Reviews Roundup: Kathy And Stella Solve A Murder!

Two female actors sit together chatting in front of a microphone in a scene from the musical comedy Kathy And Stella Solve A Murder
Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds in Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! Photo: Pamela Raith

Kathy And Stella Solve A Murder! is the latest British musical comedy to make the trip from the fringe to the West End. It follows in the footsteps of Six, Operation Mincemeat, Two Strangers and more. We seem to be in a Golden Age for the small homegrown musical, so much so they’ll soon have to form an orderly queue for a central; London venue.
In this musical by Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones, Kathy and Stella, who produce a weekly crime podcast, investigate an actual murder, but the show is as much about friendship as whodunnit. Unfortunately, the press night was cancelled after a flood and some major media have yet to offer an opinion. (Of course, the Guardian may simply be following its intermittent policy of not reviewing West End transfers.) It has been well received by nearly all those who have managed to see it. Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds who play the eponymous investigators are praised, as are the rest of the cast. Opinion on the quality of the music is divided.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

For Alice Cope at Broadway World (5) ‘this show is a delight. The murder mystery story is largely told through the catchy and well crafted musical numbers…Every line is intended to not only entertain but also effectively drive the plot forward and develop the characters.’ She noted, ‘Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds…have terrific chemistry’.

Alex Wood at WhatsOnStage (4★) discovered ‘a juicy, but never burdensome, through-line about the ways in which gender, true crime and online communities can intersect.’ He declared, ‘The second half is about as pacy and as raucous as they come.’ He loved the ‘sublime central performances’ and concluded, ‘All in all, it amounts to a killer addition to the musical pantheon.’

Radio Times’ reviewer Olivia Garrett (4★) shared his enthusiasm: ‘The show pumps out macabre gags and earthy one-liners like there’s no tomorrow.’ ‘The songs are definitely catchy,’ she assured us. As for the stars, ‘Barbé is excellent as the intelligent but anxious Kathy…Hinds matches her in every way as the belligerent Stella.’ Here’s the big climax: ‘Overall, Kathy and Stella is fresh, funny and comes with many layers to slice into. Whether you’re a fan of musicals or not, it’s bloody good fun.’

Marianka Swain writing for London Theatre (4★) loved it: ‘The show is buoyantly funny, teeming with macabre gags and Victoria Wood-esque specific one-liners, the pop-infused songs are instantly catchy…and there are narrative twists a-plenty.’

Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out (4★) was almost as excited, saying it ‘ingeniously yokes the breathlessness of the true crime podcast genre to the big emotions of a musical.’ He praised the ‘whip-sharp book and lyrics’ and said it was ‘abundantly creative, funny and musically dextrous’. Holly O’Mahony writing for The Stage (4★) called it ‘a knowingly silly, slyly funny story’.

Dominic Maxwell in the Sunday Times (3★) enjoyed the ‘energetic and inventive’ show. However, ‘The songs by Matthew Floyd Jones are jaunty and deft, but rarely memorable and ‘The show has an opinion on the appeal of true crime and podcasts, but chooses not to delve deep on such issues.’

Only Nick Curtis of the Standard (2★) went away unimpressed, complaining that it ‘asks you to laugh along with its ridiculous storyline, feckless lead characters and bland, belted-out score.’ He found ‘the constant barrage of gurning and caterwauling is a major turn-off.’ And concluded, it ‘left me dead inside.’

This is what Clare Brennan had to say in The Guardian (4★) about the show’s earlier run in Manchester: ‘A cracking cast plays the positives with gusto, swiftly seguing set and mood changes, delivering power ballads and comic routines with physical and musical dexterity.’

Average critics’ rating 3.8★
Value Rating 47 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder! is at the Ambassador’s Theatre until 14 September 2024.  Buy tickets direct from kathyandstella.com

If you’ve seen Kathy And Stella Solve A Murder!, please add your review and rating below

Two Strangers (carry a cake across New York)

New British musical is an old-fashioned romcom

★★★

Two actors in evening dress high kick in a scene from Two Strangers carry a cake across New York at the Criterion Theatre in London
Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift in Two Strangers. Photo: Tristram Kenton

If you’re a fan of romcoms, I think you’ll like this sweet- but not saccharine- musical comedy. Two Strangers (carry a cake aross New York), and this is not a spoiler, is set in New York, but it feels very British. A naive British man and a cynical female New Yorker meet because of a wedding. Think Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings And A Funeral. In fact, if anyone is planning a remake, Sam Tutty would be a shoe-in for Mr Grant, and Dujonna Gift would be a blooming sight better than the insipid Ms MacDowell.

