Tweek, the Bridge Theater is transformed into 1920s New York, Anne Reid stars in a Black Mirror-esque drama, and a new play at the Young Vic is staging a revival of Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris’ second play.
Guys and Dolls – Gefyra Theatre ★★★★☆
Produced by Nicholas Hytner Children and dolls, nothing stays still for long: not the cast, not the audience, not even the stage. After his acclaimed immersive productions Julius Caesar and Summer night’s Dreamthe Bridge Theater boss transforms the auditorium into Depression-era New York, a place that exists in a constant state of flux.
Hanging above the amphitheater, bright neon signs show the city’s seedy underbelly. a late night crowd and men who will play just about anything. Nathan Detroit (Daniel Mays) is desperate to find a home for his next illegal game, while promising his fiancee of 14 years (girl, run) Adelaide (Marisha Wallace) that they’ll get married any day now. Nathan needs a bet he can’t lose and thinks he’s found it when he bets playboy Sky Masterson (Andrew Richardson) that he can’t “get a doll in Havana”, the doll in question being local preacher Sarah Brown (Celinde Schoenmaker ).
Watching the swirling ensemble, you’ll struggle to know where to look, but our leads confidently direct the show. Mays is slightly lacking in energy when he comes on stage, but quickly picks up the pace. Meanwhile, Wallace, who recently received an Olivier nomination for her role Oklahoma!he continues to dominate every musical he’s in. She doesn’t overdo this easy role, making the often twee “A Bushel and a Peck” really sexy.
The highlight of the show comes from Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Cedric Neal), who gets those not already standing out of their seats with an impressive rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.” In these big, powerful group songs, the whole comes together. There are no distractions and the audience regains any lost focus. We’re reminded why we’re here: to see titans of musical theater at the top of their game, singing their hearts out. As classy revivals of great musicals go, you’d be hard-pressed to find better. Isobel Lewis
Full review here
Marjorie Prime – Menier Chocolate Factory ★★★☆☆
Anyone currently trembling with fear that their jobs will soon be replaced by artificial intelligence will be reassured by the gentle vision of an Android-filled future presented in Marjorie Prime. Brooklyn-based playwright Jordan Harrison wrote this slightly dystopian play nine years ago, before Chat GPT’s frighteningly good AI software was successfully deployed to create everything from movie posters to sonnets to wedding vows. As such, he imagines a world where androids are flawed help encounters to humans, rather than sinister overlords.
Last Tango in Halifax Star Anne Reid is the warm heart of this show as 85-year-old Marjorie: she’s wonderfully bubbly, full of life and anything but pathetic as she lives with dementia. But then, she has a lot to be happy about. She has Walter (Richard Fleeshman) to jog her memory. She’s a “Prime”, or exact android facsimile of her late husband, forever 30 (it’s amusingly implied that she wanted him at his hottest).
This project takes place 40 years in the future, but the AI could already easily create something with the conversational skills of a Prime now. And with AI bringing up so many moral talking points, it’s somewhat disappointing that Harrison’s hints at some of Prime’s darker potential uses don’t come across much: the tone of this work is as flat as a gray painted wall. The scenes move at a heavy pace, static and conversational, and are bound by the confines of designer Jonathan Femson’s beautifully soft wood-paneled living room. Still, it’s a satisfying 80 minutes in the theater with a more abstract final scene that suggests a more chilling vision of the future, where people could be squeezed out of their stories and then discarded, like used tubes of toothpaste. It’s a welcome note of horror in a work that often feels too cozy. Alice Saville
Full review here
Beyond the furthest thing – Young Vic ★★★☆☆
Zinnie Harris’ 1999 play follows the inhabitants of a small, remote island who are forced to move to England when a natural disaster strikes. In a week of nationwide protests against the government’s illegal immigration bill, the Young Vic revival could hardly be more relevant. But as the play progresses, the theme begins to get lost among increasingly strange and confusing stories, confusing the focus.
The play begins on the unknown island (based on Tristan da Cunha, where Harris lived for a few years as a child) to which the newly confident Francis (Archie Madekwe) returns after a year in Cape Town. We meet his sweet Aunt Mill (an engaging Jenna Russell) and his fiery Uncle Bill (Cyril Nri), who have little but seem happy. But Francis did not return alone. He is joined by Mr. Hansen (Gerald Kidd), a textbook evil colonialist who smooths over the family with magic tricks, before sharing his proposal to build a factory on the island. But then a natural disaster strikes and the inhabitants flee to wet, cloudy England – a land of labour, “the queen and the puddings”, as Mill laments.
It is hard not to be captivated by the timeless world of the island, where people’s lives are connected to the land. They wear simple navy overalls and flat, split shoes that mimic hooves. All around them, nature shimmers hypnotically, with waves of neon and twinkling stars projected onto the slowly rotating stage. England is presented in stark, clinical contrast in the second act. The circular lighting and curved benches on stage may be alien and agroglyphic, but the islanders are the aliens here. When Russell – who brings both depth and rare moments of comic relief to the show – recalls being made fun of for always saying “is” instead of “am” or “is,” you can see the utter pain in her eyes.
Midway through the second half, Farther Than The Farthest Thing goes off the rails. Mr. Hansen, a cartoon villain in his cream jacket and soft hair, has a random moment of honesty and delivers a lengthy monologue that takes the show into entirely new territory. It’s a nice twist, but I don’t feel like I won the game. A later, equally lengthy, speech by Mill delivers another huge revelation. In the end, it’s all very frantic, very confusing. Harris’ message — that no one leaves home unless they have to — remains, but sometimes it’s hard to see through the smog. IL