Cheesy remake of Our Mutual Friend: London Tide, at the Lyttelton Theatre, reviewed

Our Mutual Friend has been turned into a musical with a new title, London Tide, which sounds duller and more forgettable than the original. Why change the name? To confuse fans of Dickens, presumably, and to keep the theatre half-empty while heaps of tickets are sold at a discount. At the end of Act One, an actor explains the entire plot. This might have been delivered earlier The plot is a cheesy Victorian whodunnit involving three main characters and multiple locations so it’s hard to follow the action as it flits from this lowly hovel to that seedy tavern. The chief personalities are a pretentious lawyer, a psychotic teacher and

I was dreading this show – how wrong could I be: Entangled Pasts, at the Royal Academy, reviewed

In the wake of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s exhibition Black Atlantic about its founder’s ties to the slave trade comes the Royal Academy’s Entangled Pasts, less of a mea culpa than an examination of conscience by an institution which, although hailed by its first president Sir Joshua Reynolds as an ‘ornament’ of Empire, was innocent of direct links to slavery. The exhibition is less of a mea culpa than an examination of conscience I confess that I was rather dreading this show, which sounded from the pre-publicity like a hollow exercise in Britannia-Rules-the-Waves breast-beating, but from the moment I stepped into the courtyard and saw the posturing Sir Joshua on his

The ‘professional liar’ at the heart of Prince Harry’s hacking claim

In the summer of 2019, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were visiting their friends Elton John and David Furnish in the south of France when they were introduced to the barrister David Sherborne. This ‘chance’ meeting would be a massive coup for the man known as the ‘barrister to the stars’ (he represented Coleen Rooney in the Wagatha Christie trial and Johnny Depp against Amber Heard, among many others. Many years ago, he also acted for Harry’s mother, Princess Diana). The encounter led to Prince Harry becoming the star witness against three newspaper groups. ‘It was partially down to Elton and David,’ Harry later wrote in Spare. ‘At the end

Watching Queen Cleopatra felt like witnessing the death of scholarship

The most controversial aspect of Netflix’s new drama-documentary Queen Cleopatra – not least in Egypt – was the casting of a black actress, Adele James, in the title role. After all, one of the few things that seems certain about Cleopatra’s early life is that she was a Macedonian Greek. Luckily, though, the show had a powerful counterargument to this awkward and Eurocentric fact. As the African-American professor Shelley P. Haley put it with a QED-style flourish, back when she was girl, her beloved (if uneducated) grandmother once said to her: ‘I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was black.’ Watching Queen Cleopatra felt alarmingly like witnessing

Trump’s second act: he can still win, in spite of everything

Everyone knows F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous line from the end of his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon: ‘There are no second acts in American lives.’ But Fitzgerald wasn’t talking about second chances. He meant that, unlike in a traditional play – where Act I presents a problem, Act II reveals the complications and Act III resolves it all – Americans want to skip Act II and go straight to the resolution. The more I think about it, the more I think the Joe Biden presidency is Act II – and Donald Trump is not the last tycoon. He’s Act III. He’s the next president. The campaign of lawfare against him

Lloyd Evans

Riveting and sumptuous: The Motive and the Cue, at the Lyttelton Theatre, reviewed

The Motive and the Cue breaches the inviolable sanctity of the rehearsal room. The play, set in New York in 1964, follows John Gielgud’s efforts to direct the world’s biggest film star, Richard Burton, in Shakespeare’s most demanding play, Hamlet. A member of Gielgud’s company, Richard L. Sterne, recorded the process and his notes form the basis of Sam Mendes’s riveting production. The show is a must for anyone who works in the theatre or wants to. Directors, in particular, will relish the glimpse it offers into Gielgud’s approach to a uniquely demanding text and to a wayward superstar who was free to accept or to challenge the notes given

A lesson for Rupa Huq from the ancient Greeks

The Labour MP Rupa Huq, of Pakistani heritage, has been suspended for suggesting that Kwasi Kwarteng, of Ghanaian heritage, was only superficially black and did not sound black on the radio. The ancients would have been baffled by her comment. They were fascinated by their world’s many different cultures, but colour held no significance for them. People’s beliefs, however, were a matter of great interest. The widely travelled Greek historian Herodotus (5th century bc) produced a fine example (among many others): while Greeks expressed utter revulsion at the Indian idea of eating their dead, an Indian tribe also did so at the idea of burning their dead. Conclusion: there was

Shame should not be heritable

Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope claims it was ‘inevitable’ that a university ‘as long-established as Cambridge’ would have links to slavery. Now that faculties gorge on racial guilt as Cambridge dons once famously feasted on roasted swans, what was really inevitable is that a body christened ‘The Advisory Group on the Legacies of Enslavement’ would find links to slavery. Why, it must have frustrated the authors of the report released last week that their three-year inquiry didn’t manage to dredge up any evidence that the university ever directly owned slaves or plantations. Rather, it’s the money that was tainted; lucre having always passed through dirty hands somewhere along the line, there’s no

One worldview has taken over the historical profession

Professor James H. Sweet is a temperate man. He seeks to avoid extremes. But he also seeks to be bold in his temperance. You can do that by emphatically stating an opinion that seems above reproach. But Professor Sweet miscalculated. His emphatic bromide blew up, and he was left offering emphatic apologies. For those who have not followed this little academic circus, Professor Sweet, who teaches history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is also the president of the American Historical Association (AHA). That’s an important post. The AHA has more than 11,500 members. It publishes the American Historical Review, ‘the journal of record for the historical profession in

