FringeReview UK

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FringeReview UK 2017

‘Art’

Tim Key, Paul Ritter and Rufus Sewell dazzle in this Old Vic revival of ‘Art’ directed by Matthew Warchus. Reza joked of her Olivier Comedy award: ‘I’m surprised, I thought I’d written a tragedy’ and this visceral but almost (dare one say, given the subject) cubist probing of the hairline crack between the two both affirms and denies Reza’s claim she’s not a cerebral writer. She asks dangerous questions of just what the ‘art’ of friendship consists of, and why.


A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol doesn't come better than this


A Judgement in Stone

Definitely worth seeing if you don’t know the story, and want to experience this live. We should hail Rendell adaptations, as thrillers with depth with much to say socially about the damaged and easily-damned, brooding on injustices.


A Lie of the Mind

Sam Shepard declared that the wrong play got the Pulitzer. Buried Child was he felt crude by comparison with the later 1985 A Lie of the Mind. It joins the other meta-myths of America in the chopped sentences of demented individuals we see too much of. The extraordinary convergence of the ending seems not quaint and outdated but prescient again.


A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody

With BLT there’s never anything less than carat quality production and as usual some treasurable performances. Do see this rarity and you’ll end up agreeing with playwright Ron Bernas, and the team here.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream’s ideal for open air summer nights: The Brighton Shakespeare Company produces the most joyous, certainly sweetest Dream I can remember. It’s fresh, certainly but also enormously warm-hearted. You feel the ‘silver bow new-bent in heaven’ has unloosed a shower of happiness.


A Pacifist’s Guide to the war on Cancer

An exploration of what caner really feels like and is


a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)

Eighty minutes absorb and assault us. Everything tucker green presents is nothing less, especially with this cast.


Against

Starring Ben Whishaw as rocket-billionaire-turned-visionary Luke, Christopher Shinn’s Against furnishes a brave sad update to Simon and Garfunkel’s 1960s refrain: They’ve All Come to Look for America. Luke looks for answers in the heart of violence. The ballad of Luke and helpmeet Sheila though haunts its refrain.


Albion

Victoria Hamilton dominates, but Albion’s a fine ensemble piece. Goold has given Albion the air it needs, and it breathes back: chilly, autumnal, an unsettling parable on forcing an identity of ourselves.


All or Nothing

Carol Harrison’s written the band proud and plangent; her split hero strategies work to make this one of the best possible storylines of a British band, given hell-bent Marriott burning his talent at both ends, just like the decade.


All the Little Lights

It’s a stunning indictment of everything outside this little space of waste ground that in so many real places has had these tragedies, abuses and enforced slaveries thrust upon them. Anything Upton writes now will excite the keenest interest.


An Octoroon

Of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ brilliance there’s no doubt whatsoever. With such a wonderful cast led by the stunning Nwosu this makes the most persuasive and certainly comical case for a re-fashioning that’s now (almost) the only way we can look at the Boucicault original of this play.


Anatomy of a Suicide

Is there a suicide gene? Alice Birch’s simultaneous triptych of three generations of women traumatised and depressed is so formally novel that its psychological heft gets subsumed in the sheer force of three narratives jarring for our attention. You must see this play; its dark releases a shaft of terrible light.


Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika

Seeing Part Two reinforces the impression that in its virtues and a few vices, there’s nothing like this in theatre. An epic conveying a generational anger undergoing criminal abandonment, it blazons all corners of a nation. And the almost national multitude of cast and creatives Marianne Elliott’s assembled stands proud in this, almost beyond praise.


Angels in America: Millennium Approaches

Marianne Elliott with her superb cast and ramped-up effects towards the end ensure this episodic freewheeling fantasia hooks you compulsively, beating you over the head with angels’ wings as Part One shuts them hypnotically and we’re suspended.


Anna Christie

This is a superb production nearly pitch-perfect in every respect, directed with air around it but a strong lean focus on the sea-girt triangle shaping all the protagonists’ lives. Gates, Lester and above all the mesmerising McCarthy Somerville render this as satisfying as any production could. Do see it.


Antigone

This Antigone is outstandingly conceived, and for the most part executed. Chittenden projects tensile expectations, stillness and a powerful arc in her work. With such a cast anything might be expected.


Antigone

Actors of Dionysus give us Sophocles' great play, reset in a dystopian future.


Antony and Cleopatra

This is above all Josette Simon’s play as Cleopatra, with Antony Byrne nobly matching her by the hilt of something at least. Even at a late stage, Shakespeare dissolves all our previous assumptions. This production allows us to see them plain. It’s worth the illumination.


B

We need more Calderon and more of the Court’s excellent International Playwrights programme. ‘Those who are still laughing’, Brecht claimed grimly, ‘have not heard the terrible news.’ Yet he always laughed and Calderon, in William Gregory’s idiomatic translation ensures this piece is memorable because we laugh, scratch our heads, perhaps look furtively at our bags.


Babette’s Feast

Maxwell’s script of Babette's Feast helps conjure Buckhurst’s cast into conjurers. They’re both dream-inducing and hyper-alert, their timing and balletic movements spellbinding and unforgettable. It’s one of the finest recent productions from a theatre raising the most consistent magic in London.


Bad Roads

Leading Ukraine dramatist Natal’ya Vorozhbit won’t indulge the luxury of exploring just one outstanding tableau in isolation in these six harrowing vignettes. Infinitely more than postcards from the edge of the redacted west, they nudge then kick us back out of our own barbaric comforts.


Barber Shop Chronicles

Barber Shop Chronicles is a breath-taking revelation for those of us who had small inkling of a world in miniature. The act of barbering is more than an exchange of service with fringe benefits: it’s a profound act of human adjustment, including that vital glance in the mirror.


Beginning

Beginning is the kind of play we all know we need: wincingly heartwarming, devastatingly joyous. It’s quite wonderful. Don’t miss it.


Bite Me

Nine stories about our deepest desires


Blood Wedding

There’s no swift way to convey duende, the spirit of flamenco, passion and tragedy so unrelentingly – and there’s not a hint of comedy here, no shading to hide in. This hugely challenging drama stamps out its soul in this courageous, literally no-prisoners production.


Blue Remembered Hills

This is by any standards a remarkable production that at BOAT has found its time and avatar. Sheridan and Cook lead a production that takes Blue Remembered Hills back to somewhere near its source.


