Curtains Up

Curtains Up: Review of Plenty

Plenty
Chichester Festival Theatre
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Synopsis
Susan Traherne is a former secret agent. Her heroic work with the Special Operations Executive in Nazi-occupied France brought her extremes of danger, as well as adventures and romance. Twenty years on she is living a very different existence in London, as the wealthy wife of a diplomat. Her strained marriage and altered circumstances have threatened her identity and trapped her in a destructive nostalgia for her wartime idealism. In a post-war land of plenty, Susan battles for her own body and mind, as Britain loses its role in the world. Using a non-linear structure, the drama dips backwards and forwards in time to explore how the past and present coexist. On its first appearance at the National Theatre in 1978, David Hare’s play caused a furore, and is now accepted as one of the great modern classics. David Hare’s previous plays for Chichester include South Downs (2011) and Young Chekhov (2015).

What The Press say:

“Plenty – the state of the (post-war) nation drama that firmly put David Hare on the map – premiered at the National in 1978, went to Broadway, and has been revived in the West End. Yet it’s in Chichester that it looks most at home. Rachael Stirling triumphs as a fearless Bond-like figure in Kate Hewitt’s incredibly slick revival, stylishly designed by Georgia Lowe.”
Daily Telegraph

“Rachael Stirling is excellent in Kate Hewitt’s invigorating production of a play about individual and national unease. David Hare’s Plenty is the occasion for a critique of society that has unexpected resonances today. As the first scene is about the British penchant for lies and the second argues that it takes more people to dismantle an empire than to administer it, it hit me that Susan’s disgust at deception and incompetence finds an uncanny echo in the divisions and anger provoked by Brexit. But, if Hare’s elliptical epic lives on, it is because its portrait of individual trauma is matched by its ability to tap into our nation’s permanent unease with itself.”
Guardian

Our Reviewer says:

Rachel Stirling is the daughter of Diana Rigg and she certainly is a chip off the old block. In David hares play which first appeared in 1978, she plays the role of Susan Traherne who worked with the SOE in Wartime France and hasn’t had a moment’s excitement since. Exaggeration of course, but this pretty much sums up Susan’s post war life and the play of course. Stirling brilliantly portrays the contradictions of this woman seeking to replicate the excitement of the time. She seamlessly moves from young adult to mature and gives the role real gravitas and sympathy.

Curtains Up

Curtains Up: Review of Home, I’m Darling

Home, I’m Darling
Duke of York’s Theatre, London
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Synopsis
Following a sold-out run at the National Theatre, Laura Wade’s ‘piercingly funny’ new play transfers to the West End for 11 weeks only. Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans) reprises her acclaimed role as Judy, in Laura Wade’s fizzing comedy about one woman’s quest to be the perfect 1950’s housewife. How happily married are the happily married? Every couple needs a little fantasy to keep their marriage sparkling. But behind the gingham curtains, things start to unravel, and being a domestic goddess is not as easy as it seems.

What the Press Say:

“Katherine Parkinson is outstanding. An amusing, affecting, inspiring evening of soft gingham and hard truths.”
The Times

“A cracking new play wittily directed on a fabulous fifties doll-house set.”
Mail on Sunday

“Sharp, funny and sad. Katherine Parkinson is brilliant.”
Independent

Our Reviewer says:

It’s a strange experience to write a review of a play I haven’t seen in its entirety!  Let me explain. All the seats for this play were sold out well in advance of its opening in the West End. Having read rave reviews about its previous performances outside the West End I was desperate to see it ….to the extent that I and my fellow playgoer sat in restricted view seats. And they were restricted to the extent that we couldn’t see all the action! It’s a tribute to the play that, nevertheless,  we thoroughly enjoyed it. Katherine Parkinson  (previous acting roles included being Doc Martin’s receptionist)  commanded the stage. The other actors played their parts more than creditably, but all eyes and ears were on Katherine who played the part of Judy a modern-day woman living out the dream as a would be 50’s housewife. Fantastic 50’s interior and wonderful 50’s clothes and don’t forget the music ‘Why must I be a teenager in love?’ etc etc. Why is she living as if she was a 50’s housewife? The play tells you why and there are a few surprises along the way. The play makes the telling point that we mustn’t get carried away by nostalgia. Katherine’s mother lived through the 50’s. She tells her daughter sharply that it wasn’t all about swishing about in full skirted gingham dresses. It was cold and grey with no central heating and the food was dire. My only quibble is that the reasons behind her adopting a 50’s lifestyle seem a bit thin and rather unlikely but this does not preclude any theatre goer being transported joyfully back to the mock 50’s.

Curtains Up

Curtains Up: Review of Hadestown

Hadestown
The National Theatre
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Synopsis
Hadestown is the acclaimed new musical by celebrated singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and innovative director Rachel Chavkin that reimagines a sweeping ancient tale as a timeless allegory for our world. Hadestown follows two intertwining love stories — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of King Hades and his wife Persephone — as it invites audiences on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back. Mitchell’s beguiling melodies and Chavkin’s poetic imagination pit nature against industry, faith against doubt, and love against fear. Performed by a vibrant ensemble of actors, dancers and singers, Hadestown delivers a deeply resonant and defiantly hopeful theatrical experience.

