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Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Broadway Stars!

Jack and the Beanstalk

by Jude Christian and Sonia Jalaly

Lyric Theatre Productions at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith until 7th January

Review by Viola Selby

In my opinion, to make a pantomime perfect, one must first add a good dollop of glitter, a generous helping of goofy gags and finally but most importantly a gigantic amount of gleeful energy! 

Jack and the Beanstalk has all this and more, with so much colour and sequins (thanks to the creative creations of theatre design studio Good Teeth)!  From the off, audience participation is perfected by having us countdown to the start of the show.  Then through the whole perfomance, you are made to feel included through all traditional and slightly less known means, be it ‘He’s behind you’ and ‘Oh no it’s not’, to auditioning for “World of …” and getting to cast a spell together to make it snow! 

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It’s A Wonderful Life

Opera Goes to the Movies

It’s A Wonderful Life

by Jake Heggie, libretto by Gene Scheer

English National Opera at the London Coliseum until 10th December

Review by Patrick Shorrock

I must admit that I find the current trend of staging films rather perplexing, whether it is Moulin Rouge, Back to the Future, or Single Man.  Theatre managements clearly like a product where the audience will know what they are getting.  But there is still a sense where – like film sequels – they are likely to disappoint and seem a little unadventurous.  Inevitably, staging a film loses much of what makes the original distinctive – particularly the original performers and the editing.  The more it takes on a life of its own, the further away it seems from what made the original source distinctive.

It is even harder to turn a film into an opera, where the dialogue will generally have to be rewritten, the words will require a different delivery when sung, and the original music has to be replaced.  It’s a Wonderful Life is ENO’s second go at the challenge of an operatic version of a film after Philip Glass’s intriguing Orphée last seasonThere is much to enjoy here, even if I am yet to be convinced that films turned into operas is the way to go.

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Arms and the Man

Chocolates or Cartridges

Arms and the Man

by George Bernard Shaw

OT Theatre Productions at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond until 14th January

Review by Steve Mackrell

First produced in 1894 and set during and after the Serbian-Bulgarian war of 1885, George Bernard Shaw’s celebrated comedy about the futility of war retains a stark relevance given today’s war in Ukraine.  George Orwell claimed Arms and the Man, writtenwhen Shaw was at the height of his powers, was probably the wittiest play he ever wrote, technically flawless and, despite being a comedy, the most telling about the harsh realities of war.  For his swansong as Artistic Director at the Orange Tree, Director Paul Miller has produced a brisk, well-paced and beautifully-acted piece of theatre.  Miller is very much an aficionado of Shaw having produced six of his plays in the eight years of his tenure at the Orange Tree – including Candida, Misalliance and The Philanderer.

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Mrs Warren’s Profession 

Quid Pro Quo

Mrs Warren’s Profession 

by George Bernard Shaw

Theatre Royal Bath Productions at Richmond Theatre until 26th November, then on tour until 8th April

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Eleven years after the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 first allowed women the right to their own property, George Bernard Shaw wrote Mrs Warren’s Profession.  This was a play in which a woman works her way out of abject poverty via prostitution, earns enough to educate her daughter and ultimately becomes wealthy running a string of international brothels, with the additional investment aid of her aristocratic friend and his wider circle.  Unsurprisingly, in 1894, the play was banned by the Lord Chamberlain on the grounds of what was deemed to be inappropriate discussion of prostitution.  Prostitution was merely the pivot around which the rest of the system turned though and what Shaw revealed in his witty and unsentimental work was the grubby framework of a society in which women were bought and sold into work or marriage beneath a veneer of social acceptability, and to whom nothing else was available.

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Dinner with Groucho

Out of This World

Dinner with Groucho

by Frank McGuinness

b*spoke theatre company at the Arcola Theatre, Dalston until 10th December

Review by Melissa Syversen

As I entered Studio One at the Arcola, I was quite taken with the beauty of the set for the play Dinner with Groucho.  Designed by Adam Wiltshire, the set immediately tells you that we are somewhere otherworldly.  There are lights encased in different sized bubbles hanging from the ceiling, a backdrop of sky and ocean against a wall of stars.  On the ground there is sand and discarded oyster shells and in the middle of it all, an intimate dinner table and chairs.  We are about to dine at the edge of existence it seems.

