North by Northwest – Theatre Royal Bath

Based on the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, North by Northwest is a playful, clever and funny adaptation.

Roger Thornhill (Jonathan Watton), a successful advertising executive, is abducted by thugs who believe that he is a man called George Kaplan. What follows is a cat and mouse game which includes spies, and chases over Mount Rushmore and through corn fields by a plane.

What made this production so clever was the stage effects. On both sides of the stage there were tables with miniature models and a camera. Members of the company, fully visible to the audience, would move the models and the images were projected on the back of the stage. This was how the plane chase and Mount Rushmore were shown, and it was extremely clever and very funny.

I haven’t seen the original film so I cannot compare, but this was a thrilling and hugely enjoyable production with a charismatic leading actor. It deserves to transfer to the West End.

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Angels in America (NT Live)

I confess I had never heard of Angels in America by Tony Kushner before the National Theatre production was announced, but after reading the hype around it I decided to see what all the fuss was about at the NT Live screenings.

It is in many ways a difficult play to describe, but put simply it is the story of 5 characters living in New York in the mid 1980s during the AIDS crisis and a conservative Reagan administration. It explores a myriad of themes, including life, death, love, sex, heaven and hell. The fear and uncertainty surrounding AIDS and homosexuality in entrenched throughout the play and shown through the experiences of many characters. Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane) rejects the label of homosexuality as he states that homosexuals have no ‘clout’. The married Mormon Joe Pitt (Russell Tovey) is unable to accept that he may be gay, and Louis (James McArdle) cannot cope with supporting his longterm partner Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield) when he is diagnosed with AIDS, and leaves him. Although thankfully in many ways things have changed for the better for gay people and those living with HIV, but unfortunately the fact that there is a Republican administration in the White House at the moment who has recently banned transgender people from serving in the military means that the play is still relevant today, not least because Roy Cohn was Donald Trump’s legal adviser.

The production itself was fantastic. All of the actors’ performances were stellar, particularly Andrew Garfield. Nathan Lane also managed to make me feel slight sympathy for such a detestable character. I also thought the staging was great, especially the revolve when switching scenes, and when the set was pulled back during one of Harper’s (Denise Gough) hallucinations to reveal the huge Lyttleton stage. The way the angel was moved around the set by ‘phantoms’ was also very clever.

As for the play itself, I’m unsure. There were things I loved about it but others I’m undecided about. I’m sure in a way the fact that the play has such a hype around it played against it because I was expecting to be completely blown away. First of all I felt it was too long, although in fairness to this production it did not feel long at all when I was watching. However, during some scenes I did wonder what they were adding to the play, such as the opening of Perestroika (part 2) with the oldest living Bolshevik. I was also confused by the angels, and especially felt that Prior’s angel’s explanation of how God abandoned them was explained clearly enough.

However, it is a play that has stayed with me and I have found myself thinking about it a lot after seeing it. I have also enjoyed listening to some of the National Theatre’s podcasts with some of the cast and the director, Marianne Elliot. I definitely would like to read it, as being such a wordy play it was easy to miss some things when watching. The play itself may not have blown me away, but the production and performances have meant that in some ways it has stayed at the forefront of my mind for a while. I’m definitely glad that I went to see it.

 

Jane Eyre – Wales Millennium Centre

I first saw this National Theatre production of Jane Eyre at an NT Live screening and I enjoyed it immensely, so when I saw that the national tour was coming to Cardiff I knew I wanted to see it again ‘properly’ in a theatre rather than a cinema.

Although I knew what to expect this time it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. The set isn’t what you’d expect for a production of Jane Eyre at all. It’s fairly bare, with many climbing frames, ladders and wooden planks which are used extremely effectively to convey the different locations as well as Jane’s varying emotions. I also liked the soundtrack which included some original music but also some contemporary songs such as Mad About the Boy and Crazy.

The cast is small with everyone apart from Jane (Nadia Clifford) playing multiple characters including Mr Rochester’s dog, Pilot. All the performances were strong and convincing, with some particularly quick role changes.

It’s a funny and emotional production, which stays very close to the novel by Charlotte Bronte, and I love that some dialogue from the novel was used. I do feel however that it is too long. I know that when it was originally performed at the Bristol Old Vic that it was in two parts, which were cut down to one part before going to the National Theatre, but I feel some further small cuts would have been beneficial, as the first half in particular is very long. However, this was an innovative and engaging production and I’m glad I saw it for the second time.

Racing Demon – Theatre Royal, Bath

Racing Demon is a play by David Hare about an inner London team of clergy. They include the Reverend Lionel Espy (David Haig), a traditional, likeable but slightly noncommittal priest who is having a crisis of faith, and whose job is under threat by the bishop of Southwark (Anthony Calf), Tony Ferris (Paapa Essiedu), a newly ordained and well-meaning priest with more evangelical ideas about faith and religion, and gay Harry Henderson (Ian Gelder).

The play had a good combination of humour and drama, and the performances by the three leads were strong and emotional at times. Although the play was written in 1990 many of its themes still resonated, such as how the church can stay relevant as society changes and develops.

Aladdin – Prince Edward Theatre

Based on the 1992 Disney film, Aladdin is a fun filled show with great music. I have a soft spot for the film version as it’s one of the first films I ever saw in the cinema, and may have had a small crush on Aladdin too…! There have naturally been some changes to the film in the stage adaptation but none that were too much of a disappointment. Abu the monkey has been replaced by three friends, as has Rajah the tiger. These changes worked well, and Aladdin’s friends in particular provided some comedic moments. Some new songs have also been added, and I especially liked Proud of your Boy and High Adventure.