Bodies

Franzmann’s intellectual clarity and tropes in this production are crystalline: just like the circular window as a womb showing the surrogate’s womb and embryo. For clarity and suggestive obliquity – language as mis-communicator – it’s an exemplary play ranging beyond the scope of most surrogacy dramas into the dark heart of desires becoming nearly ruthless, and those on both side of the exploitative border of becoming human.


Boudica

Do see this, a magnificent and largely successful attempt to revive History plays, with an energy and on occasion subtlety that with justice should bring us more large-scale Tristan Bernays.


Catch Me…..the cracks are starting to spead

How far can we be pushed before we break?


Come Rhyme With Me

A literary taster evening of good food and good poetry


Committee

This edgy new development, faithful to one incident, marks a more than worthwhile variation on such larger works as London Road. It’s more illuminating than the history it sheds music on.


Common

D C Moore’s Common set in 1809 twists language in a collision of cultures as landed land-grabbers of Enclosure expel the last gleaners from common land. Comedy radiates from Anne-Marie Duff’s downright siren Mary. A sexier Mother Courage crossed with Churchill’s protean fairy Skriker, she’s plausible without magic. Common will continue to gnarl and root beyond its run. It’ll be well worth seeing how it ages.


Consent

Raine balances articulate ferocity with its opposite: a broken plea. Exceptionally well-written Consent’s clean logic and logic-chopping with consequences, amplified with a pinch of myth, indeed poltergeists, might well become a small classic.


Coriolanus

It’s a Coriolanus memorable for its patient elaboration of the political as well as personal forces the central character’s torn apart by, and an active interrogation of the nature of democracy. We’re left with a broken Coriolanus between the twin pillars of what he loves most.


Cranford

A good evening out and if you’re in the area, more than recommendable. The overall production and costumes, abetted with strong pace, a good use of Coleman’s narratives and finally finally top-flight amateur performances by Jennifer Annetts, Aisling and Thomas Edie, and Charlotte Eastes, makes this a recommendable production, the most ambitious I’ve seen from these players.


Dear Brutus

The clarity and truth Jonathan O’Boyle and his cast bring to this tricky, infinitely moving and sometimes maddening play, couldn’t be bettered. It’s a magically sad examining of how we limit ourselves, shutting off the forest of possibilities. Quite outstanding.


Deathtrap

Levin’s fiendish cleverness tightropes between real thriller and comedy. Paul Bradley’s a tour-de-force of jocular unpleasantness. Beverley Klein’s turn as psychic ten Dorp steals the show and wraps it in nebulous wails of ‘danger’. The production’s a triumph of tone too. Be very – entertained.


Don Juan in Soho

Don David Tennant’s priapic thrusts might rise above the title but of course he’s in the classic armour (aka condoms) of two guvnors, Moliere and updater Patrick Marber; it’s exhilarating. This is one play you must see, so transcendent in its theme it asks you the same questions.


Dreamboats and Petticoats

It’s back again. Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s nine-year dream Dreamboats and Petticoats returns to Theatre Royal, Brighton with a cast and creatives deserving high praise for creating the lightest touch out of slight narrative. Those who’ve seen it should start marvelling at the musicianship, and those who haven’t will increasingly join in.


Driving Miss Daisy

This production of the 1987 small classic full of wondrous pathos furnishes theatre gold, as Griffiths’ tenderness and Phillips’ motions of trust produce a riveting diminuendo. It’s the version to see.


Earthquakes in London

Cast and crew are beyond praise. It’s quite possibly the finest production of this huge, skirling ride of a play that’s ever been mounted. Outstanding.


East

Sizzling standout revival of Berkoff's first play, revived.


Ericthefred

an elegiac study of the travails of a clown with touching echoes of the past


Escaped Alone

Escaped Alone frames four women chatting in deckchairs in this everyday talk of tea and catastrophe - just as one of them steps into the void to prophesy a smorgasbord of Armageddons. The protean Churchill touches yet another dimension too. Do we have to wait to her eightieth in 2018 to proclaim her our greatest living playwright?


Fedele and Fortunio

One of the funniest, uniformly excellent productions of RND I’ve seen, it shows that Mullins enjoys a keen sense of pace, superb comic improvisation in scenes with a few props, and does what this pre-Shakespearean series claims: makes new what is in effect new to us, recreating plays from rags and patches of performing history.


Fiddler on the Roof

Evans allows this musical theatre to breathe on his own big-hearted terms whilst allowing the bones to show, as it does with a breath-taking diminuendo that seems to raise and settle the dust of emigration as we watch. For sheer penetration, heart and balance it’s as definitive as we’re likely to see for many years.


Follies

It took a visit into past and pastiche to propel Sondheim’s language into a modernity no-one foresaw. This is the finest realisation of this Janus-faced masterpiece, ringing with towering performances: Staunton, Bennett, Dee, Quast and Forbes simply at the head. This must be the definitive production.


Forty Years On

Alan Bennett’s 1968 debut play Forty Years On is a Janus-faced cavalcade pretending it’s a school pageant. This production emphasizes nostalgia ahead of satire. Here the school pageant almost takes over. It’s a fine unbalancing edging us back from 1968 since we’re rather more regressive than perhaps we like to admit. This is brave, inclusive, slightly fudged, and symptomatic of our times. Forty Years On might yet transcend them.


Fracked!

A finely-balanced play, not on the issues, which Beaton takes as open-and-closed. But in shading the opposition to Anne Reid’s reluctant campaigner Beaton shows warmth, humour and touches of compassion. Anne Reid comprises dignity and resolute panache in equal measure. James Bolam, apparently a beat behind, charms and rivets attention by turns. Harry Hadden-Paton’s PR Joe is a magnificent, unrepentant performance of sheer nastiness and Michael Simkins’ hapless oilman surprisingly sympathetic. A play that sharpens our tools for thinking and falling about with blunt laughter.


Gary Williams launches the Holiday Season

A concert of Christmas songs and more


Gaslight

A first-rate revival of perhaps the classic stage thriller. Young and Blackledge bring fine characterful energy to their roles, as does Anderson, but the evening belongs to the range Tointon brings to her psycho-Cindarella role, and the gravelly improbable Prince Charming ‘old enough to be your grandfather’ Keith Allen. Banks’ pace never slackens: everyone’s given enough rope at the end to manage anything.


Glitter Punch

Two lovers push the boundaries of conventional romance


Goats

It’s an essential drama, and an even more essential document for navigating the Syria we don’t know, that of ordinary non-opposition Syrians making the best of it and thus the worst. Perhaps a pared-down version might one day follow. It’s too good to miss for the sake of a few shaggy scenes.


Grease

Grease really is the word


Grimly Handsome

If you want theatre to change your life a little and wonder where our DNA and urges trek to, you could do infinitely worse than shiver here.


Half Baked

'The Young Ones' rewritten for the Brexit generation.


Hamlet

This Hamlet shouldn’t be remembered just for Scott’s improvisatory humanity, though that’s key to what follows. This work emerges infused with family tragedy, intimate disquiet and treachery slant.


Hedda Gabler

A play by Henrick Ibsen in a new version by Patrick Marber


Holly Sings Judy

Holly Penfield creates an evening dedicated to Judy Garland's music.


How the Other Half Loves

Ayckbourn’s genius shows how literally times are changing in this early masterpiece portraying a sexual liberation more pervasive than the noisier one raging all around 1969: it shows how far the revolutions has as it were penetrated. Strachan’s brilliance is so complete, so identified with this particular play, you forget how superbly founded it is.


Hughie, and The Real Inspector Hound

This is a very fine revival of The Real Inspector Hound, counting on timing as much as the consummate Hughie counts on pauses. Potton is the commanding presence in Stoppard’s farce, whilst Messingham’s Erie is an exceptionally observed teeter to despair and a sudden lurch back. You wonder what he would have made of the 1930s, and how O'Neill might have answered him.


In Memory of Leaves

On a moored barge Natasha Langridge re-enacts her own In Memory of Leaves updated from a run last year to include this year’s tumultuous events. This is a fine, necessary work inevitably in progress. Let it settle in the water a bit more, and glitter.


In the Depths of Dead Love

In a production fraught with controversy, Barker also refuses neat answers when he can fray us with questions. He’s certainly managed that, both inside and outside the play – which should be remembered, paradoxically, as one of his warmer offerings, in a memorably hypnotic and beautifully wrought production. But it’s time Barker brought himself in from the cold too.


Ink

James Graham’s Ink persuades us of the combustion following a challenge to a cornered editor with everything to lose; and the irony of the most ruthless media operator in living memory given a desperate, humbling masterclass. In their friction it’s not only the Sun that bonfires every liberal vanity, but our naked selves.


Insignificance

This masterly ensemble piece affirms relativity as a human agency, for which physics provides analogues but no solutions. Insignificance will be signifying for a long half-life, and this pacey production ensures its probing at fragility won’t be lost in brilliant collisions.


Invincible

What’s so distinctive in Torben Betts is his misleading us into an almost farcical comedy that turns darker. Just as stereotypes settle, plots unravel them. The climax is devastating, not explosively but in revelatory shudders. A fine unexpectedness marks both this superb play and outstandingly-acted revival.


Jane Eyre

It’s what you’d not expect that thrusts this version before anything else you’ll imagine before hurrying back to the novel. An extraordinary exhausting ultimately incandescent in all senses version of this classic.


Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Night

A delve into the weird world of psychopathy


Julius Caesar

Andrew Jackson’s backgrounding of current events in his production is shrewd: by suggesting film-sets with subtle obliquity he backs us into the glare of a Trump stadium, those overarching lights playing on all of us. It’s a superb conception, in some respects outstanding; in one, definitive.


Katharine Ryan – Glitter Room

Witty banter about the trials and tribulations of life as a single mother


Killology

Gary Owen’s known for snagging at those twists fathers transmit to sons: more screw-up than helix. In this raw three-hander Killology’s a virtual game where you score points for creatively torturing those you’re about to kill. The snag: you suffer moral consequences. Sean Gleeson’s lean hungry voice saws into hurt with a rasp of desolation. Richard Mylan exudes the sociopathic svelte of privilege. Dave’s narrative which bifurcates in Sion Daniel Young’s consummate yawp.


Knives in Hens

A play easily moving to classic status, this production supremely re-affirms its poetic ambivalence, opening up more than itself, even the play’s medieval setting. It persuades of a world crookedly trekking straight towards us.


La Cage aux Folles

La Cage aux Folles one might say comes home to Brighton’s Theatre Royal in this revival by Bill Kenwright Productions directed by Martin Connor. There’s no mystery why Brighton gets two weeks of this.


Ladies’ Day

Amanda Whittington’s feelgood Ladies' Day finds Seaford Little on fine turf. Wright and James particularly together are a delight, and Faulkner’s pitch-perfect Donegal Patrick not only brings the whiff of paddock and angst but allows Forshaw to glint, contrasting her well-founded characterisation. Picott paces a sterling production from a small house, with moments of brilliance.


Large Trash Print

This very fine 2007 work by Jonathan Brown strikes a blow for tolerance and inclusivity now as it did a decade ago. Brown’s superlative writing and acting is ridiculously confined to this city.


Lefty Scum

A funny trio of leftie performers delights Brighton


Life of Galileo

Thrilling, especially Brendan Cowell in the lead role. It’s unlikely we’ll see another Life of Galileo with the scale and reach of this for a long time, though perhaps for no better reason than we’re almost alienated from Brecht at a time when at least looking up and asking questions is what keeps us on our toes, when people talk of strong leaders.


Limehouse

How do you tell if you’re starting afresh or writing a longer suicide note than Labour’s 1983 manifesto? Even if he can’t nail the specifics of the volte-face, Waters comes tantalisingly close to defining such a political moment in this short drama of the founding of the SDP. With acting as superb indeed commanding as this, it’s a privilege to come away watery-eyed from raw leeks.


Low Level Panic

Claire McIntyre’s Low Level Panic might seem a slight play at seventy-five minutes of apparently low-key plotting and vestigial images, but after thirty years it loses nothing in impact. Time’s conferred both an indictment and uneasy classic status to this masterly first sliver of a much-missed dramatist.


Man in a Room & The Ruffian on the Stair

One brave attempt on a recent play cast as it were in the dark; and one really fine stab at another darkness, in Orton’s debut one-act play.


