Frankie and Fleabag

Skip to: Fleabag, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Whilst I have a post-Buxton Fringe breather (and because I want to avoid a repeat of last year’s embarrassing backlog), it’s time for another catchup now. Shortly after Brighton Fringe, both Live Theatre and Northern Stage hosted plays in their main spaces. I prioritise fringe theatre reviews over mainstream theatre reviews – the latter doesn’t really need my publicity – but with Brighton Fringe under, let’s catch up with these.

Fleabag

drywrite-and-soho-theatre-fleabag-maddie-rice-4-credit-richard-davenport_previewThis needs no introduction. The BBC Three series was phenomenal, arguably the channel’s greatest success since its controversial move to its streaming-only service (and the strongest evidence to date that a web-only BBC Three is a viable service). But before the successful TV show written by and starring Pheobe Waller-Bridge, there were the solo fringe show she wrote herself that started it all off. With the titular role now played by Maddie Rice, it’s been, to no-one’s surprise, performing to sold out houses up and down the country. With me far too disorganised to catch up with anything on television, this was a good opportunity for me see what all the fuss in about.

We begin with Fleabag (a nickname, but Waller-Bridge never specified a real name) attending a job interview, where a PG-rated misunderstanding swiftly esclates into calling each other a slut and a pervert. Then we go back to the 18-rated story of how she got here. After she masturbates to Barack Obama’s speeches with her boyfriend beside her, he leaves her yet again. No worries, this happens all the time, and Fleabag uses this as her opportunity to work her way through as many blokes as she can. Her flat still has a handprint from the threesome she had whilst on her period – we don’t get any more details as to how that came about, but I’m happy not to know that. Suffice to say this sets the tone for most of her sex life references in the story. The rest of her life is about as chaotic as her sex life. She manages a cafe that she used to run with her beloved best friend Boo. But since Boo’s tragic accident/suicide, she muddles on with that the way she muddles on with everything. Continue reading

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War of the Worlds: way up North

Production shot from War of the Worlds

I’m going to review this play a little differently to most of my reviews. Northern Stage’s War of the Worlds already has enough glowing reviews on the pile, and besides, the two-week sold out run says more than any review ever will. What interests me is that this was part of Northern Stage’s NORTH scheme. If you’ve not heard of this, you can safely ignore most of this review and enjoy the play for what it is, but if you want ot read on, this needs a bit of explaining. NORTH has been running since 2013, and each year they take on a group on aspiring actors and give them, amongst other things, a public production. They generally go to form their own groups afterwards, the most successful one being the inaugural year which is now the hugely-respected Letter Room.

The scheme has varied from year to year though, not least in what kind of production they do. Usually the NORTH members devise their own play, but in 2015 the intake instead played the ensemble roles in mainstream production Cyrano de Bergerac – and not everyone was happy about that. A complaint I’ve heard off the record (not from anyone in NORTH 2015, I should add) is that by getting this instead of a devised production, they never get a chance to show their own creativity. A secondary complaint was that they got caught up in a concept that didn’t work, but lack of their own production was the main thing. So now, fast forward to 2018, and once again, a NORTH ensemble take the stage in someone else’s production. This time they play the leads in a Stage 3 production rather than ensemble on the main stage, but once again, the success of a production is in someone else’s hands.

Luckily for them, that someone is Laura Lindow, who has penned a series of successful productions, the most recent one being the November Club’s Beyond the End of the Road. Together with director Elayce Ismail, it turns out, they couldn’t have wished for safer hands to be in. Continue reading

Overdue and Ella Grey

Skip to: Overdue, A Song for Ella Grey

Continuing the catch-up of what’s been showing since fringe season, September got started with two concurrently-running fortnight-long plays. One was a relatively safe mainstream play in a theatre often used for new and experimental work, and the other was a very experimental piece in a theatre best known for safer bets. So let’s get to it and see what was on offer.

Overdue

3-20jack2028benjamin20michael20smith29202620beth2028rosie20stancliffe29So, starting with Alphabetti Theatre, this play took the highly prestigious slot of the opening piece for the brand-new venue. With this standing to set expectations for a lot of Alphabetti first-timers, a lot of responsibility was entrusted to co-producers Coracle Arts. But it was a good bet to take, because Arabella Arnott’s play had a very promising opening at the Gala’s scratch night, due in part to Rosie Stancliffe in the lead role of Beth. She has shone in every role I’ve seen her in, and even if the play itself doesn’t work out, she’s always added to it. Continue reading

Northern Stage’s autumn 2017 launch

alice20brochure20postal20permissions201Here’s a brand new thing on this blog: a preview of a season of an individual theatre. For some reason, I got invited to the launch of Northern Stage’s next season. (Actually, I think this may have been the second of two launches, in which case I was on the B-list, but never mind.) So, in return, I am going to write a preview on what’s to come. Any other theatres who want this service, you’re welcome to do the same. ūüôā