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Saul

Envy, Eldest Born of Hell

Saul

by George Frideric Handel, libretto by Charles Jennens

Richmond Opera at the Normansfield Theatre, Teddington until 20th November

Review by Heather Moulson

Originally a dramatic oratorio, this piece by Handel was presented as a fully-staged opera.  A biblical story taken from the First Book of Samuel, it tells the story of Saul, the king of Israel and his relationship with newcomer David, the slayer of Goliath.  There were many layers of emotions to contend with, envy, love, madness, anger.  The company portrayed these human issues beautifully. 

Sitting in this splendid theatre for the first time is quite an experience in itself, and the striking overture, conducted by musical director Lindsay Bramley, was full of promise.  The stage revealed a colourful tableau of Israelites praising the young warrior David for saving them from the tyrant Goliath.  A cast of variable ages made very strong and stirring sounds in the epinikion, their ode to victory.  The set was basic but striking and there was a good use of the limited space, and the costumes were coordinated and aesthetically pleasing with blues, terracotta and white. 

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Haunting Julia

As the Spirit Moves You

Haunting Julia

by Alan Ayckbourn

The Questors Theatre at Questors Studio, Ealing until 26th November

Review by Vince Francis

Alan Ayckbourn has rightly established himself as one of the country’s leading playwrights, although this is simply one aspect of a long and rich career, whose work generally takes a sideways and acerbic look at various aspects of, typically, middle-class suburban life.  Originally written in 1994 and representing the first part of the 2008 season “Things That Go Bump”, Haunting Julia is a departure from this model in that it is a ‘straight’ piece throughout.  That’s not to say it’s humourless, far from it.  There is plenty of wit and some nice gags in the script and these help to provide some light and shade in what otherwise might become a fairly heavy topic.

The topic in question is death.  The death in question is Julia Lukin, a young, gifted musician and composer who has passed away in circumstances that become clearer as the play unfolds, and the effects of her death on key characters in her life.  Ayckbourn explores both the various stages of the grieving process and beliefs about death, the afterlife, spirit world and invites the audience to keep an open mind.  Never a bad thing. 

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La Clique

Spinning Thrills

La Clique

Underbelly at the Spiegeltent, Leicester Square until 7th January

Review by David Stephens

Advertised as ‘a night of laughs, gasps and can’t believe your eyes moments’, La Clique, now in its fifteenth year and a regular on London’s Christmas entertainment scene, certainly lives up to its billing.  Located within Leicester Square’s ever popular Christmas Market, and in the heart of the hustle and bustle of London life, the Spiegeltent is the ideal location for a show which is as risqué as it is risky.

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Incident at Vichy

What Would You Do?

Incident at Vichy

by Arthur Miller

Teddington Theatre Club at The Coward Studio, Hampton Hill until 19th November

Review by David Marks

Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy is a warning from history.  It is a snapshot of one moment in time in a waiting room in Vichy, France in 1942.  The room is populated with a cross section of society – men from all walks of life waiting for their “papers” to be inspected.  Some are released back to their everyday lives.  Others are not and during the course of the play we hear various versions of what might happen to those not released.  None of these versions is good.  Some are truly chilling.

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The Last Laugh

Stamp of Approval

The Last Laugh

by Richard Harris, adapted from Warai no Daigaku by Koki Mitani

Theatre at the Tabard at The Tabard Theatre, Chiswick until 3rd December

Review by Gill Martin

A sparky young idealistic writer of comedy crosses swords with a crusty, humourless censor in his bid to gain state approval for his play.  This hilarious clash of cultures played out in The Last Laugh is an auspicious first in-house production in the relaunch season of the Theatre at the Tabard, Chiswick.

With a laugh wrung from almost every line by the rugged old soldier-turned-censor, played by David Tarkenter, and the fresh-faced writer, Matt Wake, this moving satire explores the battle of freedom of expression versus censorship.

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