Tag Archives: Apollo Theatre

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Apollo Theatre

With director Benedict Andrews and a couple of star turns on board, this foray into the West End by the Young Vic has plenty of allure. The story of marital tension between Maggie and Brick against the background of his wealthy father’s illness is not Tennessee Williams’ finest work. Of course, it’s still better than most plays you can see. And this production’s efforts to inject an arty edge could go a long way to increase its reputation within the playwright’s canon.

For a play somewhat tiresomely obsessed with mendacity, it’s a nice touch on Andrews’ part to present such a stripped-back stage – there’s nowhere to hide here. The intense focus respects Williams’ writing and sets up the cast for their sterling performances, even if it all becomes a little exhausting.

Sienna Miller plays Maggie the Cat. She injects a strong element of realism; you can sense her desire for her husband, her desperation at the breakdown of her marriage. Escaping from the shadow of Elizabeth Taylor’s depiction in the film version is no mean feat – Miller’s hard work deserves praise. Colm Meaney takes the part of Big Daddy and benefits from Andrews’ correct decision to balance the play so that it is equally about this grand patriarch. Meaney makes this “selfish beast” of a man truly compelling to watch.

Between both frequently loud characters comes Brick, former high-school athlete and sports commentator suffering from depression. Jack O’Connell takes the role and makes the quiet work for him. There are flashes of dignity in the performance and a good deal of anger, if not quite as much depth as might be required. O’Connell is a good stage drunk, though, and sections of the play that deal with alcoholism are the strongest, which comes as little surprise, given Williams’ own relationship with booze.

As the candles burn down on Big Daddy’s birthday cake, things start to get messy. The cake for start – you know someone is going to get dirty with it. It’s distracting to guess who and a relief when sticky sponge predictably ends up all over the set. Unfortunately, the messiness in the production extends to its direction. There’s a general untidiness that means Williams’ already sprawling story starts to drag. A shame since Andrews does have a strong central idea – to turn the family into white trash, with none of the usual genteel poverty. Maggie was “born poor, raised poor”, and this is very much new money. The insight makes for startling touches but needs more focus. Despite solid work, the treatment is too slow.

Until 7 October 2017

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Johan Persson

 

“Nell Gwynn” at the Apollo Theatre

Historical romps are not uncommon on the British stage. And the theatre loves referencing itself. Combining the two, with the story of 17th-century actress-turned-courtier Nell Gwynn, makes sense and provides a hit for playwright Jessica Swale. There’s plenty of fun from Gwynn’s love affair with King Charles II, while John Dryden’s hastily scribed plays add a touch of behind-the-scenes Noises Off style laughs. Having started at Shakespeare’s Globe, this show retains the venue’s vibe, pleasing the crowd with great gags and catchy tunes. No time for stuffiness here – this is a terrific night out.

Gemma Arterton’s performance in the title role is a joy. She’s cheeky, chirpy and utterly charming. Easily carrying Swale’s pointed remarks on women in the theatre and making the risqué comedy look effortless, Arterton proves a queen of innuendo. There are superb cameos from Sarah Woodward and Sasha Waddell as the other women in Charles’ life – both suitably overblown and over-painted – but the glorious Michele Dotrice steals every scene as Nell’s dresser, bringing the house down with a single salutation to the King and getting more laughs out of playing a triangle than you’d have thought possible.

Michele Dotrice
Michele Dotrice

There are men in the play, too and it’s satisfying that for once they take a back seat. Greg Haiste has the best lines as the actor who used to perform women’s roles before those “actor-esses” came along. And there’s a fine turn from David Sturzaker as Charles, who gracefully allows himself to be upstaged by a dog. The chemistry between the King and his mistress is down to the performances and builds touchingly. And yet it’s only fitting that the irresistible Arterton grabs our main attention. As for demanding better parts for women, condemning Shakespeare’s Juliet as a “noodle”, the play provides its own irrefutable answer.

