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The Rocky Horror Show

Naughty Trisexual Megalomania

The Rocky Horror Show

by Richard O’Brien

Trafalgar Theatre Productions and associates at Richmond Theatre until 28th May, then on tour until January 2023

Review by Mark Aspen

Tonight I lost my virginity.  Yes, it came as a surprise to me too, especially as I have three children and three grandchildren.  But it seems that if you have not seen The Rocky Horror Show before, then you are a virgin.  At least that’s what the lady in the seat next to me said.  She was wearing stockings, suspenders and a basque.  The gentleman with her was not wearing trousers, but he did look quite, er … fetching, in fishnet tights. 

There are lots of conventions to trap the unwary audience member in this cult musical, although there is a useful virgin’s guide.  Moreover, the audience need to know their lines, or have ready ripostes when cued by a character’s half-beat pause.  It’s a bit like the pantomime, but a hundred times naughtier. 

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Maynard’s End

Fagatha Christie – Almost

Maynard’s End

by Jeremy Gill

Q2 at The National Archives, Kew until 21st May

Review by Mark Aspen

Miss Marple meets Midsomer Murders in Q2’s premiere of Jeremy Gill’s post-pandemic parody of a much-loved genre, the murder mystery.  His is a gentle take on the form: it is no harsh send-up, but a lovingly massaged homage to a peculiarly English theatre genre that was popular following both World Wars.  (There is some interesting psychology there.) 

Gill sets Maynard’s End in 1968, perhaps late for the genre, but in a period-perfect setting.  The design trio of Harriet Muir, Bob Gingell and Tamsyn O’Connor create props, costume and, tellingly, hair styles with great authenticity, within a neatly versatile set.  

The only period detail missing was the smoking, even the hashish was eaten (by mistake, in a laced cake) rather than smoked.  Otherwise the play could almost be described as a Fagatha Christie (whoops, couldn’t resist that!).  Nevertheless, Q2 would not want to risk catching on fire a building that is home to the Doomsday Book!  And what a magnificent location is The National Archives: what other local theatre nestles in parkland with lakes, and fountains and swans?

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Apologia

Blame Game

Apologia

by Alexi Kaye Campbell

The Questors Theatre at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 21st May

Review by Eleanor Lewis

“Every generation, blames the one before,” states the lyric of Mike Rutherford and BA Robertson’s 1988 hit, The Living Years.  The song, about a conflicted relationship between father and son, hits a nerve with almost everyone, generational dissonance being a given in the course of most family life.  For children of the activist counterculture ‘60s generation though, the dissonance is particularly acute and reaches that much further. 

The central character of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia is one such ‘60s idealist, Kristin Miller (Pamela Major).  An active campaigner throughout her professional life as a respected art historian, she continued as she became mother to two sons.  In later life her opinions are many and strong and she seems largely oblivious to the needs and feelings of those around her, including her children. 

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La Bohème

Intense Conviction

La Bohème

after Giacomo Puccini, new English libretto by Philip Lee and David Eaton

KHT and Making Productions at King’s Head Theatre, Islington until 28th May

Review by Patrick Shorrock

Putting on La Bohème these days can be tricky, as Puccini’s characters can easily come across as rather middle-aged and respectable.  By the time your operatic career has developed sufficiently for you to sing Mimi or Rodolpho, you are probably going to be too old to pass muster as a young person living on the edge.  I remember how David Freeman’s Opera North production asked some interesting questions about whether these young people are making a stand against convention or simply afraid of middle age and responsibility.  He had one of the characters – now a grand old man of the artistic establishment – introduce each act with reminiscences about his time as a young Turk.   

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When We Are Married

Avoid Being Void

When We Are Married

by J.B. Priestley

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 21st May

Review by Alex Tustain

In 1908, when this play was set, imagine the consequences of discovering, after 25 years, that your church marriage had been conducted by someone unauthorised to do so and it would seem your marriage was null and void!  You have been ‘living in sin’ for 25 years!   This is what happens to three couples upstanding in their small Yorkshire community and of course the consequences of this to the individual couples and their families would have been devastating and shocking to the core, to their standing in the community.   Add to this a small community where gossip travels fast, especially when you have a less than honest and most indiscrete housekeeper to spread it!

