Theatre shows of the year 2015

Out of the 100 theatre shows I’ve seen in 2015, which ones were good enough to get ★★★★✩ or higher?

Counting up, I have been to 100 theatre performances in 2015 (so far – there are still a couple of days left!). Many of those were under my own steam, but I’m also a frequent reviewer for both Musical Theatre Review and The Reviews Hub (formerly The Public Reviews). Those professional reviews come with star ratings; ones I went to for myself, or as a guest without a commitment to review, do not.

Below is a chronological list of those theatre, cabaret and comedy shows that gained a four star rating or above from me (up to a maximum of 5 stars; TRH allows us to allocate half stars, whereas MTR does not). I’m also including shows I also went to that would have merited such a rating had I been reviewing them professionally.

Continue reading “Theatre shows of the year 2015”

Open letter to a disruptive Twitter user

“You read my tweet saying that I would be going to a play, and decided to impose your view before I had even stepped anywhere near the theatre. Your actions were designed to shut down the possibility of coming to a conclusion that was in any way different to yours. You decided to exploit your experience of having seen it to try and suppress a stranger who had not yet had that opportunity.”

To the person who decided that he would respond to my Twitter feed today:

Yes, I tweeted on Monday that I had booked tickets to see the new play, Teddy Ferrara, at the Donmar Warehouse. I did so partly because the Donmar’s so small that it can feel that securing a ticket can be an achievement in itself. It was also prompted by the cast including an actress whose work I admire, and whose friendship I feel privileged to enjoy.

So I decided to share with my friends and others who follow me that, at some point in the future, I would be seeing the play.

And yes, I know that the play has LGBT themes. And that perceptions of the play have been decidedly mixed. And that the reasons for the criticisms have varied, from story events to characterisation to dialogue.

I also know that some audience members agree with those reviews. Just as I know that others, including friends of mine who have seen it, disagreed with them.

All of which I am sure I will discuss with those same friends – once I, too, have seen it. After all, talking about the merits of a play before you have experienced anything about it is not the greatest endeavour for anyone concerned.

So I am open to discussing the play.

But not yet.

Continue reading “Open letter to a disruptive Twitter user”

A quick update

I’ve kind of let this blog wither on the vine for the past eighteen months, but I’m still elsewhere on the web: I continue to review theatre for both Musical Theatre Review and The Reviews Hub (the new name for The Public Reviews).

But as those who know me are aware, those are my evening pursuits: these days, my full-time job is as a software developer for a company that monitors online discussions about scholarly and academic works.

I used to mix both code and criticism posts on this blog, but now I have a new location for the former – Scott Codes, a Github-hosted blog that currently has a paltry two entries, but will shortly get more.

The blog posts I’m planning for over there will touch on the duality of my working experience, looking at how the worlds of software development and journalism have enough similarities that one discipline can learn from the other. I’ll be kicking that investigation off with a 25-minute session at the next meeting of the London Ruby User Group (LRUG) entitled “Hack like a journalist”:

News reporters are trained in techniques to produce stories that are concise, well structured, easy to follow and with a consistent house style. How can those same techniques help us write better code?

If you’re a Ruby developer, I look forward to seeing you there.

The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe

Editor’s Rating

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, and also one of his best. This new production at Shakespeare’s Globe is a finely crafted, raucous interpretation that creates one of the funniest theatrical evenings for some time.

Slapstick is a key element of Blanche McIntyre’s direction, starting even before curtain up as Dromio of Ephesus (Jamie Wilkes) evokes the spirits of Keaton and Wisdom with a step-ladder based silent routine. The evening is peppered with impressively choreographed fight sequences that mix thrills and humour in equal measure.

The tale of two pairs of estranged identical twins relies not upon the battles, good as they are, but on pace, scripting and delivery from the four principals. It is here where The Comedy of Errors really begins to fly. Wilkes and his Syracusian counterpart, Brodie Ross, excel as the put-upon servants whose attempts to do what they are told are perpetually foiled by the frequent cases of mistaken identity. As the Antipholus brothers, Simon Harrison and Matthew Needham are just as equally matched. The quartet are each discrete individuals, but the constant mistaking of one brother is utterly believable – one of the hardest tasks in making this play work, but due to good casting, high quality performances and designer James Cotterrill’s sumptuous costumes, it appears to be truly effortless.

The supporting cast of Ephesians help propel the story forwards at every turn. The women vying for the attentions of the Antipholus brothers – Hattie Ladbury’s Adriana, Becci Gemmell as her sister Luciana, and Emma Jerrold threatening to steal the show as a platform-heeled courtesan – bring ferocity, charm and vitaility to characters which can so easily be ciphers. Paul Brendan’s jeweller is a master of comic timing, while Andy Apollo elevates his otherwise straight roles as the town’s law enforcement officials with a performance as outlandishly absurd as his costume.

