Is it time for theatres to reward loyal ticket buyers and how should they do it?

When tickets went on sale for the concluding play in Jamie Lloyd's Pinter at the Pinter season - Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston - those who had already booked tickets for other, arguably less commercial plays, were given 24-hours priority booking*.

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Tom Hiddleston is a big draw, Hollywood level stardom with a large fan base and demand was going to be high for tickets, so it felt like a genuine reward was being offered for those who are theatre fans first and foremost.

And I don't think I've seen a theatre do anything quite like this before.

Recognition for loyalty

The gesture and recognition for loyalty felt all the greater when a few days later the National Theatre sent out emails about the results of a ticket ballot for another play with a Hollywood star in the cast.

Cate Blanchett is taking to the Dorfman stage next year in a play directed by Katie Mitchell and, anticipating high demand, the National asked people to apply to go into the ballot for a chance to buy tickets. 

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Theatre recommendation for the festive season: Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre

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It's not a Christmas-themed show but Orpheus by Little Bulb Theatre is a such a joyous experience to watch it is perfect for the season.

I saw it twice when it had its first run at the Battersea Arts Centre back in 2013 and I'm so glad it's back so more people get to enjoy it.

The theatre is decked out like a French jazz cafe from the 1930s with tables so that you can sit back and enjoy a bottle of wine and perhaps some food. 

Describing what it is about and like is difficult - read my attempt here - but I was grinning throughout.

See it at BAC as part of the Phoenix Season until December 30

 


Review: Ellie Kendrick's play of female anger - Hole, Royal Court

It feels long, primarily because it's not so much one note as one emotion.

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You'd be forgiven for thinking London's theatre scene had been taken over by Game of Throne's actors in the past month or so.

First Maisie Williams made her stage debut at Hampstead Theatre in I and You, then True West starring Kit Harington opened at the Vaudeville Theatre and now we have Hole, not starring but written by Ellie Kendrick.

Hole is a mixture of speech, song, movement and music exploring female anger through a series of stories, themes and metaphors.

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Review: True West, Vaudeville Theatre starring Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn - quick fire dialogue and sharp comic timing

Harington and Flynn prove themselves agile performers with quick-fire dialogue and sharp comic timing.  

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Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West. Photo Marc Brenner.

Kit Harington is no doubt the star draw for True West but it is Johnny Flynn who is the star in this new production of Sam Shephard's play of fraternal tension.

Harington plays Austin, a screenwriter who is house-sitting for his mother in Southern California.

He is using the peace and quiet to work on a script and meet with film producer Saul (Donald Sage Mackay) when Lee (Flynn), his estranged older brother, turns up unexpectedly.

Unlikely siblings

The brothers couldn't be more different.

Austin is neatly dressed and groomed - almost nerdy looking - professional, patient and law-abiding, the urban, sanitized 'west' to Lee's 'wild'.

The latter has been living in the desert for two months, wears dirty jeans, drinks beer like it's an accessory and has a pilfering past which makes Austin nervous about loaning him his car.

While their mother's house presents a respectable, domestic backdrop, the ever-present chirrup of crickets and nighttime howls of coyotes press up against the windows.

Resentments escalate

Sibling rivalry, resentment, and jealousy escalate when the meeting with Saul takes an unexpected turn.

Harington and Flynn prove themselves agile performers with quick-fire dialogue and sharp comic timing.  

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Review: The Night Before Christmas, Southwark Playhouse - festive fun for grown-ups?

Despite the laughter and hints of substance beneath the glitter and lights you'd expect from a Christmas show it is clunky at times and shows its age.

L -R Douggie McMeekin and Dan Starkey star in The Night Before Christmas at Southwark Playhouse - credit Darren Bell
L-R Douggie McMeekin and Dan Starkey star in The Night Before Christmas at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Darren Bell


It's Christmas Eve and Gary (Douggie McMeekin) catches an elf (Dan Starkey) in his knock-off goods warehouse who claims to have fallen off Santa's sleigh.

His friend Simon (Michael Salami) thinks the elf is a just a burglar trying it on.

But with Gary's ex-wife on the way around to pick up their son's Christmas present and local prostitute Cherry (Unique Spencer) also after him for a promised Power Rangers toy for her own kid, the elf's timing isn't perfect.

Grown-up fun?

This is adult Christmas fare, counter-programming to the Dr Seuss musical which is on next door but what constitutes grown up festive fun?

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Review: Boys, New Diorama - joy, silliness, subtlety and enlightenment

It is a play of joy and silliness that is also multi-layered, subtle, touching and enlightening.

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The PappyShow's Boys is introduced as a 'celebration of manhood' which is then swiftly followed by a fight.

In hindsight, it isn't ironic rather getting a misconception or common viewpoint out of the way.

There will be scuffles periodically throughout the hour-long show but while there is much that is celebratory - you will leave with a smile on your face - the subhead should be 'it's not all toxic masculinity'.

It is refreshing to have gender stereotypes smashed, to see young men displaying joy, tenderness and myriad other emotions.

