Question: What do you get if you mix rock ‘n’ roll, smugglers and a lot of blood? Answer: my last few weeks of theatre. I’ve cringed, I’ve cried and I’ve been all over London, discovering a few new theatres along the way. So here we go with the round-up.
Be Bop a Lula (Ambassadors Theatre)
A tribute to four musical icons from the 1950s – Eddie Cochran, Roy Orbison, Billy Fury and Gene Vincent, Be Bop a Lula comes to London once a month. I was there to review it for London Theatre Direct, and even though I was born in the 80s, so didn’t know a lot of the music, that didn’t really matter – it’s the kind of music you can still enjoy regardless. The four stars were played by two musicians, backed by a band who looked like they were having the best time ever. And the show was brought together by Spencer Evoy, a host so charismatic I could happily have watched him all evening.
Rebecca (the marlowe Theatre, Canterbury)
One of my favourite books, adapted for the stage by Knee High Theatre – and quite different to what I expected, but I loved it. Using folk music and an incredible set, this production of Rebecca transports you to Cornwall, and Manderley, where the new Mrs De Winter struggles against the ever-present memory of her predecessor, and her own jealousy and insecurity. What I most enjoyed was the interesting interpretation of the story, which ends on more of a cliffhanger than a conclusion.
Beans on Toast (new wimbledon studio)
This was my first trip to the Illuminate Festival, a six-week-long programme of theatre and entertainment at the New Wimbledon Studio, a tiny theatre tucked at the back of the more well-known New Wimbledon Theatre. I absolutely loved Beans on Toast by Patch of Blue, which is a beautifully simple story about a couple, Scott and Jen. The play consists of a jumbled patchwork of scenes, each of which represents a specific memory from their time together. Some are funny, others are sad, but they’re all so relatable you feel like Scott and Jen are your best friends. I loved every second; it’s brilliant, and my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough.
Blush of Dogs (tabard Theatre)
This one was a real surprise, because it’s not my kind of thing at all, and yet I really enjoyed it. Blush of Dogs by Fragen Theatre, is a modern re-telling of a Greek myth, and is rated 15+ for very good reason: it features sex, semi-naked wrestling and a whole lot of blood, from various unpleasant sources. The play is a family drama, about a king, his brother and his wife, but also a study of politics, power and the awful things human beings do to each other. Blush of Dogs is very funny, but equally horrifying, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but I’m glad I saw it. Although I could have done without the eye-gouging. Shudder.
So it Goes (Shoreditch Town Hall)
This one made me cry. So It Goes is a beautiful and moving depiction of grief, by Hannah Moss and David Ralfe of On The Run. Hannah lost her dad to cancer when she was a teenager, and has been unable to talk about him ever since. So It Goes is her way of coming to terms with that grief, and simultaneously paying tribute to her dad – all without saying a word. Using whiteboards and props, Hannah and David tell the audience about his life and death, and her emotional journey since then. It’s incredibly personal, to the point that it sometimes feels a bit uncomfortable, but beautifully done, and it really makes you appreciate the people you love.
Animals is a new play written by Emma Adams, set in a not-too-distant future in which anyone over 60, unable to make an economic contribution to society, faces involuntary euthanasia, and children are only considered worth having if they’re perfect. In this scenario, three elderly ladies must fight for survival, and the result is both comical and deeply disturbing. Animals is thought-provoking and worryingly relevant; although it sounds far-fetched, it’s only an exaggeration of the way we live now. And particularly concerning for those of us who’ll be reaching our own ‘diminished years’ around the time it’s set…
The Shadow of Dr Syn (Kew Community Centre)
An amateur production by the Q2 Players, this play was a labour of love for its director, Genni Trickett, who’s a lifelong fan of Russell Thorndike’s Dr Syn books. I’ll admit I’d never heard of the series, but I might check it out now. Set during the French Revolution, this is one of the later stories, set in Dymchurch, Kent (amusingly portrayed as the back of beyond), where the vicar, Dr Syn, lives a secret other life as the notorious – and slightly sinister – smuggler, the Scarecrow. It’s got swashbuckling and smugglers, a romantic love story and a bit of a history lesson too. Great fun.
The History Boys (Churchill Theatre)
My first time seeing Alan Bennett’s popular play, and I wasn’t disappointed. The story of a group of boys studying for their Oxbridge entrance exam, and their relationship with two teachers who have very different styles, this is an examination of what education is really all about. Although it’s set in the 80s, The History Boys feels particularly relevant today, in an era that sees teachers under pressure to hit specific targets, whether or not it’s in the interest of their pupils. This is a new touring production, with a brilliant ensemble cast led by Richard Hope as Hector, and well worth seeing if it comes to a theatre near you.
And that’s all for April. May’s theatre’s already kicked off with a gender-bending Much Ado About Nothing from the Wyrd Sisters – but more on that next month…
In the meantime, here are all my reviews for April’s theatre: