Tennessee Williams, who was never afraid to be big and theatrical, always thought Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was his best play. The big surprise of Benedict Andrews’s radical production at Apollo Theatre is Magda Willi’s artificial set. The second surprise is the amount of nudity. The updating is a mistake. It spoils the play, which begins with a 40-minute monologue, as taxing for Sienna Miller as it is for the audience. Things improve dramatically after the interval. Can Big Daddy face the fact that he is dying of cancer? Can his son face the truth of his own homosexuality? The highlight of the production is a great scene between Colm Meaney and O’Connell.
Bob Dylan approached Conor McPherson to see if he would like to write a play that used his songs, and then allowed him to use them in any way he liked. Girl from the North Country at The Old Vic is not a jukebox musical, a mere compilation of greatest hits; nor is it a Broadway blockbuster. It’s a conversation between the songs and the story.
The songs, drawn from every decade of Dylan’s back catalogue, are beautifully sung into microphones on stands, and directly to the audience. Used to articulate the feelings of the characters, they give the script its extraordinary emotional depth. The characters are a cross-section of people at a boarding house in Minnesota during the Depression in 1934. McPherson directs an exemplary ensemble, headed by Ciarán Hinds, and I shall be very surprised if he does not repeat the success he had worldwide with his best-known play, The Weir.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, Sue Townsend’s modern comic classic, was published in 1982 and sold 20 million copies. The diary records the aspirations of a priggish, naive, misunderstood adolescent, one of the great under-achievers, who lives on a suburban housing estate in Leicester and has acne trouble, parent trouble, school trouble and girlfriend trouble. “I have a problem,” he says. “I am an intellectual but at the same time I am not very clever.” The musical gets a lively and enjoyable production from Luke Sheppard and his choreographer, Rebecca Howell, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and Benjamin Lewis is very funny as Mole.
The Finborough Theatre’s latest rediscovery is Just to Get Married by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952), actress, playwright, novelist, teacher and journalist. She described herself as a feminist rather than a suffragist. Will her heroine (Philippa Quinn) go through with a wedding to a man (Jonny McPherson) she does not love? Marriage was an economic necessity for most women in 1910. Charmingly acted, the comedy is well worth reviving.
Oliver Cotton’s comedy-thriller, Dessert, a seminar on greed and the lengths to which people will go to get money, is directed by Trevor Nunn and offers a one-sided debate, moments of sheer farce and rather too much shouting for so intimate a theatre as Southwark Playhouse.
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