Thursday, 31 May 2012

Henry V

Theatre Delicatessen, 35 Marylebone High Street
28 May
Marylebone is bright and gleaming
on a long, hot evening in May,
and 35 is just another number, glass
and chrome, until inside you find your way
into a stranger city;

darker, down the stairs
into a bunker, beds of sand bags,
lines of benches
and a long mess table,
pictures and playing cards.

Here is the sound of shells
and men shouting, diving for cover,
screaming, gunfire, rain.
Here is laughter and music,
brawling and beer, flowers

and a case of tennis balls.
Here again are old friends and old stories,
old men and young,
young men willing their way
into a war. And here we watch

as though this thing is theatre,
although at times it feels like something else,
something with light and sound
that ring like clarity, unlooked-for thoughts
and moments of sudden sense.

There is a power here in shared experience,
a deeper thing than greed and lust
and loss; here is mankind’s belief
in his incarnate right, so strong
it won’t admit anything else. 

Henry V will run at Theatre Delicatessen until 30 June

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Sunshine Boys

Savoy Theatre
17 May

Here is a show that shuffles on
and takes its time getting around to nothing much.
It hangs on laughs, but they are sad and few;
frankly it should have stayed in 1972.

Here are two veterans of Vaudeville
who might, or might not, but always inevitably will
revive their old routine, cast back their minds
and fumble foolishly around with props and lines.

It’s not all bad: Danny DeVito’s drawl
is pure New York and sweet as hot coffee and bagels
on a cold morning; I love his ‘small’ apartment,
stripy pyjamas and penchant for Variety, but

this play does not hang on one character alone
and there's no punch or powder in the rest of it.
It’s flat as sugar substitute, or decaff: it looks right,   
but there’s no flavour, no sparkle, no bite.

Sunshine Boys is playing at the Savoy Theatre until 28 July

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Long Day's Journey into Night

Apollo Theatre
7 May
Here is a quiet, slow parade
of one long day;
a long, extraordinary journey
into night.

The room is treacle-coloured wood
and whisky light
imbued with silence
and the ebb of hope.

Here are the threads of stories
strange and sad,
and others rainbow-bright
with long-remembered seams of happiness.

One long, tall, tragic night of lingering
and listening in the dark,  
of drinking, playing cards
and waiting for the fog to clear

and the woman overhead to stop herself
and go at last to bed. 
One lovely moment when we talk about acting,
and a few upon a table top.

There is much here on appearances
and other things
you cannot talk about.
Much patting of hair and changing of coats,

coughing and silence.
There is no real looking
for the glasses she has lost,
and she has lost her sight

in other ways now too.
But it does not leave me sad.
It is not a portent,
but a sight of what we must not. 

Long Day's Journey into Night plays at the Apollo Theatre until 18 August

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


Caledonian Park
8 May

Walking slowly, as instructed,
we enter the park
and take a path
between a hundred or so strange, still figures
in the trees, all in white
and staring, sleeping, ironing
or sitting with a piano
or a trumpet in the green
and playing soft, sweet, outdoor music.

It gets colder
and we step into a central space,
a field in a park, circled with tents
and bandstands.
It gets muddier and colder;
hands in pockets,
quite like a winter festival
where no one knows
quite what they ought to do.

We walk about a bit
and join in here and there:
knitting, stick house building,
drinking tea.
We help twist strips of hessian
onto a fire stick. We eat sweets
and dance in the mud to jazz.
I wish I had worn wellies.
Then, on the tower, it starts.

First, an older man, white-clad,
God-like, Einstein-like,
in a white light, speaks like a storyteller.
He says this is it. Here is the tower.
A symbol (of what?).
The lighting is lovely:
eyes in the clock face,
stairs in the tower, a dog barking,
a man rescued.

We are in darkness now, surrounded.
Is everyone an actor, suddenly?
And then a swarm of people holding boxes,
little houses all aglow with torches,
tea lights. The prettiest new township
moving in. Now there is dancing,
singing, applause. It is over, and we stream
towards the gates. We won, but I need to find out
what it was all supposed to mean.

Babel runs until 20 May at Caledonian Park, London

Horrible Histories, Barmy Britain

Garrick Theatre
6 May

Overflowing with blood, guts and gore
are these horrible histories of yore;
they are funny and grim
told with vigour and vim
and there's singing and dancing galore.

They do much with a hamper of coats
and a washing line hung with old sheets,
and for only two actors
there are so many characters
it’s hard to keep up with it all!

It gets dark as a graveyard at night
and might give little children a fright
with its stories of murder
and wrath and revenge,
it is dripping with ghoulish delight.
Barmy Britain is now playing at the Garrick Theatre, London

Love, Love, Love

Royal Court Theatre
05 May 2012

Love is a mixed up thing by the end of this.
A selfish thing that drinks too much
and prides itself on always being right,
always honest but never tactful,
never caring. Careless, you might think.

To begin with, love is all about appearances.
Youthful and fresh. High as a kite
and free to sleep all night in the park beneath a tree.
Change is in the air they say, and they believe it.
The Beatles are on TV. You can do anything.

Then you notice the cracks, gaping like canyons.
The soundtrack rocks, but doesn’t fill the craters
left by too much being said,
not enough love going round,
too much self-love, self-pity, self-deception.

By the end, I really choked on it.
Fine words, deceits
and small unkindnesses –
sharp as a knife and almost funny,
if they were not so like real life.

There is a lot on age
and really it is beautifully played
from groovy ’60s kids to hipster retirees
floating about with a subtle limp, bad hip,
playing at gardening  in yoga white.

There is a lot of harsh judgement cast,
but no real question marks
or glimpses of a rosy hope around the corner.
The jokes are sharp, and there at last
there is no comfort, no last word of hope.

Love, Love, Love plays until 9 June at the Royal Court Theatre, London

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A Christmas Carol

Leicester Square Theatre
December 2011
You were a stranger to me
in your sober coat and high, starched collar.
Scrooge too, scowling and slow, lifting his head
and taking his first breaths
was not the wooden puppet that I knew
but animate: a bitter, sneering man
I would not like to meet.

That little room of yours became a treasure box
of small surprises – music and laughter,
turkey and crackers. I saw the snow
and heard the soft, sweet music
of the violin, conjuring time and place,
the clanking of chains
and murmuring of ghosts.

You conjured up a distant evening,
snowfall on a quiet road,
and then (your favourite, I know)
a moonlit flight over a silver sea.
You carried fear and hope, frost-bitten fingers
and a crackling fireside
till we arrived, inexorably,  at Christmas.

Dickens loved a feast, and you bowed out
with bowls of steaming punch
and plum pudding, music and laughter,
dancing and holly.
You left us warm with hope and charity,
blazing coals and candlelight,
redemption and revelry.

A Christmas Carol played at the Leicester Square Theatre, and at the Dickens House Museum, in December 2011 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Don Giovanni

30 April 2012

From the start, this is like nothing else.
A basically-naked man sells us a programme
for a pound. The loos smell like stale sick.
The bar is sweat heaven.

Don is blonde and chisel-jawed,
louche in a sharp ‘80s suit,
coming on to every man in sight, winking
and smirking for all it could ever be worth.

He’s a charmer, but the charm is wearing thin.
His conquests are cottoning on
and after all you can’t help knowing
this is nearly the end of him.

It’s all a heady mix of music, club and coke,
exotic dancers in their gold spangly nothings,
chip shop humour
and an underlying stale sense of sadness.

But the best part is that this is London,
Soho sleaze and tawdry sex shop signs,
a Phantom of the Opera poster shredded by a blast of smoke
and the arrival of that last, unlikely ghost.

This is something more than gulping pills
and pink champagne
drunk through a sad straw
at the end of an awful night;

here pain, ambition, fear
burn holes where they fall,
and run with glee
through the production’s veins.
Don Giovanni ran at Heaven nightclub, London, in April 2012

The Merchant of Venice

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch
23 April 2012

Shylock is bear-like,
all beard and smile,
but holding his own
with intractable guile.

Nubile Portia is nymph-like
and cool,
a sweet, spoiled heiress
who won’t bear a fool;

but she wins as the doctor
in smart, sober suit,
and is more than a match
for the men in the court.

There’s a lovely, soft moment
of quiet commune,
in the gardens at Belmont
beneath a full moon,

and the music that plays there
is haunting and sweet,
giving pause to a play
that is run off its feet.

The boys are all daring
in ‘80s excess,
they are party-prepared
and dressed up to impress.

The caskets are brilliant,
a moment of fun
to sum up a production
that won’t be undone,

though it struggles with modern day theory
and thought,
yet it pulls it off gamely
with singing and sport.

Josie Taylor as Portia, Matt Devitt as Shylock

The Merchant of Venice plays until 12 May at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch