FringeReview UK 2016
A first-rate revival, the best we’re likely to see though hopefully not the last of late Williams. Oakley’s hinted there’s more to revive. Meanwhile, don’t miss this legacy-changing production.
This is about as good as you could reasonably hope for. The latter half is a delight, and should send people back to the theatre for different fare, and to the book.
An outstanding production, with the central character given an outstanding performance by Joseph Timms. He’s supported by a near-faultless cast, and no weak links with a whiplash direction against the best of backdrops, even for the worst of times.
Intermittently thrilling plays from the urgent left, two premieres and a couple of small gems roughened by the tumble of Westminster and the Corporates that really must be seen - unless you’re Gideon.
In a stunning New Venture Theatre production Accidental Death of an Anarchist explodes with a cast of six. Rod Lewis directs
Persephone and Eurydice, embodiers of two Greek myths, find themselves reaching out in the Underworld. Except Persephone’s an overworked bereaved junior doctor with huge attachment issues. She has to deal with a flock of Eurydices: distrait child, disturbed teenager, new mother, someone with mental distress seeking out seven dwarves in a lopped tree trunk. Welcome to the world in an Acorn.
Provocative but absorbing take on Strindberg’s 1888 masterpiece. Fine cast led by Helen George make much of demob denouements.
Superb, pitch-perfect production from an amateur theatre renowned for the professionalism of everything from sets to acting.
Exhilarating version of an 'unstageable' radio classic of Beckett's triumphs
In the most spectacular production imaginable, the antagonisms between the black-suited and marzipan fight it out in this extraordinary sumptuous and consummately musical production. Far from seeming out of place, Adam Gillen’s Young Ones-style shrilling brat with his technicolour frock-coats seems almost more attuned than Salieri to his milieu. It’s naturally the corresponding gravity this production looks to though: Lucian Msmati’s supremely crafted lead sets off the quicksilver of his rival to an unprecedented extent.
Howard Davies directs a fine cast led by Hugh Bonneville in Chichester's generously human revival of the ultimate whistleblowing drama
The show - nearly three hours - never for a moment seemed it, gripping the audience so tightly the whole audience rose spontaneously to its feet – something I’ve not seen in this theatre. The blend of definitive and new cast members in a recent classic has overwhelming impact.
A major Churchill season is long overdue, and her eightieth in 2018 shouldn’t be the only occasion of it. Orange Tree’s production is as good as it gets in Blue Heart.
Thrilling revival of this absorbing still relevant 2000 play about abusing the already-abused in the name of psychiatry.
A superbly bleached-out vision of a seventeen-year-old’s prospects on a stunning conveyer-belt set. Not a comfortable but necessary seventy minutes.
Character-acting keeps this near-impossible-to-dramatize story a play. Since the film’s different, this charmingly-attempted soufflé of an adaptation might do the best service of all: send people in search of a ninety-page novella, and that’s in large print.
Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Brideshead, the first for the stage dazzles with stagecraft and storyline but something’s lost tail-chasing the detail.
Asperger-conditioned Sarah’s reels off her interests: ‘TV, One Direction, Bears, Ghandi, Oral Sex not necessarily in that order.’ This remarkable, necessary play explores the crisis provoked by Sarah’s single atypical act, and how it shows she’s improving - leaving domestic devastation. Shindler beautifully judges the pathos and development in each of her three main protagonists.
Stunning if interventionist revival of Sarah Kane's astonishing 1998 play directed by Katie Mitchell, with a towing performance from Michelle Terry
Spectacle costumes and use of machinery are outstanding, even by Wanamaker standards. Granted there’s a lower dramatic threshold in Comus, it doesn’t mask as it were the fact that this is the most outstanding production of Comus we’ll ever see.
Gupta’s not too likely to pay the penalty for her spectacular 2009 debut aged twenty-one in What Fatima Did. This is her third full-length, a clear-headed warm-hearted play packing much story-telling into its sixty-five minutes, a convincing portrayal of exploited lovers in Woolwich now.
Superb distillation of the costs of FGM to victims and victim-perpetrators, James reaches out to all in this searing two-hander.
A Cymbeline that redefines the title role. This is perhaps the best mostly-uncut Cymbeline we can hope for till our nerves settle, but then again Cymbeline’s a state-of-the-nation vehicle, and has come again into its own.
Devastating drama about the DNA of bigotry; and it all starts in surreal farce
Admirable high-quality festive fun; an excellent script well worth reviving and indeed sourcing again for others, a crack creative team particularly the musical numbers, and a cast who for the most part are at home with whiplash RP, particularly Jack Edison who’s never tongue-tied once. Enjoy, and note the extra matinees.