There’s much more to Winslow Homer than his dramatic seascapes

Until the invention of photography war reportage depended on old-fashioned illustration, and even after that the illustrated press took a while to catch up. Photographic reproduction didn’t work on cheap newsprint, which demanded a crispness of definition that early photography couldn’t provide. So reports on the American Civil War in the new illustrated periodicals aimed at the middle classes continued to rely on wood engraving, and it was as a print designer that the 25-year-old Winslow Homer was sent by Harper’s Weekly to cover the fighting in 1861. Apprenticed to a commercial lithographer at the age of 19, Homer had no formal training as an artist but he had a

Viktor Orbán won’t save conservatism

It’s always the ones you most expect. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, nationalist strongman and post-liberal poster-boy gave a speech over the weekend on the evils of race-mixing. He was speaking on Saturday to attendees at Tusványos summer university in Băile Tușnad, Transylvania, previously an annual forum for Hungarian-Romanian dialogue but now an intellectual pep rally for the ultranationalist Fidesz party. According to the Budapest Times, he told his co-ideologues the West was ‘split in two’ between European nations and those in which Europeans and non-Europeans lived together. He declared: ‘Those countries are no longer nations.’ This is also how the Daily News Hungary and Hungary Today characterised Orbán’s remarks.

Why the Tories are more diverse than Labour

‘The candidates fighting to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative party leader and Britain’s prime minister reflect the country’s rich diversity,’ the England-hating New York Times put it earlier this week, through gritted teeth, ‘with six having recent ancestors hailing from outside Europe.’  It might seem initially curious that it’s the Conservatives who are so ethnically diverse. In British politics the realignment over Brexit caused identity to replace economics as the crunch issue, so that the gap between Labour and Tory voters on the issues of immigration and diversity has significantly grown, even if immigration’s salience has declined and remains low. Yet despite this, the British right has become in some ways more diverse

Right play, wrong place: The Fellowship, at Hampstead Theatre, reviewed

Roy Williams’s new play is a wonky beast. It has two dense and cumbersome storylines that aren’t properly developed. Dawn is a mother grieving for her eldest son who was murdered by a gang of white boys. Her younger lad is dating a white girl who used to hang out with the killers. It’s a heavy start. But Williams doesn’t explore this web of bereavement and forbidden romance and turns instead to Dawn’s sister, Marcia, a barrister, who is dating a white MP. ‘Giles is one reshuffle away from being a cabinet minister.’ Dawn claims that all white people are die-hard racists who pine for the old days when the

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

The dishonesty of how we respond to tragedies

It isn’t hard to notice that some crimes are more important than others. Or at least more politically advantageous. It is six years since Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in her constituency by somebody who appeared to be a sort of aspiring Nazi. Back then, various campaign groups and newspapers in this country had no problems with claiming that guilt for that attack could be liberally spread around. Some said that everybody on the political right bore responsibility. Others claimed that anyone who was leading Britain’s ‘Leave’ campaign in the EU referendum shared the blame. It was different in October last year, when Sir David Amess MP was murdered

Angry diatribes and amusing pranks: Donmar Warehouse’s Marys Seacole reviewed

The title of the Donmar’s new effort, Marys Seacole, appears to be a misprint and that makes the reader look twice. Good marketing. The show is a blend of Spike Milligan-esque sketches and indignant speeches about race but it starts as a straightforward historical narrative. Mary Seacole enters in Victorian garb and introduces herself as a woman of half-Scots and half-Caribbean heritage who believes that ethnic differences create hierarchies of competence. Her veins, she says, flow with ‘Scotch blood’ and this gives her an entrepreneurial advantage over her ‘indolent’ Caribbean neighbours. Inflammatory stuff. If a white author embraced that supremacist creed, there’d be outrage. After the history lesson, the scene

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

The sad demise of Brooks Brothers

New York Our own Douglas Murray is the canary in the Bagel coal mine as of late. The left controls culture, education and technology over here, but a few canaries are still free to warn the rest of us that we’re being taken for a ride. Here’s a warning to those multimillionaires who get down on one knee every weekend to make themselves feel better for getting lotsa moolah for playing a game in the sun. It has to do with black lives and whether they matter or not. Black lives do matter, but not to those who run the racket that goes by the acronym BLM. According to Murray,

A vital piece of theatre: Royal Court’s For Black Boys reviewed

The psychiatrist and political philosopher Franz Fanon published the book Black Skin, White Masks in 1952. With chapter titles such as ‘The Black Man and Language’, ‘The Black Man and The White Woman’, and ‘The Black Man and Psychopathology’, the book remains a rigorous and unflinching dissection of the psychology of race from a black perspective. The play For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy takes inspiration from Ntozake Shange’s 1976 theatre piece, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Fanon is however, an equally important reference when thinking about the staging of this work at the Royal Court.  Written and directed by

Kemi Badenoch: the curriculum does not need ‘decolonising’

When the government published a report last year by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) into racism in the UK, it was the subject of controversy. The report concluded the UK does not have a systemic problem with racism (while accepting there are issues), and a number of charities dubbed it ‘deeply troubling’. A year later and the government finally set out its response to the report and how it intends to deal with the inequalities highlighted in it.  Taking its founding principles from the original report, it essentially accepts the chair Tony Sewell’s logic that the different outcomes for different minority groups means that it is the wrong approach to attribute every problem to racism.