Blue Stockings, The Yard Theatre, London E9

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It is a shocking fact that women were not allowed to graduate from Cambridge University until 1948. This play is set 50 years earlier and concerns four ladies who attended Girton College, Cambridge at the end of the 19th Century. It is a well written and cogent drama about the beginnings of the women rights movement. it gives voice to all points of view at that time, ranging from those who believed that education would distract women from being good wives to those who thought that noisy demonstration calling for immediate emancipation was the only way forward.

The Yard is an interesting theatre space, the seats are close to the action, but the wide stage and high ceilings make it very open. I really like the apparent simplicity of the direction, schoolroom projectors set the scenes, blackboard writings mark us as being in a classroom, a pictures of an orchard or Van Gogh’s night sky move us outdoors. This is inventive and effective.

The quality of the acting is very high and there are nice performances even in the smaller parts. Mischa Jones is fabulous as Tess, she brings a nice balance of intelligence and innocence to her role. Laura Trosser has a great part as Miss Blake, resolutely playing the long game in the fight for equality and she plays it perfectly. I really liked Quinton Arigi as Will, whose position changes as the story develops.

Blue Stockings is part of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain’s East End season at The Yard Theatre. It is a sterling production of a very good play, in an engaging venue. I will be looking out for more Jessica Swale written plays. It has also made me look forward to seeing the next play in the season, “The Host” and their revival of “Zigger Zagger” at the Wilton Music Hall, next month.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening. Recommended.

The Bush Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush, London.

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The Bush Theatre has just had a big refurbishment. The first thing you notice when you arrive on a warm sunny evening is the new terrace and bar. It is the perfect place to meet people, as it catches the evening sun before the show begins. Inside, the bar area is sparse and pared back, there are not many places to sit here, but this is well designed to keep the area relatively clear, because as well as the terrace there is also the library room, a bright, airy seating area with books on the history of theatre on the walls.

The Bush has a tradition of putting on innovative and challenging new shows. There are now two theatre spaces, the main theatre holds 180 and the smaller studio 80. The main theatre is flexible with its set up and on the evening that I attended the stage was in the centre. It was set up as a house and we had to walk around the back of the house, past the back door and pink flamingo, to look in the front room. Every seat has an excellent view and your proximity to the performance makes you feel a part of the action.

They have some great pricing offers, one clever one is the “Count me in” deal – where you pay £10 in advance for the show, but your seat is not allocated until the day of the performance. The front of house staff and the bar staff are friendly and helpful. The Bush Theatre is a lovely asset to the local area and I look forward to returning many times in the future.

HIR by Taylor Mac, Bush Theatre, London

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Hir is challenging and confrontational. In Paige Connor, Taylor Mac has created a 21st Century dramatic monster. Released from years of oppression and abuse by the happy accident of Arnold Connor’s stroke, she is using her new found freedom to wreak revenge on the world in general and her husband in particular. Ashley McGuire is exceptional as Paige, she exudes a logical, manic cruelty. Her youngest child is transgender and she uses the politics of gender fluidity like a weapon, which she swings to beat back the wrongs of a society that she believes kept her in thrall for the majority of her life.

Arthur Darvill is also good as Isaac, the eldest child. He is the foil, having come back from a war zone, he has tried the new world and wants things to be much as they were before he left. He tries to be the voice of reason but is left defending a damaged premise, this cannot end well…….

All four actors put in great, intense performances. The direction and the set are disordered, but this is by design and it suits the scattergun effect of the plays arguments, hitting out at any targets as they appear. There are many very funny, if bitter, exchanges. The dialogue is clever and angry. The subject matter captures the zeitgeist, it starkly points out challenges facing our changing society. The subtitle of the play is  “Make America Punk Again” and it really does have a punk ethos, enraged and shouting about the state of the world, without finding, or even looking for, any solutions.

It is uncomfortable to watch, but be in no doubt, this is a great play.

City of Glass, Lyric Hammersmith, London

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City of Glass gets you into the theatre by pretending to be a type of film noir story, but after you have been watching for about ten minutes, you realise that it is attempting to be something deeper and more challenging. This is a problem, because when you go in expecting a nice murder mystery, you may not be in the right frame of mind to consider the slipperiness of language and people or how the slow descent into madness might feel.

This is a stage production of a 1980s book and, perhaps, it is easier to follow if you have read this first; however, I found the dialogue too oblique, and the way the characters morphed into each other was confusing. I felt like each person was speaking in a vacuum. I did not feel empathy towards any of them or from any of them towards other characters in the play.

This was a shame because the set design, direction and cinematography was among the best I have seen on a theatre stage. I loved the way the same stage moved between places and times so seamlessly, and I enjoyed the way the changing set was able to propel the story onwards all by itself at times.

Although I don’t feel able to recommend this particular show wholeheartedly; when 59 Productions pick a less tortuous and more coherent story to put on, I think they have the potential to deliver an amazing show.

 

The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber has bought the theatre that used to be known as The St. James Theatre and changed its name to The Other Palace. He wishes it to become the place where writers and producers can try out and refine new work.

The first show here is “The Wild Party”. This musical has a lot of good things going for it. The ensemble are fantastic, the songs are good, the comedy songs are very funny. The dancing and choreography are fast and good, the characters are interesting and flawed.

For me, the music is too loud for the size of the theatre, it took me about three songs for my hearing to adjust enough to understand the lyrics. This is a shame because the lyrics that I did hear were acerbic and funny. The ending is a bit of an anti-climax, if ever a show needs an encore routine, this is one. This is such a disappointment because so much of the rest of the show is wonderful.

The songs are a nice mixture of vibrant, funny and bitter. The dialogue is sharp. The choreography is dynamic and energetic. The atmosphere is decadent and sexy. The closing series of songs in the first act is amazing and if they were to somehow make this the finale of the whole show, it would run forever.

It is hard to pick out individual performances, not only because everyone is very good, but also because everyone in the show has their own part to play. There is no chorus here.

Frances Ruffelle and John Owen-Jones have beautiful emotive voices. Donna McKechnie and Bronte Barbe are both funny and have a great song each, showing off their range. Steven Serlin and Sebastien Torkia are a clever comedy double act. Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea are excellent at joining the show together. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt arrives late and threatens to steal the show. The dancing is uniformly outstanding.

This show truly is a wild party, bringing with it all that this entails. It is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, and like all the best parties – although I may have some regrets the next day, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Anyone Can Whistle, Union Theatre, 2017

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Anyone Can Whistle at the Union Theatre is an ebullient production of a lesser known Sondheim musical. Originally performed over 50 years ago on Broadway, it is certainly one of his shows that deserves a second hearing.

The storyline is quirky, this production brings out the humour and mayhem very nicely.

It has some great characters; Felicity Duncan is excellent as the power hungry, desperate to be loved politician, Rachel Delooze and Oliver Stanley are both very good as the lovelorn fake investigator and the fake doctor, and their final duet “With so little to be sure of” is a thing of beauty.

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It is packed with fantastic classic Sondheim songs: “Me and my town”, “There won’t be trumpets”, “Parade in town”, “Everyone says don’t”, “Anyone can whistle” and “With so little to be sure of” are all from this show!

The ensemble here are great, the stage can seem a little packed at times, but this works very well for the chase scene and the dance numbers are filled with energy and inventiveness.

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With all the talk of political madness and fake news, the time is right for the revival of this wonderful, undervalued musical and I thoroughly enjoyed this production.

This is a show that is not revived often enough, you should go to see it while you have the opportunity!