Kit-off Harington stars in this rewritten Marlowe piece, long on sex and violence but short on Marlowe. Intermittently brilliant.
The RSC delights in dopplegangers: alternating the main roles of Faustus and Mephistopheles with Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan. Grierson’s commanding Mephistopheles does more than ringingly square off against Ryan’s smoky-voiced humanity. Aberg has though allowed the drama space to believe in itself, a darkness to believe in.
Sizzling standout revival of Berkoff's first play
Starring Barbara Flynn and Zoe Wannamaker, Nick Payne’s new play – a thrilling and devastating probe at our identity - picks up the threads of science, self and mortality from Constellations and The Art of Dying, marking his most ambitious play since the former.
A supremely orchestrated production, the best we’re likely to see of Friel’s masterpiece for the play’s time-span, about twenty years. As Frank’s faith-healer character must have experienced, this production rapidly sold out, not through high-tech advertising blitzes, but word of mouth.
In three hours there’s hardly a missed beat and the title will tease and baffle in its implication long after the end. Brave visionary theatre, it doesn’t require that much from audiences to enthral.
Conor Lovett lightens his pitch Becket’s exploration of lust, sexual disgust and the intolerable consequences of generation.
A confessional show, made possible by the building of a wall
A minimalist production of Howard Barker's visceral rewriting of 'Hamlet'
Even on fictive terms this would garner praise for its raw power, its beating passion for justice and humanity. Difficult as it might be not to come away warmed this ensemble – and original musical – make it so very easy. This needs to be everywhere and should be shown if not live, then screened.
Mesmerising, heart-rending concert-cum-narration of a child’s journey through violin lessons to auditioning in Auschwitz, and beyond as told through his eyes.
Occasionally opaque, van Hove frames his eloquent prison with enough space for Greek tragedy and his uniformly fine cast to project it, however skew. Wilson’s supreme power, refracted through the cataract of this fitfully illuminating production, is to convey the sense that whatever role she might have chosen, Hedda’s grown up dead.
Sam’s all night shiner, Beckett’s Wake and Cabaret. Haunting, funny, unmissable.
Holes sashays between naturalism and fable, some predictable some not. Noad and McGann strongly characterise. Roberts and Purchese make something special out of the comically horrifying. Richards has produced a sovereign reading of a troubled, brilliantly unequal question mark.
Ellen Thomas fills the central role with warmth, quixotic generosity, occasional faded grandeurs and a bewitching illusion. Greer has otherwise ingeniously captured the Chekhovian amplitude and capacity for delicacy and tenderness in the face of death, her description of Chekhov. That’s really something.
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.
A thrillingly compressed dystopia crossing The Birds, and Caryl Churchill with draconian government opportunism.
This production sucked in a whole audience and breathed it out with laughter. Its power’s a popular, indeed populist one. And in Maddy Hill’s furious dove we’ve identified an Imogen many can reclaim, or claim for the first time.
Geoffrey Streatfeild inhabits this most problematic Chekhovian role like a stooping question-mark, a lanky laureate of the Russian superfluous man. James McArdle’s angular self-deluding hatred and smoothed-down hair and cheeks compresses into a Caledonian hiss worthy of John Knox. Nina Sosanya’s ardent but dignified pleading and Oivia Vinall’s headlong ardour all combine an explosive mix. Outstanding.
A stunning traversal of Joan Littlewood’s life by Gemskii and Conscious Theatre. Without her, there would never have been A Taste of Honey, Oh What a Lovely War, or much of postwar British theatre.
This swiftly moving neatly snipped production holds attention and the verse rationales of Parke, Bulman, Rankin are bestrid by Hellyer’s revelatory Cassius. It’s worth seeing for that alone.
Superb take on Rattigan’s lover’s suicide attempts, that inspired Rattigan’s masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea.
Michael Pennington triumphs in his tragedy in this superbly clear King Lear directed by Max Webster. Gavin Fowler’s Edgar rises with him.
In adaptor Phillip Breen’s hands there’s not just one set of lovers here, however partly incapacitated: indeed there’s deep feeling released in this couple’s performance. The decision taken to highlight this is treasurable. One wonders if Clifford – tortured, typing, refusing to be typecast as war-emasculated cripple and even hoping to revive - is the hero. Breen makes a fine case for it.
This devastatingly detailed play is a quiet shouter, and the more harrowing. Its terrible legacy is that with a few term-changes, it might be played in thirty, fifty years. The poor and destitute seem to be needed to calibrate, even manifest obscene wealth in their opposites. It should send people into the streets, but then it already has.
