extending from one wistfully comic short to a three-act Chekhovian elegy for the dance of age, is in a defining league of its own.
Still the most sheerly thrilling yet intimate piece MacDowall has written, though all three pieces amplify that. A miniature classic of snatched meaning its staging too flashes by with shocking brevity. In all it lasts just 90 minutes. Catch it.
Clowning and physical theatre
This 65 minutes takes you on a traversal of human, not simply Jewish experience, out of all proportion to its length. One of the highlights of the latter dog-days, or as here, the long night of the hamster. Three leading playwrights showcased by Emanate, which in just two years has shown how essential it already is, how indispensable it can become.
It’s the trio of cousins and lover who ensure this production enjoys its fathoms-deep in love. An As You Like It with an inviting new prologue by Travis Alabanza, underscoring the forest’s healing as well as magical inversions; but shorn of its Epilogue. When you see how that Epilogue’s so rich in queerness and transgression it seems an own goal to the fluffier part of this production’s vibes.
There’s no denying Birthright’s sheer power, authenticity and perennial struggle played out between natural justice and lagging custom. It’s the breakthrough work of a masterly writer, whom only the Finborough look set to revive, as they have here. We’d be impossibly poorer without the Finborough.
Sharp, shapely dialogue, sizzling humour, ambitious theatricality a compelling story wrapped in baggy metaphors. There’s never a moment when the play’s proved less than engaging, sometimes riveting. A must-see debut play.
A stunning debut, linguistically brilliant, very funny, freighted with critique and truthful.
Fringe-historical gold, which means very good indeed. It doesn’t mean Copenhagen, with Frayn’s subtle collisions and collusions. It’s a different, desperately joyous animal that signs its truth and shames the world.
The most compelling tech story I’ve seen on stage
There’s surprises here you’ll discover. A superb landmark in Mark Daniels’ gifted exploration of Absurdism’s relevance. This isn’t deadly theatre, it’s quietly lethal to deathly assumptions everywhere. See it.
Clyde’s follows Sweat, also seen at the Donmar in 2018, which won Lynn Nottage her second Pulitzer Prize. A play of redemption, indeed love. Outstanding.
Charlie Dupré’s fast-paced, dazzlingly original Compositor E cuts into how the anonymous assert fingerprints: brilliant, unsettling, absorbing. McCarthy and the Omnibus team deserve huge credit for a work that might play to a larger space.
Michael Wynne bringing something full circle touches where the floating island of home and family might bring sanctuary, or last refuge before the cuckoos come and kick you out. A must-see, particularly for those who’ve not thought the Royal Court could rock with laughter.
A hectic in the blood of 20th century drama. Its just here the hectic is realised like never before.
A flawless cast and creative team gather to a point in Josie Rourke’s often meticulously faithful revival, and disperse. This is the only play this year I’d willingly see again soon. Outstanding.
McKay is even-handed, and very funny. And don’t you just love a ghost in 1985 who’s never heard of Margaret Thatcher?
There’s a sacramental thrill as you enter the NT’s Olivier: both sci-fi and ancient Greek. James Graham Dear England, directed by Rupert Goold, is like that: tackling something seen as almost too sacred, at once transcendent for many; but so impacted by nationalist hubris it’s become sclerotic. We enter the game at a historically pivotal moment. Where English football will never be the same. Outstanding.
Hayley Squires blazes Carly as a revelation wielding the writers’ language like a Swiss army-knife with secret gouges, and renders her still loveable. Yet here after all’s said, talked through, it’s when Denise’s “It’s closing time Carly. It’s over. Come on babe, let’s do this” and takes her hand you’re not sure whether to cry or cheer.
Kempinski has crafted an enduring drama of what it’s like to lose the joy of a life worth living.
A stunningly confident debut. My outstanding play of the year so far.
Original, raw, brilliantly funny and devastating. This production is Fleabag neat. Its harrowing streak of genius burns like a healing scar torn.
