Things We Do For Love

I visited the Churchill Theatre in Bromley in order to see Alan Ayckbourn’s 1990s play Things We Do For Love, directed by Laurence Boswell. I must admit the main reason I wanted to see it was the presence of Natalie Imbruglia, former Neighbours star and singer. She is superb in her stage debut: her character Nikki is naive and vulnerable, needy and girlish but still likeable, and her pain when she discovers the betrayal of her best friend Barbara and fiance Hamish is deeply felt and moving.

The other actors are also excellent. Simon Gregor is disturbingly creepy as the postman obsessed with Barbara, while Claire Price is superb as Barbara herself. Despite her character’s bossiness and often-contrary views, she is vulnerable on the inside and in fact she was my favourite character in the play. Completing the quartet is Edward Bennett as Scotsman Hamish, whose strong chemistry with Barbara is entirely believable. The scenes in which the two characters spar, fight and argue are among the best, and surprisingly funniest, in the play.

I loved this, much more than the recent production of A Small Family Business at the National. It is wonderfully funny, but it is also bittersweet: for all the laughs, there is a hint of something darker.

The Notebook of Trigorin

The Notebook of Trigorin is Tennessee Williams’ version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. The latter is my favourite play of all time, so I was interested to see what Williams made of it. I went along to a production at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone, performed by students at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

The adaptation preserves the Russian names, but moves the action to Tennessee, which I found jarring. In fact I was disappointed to find that the play was very similar to Chekhov’s original. The concept is that this version is seen through the eyes of the novelist Trigorin, but this seemed to make little difference to the story. The change in title made me think that the play would be radically different too.

That said, the actors gave good performances, showing a great deal of promise and making this version of Chekhov’s classic a worthwhile watch.

Ushers: The Musical

Ushers: The Musical started out at the Hope Theatre in Islington before transferring for two short runs at the Charing Cross Theatre. Originally it wasn’t something that attracted me, but after a few successful runs and much audience acclaim, I decided to bite the bullet and get a ticket. I’m so glad I did, as this was one of the liveliest, funniest new musicals I’ve seen in a while.

With songs by Yiannis Koutsakos and James Oban, and a book by James Rottger, Ushers takes a cheeky look at the front-of-house team that make theatregoing possible. The show covers the first shift of nervous new usher Lucy (Carly Thoms), whose burgeoning romance with Stephen (Ross McNeill) contrasts with the long-term relationship difficulties faced by Ben (Liam Ross-Mills) and Gary (Daniel Buckley). Humour largely comes from theatre fanatic Rosie (Ceris Hine), who prides herself on her skill at stalking leading men, and unscrupulous theatre boss Robin (Ralph Bogard).

This is definitely a show for theatre aficionados: most of the humour comes from recognising the theatre cliches, references and in-jokes. There are references to the long queues at the ladies’, the ever-present “restoration levy” and the ridiculous drink prices; my own favourite leading man Ramin Karimloo gets a namecheck from Rosie. However, there is plenty to enjoy for less obsessive theatre fans: there are nods to famous shows including The Phantom of the OperaLes Miserables and Wicked, and the fictional musical showing at the theatre in which the ushers work is a conceit of genius. It is Toxic: The Musical, based on the songs and life of Britney Spears, and starring Sheridan Smith. Someone definitely needs to create this musical for real.

The songs, too, are likeable, funny and catchy. Since seeing the show I’ve bought the cast album and I can’t seem to stop listening to it. I highly recommend this little gem!

Black Snow

I visited the Tristan Bates Theatre near Covent Garden to see a production of Black Snow. I love the novel, by Soviet-era writer Mikhail Bulgakov, and as it is about the world of the theatre I was keen to see this adaptation, written by Keith Dewhurst and directed by Michael Fry.

The plot concerns a down-on-his-luck writer, Sergei Maksudov, who when his novel is rejected tries to hang himself. He fails in this endeavour and decides instead to turn his book into a play, only to come into conflict with various personalities involved in the theatre. Based in part on Bulgakov’s own experiences working in the theatre in Moscow, it is surreal, satirical and very funny.

This production was performed by final year BA students of the East 15 Acting School at the University of Essex. As such I was not expecting a professional production, but I was pleasantly surprised at the high standard of acting on display. In particular I would single out Matthew Staite, whose performance as Maksudov was very strong. A really enjoyable experience.

The Roof

This unusual production, part of the LIFT Festival in conjunction with the National Theatre, put the audience inside a circle as the actors moved round, in a manner imitating retro 2-dimensional computer games. We wore headphones, which helped us feel immersed in the action, as the sound was carried all around us. This was a really unique and novel show about quests, life and computer games, created by FUEL, Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg.

Clarence Darrow

After seeing Richard III at the Old Vic not long after my move to London in 2011, I was hoping for another chance to see Kevin Spacey on stage. My wish has now been fulfilled: he is appearing in David W. Rintels’ Clarence Darrow, a one-man play about the famous US defence lawyer.

Performed in the round, like the rest of the plays in the current season, it sees Spacey delivering a compelling and mesmerising performance, bringing the fascinating character of Clarence Darrow to life. Darrow was famous for several important cases, including the Scopes Monkey trial, in which a teacher was prosecuted for teaching the theory of evolution in the Bible Belt, and the Leopold and Loeb murder trial (which I already knew about having seen the film and the play Rope). His fight for justice and mercy, and his energy and commitment, come across marvellously – Darrow boasted that not one of the 102 men he defended who faced the death penalty were actually executed.

Although I was up in the balcony, I was still engaged with Spacey’s magnetic performance. He made good use of the whole space and brought what might have been a dry monologue to life. Unmissable.

The Pajama Game

The Pajama Game has arrived in the West End after a successful production at Chichester. Directed by Richard Eyre, it is a musical comedy with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell. This 1954 Broadway show looks slightly dated nowadays, but is still good fun.

The plot centres around workers at the Sleep-Tite pyjama factory in the American Midwest. New superintendent Sid Sorokin comes into conflict with Babe Williams, a union rep who is in charge of the grievance committee. It’s an interesting angle, and it’s well explored in this sharp and funny show.

Joanna Riding and Michael Xavier shine as the leads, while Gary Wilmot and Alexis Owen-Hobbs are among the strong supporting cast who also deserve a mention. The score isn’t the most memorable, but it works well in the show and there are some terrific moments. I wouldn’t class this as one of my favourite musicals, but it was definitely worth seeing.