It begins with a naive British man who only knows America through the movies meeting a cynical female New Yorker, because of a wedding. He is the son of the groom, she the sister of the bride. They are the ‘two strangers’. As for the cake, well, that is what Alfred Hitchcock and other filmmakers used to call a McGuffin, in other words a device, unimportant in itself, but vital to moving on the plot.
What Kit Buchan’s amusing script is really concerned with is their burgeoning relationship with each other and, perhaps even more importantly, the two characters discovering themselves. There are a few twists which, frankly, you might see coming from a long way off but the ending helps keep the show from being completely predictable.
Two Strangers has the comforting feel of the kind of musical that Cole Porter or the Gershwins were so good at, and the musical style also reminds one of that bygone era. But let’s not get carried away- while Kit Buchan provides some clever lyrics and Jim Barne‘s compositions range from smoochy to stirring, they are not the Gershwins. There isn’t a showstopper in sight. In fact, I didn’t come out humming even one bar of any of the songs.

Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift are the top

Nevertheless, Two Strangers is an enjoyable musical comedy with an appealing mix of jollity and pathos. It would be easy for these two slightly clichéd characters to have grated but the two actors, who are actually both British, are very good. There seemed to be more affection than chemistry between them but both are charming, funny and have pleasant voices: his nice and easy, hers powerful. Sam Tutty, who has already made a name for himself in Evan Hansen, establishes a good rapport with the audience, thanks partly to his particular skill at using his facial expressions to comic effect. Dujonna Gift conveys strength that hides vulnerability.
Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift in Two Strangers. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Tim Jackson directs and choreographs with a light comical touch.  Soutra Gilmour’s set may be low budget but it’s clever. Two piles of suitcases which set the scene for the opening meet-cute at the airport, also suggest the towers of New York. Specific elements of it adapt for the later scenes, becoming cupboards, tables, and so on.  A revolve mimics a luggage carousel but also keeps the show moving, literally, by bringing the characters together and pulling them apart.

Since its premiere in Ipswich nearly five years ago, and its re-launch at London’s Kiln Theatre, Two Strangers has come on leaps and bounds. It certainly deserves its run in the West End at The Criterion. For me, it didn’t quite reach the heights of great musical comedy but it is a good romcom that will leave you with a smile on your face.

Two Strangers (carry a cake across New York) can be seen at the Criterion Theatre until 31 August 2024. Tickets from twostrangersthemusical.com

Paul paid for his ticket.

Click here to find out what other reviewers said about Two Strangers, its average rating, and its Value Rating.

Reviews Roundup: Dominic West in A View From The Bridge

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Dominic West in A View from the Bridge

The critics were agreed that Lindsay Posner’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic, originally presented in Bath, was traditional, old fashioned even, but disagreed on whether this was a good or bad thing. Few could resist comparing it with Ivo Van Hove’s legendary minimalist production. Dominic West was generally praised for his portrayal of Eddie Carbone.

Tim Bano in The Independent (4★) called it ‘resolutely un-radical and sometimes threatens to be uninteresting…But it really works.’ ‘The skill of (Posner’s) directing isn’t in the staging – far from it – but in putting all the focus on the emotional journey of Eddie Carbone as a nice guy discovering complicated feelings…he gives us something simple, and surprisingly rare: a really decent production of a really great play.’

Dominic Cavendish at The Telegraph (4★) said Posner ‘understands that taking a more old-fashioned approach and duly indicating the milieu in which Carbone moves isn’t a matter of being decorative. Peter McKintosh’s set, with its towering walls of horizontal slatted wood, creates a sense of claustrophobic, watchful communality’ and ‘(West) excels himself’. The Guardian‘s Arifa Akbar (4★) was persuaded by the acting: ‘Directed by Lindsay Posner with a spare, untampered purity, the production leans into its past world. It wavers for a while but comes out winning, mostly due to the terrific ensemble of actors, led by Dominic West, who breathe new life into these characters.’

Sarah Hemming at the Financial Times (4★) also liked ‘Lindsay Posner’s beautifully judged, crystal-clear new production’, saying ‘Posner wisely trusts Miller and the cast to scope out the psychological depths of the characters.’ Olivia Rook for LondonTheatre (4★) observed, ‘West’s performance is multilayered: while his Eddie is a true patriarch, he is also amiable and capable of gentleness’.

For Anya Ryan at The Stage (3★), what was traditional for some was ‘a bog-standard domestic treatment’. She liked the way ‘West pours strain and contradiction into the part.’ Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out (3★) was unimpressed: ‘(West is) ‘fairly small, fairly trivial, not particularly special man’ which resulted in ‘(Posner) turning Miller’s great work into something decidedly humdrum.’

While describing the production as ‘stolid’, Susannah Clapp in The Observer (3★) thought, ‘Dominic West is a terrific Eddie, not least because…he makes you believe he has put a day in on the docks.’

Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (3★) compared Posner’s production with Ivo Van Hove’s and found it ‘less insightful, but still packs a punch’. ‘It is a gripping story, well-told,’ she said. Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (3★) was disappointed with the production, ‘If Lindsay Posner’s production were a Christmas dinner, it would be one with tasty trimmings but an overcooked bird‘ and with West ‘this Eddie tussles with others but not himself. There’s no internal battle.’

Average critics’ rating 3.5★
Value Rating 21 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

A View From The Bridge  runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3 August 2024. Buy tickets direct from Theatre Royal

If you’ve seen A View From The Bridge, please add your review and rating below

 

 

Ben Whishaw in Bluets – Royal Court Theatre

Bluets is a dream of a show

Ben Whishaw in Bluets at the Royal Court. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

Bluets is not a theatre show, it’s an unusual hybrid of stage and screen. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, particularly those who love pure theatre. On the plus side, it’s not like far too many recent gimmicky stage productions where video is used to provide close-ups or scenes of what’s happening off-stage. Normally I would avoid that sort of thing, but this is something special.

It’s the making of a film, live, with the actors reciting words from Maggie Nelson’s book Bluets, while carrying out actions that are projected on a large screen. I admit this sounds more like something you might see at Tate Modern, and without the presence of Ben Whishaw, maybe it wouldn’t have made it to the stage of the Jerwood Downstairs theatre at the Royal Court. Having said that, director Katie Mitchell does have a long and distinguished record of creating what she calls ‘live cinema’. But, if it does sound strange, or even off-putting to you, I can only say I found Bluets both fascinating and deeply moving.

Let’s start with the words. After all, it is based on a book of what could be called short prose-poems, in which Maggie Nelson describes and meditates on three recurring themes- the effect of and gradual recovery from the breakup of a relationship, a close friend’s reaction to becoming a quadriplegic, and her fascination with the colour blue, which is genuinely interesting.
Kayla Meikle in Bluets. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

The language- its rhythms and metaphors- is poetic and moving. It’s also quite funny in a self-deprecating way. For example, she is excited to come across a book called Deepest Blue (I think) in a bookshop, only to find it’s about depression. She hastily puts it back, only to tell us she bought it six months later – pause- ‘online’.

Ben Whishaw will have sold many of the tickets and he does deliver, with a sad voice and a twinkling eye, but so do the other two actors Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle. The trio sit in a row, sharing the lines, so that the words are delivered almost staccato by their alternating voices. The effect is to make you concentrate and hear every word. I found that the varied voices and personas made the author and her highly personal subject matter seem more universal.
Emma D’Arcy in Bluets at the Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

Then there is the videoing. Each actor has a table next to them, a camera in front of them, and a monitor behind them. The film, shown on a big screen above them, illustrates what is being said. The actors sometimes stand in front of the monitors, as if they are green screens, and this, thanks to superb lighting by Anthony Doran, converts onto the large screen as them seeming to walk down a street, drive a car, or dry their hair in a changing room. Often, the actors’ heads or hands are viewed in close-up as they rest on a pillow, or touch each other, or handle blue objects. It is an extraordinary experience to watch them talk and move, sometimes in synch, and then see this, combined with some pre-recorded moments, become a movie before one’s eyes.

Cinema, which is usually immutable, becomes a live performance. The way it can change in small ways from night to night suggested to me the way our mental lives -feelings, memories, dreams- change with each circumstance and in each moment. The live video is a masterpiece in coordination, designed by Ellie Thompson and directed by Grant Gee.
The adaptation of Maggie Nelson’s book by Margaret Perry is a fine work in itself, and the soundtrack by Paul Clark, which mixes music, nature and street sounds, is as disturbing and reflective as the language.
Bluets is only 70 minutes long but it has the timeless quality of a dream or a memory.
This is the opening production of the first season by the Royal Court’s new artistic director David Byrne. After a lacklustre period under Vicky Featherstone, when I all but stopped going to the Royal Court, I am now looking forward to some exciting times ahead.
Bluets can be seen at the Royal Court until 29 June 2024
Paul was given a review ticket.

Reviews Roundup: Punchdrunk’s Viola’s Room

One Cartridge Place, Woolwich

Punchdrunk’s Viola’s Room. Photo: Julian Abrams

After the scale and complexity of The Burnt City, Punchdrunk are back with a more intimate immersion piece in which the audience are led six at a time through a series of rooms listening to a story narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter, and there are no live actors. Co-directed by Felix Barrett and Hector Harkness, it tells of a search for a doomed teenage princess.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

The Guardian‘s Arifa Akbar (5★) loved it: ‘it inspires so much puzzling wonder that you want to go straight back in to find other undisturbed paths in the search for Viola.’ She explained that it ‘hovers delicately between bedtime story, fairytale, children’s game and nightmare…The story does not follow rational logic but turns into a weird kind of liminal babble dealing in unnameable fear, and you feel it as you travel through ever darker, narrower spaces.’

Andrjez Lukowski at Time Out (4★) was impressed: By its climax I felt like a character in a horror film, not least because of the tremendous soundtrack relayed by Gareth Fry’s extraordinary sound design…It might be short, but in those 45 minutes you’ll live a haunted lifetime.’

For Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph (4★), ‘it cast a simple, singular spell. Like Viola, I couldn’t quite bear to tear myself away; and in surrendering to feeling lost there lies an intoxicating sense of self-discovery.’ The Stage‘s Sam Marlowe (4★) said, ‘this is a beautifully wrought enchantment that skilfully blends the exquisite and the sinister.’

Anna James at WhatsOnStage (4★) praised ‘Impeccable design, labyrinths both literal and figurative, and a deep fascination with storytelling, intimacy and ritual maintain that ineffable Punchdrunk feel.’ The Observer‘s Susannah Clapp (4★) concluded: ‘Though often exquisite, sometimes apparently folkloric, Viola’s Room is sophisticated in its paradoxes. Its story is about compulsion and loss of control, yet this is the show in which Punchdrunk has most evidently controlled its own audience.’

Franco Milazzo reviewing for BroadwayWorld (3★) decided that, compared with The Burnt City, ‘Viola’s Room is overall a tighter work which offers a far more cohesive theatrical experience but, unlike many of the Punchdrunk productions before it, does not have enough wow factor to justify a second viewing.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (3★) was underwhelmed. ‘Visually and atmospherically, it’s a work of rich detail, executed with elan…Unfortunately the story itself, by Booker-shortlisted novelist Daisy Johnson, is a thin, by-the-numbers assemblage of darkly symbolic fairytale tropes with a sensual modern topspin.’

The Times‘ Clive Davis (3★) was blunt in his response: ‘It’s pointless, I suppose, expecting much in the way of substance: Punchdrunk, you see, are masters of visual muzak. Viola’s Room resembles a fairground ghost train for hipsters, only there’s no train.’ Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times  summed up, ‘Fabulous trimmings, needs more meat.’

George Simpson for The Express (3★) said, ‘Punchdrunk certainly lean into the sensory aspects of this piece over the substance of the narrative…It’s not for everyone, but if this is your bag you’ll get lost in wonder for 45 minutes.’

Fiona Mountford in the i (2★) was disappointed, ‘So underwhelmed was I by the whole set-up that I increasingly found myself longing to be frightened: anything for an enlivening dash of excitement…It’s an experience so evanescent as to leave barely any trace in our memory.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.4★

Viola’s Room can be seen at One Cartridge Place, Woolwich, until 20 August 2024. Buy tickets direct from punchdrunk.com

If you’ve seen Viola’s Room, please add your review and rating below

 

 

Reviews Roundup: Boys From The Blackstuff 3.7★

National Theatre & Garrick Theatre

Barry Sloane in Boys From The Blackstuff. Photo: Alistair Muir

James Graham, the modern master of political drama, was one of the few playwrights who could possibly bring Alan Bleasdale’s class TV series Boys from the Blackstuff to the stage. The critics agreed that he has succeeded, although there was some disagreement about how well it lived up to the original. The Royal Court Liverpool production, directed by Kate Wasserberg, opened in the city where the series was set, before transferring first to the National Theatre and then The Garrick. The whole cast was praised but all eyes were on the most memorable character Yosser Hughes. Whether or not Barry Sloane ever said to the producers, ‘I can do that’, there was universal agreement that they were right to give him the job.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Sarah Hemming writing for The Financial Times (4★) called it ‘a funny, punchy, humane two-act play’, but she thought, ‘Sometimes the narrative feels unclear and bittier than it might have if Graham had written a stage drama from scratch.’ Andrzej Lukowski  at Time Out (4★) found it a stirring play’ even though ‘Graham’s adaptation can’t quite escape the fact that he’s adapting an anthology-style TV series that didn’t have a single storyline running throughout its whole length.’

Calling it ‘flawed but stirring’, Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard (4★) said, ‘While Blackstuff has his customary, vigorous blend of hard politics and demotic entertainment, it’s not his subtlest work.’ He liked the way ‘Wasserberg keeps the action brisk though, and the acting is full-throated and vivid.’ As a Liverpudlian who lived in the city during the period depicted, Gary Naylor at BroadwayWorld (4★) offered a personal  perspective on the characters and events. As to the play, he found it ‘too episodic, too rooted in its specificities of industrial, northern, working class male culture teetering on the brink, too tied to its source material.’ It was he said, ‘An all-time great television show becoming a pretty good play is perhaps as much as one could have hoped for.’

Olivia Rook at LondonTheatre (4★) was more positive about James Graham’s play, proclaiming he ‘perfectly translates Bleasdale’s naturalistic drama to the stage.’ She pointed out, ‘Despite the inevitable bleakness that surrounds their lives, this is also a play with heart, warmth, and camaraderie.’ Heather Neill at The Arts Desk (4★) also felt the play worked in its own right: ‘the building of an ensemble under Kate Wasserberg’s direction, while losing something of the visceral anguish of the television series, brings a greater sense of the whole community in free fall. Liverpool is itself a presence underlined by Amy Jane Cook’s set, backed by Jamie Jenkyn’s video of the restless Mersey.’

