Old vic

‘Punishingly dull – but the crowd loved it’: Next to Normal, at Wyndham’s Theatre, reviewed

The Constituent is a larky show about violence against female politicians. A strange subject for a comedy. Anna Maxwell Martin plays a vapid but well-meaning MP, Monica, who receives unwelcome attention from a sinister dropout, named Alec (played by James Corden). Alec’s backstory is quite a puzzle. He used to work as an MI6 spymaster in Afghanistan, where he persuaded senior Taliban commanders to operate as double agents. While off-duty he seduced an NHS ward sister who happened to be nursing soldiers on the battlefield in Kandahar. If you want a celebration of spineless masculinity, look no further That, at least, is the story he gives Monica. Alec says he

Fawlty Towers – The Play is the best museum piece you’ll ever see

Fawlty Towers at the Apollo may be the best museum piece you’ll ever see. A full-length play has been carved out of three episodes: ‘The Hotel Inspectors’, ‘The Germans’, and ‘Communication Problems’ in which the deaf guest, Mrs Richards, made a nuisance of herself by refusing to switch on her hearing aid in case the batteries ran out. For anyone who saw the sitcom in the 1970s, this is a pleasantly weird show. It’s like returning to a seaside funfair after half a century and finding all the rides unchanged and the staff more or less as you remember them. If Beckett had written family comedies he might have created

How politics killed theatre

Hope can be remarkably persistent. And so, despite several years of experience pointing in starkly the other direction, a recent weekend saw me at Who Killed My Father at the Young Vic, the latest from ubiquitous Belgian director Ivo van Hove. A young friend had gone with his father the previous week and both described it as ‘excellent’. Intense, but in a good way. Worthy broadsheet publications gave it four stars. I had my doubts: Édouard Louis, on whose angry memoir about growing up in a working-class, homophobic home in northern France the play was based, is not my cup of tea. But the friend, and his father, are both

Worthy of Wilde: Eureka Day, at the Old Vic, reviewed

Eureka Day is a topical satire set in a woke school in America. An outbreak of mumps has led to calls for a vaccination programme that will prevent the school from being quarantined and shut down entirely. The script, written in 2018, has acquired new layers of meaning since the Covid terror. It opens with a playful sketch in which four white teachers and a black parent try to agree how many ethnic categories should be recognised by school officials. Their friendly conversation conceals a toxic seam of racial suspicion and hostility. The writer, Jonathan Spector, is probably a rock-sold liberal who wants the world to know that the woke

Bloated waffle: Jitney at the Old Vic reviewed

The Old Vic’s new show, Jitney, has a mystifying YouTube advert which gives no information about the play or the characters. If the producers paid for the marketing themselves, they’d do a better job. The advert fails even to mention that ‘Jitney’ is Pittsburgh slang for ‘taxi’ and that the action is set in a cab firm in the 1970s. The boss, Becker, is a growling despot who dominates his crew of uppity young drivers by glaring at them psychotically. The prattling cabbies hang around the office gossiping about casual sex and petty crime. Or they ogle porno magazines. Or they show off their bedroom technique by thrusting their pelvises

This Trump satire is too soft on Sleepy Joe and Cackling Kamala: The 47th at the Old Vic reviewed

Trump is said to be a gift for bad satirists and a problem for good ones. He dominates Mike Bartlett’s new play, The 47th, which predicts that the 2024 presidential election will be a run-off between Trump and Kamala Harris. Bertie Carvel’s Orangeman is a subtle and highly amusing spoof that never descends into exaggeration or grotesquery. The visuals are convincing: the sandy blond wig, the baggy golfing outfits, the spare tyre around the midriff. Excellent design work. And Bartlett captures the repetitive lullaby pulse of Trump’s rhetoric. Like a lot of liberals, he seems to admire Trump and this show reflects a perverse fascination with its target. The script

A tangle of nonsense from the sloppy Caryl Churchill: A Number, at the Old Vic, reviewed

A Number, by Caryl Churchill, is a sci-fi drama of impenetrable complexity. It’s set in a future society where cloning has become possible for those on modest incomes. A Cockney father reveals to his grown-up son that he’s a replica of his older brother who died, aged four, in a car crash that also killed his mum. The son reacts with anger and bafflement. But Dad soothes him with happy news. The boy’s DNA was stolen by a gang of scientists who created 20 more copycat zombies, and these replicas are now scattered across the globe. Dad plans to cash in by suing the boffins for £5 million. No sooner

Un-cancel Terry Gilliam!

