“Now is she in the very lists of love”

Venus and Adonis, Line 595

William Shakespeare

This post was sponsored by TheatreTickets.uk. All opinions, however, are my own.

Late November is the time I start writing lists; lists of food to buy, carols to learn, cards and presents to give, and (yay) presents I want. With this is mind, I thought I’d bring my festive list-making to Mingled Yarns, starting with…

THEATRE TO SEE AT CHRISTMAS THAT ISN’T ACTUALLY CHRISTMASSY

So. You’re in London for December and you want to see some theatre, but you don’t want to go full-on pantomime-Nutcracker-Snowman just yet, but you still have to find something all your family/friends can go to and not leave feeling totally depressed. Whatever the state of the world might be (don’t get me started), it is almost Advent after all. Look no further for the ultimate list of non-christmassy-yet-not-totally-depressing-and-serious-theatre-on-at-the-moment (title needs work I admit):

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This is just a stunner of a show. I saw it about three years ago, and I would willingly go back again, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it, blogregardless of age. The book itself (by Mark Haddon) is a murder-mystery-cum-family-drama-cum-coming-of-age novel, beautifully told through the eyes of autistic fifteen-year-old Christopher. The play is all of this and more, its digitally illuminated set adding an unforgettable extra element. And there’s a real live puppy. A dog isn’t just for Christmas, but they are extra adorable on a cold winter’s night. If you want a piece of really good theatre, which just so happens to be incredibly heart-warming, this is the thing to see.

Gielgud Theatre.

  1. The Lion King

If you aren’t awed by the opening scene of this musical, we will never understand each other. blog-5It is just factually one of the best musical openings ever in theatre. Full stop. I’ve seen The Lion King three times, and never got bored of ‘The Circle of Life’ being belted out at full blast, whilst actors in the most gorgeous costumes became elephants, gazelles, giraffes, flamingos, and – of course – lions, before my eyes. Like Curious Incident, this is spectacle theatre, but with a simply moving core story of love and loss. And, of course, there’s the cracking song list: ‘Hakuna Matata’, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’, ‘He Lives in You’, ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’… BRB just going off to have a private Disney singalong.

Lyceum Theatre.

  1. Les Miserables

Okay, okay, I assume you’re either thinking a) this musical is incredibly mainstream and overrated go away, or b) is a musical about a failed French revolution which includes prostitution, suicide, child-blog-3death and the word ‘miserable’ in its title really the thing to see at Christmas? If you’re an a) you might as well skip to the next suggestion, because I’m not ashamed to be mainstream, where Les Mis is concerned. I will never stop loving this musical. If b) YES. With the political shitstorm going on at the moment, everyone needs a bit of classic Les Mis ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ inspiration over the Christmas break. The finale will give you the same kind of happy-sad-crying-feeling as the end of Love Actually.

Queens Theatre.

  1. The Play That Goes Wrong

Peter Pan Goes Wrong too festive for you?blog-4 Go to see Mischief Theatre’s original, so successful that it’s even transferring to Broadway next year. You can see my full review here, but a quick summary:
hilarious family-friendly farce which gets you involved from the moment you step inside the theatre. The characters-within-characters are fully recognisable to anyone who’s dipped their toe into amdram at any point in their life. My mum and brothers went to see this on my recommendation and absolutely loved it. Now’s the time to see it, so you can look ahead-of-the-crowd to any American friends you might have – and it’s the perfect piece of non-festive fun.

Duchess Theatre

  1. Jersey Boys

The last musical on the list, and one with its own blockbuster movie attached. blog-2But the live show is always better than the film, trust. Before seeing Jersey Boys, I had no idea how much incredible music Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were responsible for (hint: it’s a lot). The story itself, of how the band formed and broke up over the years, is relatively interesting, and the way that each of the Four Seasons gets to tell their own part of the story is clever, but it’s ultimately the music that makes the show. One of the best jukebox musicals out there.

Piccadilly Theatre

  1. Nice Fish

Confession: I haven’t actually seen this yet.blog-2 I have tickets booked, however, and I feel like the combination comedy, Mark Rylance and fish costumes (if you turn up in one you can get free tickets!) is sure to be a good one. The reviews haven’t necessarily been overwhelming, but Rylance is bae so you’ll almost definitely see some great acting whatever the writing’s like.