Clive Davis in The Times (3★) wasn’t so sure. ‘Graham and the director Kate Wasserberg haven’t quite solved the problem of how to squeeze a five-part saga into a single piece. Much of the detail is lost in a blur of scene-setting.’ Then again, ‘Barry Sloane comes impressively close to reproducing the intensity of the late Bernard Hill.’ Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) had mixed feelings. ‘The strength of Bleasdale’s material is a blessing and a curse. Graham feels the need to preserve it, but that stops the play becoming something that coheres in its own right,’ he said. ‘‘Too often…it’s a tribute to a series from 40 years ago, rather than a play for today.’ However, ‘Graham nails it, not on the structural level but in its guts’

Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (3★) was one of a number who felt ‘Its compression means that it becomes episodic.’ She said, ‘it doesn’t have the same visceral impact as the series. …Nevertheless, it is a thoughtful and moving piece of writing.’ She praised the director: ’Kate Wasserberg directs with a smart sense of the liveliness.’ Sam Marlowe of The Stage (3★) had similar thoughts: ‘The staging feels diffuse, the overlapping stories failing to cohere or acquire momentum. But although it doesn’t hit us hard enough where it hurts, there are still moments that stir to anger or grief.’ She observed that Yosser Hughes was played by ‘Barry Sloane as a muscular, vibrating, snarling mass of rage and pain.’

As is often the case, the two Guardian titles decided that, having reviewed it when it opened in Liverpool, they needn’t bother with its London transfer. Back then, Susannah Clapp in The Observer (4★) said ‘it lands in the present with a punch.’ Mark Fisher reporting for The Guardian (4★), having praised said, ‘It adds to a richly enjoyable show, funny, incendiary and humane.’ Mark Brown for the Telegraph (4★) wrote, ‘Graham has crafted aspects of Bleasdale’s work into a brilliantly honed two-and-a-half hours of theatre.’

Average critics’ rating 3.7★
Value Rating 50 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

Boys from the Blackstuff can be seen at the National Theatre until 8 June, and then at the Garrick Theatre, London, from 13 June to 3 August 2024. 

If you’ve seen Boys From The Blackstuff, please add your review and rating below

Izzard Hamlet 2★

Riverside Studios

Izzard Hamlet at Riverside Studios. Photo: Amanda Searle

Is this the worse show in London? The Izzard Hamlet, in which the stand-up comedian and actor (now using the pronoun ‘she’) plays every role, has been greeted by extraordinarily bad reviews, including two 1 star ratings. The theme seemed to be that she failed to provide any depth to the characters.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

The Telegraph‘s Dominic Cavendish (3★) was one of the few critics to award more than two stars, and he was far from complimentary- ‘The dividends…in a daunting test of stamina, textual focus and gender-flipping, seem pretty minima,’ he said. He continued that the acting was ‘efficiently and lucidly executed, but lacking much interiority and passion’. Cheryl Markosky at Broadway World (3★) enjoyed her evening, ‘You’re right there with Izzard, a lone figure on stage who makes Hamlet real and vital.’

Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (2★) commented, ‘any reading of Hamlet is hard to fathom. There is little interiority, little sense of the agony or gravity of his predicament nor the huge issues at stake.’ Dominic Maxwell at The Times (2★) had the same thought: ‘what Izzard doesn’t do is bring inner life to these ricocheting ruminations…Without more solidity, the performance is only as good as its last well-spoken line.’ He didn’t hold back: ‘this is indulgent nonsense’.

Fiona Mountford at inews (2★) hitout: ‘Izzard’s take is simply too frenetic, little more than a glossy vanity project, an impressive feat of line-learning.’ ‘What is entirely lacking,’ she said, ‘is any sense of Hamlet’s grief, soul-searching and existential angst.’ Georgia Luckhurst in The Stage (2★) was also unimpressed, ‘after landing heavy hitters like “to be, or not to be”…she adopts a hasty delivery that suggests an insecurity about the play’s supporting characters.’ She concluded, ‘if you like your Hamlet less harried, this may not be for you’

The Guardina’s Arifa Akbar gave what for her is a rare 1★, saying, ‘Izzard diligently channelling words rather than any meaningful interpretation of the role.’ ‘Most frustratingly,’ she vented, “Izzard uses the same tone for every character’. Nick Curtis gave a no-holds-barred critique in The Standard (1★), calling it ‘risible’ and ‘an act of colossal vanity and hubris, hung on the skimpiest artistic justification’. He complained, ‘Izzard musters barely any characterisation, emotion or grandeur’. He ended with a heartfelt: ‘Why? That’s the question you ask yourself throughout.’