David Sturzaker
David Sturzaker

A lot of Swale’s script should really be too downright silly to work. The comedy is as broad as a pantomime and historical references land with a bang that I presume is designed to pop any pomposity. More seriously, attempts to give the characters depth – let’s make the merry Monarch melancholy – are ham-fisted. Subtle it ain’t, but it works. And in spectacular fashion, with direction from Christopher Luscombe powering the play along and a series of performances that rocket the piece into the comic stratosphere.

Until 30 April 2016

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photos by Tristram Kenton

“A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Apollo Theatre

Director Antony Page’s new production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night marks a welcome return to the London stage by David Suchet. Taking the glorious role of tyrannical patriarch James Tyrone, successful actor and obsessive miser, Suchet’s performance is spectacular. In charge of a family haunted by the past, and with little hope for the future, Suchet isn’t just technically brilliant – listen as his American accent carefully slips into an Irish brogue – his stage presence is so commanding that it has you on the edge of your seat.

American Laurie Metcalf also returns to London, playing Tyrone’s wife Mary, and her performance is magnificent. Addicted to morphine, administered after the birth of her son, Metcalf’s lucidity wavers as she misguides her family and deals with her own demons. Sometimes painfully honest, at others simply a “ghost” inhabiting her own world, hers is a harrowing rendition.

Mary’s addiction serves to point out the failings of her whole family – the “fake pride and pretence” of her husband and her sons, finely performed by Trevor White and Kyle Soller. As the day becomes drink and drug fuelled, there’s “gloom in the air you could cut with a knife” but in this talented cast’s hands the play manages to remain tense despite its frequently delivered doom-laden conclusions.

To add tension to A Long Day’s Journey Into Night is no small achievement as the play isn’t exactly suspenseful: this long day starts out fraught and doesn’t get any better. O’Neill’s miserabilist masterpiece is a cruel, brutal, examination into family life. Page has cut down the time we spend with the Tyrones – just under three hours – but this is an intense experience that can be hard work. When “the old man” bemoans being typecast you can’t help but think of Suchet and Poirot but, happily, Suchet couldn’t be further from fiction – this is a job he is up to and does achingly well.

Until 18 August 2012

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 13 April 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Madness of George III” at the Apollo Theatre

It seems we love the Royals right now. What with last year’s wedding and the forthcoming jubilee, there’s a feelgood factor about pageantry that our first family is riding high on. It’s well known that the Windors aren’t big theatregoers, which is a shame since they will probably miss this new production of The Madness of George III.

Alan Bennett’s 1991 textbook play, dealing with one of George III’s periods of mental breakdown (probably from the hereditary condition of porphyria), has aged superbly. Progressing from the Theatre Royal Bath, this production is highly polished. Against the backdrop of Janet Bird’s intelligent design, Christopher Luscombe’s direction is clear and pacey. While lacking satirical bite, the politics of the period are presented well, with fine performances from Nicholas Rowe and Gary Oliver as Parliamentary rivals William Pitt and Charles James Fox using the Royal family as pawns to gain power.

And Bennett’s gags about the parlous state of 18th-century medicine still shine. Peter Pacey plays the King’s first doctor with suitable sycophancy. Clive Francis is commendable as the radical physician Dr Willis whose techniques reveal the ridiculous dangers of court protocol (such as not being allowed to question the King directly) and who gets the play’s best line: “the state of monarchy and the state of lunacy share a frontier.”

The role of George III is a dream for any leading man. David Haig lustily rises to the challenge of bettering Nigel Hawthorne’s much loved representation in the 1994 film. Haig is best at showing us the King as a likeable character: the benevolent ‘farmer’ George whose “indirect and infinite curiosity” annoys his equerries but charms the audience.

Often, if you are rich, you aren’t mad – just eccentric. So Haig works hard to convince us that George losing his mind isn’t just quaint but something painful. His performance forces this point home. We can smile when the King says he would rather go to Japan than Kew, but portraying George as an intelligent man, aware of his own tragedy is Haig’s main achievement, making this a more moving evening than you might expect.