Harold Pinter Theatre

 

You can find tickets to all these amazing shows on TheatreTickets.uk, who sponsored this post. Hopefully coming up soon, lists of the ultimate Christmassy shows to see, and my fav festive books, treats, music, TV shows and films… Not that I’m over-excited or anything…

elf

“A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

When I heard the Mischief Theatre team were doing a Christmas version of their hilarious hit The Play That Goes Wrong (in my top ten shows of bloglast year in fact), I urged my Mum to book it for the whole family as a Christmas treat – last year we went to see The Scotsboro Boys, a musical which, whilst incredibly thought-provoking, wasn’t exactly a laugh a minute.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Apollo Theatre, however, was exactly the opposite. Not particularly thought-provoking perhaps but packed full of laughs, as the poor Cornley Polytechnic Amateur Dramatic Society attempted vainly to deal with an electrocuted Tinkerbell, an uncontrollable revolving stage, and some incredibly indiscrete voice recordings whilst putting on a Christmas production of J.M. Barrie’s much-loved Peter Pannot a pantomime as co-director Chris Bean (played by actual co-writer Henry Shields with aplomb – and such stressed tension I’m surprised the vein on his forehead didn’t burst).

Having seen The Play That Goes Wrong I was a little more prepared this time for the pre-show antics in the stalls, but that didn’t make them any less enjoyable – plus I was thrilled to see a certain Fred Gray who I last saw at the Edinburgh Fringe as the starring role in Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens… this was rather more family friendly of course and involved many less drag queens and sudden strip teases as I’m sure parents will be pleased to hear.

blog 1The play, once it started, took a very similar format to the original version, as is to be expected, except that the directorial apologetic speech was given not only by Chris Bean but also by new co-director Robert Grove (played with enormous gusto by second co-writer Henry Lewis), with a new dimension of competition added to the mix of theatrical disaster and comedic mayhem. In fact, this play as a whole was much more focused on the behind-the-scenes relationships of the actors as well as the slapstick of the original. Apologies, by the way, for referring so frequently to The Play That Goes Wrong, but it is very hard not to compare, given its obvious connection! I did, however, take my Dad with me who’d hadn’t seen the first play – and as a result perhaps enjoyed the Christmas version slightly more than my Mum, my brothers and I.

Now I’m not saying I didn’t have a great time at Peter Pan Goes Wrong – the production has some genius moments (I loved Dennis (aka Jonathan Sayer the third of the co-writers) who, due to not being able to remember his lines, wore headphones throughout, leading to some great moments as he repeated literally everything he was broadcast). And the cast in general are just so comical and likeable and enthusiastic that I would basically go see anything they were in.blog 3 All those who had to battle with “flying” across the stage were particularly impressive; I can’t imagine just doing it right is easy, but to deliberately do it badly and make that funny rather than pathetic or frustrating shows serious talent and practice. Greg Tannahill (Peter Pan – at least for most of it) and Chris Leask (Trevor the Techie, determinedly fixing the scenery no matter what else was going on, and forced to constantly step in and attempt to fix things) were particularly skilled at this whole complicated flying-and-banging-into-things malarkey.

I loved the girl power felt between an effervescent Nancy Wallinger as about a gazillion parts, including a feisty Tinkerbell, and the untiring Charlie Russell, heroically tying the whole play together as the flirty Sandra, playing Wendy to several different Peters. Dave Hearn as the shyly smiling Max, playing both Michael and the Crocodile, had the entire audience behind him by the end. Tom Edden was a new and welcome addition to the group as the Narrator, flinging piles of glitter into the air and jolting on and off the stage on his ‘magical’ chair.

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What I’m trying to get across here is that all the elements of a great show are here; slapstick chaos reigns on-stage and the characters are foolish, obnoxious and arrogant, but also so delightfully determined to complete their show at any cost that you just can’t help but will them along -a bit like Bottom and the Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At the same time, for me I felt the focus on the intra-cast relationships sometimes took away from the overall comedy. I always find it irritating in TV shows, like House M.D. or OUAT when the key concept, the originality I started watching the show for in the first episode, becomes lost with writers desperate to focus more on complicated human relationships rather than the plot or the cases or, in this case, the gags.

'Peter Pan Goes Wrong' play, Press Night, London, Britain - 9 Dec 2015

I mean, maybe I’m just heartless and detached and more interested by curiosities than real personal contact but you know, oh well, I am what I am. And my overriding feelings are that the best moments of this very funny play were when it focused on very small elements (a man dressed as a dog stuck inside a door for example) rather than when it had to take on the big themes of love and jealousy.

Still, the cast are fantastic and the jokes are a-plenty, and it’s a lovely Christmas treat for the family – just remember; it’s not a pantomime.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Apollo Theatre: 3.5/5 stars

(And, by the way, Happy New Year! A round-up of 2015 will be coming soon!)

“A hit, a very palpable hit.”

Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

I’m taking up the ‘Top Ten Theatre Shows of 2014’ challenge the rest of the #LDNTheatreBloggers have been doing all this week. Over the past year I’ve seen around 35 different productions, which, considering I spent 19 weeks away from the UK and started university is not too bad imho!