Critics’ Average Rating 2★

Izzard Hamlet can be seen at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London, until 230 June 2024. Buy tickets direct from riversidestudios.co.uk

If you’ve seen Izzard Hamlet, please add your review and rating below

Bluets (Royal Court) – Reviews Roundup 3.1★

Royal Court- Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

Ben Whishaw in Bluets at Royal Court theatre. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

In her book, Maggie Nelson writes numerous short pieces that explore pleasure, pain, and her love of the colour blue. In Margaret Perry’s stage adaptation, three actors create small moments for ‘live cinema’ as the director Katie Mitchell calls it. The drama might have been marginalised as an art installation, except the actors in question are Ben Whishaw, Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle, and this is the first production at the Royal Court under its new artistic director David Byrne.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (4★) was the most enthusiastic reviewer: ‘Both in live action and screen picture, the actors have a sense of intent purpose. However complex the technical demands made of them, they give a performance that is utterly unified and entirely believable.’ She summed up, ‘it is stylish, and full of wonder, a compelling portrait of sadness that somehow finds its way to acceptance and even hope.’ Dave Fargnoli in The Stage (4★) was also impressed, ‘Incisively adapted for the stage by Margaret Perry, the elusive text feels like an ideal match for director Katie Mitchell’s signature cinematic style, which blends performance, live video and pre-recorded footage to extraordinary effect.’ He concluded, ‘it’s a challenging, yet deeply rewarding watch, suffused with wistful beauty.’

Like many of the reviewers, Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph (3★) seemed more impressed by the way it was done than the effect: ‘As a technical feat, it’s impressive: how do Whishaw, along with Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle, each focused yet frenetic amid an obscuring array of equipment, get so much done, without slipping up?’ Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out (3★) was of a similar mind: ‘As ever with Mitchell, the text is interesting, but the real action lies in admiring her virtuosic staging – the cast are good, but they’re skilled cogs in Mitchell’s prodigious machine.’ The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (3★) thought it was ‘cool and accomplished. More intriguing than disturbing.’

Arifa Akbar of The Guardian (3★) was stirred but not shaken: ‘there is still a sense of morsels of thought being offered which never metabolise into anything bigger…Ultimately, it is an odd night at the theatre, but not an uninteresting one.’ She said of the actors, ‘D’Arcy, Meikle and Whishaw perform with smooth, speedy synchronicity.’ Fiona Mountford at i-news (3★) thought the same but was more blunt, ‘It’s all very technically impressive, of course, but quite what this incessant faffing about adds to the text itself is another question entirely. My overriding feeling at the end of the 80 minutes was that Bluets is not a quarter as profound as Mitchell thinks it is.’

Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (3★) said, ‘I’m so glad I saw Bluets. Without more story to sustain its 80 minutes, though, I was also so glad when it ended.

Aliya Al-Hassan at LondonTheatre (3★) felt ‘the overall look and feel is often more art installation than theatrical performance’  but ‘the cast work incredibly well together, moving deftly as they convey the stream of consciousness‘. Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) thought ‘Perry’s adaptation…keeps many of its most beautiful lines, and having the added textures of the film…creates…a theatrical piece unlike much else in London at the moment.’ He concluded with a backhanded compliment, ‘it’s a slog, even at 80 minutes. But my goodness it’s a beautiful slog.’

Not so beautiful for The Times’ Clive Davis (2★), who was having none of it: ’80 minutes begins to feel like eight hours. Whishaw and his colleagues are reduced to the level of well-drilled marionettes’.

Average critics’ rating 3.1★

Bluets can be seen at the Royal CourtTheatre until 29 June 2024. Buy tickets direct from royalcourttheatre.com

Read Paul Seven Lewis’s 5 star review of Bluets
If you’ve seen Bluets, please add your review and rating below

Tom Holland in Romeo and Juliet – reviews roundup 3.3★

Duke Of York’s Theatre

Tom Holland & Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Marc Brenner

The hordes of Tom Holland fans may have little interest in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Romeo and Juliet, or even in the acting, but the critics had plenty to say about both. It’s not unusual to have mixed reviews but rare that they range from 5 stars to 1 star. What divided them was the multi-media production which thrilled some and alienated others. Reviews of Mr Holland were mainly complimentary, although it was Francesca Amewudah-Rivers’ Juliet that took the acting laurels.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (5★) was taken to the heights. ‘The West End hasn’t ever really seen an R&J like it,’ he claimed. He described its Hollywood star as ‘beefy of bicep, but pale, achingly tender, at times teary and then cheery, all hormonal vulnerability’ but reserved his greatest praise for Juliet: ‘Amewudah-Rivers, 26, is a huge find, by turns understated, coy, comically off-hand, and defiantly passionate.’  He praised director Lloyd for ‘placing the lyrical language centre-stage.’ His conclusion? ‘The street-wise, star-cross’d lovers hold us in their spell, stamp the play with a 2024 freshness’

