You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave (But why would you want to?)

Grand Hotel – Southwark Playhouse, until 05 September 2015 (tickets)Grand Hotel 3  Christine Grimandi Scott Garnham Photo Aviv Ron

For over a year I only heard wonderful things about Thom Southerland and how he had a magic touch when it came to staging ridiculously impressive musicals in theatres that should have been far too small to do them justice. His version of Mack & Mabel (long a favourite of the cognoscenti) was longlisted for the Evening Standard Best Musical 2012, whilst he repeated the trick the following year with the decision to attempt a staging of Titanic at the Southwark Playhouse.

Grand Hotel 2 Victoria Serra (Flaemmchen) with rest of the cast Photo Aviv RonSo it was slightly disappointing to discover that by the time Civilian Theatre got round to seeing his shows, the magic seemed to have become a little more elusive. The Mikado at the Charing Cross Theatre was fluffy, fun but ultimately inconsequential, whilst The Grand Tour at the Finborough was a curio but didn’t fully hang together. Both pieces demonstrated hints of brilliance but never quite delivered.

As a result it is a great pleasure to announce that his revival of Grand Hotel at the Southwark Playhouse is absolutely spectacular. Right across the cast through to the choregraphy, direction and staging – there is very little to fault with the production.

And this praise comes from a reviewer who could distinctly remember being unimpressed by the 2004 Donmar production (even if he couldn’t remember exactly why he didn’t take to Grandage’s version). It may have been an off night for the cast or the audience member, but since then I have rather dismissed it as a musical.

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…Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains…

Little Malcolm and his struggle against the eunuchsSoggy Arts @ Southwark Playhouse, until 01 August 2015 (tickets)

It takes quite a lot to shake Civilian Theatre from a natural state of relative placidity. However arriving at Southwark Playhouse on a hot Friday evening, after a long day at work, to find out your 20.00 press show will run a shade under 3 hours is enough to test even this reviewer’s equanimity.

Little Malcolm… is being billed as a lost gem. Well, it was certainly lost. It was an early directing adventure for Mike Leigh that crashed and burned in London, before heading to America where it suffered a similar fate. And god only knows what Americans would made of this strange class and gender satire set around an art school in a northern working class town.

True-HumilityYet it has always had its champions, and was turned into a film starring John Hurt, and produced by George Harrison, which walked off with the Silver Bear at the 1974 Berlin International Film Festival. And then nothing. Malcolm found himself lost in the mists of time until Soggy Arts and Folie a Deux Productions retrieved him and his eunuchs for a 50th anniversary staging.

It gives no pleasure to say that on the basis of this production, Little Malcolm… is less precious gem, and more curate’s egg. David Halliwell has not written a bad play, and parts of it are in fact excellent. He has a rare ear for high prose and often finds a striking harmony when balancing it against the cadences of northern speech patterns. Unfortunately in Little Malcolm… he has taken it upon himself to write three different plays when one would have sufficed. It feels like Halliwell saw this as his only chance to make his mark upon the world, and made sure he included all his ideas at once.

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Gods and Monsters – Review

Gods and Monsters (originally a 1998 film starring Ian McKellen), based on Christopher Bram’s novel Father of Frankenstein, considers the career and fate of James Whale, monumental director, WHALEFRANKENSTEINmost famous for his adaptation of Frankenstein. The play explores Whale’s life and career and his slow dissolution into obscurity.Once he was known throughout the world, yet if it wasn’t for  it’s likely that today only the cine-literate would remember his name. It’s a fate that many in Hollywood must one day endure, and Gods and Monsters examines Whale’s singular experience and reaction. At the play’s outset, we join Whale in the eve of his life, living in semi-obscurity, tired with Hollywood and frustrated, having been pigeon-holed by this one film.

Ian Gelder is fantastic in the central role. He is required to display two very different sides to Whale. There is the side he shows to his guests, which has become a rather grotesque caricature of a slightly lurid and predatory Hollywood homosexual. Gelder gives the sense that Whale has fallen into this role and has now played it for so long it feels like a second skin. Here Gelder captures the sharpness, the hint of danger to Whale’s interactions that gives the play a much needed tension…continues at www.everything-theatre.co.uk

<<You can read the full review on Everything Theatre)

Its ‘bloody’ good

Grand Guignol – Southwark Playhouse, until 22 November 2014 (tickets)

With the arrival of Grand Guignol at the Southwark Playhouse there is finally something in south London more terrifying than the underpasses that crisscross Elephant and Castle. Well more terrifying, and more kitsch. ForGRAND GUIGNOL within Carl Grose’s knowing script is contained both a loving homage to the famous Theatre du Grand-Guignol and also a gory melodrama in which the old Parisian theatre specialised.

