Royal court

Finally an entertaining play at the Royal Court: Cuckoo reviewed

The boss of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone, will soon step down and she’s using her final spell in charge to try an unusual experiment. Can she entertain the punters and make them feel happy rather than forcing them to confront various forms of gloom, misery and despair? The answer is yes. Featherstone can tickle our funny bone if she wishes. Why haven’t trans activists denounced this show and demanded the performer’s cancellation? Cuckoo, by Michael Wynne, is a hilarious kitchen-sink comedy set in Merseyside with an all-female cast. Some critics have likened it to a Carla Lane sitcom and the domestic set-up owes an obvious debt to the Royle

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

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 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

A triumph: Young Vic’s Hamlet reviewed

Here goes. The Young Vic’s Hamlet, directed by Greg Hersov, is a triumph. This is a pared-back, plain-speaking version done with captivating simplicity and perfect trust in the text. The star is Shakespeare and the production merely opens up an aperture to his dazzling account of human greatness and frailty. The action takes place on a small, level stage that could be covered by two bedspreads. Designer Anna Fleischle adds an oblong arch of distressed stone along with three tall blocks that rotate to create internal hiding places, corridors and cubby-holes. That’s all she needs to suggest a house of horrors, a court of nightmares, a royal palace beset by

Jennifer Saunders is brilliant: Blithe Spirit at the Harold Pinter Theatre reviewed

Blithe Spirit is a comedy with the plot of a horror story. Charles, a middle-aged novelist, lives happily with his second wife, Ruth, but he accidentally conjures up the spirit of his first wife, Elvira, during a séance. He becomes the target of a ghostly murder plot. Elvira decides to bump Charles off and enjoy his company in the afterlife. The play was one of Noël Coward’s biggest hits and although the script is 80 years old, this production features intriguing new material. The spiritualist, Madame Arcati, suffers from wind. She refers to her dietary anxieties several times and she mentions her dislike of red meat and roast pigeon. Jennifer

A shrill, ugly, tasteless muddle: Romeo & Juliet reviewed

What shall we destroy next? Romeo & Juliet seems a promising target and the Globe has set out to vandalise Shakespeare’s great romance with a scruffy, rowdy, poorly acted and often incomprehensible modern-dress production. It starts with two lads having a swordfight using curtain poles. Enter the Prince who fires a gun and halts the action. Then the preaching starts. ‘Rather than trying to understand the nature of the violence, the Prince threatens the community,’ says an actor. These intrusions continue. ‘Patriarchy,’ says someone else, ‘is a system in which men hold power.’ The slogan appears on a screen as well. (Patriarchy means ‘fathers’ holding power rather than ‘men’ but

The best theatre of the 21st century

Not looking great, is it? Until we all get jabbed, theatres may have to stay closed. And even the optimists say a reliable vaccine is unlikely to arrive before Christmas. As the darkness persists, here’s a round-up of my leading experiences over nearly two decades as a reviewer. There’s been a surge of output. More theatres have opened, especially on the London fringe, and several have created annexes for experimental work. Musicals have proliferated. The rise of the box-set has been excellent for the West End. Global hits such as Game of Thrones have created a host of British stars with enough clout to sell out a three-month run in