Tom Hill-Gibbins emphasises the original’s shock in conversational prose-style too. Stripped to a straight-through 100 minutes is hurtles like the Greek tragedy with reveals it essentially is.
C. P. Taylor’s Good shows – supremely - how a liberal without developed conscience gets sucked in. It interrogates each of us, especially polite liberals who might say “I’m not political, I’m not interested in politics.” Politics is interested in us. And authoritarianism beats us into a dead-march. And unless we resist to a point of danger, we’ll fall in. A groundbreaking production of this timelessly urgent play.
Understanding traumatic narrative from the outside: seeing through a skylight, darkly. An impressive debut
Grenfell isn’t quite like any verbatim theatre, and the result’s groundbreaking. If the Dorfman could stage at least one such play a year, verbatim or imaginative, then that’s one legacy of Rufus Norris’ tenure that mustn’t be lost. Outstanding.
A balloon dystopia announces Tom Fowler Hope has a Happy Meal. It’s a smiley killer-clown place with real clowns; very funny at times though charged with melancholy for what might have been. Despite one or two moments, Hope feels a solid world, rather than a sketchy work distended into a play. Fowler’s settling into himself, definitely both worth seeing and pursuing.
This is certainly the best attempt yet to revive this musical with a new accent, and the way to see this musical. With such a company, see it anyway. It’ll prod you with questions and send you singing for answers.
Ikaria’s an essential play and marks Philippa Lawford – already at 25 with her own theatre company of six years and as director – a voice unafraid to use - and kern - direct experience; and create riveting theatre.
A joyous, riotously funny, wholly untypical experience. A play to shift boundaries and ourselves.
See In the Net for its ambition, its occasionally gorgeous language, Offie-worthy lighting and in Carlie Diamond, an actor to greet and watch, making I predict one of the most assured debuts of the coming year.
Emma Hamilton, mother and ward. Expect spats. Nine months since her National Theatre Kerry Jackson opened, April de Angelis arrives at Jermyn Street with the three-hander Infamous, directed by Michael Oakley, till October 7th. Even though the earlier play was staged in the smaller Dorfman, Infamous is chamber music by comparison. As in Kerry Jackson, De Angelis avoids tragedy where it clearly offers itself. The final two scenes though offer more; it’s piquant, momentarily uplifting, a little sad. And dramatically right it’s expressed in dance.
A superb debut show, Influence enjoys quite a long run and suggests that Stockroom’s an exciting fresh venture. And that embedded with Collective Theatre’s acting studios and writing rooms provided, this company and theatre synergy is more like a gleaming hub where magic in non-magic shows is poised to happen.
Keith Merrill and Debbie Chazen have crafted an Everywoman (and man) for whoever’s gifted yet still never makes it. Look forward to a lot more of this kind from Merrill’s Le Gallienne.
With one-liners and wit in nearly every exchange, it’s a beautifully-scripted, scream-out affirmation of love, lust, loss and forever’s time being. And built to last.
A thoroughly worthwhile, and in several senses heady undertaking. And certainly worth seeing.
Outstanding cast! A must see! Ground breaking physical theatre.
Exquisite slivers of a great talent, this three-piece-suite could not be more expressively rendered than at the Finborough, home of such miniatures, and occasionally, epics.
Scandi semi-historical tragedy
Though it might be red-topped as a Fleabag for the abused, it’s so much more excoriating. It’s also a work profoundly moving, necessary and – particularly for Gintare Parulyte - an act of courage. Lovefool’s on till May 26th; do rush to this 55-minute must-see.
The strangeness of this Macbeth wraps in those three Witches/Murderers plus Seyton, slowly perambulating their trolleys around. The eerie, in Schmool’s sustained chords, remains. The horror, elsewhere.
A mind-altering experience, and in writer and director one of the most inspiring partnerships I’ve seen
Finborough’s absorbing ReDiscovered season continues with a triple-bill of plays directed by Melissa Dunne that after tonight, you might never wish to imagine apart. Of course they should transfer, be far better-known, and at least they’re packed out - grab a ticket if you possibly can. We can be grateful again for Neil McPherson’s curating yet another series of early 20th century revivals.
