Jerusalem, Apollo Theatre

Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron is a master storyteller, charismatic and funny. We are as much in his thrall as some of the local villagers, although they are more there for the drugs he deals than the tales he weaves of giants and babies born dressed, speaking and walking.

As the local council makes efforts to evict him after complaints by residents of the encroaching estate, Mark Rylance is a primal force as Byron. A drink-sodden, drug-addled metaphor of an England which is still in contact with its pre-Christian spiritual mythology, but which is constantly being eroded by external forces, Jez Butterworth has created one of modern theatre’s most mesmeric characters.

Rylance’s towering performance does not overshadow the rest of the large ensemble, however. Byron’s hangers-on and fair weather friends, some of whom live on the estate threatening his way of life and who have signed the petition calling for his eviction, are drawn with a deft stroke of the comic pen. While Mackenzie Crook and Alan David provide the biggest laughs, Tom Brooke’s wide-eyed would-be emigré imbues the comedy scenes with a sense of realism, and the serious ones with a sense of absurdity, that leavens the whole production.

As with last year’s staging at the Royal Court, Ultz’s set design, with its towering elm trees, battered furniture and implausibly American caravan, is another character, enriching the atmosphere of Butterworth’s glorious script. And as the comedy falls away at the close of the third act, surrendering to brutal violence and a call to awaken the country’s long forgotten forces, one is left in no doubt that this a superb piece of theatre.

Apollo, London, February 10-April 24
Author: Jez Butterworth
Director: Ian Rickson
Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Royal Court Theatre Productions and Old Vic Productions
Cast includes: Mark Rylance, Mackenzie Crook, Alan David, Tom Brooke, Gerard Horan, Danny Kirrane
Running time: 3hrs 10mins

* Reviewed for The Stage

Speaking in Tongues, Duke of York’s

At the heart of Andrew Bovell’s darkly structured play is how even the thought of infidelity can unravel into full-scale guilt if we let it, and that relationships tend innately to self-destruct unless we spend sufficient time on the difficult job of stopping them.
John Simm and Ian Hart start out as two sides of a coin, each as a husband attracted to the prospect of an affair until one yields and the other does not. As the first act unfolds, revealing that each was tempted by the other’s wife, the audience is granted more insight than the characters in ways that enhance the actors’ portrayal. Overlapping dialogue helps to emphasise the lives that, because they are not quite parallel, are destined to converge.
It is in the second act that, as we jump back in time and see more of the tales Simm and Hart have previously told their respective partners, the real emotional tone of the piece begins to emerge. With a sense of noir thriller that wilfully never resolves itself on stage, the lack of definite answers – indeed, of definite questions – ensures this is a production that will provoke discussion long after the final curtain.
The sparse staging by designer Ben Stones works in perfect conjunction with the cast, who each have to portray multiple characters among the rubble of self-destructive lives. Enhanced by Johanna Town’s subtle lighting cues and Lorna Heavey’s effective use of back projection in the climactic second act, it is Hart who stands out among his three fellow accomplished actors to produce a heart-stopping, heart-breaking piece of theatre.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/25706/speaking-in-tongues)_

Duke of York’s, London, September 28-December 14
Author: Andrew Bovell
Director: Toby Frow
Producer: Sweet Pea Productions, Blue Horizon Productions
Cast: John Simm, Ian Hart, Lucy Cohu, Kerry Fox
Running time: 2hrs 15mins

Tick, Tick… BOOM!, Duchess Theatre

Autobiographical works can often seem self-indulgent, but thankfully that is not the case with Jonathan Larson’s tale of a struggling musical theatre composer, gripped by ennui as his 30th birthday approaches.

The career specifics of fictional composer John’s life, as portrayed by Paul Keating, will probably play best to those in the industry, but the emotional impact of his inner turmoil is universal. Pressured by his girlfriend to move to the country and settle down, and by his best friend to leave theatre for the financial security of an office job, the ticking time bomb of the show’s title resonates with anyone who has ever faced a landmark birthday with a sense of dreams unfulfilled.

