Guys And Dolls – Bridge Theatre – review

Daniel Mays & Marisha Wallace lead an extraordinary theatrical experience


The cast of Guys And Dolls at the Bridge Theatre London dance on stage
Guys And Dolls at the Bridge Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

From the moment you walk into the auditorium at the Bridge Theatre and see the in-the-round arrangement, with half the audience milling about on the stage floor, neon lights hanging above them, you know this production of Guys And Dolls is going to be something special.

If you’re not familiar with Guys And Dolls, you might wonder what makes it for many people including myself the greatest musical. Of course, there are other candidates but it’s hard to find another that offers quite such riches. Thanks to Abe Burrows, and the source material by Damon Runyon, it has a clever, fast moving, romantic plot with witty, captivating dialogue. This is integrated with a packed score of classic songs by Frank Loesser from solos to duets to trios to ensembles, that set the mood, carry the story forward, and bring out all the complexities of the characters.

Until now, Richard Eyre‘s legendary National Theatre production of 1982 (for those of us that saw it) is probably the one every other production is judged by, but the Bridge Theatre‘s Nicholas Hytner has produced a rival.

The overture begins, the neon signs fly upwards, and risers appear out of the floor. Designer Bunny Christie has choreographed the rise and fall of numerous platforms across the whole of the stage area as beautifully as Arlene Phillips has the dancing. Working in the round is never easy for the lighting designer, but the stage, or stages are cleverly lit by Paule Constable so all is illuminated without the light getting in your eyes.

It took some time for my jaw to stop dropping, as the incredible front-of-house staff, many in police outfits, gently corralled the crowd out of the way of the many different interconnecting platforms going seamlessly up and down.

And that’s just the beginning of the way director Nicholas Hytner tackles the challenge of presenting a musical that, for all its qualities, is still riven with the sexism of the 1950s. By making a significant chunk of the audience part of the show, they (and by proxy those of us who were sitting)  join the strange parallel universe of Runyonland, a world with stylised language, comic criminals, and binary guys and dolls. In this fantasy world, the men can all be gamblers and wastrels following Nathan Detroit’s floating crap game, and the women can all be Christian missionaries or strippers- the classic virgin or whore, until the happy ending brings us back to a more normal world, as if we have woken from a dream.

Then there’s the way Mr Hytner has cast the show. There are two love stories that give Guys And Dolls its momentum. For a bet, gambler Sky Masterston needs to seduce Sarah Brown, the buttoned-up leader of a Salvation Army-like mission. And Nathan Detroit needs to keep stringing along his hapless fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide. In other words, the women are presented in the musical as the weaker sex. So, as if to make up for this, the production gives them the best and strongest voices in the show.

That’s no offence to Daniel Mays in the role of Nathan Detroit who has a decent singing voice. He sings his big duet Sue Me with great poignancy, but it is not challenging as a song, given that it was originally written for Sam Levine who was tone deaf. Andrew Richardson as Sky Masterson also sounds perfectly good but Celinde Schoenmaker as Sarah has a big lunged, high note hitting voice. And Marisha Wallace, who plays Miss Adelaide has a voice that could blow the roof off, and a personality to match. So while Miss Adelaide is a slave to her love for Nathan, in every other respect she comes across as a liberated, strong woman.

When Sarah and Adelaide sing the duet Marry The Man Today, they match one another note for note and provide one of the highlights of the show.

The rest of the cast are racially diverse, which is another way of pulling the musical into the present day.

The tone of the musical is set from the first number when out of the bustling crowd of actors and audience emerge a trio of petty criminals who sing Tinhorn Fugue, a song about betting on horses in which the actors sing different lyrics simultaneously to the same tune. The complexity of this circular canon delights and exhilarates, and sets us up for a musical which will continue to excite those emotions.

And what emotions they are. We’re quickly plunged into the first meeting between Sky and Sarah in which they sing the beautiful romantic song I’ll Know in which each describes their ideal lover.

The transformational power of love is the driving force of this musical, or, as the song puts it: ‘When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky,
you can bet that he’s doing it for some doll.’ In this production, the sexual side of love is accentuated. Miss Adelaide’s cabaret act is raunchier than I’ve ever seen it, especially when the Hot Box dancers give us a highly suggestive strip show to the tune of Take Back Your Mink; and in the Havana night club to which Sky takes Sarah, there is some very sensual dancing, at times between male couples (another nod to modernity).

Arlene Phillips’ dance routines are outstanding

Guys And Dolls at the Bridge Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

And that trip to Havana is the point at which Sky and Sarah fall in love. Sarah, having got drunk, gets in a fight, then sings the stand-out song If I Were A Bell. Celinde Schoenmaker hits jaws and notes with equal force. For me, this was the best of legendary choreographer Arlene Phillips’ many outstanding dance routines, as Sarah leaps on and off lampposts and free falls into Sky’s arms. Both song and movement express the exuberance of falling in love.

Daniel Mays is peerlessBack to the floating crap game: before Andrew Richardson‘s slightly rumpled Sky Masterton sings a tense version of Luck, Be A Lady, Nathan Detroit is found squirming in the threatening presence of the gangster Big Jule, played by Cameron Johnson. While Daniel Mays is perfectly capable as a singer, as an actor he is peerless. Think Del Boy Trotter meets Arthur Daley and you get some idea of his realisation of a character who is both dominant to those below him and submissive to those above. Nathan may have a New York accent but in Daniel Mays’ hands he is straight out of the East End, titfer and all.

Then, as the gamblers assemble in the Mission Hall, we come to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat, another fast, intoxicating song. It’s a classic 11 o’clock number (the name given to a showstopper that comes near the end of a musical), and Cedric Neal as Nicely-Nicely Johnson certainly does stop the show!

The song gets the many encores it deserves and the audience expects, not only for Mr Neal’s enthusiastic singing but also for the way the congregation sway in unison in their seats- yet another inventive dance sequence choreographed by Arlene Phillips. It’s a climactic moment that catapults us to the resolution of the plot.

But it ain’t over til it’s over. After the finale featuring the song Guys And Dolls, and the bows and the applause, the cast stay on the floor to dance with the audience, as the orchestra under the direction of Tom Brady plays us out.

If I have one reservation, it’s this. It’s inevitable that, with the risers going up and down, there is minimum scenery. No problem most of the time, but occasionally you may lose track of where we’re supposed to be.

One last thing. While the show is intended to be immersive and is aimed first and foremost at those standing on the floor, not everyone will want to stand and look up for over two hours. If you decide to buy a seat, the best in my opinion are in the centre of stalls rows BB and CC. In these seats, you will be level with the actors on the raised platforms, and feel close to the action. You will also be able to see the splendid orchestra on the opposite side of the auditorium at the back of the circle, and, as a bonus, you will have easy access to the onstage party at the end of the show.

Guys And Dolls is at The Bridge Theatre until 2 September 2023

Paul paid for his ticket

Click here to watch this review on our YouTube channel Theatre.Reviews With Paul Seven




Elton John’s Tammy Faye – Almeida Theatre – review

Like Tammy Faye herself, the musical by Elton John, Jake Shears & James Graham is good but flawed


Actors Andrew Rannells and Katie Brayben stand together singing a song in a scene from Tammy Faye the musical at the Almeida Theatre
Andrew Rannells and Katie Brayben in Tammy Faye

The music for Tammy Faye the musical is by Elton John. It’s hard to tell at one listen how catchy the tunes are but they’re in the style of his glam rock heights and a few certainly get the heart racing. His lyricist is Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters fame. He does the job of illustrating what’s going on but on first hearing the lyrics are sharp but without any of the unexpected words or rhymes that you find in the very best.

The book by James Graham is funny and revealing. He’s maybe a little too interested in the story of the rise and fall of TV evangelists in 1980s America than that of Tammy Faye herself, despite it being the most human of tragedies.

James Graham clearly believes in the adage “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So, this musical is another example of him giving us a history lesson and telling us why it’s important.
In This House, he told us about what happened behind the scenes in 1979 during a minority Labour government. In Ink, he wrote about the rise of the Murdoch-style tabloid. In Labour Of Love, he examined the last few decades of the Labour Party.

His most recent play Best Of Enemies, which has just opened in the West End (I gave it a 5 star review when it premiered at the Young Vic a year ago), tells us about two what we would now call political pundits who faced up to one another in the first popular TV debates in America back in 1968 (when President Nixon was elected). He showed that it sowed the seeds of today’s polarisation between the liberal left and the conservative right.

In Tammy Faye, he again goes back to the early days of television and the rise of the conservative right. Evangelists, following in the footsteps of Billy Graham, were inspiring masses of people in churches and arenas with their fiery sermons. Then they discovered television and in the 70s and 80s became known to millions who paid massive amounts of money to their churches, a lot of which they pocketed. More importantly, perhaps, is their association with politics in America.