Grand Guignol has disappeared from the theatrical repertoire; it became a casualty of cinema’s ability to create a more naturalistic form of horror. Audiences had grown tired of the old tricks and the arrival of F.W. Murnau’s expressionist classic Nosferatu or Jacques Tourneaur’s remarkable Cat People were signs that cinema could deliver a more refined product that provided genuine psychological chills instead of cartoonish gore.

Paul-Chequer-Andy-Williams-Emily-Raymond-in-Grand-Guignol.-Credit-Steve-Tanner-13Grose’s evident love of the genre – seen through its close alignment with real characters and a smart eye for the detail – is combined with a blend of high-camp, knowing winks and straight out jokes played entirely straight. This approach is clear from the opening scene which throws the audience into the midst of the action; hearts are in mouths, not due to blood-curdling terror but rather down to the terrible dialogue, stilted delivery and risible premise. It is only when the set is rolled back and we realise that we are backstage in the theatre that we acknowledge that the scene was itself a spoof and one of many meta jokes for the theatre literate audience.

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I must thank the good people at Official Theatre for the tickets. Even without this shameless plug, please do check out their website to find out what is going on across the West End; it has links to tickets, venue contact details and bits ‘n bobs about all the theatres – the sort of thing I would do if I wasn’t so damn lazy.  (www.officialtheatre.com/fringe)

Something for the weekend sir?

Sitting around on a Saturday night? Reconciling yourself to an evening spent watching manic depressive Irish twins and a faded noughties boyband systematically deconstruct the meaning of what music has to be? Well this glimpse of what’s on the London stage may encourage you to put on your gladrags and discover some theatre that you never even knew existed.

I AM THE WIND

Who? A bit of a high-culture European super-group; acclaimed French director Patrice Chereau (La Reine Margot) works with Simon Stephens (Wastewater, Punk Rock) and Jon Fosse (by all accounts Europe’s most performed playwright – who knew?).  It’s basically a bit like when John Lennon formed a band with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Mitch Mitchell but probably a lot less cool.
What? Two nameless characters are alone on a boat, they drift into the ocean and into the world of the unknown. They are entering a world of metaphor, allusion and philosophical questions about man’s relationship with itself and with nature.How much you enjoy this play probably rests on whether you got to the end of the previous sentences without raising your eyebrows at the pretentiousness of it all.
Why? With such a strong British tradition and the constant influx of big names from America, this is a chance to see how they do it on the continent. A legendary director meeting a prolific playwright (over 900 productions in 40 languages) would be cause for celebration across Europe but here it has received a decidedly mixed reception. Fosse is seen by many as a sub-Ibsen or Beckett but you do not get translated that many times without being able to tap into certain universality.
Where? The Young Vic
When? Until 21st May (and then on an international tour)
How much? £10 – £27.50
Tedious deconstruction of the play to one sentance:An existentialist play directed by a Frenchman where there are two characters called ‘the one’ and ‘the other’; you can’t argue you didn’t know what you were letting yourself in for when you bought the tickets.

TENDER NAPALM

Who? Tender Napalm is the first play in three years by Phillip Ridley, winner of Time Out, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle awards and includes Jack Gordon (Fish Tank, War Horse) who won the Screen International Star of Tomorrow award.
What? Taking its influences from a number of playwrights, including Pinter & Coward and with nods towards Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks, Tender Napalm is more than a string of cultural reference points. It presents an intelligent study of the lines (in reality, in language and in metaphor) that pull a relationship through love and hate. A stripped back stage and fully committed performances by the actors draw the audience into the action.
Why? Ridley’s ear for language draws you into the hidden depths and finds ways of vocalising those places in the mind that in real life remain unsaid, this leads to a play that has a vitality and a rawness that is too often missing from similar plays. Rather than clunky realist plotting, Ridly manages to draw the life out the play out of the emotion and imagination of his characters.
Where? Southwark Playhouse
When? Until 14th May
How much? £8 – £18
Tedious deconstruction of the play to one sentence

A brutal, excoriating but often very funny examination of a relationship and the fine lines drawn between love and hate; stellar performances and intelligent staging underpin a play by one of Britain’s most exciting writers.