Follies, National Theatre, Southbank, London.


Follies is probably Sondheim’s most traditional musical, in that it has set pieces, dance routines, show girls and, separate songs that don’t bleed into each other. However, it is still complex; the story has great depth and some of the songs are operatic in nature.

It is expensive and complicated to produce, it has a large company, with demanding roles throughout the cast. It needs an orchestra. Full productions of Follies are rare, the last proper one in London was thirty years ago, so when there is a high quality, committed revival such as this on offer, the opportunity needs to be grabbed.

It’s Sondheim, so the material is fantastic. It has some of his most famous songs, the storyline is elegant, and it is almost upbeat for Sondheim, (that means everyone in the cast isn’t going to live out the rest of their lives in abject misery!). It’s the National Theatre, so the production values are top notch. Dominic Cooke and Bill Deamer as director and choreographer have both done a wonderful job. I particularly loved the way each dancer at the reunion had their younger version dancing with them. I also loved the way all the mature dancers paraded down the stairs in a dignified manner wearing evening gowns, while their younger incarnations scrambled in over the rubble at the back of the stage, in their high heels, basques and feathers.

Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Philip Quast and Peter Forbes are the four leads, so the acting and singing are outstanding. Imelda Staunton does an emotionally draining rendition of “Losing My Mind” and Philip Quast’s voice is as amazing as it always is. It has Tracie Bennett and Geraldine Fitzgerald in supporting roles so it has incredible strength in depth. Tracie Bennett is in full on scene stealing mode with “I’m Still Here” sung with a mixture of pain and defiance.

Follies at the National Theatre is fantastic, and given all the elements that went into making it, there was never any doubt that it would be.


The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London W1


The Ferryman is a kitchen sink drama with an epic storyline. Apart from the prologue, it is totally set in the large kitchen of a family farmhouse outside Derry. The action is a day and a half in the lives of the extended family that resides there. But, the themes are huge, its about family and war, about love and loyalty, about freedom fighting and terrorism, and it tells these stories through short interwoven family interactions that come and go throughout the play that gradually meld together to make a complex tapestry.

Jez Butterworth has been spoken of as one of the best writers around today, and with  The Ferryman he delivers. The language and the narrative are superlative, it is the writing of someone both confident and ambitious. He is brave to wind traditional songs and ancient stories through the dialogue and he is talented pull it off so well.

The direction is awesome, there are 17 characters in this play, without counting the live goose, rabbit or the baby. Just moving them all around the stage must have been a major task but, Sam Mendes makes the whole setting feel real,  natural and, even simple.

The cast is also fabulous, lots of lovely performances from so many different actors. Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly are great as Quinn and Caitlin, but right through the cast there were great turns. I loved Rob Malone as the troubled Oisin. Brid Brennan had a scene stealing part as Aunt Maggie Faraway and she played it perfectly. Dearbhla Molloy and Des McAleer are wonderful as Aunt Patricia and Uncle Pat.

As you can tell, I loved this show. I have to finish because I am about to run out of superlatives. This is a play that will become a classic piece of literature that will be on school curricula.



Zigger Zagger, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, Wilton’s Music Hall, London


From the second the opening whistle sounds and the cast of 50 begin their football chants, the audience is dragged in – to a world of youth tribalism, disaffection and tough choices. Wilton’s Music Hall is the perfect size for this play, large enough that the cast doesn’t outnumber the audience, small enough that the cacophony of sound envelops you to feel part of the crowd.

Zigger Zagger is a late 20th century parable, ostensibly about football hooliganism but also about loyalty and fitting in. The protagonist, Harry Philton, excellently played by Josh Barrow, is a school leaver searching for belonging and is drawn to the local football terraces. He is aware of its limitations as a life choice so investigates the alternatives.

Among these are: Police, Army, Religion, Apprenticeship and, settling down. These options are caricatured, often in musical or poetic form. Adam Smart is particularly funny as the Youth Careers Officer. In between each option we are brought back to the terraces for a song and each time we feel the allure of being part of the crowd.