Mikelangelo: Cave – Waits – Cohen

Three of the greatest sung by one of the finest


Million Dollar Quartet

This is outstanding for is peerless characterising of the four legends with their unexpected female singer, the acting of Duncan and above al for the way the structure allows such extraordinary musicianship its head.


Minefield

Minefield is for its unique and singularly consummate exploration of its themes, outstanding, in a class apart from any show you’ll see, perhaps even of Arias. Her work must be acknowledged here now.


Misalliance

Shaw’s 1910 extraordinary Misalliance starts as fizzing drawing-room verbosity and comes to rest only after an aircraft’s crashed in on it, with two aviators – one a feminist acrobat – and a gun-toting clerk pops out of the home’s Turkish bath. Often vintage Shaw, half English drawing-room, half French farce.


Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes is as ever with Kirkwood hugely ambitious, says far more about emotion than its dazzling light-lectures, and humanizes a whole scientific race in depth. Colman and Williams provide a mesmerising sister act that others might wish to follow after a suitable interval, and Colman it’s hoped will return to the stage more often now.. Anything Kirkwood does now must be awaited with the same breathlessness that switching on CERN’s collider provides.


Mr Foote’s Other Leg

Slapstick comedy is difficult to bring off, even more fiendish to write. Tomlinson’s cast turn in here a performance as fine as anything I’ve seen in Lewes. Most of all, Kelly’s superb play in their hands lowers not a tap in one of Franklin’s thermometers to any professional production.


Nell Gwynn

Swale’s unique: she writes a play of feline-scratching wit that’s a feelgood hommage, where intellectual pyrotechnics never feel out of place. We’ve recently enjoyed The Libertine’s brilliantly-lit darkness revived too, and revived Nell Gwynn is the antipode to Jeffreys’ profound masterpiece. Just as clever, as fiendishly witty, Swale’s orange-girl raillery refuses the other’s command to dislike. It ends too, in a startling reality, and tenders a shock.


New Nigerians

As a snapshot of political compromise and impossibly contrary pressures African politicians encounter, it’s of the keenest interest. Agboluaje’s characters are vivid, and in one great scene they breathe fire.


Nicky Gaynor tells us about love

Songs about love and how we find it


Not Dead Enough

Richie’s layered and occasionally skewed avuncularity brings a troubled warmth to Grace, a baffled tenderness. Nothing is as it seems and though McKenna has telescoped and altered the ending as such, the plot as presented falls apart in impossibilities. James is praised for exceptional plotting and vital elements – perhaps mere moments - are missing. It makes for a thrilling if improbably ending.


Nuclear War

Simon Stephens has been exploring music and now dance in this piece inspired by his collaboration with choreographer Hofesh Schechter. Maureen Beattie’s intensely committed central performance is worth absorbing, the ensemble make flesh as much of Stephens’ text as could be asked. This feels like a text that needs to risk pushing through more specificity without fear of losing its suggestiveness.


Oslo

Oslo is the kind of recent-history thriller to place with Michael Frayn’s Democracy, the riven vagaries of Copenhagen, or more distantly, of a scope not so far removed from Rona Munro’s James Plays trilogy. You’ll soon see why it won a Tony.


Othello

If we’re impressed with overwrought maleness then finally it’s the women who impress most, who render service to a tragedy mired in the perennial soldier’s fear: betrayal.. Invigorating, and a future mine to other productions, this Othello opens a trap door.


Out of Blixen

Everything in Out of Blixen is realized with a magical economy. Kathryn Hunter’s s in her fluid element here, morphing into twelve-year-old girls and seasoned dowagers to her own directed paces The Europhilic Print Room has transformed the Coronet’s circular space into a consistent vision of theatre.


Out of Order

Out of Order is a superbly revised first-rank farce with not a weak link, furiously paced featuring perhaps the only time the window (in person?) gets a curtain call.


Poison

This play’s so clear on the failure of closure and reconciling loss that it’s an index of how Poison in fact addresses, even helps us confront them.


Proof

This exquisitely-paced production is both heartwarming and satisfying, compassed with a trembling fragility. Lewis brings out the hushed velocity of this beautifully-constructed play. This is as good as you could hope for and a gem worth catching.


Queen Anne

It’s perhaps no coincidence both Queen Anne and the Almeida’s Mary Stuart should be revived simultaneously. You have to go back to Schiller to find such a historic power struggle between two women on stage. This small miracle of historic compression and power-play reaches a dramatic conclusion worthy of someone fatter than the maligned Anne. Her voice is her journey, worthy of attendance.


Rattle of a Simple Man

Sad prostitute meets superannuated virgin in 1962. A fine thoughtful and very welcome revival, with Leah Mooney and Des Potton bravely baring all their vulnerabilities at the least.


Ready or Not

Ahmed’s writing in Ready or Not for the women protagonists makes you wonder what life, not Ahmed, will do with them. It’s a tribute to a dramatist who dares, and to a sense that this drama has another within it, signalling to be let out.


Refrain

A haunting choral journey through the mysterious Newhaven Fort


Richard III

Greg Hicks’ Richard has centripetal force; everything swirls inwards with him and only Richmond seems able to withstand it. We soon forget the walkways and possible contemporary resonance, ingest that later. The immediacy of deformed power is so glaring the you think the sun of York will never go out.


Road

An exemplary revival of Jim Cartwright’s Road, with uniformly memorable performances. Michelle Fairley (particularly) Mark Hadfield and June Watson with Lemm Sissay enjoy one or several memorable parts, Shane Zaza’s and Fay Marsay’s long duetting is the most riveting scene. Cartwright refuses to judge directly, though his obliquity writes deprivation and abandonment in invisible ink that won’t fade.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Daniel Radcliffe’s Rosencrantz is the box-office draw, all bemusement, beautifully drawn out in a hollow-cheeked slow horror of his lot. But it’s as Guildenstern that Joshua McGuire’s sashay from affront to despair through bemusement encompasses the open-mouth ‘lads’ Hamlet greets both with. And David Haig’s Player knowing he’s the opposite of a person insulates his reflective volatility from extinction. On the fiftieth anniversary of its Old Vic debut, Stoppard’s early masterpiece still startles in such a first-rate revival, protesting life to the black-out.


