2010 A Space Oddity – New Wolsey Theatre

Gavin Robertson has created a whole new theatrical genre – geek theatre. Outside of a Sci Fi Convention never has there been a auditorium buzzing with comments about the obelisk on stage during the preset being of the wrong proportions. Its one of those shows – if you spend far to many hours in front of the TV watching the Sci Fi channel you will most probably revel in 2010 A Space Oddity. If you don’t you will be left horribly confused – unfortunately although known to like a bit of Sci Fi I fell into the latter group.

A parody of 2001 this two man show gets off to a very slow start and doesn’t pick up any pace during the piece. Full of in jokes relating back to the film for some bizarre reason a series of catering equipment props are wheeled on to represent various spacecraft, planets etc. While this may work for a one off joke after an hour it wears thin.

There are many successful spoof shows out on the road but unfortunately this one should be left out in a far flung orbit

Arabian Nights – The Courtyard Stratford Upon Avon

There are some moments in theatre when you just have to take a chance. A £10 ticket offer on Facebook for top price seats was just one of the moments. A family show by the RSC at the end of January not a must see but reviews outstanding and a bargain ticket so why not.

And what a good choice that proved to be – Arabian Nights is not only a good show, it rates up their with one of the best shows for many a year.

The king has been betrayed by his wife and therefore is only marrying for one night before despatching his poor wifes to the executioner. Shaharazad is determined to buck the trend – her neck is on the line next – and sets out to tell the king one of her famous stories.

So begins the night as we see a selection of the famous Arabian Night tales. Its a gripping sight from the outset as this multi taleted cast use every theatrical trick in the book to thrill audiences of all ages.

Thanks to War Horse puppers now seem to be a requirement for many theatre shows and Arabian Nights is no differnent but here they are integrated seemlessly into the action with some ingenious twists.

It just shows that sometimes its best just to take a shot in the dark with your theatre bookings.

The Habit of Art – National Theatre

A new Alan Bennett play for the National Theatre is always guaranteed to get bums on seats and The Habit of Art is no exception – all performances sold out shortly after going on sale. So is this likely to be another History Boys? Unlikely but that doesnt mean its bad, Bennet has to have a real off day to be bad, but perhaps the subject matter will prevent the stellar success of History Boys.

If you’ve ever been backstage at the National, walking into the Lyttleton will be a little of a shock for the senses – where you expect a set is a detailed replica of one of the Nationals rehearsal rooms.

History of Art is therefore a play within a play – we are witnessing rehearsals for a play examining a meeting between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten. Neither are likable characters and nor are the ‘actors’ playing them in the rehearsal room and that’s part of the problem – you don’t really warm to them and therefore don’t care.

Yes the clever writing is here and yes the plot is well conceived and delivered and its nothing short of entertaining but at the end of the day you just dislike both Auden and Britten.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – Novello Theatre

Darth Vader does Tennessee Williams screamed the headlines as the sell out Broadway all black production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof hit London. And yes as soon as James Earl Jones opens his mouth it is clear the voice of the Sith Lord has indeed landed, but that’s were any resemblance to Star Wars ends.

Here it is a family at war rather than the galactic empire. In the Deep South Big Daddy (Jones) has his family gathered round for what could be his final birthday. In the bedroom son Brick (Adrian Lester) had turned to the bottle instead of his wife – over the ensuing three hours the family falls apart as things are revealed that perhaps should have remained hidden.

Much has been made of the all black casting but it doesn’t matter a jot – what is needed in COAHTR is a strong connection between frustrated Maggie and Brick and between Brick and Big Daddy and its in these scenes that this production truly turns up the heat. The Act One scenes between Lester and Sanna Lathan (Maggie) are almost too painful to watch as their marriage teeter on the edge of collapse, and just when you think things couldn’t get any more emotional Act two sees Lester and Jones go head to head in one of the most powerful and emotionally gut renching father and son scenes ever to have graced the stage. Any wannabe actors should be made to study these performances for an acting master class. When the likes of Sir Ian Mckellen go on record stating this scene should filmed for future generations you have to agree.

If there is one criticism for this production it is you never get a sense of the oppressive Southern heat that drives the action to boiling point, I know it was a cold January in London but I never sensed the humidity of the southern states.

It’s a limited run in London but one that will be remembered for many years – not because of skin colour but the strength of performances

The Rivals – Southwark Playhouse

For those whose only theatre experience in Southwark entails just The Globe or Chocolate Factory should head to the arches under London Bridge Station and The Southwark Playhouse.

Sheridan’s Rivals is not an immediate choice for a sell out show on a cold Wed January evening but perhaps thanks to a certain Celia Imrie being cast in the show this is the case.

As it happens Ms Imrie is cast in support (and as it happens sports a corset of equally supporting nature) but that matters not a jot as this restoration romp gets just the right amount of updating. As it happens Ms Imrie’s cleavage should get its own Equity card and puts a whole new meaning to the phrase heaving bossom!

Played against a simple set and featuring little ditties from well known restoration period artists such as Beyonce, this is a well conceived and performed Rom Com. Cads, Mistaken identities and Mrs Malaprops famous twists of the tongue give the audience plenty to chuckle over.

The overhead rumbles of the passing trains may not be period sounds but the audience are too engrossed in this frothy romp to care.

If you are trying to read the programme in the bar you may need to bring a torch to cope with the gloom but otherwise this little should delight

Rope – Almeida Theatre

As one of the few people on the planet who has never seen the Hitchcock film version of Rope this was one with no preconceived expectations.
The intimate space of the Almeida Theatre in Islington has been transformed for this production into ‘theatre in the round’ – well more octagonal than round but you get the idea. Between the audience a simple set summounted by a huge glass dome. Its not an entirely sucessful stage arrangement – a door stage right and a fireplace stage left give some sense of direction but its an odly uninspiring set.

A bit of a slow burner – a body dumped into a box mid stage and the first 15 mins played out in virtual darkness. Yes its mentioned in the script but it does result in taking a while for the audience to engage (as witnessed by the shuffling of feet, rustling of programmes etc)
Played through without interval the tension does build once the lights are turned on but based on the original novel it is a strangely dated affair. When the time comes for the killers to face their justice I just didnt care.
Well performed but one for the history books.