I thought Presidents had ended their speeches to the nation with ‘God Bless America’ since time immemorial but I learned from this musical that President Nixon was the first to use it. Prior to that, Presidents carefully stuck to the constitutional requirement to keep church and state separate.

The evangelists expanded on this, with the help of Ronald Reagan, to create the so-called Moral Majority and a Christian right. One evangelist Pat Robertson, played in this production as a smarmy snake by Nicholas Rowe, even put himself forward as a potential Republican Presidential candidate. Ever since then, the Republican Party has relied on the Christian right to deliver them substantial numbers of votes, and has tailored its policies accordingly. So, the establishment of women’s and gay rights has been slowed down, and, in the case of access to abortion, reversed. So, very relevant to today’s world.

Anyway, that’s the history lesson, and you really wish James Graham had been your history teacher in school. The characters he creates are funny and frightening at the same time. Take the evangelist Jerry Falwell, Tammy’s nemesis. He is portrayed as a humourless, negative, mean-spirited man with narrow eyes, a dead voice and a hangdog expression. In one of the many funny lines, it is said he didn’t die of heart failure, he lived with it. It is actually hard to believe this character could evangelise anyone but the brilliant performance by Zubin Varla sends a chill through the auditorium.

Dancers on stage in a scnee from Tammy Faye by Elton John
Tammy Faye the musical

Tammy herself is seen rising from a tacky Christian puppet show to faltering TV presenter to the star of America’s biggest Christian channel, and the founder of a Christian theme park (“like Disneyland but with better people”).
Of course, it’s her husband Jim Bakker who initially gets top billing, because the evangelical Christians believed that a woman’s place is in the home or, if not, as a support for her husband. All the evangelical men we meet behave badly, eventually succumbing to pride, greed, adultery or some other sin. Her husband too lets her down.

He’s played by American actor Andrew Rannells who is extremely funny whether he is being nervous at being on TV, pompous when he believes himself to be in control, or snivelling at his failure.

Tammy’s star shines because she is not the stereotype mousey housewife. She is bright in brain, eyes and dress- great glittering costumes from Katrina Lindsay by the way. She is witty, and she’s compassionate to the point of crying on a regular basis. It takes someone exceptional to play a funny, warm woman who can also belt out high octane songs. This production has such a performer in Katie Brayben who has a beautiful voice and powerful lungs, and can hold the entire audience in her hands. Even when she is brought down by her only too human failings, we continue to love her because she exudes goodness and humility and humour.

What really sets her apart, other than being a woman in this man’s world, is that, while the others preach hate, she preaches love. Her fellow evangelists are homophobic and consider AIDS to be a plague sent by God. She says Christians should love everybody. She brings people onto the TV show who would normally be persona non-grata to evangelicals, including most famously a gay pastor who has AIDS. This occupies a small amount of the show but is immensely moving.

But this isn’t a play, it is a musical and so stands or falls on its music. Elton John is experienced at writing musicals. He has had hits with The Lion King, Aida and of course Billy Elliott. He knows how to integrate the music with the plot so that it keeps the story moving and adds to its depth. You could easily imagine songs like If Only Love, which is a beautiful ballad, Empty Hands, If You Came to See Me Cry or Right Kind Of Faith slotting neatly into his 1970s songbook, (though perhaps not on a greatest hits album). They are stirring and often accompanied by a large chorus line of dancers, choreographed by Lynne Page. However, none of the songs are quite showstoppers, except maybe the finale See You In Heaven which certainly gets people bouncing in their seats.

Bunny Christie’s set is just right. She leaves plenty of room for the actors to move on a relatively small stage but At the back is a set of 25 identical openings that act as TV screens but are also windows out of which characters poke their heads to contribute to and comment on the on-stage activity.  These include, hilariously, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The director is Rupert Goold, who is the Almeida’s Artistic Director. You can see his hand in making this such a slick, punchy musical.

So why isn’t it a five star musical? I think the problem is that, interesting as the story of the rise and fall of the male TV evangelists is, it’s not that engaging. Yet so much time is spent on them that the central character of Tammy ends up being shortchanged. She and Jim are clearly fascinating, tragic people but they’re not explored enough, which meant I wasn’t able to get fully engaged with their story either. So, like Tammy Faye herself, this musical is very good but slightly flawed.

Click here to watch this review on the YouTube channel Theatre.Reviews With Paul Seven

Tammy Faye performed at the Almeida Theatre until 3 December 2022

Best Of Enemies at Young Vic – review

The best new play I’ve seen this year


David Harewood and Charles Edwards in Best Of Enemies by James Graham at the Young Vic in London.
David Harewood and Charles Edwards in Best Of Enemies at the Young Vic. Photo (c): Wasi Daniju

Best Of Enemies at the Young Vic is the best new play I’ve seen this year. James Graham’s writing is vivid, funny, and shocking. There are towring performances by the two leads David Harewood and Charles Edwards. And the production directed by Jeremy Herrin with a set by Bunny Christie is perfect.

Given the subject matter – the 1968 presidential election and in particular some televised debates between the influential conservative thinker William F Buckley and the liberal writer Gore Vidal – you might think Best Of Enemies is not for you, but you’d almost certainly be wrong. I know it sounds boring but believe me, in the hands of writer James Graham and director Jeremy Herrin, it becomes electrifying theatre.

Best Of Enemies may tell us a lot about the polarised society we live in today, but it does so in the form of a gripping entertainment that takes us inside the heads of two protagonists, narcissistic to the point of recklessness.

The play begins with the immediate aftermath of one of the later debates. There is anger and shock at language that has been used, although at that point we don’t know what’s been said or how it’s come to this. We then go back and see that the story began with ABC TV News, in a race for ratings, deciding to have well known intellectuals talking about the Presidential conventions, at which the Republican and Democratic candidates are elected.

This is about the corrupting influence of TV and there are three big screens high up at the back of the stage to remind what viewers are seeing, as well as showing us the studio control area. We see how the participants both take part because they see it as a way of promoting themselves. We then see over a series of debates how the confrontational format generates more heat than light.

We and they realise that how they come across is more important than what they say. Buckley’s wife Pat says: “That’s all this is. Who do I like the most?’ At the end, Vidal prophesies that this means that one day a candidate could get elected because he was more likeable rather than having the best policies. Don’t we know it?

Okay, that’s the bones of it but what James Graham has done is flesh that skeleton with bits of verbatim speech from the debates and lots of fictional dialogue that brings to life the two protagonists.

Electrifying performances by David Harewood and Charles Edwards

The two leads charge the production with electricity. David Harewood plays William F Buckley. You might be surprised that a Black actor is playing a right-winger whose whiteness was part of who he was, but a good actor inhabits the role. In this case, the role is of a man not comfortable in his own skin. Mr Harewood relishes the part, not only the external mannerisms, tics and lip licking and other nervous affectations, but also the inner person- the loneliness of the outsider, the devoted husband, the foundation of his beliefs, and the desperation to win. He does a remarkable job of making us feel sympathy for someone who could so easily be the villain, because of his racism and homophobia. When the first debates go badly for him under an onslaught from Vidal, I actually felt sorry for him. Then we see him planning to raise his game.

Charles Edwards conveys the smooth charm, razor wit, the insufferable superiority, obsession with power, and the vulnerability of Vidal. He was a patrician and his sense of superiority, while insufferable, helps him dominate those early debates. Then Buckley prepares better and starts to score points, and as Vidal squirms, so do we.

They are both intellectuals and they’re both narcissists. They want to win the debate so they can be more influential in the world of politics. Each of them is delighted when they’re recognised by leading politicians. They’re not portrayed as bad people, their extreme views seem to be more like an academic exercise than something from the heart, but they do have hearts and it’s their pride, and above all their desire to win that drives them from civilised conversation to conflict to playground name calling. Both seek out each other’s weaknesses, initially of their arguments but eventually personal ones, and you find yourself not wanting to look, as their feelings are exposed.

They live in ivory towers, not what most of the electorate would recognise as the real world. Obsessed by their personal dislike of each other, they don’t even anticipate the effect of their clashes on the world of politics, which is moving from compromise to polarisation. In the real world things fall apart.

Justina Kehinde in Best Of Enemies

We are shown something of what’s going on in that real world of 1968: Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are assassinated; an extreme feminist shoots Andy Warhol; there are protests about the Vietnam War. Looking back, we see that this was the beginning of the end of consensus politics and the start of polarisation: Left v right, young v old, plus conflicts of gender, race and sexuality. And on the other hand, there’s the so-called silent majority which Presidential candidate Richard Nixon appealed to. So tempers are rising, creating a sense of a pressure cooker.

The set itself is a small open stage surrounded on three sides by audience, turning the protagonists into gladiators in an arena.

