Category Archives: Theatre Companies


Oppenheimer John Heffernan as oppenheimer ben allen as edward tellerOppenheimer’ by Tom Morton-Smith at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

March, 2015

A guest review by Derek Linney

Oppenheimer provided us with the motivation to take a trip to Stratford and our first visit to the Swan Theatre. Apart from the appeal of the play’s subject we were attracted to see John Heffernan whose career we have followed with interest for a number of years. The Swan Theatre was a perfect setting for the play; the thrust stage enabling a closeness to the performance and an engaging experience. Tom Morton-Smith, the playwright, combines the personal story of Oppenheimer and the other physicists, the political context, especially that of the communist affiliations or sympathy of many of those scientists and the challenge of the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb at Los Alamos during WW2.

Although it touches upon the moral dilemmas of creating the first weapon of mass destruction this aspect is relatively briefly covered in comparison to the personal and political pressures of the Manhattan Project. This is justifiable in the context of the development of the bomb as the moral debate was primarily a later, post-war one; at the time the challenge was to develop the bomb before Nazi Germany could develop one. This context is especially critical given that many of the scientists involved were European émigrés who had first-hand knowledge of the horrors of totalitarian Germany. Continue reading Oppenheimer


Inala‘Inala’ at the Anvil, Basingstoke  October 1st, 2014

‘Home is beautiful. I will now go back home, because they love me there.’



‘Inala’ translates as ‘the abundance of goodwill’ and ‘harvest to reap’ in Zulu. This ambitious project is the brain child of composer, Ella Spira and Royal Ballet dancer, Pietra Mello-Pittman (aka Sisters Grimm) creating a new language of dance. South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM) , in particular, Joseph Shabalala collaborate on this dance-theatre production with Ella Spira and choreographed by Rambert Dance Company artistic director, Mark Baldwin.
On stage, the nine singers and 11 dancers, some from Rambert and the Royal Ballet, are all performers together. The dancers don’t sing, but the choir do dance.
Unless you speak Zulu, it’s impossible to know what the choir are singing as there are no surtitles to the eighteen songs – but it doesn’t really matter. There is no obvious narrative line. Instead, for the most part, we are given fleeting glimpses into the lives of ordinary people, going about their work, living their lives. Continue reading Inala

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

Wolf Hall‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ at the Aldwych Theatre

9th July, 2014

‘You cannot make my thoughts a crime’
‘But I can, you see’

Thanks to the mnemonic we learned in history lessons: ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’, we are familiar with this summary of Henry VIII’s serial marriages. The monarchy is historically all about male succession, and Henry produced no viable male heir. (Elizabeth, who succeeded him, was the daughter of Anne Boleyn.) This, then, was the springboard of all internal political action as well as of international affairs. Marriage was business. And marriage was the prerogative of the church, whose blessing was required to validate it.

Mike Poulton’s compression of the royal power politics over 1,000 pages of Hilary Mantel’s fictionalised biography of Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ into two plays is a masterful achievement. Even pared down, the effect sharpens wit and focuses our perspective on the two main characters: Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.

There is little sense of the historical textural loss of Mantel’s well researched narrative of Tudor England in the 16th century. Christopher Oram’s stark fixed set is a vast concrete-and-steel prison-like box with a huge cross of light dominating the back wall. The contrasting richness of the costumes are a reminder of how Mantel presents detail;how she loves embroidery, decorative baubles, textiles. The result on stage is like watching a Rembrandt canvas come alive. Cleverly, Paule Constable uses light to seemingly brighten Henry’s world every time he appears.