With any production of The Comedy of Errors, the most difficult passages are often the framing serious elements, as the Syracusian duke Egeon (James Laurenson) is threatened with death. That is the same here, not helped by a delivery by Laurenson that lacks the zip and warmth so prevalent elsewhere.

But there is so much excellence on display thoughout the evening that the occasional misjudged performance can easily be overlooked. As frenetic, farcical slapstick comedies go, the Globe has come up with a superb production that succeeds on every level.

The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe5Scott Matthewman2014-09-06 21:15:46This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, and also one of his best…

Briefs – The Second Coming, London Wonderground

Drag and male burlesque make for unashamedly trashy bedfellows. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in Briefs’ return visit to London Wonderground, mixing sequins, striptease and circus skills to enjoyable effect.

Editor’s Rating

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

Drag and male burlesque make for unashamedly trashy bedfellows. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in Briefs’ return visit to London Wonderground, mixing sequins, striptease and circus skills to enjoyable effect.

Held together by self-described “bearded Aussie drag queen” Shivannah (the show’s creative producer Fez Faanana), who combines effortless MC duties with a fun line in magic tricks, the show opens to the sound of audience whoops and cheers that are so raucous they could only come from the troupe’s established fans. By the end of the first big showpiece, a traditional ensemble fandance striptease, it’s fair to say that fanbase is already growing.

The first big solo number comes from some stunning aerial hoop work by Tom Worrell, his contortions and choreography having the air of effortless impossibility of a truly great cirque show. Similarly, Mark Winmill (aka “Captain Kidd”) closes the show with a trapeze and birdbath act that is muscular, graceful and fierce, while also drenching the first couple of rows.

Between these two impressive solos, the pieces are more patchy in nature. Drag act Dallas Dellaforce’s lip synching feels like it comes from a different, less accomplished show, while the anarchic simian comedy of Adam Krandle (or, as he is billed, “Evil Hate Monkey”) will not appeal to all.

But the breakout star, and absolute highlight, of the show is Australian Louis Biggs. Whether stripping out of a school uniform while playing with a Rubik’s cube and a yoyo, performing an impressive juggling act with bowler hats, or even just letting a raffle-winning audience member drink tequila from his torso, Biggs’ personality and charm elevates the whole show.

While it may be of variable quality and occasionally even more trashy that it seeks to be, the Briefs troupe nevertheless delivers a fast-paced, amusing and entertaining show that demands smiles and laughter from its audience, and is suitably – and justifiably – rewarded.

Briefs – The Second Coming, London Wonderground4Scott Matthewman2014-09-06 18:56:42Drag and male burlesque make for unashamedly trashy bedfellows. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in Briefs’ return visit to London Wonderground, mixing sequins, striptease and circus skills to enjoyable effect.

Ten Things… has moved

Over the course of the last full series of Doctor Who, I wrote a series of blog posts here collectively entitled Ten Things About Who, which I then collected into an ebook for Kindle.

I’m going to be doing the same again this series, but rather than on here, I’ve moved such posts to a new blog:

The site’s very much a work in progress at the moment, but the first post is ready:

Ten Things About… Deep Breath



Desperate marketing: Robin Williams Edition

Private Eye magazine has a relatively new, sadly regular column called Desperate Marketing, where corporate marketing communications desperately try and shoehorn themselves into contemporary news stories in a way to attract attention to their product.

I was reminded of this when receiving an email from an otherwise reputable publisher of technology and computing books:

Robin Williams was a great actor and comic, with a singular talent that could make other comics laugh out loud. He would even crack jokes about joking itself. Comedians and actors have long explored the possibilities of meta-dialog, a play-within-a-play, and other higher-level dramatic devices. It’s a world-changing idea.

Metaprogramming can change your programming world, and open up possibilities you may never have known existed. Embrace the new-found freedom and power that metaprogramming can bring to your career.

Author [REDACTED] will show you all the magic, with examples, challenges, and over 30 “spells” that you can use right away. Now in print and shipping from [URL REDACTED]

Usually these sort of things are done in the heat of the moment, aren’t meant to be offensive, and may be meant genuinely (“We’ve been thinking about this topic for a while as this book was being prepared, and this tragic event seems to tie in, so we’ll tell you about it!”)

I suspect the person who wrote those paragraphs is now beating themselves up at the ineptitude. But in case she or he isn’t, if there’s the remotest chance they did so in the hope that it would get their communication talked about more than your average weekly email shot, I’ll refrain from mentioning or linking to the actual publisher.

And I’ll put off buying their book on metaprogramming… for now.

A round-up of reviews

Links to reviews posted elsewhere in the last couple of months.

While this blog has been quiet for a few weeks, I’ve been writing elsewhere. Below is a collection of reviews I’ve been writing – the most recent at the top.

