This might need some explanation… From the relative lack of posts over the past few months, you’ll have realised that I’ve not got back to pre-pandemic levels of commitment & motivation; I’m still going to see quite a lot of things, but I’ve been less inclined to write about them. Between the excessive heat, my day job, and other engagements, even the odd review here & there seemed like a mountain to climb – and once the unwritten reviews start piling up, it’s even harder to get going!
My solution is to try and do infrequent collections of mini-reviews. I did one as part of this year’s Mind The Bard week, to show something for my efforts, and that turned out nicely; I’ve felt incredibly guilty for not getting two of these done as full reviews over the summer (I’ve never failed like that before), so hopefully this will make up for it a tiny bit. And in future this kind of post will be dedicated to short reviews of shows I’ve paid to see (i.e. there’s no requirement of a full review)…
Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
On first mention, a dance version of Peaky Blinders seems a tad strange, but the more you think about it the more obvious it becomes. Enter Rambert Dance’s Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby. The show was written by TV series creator Steven Knight, and choreographed & directed by Benoit Swan Pouffer; this creative team allows the narrative & spirit of the programme to naturally flow through the show, with some exceptional sequences & set pieces to watch. Given that it is a single two-hour show, the six series arc is somewhat condensed – and time frames become less important – but that just means that anyone who hasn’t watched the programme (or hasn’t seen it for a while) gets a rough overview by way of this alternative medium. Plus not everything plays out in exactly the same way, so if it grabs your attention and you want to dig into the boxset there will still be plenty of surprises along the way.
What really enhances the show is the inclusion of live music, courtesy of a band made up of The Last Morrell, James Douglas & Yaron Engler. Sometimes dance shows can be visually impressive but still feel like something’s missing; using live music rather than a recording means there’s an extra injection of energy, and it just feels a lot more dynamic. There are plenty of highlights from the series (such as The Last Shadow Puppets’ Bad Habits, Climbing Up The Walls by Radiohead, and the iconic theme song: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand), as well as some specially commissioned tracks and selected clips of dialogue. The music is definitely an uncredited additional character in the TV series, so it’s only right that it gets the same kind of attention in this stage show.
A range of dance styles & movement are included, reflecting the mood, location & timing of each scene. Naturally the ‘New Party in Town’ scene is a highlight, displaying the decadence & carefree nature of the interwar years, and ‘The Peaky boys return’ sends chills down your spine as you hear that familiar bell toll. It’s a nice touch to include recordings of Benjamin Zephaniah (Jeremiah Jesus onscreen) at various intervals, to hear a Birmingham twang as well as to link back to the programme itself. The entire company is fantastic (and has a lot of work on its hands), but standout performances for me come from Simone Damberg Würtz as Polly (it’s heartbreaking to hear Helen McCrory’s voice through the speakers), Naya Lovell as Grace, and Guillaume Quéau as Tommy.
My verdict? An intoxicating blend of music, dance & visuals that brings the Peaky Blinders to life right in front of your eyes – a great companion piece to the TV series.
Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby ran at Troubadour Wembley Park until 6 November 2022. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website.
The Hamlet Voyage, Bridewell Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Plenty of Shakespeare’s plays are performed each year, and a lot is always made of the impact of his work in this country, but rarely do we take the time to consider the effect of past overseas performances. This is the subject of Re:Verse Theatre’s production of The Hamlet Voyage, written by Rex Obano and directed by Ben Prusiner. It follows a voyage by sailors from England on their way to India, who have to make a stop in Sierra Leone on their way – and decide to pass the time by putting on some entertainment for the locals. As this was 1607, they naturally chose a famous work by the pre-eminent playwright of the time: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Blending dialogue with puppetry and music (from South Asian melodies to African drumbeats), the play does well to bring the different cultures together – showing us what could have been, before the transatlantic slave trade and British imperialism really kicked in. Not that this encounter was plain sailing (so to speak), as neither side fully trusted the other, but the culture exchange had the potential to be quite extraordinary. Visually the production excels, making use of Anurupa Roy’s puppetry and movement design from David Dravie-John, Chitra Sundaram & Tulani Kayani. Olivia Altaras’ design also plays a big part, transporting the audience between Mughal India and Sierra Leone, both through elements of set design and also in the array of costumes on display.