More importantly, the focus becomes the dense rich dialogue which informs the audience and drives the narrative on. Continue reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

Spring Awakening

Spring-Awakening-_2909618b‘Spring Awakening’ by Anya Reiss from Frank Wedekind’s original play

at The Richmond Theatre

8th May, 2014

“The fog is clearing; life is a matter of taste.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: abortion, rape, suicide, pornography, masturbation and homosexuality are still hot topics. The issues remain the same, only the method of access is different.  Spring Awakening’ – first performed in 1906 – was highly controversial at the time and remained censored for years. Its author, the German playwright, Frank Wedekind’s subtitle: ‘A Children’s Tragedy’ dedicates the work to parents and teachers. Anya Reiss, a young British playwright updates the play by adding social media and internet porn.

The play opens boldly with uncompromising, graphic sexuality: scenes of male and female teenage masturbation against the background projection of Laurence Olivier as Othello; later, a rape – Melchior (Oliver Johnstone) appears to force himself upon Wendla Bergman (Aoife Duffin). The razor-sharp, bright lights cut through scenes and the pulsing soundtrack is so breathtakingly good that I envisaged Roger Daltrey (as Tommy) bursting on stage singing:  See me, feel me, touch me, heal me’. Continue reading Spring Awakening


19841984 :a Headlong Company adaptation of George Orwell’s novel at Richmond Theatre

24th October, 2013

‘The arbitrary power of the Government is unlimited, and unexampled in history; freedom of the Press, of opinion and of movement are as thoroughly  exterminated as though the proclamation of the Rights of Man had never been.’

                                                                                                     (Arthur Koestler, ‘Darkness at Noon’)

Most people have heard of Big Brother, Newspeak, Room 101 and Thought Crime, but how they fit together in Orwell’s 1984 eludes many. Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s ambitious adaptation of the dystopian masterpiece, opens in 2050 after the autocratic Party has fallen. We are eavesdroppers on a book club from the distant future discussing a document from the past – Winston’s diary. They believe, as the Party would have wanted, that Winston Smith never existed.

Our perceptions of reality are never stable, for the year 1984 initially runs concurrently with the book club discussions. Winston is seen struggling to write a diary ‘for the unborn’ – a ‘thought-crime’ punishable by death. As he writes the audience watches a close-up of the words on a big multi-media screen above the stage – we are inside Winston’s head. Continue reading 1984

Othello: Cheek by Jowl

othello‘Othello’ by William Shakespeare: Cheek by Jowl

Riverside Studios, November, 2004

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe.’  

The basic plot of the tragedy  of ‘Othello’is well-known: Iago (Jonny Phillips), jealous that he’s been passed over for military promotion in favour of Michael Cassio (Ryan Kiggell), plots revenge against his general, Othello (Nonso Anozie). From beginning to end we have a sense of entrapment.

Declan Donnellan’s modern-dress production, staged with the audience seated on either side of an acting area that runs the whole impressive width of the Riverside auditorium Nick Ormerod’s design is virtually non-existent, consisting of nothing more than five wooden ammunition boxes. The audience is forced into an aural landscape of Shakespeare’s language – the clues to character and situation that any reader or actor needs. The clues are not necessarily in the meanings of the words. We are drawn into the rhythms of the language: the patterns and sounds of the words that contain a great deal of valuable information. Continue reading Othello: Cheek by Jowl


Chimerica‘Chimerica’ by Lucy Kirkwood at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, by the Headlong Tour company

19th August 2013

“We see only what we know” (Goethe)

Chimerica’s  quizzical title -an amalgam of China and America – from the historian Niall Ferguson, is a new play by Lucy Kirkwood. The play, a magnificent achievement of its six year evolution, only slimly surpasses Lucy Prebble’s ‘ Enron’ – a reminder of the exciting new female talent in the country.

Chimerica begins with the iconic image of the Chinese protester/ the ‘Tank Man’, armed only with two shopping bags, stopping the might of an oppressive institution, symbolised by his stand before a phalanx of tanks.  This is captured by the photojournalist, Joe Schofield (Stephen Campbell Moore), an American then aged 19, who just happens to have the perfect view from his Beijing hotel window of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Years later, the fictional quest to find the Tank Man drives the deceptively simple narrative to achieve a transition from the opportune photo moment to the ramifications of Jo’s personal reckless pursuit. Continue reading Chimerica

Avenue Q

Image-AvenueQlogoAvenue QCity Academy’s five day musical workshop production at Sadler’s Wells – Lilian Bayliss Studio

No, it sucks to be me!