I am starting to wonder if the world of arts and culture is staffed, in large part if not exclusively, by massive whinging babies. What other plausible explanation is there for the frequency with which publishing houses, streaming services and theatres are going into open revolt because their employers have commissioned work by someone whose opinions they happen to find disagreeable? Terry Gilliam is the latest artist in the crosshairs. The Monty Python legend and director was due to co-direct a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Old Vic in London next year. Sondheim had expressed support for Gilliam’s vision for the show. But according to reports

Gripping slice of old-fashioned entertainment: Old Vic’s Camp Siegfried reviewed

Boy meets girl. Girl gets pregnant. Then the entire world collapses. That’s the story of Camp Siegfried, which is set in the late 1930s at a holiday park in Long Island where German-Americans come to enjoy the outdoor life and to celebrate their ancestral culture. The boy is a strapping 17-year-old who chats up an awkward geeky girl with little sexual experience. Or so it seems. The boy is keen on Germany’s dynamic new chancellor but the girl finds Hitler too ‘excitable’. But when she’s invited to give a speech to the entire camp, she becomes an overnight convert and extolls the Nazi virtues of unity and patriotism. And she’s

Theatre’s final taboo: fun

How will the theatre look after lockdown? A clue emerges in a statement made by Guy Jones, the literary associate of the Orange Tree in Richmond. ‘The victims of this year are many. Homelessness is on the rise, loneliness is deadly, the monster of racism lurks in every-day interactions… and many of the inequalities we live with are written into the systems in which we are asked to participate.’ ‘The victims’. That’s his starting point. It might seem odd that a theatre should prioritise the injured and the aggrieved, as if the stage were a tribunal or a public court where justice is dispensed. But that’s how theatres see themselves.

Brilliantly performed twaddle: Old Vic’s Faith Healer reviewed

The Old Vic refuses to reopen. Director Matthew Warchus says the social distancing rules make it impossible for him to reach the 70 per cent capacity he needs to break even. That was true in the old days when the Vic had to put on lavish fare and tempt audiences away from the opulent variety of the West End. But the competition has gone. Warchus is free to mount cheap, simple dramas which recoup their costs quickly. Curiously, this is what he’s doing with Brian Friel’s three-hander, Faith Healer, but the show is performed in an empty house and watched live by spectators via Zoom. The pandemic has made Warchus

James Graham’s small new drama is exquisite: BBC Four’s Unprecedented reviewed

Let’s face it. Theatre via the internet is barely theatre. It takes a huge amount of creativity and inventiveness to make anything remotely like a theatrical drama in the digital sphere. The BBC’s Culture in Quarantine team have invited some talented writers and actors to try and crack it. Unprecedented begins with ‘Viral’, by James Graham, in which three 18-year-old lads enjoy a Zoom chat from their bedrooms. The craftsmanship in this small script is exquisite. The characters are united by a common purpose — creating a globally popular video clip — while each has to grapple with a personal crisis. One has a dying granny, one is coming to

War and plague have menaced theatres before, but rarely on this scale

It seems a long time ago now. I was meeting the artistic director of a pub theatre near Westminster on the afternoon of 16 March. Already it was clear that this was one of the worst days of his professional life. That evening’s performance of a John Osborne play had been cancelled because a cast member had caught a severe cold over the weekend. During the morning, four more shows had withdrawn their productions, and the theatre had nothing to present for the next eight weeks. As we spoke, his phone pinged. Another cancellation. The door swung open and the production manager came in with a look of doom on

Why foreign-language series will always have the edge over American ones

An office worker stands on the ledge of an open window about to leap. Two colleagues enter, ignoring him completely. They sit at symmetrical desks and read reports about the man’s background while he clings to the window frame, poised between life and death. This is the opening of Samuel Beckett’s Rough for Theatre II, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming. Stewart Laing’s beautiful design places the window centre-stage with the man standing in isolation between his two colleagues, like Christ and the thieves at Calvary. Beckett would have approved. For the first ten minutes of this bizarre play, the Old Vic audience sat in polite silence tittering only at