Rules for Living

Sam Holcroft modestly demurs her comedy Rules for Living is truly Ayckbournesque: she merely aspires to master some of his technique. It’s Season’s Greetings designed for robots. It’s a variation worth nailing though, not least because it interrogates a therapy many believe works.


Saint George and the Dragon

This is an unsettling, unsettled play. Creating its own world, it asks something of substance no-one else is quite doing – not even Rory Mullarkey previously in The Wolf From the Door. His adaptation of the Oresteia for the Globe has after all come between. It’ll be intriguing to see where this big-boned, big-themed dramatist will venture next.


Saint Joan

Rourke directs a wonderfully lean vehicle for Shavian dialectic as furious power-play. Aterteron bestrides the board table as a scruffy colossus who brings it values to collapse all shares in any market. She has to burn. It’s something we need reminding of.


Salomé

Here’s a great divider of critical heads. Yael Farber who made a great impact last year directing Lorraine Hanbury’s Les Blancs returns with her own Salomé at the Olivier. Anyone who saw the Hanbury will recognize the ritualistic use Farber makes of the Olivier, though Susan Hilferty’s set is stripped for swoops of spectacle.


Sand in the Sandwiches

Sand in the Sandwiches is a haunting study, given stature by Edward Fox’s conjuration of an erotically disturbed gentility mocking itself. It reminds us, now Betjeman’s faded from aural as well as visual memory, what he was, what he might yet become.


Sappho and Phao

It’s the conversations that make this courtly piece delectable. It’s Selina Cadell though who seals the quality of this revival. Her magically inflected words occasion a running benediction; it’s fitting she centres the curtain-call.


Seeing Stars

Here’s Tycho Brahe to lead us by his gold nose. You can never start star-gazing too young; this Rust and Stardust production is a dazzling place to start. Enchanting, informative and exhilarating in equal measure; Conlon and Sommers’ singing sets a magical seal on this star-breaking look at the universe.


She Stoops to Conquer

Felicity Clements has paced this production with alacrity and probing clarity. She also brings out, with a superb ensemble, the truth of Goldsmith’s characters, several like Marlow and Lumpkin emerging as minted as their fortunes. You’ll not see a more joyous, clear or truthful production of this perennial for years.


Shirley Valentine

Prenger’s brought depth, perfect timing and the art of the comic pause. Above all her orchestration of risk, raunch and recovery comes like a peroration, an enormous yes as someone over in Hull once said. Launched into comic stardom beyond her singing roles, Prenger like Shirley Valentine is ready for anything now.


Short Play Festival

This puts New Venture Theatre onto a new footing. Six new plays – two by actors taking part - and six directors, all developed by NVT’s nurturing over the past year culminates in this short festival. There’s If it was an annual, even bi-annual event, it would change things in the south east.


Slooshy Wordshow

Amiable, powerful and hugely enjoyable


So You Say

Dramatist Sam Chittenden asks a profound question: just what we can choose to experience of our experiences? It’s a small gem of inward acrobatics, and makes one eager to see even more ambitious work from this rising dramatist.


Stewart Lee: Content Provider

Providing beautifully scathing content since ... whenever


Summer’s Last Will and Testament

It might be Summer’s Last Will and Testament, but whether Summer’s or Will Summers Henry VIII’s fool, is a riddling not only Nashe but the superb Edward’s Boys from King Edward VI School Stratford determine on our guessing. An extraordinary production. It’s good to know these Edward’s Boys are preserved on DVD.


Tamburlaine

What Yellow Earth manage so well is to forge a contemporary life for Tamburlaine. Stylised, stylish and sassy in the best sense, this touring production make Tamburlaine accessible. With caveats noted, it renders the first early modern English language play the greatest service: a horrible relevance.


The Actress

Quilter’s best known for Glorious! and End of the Rainbow. His output’s devoted to theatrical experience; his obsession’s fed into performative actors, mainly women. Quilter doesn’t allow obvious endings, or neat ones in this touchingly funny homage to theatrical living. This production does as much for The Actress as any revival anywhere.


The Bashful Lover

What this production enjoys in particular is a fizzing energy: nothing sags in Eastop’s expert cut and parry of Massinger’s final flight. The actors’ cracking pace reflects the martial tang of the play. Finally it’s the mutual understatement and mobile intelligence - etched on their faces – of Wicks and Eyre that make this already crackling reading treasurable.


The Best Man

It’s a cruel joke Vidal died shortly before the era of Trump. How cruelly he’d have joked about it. But we have this classic political thriller. It’ll last, horribly.


The Buddy Holly Story

The Buddy Holly Story is a superb show, the fast-track to know Buddy Holly’s world with storyline and songs that influenced and were influenced in turn. Alex Fobbester’s Buddy Holly inhabits his role with verve and heart-stopping sensitivity. There’s room to craft an even more compelling story, but as a show its generosity good-humoured inclusiveness proves irresistible.


The Cardinal

This is a stunning rediscovery, brought by director Justin Audibert and Troupe. Boasting a first-rate cast this superbly-wrought production measures its consummate leannness to the verse. We need more Shirley and this production should enjoy a longer run next time. It’s is a must-see even for those not normally interested in the period. Its plots and words still wound the air.


The Cherry Orchard

A joyful sadness more nearly than most strikes the balance Chekhov mockingly prescribes in The Cherry Orchard: a comedy, grasping a clutch of infernos. Jade Wlliams’ grief-clenched crumpling as Varya perhaps steals the show but Simon Scardfield’s misery-infused Epikhodov, Abhin Galeya’s weedily gauche Trofimov and Sian Thomas’s giddy Ranevsky round out a memorable whirligig of a production.


The Crucible

This masterpiece of courageous refusal gets one of its finest performances in recent memory. Proctor’s decision and Slattery’s delivery of his great lines: ‘Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!’ rings down this supreme testament to honesty – to bear false witness and incriminate others to save oneself - in the face of tyranny. Slattery defines this role in a way very few have; his energy radiates through a superbly lucid, passionately argued production.


The Custom of the Country

Like the recently-mounted The Elder Brother, though far more complex, The Custom of the Country is a work crying out for production. It’s had one or two, though this spirited, superbly idiomatic, wacky and unfailingly inventive company ought to be proud their efforts lifted this heavy-texted work to the pitch of laughter. Even when occasionally it wasn’t at first intended, they made sure it soon was.