Mates in Chelsea is definitely worth seeing, and apart from adaptations surely the best thing this writer’s produced in a decade. Royal Court Theatre
Mustapha Matura draws in and telescopes devastating consequences - perhaps telegraphs years of damage into a few weeks for dramatic licence. That doesn’t lessen his impact. The point is western exploitation kills, in many guises.
Like any first-rate actor, Louise Faulkner lets each eyebrow rise and fall: Quizzical, hurt, amused, they all register. A work to be savoured for its exuberant telling of one of the most painful things to hit any of us, through nightmare to laughter to loving oneself, to the hope of love. Highly recommended.
The celebration of acceptance and being wholly comfortable in your own body for the first time in your life transmits to everyone. It should make you more comfortable, knowing how Tatenda Shamiso radiates the joy of his, bestowing a kind of benediction. A quietly groundbreaking show.
This compact one hour 45 show must run again. The most inventive, best-written and possibly best-sung panto in Town.
Musically directed by Ellie Verkerk the six-strong cast play instruments throughout. They’re a phenomenal team, singing beautifully a capella or in solo. With six young actors mostly fresh out of drama school absolutely at the top of their first game, we’re treated to acting both hungry to prove and yet touched by the world they’ve entered. This is an outstanding production.
A mesmerising play, one that won’t fade and whose topicality will only reverberate more. The dialogue’s consummate and touching, the gradual reveals of blindness – and blandness - to racism on a memory-trip with a disastrous family album, releases a slow detonation of all that’s wrong still. One of my comedies of the year. Pretty outstanding.
Stone suggests only someone as demonstrably damaged and damaging as Helen (Phaedra), in other words a politician, might pursue self-destruction so relentlessly; and devastate so many. It’s brilliantly achieved elsewhere than with the core relationship.
There seem enough potential endings to make what happens neither predictable, nor entirely obvious. A first-rate cast with enough residual fascination in the characters they create to wonder at what life, and not just Deepika Arwind, might do to them. The terror is existential and we should ask what it might do to us.
An invigorating not to say complicit evening by the end. Whilst I have questions about the limits of the texts used, and the understanding of how the texts developed and still – with some academics – the deeper questions of syntax which some adaptors clearly work with – this is exciting.
Alison Oliver’s appeared in the outstanding revival of the year till now: Dancing at Lughnasa. Now she leads the other one. If you see one play this month, make it Portia Coughlin.
Neda Nezhdana’s play is a world: not simply a map of pain and war footage. Both essential and in the mesmerising Kristin Millward’s and Polly Creed’s hands, with this team, it’s almost a compulsory visit.
What this production gives, in its hovering over periods, is a technocratic gloss on Shaw’s optimism and female agency. That optimism and agency though is why this play continually fascinates. Not because of the mechanics of accent, or even social mobility, but sheer release of human potential. In Patsy Ferran’s Eliza that transformation’s palpable.
Don’t miss this exquisite confection. After this production, there’s possibly no return to the original. It’s a rethinking paying homage to both the sentiment, which it never upstages, and the brand and its factory-workers the comedy gave its name to.
At just 45 minutes, a delightfully adapted fairy-tale, adapted in its turn. Bisola Aalbi’s rewrite is a lively, timely take on a silent culture war to make people of all ages think again.
A gentle, heart-warming, occasionally hilarious play, and strikes a fresh redemptive note in Gary Owen’s work. Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy blaze across this play like meteors inexorably entering the earth’s orbit, seemingly doomed to break up or worse. And did I say it showers screamingly funny one-liners too?
It’s not just that Isis Hainsworth’s Juliet is the sun here, though her outstanding performance is the heart of this Romeo and Juliet. This is one of the most thrilling, sometimes harrowing Romeo and Juliets I’ve seen. Fittingly a world where sun and extinction flash and vanish, it’s the Shakespeare production of the summer.