There are strong performances all round, including Eliot Giuralarocca as William Keeling. Just like Hamlet, this production has a play-within-a-play setup, and is made more complex by beginning as a tale being told to Nur Mahal (Natali Servat) by Keeling; it takes a bit of time to wrap your head around it, but thanks to the cast’s commitment the storytelling wins through. Joe Feeney and Marième Duouf also need a special mention as the troubled George King and Musu, a pair whose mutual attraction attempts to break down the cultural barriers.
Overall it is an enjoyable production, which would have been thrilling to witness in its original site-specific venue (The Matthew in Bristol’s Flotaing Harbour) – it just needs a little streamlining ahead of any future runs.
My verdict? An intriguing culture clash that explores the beginnings of English imperialism, and the widespread appeal of Shakespeare.
The Hamlet Voyage ran at Bridewell Theatre until 23 July 2022.
An Intervention, Greenwich Theatre ⭐️⭐️
For some reason, 2022 has been the year of Mike Bartlett. Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all (the revival of Cock will definitely feature in my favourite shows of the year, and his new plays The 47th and Scandaltown were both hugely enjoyable), but this is definitely an unusual thing for a current playwright to experience. Presumably this new staging of An Intervention, directed by James Haddrell, was more of a reaction to these other larger productions rather than a long-term plan.
The play focuses on two friends, A and B, and the up & down nature of their relationship as time goes by. As an adult you become painfully aware that the people you’ve known since childhood won’t stay the same forever – and you will also change across the years – so sometimes you’ll drift apart, whilst other friendships last. This play shows an extreme example of an all-too-familiar concept, strained by things such as alcoholism and prioritising romantic relationships over your pals.
Having never seen the play before, I presume that it’s not usually performed by two female actors, so that does add an interesting extra dimension and tells a slightly different story to a lot of other shows. However, it’s a 90-minute production that feels almost twice as long. Though the inter-scene skits playing on the idea of double acts would have been an interesting idea on paper, in practice they largely don’t work and become rather jarring; in fact, tone is consistently an issue.
Many of the jokes don’t land, but conversely what should be more serious moments have very little weight; switching between light & dark is not a bad thing at all, but if it isn’t executed properly then this is just made worse. There isn’t enough chemistry between Helen Ramsay and Lauren Drennan to enforce the concept that they are old friends, which also doesn’t help with the issue of tone – the whole thing hinges on their interaction, which wasn’t quite up to scratch by the time of the press performance (though hopefully would have improved over the course of the run).
My verdict? A revival misfire, hindered by muddled tone and a distinct lack of chemistry.
An Intervention ran at Greenwich Theatre until 13 August 2022.
Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial, Wyndham’s Theatre
Originally due to be a one night only event (which is partly why I booked a ticket – and a more expensive one than usual), this semi-staged production of Liv Hennessy’s new play about the so-called Wagatha Christie trial had its première performance on Tuesday 15 November – and is now set to run on a (nearly) weekly basis until mid-January. Making excellent use of the trial transcripts, the play is entirely set in court and (though obviously things will have been cherry-picked for the show) seems made for the stage; there’s plenty of comedy naturally there, as well as several moments of high drama – and melodrama. Framing it in a football context is a great idea, as it fits the trial idea so well (game of two halves, and all that) and also allows for some theatricality. It feels pretty polished already, but will naturally tighten up and streamline as the weeks go by. Worth a watch, whether you know the backstory or not.
Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial runs every Tuesday (except 27 December & 3 January) at Wyndham’s Theatre until 10 January 2023. Tickets are available online or from the box office.