The Deep Blue Sea

Pat Boxall paces this production with the pause and sudden rush Rattigan often asks for. Emmie Spencer’s subtle anguish as Hester carries the arc of this production superbly; with the twist of a half-smile she makes Hester vulnerable, indeed loveable, less heroine, more human. Happily her consummate Hester is answered here: in the scale of production, in Jeremy Crow’s empathic, passionate plea for life as Miller; and a host of supporting foils from cast members.


The Duke of Milan

A fine curtain-raiser to a year of Massinger, a later Jacobean whose career took a while to fly, was always poor and eleven of whose plays ended as pie-liners. There’s fifteen solo-authored and many collaborations to discover, several in this year’s RND. Frances Marshall ensures a superbly spirited ensemble piece, with apposite small props and a freshness you can smell. Though three hours with a break this never once even falters; it’s as realized a performance as you could ever wish, touched with scenic brilliance.


The Elder Brother

Like Shakespeare and as we now know with Middleton in Measure for Measure, Fletcher and Massinger enjoyed a posthumous collaboration. It’s powerful, stellar in imagery and reach, something rare in comedy and perhaps only found in Shakespeare.


The End of Hope

The End of Hope is anything but what its lugubrious poetic title advertises, cackling with jokes and expletives. This superb hour-long play is more than the sum of its hilarities, which is saying something. The heart comes pounding through the mouse suit. Do see it.


The False One

Morell relishes Fletcher and Massinger’s 1620 The False One, paces with an alacrity and eddy of detail that anchor memorable scenes. That’s enough in an uneven drama skewing Caesar and Cleopatra from the core of the theme, ‘false’ Septimius. There’s Fletcherian flashes of poetry throughout (all smoky arrows). Perhaps trimmed this play might still provide the period’s one essay on this subject, whose theme of loyalty trimmed, suborned and occasionally redeemed must strike us as horribly perennial.


The Ferryman

Butterworth’s masterpiece The Ferryman rightly draws comparison with Sean O’Casey, for one, Conor McPherson and Brendan Behan’s The Hostage. It’s a homage taken boldly by a mainland British dramatist who stands in this play worthy of comparison with any of them.


The Glass Menagerie

Led by Cherry Jones and Michael Esper, Williams’ fresh map of hopeless chances freshly realized, in a revival whose pitch is as perfect as the flowers picked off Amanda’s mouldy dress.


The Goat

Ian Rickson more than revives Edward Albee’s 2002 masterpiece The Goat, at the Haymarket. What emerges in one hundred-odd minutes is a deadly tread of Greek tragedy, pitched in a slow build punctuated by the shattering of plates.


The Great Duke of Florence

This is one of the very finest RNDs and with the consummate cast and minimal props, Morell makes more than an embryo production of this extraordinarily fine play. It’s like a brilliant, vividly realised sketch of something that could run.


The Homecoming

Mid-period Pinter’s almost superseding the early ground-breaking works in popularity, and for good reason. Along with the later Old Times and No Man’s Land, The Homecoming’s recently been revived and re-appraised. Culann Smyth’s interaction with John Tolputt fascinates; and Smyth’s terrors jump out with reality. O’Shea has paced this with a tread that we follow down to the last triangle of light. A superb revival.


The Kid Stays in the Picture

In the best sense this production’s stupefying, a spectacle shot through with theatrical tropes suggests that, if Evan’s revelations could be more frequent, Kid would be dramatically breathtaking too. And it is thrillingly itself.


The Kite Runner

David Ahmad’s anchoring central performance is enhanced by Jo Ben Ayed’s physical one. Theirs is a remarkable chemistry, radially informed by Doorgasingh and Faroque Khan’s reactions. It’s a potent, heartwarming and heartrending story, spellbindingly translated to the stage and here with more power even than before. Don’t miss it.


The Lady From the Sea

Happy endings don’t seek the sun, though it helps. This production’s memorable not just for the matching of locale and rationale with the original, but gently aligning the two other couples into the clearer optimism of the married couple. If not all the misty tension of the original emerges, there’s certainly something to be said for allowing such light to brighten the facets of this one jewel of affirmation in Ibsen’s mature output.


The Lottery of Love

Dorothea Myer-Bennett is simply outstanding in her unravelment from uffishness as the heroine Sylvia, to a self-discovering naked passion prepared to offer anything. That’s the essence of a playwright too-little seen who’s provoked the most blissful comedic production this spring affords. Outstanding in nearly every way, it’s another gem from Richmond’s Orange Tree.


The Lower Depths

Gorky’s 1902 The Lower Depths is a vividly long evening, and holds the attention, but a huge challenge to pull into the shaggy shabby masterpiece it is. We emerge drier-eyed from this production, but it’s a bracing winter play, and all too grimly calls us out to act. It’s a seminal drama too, rarely seen, making this an essential pilgramage.


The Majority

If Rob Drummond’s /Bullet Catch/ charmed and alarmed at NT’s The Shed and Brighton Festival in 2013, here Drummond starts his odyssey of political immersion in a prison cell; for throwing a punch at a neo-Nazi. Opening three days after the Charlottesville murder, the timing’s eerily prescient and more charged than even Drummond might have imagined.


The March on Russia

There’s a current trend in American playwrighting, post-Mamet, that favours hyper-naturalism. David Storey though got there before anyone, in this and other plays. Storey has much to tell us of distress and how it’s denied, displaced, coped with. He’s got as much to say about the slag-heaps of social history too, and refuses the obvious. It’s time he was more thoroughly revived. We need more of this.


The Messiah

Incestuous stars, passing of the ears, deep heat as a condition not an old muscle unguent. The dotty felicities of Patrick Barlow’s language in The Messiah directed by Rod Lewis are easily masked in the Norman Wisdom-like pratfalls of his hapless duo. Unless you add Mrs Flowers; and you should.


The Mikado

This Mikado not only redefines but rescues the operetta from an edgy oblivion, where we could never lose the melodies, yet increasingly hesitate to stage the work. It’s back.


The Miser

The famous adage of farce as tragedy played at breakneck speed begs questions of how much pathos Moliere wished to inject, how fast he wanted to go in The Miser. All teeters towards the tragedy of the absurd. This may not be 1668 very exactly, but it’s the nearest to one side of Moliere we’ve seen for years, and conveys something of the shock of his new.


