Theatre

How the best show in town was born

By John Nathan, December 17, 2009

The best seasonal show in London this year has nothing to do with the season. Charity is involved, it is true, but it comes in the form of Charity Hope Valentine, the lovelorn heroine of the musical Sweet Charity. The 1966 Broadway show has been thrillingly revived this year at producer David Babani’s Menier Chocolate Factory venue in Southwark. Matthew White’s production, starring Tamzin Outhwaite, will be in the running for some major best musical awards.

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Review: Jack And The Beanstalk

By John Nathan, December 17, 2009

Other than Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, the most controversial play this year was Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice. With its stereotypes of militant Muslims, agricultural Irish and hora-dancing Chasids it greatly offended those with a sense-of-humour bypass.

Now Bean has co-written his first pantomime — with Che Walker, Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm — and it too has a distinct un-PC strain.

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Review: Red

By John Nathan, December 10, 2009

Did you see the Mark Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern earlier this year? It focused on the Seagram Murals, the giant, fathomless landscapes the New York artist produced for the Four Seasons Restaurant in 1958 and ’59. What a wonderful companion piece John Logan’s play would have made to that exhibition.

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Review: Sweet Charity

By John Nathan, December 10, 2009

The Menier has become the UK’s most trusted reviver of the great Broadway musical. From highbrow Sondheim to the pastiche of Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors, the Southwark venue has done America’s cultural gift to the world proud.

If I were to find one negative in this latest exhilarating revival, it might be that Tamzin Outhwaite in the role of the lovelorn Charity Hope Valentine lacks the uncorrupted sweetness of, say, Shirley MacLaine’s film version.

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Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

By John Nathan, December 3, 2009

The question that has nagged at this Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’s play is: why an all-black cast? After all, the family that populates Williams’s drama is rich, white and headed by Big Daddy, a formidable southern patriarch referred to by his daughter-in-law Maggie as a redneck. The favourite son, Brick, is an ex-American football hero now lost to alcohol, his drinking driven by the self-disgust that he has been brought up to feel about men who love other men.

It is a play whose dialogue is steeped in the language of white, southern bigotry. At least it used to be.

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Review: The Priory

By John Nathan, December 3, 2009

Arriving after two of the biggest hits of the year, Michael Wynne’s new comedy may be a victim of its venue’s previous successes. The Priory is not set in the celebrity detox clinic of the same name, but an isolated country pile that was once a monastery and is now a holiday home. It is New Year’s Eve and Kate has booked the place to draw a line under her annus horribilis during which she had a miscarriage, her boyfriend left her and her mother died. Yes, I did say a comedy.

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Review: The Line

By John Nathan, November 26, 2009

What are the great shows about artists? Few really good ones come to mind — Nicholas Wright’s Van Gogh play Vincent in Brixton, and perhaps one musical, Sondheim’s Seurat show, Sunday in the Park With George.

Yet despite the dearth, playwrights and artistic directors regularly offer them up. Perhaps placing great artists —or any famous historical figure for that matter — at the centre of a play can be a form of star casting, only less expensive. Rosetti, William Morris and Michelangelo have all been resurrected to play their tortured selves.

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Review: Nation

By John Nathan, November 26, 2009

The latest National Theatre Christmas show to have no mention of Christmas and to question religion is Mark Ravenhill’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s novel Nation.

It is set in a parallel world with a British Empire and where southern seas can rise into tsunamis. One wave nearly wipes out an island’s population and throws together the only survivor, a black boy called Mau (Gary Carr) and the white ship-wrecked, 13-year-old aristocratic Ermintrude (Emily Taaffe) from Wiltshire.

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Henry Goodman: I wanted to play this Jew-hater

By Henry Goodman, November 19, 2009

I am appearing in a new play by Timberlake Wertenbaker called The Line. It is about the famous 19th-century French painter Edgar Degas, whom I try to bring to life.

Although the play, which opened in London on Wednesday, focuses on Degas’s relationship with the painter Suzanne Valadon, it also exposes the complexity of the man himself. And among his prime characteristics, Degas was unquestionably anti-Jewish.

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Review: The Habit of Art

By John Nathan, November 19, 2009

Highly anticipated does not say it. But how else to describe national treasure Alan Bennett turning his attention to the crown jewels of 20th century British art, WH Auden and Benjamin Britten?

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