Just to lay down one ground rule before we begin: this is not going to be a comprehensive list of everything that’s coming up. If you want that, I think North East Theatre Guide is running their original press release. What it does mean, however, is that everything that’s listed here has properly grabbed my interest – nothing below has been included out of any sense of duty. Continue reading

The Red Lion and East is East

 
SKIP TO: The Red Lion, East is East

Newcastle’s big two theatres have been busy in the last month, with main shows going head to head at the same time. Unusually, both productions are revivals. Not too unusual for Northern Stage to do a revival (though less often than it used to be), but unusual for Live to do this. The Red Lion only just counts a revival, having premiered at the National¬† Theatre in 2015, but off-hand, the only revivals I can think of at Live are re-runs of successful shows previously premiered there. Even Northern Stage haven’t done that many revivals lately if you don’t count the “concept” productions such as Hedda Gabbler and Cyrano de Bergerac.

But as far as revivals go, both productions are revivals of excellent plays, and but companies have done an great job of bringing the plays back.

The Red Lion

Red_lion_7I didn’t pay much attention to The Red Lion when Live Theatre first announced it because neither the play nor the author rang a bell. But it should have done, because whilst I didn’t remember the name, I certainly did remember one of his plays, Dealer’s Choice, performed by a then-unknown Dugout Theatre shortly before their rise to stardom. This play, a dark play about six men trapped in a dangerous spiral of high-stakes poker, always stuck in my mind amongst the hundreds of plays I’ve seen. He’s notable for other plays too, but this is the one I based my high expectations on, and he did not disappoint.

Set in the world of semi-professional non-league football, this play is inspired in part by Marber’s own experience in saving his own local club from bankruptcy. So you might think that such a play would be a homage to the beautiful game, free from the influence of spoilt millionaires and self-serving shareholders. Guess again. Cheating and greed are just as rife, and the story centres around a bung that goes wrong. Continue reading

Leaving and Queens of the North

Skip to: Leaving, Dr. Frankenstein, Hedda Gabler

Northern Stage have just completed their Queens of the North season, with the headline act being two plays with prominent female leads. As well as this, there were other plays and events that are, to use Northern Stage’s words “Stories by women, about women, about humankind through the eyes of women”. However, out of all of the events I saw, by far the strongest one was neither¬†Dr. Frankenstein nor¬†Hedda Gabbler, but a lower-key production over in Stage 2. So let’s begin with this.

Leaving

leaving-image_banner1-e1484492752569

Paddy Campbell’s new play, it must be said, had a pretty tenuous link to the¬†Queens of the North season it was officially part of. A play that explores young people leaving foster care through their own words, both male and female, the only vague claim this has to be about humankind through the eyes of women is that the artistic director¬†of the performing company Curious Monkey happens to be female. This play would¬†surely have been programme with or without a Queens of the North season to put it in – it would have been crazy not to, given the following both Curious Monkey and Paddy Campbell already had.

But, hey, whatever, that’s just marketing. What I’m really interested is the play. I knew little of Curious Monkey’s previous work, but this was playing to Paddy Campell’s greatest strength on writing very fairly and knowledgeably about the social care system. The only question was whether a verbatim play could live up to his previous more conventional scripted plays. Well, what do you know? It has; in fact, it’s surpassed those expectations handsomely. Continue reading

James and the giant talent

James and the creepy crawlies

Never satisfied with just another undemanding Christmas show for children, Northern Stage’s James and the Giant Peach is up there with the West End shows for its production value – and on a fraction of the budget.

So, here’s a new thing on this blog – a review of a show aimed primarily at children. I’ve previously reviewed family shows that have also been very popular to adult audiences, but now that I have a nephew and niece¬†who are old enough to go to the theatre it’s time to rediscover this. I will declare at this point, I am a certified pantomime-hater. I accept they are necessary to keep theatre solvent, but I just found them depressingly garish and formulaic, especially the big commercial ones who rely¬†primarily on big-name celebrities from soaps I never watch. If anything, the pantomimes I liked the most as a child were the ones my local amdram society put on. They were sometimes great and sometimes dire, but they were always fresh and original.

Anyway, in a pre-emptive move to ward my nephew and niece off horrible formulaic celebrity-driven pantomimes, I took them to see this year’s Christmas production at Northern Stage, James and the Giant Peach. This is not a straight stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book, but an ambitious musical adaptation from David Wood. I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow appraisal of the show, because other people are far better experts of children’s shows than me. But what I can comment on are the production values. On that front, it blows the competition from commercial pantomimes out the water. In fact, the production values are comparable with those of a touring West End production, if not better.

Continue reading