Patrick Marmion in the Mail (4★) went all weak-kneed: ‘Sometimes, it even feels as if Lloyd is deliberately trying to throttle the life out of the febrile passion that normally drives this headlong love story. And yet, cometh the hour, cometh the (Spider) man… all 5ft 8ins of him. Damn, he’s a buff and good-looking bloke. His commanding cheekbones and curving jaw suck the breath from the audience and keep us wrapped in his dreamy gaze.’ The Standard‘s Nick Curtis (4★) asserted, ‘They’re the most spellbinding star-crossed lovers I’ve seen in years.’ Tom Holland, he said, ‘gives us an impressive foreshadowing of the classical actor he could become.’ Of the production, he told us, ‘The action is sliced, diced and interspliced into a brisk two hours, laced with occasional anachronisms, blinding lights and jagged bursts of industrial music.’ In defence of Jamie Lloyd, he said, ‘the narrow view of Lloyd’s productions as mere star vehicles ignores his always-detailed ensemble work and the way he promotes new talent. Freema Agyeman and Michael Balogun find rarely-plumbed depths in the Nurse and the Friar here.’

Olivia Rook at London Theatre (4★) called it ‘a sexy, intense, and haunting piece of theatre.’ ‘Holland’s assured performance…graduates from laddish confidence to rippling rage. His talent is easily met by rising star Francesca Amewudah-Rivers.’ Sarah Hemming writing for The Financial Times (4★) had this analysis, ‘this is a compelling production: vivid, sad, restless. It brings home forcefully — and perhaps this is its point in today’s world — that death is not romantic.’
Andrzej Lukowski In Time Out (4★) decided, ‘this is a show about dead people. It’s staged like a particularly stylish radio play, the cast frequently standing static but artfully framed, talking into old fashioned floor mics.’ As to the actors, ‘Holland has a powerful stillness to him’ and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers ‘has a beautiful voice, an elegant lilt that works perfectly in a production that eschews physical business.’ He advised, ‘adjust to its fugue state and it’s deeply compelling.’

Susanna Clapp in The Observer (4★) said (and she’s seen a few) Francesca Amewudah-Rivers ‘is one of the best Juliets I have seen…I have never heard “What’s in a name?” considered with such precise wonder.’ Tom Holland is ‘light but concentrated, not soggy with romanticism but slipping easily in and out of tears…Together they fizz, often humorously, pointing up the verse with 21st-century inflections.’

Then come the reservations about Jamie Lloyd’s production. Sam Marlowe in The Stage (3★) found ‘the use of mics is inconsistent and seems to serve no particular purpose, and some of the filmed footage is equally confusing.’ Nevertheless she thought ‘Lloyd’s production is an arresting vision of an inequitable society in freefall, and of lost young people desperately attempting to navigate the disintegration guided by nothing but their own confused and fervid feelings.’ Arifa Akbar of The Guardian (3★) thought  ‘Holland and Amewudah-Rivers are perfectly cast, wired with an awkwardly cool teen energy, she a mix of innocence and streetwise steel, he jittering with sweaty-palmed earnestness’ but ‘Actors speak their lines – in a line – at the audience, a recurring tic in Lloyd’s work, now more insistently puzzling in its distancing, anti-dramatic effects, and too stilted to let loose the play’s passion.’ In the end, she felt that ‘The deliberate underplaying of emotion ultimately leeches the play of its tragedy.’

The Times’ Clive Davis (3★) declared himself ‘more perplexed than gripped‘. He explained, ‘What we get here is auteur theatre in which the actors are reduced to chess pieces to be nudged here and there by an invisible hand.’ It was, he said, ‘a conscientious but colourless radio drama’ in which ‘characters often address microphones rather than each other’. However he had positive words about Tom Holland: ‘This Romeo is quiet, fresh-faced and sensitive. In the opening scenes he really does convince you that he is an adolescent adrift, waiting to abandon himself to a doomed romance’.

’I was always interested, but I can’t say it made feel much,’ said Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (3★).

After that, it gets worse. Hugh Montgomery of the BBC (2★) found it ‘a depressingly lifeless affair, which somehow manages to be both overstated and underpowered.’ ‘What really sinks things,’ he said, ‘is the continuous use of live camerawork.’ ‘Rather than the thrill of an unmediated live experience, the audience is dislocated from the performers, the performers are dislocated from each other, and there is little sense of a coherent world in which the characters exist.’ Tim Bano in The Independent (2★) called it ‘a Romeo & Juliet muttered through head mics, housed in a shell of industrial chic – or it was chic the first time Lloyd did it.’ As to the star-crossed lovers: ‘Holland’s acting skills are abundant in all the bits when he’s not speaking…he acts best with his face, she with her voice.’

Neil Norman of The Express (1★) didn’t mince his words: ‘Absolute drivel.’ He explained, ‘how quickly the trademarks of a Jamie Lloyd production have become clichéd and predictable.’ He didn’t like the star attraction either, ‘As Romeo, Tom Holland is a charisma free zone, achieving the unlikely feat of being both buff and weedy.’