In exquisitely caught Newfoundland accents, Bryony Miller and Joseph Potter craft a hypnotic, unfamiliar, unforgettable world in David French’s gaunt lyric of a love-song. Their chemistry’s palpable.
SAP will endure as both a superb play and key witness in a struggle for acceptance, to be heard. See it.
Tom Littler’s team reveal rare mettle and sincerity in a classic that can take some (if not all) updating. The 1930s must prove the very limits of belief in such class confusion, but this triumphs with the snap of a cracker, or (as here) the smash of Wedgwood. Outstanding.
It’ll remain one of the break-out, breakthrough, certainly ground-breaking shows this year.
Because she’s almost permanently working as an actor, including in her own work, Abigail Hood doesn’t seem to have attracted the praise other late Millennial writers already have. On this evidence she’s one of the very finest, perhaps the most distinctive. I will go anywhere my budget allows to see a new work by Abigail Hood, and so should you.
Uniquely moving, it’s a night worth anyone’s time, and its truths that resonate long after the curtain.
An important work, not just for historical reasons; you’ll leave cheering.
Essential theatre. Five singer-actors, memorably punchy music, witty and heartbreaking – most of all groundbreaking – storytelling. 90 minutes of this and you’ll know just what to do with the patriarchy.
Its qualities are extraordinary, that of a Greek tragedy on Prozac performed by St Trinian’s. Prozac Nation’s referenced, but Polly Stenham’s point is how parental damage numbs you out of feeling anything at the right time, with displacement activities chateau-bottled around a bed. Yet it is, of course, very funny. An outstanding revival, given extra intensity by the staging; an intimacy so palpable you both flinch and laugh at the same moment.
The closer Ricky Dukes sticks to the original, the more accessible, visceral, true this production is.
In short, consummate, with luxury casting, deft rethinking but still faithful to the original as it refreshes it: the finest revival of Maugham – till the next one in Tom Littler’s hands, perhaps.
Though not the ordinary made phenomenal, Alexander Zeldin’s touchstone, it’s an outstanding personally-inflected testament and striking advance.
It’s as if a decade’s experiment has altered this headlong, mind-rippling play. Returning to the National Theatre after 11 years, Lucy Prebble’s 2012 The Effect directed by Jamie Lloyd now comes out bigger than ever, one of the finest 21st century British plays, questioning identity and emotion under the effect of drugs, placebos, what we imagine ourselves into. What, in fact, the imaginary of love is.
There’s no finer dramatization of India’s internal conflicts. Hiran Abeysekera’s Gandhi-killer Godse stands out in this thrilling ensemble and storms it too.
Now a superb double-bill, and makes a compelling case for these two shows to be yoked together, with their intertwining of family, sisterhood, abuse and terrible consequences.
Adaptor Alice Birch takes the House apart like Rachel Whiteread’s sculpture. Harriet Walter is magnificent: staring out like a jailor, patrolling. Hainsworth remains hypnotic and terrible, joyously sexual and headlong as her Juliet in self-destruction.
An absorbing, in many ways authoritative first play Refusing cynicism, trying for humanity all round, Harry Davies is already striking the right balance. His next play should be eagerly awaited.
Wiebke Green possesses the measure and tempo as well as delicacy of Bjorn Vik’s work. An exquisite gem worth seeing more than many larger, longer, louder shows.
An extraordinary production. If it’s a homage more magnificent than wholly revealing, it doesn’t stint on a riveting performance by Mark Gatiss, who glows with the still, sad music of Gielgud’s humanity.
A vital play that needs to seen. See it here and subsequently a well-deserved transfer or revival.
A human gem, that’ll resonate after more theatrical fare fades.
‘The greatest 21st century play’ deserves revival, and again after this where something of its lustre might be restored. Till then it abides our question, but question it you should, if not repulsed by true reports of its darkness.
It’s extraordinary this play’s waited 27 years to arrive. But that’s true of three plays mounted by the Finborough this year alone. Another reason to beat a path there.