Until 31 March 2012

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Robert Day

Written 24 January 2012 for The London Magazine

“Blithe Spirit” at the Apollo Theatre

With her strong reputation for revivals, Thea Sharrock is a safe pair of hands to direct Noël Coward’s wartime comedy Blithe Spirit. The production, fresh from Bath, fits into the West End perfectly with a slick all-star cast and general air of quality.

With the Terrance Rattigan revival currently in full swing, reminding us about craftsmanship in playwriting, Blithe Spirit serves to show Coward’s talent in constructing a play. This maybe frivolous stuff but it’s impeccably plotted, and Sharrock’s zippy pace is perfect for bringing out Coward’s bravura dialogue.

The scenario, a wife coming back to haunt her husband and his new relationship after a botched séance, is a comic device that’s brilliant in its simplicity. As an actor himself, Coward provides roles to die for (in this case, literally) and the cast of this production grabs the opportunity with both hands.

Robert Bathurst plays Charles Condomine. A typically vain Coward hero, he is appealing despite his ego and immature behind his sophistication. Bathurst plays the role superbly but issue has to be taken over the fit of his smoking jacket – no matter how tormented by the paranormal a Coward hero may be, he should never be dishabille.

Charles’ wives are superbly cast. Hermione Norris plays the glacial Ruth as the “staccato Sergeant Major” and her acidic delivery is perfect. Ruthie Henshall adds a mischievous grace appropriate to the role of Elvira and is a joy to watch.

Best of all, a much anticipated performance by Alison Steadman finally lays to rest the ghost of Margaret Rutherford in the role of Madam Arcati. Steadman’s Arcati deals with astral bigamy in hilarious down-to-earth fashion. Concerned about the effect of cucumber sandwiches on her trance, she has an eye to innuendo that a constant quest for “subdued moaning” probably induces. Not that she would find any at the Apollo Theatre during Blithe Sprit – just good old-fashioned laughter.

Booking until the 18 June 2011

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 11 March 2011

“All My Sons” at the Apollo Theatre

Now is a good time to revive Arthur Miller’s 1947 masterpiece All My Sons. The story of a war profiteer whose faulty goods killed U.S. airmen, is so full of moral dilemmas that it is always entertaining and powerful. But currently, as corporate responsibility is in the news and questions of social justice become vital in our increasingly divided society, All My Sons has become more important than ever.

This summer, at the Apollo Theatre, All My Sons gets the production it deserves. William Dudley’s beautiful set wins you over before the action even starts. It is the perfect stage for what at first seems to be a homely drama. In the skilful hands of director Howard Davies, this is developed into a perfect mix of touching domestic tension and complex politics expressed with intellectual vigour.

The dual concern for both family matters and society as a whole is also well expressed by the uniformly brilliant cast. Stephen Campbell Moore plays Chris Keller – having survived the war he is now in the position of taking over the family business. A devoted son and noble man, he wishes to marry his dead brother’s sweetheart – Jemima Rooper gives a superb performance in this role. Desperate for love and sharing high principles the couple are haunted by mistakes and lies that began long ago.

Chris’s parents, Kate and Joe, are presented first as a devoted older couple, so comfortable together that they share mannerisms and know each others thoughts. We come to see they are also linked by the lies they tell each other and the world. Zoë Wanamaker’s fragile Kate is hard as steel underneath. David Suchet as Joe, has the slightly harder job of showing the opposite – a genial father figure who is a mess of nerves deep down. Both actors are impeccable throughout.

Kate and Joe have a “talent for lying” and this is where the performances become truly remarkable. A frightening conviction is revealed when their backs are against the wall. Right up until the end both of them seek to control and manipulate. These are technically wonderful performances but there is even more to it than that. Wanamaker and Suchet’s skills have a purpose, their craft is well applied and functions to bring home Miller’s message. Together, they make this the play you simply must see this summer.

Until 2 October 2010

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 3 June 2010 for The London Magazine