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Interview: Playwright Jennifer Cerys on queer history and 3D lesbian characters

Playwright Jennifer Cerys' new play Dandelion at the King's Head Theatre explores queer history through a lesbian relationship in the time of Clause 28. Here she talks about why queer history is important and the need to diversify queer narratives in mainstream theatre.

Dandelion Show ImageIt’s 30 years since Clause 28 why is it important for queer history to be on the stage?

Though it may be 30 years since Clause 28 was introduced, and 15 years since it was repealed, the effects of it can still be seen in our education system today.

The School Report by Cambridge University last year found that 40% of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people are never taught anything about LGBT issues at school.

Though schools should obviously be the place where queer history is taught, showing it on stage will hopefully be a step in the right direction.

I know a young, queer me would’ve loved to have learnt about my community’s history at school, as it would have given me a greater sense of belonging and identity.

Some of the biggest plays of the past few years have centred on gay characters - Angels in America, The Inheritance, My Night With Reg (to name just three) which is fabulous to see but stories which feature lesbian narratives still feel like the preserve of fringe theatre. Is there a queer glass ceiling that needs smashing?

Definitely! It’s great to see any queer characters on stage, but lesbian narratives do seem to be forgotten.

I saw the brilliant Grotty by Damsel Productions earlier this year and that show was the first time I had seen lesbian characters on stage.

When I was growing up, lesbians and bisexual women were presented through a male gaze in an overly-sexualised way and I saw a lesbian for the first time over the shoulder of a boy at school who was watching porn on his phone.

Shows like Grotty (and hopefully Dandelion) show lesbians as much more 3D and complex than simply someone’s sexual fetish.

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Review: The Dark, Ovalhouse - vivid and rich writing

Makoha's writing is vivid and rich but it is the slower, more considered exchanges which have a bigger impact. 

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Akiya Henry and Michael Balogun in The Dark, Ovalhouse. Photo: Helen Murray.

Nick Makoha's play The Dark tells his own story when, as a child, his mother smuggled him out of Idi Amin's Uganda in search of a better life in the UK.

It is a story of a dangerous, overnight, bus journey shared with a group of strangers and told through a series of recollections and sketches.

The narrative jumps back and forth in time as if memories and the landscape are being pieced together.

Tense moments and encounters

Nick and his mother's fellow passengers are an assortment of stoic survivors, rebels and the mysterious. The journey becomes a mixture of anecdotes, politics, history and tense moments with life-threatening encounters. 

The set, cleverly designed by Rajha Shakiry, is a deconstructed bus with an overloaded roof rack hanging precariously above bench seats.

These are moved around into different configurations for flashbacks and journey breaks.

Lighting by Neill Brinkworth throws long shadows around the edges of the stage, creating a darkness from which danger can emerge and passengers can disappear.

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3 brilliant Edinburgh Fringe shows to see in London

LADY KILLERSome great Edinburgh Fringe shows are heading to London, here are three I saw that I can highly recommend.

The Fishermen, Arcola (until 1 December) 

Based on a Man-booker listed novel, The Fishermen is about four brothers who go fishing somewhere they aren't supposed to and the consequences of that fateful night.

It is fast-paced, the narrative rich with detail, the characters beautifully drawn.

Read my full The Fishermen review here. 

Ladykiller, Pleasance Theatre (30 Nov - 1 Dec)

A hotel room, a dead body, a maid covered in blood with a knife in her hand. This isn’t what it looks like, it definitely isn’t.

'Her' is a perverse figurehead for female empowerment and it is that contradiction and the darkness that I loved.

Read my full Ladykiller review here.

Angry Alan, Soho Theatre (5-30 March 2019)

An ordinary American man comes across a men's rights campaigner who seems to have answers to all his problems. It won awards at the Fringe and for good reason.

You'll laugh, scoff and roll your eyes at the irony of what Roger says but the final blow is a tragic irony.

Read my full Angry Alan review here.


Review: Cuckoo, Soho Theatre - funny and poignant portrayal of Irish teens desperately seeking acceptance

Iona is a funny, bubbly, car crash character - you can see her driving towards the collision but can't look away.

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Elise Heaven and Caitriona Ennis in Cuckoo, Soho Theatre. Photo by David Gill.

Iona (Catriona Ennis) just wants to fit in, be one of the cool kids rather than the target of their ridicule and bullying.

Her best friend is Pingu (Elise Heaven) is non-binary, wears a tuxedo to school and has decided not to speak, but that's OK because Iona talks enough for both of them.

Set in Crumlin, a suburb of Dublin, writer Lisa Carroll's play Cuckoo follows Iona and Pingu over a couple of fateful days when they announce that they are moving to London.

It is a decision which catapults them into the spotlight in a way that they never anticipated.

Sharp, witty and descriptive

Iona has a sharp, often witty and descriptive way with words and the play opens with her enthusiastic and colourful recounting of a shoplifting trip.

Pingu's silent reactions speak volumes and Iona's story, while laugh out loud funny, paints a picture of a life where having a good TV and wearing the right labels are the difference between being accepted and being bullied. 

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