Naomi Wallace and actor Mark Provinelli inhabit this gestural giant with wit, sympathy, rage and an agency burning up centuries between. It’s profoundly moving too, speaks to our condition of techno-serfdom, new slavery, discrimination everywhere. The packed audience are never sure who might be picked on next, but delight in the calling-out. Superb.
It’s understated, there’s no howl here no explosive projections about what this half-life must be like. The fade here though is like a quiet cheer, as something might be salvaged as terrible things are left behind. Do see it.
This is a top, not just first-rate cast; a riveting, rethought revival. There’s not a weak link - and some vocal surprises. The end is almost unbearably moving. Some still come over mountains as here, some in small boats. You might not feel the same about something you thought you knew. An outstanding revival.
An absorbing play, as breathtaking as one of its surfing epiphanies. The Swell will break over your head. Let it. You’ll come up for air changed. A small masterpiece.
James tears into Williams impelling the final scene with classic ferocity, though ending on a question-mark. Both exquisitely pointed, and glaring with pulsing, contained energy, the effect’s like a journey to the edge of a long night. A triumphant opening to the 2023 Chichester season.
An outstanding must-see, and with Dancing at Lughnasa and, to a lesser extent Watch on the Rhine, The Wind and the Rain is the finest 20th century revival I’ve seen this year.
An enormously satisfying reading that happens to be groundbreaking. It’s Sean Holmes’ finest production yet.
Stephanie Mohr’s adaptation is a remarkable manifestation (no other word seems more apt) of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story The Yellow Wallpaper, an important realisation of a key feminist awakening. It’s good enough for you not to want it depicted in any other way.
The Book and Lyrics are peerless for this scale, or indeed anywhere: and we can only look forward to much more from Orton and Robyns. This is a heart-rending, heart-warming piece. Laughter certainly, tears, yes those too. The must-see musical of the summer.
One of the Globe’s most lucid recent productions; and the most consistently-realised aesthetic. It knows what it is: a stunningly thought-through, musically inspired production.
There’s no doubt this is an offbeat, brilliant, rude, absolutely necessary musical. Its acid test will come from younger Millennials and Zoomers. But then that’s the point: the winners rewrite history. History has just struck back, and it’s a blast.
Trouble in Butetown deserves many revivals. It’s a theatrical gem
There’s much to learn here, and as theatrical spectacle this is the intimate intimating the epic. Clarisse Makundul has given us a powerful work, and I’d urge you to see it.
After his breakthrough Rainer, much is expected of Max Wilkinson. Here he dazzles in depth with a fable of the limits of human agency, and conscience. Do see it.
The brilliance of movement, lighting, script-editing and strong performances, with physical jokes make this a greater thing than it might be. But to wish for something more human falls into the very intrusiveness that gave rise to the trial. It’s a tribute to Wagatha Christie – and Liv Hennessy – that it raises that paradox.
The brilliance of movement, lighting, script-editing and strong performances, with physical jokes make this a greater thing than it might be, and this production’s gained a notch of humanity in its tour. But to wish for something more human falls into the very intrusiveness that gave rise to the trial. It’s a tribute to Wagatha Christie – and Liv Hennessy – that it raises that paradox.
Hellman’s uneasy drama, reaching out to our own quandaries, has answers that stay news. A must-see.
An absorbing, layered, superbly entertaining two-and-a-half hours that couldn’t be more relevant. Set against The Motive and the Cue, it also proves how history allows Jack Thorne to be even more versatile than we imagined.
Here though, Rabiah Hussain’s greatest strengths are allied to an excoriating sense of the limits of first language, how it colonises, even destroys mother tongues, and marginalises, even imprisons those who buck the monolinguistic norm. Hussain’s poised for remarkable things.
An essential play so rich in its one-hour-forty you emerge dazed with possibilities. Director Katie Posner hopes it’ll change you. So do I.
In Miles Malleson’s play, full of probing discussions, there’s a refusal to tilt at solutions. You feel he’s lived along the line; his provisionality speaks with permanence. That’s what makes it so remarkable.
90 minutes of pure wild-ride theatre.