The soundtrack is great, T.Rex, Mud, Bay City Rollers even the Sex Pistols. The crowd songs are classical and traditional, with some chanting thrown in for good measure. Zigger Zagger is a boisterous and entertaining evening, with some great performances, and an interesting reminder of a specific moment in this country’s development.


The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black) 2016


This is a curate’s egg of a film – good in parts. It’s sets out to be a pastiche of a corny 1970s Blaxploitation movie, and it succeeds almost too well for its own good. The plot is very ’70s, a light, far fetched, political conspiracy theory.

The characters are caricatures. Ryan Gosling as Holland March is quite knowing about it and carries it off very well, we get to like him and he is actually very funny.  Russell Crowe seems to be just walking through the film saying his lines, so his character is two dimensional. Angourie Rice is great as Holland’s daughter and also has some of the best lines of the show.

This movie contains violence, sex references, nudity, bad language and drug use; all gratuitous, all characteristic of the time. Not so funny in itself but funny because in the 70s they were only recently able to put these into films, so they did, even if it was unnecessary.  The humour is broad, bordering on slapstick, but it works, mostly

The sets are perfect and costumes are right on.  I particularly enjoyed the soundtrack, apparently some of the songs were too late for the time in which it was set, but they felt right to me.

On balance, Shane Black has done an excellent job directing “The Nice Guys” in that, from slight material, he has made a little go a long way.


20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills) 2016


20th Century Women is an interesting dissertation on motherhood – from the point of view of a son.

It is thoughtful and thought provoking. It has three strong female characters all of them well rounded and likeable. All three of them are excellently played and I am surprised that none of them were nominated for an Academy Award. The male characters on the other hand are less fully built and a little more caricatured.

I enjoyed the direction of the movie, Mike Mills made the narrative almost unimportant compared to the development of the characters, but completed their arc by giving a short profile of each character as they were introduced and a short synopsis of their life after the movie at the conclusion. I found this satisfying.

The Soundtrack is an odd, but not unpleasant, combination of new wave, punk and easy listening. It has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and, you never know, it could win. The screenplay is funny. I liked this film, it passed two hours very pleasantly. I suspect though, that in 5 years time, it’s one of those movies that I will sit on front of, on Netflix, and say “Oh yes, I’ve seen this, and I think it was good!”



The Donkey Show, Proud Camden, London 2016


In this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the forest outside Athens has become a 1970s disco. Oberon, the king of the fairies, is the nightclub owner, Titania is his main squeeze and the fairies are a troop of Muscle Mary disco dancers strutting their stuff on raised plinths and around poles.

Puck is a roller-skating drag queen narrator and the 4 star crossed lovers are punters in various states of alcohol and drug fuelled confusion. I was amazed at how well the setting fitted the original play.

All of them sing their parts (no lip synching here) to classic 1970s disco tunes while interacting with the audience and getting increasingly out of it as the night goes on.

It’s camp, it’s brash, it’s rude and crude, its funny and it is great fun. London needs a camp, frothy, boisterous night out as a tourist attraction and this could be it!  After all,  “Beach Blanket Babylon” has run in San Francisco for over 40 years now and is still going strong.

Leave your inhibitions at the door and be prepared to party.

This is the best rowdy, rollicking night out in London this summer!

Jaws (dir. Stephen Spielberg) 1975


This was on at the BFI as part of a Spielberg retrospective. The 450 seat auditorium was full on a Friday night for a 41 year old movie. That fact alone testifies to the strength of this film.

It was my first time seeing it and I was surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. It is a thriller that delivers thrills. It is the first time that I have heard gasps from the audience in a movie theatre in a very long time, the face in the boat is a genuine, jump back in your seat, moment. The character development is good and the script is excellent, it has some very funny moments to lighten the mood. The music is possibly the most famous film score ever and it matches the action perfectly. The only part of the movie that shows its age is the shark itself, but even this is interesting to see from a history of cinema perspective.

Jaws won 3 Academy Awards; editing, score and sound. The only surprise is that it didn’t win more. It regularly appears in lists of all-time best films. Having just seen it, 41 years late, its inclusion in those lists is fully justified.