Stunning ensemble play, Churchill’s flickering meditation on how we communicate and convey love and every other shade of being.
Refreshing treatment of this enormously affecting musical lies in its British bite working so well with Jenny’s feisty character, and youth generally. BLT and the Craig/Nock team have scored another bull’s-eye which by the end is pretty watery.
This Love’s Labour's Lost is one of the great show-changing interpretations in Shakespeare and confirms this production as the most outstanding of this play for years. It has heart, plangency and not a little devastation. This production of Much Ado About Nothing finally grounds the play in a post-war setting it has long begged. Both the plays’ malefaction and mischievous confusion, and hectic high spirits, are given the most truthful reading of recent years. We feel we’ve permanently understood some characters in a way never before revealed.
Dominic Cooke's revival of August Wilson's breakthrough play shows what we've been missing: a master American dramatist. Sharon D Clarke presides as Mother of the Blues
This is a Scottish Play to relish for its supernatural and natural scenes, and women supremely Mann, its unusually-edged but convincingly-won Macbeth and superbly-taken small roles. As the chilly and barren Malcolm stabs the traitor’s head you see the bubbles of the earth doubling Scotland’s trouble.
Supremely realized by Stevenson and Williams, Icke’s triumphant production dispenses with trappings save to point up the reverse symbolism at the end which like all opposites fuses into one lost head in two, as both queens’ final gaze burns like scenes from an execution.
Moments into this one-woman play, Joanna Rosenfeld - emerging in a poke of fingers from a cagoule of brown paper - over-voices herself giving witness to tens of verbatim experiences we hear. This tells us the baby’s a parasite, sucks all your nutrients, calcium from your teeth for instance, causes injury, often permanent, can kill. This is - literally - epic interior theatre.
Ninety seconds into this newly-revised one-woman play, Joanna Rosenfeld - emerging in a poke of fingers from a cagoule of brown paper - over-voices herself giving witness to tens of verbatim experiences we hear. This tells us the baby’s a parasite, sucks all your nutrients, calcium from your teeth for instance, causes injury, often permanent, can kill. This is - literally - epic interior theatre.
Superb premiere of Miller’s 1936 play showing more than glimpse of the later Miller and more autobiographically-based than any other work would be again.
We’re enormously privileged to be living in such a rich age of Beckett performance, and here, a soaring creative response Beckett encouraged has claimed these texts as dramatic. Somehow Dwon avoids dissolution with her tensile strength and staggered, staggering vocal range, brushed with a tang of mortality.
Here in conversation with Clemency Burton-Hill, after a soaring creative response to Beckett’s Texts For Nothing in her own adaptation No’s Knife, Dwon has claimed these texts as dramatic. Dwon avoids dissolution with her tensile strength and staggered, staggering vocal range, brushed with a tang of mortality – and a bit more of that more than we knew.
This is a fabulous tale. Duff’s portrayal, tightrope-walking tenderness over an abyss of fear and atavistic decisions, forms the long burning-down wick of the play. Necessary theatre, and Hickson’s decision to focus on the mother-daughter axis underscores a neat parable of what we say we love, and how it might really love us back.
This work’s even more urgent now human rights in the US and elsewhere are temporarily at the least regrouping. Kwei-Armah’s pace and dance made this beautiful to hear and behold, but even more to absorb. An all-black cast has been a long time coming.
Denise Gough’s award-winning performance centres this terrifying eddy of addiction and slipping recovery.
In a quarter-hour we’re struck with a rich and head-spinning narrative of how same-sex culture’s been oppressed first by the west and now through European language. You end up stopping in outraged disbelief at this virulent legacy of colonialism. If you can’t see it, read it.
James McArdle’s vibrant, sexy quixotically self-aware Platonov is just the star of this family of actors assembled for the three Chekhov plays at the National, with perfectly judged reactions from each other like a small repertory company. In David Hare’s vivid yet faithful version - compressed by half - it’s no small feat to have finally delivered a definitive sixth masterpiece of Chekhov’s.
Expertly-tailored, classy and for the most part surely-pitched fare: Stephen Unwin is sure-footed too and coaxes the best from his ensemble: jewel-like precision, light-footed blocking and quotable gestures makes this a production ravishingly conscious of its superiority.
Clever piece by the Murder She Wrote team, set in 1989, mostly ingenious, mostly satisfying Whoddunit.
Not a creak in this sparkling production: Liza Goddard possesses an innate sense of how this should go: straight, elegant sang-froid touched with just the right amount of welcome; Powell inhabits the higher bluster; Antony Eden pitches it just right; Lindsey Campbell exudes recently thrown-off gawkiness. Herford knows what he’s about: pace, panache, and more than a dose of Ayckbourn’s generosity of spirit, which glows here as telling the world how it was going to be.