It is a shame that Keating struggles with pitching in several of his solo numbers, as otherwise he handles the monologue-heavy script deftly. Around him flit a number of characters portrayed by Julie Atherton and Leon Lopez. Atherton is on cracking form, whether as the weary girlfriend, the flirtatious actress who turns John’s head or the completely stereotypical but hilarious Jewish agent. Her solo number, Come To Your Senses, is the highlight of the show.

Lopez fares less well, struggling to evoke any empathy for the former roommate who has been keeping his own secrets while John obsesses with his futuristic rock musical. It is left up to Keating to make the relationship between the two work, which he just about manages.

The end result is an enjoyable musical, albeit one which probably suits a smaller space than even the diminutive Duchess stage.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24411-tick-tick-boom)_

**Duchess, London**, May 13-17
**Author:** Jonathan Larson
**Director:** Hannah Chissick
**Producers:** Jamie Hendry Productions, Neil Eckersley and Paul Spicer for Speckulation Entertainment
**Cast includes:** Julie Atherton, Paul Keating, Leon Lopez
**Running time:** 1hr 30mins

La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

No matter how brash, how funny, how camp La Cage aux Folles gets – and it is frequently all three at once – it is at its best in the moments of quiet, defined as they are by the freneticism that surround them.

Philip Quast, returning to the role of Georges that he held in this production’s original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is the quintessential light entertainment showman, running the Riviera’s best transvestite show bar and barely keeping the athletic dancers, the Cagelles, in check.

Georges’ home life provides the spur for the show’s plot, as his son Jean-Michel (Stuart Neal) tries to ‘straighten up’ his family in preparation for meeting his right wing prospective father in law. This means the enforced absence of Georges’ temperamental partner Albin, who is determined not to be sidelined quietly.

And it is Roger Allam’s performance as Albin that defines the dramatic shape of the show. His vocal performance, while it is not of the calibre of Quast’s, conveys the emotion of a man whose 20-year relationship risks being swept under the carpet. For all the sequins, feathers and mascara, the single element that defines La Cage aux Folles is a brief moment of stillness at the head of the show’s principal number, I Am What I Am. Allam is the master of the unspoken, and a single pause is simply heartbreaking.

The biggest laughs may come from Jason Pennycooke’s puckish servant Jacob, but the strength of the whole cast helps one overlook some of the weaker numbers and instead revel in a joyous, warm-hearted, still subversive comedy.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24371/la-cage-aux-folles)_

**Playhouse, London**, May 11-January 9
**Authors:** Jerry Herman (music and lyrics), Harvey Fierstein (book), based on the play by Jean Poiret
**Director:** Terry Johnson
**Producers:** Chocolate Factory Productions, Sonia Friedman Productions, David Ian Productions, The Ambassador Theatre Group, David Mirvish, Tulchin/Bartner, Jamie Hendry
**Cast includes:** Roger Allam, Philip Quast, Stuart Neal, Jason Pennycooke, Tracie Bennett, Alicia Davies
**Running time:** 2hr 45min

The Last 5 Years, Duchess

Jason Robert Brown’s high concept musical charting the five-year course of a relationship with alternating viewpoints, one moving forward in time and one backwards, is rarely as clever as it likes to think it is.

As Paul Spicer’s writer Jamie meets, marries, betrays and then leaves his actress wife Cathy (Julie Atherton), her character travels from the opposite end of the timeline, the two only directly interacting as their paths cross halfway through.
Witty staging and great performances prevent the to and fro between the twoactors from becoming just a series of disjointed songs. Ultimately, though, they can’t fix the biggest problem with the musical – that the more interesting scenario of the breakup has to alternate with the description of a relationship on the way up. The best songs and performances are set in the post-marriage, pre-breakup sections of each timeline. As a result, it always feels like a great musical interrupted with frustrating amounts of backstory.

Given the harder job in having to convey a character whose story is being told backwards, Atherton manages to excel, providing heartbreak, tenderness and an ability to make the act of wringing humour out of every line seem effortless. In contrast, while Spicer’s character has a more conventional arc, it is a real struggle to feel sympathy for him, a problem that is not wholly the fault of the writing.

