FringeReview UK

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FringeReview UK 2017

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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