Without a doubt, the best thing about the show is the Genie, played by Trevor Dion Nicholas, who was the understudy on Broadway. Robin Williams could not be a tougher act to follow but he succeeded in making the role his own while keeping just enough of Williams’ mannerisms. The staging was also very impressive, particularly in the Cave of Wonders and with the flying carpet during A Whole New World.

My small criticism of the show is that it occasionally felt a little similar to panto when Jafar (Don Gallagher) and Iago (Nick Cavaliere) (also a human rather than a parrot) were on stage. This was the fault of the production rather than the performances. I wasn’t sure of Jade Ewen’s acting as Jasmine and I felt she sang A Whole New World a little too much like a popstar rather than a musical theatre performer. These are only small criticisms however, and although I don’t think it’s as good a show as The Lion King and Mary Poppins, I still very much enjoyed it.

 

The Graduate – Cardiff New Theatre

I have never watched the film version of The Graduate so I saw this play with only a very general idea of the plot. Benjamin Braddock (Jack Monaghan) has just graduated from college and is living with his parents. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life and isn’t impressed by his parents ideas for his future. During a party at home, he is seduced by a friend of his parents, Mrs Robinson (Catherine McCormack), who is also disillusioned with her life.

The set was fairly simple but conveyed 1960s America well, and projections were also used effectively. The soundtrack also helped to convey the period, with plenty of Simon and Garfunkel! All the performances were good but I found the character of Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Emma Curtis) quite unlikeable, and I’m not sure whether I was supposed to do so! I also didn’t think there was a lot of chemistry between the leads, but overall I enjoyed the production and I will definitely be watching the film soon.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Wales Millennium Centre

The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a huge success since it opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. It has won Olivier Awards, moved to the West End (where it closes this month), opened on Broadway, won a Tony Award and embarked on 2 UK national tours. I have seen this production a few times, through NT Live and also in London and when it visited Cardiff previously. It is without a doubt one of my favourite things I’ve seen on stage.

It is based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, which tells the story of a boy called Christopher, who has Aspergers Syndrome, as he sets out to solve the mystery of who killed the dog next door. One of the clever things about the production is the way that it presents Christopher’s inner monologue. Christopher talks to the audience but his teacher, Siobhan, also reads extracts from the book that he is writing, and there are also a few instances of breaking the fourth wall.

Another innovate element of the production is the way it overwhelms the audience’s senses so that we have an idea of how Christopher feels when he goes outside his comfort zone, such as to the train station or on the tube. Lights, projections and loud sounds are used incredibly effectively.

The ensemble in the production play several different characters such as Christopher’s neighbours and passengers on the train or tube. In this production Lucianne McEvoy played Siobhan, and Scott Reid was fantastic as Christopher.

The fact that I’d seen the play before did nothing to wane my enthusiasm for this production. Very funny but also emotional. Brilliant.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead – Old Vic

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is not an easy play to summarise! Two minor characters from Hamlet question what they are doing, why they are there, and where they are going. Scenes from Hamlet are slotted in throughout, and in between their philosophising the title characters play coin tossing games and word games, while becoming increasingly aware of their own mortality, especially due to their encounters with a group of travelling players.

I’d been curious about this play for a while and I was not disappointed. It is witty, at times moving and very funny. The staging for this production was quite bare, with mostly just a curtain across the stage used for scene changes, or sometimes as a half curtain as a divide between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the action of the story of Hamlet.

The performances were all strong. Daniel Radcliffe was bewildered and likeable as Rosencrantz, the quieter of the pair. At times I felt that he didn’t project his voice as well as the other actors – this is only a very small criticism as I didn’t miss anything he said, and it may just have been that he was meant to be the quieter character, or that he was struggling a little with his voice that day! Joshua McGuire was also very good as the livelier, bossy and more talkative Guildenstern. David Haig was excellent as The Player, the impresario of the travelling group. The comedic timing was perfect by all throughout.

I not only thoroughly enjoyed the production but the play itself. It’s very clever, especially as Tom Stoppard was so young when he wrote it. I look forward to seeing it again at some point, as I feel it’s a play where you notice something new each time you see it, but I think this production could be difficult to beat.

The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett

Having seen the film version in the cinema, I was interested to read Alan Bennett’s original writing about the eccentric woman who lived in her van on his driveway for 15 years, until her death.

This novella is taken from a selection of Bennett’s diary extracts during the time when Miss Shepherd was such a presence in his life. As you would expect from Bennett it is well written, descriptive and humorous. Despite naturally feeling frustrated with Miss Shepherd at times the compassion and affection he felt for her is evident, and there is a more than a touch of sadness when she has passed away. There are some elements of a social commentary in his writing, but in his usual witty way.

The only thing that lets this novella down is the fact that it is so short. I felt the film gave me more of a chance to get to know both Miss Shepherd and Bennett, and I would imagine the play did the same. However, it is still well worth a read.

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Swan Theatre

The Two Noble Kinsmen is Shakespeare’s last play, which he is believed to have co-written with John Fletcher. Two friends, Palamon and Arcite, are put in prison, and they both fall in love with Emilia who is the sister in law of their captor, Theseus.

This was a very well staged and lively production. I particularly enjoyed the entertaining bickering between Arcite (Jamie Wilkes) and Palamon (James Corrigan) while they argued over Emilia. However, I didn’t feel this was a very strong play, and I found the sub-plot which involved the jailer’s daughter falling in love with Palamon and later going mad to be just a poor version of Ophelia in Hamlet, despite being well acted. It is quite a rambling play, without that much action. However, as always the RSC’s productions are of such a high standard, and I am glad to have seen it.