Average critics’ rating 3.3★
Value Rating 21 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

Romeo & Juliet runs at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until 3 August 2024. Buy tickets direct from thedukeofyorks.com

If you’ve seen Romeo & Juliet, please add your review and rating below

Reviews Roundup: Passing Strange 3.6★

Young Vic

Actor Marc Brenner stands upstage with a microphone in front musicians and bideo screens in scene from the Young Vic production of Passing Strange
Giles Terera in Passing Strange. Photo: Marc Brenner

A middle-aged African American played by Giles Terera looks back on his life and how, as a young musician, he went on a musical odyssey to find himself and his place in the world. It’s a semi-autobiographical work by Mark Lamar Stewart, co-composed with Heidi Rodewald.

Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Adam Bloodworth at CityAM (5 ★) loved it: ‘this rock musical about a young man who leaves his religious upbringing to devour the 1970s punk scenes of Berlin and Amsterdam stirs the soul.’ He continued , ‘It does so in a way I haven’t quite seen before: the story of the unnamed ‘Youth’ is delivered by a live rock band’s fourth-wall-breaking singer-narrator, played with a velvety confidence and almost frustrating suaveness by Giles Terera’ ‘There are some astonishing pieces of choreography.’ His conclusion was, ‘There’s nothing quite like this on the London stage right now.’
Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (4★) was enthusiastic: The show was ‘so wildly, and often loudly, offbeat that there’s never a dull moment.’ He ended, ‘Not revelatory, perhaps, but invigoratingly strange, and bittersweet.’

Fiona Mountford in the i (4★) declared, ‘Passing Strange is most definitely a musical, but it’s not like any musical I have ever seen before – and what a thrill it is.’ She continued ‘Passing Strange delights in toying with our expectations and casually breaking the fourth wall when it fancies, and Liesl Tommy’s tremendously self-assured production pulls it all off with conviction and panache.’

Dominic Cooke of the Sunday Times (4★) said ‘it is a vivid tale of a young man’s search for authenticity that knows authenticity is both liberation and bunkum. Pitched between rock gig and musical, memoir and performance art, it’s musical theatre that even those who don’t like musical theatre can love. It’s satirical, stirring, tuneful, tender, awkward, alive.’

Marianka Swain writing for LondonTheatre discovered (4★), ‘this form-busting show is still a distinctly singular experience, but surrender to its idiosyncratic rhythms and it’s a soulful, rich, witty wonder.’ She praised its star: ‘Terera is a total rock star in a role that could have been tailor-made for him.’ Kate Wyver in The Guardian (4★) offered a paean to the lead: ‘You can’t take your eyes off him. The script for this autobiography of an artist isn’t always nuanced but Giles Terera as its narrator is sublime, filling every line with the weight of time passed, every move with the knowledge of mistakes made. And he has a cracking turn on the electric guitar….He holds the years in his gaze, the longing, the loss, the what-could-have-been. He doesn’t just play the part, he lives it.’

Tom Wicker at Time Out (3★) found ‘Liesl Tommy’s staging of the show has charisma to spare…Terera is the lynchpin here, tying emotional loose ends together with effortless dexterity.’ His reservation was: ‘This production wants to have its cake and eat it, expecting us to laugh at everything in, but to take its own brand of earnestness seriously.’ For Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (3★), ‘It is so exhilarating and Giles Terera so charismatic’. She liked the way it is ‘powered by a rich score (co-written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald) that mixes musical styles’. Where it fell down for her is that the ‘second act and the energy vanishes like air from a balloon…the lessons learnt by a young man on his life’s journey are replaced by platitudes about life and art’.

The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (3★) said Giles Terera gave ‘a beautifully relaxed, melodious performance.’ But, ‘the production never quite lands its art vs life message, while insistently making it‘. Nick Curtis in The Standard (3★) said it’s ‘simultaneously familiar, sketchy, self-indulgent and pretentious, but it’s told in Liesl Tommy’s new production with undeniable verve and brio.’

Anya Ryan in The Stage (3★) said, It’s a messy voyage of self-discovery…it feels somewhat self-indulgent.’ However the star did not disappoint:  ‘Terera once again proves himself to be one of Britain’s most versatile actors working today, with charismatic confidence and a voice as sumptuous as ever.’
For Clive Davis in The Times (3★), ‘Some of the numbers, co-written with Heidi Rodewald, have a genuinely anthemic quality. It helps that the cast are quite capable of crashing through the fourth wall and joshing with the audience. And Stewart’s script contains zingers…It’s just a shame that the show runs out of ideas in the second half and turns mawkish at the end. Until then, it’s a blast.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.6★

Passing Strange can be seen at Young Vic until 6 July 2024. Buy tickets directly from youngvic.org

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