Relative Values, Harold Pinter Theatre

17 April, The Public Reviews:

…It is the satire of social class and obsession with Hollywood celebrity that helps Relative Values seem relevant today. It’s such a pity, then, that director Trevor Nunn chooses to open every new scene with newsreel footage from 1951, as if to force the play into some status as a historical piece… [it] feels like some bizarre form of theatrical taxidermy, attempting to cement the play into a form which does it an injustice.

ShellShock, Waterloo East Theatre

11 April, The Public Reviews:

What is perhaps most annoying about ShellShock is that one can see the germ of a good idea being strangled by ham-fisted writing and direction. It cannot seem to decide if it is a gruelling family drama, or a children’s musical…

The Beautiful Game, Union Theatre

9 April, Musical Theatre Review:

Where The Beautiful Game works is in those moments where it tries less hard to be a political statement, and more to expose the conflicting emotions felt by a group of young people struggling to grow up in an inner city riven with violence and prejudice. And it is those moments where the intimacy of a fringe space, the performance of the young cast and some spirited direction and choreography works most effectively.

Damn Yankees, Brockley Jack Studio

April 7, Musical Theatre Review:

…It is not the Devil who gets the best tunes, but his subordinate, the sultry temptress Lola (Charlotte Donald), who does her best to get Joe to succumb to her charms while unwittingly falling for his. Her two Latin tempo numbers, ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ and ‘Who’s Got the Pain’… are the highlights of the show’s musical score

Another Country, Trafalgar Studios

5 April, The Public Reviews:

It feels remarkable that this play is over thirty years old… In a year which has seen Russia clamp down on gay rights while England and Wales celebrates same-sex marriage, while government clamps down on benefits cheats but turns a blind eye to a cabinet member cheat her expenses, Another Country feels utterly contemporary, wholly relevant – and completely unmissable.

Stephen Rahman-Hughes in cabaret, London Hippodrome

March 31, Musical Theatre Review:

The audience at the Hippodrome’s Matcham Rooms was not quite as packed for Stephen Rahman-Hughes’ cabaret gig on Saturday night as it has been for other, perhaps better known, faces from the world of musical theatre. But for anybody who stayed away, it was their loss, for they missed a soulful, inspirational, unpretentious performance.

Thérèse Raquin, Finborough Theatre

March 21, Musical Theatre Review:

This is not a show that contains stand-out solo numbers, preferring instead ensemble recitative, repetition upon repetition building up tension. The result is a show that sounds musically different from much of today’s musical theatre – but at the risk of understanding characters’ internal struggles that much less.

Review: Ghost Stories, Arts Theatre, London

Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s spooky play returns to London

Editor’s Rating

Written for The Public Reviews

“Please keep the secrets of Ghost Stories,” implores a tannoy announcement at the end of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s show. What is no secret is the production’s undoubted success, from its first days at the Liverpool Playhouse, to a record-breaking 13-month run at the Duke of York’s Theatre, and international performances since. Now the show returns to the West End, at the rather more boutique Arts Theatre.

And certainly the smaller auditorium, creaking seats and all, lends itself to the air of apprehension and suspense. Dyson and Nyman’s play comprises a series of short, seemingly unrelated stories, which form part of a presentation by a slightly nervy professor who seeks to suggest that “percipients” – people who believe they have had supernatural experiences – are, in fact, more likely to have other, more mundane, reasons for their encounters with ghosts. As Professor Goodman, Paul Kemp is a genial and engaging host, combining wit and warmth with elements of the sinister that set the tone for the evening.

The stories themselves are, save for discussions with Goodman at the start of each, solo performances – one person, on a mostly darkened stage, with the dread that he may not be alone as he thought… While the structure of each story is, in hindsight, pretty similar, there is enough variety of character and performance to stop the simple formula from interfering with the audience’s enjoyment.

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As one might expect, the stage lighting – or lack of it – adds substantially to Ghost Stories’ sense of atmosphere. Many a scene is played in near darkness, illuminated only by a single torchbeam. Combined with some impressive audio – and, at one point, olfactory – cues, the principle that “less is more” certainly plays out here, allowing the audience’s imagination to fill the dark onstage void.

As the play progresses, clues begin to surface that these stories may not be as disparate as first suggested. Naturally, to say more would be to give away too many secrets, but the show saves its most chilling, most gruesome visual trickery for last. It’s also the portion of the play that is the creepiest, while being the least engineered for the quick shock reaction – and becomes all the more effective for that.

The lack of an interval means that Ghost Stories’ pace never lets up. And at under an hour and a half, nor does it overstay its welcome – instead, delivering a steady, heady mix of spooks, chills and macabre comedy, with plenty of chance to recover one’s composure before bedtime.

Just, you know, remember to check under the bed when you get home. You never know what may be lurking there…

Photo shows David Cardy in the 2011 production of Ghost Stories. Photographer: Helen Maybanks

Review: Ghost Stories, Arts Theatre, London3.5Scott Matthewman2014-03-17 23:58:55Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s spooky play returns to London