Whilst Ralph Fiennes reins in his Richard, making his violent misogyny all the more chilling, his demonic fun evaporates. But an exemplary cast, with Vanessa Redgrave light up Goold’s direction in a production that never drags.
Joseph Fiennes dazzles sotto-voce in his finest theatre performance to date, in this consummate revival of the troubling life of Lawrence of Arabia.
Frank Wedekin's classic in a new version by Anya Reiss
An outstanding and revelatory production of an outstanding play, whose relevance moves beyond even the tortured steel industry of today’s Wales or Britain to other professions undergoing exploitation, conflict of interest and barbaric intervention.
What makes this outstanding is Penhall’s wit and deft charactering of core band and satellites who interact with the complexity of a play, the way the songs move the narrative forward and are given believable geneses. This outstanding musical deserves the awards its original incarnation garnered – and it brings back The Kinks forever sharing the peak of British pop with The Who, The Stones and pre-eminently The Beatles.
Making noise quietly, Campbell’s new play perhaps pulls a few punches because it believes in quiet. Ben Miles dominates the stage in this uneasy parable, and Elizabeth McGovern’s uproariously funny and pathos-ridden.
Ken Nwosu’s the stand-out, and if the RSC keep up with their Jonson, productions like these go 95% of the way to creating a relish for him.
Conor Lovett stuns in this cut-down stand-up Beckett-novels-for-beginners-and-enders three-hour whistlestop. A tour de force as well as a tour de farce of Beckett’s genius.
Mark Gatiss might be the best-known of the ensemble in The Boys in the Band but delights in being just one of this nine-hander which never falters, never droops and dances words to actions in a small masterpiece that seems poised to remain contemporary forever.
Timothy Spall leads a strong cast in this magisterial, beautifully-orchestrated revival of Pinter's breakthrough play.
This devil’s bargain of a drama is how one generation takes responsibility for the ecological box of spiders it’s let out. One strength lies in avoiding the obvious. For one thing the children are absent. Kirkwood’s masterly play resonates with macrocosmic power, towering over the minutiae of living.
This Wannamaker Read Not Dead performance of The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck seals the proof that T. S. Eliot was right: it’s the finest non-Shakespearean history play of the whole Elizabethan-to-Caroline canon.
Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House is paced by director Sam Chittenden with clean elegance, counterpointing the messiness of existence with the neatness of fable, and the human need to straddle, even celebrate both. In a play about the perfect one-liner, we get the joke and far from killing us it offers us a small lesson in loving.
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery redefines the category, by edging beyond even recent work and revealing a classic structure entering a hall of mirrors and going mad. The musical as well as general ensemble is the most remarkably timed I’ve ever seen in a theatre, and the set designs and shifts the most frantically split into milliseconds. This is an outstanding and redefining farce in every way.
Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Coxcomb is one of their finest, a sparkling yoke of two love-plots involving feminism and sexual freedom unparalleled in the period’s comedy.
Helen McCrory plumbs the erotic despair of Hester Collyer’s abandoned woman in this absorbing revival of Rattigan’s masterpiece.
The best revival we’re likely to see in a very long time, with outstanding performances from Stott and Shearsmith, with performances as strong in their way from Cadell and Thorpe, and not a weak link. It’s a masterly play from the inside, and this consummate portrayal of near-disaster ending in a successful one, is as good as it gets.
Conor Lovett rivets with a naturalistic pitch in this cut-down stand-up Beckett diminuendo of an ex-inmate’s prospects. More tour de force in a tour de farce of Beckett’s genius.
Gawn Granger carries the memory of greatness and it’s this elusive elixir Archie, consummately but seedily played by Branagh, which stands in for those lost ideals Osborne’s first great character Jimmy Porter grasped at. It’s the toppling of Archie Rice’s own inner idol, or failure to do so, that sends this absorbing production out whistling into the dark.
Sub-plots in The Fancies Chaste and Noble reveal vivid parts, the dramatic language and one or two plot elements fathom the great dramatist of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and The Broken Heart. If Ford’s great dramas were regularly performed, people might forgive this comedy almost as much as they do Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Florian Zeller's masterpiece now touring with ATG, with Kenneth Cranham giving the performance of his career so far
Mesmerising exploration of three characters maintaining a failing cinema, heartbreakingly funny, mimetically riveting. One of the Nationals’ very finest new plays under the new regime.
Beautifully designed and sumptuous production where the palm goes to the older cast, in this fresh and vigorous production. Look out for matching buttonholes, silks and ensemble.