All the other actors are first class. Among them, there’s Clare Foster as Buckley’s cheerful wife Patricia, Syrus Lowe as the angry but expressive James Baldwin and John Hodgkinson who plays the chair of the debates, revelling in the viewing figures but out of control of the wild horse he is riding. It’s only a cast of ten but they take on many characters, all well delineated, so you might think there were twice as many actors. It seems like every one of the characters has a contribution to make and every line has something to say.

Under the direction of Jeremy Herrin, this production zings along. As with the Wolf Hall trilogy or James Graham’s This House, which he also directed, he uses movement to add a physical excitement to the dialogue. I like the way he and James Graham make politics exciting. Because politicians shape our country and it’s a crying shame we find them boring or see them reduced to personalities.

Why were they the ‘best’ of enemies? They needed one another and they’re really quite similar.

Best Of Enemies is performing at the Young Vic until 22 January 2022.  Performances will be streamed live on 20, 21, 22 January, 7.30pm, and 22 January 2.30pm GMT. Tickets from

Paul received a complimentary review ticket from the producers.

Click here to watch this review on YouTube

Ralph Fiennes in Beat The Devil – review

Ralph Fiennes mouths David Hare’s righteous anger at Boris Johnson


Production shot of Ralph Fiennes in David Hare's play Beat The Devil at the Bridge Theatre in London
Ralph Fiennes in Beat The Devil. Photo: Manuel Harlan

After five months of being deprived of live theatre, I say all hail the Bridge Theatre for being, as far I’m aware, the first to put on an indoor show. How wonderful I thought not only to see Ralph Fiennes in the flesh but also to get away from the pandemic. Except David Hare’s new play Beat The Devil is about the pandemic.

Sir David caught the virus just before the lockdown and was seriously ill with it and, in this monologue through the medium of Ralph Fiennes, he talks about the progress of his illness and in parallel the actions of the government. As the virus went mad so did the government, he says, or words to that effect.

We’re all too familiar with the failings of our leaders in this crisis but it didn’t harm to be reminded of them. And he does tell both stories with righteous anger and a pleasing wit. On the personal level, there’s his puzzled response to finding that his signature dish tastes so much like sewage that he feels he must have made a  mistake in the cooking. Describing the government as ‘mediocre’, he sys, ‘does violence to the word’. Of course, if you feel the government has handled this crisis well or at least no worse than any other government would have done, I realise the polemic may lose some of its impact but it’s still fun.

It greatly helps that the lines trip off Ralph Fiennes‘ tongue so naturally, just as if he is having a conversation with us, albeit a conversation fueled by anger and bemusement. Bunny Christie’s set is admirably simple but effective, being appropriately a desk placed centre stage, which gives Mr Fiennes as the writer something to move round or sit at, under the direction of the incomparable Nicholas Hyntner.

David Hare has been writing plays for fifty years and by comparison with his best- Plenty, Skylight, Pravda, the Absence Of War– this 50 minute memoir may seem slight. It is fair to say that many elements of the public story of the pandemic will be familiar to anyone who follows the news but Sir David’s ability as a writer is undiminished. He can still coin a phrase: ‘it’s a sort of dirty bomb thrown into the body’, or be wryly detached in his descriptions of his illness thereby enabling us to see for ourselves the horror. For that reasons, it’s all the more startling when he lets out his pent up anger. ‘I don’t have survivor’s guilt, I have survivor’s rage,’ he says.

His concludes that what we need is ‘truth’. It seems incredibly potent in its simplicity.

Naturally because he was isolated during his illness, there’s no room for the renewed sense of community that many of us found during lockdown but there is a touching moment of love when he describes how his wife selflessly lay on him to keep him warm.

Photo of Ralph Fiennes facing the audience at the Bridge Theatre at the end of a peformance of David Hare's Beat The Devil
Ralph Fiennes at the Bridge Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

If anyone doubted the need for the Bridge’s precautions, the vivid description of the disease would surely change their mind. Talking of which, I understand that you might still be hesitant to go to an indoor performance but let me tell you, the safety measures taken by the Bridge Theatre were exemplary- from the controlled entrance to the thermal imaging to the one way system, to having to wear a face mask throughout the visit, to the spaced out seats. I felt totally safe. What was interesting was the way the spacing had been managed. The less than one third capacity audience still produced the atmosphere of a much fuller house.

I hope that, in giving this show four stars, I’m not just intoxicated by finally seeing a live performance.  I think not. The proof is, I would happily see it again.