Ok this will be short… Once the audience got over being crammed into a tiny workshop space, we were bombarded with mischief, bad behaviour and political incorrectness – a porn-loving Trekkie monster, some suicidal fluffy bears and just ‘a little bit of racism’.

Avenue Q is a hybrid of South Park and the Muppet Show in an all singing, all dancing musical “fur-fest”.  As its creators explain, ‘The metaphor is a children’s show to tell you about adult life’ and it is in this paradox that the attraction lies.’ I do have a sense of humour but this was not up my ‘Sesame Street’ of entertainment when confronted by a cast of fluffy, filthy and forgettable characters.

The narrative is simple: a story of Princeton, a bright-eyed college graduate who comes to New York City with big dreams and a tiny bank account. He soon discovers that the only neighbourhood in his price range is Avenue Q; still, the neighbours seem affable. There’s Brian the out-of-work comedian and his therapist fiancée Christmas Eve; Nicky, the good-hearted slacker and his roommate Rod—a Republican investment banker who seems to have some sort of secret; an Internet addict called Trekkie Monster; and a saccharin-cute kindergarten teaching assistant, named Kate.

The cast is made up of a mixture of humans. and puppets which are skilfully manipulated by City Academy’s actors, who are clearly visible,  deliver the dialogue and songs. The impressive thing is that so much prep work must have been done that often you watch the puppets rather than the real people operating them – even when one person is doing the voices of two different characters onstage at the same time, and someone else is moving another one – it all gets very complicated!

For a workshop, the cast is, in the main,exceptionally strong . Versatile Paul Moore’s, Rod certainly adds robustness to every scene. Justin Jeffrey’s’ Princeton achieves a credible puppyish appeal.  Helena Tang is Lucy The Slut – one of her most convincing roles to date. While Aika Nishimura provides many comical moments as Christmas Eve, she seems to struggle vocally  and remembering her lines at times. In contrast, hearing my daughter, Claire, cast in the New York tradition as the male Gary Coleman, sing ‘You can be as loud as the hell you want when you’re making love’ gave me much to think about!

Director, Alex Sutton ticks all the feel good boxes; Pippa O’Brien adds energy to a somewhat tedious predicable musical score, by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx so that the harmonies of Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, It Sucks to be Me and The Internet is for Porn are slick.

All in all, it was a savvy, sassy production which I found in part endearing and for the most laborious as the central concept is stretched to almost breaking point –  I can think of more enjoyable coming of age stories than ‘Avenue Q’ ….. I enjoyed some of it – sort of, though I was distracted by a very young girl sitting on the floor nearby who was far too young for this dramatic impropriety.


The Witches of Eastwick

WitchesThe Witches of Eastwick – Riverside Studios – 28th July 2013

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.”  Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A musical? I hear myself groan but hey, loyalty demands that a mother sees her daughter perform. Based on an early novel by John Updike, the show tells a semi-Faustian tale of three dis-satisfied women, tired of their mundane lives and hungry for a man. Their desires are answered by the arrival of the devilish Darryl Van Horne, who seduces all three women, unlocks their true power and sparks controversy in the town of Eastwick. As their modern day witchcraft becomes darker and out of control, the women realise their mistake and seek to cast Darryl out of their lives.

Helena Tang as Jane Smart excels in the scene during which Van Horne seduces her through her love of music, Claire Linney is a revelation as Alexandra Spofford, and Katharine Banbury (Sukie Rougemont) is a perfect example of frustration personified. All three have confident vocals and forcefully carry the show with the full support of an enthusiastic cast. Continue reading The Witches of Eastwick