Dominic Cooper’s Rochester is up for it, as he tells the audience. Jeffreys has assured us of the finest, shrewdest, darkly poetic play of these times the centuries between have ever known.
A sister-blister ferocity stalks this tautly oppressive – and political - Jamie Lloyd revival of Genet’s breakthrough play. Uza Aduba excels in a strong cast.
This outstandingly layered production seethes with Antonio’s and Shylock’s polar hatred. At the end of Judgement they’re both broken. Jonathan Pryce’s Shylock details as much hatred as Antonio (Dominic Mafham exhaling melancholy) and Venetian anti-Semites direct in spittle.
The plot’s shocking volte-faces, so perfectly realized here streaked with blood and comedy, make this O’Casey’s masterpiece. Stephen Kennedy’s dipsily detailed drunk is the great turn here in a cast where Judith Roddy, Justine Mitchell, Josie Walker, and Grainne Keenan also excel in this flawless production.
Olivia Vinall provides a tremulous foil for Joshua James’ vulnerable volatile Konstanin in a fresh emphasis on youth superbly undermined by Anna Chancellor and Geoffrey Streatfeild. World-class English-speaking Chekhov.
A bare interior of untreated wood encloses three black-clad women from the 1700s sewing. A candle gutters; it’s a bleak simple life. This is a bold quietly brilliant play asking questions of how we are thought, not think and how that impacts on what we take for feeling.
A consummate delight in this now rarest of forms; a tight song-and-dance of words. New material sizzles, inserted towards the end, the whole box of Bards from Bernard Levin’s Quoting Shakespeare to McKee’s arrangement of Shakespeare lines for a musical lights-out dances on the edge of hilarity before falling headlong into it.
DAFT take 88 London Road by storm
It’s clear something miraculous and patient is born from this simple but endlessly detailed production, releasing The Tempest into its fullest consciousness for a long time. However many Tempests you might have attended, see this one.
Walter’s is a reading riven with pained clarity – a conflicted anguish visibly traced on her face – sealing the broken majesty of this performance. It’s the pinnacle of the rough magic of a production fresh, streetwise with animated verse deliveries, vocal range and above all the new-minted, brave new world.
A coming-of-age for Rufus Norris, a wholly credible, cheekily interventionist Threepenny Opera with a few devastating critiques
This is as good a machine for portraying infidelity as we’re likely to see. Hanson delivers frantic timing and hard-paced farce, O’Connor provides an elegant foil mixing guilt with anxiety, desire and cool pragmatism; Franks’ Laurence is always ready to spring shut on the luckless protagonist. Her counterpart in Portal conveys a flicker of reined-in menace, bluff urbanity waiting to pounce. Zeller quotes Voltaire’s scepticism about truth-telling: permanently unfashionable, perennially worth reviving
The towering gender-slashing part of Vittoria demands venom and defiance as well as passion in verse. Peak delivers these with the kind of nuance in extremis that makes one wonder what more she could do with the part. As her brother Flamineo, the flame-voiced Bennett has great potential as a verse speaker, based on the rationale and clarity he brings here. The great lines at the end comprise the finest number of exits in drama.
It beggars belief that on one tiny stage we can be subjected to so many scene stages so expertly handled, so many backdrops and scenery shifts, not to mention a cast of twenty-two who can all sing. This production is good enough for a larger professional stage. If you get a chance, ask for a ticket or return.
Brace’s hugely ambitious piece is whipped along with rapid dissolves and shifts by Longhurst so its stranded complexity never becomes turgid or bewildering. Central character Stef is played with brightness turned up exactly right by Fiona Button.
Adelle Leonce anchors protagonist Angel’s volatile unpredictability in a superb register of loss, calibrating her response to various family members at zig-zag stages of her life. Martello-White’s clever touching-in of few specifics allows this ninety-minute piece to amplify a wincing universality.
A profoundly quizzical play about directorial and film-mogul silliness, using one liners and silliness to address these questions.
Timely and fascinating play of a pacifist pugilist’s conscience, in 1967, and 1914 from the author of Hanging Hooke and Stella.
This is consummate storytelling, and Moorthy’s narrative variables attest to pitch and speed, a charactering that gifts all it can to the individual and in some cases real tales. There’s much here we cannot forget.
An outstanding interactive performance game, exposing the complexity of the Chinese textile industry.
Vicky Featherstone brings a little science friction to McDowall's science fantasy world, as he moves from his familiar lair
Piper’s excelled before but nothing has prepared for this devastating performance in Stone’s almost completely re-written play: a break-out wildness, a grieving as incandescent as anything in Greek Tragedy, connecting with Lorca beyond Stone.