For all its faults, though, there is much to affect the hardest of audience hearts. One can only wonder how more effective these two actors could be when not hamstrung by a structure that does its best to work against their abilities.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24338-the-last-5-years)_

**Duchess, London**, May 6-10
**Author:** Jason Robert Brown
**Director:** Amelia Sears
**Producer:** Jamie Hendry Productions and Neil Eckersley & Paul Spicer for Speckulation Entertainment
**Cast includes:** Julie Atherton, Paul Spicer
**Running time:** 1hr 30mins

Anton & Erin – Cheek to Cheek, London Coliseum

Audiences new to the world of ballroom dancing thanks to the success of Strictly Come Dancing are comfortably catered for by this show, devised by two of the series’ professional dancers.

Stars Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag have been dancing together for more than 12 years, serving for half that time on the BBC show. This live spectacular plays to their strengths as defined on television. In Du Beke’s case, that means he is often more comfortable exchanging a nod and a wink with the audience than he is engaging with Boag, whose flowing lines and sure-footedness present a much more traditional view of ballroom.

With the principals’ expertise in the ballroom discipline on display throughout, the Latin dances in the repertoire are showcased more effectively by Chris Marques and Jaclyn Spencer, who add real heat to Du Beke and Boag’s warmth. All four dancers, along with a highly impressive ensemble, perform in front of the mighty big band sound of the London Concert Orchestra, with some songs also benefitting from a fine vocal performance from Richard Shelton.

Unfortunately, some of Shelton’s solo spots do sap the whole evening of its momentum somewhat. Any dance show which builds in breaks for a sung number takes a risk and Shelton struggles to make his presence felt while alone upstage under the Coliseum’s enormous proscenium. He works much better when performing alongside the dancers, but the net effect is a first act which feels choppy.

Thankfully, the pacing of the post-interval repertoire is much improved, with Marques’ and Spencer’s salsa to Take Five marking the point at which the show moves from very good to superb, with a tango arrangement of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana song cycle a particular highlight, Du Beke’s obvious struggles with some ambitious lifts notwithstanding.

* _Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24193/anton-erin-cheek-to-cheek)_

**London Coliseum**, April 22-26
**Producers:** Askonas Holt, Raymond Gubbay and Sadler’s Wells
**Cast & choreographers:** Anton du Beke, Erin Boag, Chris Marques, Jaclyn Spencer
**Director:** Alan Harding

Christmas with the Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas, London Palladium

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The successful Rat Pack tribute franchise produces a relaxed way into the festive season for those not entirely overdosing on Christmas cheer.

Chris Mann gets Frank Sinatra’s New Jersey drawl spot on, both during his vocal numbers and the numerous dialogues with his co-stars.

Mark Adams is less accurate as Dean Martin, with a performance that leads more towards an impression than an impersonation, but it is no less successful for that.

Dominating the pair, though, is Giles Terera. Playing Sammy Davis Junior, the man for whom the phrase ‘triple threat’ always seemed to be understating his talents, is a challenge for any actor, but Terera succeeds, stealing every scene.

Backed by an impressive big band and three female singers, the hits come thick and fast, as does the easy banter. The Christmas elements of the show are surprisingly tardy – for a while it looks as if the tree in the corner will be the only nod to the festive season. Once each singer has performed a couple of solo numbers though, the seasonal hits start to work their magic.

An extended routine in the second half, in which the guys take turn at updating the lyrics of classic Christmas songs, feels a little long and verges on the self-indulgent. While not completely out of character for the men they are portraying, it takes a little of the edge off the performance. Similarly, many of the jibes between the three friends are of a humour which, although completely appropriate for the fifties setting, cause the occasional shocked gasp at their un-PC attitudes.
Yet overall, this show can’t fail to lift the spirits.

Reviewed for The Stage

Christmas with the Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas, London Palladium3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:00:44The successful Rat Pack tribute franchise produces a relaxed way into the festive season for those not entirely overdosing on Christmas cheer.

Chri…

French and Saunders – Still Alive

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“This is getting a bit silly,” Dawn French admits at one point. She’s not wrong, but things get even sillier from that point on, which is just what a French and Saunders live show should do.