Out of those 35 odd shows, however, there were some clear highlights that shone out far and above the rest (although I don’t regret going to a single one!):

10. A Streetcar Named Desire  at Young Vic Theatre

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Squeezing Forbidden Broadway and My Perfect Mind out of the top ten, this classic play by Tennessee Williams starred three incredibly powerful actors in a beautifully staged production with some of my favourite music from a non-musical theatre show this year.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“All in all, this is a great production of a fantastic, classic play. I can’t quite give it top marks, simply because I felt Anderson took quite a time to build up to the marvellous power of the second act. The acting is brilliant and the production captures the essence of sleazy, dirty, hot, vibrant New Orleans perfectly. And, to be honest, it’s worth seeing simply for the last scene, which is just sheer flawlessness.”

9. Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe

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I didn’t actually write a blog for this at the time, but this was a spectacular show; despite being one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays,the audience was enthralled constantly in the unceasing action that played not only upon the stage, but in the groundling pit and even outside the theatre. William Houston was great in the main role, and Indira Varma  was beautifully evil as Tamara, Queen of the Goths. And how can I talk about Lucy Bailey‘s production without mentioning the gore?! I mean, we had 23 fainters at the midnight showing (well worth going to by the way) – watching multiple 6ft+ men topple over when confronted with a handless, tongueless, blood-dripping Lavinia was worth the ticket price alone!

8. The Play That Goes Wrong at Duchess Theatre

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The action starts from the minute you walk into the theatre, and the speed of the jokes is quite incredible. The performers know their characters and their characters’ characters inside out and they know exactly how to make their audience laugh. What more can you ask for?

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“The pace of this production is extraordinary, and the amount of energy expended by each and every actor (even including Greg Tannahill, playing the dead body!) is that of a million Duracell bunnies. In fact, after laughing so hard for so long, I think even the audience feel they’ve been for a work-out after seeing ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. Sometimes the jokes are repeated perhaps once too often, but overall this is farce at its finest.”

7. Much Ado About Nothing at Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre

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I love this play so much, and this production finally lived up to the amazing script! The staging was beautifully Downton Abbey-esque and the two leads sparked off each other just as Beatrice and Benedick should.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“Basically this is a really warm and inviting production with two superb leads who definitely carry the play on their capable shoulders. A perfect show for Christmas, for comedy and romance, and for drama; whilst the Dogberry scenes aren’t quite as hilarious as they could be, they still elicited a great big response from the audience and the ending is beautifully sentimental without being cheesy (although I love a bit of cheese, so who am I to judge?!) A show that will leave you hugging yourself with happiness.”

6. King Lear at National Theatre

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This seems like so long ago… But Simon Russell Beale was absolutely superb in this insanely demanding role. I loved the twist with the Fool in the middle, Sam Troughton was a great Edmund and Olivia Vinall was surprisingly tough as Cordelia. This was King Lear on an epic scale, and it really, really worked.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“In fact, overall the production was basically flawless… What I’m trying to say here is: if you can possibly get tickets, do. I enjoyed this more than last year’s much lauded ‘Othello’ and this is from someone who wasn’t that big a fan of King Lear previously. This is the most emotional, real and balanced production I’ve seen so far; usually Edmund dominates, but here it is Lear, the real star, who shines out.”

5. Skylight at Wyndham’s Theatre

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A clean, beautifully designed production, carried completely by three actors who fully understood their complex characters. Understated and thoughtful, but with some lovely light-hearted moments, this was seriously good theatre.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“As I hope you’ve picked up, this is a seriously good piece of theatre.
Light-hearted enough to be an enjoyable evening out, but interesting enough to leave you contemplative afterwards. Basically an amazing production of a great play. Go and see it while you can!”

4. The Scotsboro Boys at Garrick Theatre

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Another one I didn’t actually have a chance to write about, but a fantastic show nonetheless. Like Kandel and Ebb’previous shows Chicago and Cabaret, it’s full of energy and gets your foot tapping along before you realise quite how serious the subject matter is; it makes you complicit in the evil events. The performers are brilliant, the songs are so clever and the dancing is ridiculously energetic. Plus we saw it with two of the understudies – yet I wouldn’t have realised it for a second because they inhabited their roles as if they did them every night. Kudos to everyone involved.

3.The Crucible at Old Vic Theatre

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Dark, disturbing and ridiculously gripping, this tense production of Arthur Miller‘s classic just kept the suspense building over the long three hours and did not let go. A great performance by Richard Armitage brought it all together.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“I think you can already tell, this is a fabulous production of a great play. Despite its length, I wasn’t bored for a second. One cannot help but be gripped by the uncontrollable chaos that sweeps the town of Salem and its residents. Both the acting and staging are superb, heightening the tension to an almost unbearable pitch, with the tragic ending leaving you wanting more. If you can possibly get tickets, I urge you to go! You will not be disappointed.”

2. Urinetown at Apollo Theatre

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I love anything that surprises me, and Urinetown certainly did that! Great cast, great songs, great production, all that satire I love. Go and see it guys!

