FringeReview UK

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FringeReview UK 2017

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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 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 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 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 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 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.


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.


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.


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.