The Philanthropist

The play really is worth seeing, a credit to Trafalgar Studio’s courage in continually taking risks – ironically with an established drawing-room comedy.


The Plague

Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of The Plague plays on the mind as it’s meant to. Ferocious simplicity and pared choices make for an absorbing evening. Shorn of props, video projections or naturalist distractions, we let the piece seep in. Bartlett knows such brutal relevance never needs underlining, as we look at homeless Syrians and those of every ethnicity shivering in an unsuspecting city.


The Plain Dealer

Nicholas Quirke and D. A. F. T. will always confound expectations. Long may they do so. Quirke’s D.A.F.T. Theatre arrives at Brighton Open Air Theatre – or to crowd acronyms, B. O. A. T. - with Restoration dramatist William Wycherley’s 1676 The Plain Dealer. With hovering seagulls swooping for chicken legs, and a superb exit by Matthew Carrington f-ing everything then ‘F-ing interval’ it’s a sparklingly-observed revival.


The Playboy of the Western World

It was the third and last act mingling high farce and near-tragedy as it does, that pitches this part of the already superb performance to outstanding by any standard. The legendary production by Druid Theatre Galway in 2009 came to mind. This part of the night is on a par with it. There can be no higher praise.


The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune

The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune of 1582 (published 1589) is a crackingly-paced romp starting with disputing goddesses and Jupiter’s hopeless arbitration. This is one of the very liveliest Read Not Dead performances with a remarkably detailed sort of propos, with two performances almost off the script altogether.


The Real Thing

To luxuriate in a witty play with valiant emotional gambits, you’ll have to see The Real Thing for yourself. Fox bestrides this production like a hopeful monster who’s got lucky. He’s irresistible, and especially in the second half, enjoys the support of an energised cast. Do see this.


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Lenny Henry’s magnificent, physically menacing deserves his place alongside Henry Goodman’s at least. If the cabaret and audience-rich production mightn’t replicate that production’s chill, it’s of its time, serves as a timely marker of a new nadir of western degradation. That gives it permanent Brechtian relevance.


The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Jim Cartwright’s 1992 play with music The Rise and Fall of Little Voice sings out of damage into heartbreak and redemption. Those who don’t know the play or its outcome should see this, even those who have. Jade Clarke making her second LV might now be the go-to choice in this part of the country for some time to come. LLT’s on its best form, and following the éclat of Mr Foote’s Other Leg the other highlight of the season.


The Stepmother

Again and again you regret what indifference did to Githa Sowerby. It silenced one of most original early 20th century dramatists. It also retarded our dramatic development. To have plays like this running in the 1920s might have blown the genteel three-acter into emotional maturity.


The Suppliant Women

In one of the most radical productions ever mounted of Aeschylus indeed any Greek tragedy we’re literally taken to its roots: as in Greece, a community chorus of fifty, twenty-one of them the suppliant women of the play’s title. In this outstanding production, everything to resurrect this astonishing vision has been invoked.


The Tempest

You won’t forget the spectacle. But it’s the lonely spectators of their own powers that’ll beat on your mind. Gregory Doran’s RSC production realizes that more fully than ever before. Simon Russell Beale’s riven letting-go of a man’s potency relinquished along with his moral son sounds deeper plummets still.


The Terrors of the Night

Nashe’s 1594 The Terrors of the Night directed by Jason Morell is a stunning one-off. This imaginative enterprise should be developed perhaps with at least one more actor, and certainly enjoy a niche run. It’s a triumph (both early modern and modern senses!) viscerally realized here with music and floating candles. Let it again feast our horrors, curiosity and uneasy laughter.


The Treatment

Aisling Loftus’ Anne has chosen to have her experiences dramatized, to become a commodity of herself. She’s in flight. It’s the way Anne’s airbrushed out of her own story but also out of her life before this concludes, disappearing because the story’s more real than Anne is, that carries such a deadly sting nearly a quarter of a century later.


The Trials of Harvey Matusow

Informative, infuriatingly endearing it’s also Cohen’s first masterpiece, however small-scaled. For that reason too, it holds a particular freshness, a discovery of a remarkable voice. Or two.


The Twilight Zone

I’d like to see a more thorough-going homage to Serling’s work in particular and it’s good he’s at least well-represented here. His acute questioning, exploration of a more human agency and refusal to play too much with inexplicable spectacle marks him out as a more earthy but far more imaginative writer too. His stories are still absolutely contemporary ones: the others have dated as the future often does.


The Unnatural Combat

To experience this play in these surroundings is a special occasion. It’s certainly graced by one of Massinger’s most remarkable plays, and with Frances bestriding his part and leading the company, it’s a winning combination.


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Any first-time play-goer should have this etched as a memory forever. It can’t be anything other than outstanding. Enjoy as an early Christmas gift to yourselves.


The Wedding Singer

This is an outstandingly-conceived show, generous to cast and audience alike, superbly choreographed and performed in what might seem challenging spaces. The last blast of summer’s breath: enjoy.


The White Devil

The gender-slashing part of Vittoria demands venom and defiance as well as passion in verse. Joseph Timms and Kate Stanley-Brennan as Vittoria shine delivering Webster’s verse, pointing up with defiant splendor or self-delighting braggadocio tinged with Trainspotting. Ryan’s pacey revival is timely, thrusting us to Webster’s sadly timeless themes. But misogyny’s purged of its merely temporal strut with the force of such verse inhabited, which lays its living sinew bare.


The Wind in the Willows

A delightful family production in an equally delightful venue


The World of Yesterday

Stefan Zweig lends himself peculiarly to a theatrical dimension. It’s over in a blink. If you’re at all near, you won’t regret the Print Room’s opalescent sliver of magic conjuring the best out of this production.


Thebes Land

It’s good to welcome the return of this cage. Franco-Uruguayan Sergio Blanco’s Thebes Land drops back into Arcola’s Studio 1 after its acclaimed run in 2016. It’s where this will go, what both prisoner Martin and writer T are left with, that begins to shine out of this extraordinary, ground-breaking work.


These Trees Are Made Of Blood

A necessary piece of theatre, the band are superb; a couple of numbers will take residence in your ear. Theatrically it’s almost achieved too, and if it feels slightly clunky it’s that the brilliant conceit of political trickery can’t be sustained over the sombre facts the second act introduces us to. The end’s overwhelming. Two audience members sat quietly weeping together and could not move for minutes after. Others sat stunned.