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“As far as I’m concerned,Urinetown is highly recommended and it’s shocking that the theatre wasn’t fuller when I went – admittedly, it was a Thursday matinee, but still. Theatre-goers, I expected more of you! This is a brilliant, unique musical, in an age where people complain of the non-originality of ‘new’ musicals on Broadway and in the West End. If you enjoyed Avenue Q or The Book of Mormon, you’ll love this as much as I did.”

1. King Charles III at Wyndham’s Theatre

blog 6I mean, this was just so brilliant (not that I’ve over-used my superlatives in this post at all…) The thing that gives it the number one spot is that it wasn’t just the actors that made it amazing. Don’t get me wrong, the cast was great, but it was them combined with the set and the music and the script and the whole concept that all came together and just blew me away.

What Mingled Yarns said at the time:

“…it’s a play I came out of exhilarated and amazed. It made me laugh, and despair, and it made me think. It’s well acted all round, the staging is brilliant, and, most importantly almost, the script is so interesting. It’s the sort of play that could be played to generations in the future and they, too, would be both amused and gripped by it. Unlike many modern plays, it doesn’t rely on clever modern references for its success, but at the same time it plays up to the current times for a current audience. It’s a Shakespearean tragedy for our times, and for future times, and that is why this is a must see.”

“This fellow is wise enough to play the fool.”

Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ blog 5has had one of the best publicity campaigns I’ve ever seen in theatre. With upside-down adverts, misspellings in newspaper listings and punctuation mistakes on the cast list, it couldn’t help but draw your attention. Marketed as ‘just as funny as ‘Noises Off’ – literally the funniest play I have ever seen – I went along to the Duchess Theatre with a mixture of eager anticipation and terrible dread that it just wouldn’t, couldn’t live up to all the hype.

The comedy starts from the moment you enter the theatre; a harassed techie and over-confident looking actors run or stroll about the stalls, talking to the audience and searching (somewhat frantically) for a Duran Duran CD. Pieces offset and props are still being fixed onto the stage – and blog 1of course, the stage manager is already having problems. As soon as the first shelf hits the floor, one can tell exactly how slapstick the play will become.

And I really mean serious slapstick: this is like ‘Fawlty Towers’ on crack. I don’t think one single element of Nigel Hook’s fantastic set remains upright by the end of the performance; and the most amazing thing is that it all falls or stays up at exactly the right time. I have no idea how they do it, but everything looks like an absolute shambles and yet is obviously so perfectly and carefully orchestrated. This is basically reflective of the whole play, actually.

The real action starts with a long welcome speech-cum-apology from Chris, the hapless director of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, played brilliantly by Henry Shields. blog 2The laughs start rolling in as he lists the previous, rather less-than-successful productions of this dramatic company; cast shortages gave them “The Lion and the Wardrobe” and “Cat”, whilst difficulties with props led them to: “James and the Peach” and later “James: Where’s my Peach?” A key strength of this play is how quickly they establish that this might have a lot of slapstick humour in it, but there are also some great intelligent, witty gags in there as well. Chris himself is a great character; trying to play the detective with great aplomb despite being gaped gormlessly at by his other, helpless actors, whenever anything goes wrong, we witness his painfully funny breakdown on stage – so agonising, and yet so comical as well.

The other actors are equally hilarious. It’s clear how comfortable they all are being funny in each other’s company – as I found out afterwards in a Q&A, almost all of them attended the same improv. club together, which definitely makes an impact. Although all of them are great, I did have two particular favourites: Dave Hearn as Max was so beautifully naïve – every time the audience clapped or laughed at his part, he would turn to them and smile a lopsided, beatific grin, and even start applauding himself at some points. Max was really a prime example for why the ridiculous characters in this play worked; they are totally incompetent but also somehow loveable, and all with some sort of basis in reality.

blog 4Nancy Wallinger as Annie, the nervous Stage Manager, was also very amusing, particularly at the beginning, although it was funny to see her and Sandra (a melodramatic Charlie Russell) fight it out more and more violently to be the leading lady towards the end. And it was an excellent touch that Rob Falconer as Trevor, the long-suffering Techie, had his ‘tech area’ (if that’s what you’d call it?!) visible to the audience the whole time; watching his head-in-hands reactions to everything that happened made everything just that little bit funnier.

The pace of this production is extraordinary, and the amount of energy expended by each and blogevery actor (even including Greg Tannahill, playing the dead body!) is that of a million Duracell bunnies. In fact, after laughing so hard for so long, I think even the audience feel they’ve been for a work-out after seeing ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. Sometimes the jokes are repeated perhaps once too often, but overall this is farce at its finest. It could never quite live up to ‘Noises Off’ for me, but it came pretty damn close.

The Play That Goes Wrong’ at Duchess Theatre: 4/5 stars