What the Press say:

“Welcome to the intriguing and beautiful world of your next musical theatre obsession” Vogue

“Spellbinding. Hadestown, for a while, makes the whole world forget its troubles” Variety

“A beguiling a haunting fable for today” The Guardian

What our Reviewer says:

It’s safe to say that Hadestown is truly the best thing I have seen in the theatre in years! Making its way from Broadway to The National theatre this year, I couldn’t think of a better spot for its revival. With The National’s stage revolve put to best use and the allusions to current political issues, this alternative musical was very much at home here. An “old story” of the Greek myth (redressed in new clothes) Orpheus and Eurydice becomes almost unrecognisable in Rachel Chavkin and Anais Mitchell’s fantastic reworking into a folk opera. Think the texture of an indie film, meets ragtime jazz, in the deep south. Orpheus is a struggling musician who believes in the power of music to conquer even death and Eurydice, who despite loving him, has to eat. I won’t ruin the ending but down to Hades corporate world she goes, because “what are you gonna do when the chips are down?” Regret, trust, xenophobia and true love are all themes in this one off musical. See it and be changed!

Curtains Up

Curtains Up: Review of Art

Art
Chichester Festival Theatre
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Synopsis

Art is a phenomenon and one of the most successful comedies ever staged. Having opened in 1996, it took both the West End and Broadway by storm, won the Olivier, Tony, Molière and every other major theatre award, and has been packing in audiences worldwide for more than twenty years. When Serge spends an extortionate amount of money on an all-white modernist painting, his close friends Marc and Yvan are baffled. But does their violent reaction to this provocative canvas mirror more dangerous antagonisms towards each other? Yasmin Reza’s dazzling study of friendship, prejudice and tolerance is a masterpiece. The all-star cast features BAFTA-nominated Nigel Havers (Downton Abbey, Chariots of Fire), Olivier Award-winning Denis Lawson (Bleak House, New Tricks) and British Comedy Award-winning Stephen Tompkinson (The Split, Wild at Heart, Ballykissangel).

What The Press say:

“Stylish, stimulating, beautifully constructed” Mail on Sunday

“Art is a phenomenon” Times

“You’ll roar with laughter” New York Post

Our Reviewer says:

I feel terrible!  A play written more than 20 years ago which has received great critical acclaim starring three brilliant actors Nigel Havers , Denis Lawson and Stephen Tomkinson left me cold. I saw this at Chichester Festival Theatre in January and was bored silly. The acting was superb but an hour or just over of three  men talking about the merits of modern art did my head in! It’s probably fairer to say that this is a play about friendship between men rather than the merits or demerits of modern art. One of the trio  Serge buys an “all-white modernist painting”  and is criticised in earthy language  by his friends  Marc and Yvan for spending so much money . There is little or no action and I have to say that although it is billed as a comedy I only laughed once ……..at the noise of discarded olive stones being spat into a dish in a funeral silence! My fellow theatre goer felt exactly the same. The audience seemed to enjoy the play which is probably why I feel terrible!

Curtains Up

Curtains Up: Review of The Watsons

The Watsons
Minerva Theatre at Chichester Festival Theatre
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Synopsis

What happens when the writer loses the plot? Emma Watson is nineteen and new in town. She’s been cut off by her rich aunt and dumped back in the family home. Emma and her sisters must marry, fast. If not, they face poverty, spinsterhood, or worse: an eternity with their boorish brother and his awful wife. Luckily there are plenty of potential suitors to dance with, from flirtatious Tom Musgrave to castle-owning Lord Osborne, who’s as awkward as he is rich. So far so familiar. But there’s a problem: Jane Austen didn’t finish the story. Who will write Emma’s happy ending now? Based on her incomplete novel, this sparklingly witty play looks under the bonnet of Jane Austen and asks: what can characters do when their author abandons them?

What the Press say:

“Laura Wade’s bold and playful adaptation of Austen’s unfinished novel is given a beautifully bold, clear production by Samuel West. Stunning.” The Guardian

“Clever, witty and resourceful.” The Stage

“An unpredictable treat, a brilliant, entertaining de-construction” The Observer

Our Reviewer Says:

“Have you ever been in Croydon?” is just one of the deliciously inappropriate comments made by an actor in this sparkling reworking of Jane Austen’s uncompleted novel; The Watsons. Other people have produced their written versions but Laura Wade is the first to make a play out of the fragment left.

The scene opens onto a stage stripped bare with a man lying in the bed and a young girl in Regency dress sitting immobile on the side of the bed. The play continues as a pleasant revival of a Regency novel until the heroine is suddenly violently dissuaded from accepting a marriage proposal by one of the other characters who turns out to be the playwright in disguise. And then there is mayhem with the cast members distraught when they are told they are “only” characters by the playwright! The rest of the play is the working out of the different destinies of the characters aided or hampered by the playwright who has her own issues to resolve!

In today’s world where no young woman has to think about a dowry it is easy to forget the financial imperatives that drove young women to marry any husband in preference to penury in Jane Austen’s day. This play is a salutary reminder of how women’s destinies have changed since Jane Austen’s time.