A celebration of the duo’s 30-year partnership, Still Alive takes time to warm up. While the mock bickering and characteristic flitting in and out of character work just as well on stage as they have done on screen, there are more than a few duff moments in the first half that threaten to overshadow some of the incredibly funny material that surrounds it.

Characters such as the ladies from Prickly Pear Farm mask some very weak writing with comedy West Country accents, and a joke about the lack of a fourth wall ends up as a prop without a joke.

When the sketches work, though, they really fly. The original role-reversal sketch that was to give birth to Absolutely Fabulous is amongst the many classic moments revived on stage, itself feeding into the couple’s ongoing banter about who has developed the bigger solo career, a running theme that pays off handsomely at the end of the show.

Onstage sketches are interspersed with newly shot video footage of some of French and Saunders’ best characters. The video message from Princess Catherine Zeta Spartacus Douglas Jones has the audience in stitches, as do Jackie and Joan Collins.

While there are many sketches and film spoofs whose absence may disappoint, the overall feeling at the end of this, what French and Saunders say is their last sketch collaboration together, is one of celebration.

Reviewed for The Stage

French and Saunders – Still Alive3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:03:54“This is getting a bit silly,” Dawn French admits at one point. She’s not wrong, but things get even sillier from that point on, which is just w…

We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre

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There remains something slightly macabre about a musical protesting about the homogenisation of music, while itself performing the same act on the Queen back catalogue. However, in general, the current cast of We Will Rock You work hard enough, and well enough, to encourage one to overlook the dichotomy.

Ben Elton’s book remains unsure as to whether it wants to be any more sophisticated than a children’s sitcom. Most times it is breathtakingly simplistic, yet it is always aware that it is merely fulfilling the act of bridging the gaps between the classic songs that the audience have come to see, hear and sing along to.

Sabrina Aloueche’s Scaramouche provides the lynchpin to the whole show, with fine comic timing and a line in deprecating humour that encourages the audience to laugh along with, rather than at, the whole ridiculous scenario. She is far stronger than her male lead, Ricardo Afonso’s Galileo. While he captivates during his solo songs, his spoken dialogue is delivered in a breathless manner that borders on inarticulacy.

Rachel Tucker, joining the cast as Meat after appearing in BBC1’s I’d Do Anything, has found the perfect stage for her large voice. Her rendition of No-one But You (Only the Good Die Young) is one of the highlights of a first act that works on many levels.

Sadly, the post-interval production lags severely in places, due in part to the over-reliance on Afonso, Scaramouche and Garry Lake’s Pop. The anticipated climax of the title song and the inevitable encore of Bohemian Rhapsody, come as blessed relief.

Reviewed for The Stage

We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:14:29There remains something slightly macabre about a musical protesting about the homogenisation of music, while itself performing the same act on the Que…

Monty Python’s Spamalot, Palace Theatre

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The revolving portcullis at Castle Camelot has struck again, with comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar becoming the final King Arthur of the show’s London run.

It is clear from the outset that neither singing nor dancing are Bhaskar’s strengths, but he adequately compensates with a sense of comic timing and a taste for the absurd that are just what the role requires. While he is physically towered over by his cohort of knights and Andrew Spillet’s faithful squire Patsy, Bhaskar succeeds in ensuring that his Arthur still dominates regally.

In a cast where everyone is clearly having a blast, Nina Soderquist stands out in her role as the Lady in the Lake. Any role delivering so many pastiches of musical theatre cliches only works if it is delivered by someone who reveres the genre, and Soderquist patently fits the bill.

Plotwise, Spamalot’s rampage through the greatest scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (plus a few bits from other Python sources) works best when it doesn’t try to deviate too strongly from the original source material. Indeed, the weakest part of the whole show comes with the bizarre second act song about how West End shows won’t work without Jews. It’s an aphorism that may have more relevance to the show’s Broadway roots, but here it just manages to feel slightly offensive without having enough humour to justify itself.

When the jokes come as thick and fast as Eric Idle’s script, though, even the occasional misfire can be forgiven.

Reviewed for The Stage

Monty Python’s Spamalot, Palace Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 13:18:02The revolving portcullis at Castle Camelot has struck again, with comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar becoming the final King Arthur of the show’s London ru…