Thoroughly Modern Millie

Plews and Wicks have created a musical powerhouse literally all-singing and dancing, of the highest West End standards. The quintet – and they blend magnetically together – of Clifton, Barrett, Rush, Glover and McDuff have stamped character and stomped bliss on this musical.


Timeshare

There’s a fizz and pop to this play: Miguel the electrician has electrocuted himself. He’s done more than that though. Philip Ayckbourn should be feeling just a little proud of the professionalism of the cast, crew and his own script.


Titus Andronicus

The nadir in this ‘wilderness of tigers’ of late Rome is laughter. It’s devastating. Tears can’t express it any more. The production restores the centrality of Titus’ and Lavinia’s suffering against a moral and military decay about to sweep a ruined country. It’s a land where decent military advisors can no longer operate. We don’t need to look far for parallels in a world where this drama’s unpredictability seems everyday news. A Titus for our times, yes but this Titus fits all times, and restores the terrible to stare back at us. It’s what we hope to avoid, which makes it essential.


Touch

Touch is an eye opener and it is mesmerizing.


Travesties

Together with textual revisions making this a newly-definitive production, with the cast re-moulding it and above all Hollander’s superbly faltering diffidence, this is the outstanding revival of a play in the West End this season.


Trouble in Mind

This is a thrillingly layered play with each character so well-caught that it beg questions and resolutions beyond its scope. Tanya Moodie is outstanding. In the best sense, the work’s almost too big for itself. May it remain so. We need it.


Twelfth Night

Tamsin Greig’s extremes as Malvolia mark the first intimations of the terrible and define this production The only caveat with this predominantly youthful cast is that January’s chilly ivy hasn’t pricked more fingers. But the ground’s shifted.


Ugly Lies the Bone

Lindsey Ferrentino’s 2015 play Ugly Lies the Bone confronts three issues in one. PTSD and military women power many debates, as does virtual reality therapy. The play’s double thread means fruitful collisions in this open-ended approach suggest a scope that can’t be worked out in either. Despite slightly pat consolations, this drama that readily breaks out of those intentions. Fleetwood’s on stage virtually as it were the whole time, overwhelming in her shuddery defiance.


Urinetown

This eco-warning musical can hardly be billed as feel-good but the music is. Mark Hollmann’s music and lyrics are as fresh as they were in 2001, and Greg Kotis’ book and lyrics are sadly prescient. This ambitious professional standard musical is something we almost take for granted with BLT. In festival time, we lose sight of some regular theatre work But this is overall the finest Fringe theatre event I’ve seen so far.


Victory Condition

Jonjo O’Neill and Sharon Duncan-Brewster give performances as fine as this rich if obliquely dramatic material allows. Their alienation, the very tread of words in Thorpe’s syntax, confers a halo of otherness, an unnerving posthumous existence. They’re like ghosts in their own machine. It’s a vision worth absorbing.


Waiting For Curry

Susanne Crosby’s Waiting for Curry – a title suggested by friends as they indeed waited for a takeaway – is a four-hander with a social reckoning, a denouement, and a very unexpected plot point. An excellent play and cast needing wider circulation; the audience was packed.


When Love Grows Old

Could this be the pilot to a melancholically-observed sitcom like Vicious? One audience member suggested it. Whilst The Romance of the Century is beautifully observed and deftly revivifies a much-fictioned historical turning-point, The Weatherman is outstanding comedy, as are the performances.


When We Are Married

This is an enchanting play, with a small bitter aftertaste only lurking under the candy coating. Priestley’s lines are so beautifully constructed that they often carry the performance. Happily they get much more than that here: it’s an example of LLT ensemble-work mostly perfectly fired and romping neatly into the annals.


Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

This is a stunning production, developed much like an opera, musical in its scoring of how two people torture each other with devastating, often destructive love. Imelda Staunton as Martha might be the starriest name in this stunning revival of Edward Albee’s 1962 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf directed by James MacDonald; but she’s matched by Conleth Hill’s George and given exemplary support by Luke Treadaway as biologist Nick and Imogen Poots – in her particularly ungrateful role as his hapless wife Honey.


Wife

A one woman show following wives through history, art and legend


Wings

Stevenson’s performance mesmerises, appals, thrills and re-asserts her unique straddling of classic and unquiet modernist in a few dizzying months. Poised somewhere between Happy Days and inevitably Peter Pan, here she’s immobilised everywhere she flies, imprisoned far more than Winnie with her vectors of sand and invisibility. There’s no doubt Wings proves its life in the theatre here. It breaks new air.


Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice, Schimmelpfennig’s apparently naturalistic fable is more than timely. As a dead-of-winter warning, it urges us to recalibrate, rewind our imaginations to the point where we might stop the tide of reasonable boundaries tightening into a noose.


Wish List

Erin Doherty gives a quite brilliant portrayal of someone rendered nearly voiceless who on occasion has to find a desperate authority and at other moments, aspire. Rarely have the terrible antimonies of work and benefits system been so precisely notated, and never the combined effect calibrated to crush out young lives so mapped. It’s an essential play that charts the betrayal of a generation.


Woman in Mind

Some fine and one excellent performance in this Lewes Little production of Woman in Mind – Ayckbourn being a house speciality. Despite the occasional lack of shadows, there’s much to bask in and it’s more than worth seeing this production if you don’t know the play, or refreshing your memory if you do.


Wonderland

The ingredients are there: it’s a magical idea, and just needs a quieter rationale and – to make it a great show - a few more memorable numbers. But if you care for musicals, see it for an outstanding clutch of performers and a dream of something perennial.


Woyzeck

Boyega might be the key but Greene too takes on a centrality Marie’s never enjoyed before; the only pity is that this adaptation ducks adultery, making her too decent when the original Marie’s just trying to snatch a better life and a little joy. Still caveats aside, this is an interpretative milestone paving the way for even more fearless versions.


Young Marx

It was a canny idea to kick off the first commercial theatre venture in years with a new comedy by the Marx Brothers – albeit set in 1850, and by a zany ancestor of Groucho’s band. Rory Kinnear’s Karl Marx is a gloriously edged reading of selfishness and fundamental idealism sitting uneasily with insensitivity