Review: Prisoner of Second Avenue

By John Nathan, July 15, 2010

The lankier half of the duo that gave London theatre its two most thrilling hours of the past decade is back.

Jeff Goldblum's performance with Kevin Spacey set the benchmark in this country for meeting the demands of modern American dialogue when they revived David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow a couple of years ago.

Here, Neil Simon's 1971 mid-life crisis comedy, in which Goldblum plays disillusioned advertising exec Mel Edison, may be lighter fare, but the rhythms and cadences of Simon's writing are no less demanding than Mamet's.


Review: La Bete

By John Nathan, July 15, 2010

In David Hirson's Molière pastiche which, in rhyming couplets, attempts to compare the value of popular and lofty art, Valere (Mark Rylance) is the low-brow entertainer sent by Joanna Lumley's Princess to inject life into the austere work produced by David Hyde Pierce's high-brow dramatist, Elomire.

Hyde Pierce deploys the disdain he so brilliantly developed as Niles in Frasier. and I would pay top rate just to watch Rylance's monumental monologue. But Matthew Warchus's production never quite hits the funny bone, nor does the play's pathos touch the heart.


A night of drama in a Manchester bedsit

July 15, 2010

Leo Kay invites you into his Manchester bedsit for a theatrical experience with a difference.

He takes his tiny audience (no more than 15) on a journey of discovery spanning three generations, from Nazi Germany to Palestine and back to Britain.

It starts with the Jewish grandfather he never knew, Leo Knopfelmacher - a communist atheist and a merchant sailor who fled the Nazis to Vienna in the 1930s, moved to Palestine and ended up in London.


Review: Not By Bread Alone

By John Nathan, July 8, 2010

Tel Aviv's Nalaga'at Theatre Company - the world's only theatre company whose performers are either deaf, blindor both - has come to town and delivered a show that is so unique, star ratings seem redundant.

It is not easy to decide on what terms to judge Not By Bread Alone. To make allowances because the performers are disabled would be patronising. Not to recognise the fact would be ridiculous.


Review: The Tempest / As You Like It

By John Nathan, July 8, 2010

Sam Mendes's company The Bridge Project serves up a cross-cast pair of Shakespeares featuring a delightfully playful As You Like it, but a Tempest whose laid-back Prospero (Stephen Dillane) is so bored as to be almost boring.

Other key members of the American/British cast also fail to excel in both plays. But outstanding are Christian Camargo, mesmerising as Orlando and exuding reptilian menace as Ariel. Juliet Rylance's Rosalind and Miranda both fizz with yearning. As You Like It, with this time an in-form Dillane, is easily the one to see.


Review: Spamalot

By John Jeffay, July 8, 2010

Spamalot is a mix of camped-up musical, Monty Python silliness and Arthurian legend that would have even the most-hardened detractor of Cleese, Palin, Idle et al whistling along to a final reprise of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Browse the list of musical numbers and you get a feel for just how silly it is. It opens with the Fisch Schlapping Song, then He Is Not Dead Yet, in which a plague-ridden corpse insists he is still fit enough to join King Arthur, followed by His Name is Lancelot, in which the newly-outed knight "likes to dance a lot".


Review: Charley's Aunt

By John Jeffay, July 1, 2010

The audience howled, wept and shrieked at this marvellous re-working of a comic treasure.

Oliver Gomm shines magnificently as Charley's aunt - although the rest of the cast deserves similar praise.

It would, in truth, be hard to find fault with this furiously paced farce, as it lurches from silly to very silly and beyond. The play has not aged since Brandon Thomas wrote it almost 120 years ago, and Braham Murray's production at the Royal Exchange was hilarious from start to finish.


Review: Welcome to Thebes

By John Nathan, July 1, 2010

There is no lack of ambition in Moira Buffini's take on ancient and modern tragedy. Her latest play recruits classical characters from Greek myth and sets them in modern, blood-soaked west Africa. Where ancient plot does not fit modern tragedy, Buffini has no qualms about making changes.

Some of the links to modern equivalents are obvious. Theseus (David Harewood) is an American-style president, the charismatic leader of democratic Athens who arrives by helicopter and is shadowed by secret service agents.


Review: Dinnerladies

By John Nathan, June 24, 2010

If the sitcom was a giggle then this should have been a belly laugh. Victoria Wood's Dinnerladies, chronicling the mundane lives of mostly middle-aged women in a canteen kitchen, was a hit on telly. The switch to stage is, however, more of a miss.

Much of Wood's sparkling wit and finely observed comedy has been preserved, as have actors Andrew Dunn and Sue Devaney, who played Tony and Jane on the small screen.

But the truth is that a 30-minute television programme is spread far too thinly when it is presented as a two-hour show.


Review: Sucker Punch

By John Nathan, June 24, 2010

Set against the Brixton riots of the 1980s, Roy Williams’ hugely enjoyable boxing play asks its audience to suspend too much disbelief. Black boxer Leon (Daniel Kaluuya) is the last hope for white trainer Charlie (Nigel Lindsay), whose casual racism turns nasty when he bans Leon from seeing his daughter. Though Kaluuya delivers the most charismatic performance currently on the London stage, you wonder how many charmers like him ever climbed into the ring. Less convincing still is the plotline that sees Leon’s old friend Troy return as a fighter, having been scouted punching a cop.