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Jubilee Japes

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by William Shakespeare, adapted by Paul Stacey

Reading Rep at Reading Rep Theatre until 5th June

Review by Nick Swyft

Shakespeare’s plays have been with us for for over four hundred years and their presentation is constantly updated to relate to modern audiences.  So it is fitting that the final play in the Reading Rep: Reborn season (which celebrates the reopening in its new playhouse on the King’s Road campus in Reading following the pandemic) should pay homage to the Bard.  Reading Rep has been going for around ten years and continues to go from strength to strength.

This production, based with some apologies (and a few generous cuts) on Shakespeare’s text, is a play within a play, within a play, within a play … etc.  Confused? …  You will be!  While the format is entertaining, there could be a limit to how far you can go with this.

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Dead Boy Café

Brooding Edginess

Dead Boy Café

by Grant Corr

Questors at The Studio, Ealing until 21st May

Review by Heather Moulson

This was my first visit to The Questors, and I was very impressed by this lovely theatre set in the leafy Ealing.  It certainly deserves its stellar reputation, and it made me appreciate that I was late coming to the party.   Dead Boy Café, currently playing at the Questors’ Studio is well worth a visit.   

This is the première, belated by the pandemic, of a gripping new play, written by Grant Corr, the winner of The Questors’ National Playwriting Competition 2019, who has moved on to further success by having several of his plays staged.  Dead Boy Café is a worthy winner giving a hundred minutes of strong writing and sharp dialogue … although it could have got away with an interval. 

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Dido and Aeneas

Melodious Enlightenment

Dido and Aeneas

by Henry Purcell, libretto by Nahum Tate

Richmond Opera at the Normansfield Theatre, Teddington, then at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 15th May

Review by Vicki Naylor

They know, the people who live in and around Barnes, how fortunate they are to have the OSO Arts Centre (The Old Sorting Office) as a theatre, and a theatre bar with a restaurant, overlooking Barnes Green.  There, dogs and children play and swans rear their cygnets in and around Barnes Pond with its tall bullrushes.

This brave and innovative theatre brought us, on a rather dull, damp Sunday afternoon, an example of the early English Enlightenment, an opera in the Baroque form by Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Dido and Aeneas.

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Animal Farm

More than Others

Animal Farm

by George Orwell, adapted by Robert Icke    

Children’s Theatre Partnership in association with Birmingham Rep at Richmond Theatre until 14th May, then tour continues until 28th May

Review by Celia Bard

Human puppetry productions like Warhorse (Michael Morpurgo), The Lion King (Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi) and Equus (Peter Schaffer), judging from their continuing success in entertaining audiences, indicate a change of mind-set in adult audiences regarding their acceptance of puppetry as a major form of entertainment.  Puppetry need not be one of the things we abandon after childhood.  Puppetry origins go back a long way, as far back to Egyptian times and the discovery of wire-controlled puppets in Egyptian tombs, and to ancient Greece when productions of The Illiad were often staged with marionettes.  Mark Aspen of Aspen Reviews reminded me when in discussion about Animal Farm, that human puppetry forms and the wearing of masks are often be seen in opera productions.  So why the appeal?  Basil Jones, executive producer at Handspring says that “Human puppets do something different.  They are metaphors for our struggle to live … getting out of bed, sitting in a chair, and that these ‘micro struggles’ are released better by puppets acting as human actors themselves.”

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Glacier Lake

Icy Secrets

Glacier Lake

by Andrew Cartmel

Thursday Theatre at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 8th May

Review by David Stephens

Described as a ‘thriller with hot topicality’, it was with a due sense of excitement and curiosity that we attended the premiere of Glacier Lake.  Searching for a little background information prior to attending, a quick scan of the internet revealed that, as its name suggests, this new play (written by Andrew Cartmel and directed by Conrad Blakemore) is set in the remote, lake-side escape of Otto (Colin Hill) and his daughter, Sandy (Sadie Pepperrell).  

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