Click here to watch the review on YouTube

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

Take a chance on this love story with Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham


Click here to see my review of Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham in Heisenberg The Uncertainty Principle by Simon Stephens at Wyndhams Theatre London
Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham in Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

I predict you’ll like Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle but whether you do or not depends on so many factors. An evening at the theatre is unpredictable, like the relationship that’s the subject of Simon Stephens’ new play.

Don’t let the title of put you off. It isn’t about quantum mechanics or science generally, it’s a charming love story, albeit an unlikely one.

The title does hint that it’s not a stereotypical romantic comedy designed to tug at our heartstrings. It’s more of a study of how two apparently incompatible people- a wild forty-something woman and a buttoned-up old man- start by thinking they want one thing to achieve contentment but end up finding something else is what they needed.

Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham are masterful

The characters are complex and contradictory. The woman even contradicts herself in the same sentence. She is over the top with confidence when she feels in control, falls apart when she doesn’t. The man is outwardly calm but he cries without warning.

As in a good mystery story (or the science of quantum mechanics), you sense that much lies between the lines of the script. It is crammed with clues and hints about their characters and why they might be attracted. As the man says of great music, it exists in ‘the spaces between the notes’.

This calls for masterful, nuanced acting and that’s what we get from Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham. Listening to them is like hearing a violin and cello recital.

Nodding to Heisenberg’s theories about atomic particles, the play shows that we can only ever think we know people and we can’t predict how they will behave. There’s a lot to savour in noticing how your first impression of the characters- her unbearably loud, him boringly quiet- changes as you get to know them and see them react to each other. Add to which, there is pathos in the losses that have shaped their lives, plus a lot of humour, particularly about getting old.

Marianne Elliott’s brilliant production

Bunny Christie’s fabulous minimalist white set reinforces the sense in Marianne Elliott’s brilliant production that we are observing a scientific experiment. It has no scenery or props to distract us. With each scene, the colour of Paule Constable’s lighting changes and the proscenium arch aperture alters from square to letterbox to oblong to almost crushing the woman at one point. This all affects our perception of what’s happening.

The play and the way it is presented inevitably make one think about the art of theatre. Heisenberg, in a different theory, talks about scientific experiments and the way atomic particles behave differently when observed. As an audience, we are observers. You may react differently to the person sitting next to you. Your enjoyment will be affected by that night’s audience (as will the performance). Like atomic particles, these two people’s fictional lives are changed unpredictably by each other but also by the audience’s observation of them in a play.

Simon Stephens has wrapped an unexpected love story around a fascinating look at the way theatre itself is an unpredictable experience.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is at Wyndhams Theatre, London, until 6 January 2018. Click here for tickets for Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle.

Below is the review from One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube channel

People Places And Things starring Denise Gough

Good Play With A Great Performance From Denise Gough


People Places And Things by Duncan Macmillan reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
People Places And Things at the National Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Sometimes a good play can be made great by a great actor. Sometimes a great play makes a good actor seem great.

Take the Headlong / National Theatre production of People Places And Things which is about to embark on a national tour. Duncan Macmillan‘s play is about Emma, an addict in rehab. She tells us plausible stories about her life and the people around her until a pattern emerges in which we discover she is deceiving everyone including herself. Is her name even Emma?

Although the play talks about an addict’s relationship with the world, it didn’t seem to me to give her that universal quality that makes a great play. On the other hand, it cleverly shows us what it’s like to be an addict and thus creates a great character. Other roles and group scenes don’t have the same depth, the latter even drag a little.

Powerful Agonising Performance

Denise Gough grasped this complex character with both hands and turned in one of the all-time great performances. It was all the more powerful and agonising because she underplayed what could easily have been an over-the-top portrayal.

Add Jeremy Herrin‘s direction, Bunny Christie‘s appropriately clinical set and an unnerving use of lighting and sound, and I felt I was inside Emma’s head.

The production is the same as the London one so it will be interesting to see what Lisa Dwyer Hogg, who takes over as Emma for the tour, makes of the part. I can imagine many great actors in the future choosing this play to showcase their talent.

Other roles and the group scenes in People Places And Things don’t have the same depth, the latter even drag a little.

There are many moments of humour alongside the desperation and self deception. When she’s off her head, Emma is comic as well as tragic. Her resistance to the group sessions and twelve steps to recovery are as funny as they are sad.

Between 22 September and 25 November 2017 the tour of People Places And Things will visit Manchester, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton, Liverpool and Cambridge. More information and booking details on the National Theatre website.

See my video review on my YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews
Or view here