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Let’s Fly these Angels to Broadway

This post was originally written for my Research Blog reflecting on the announcement of the Broadway transfer of Angels

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So it’s official that the Angels are flying back to America.

Admittedly it was a fairly well known ‘secret’ and admittedly I knew some weeks ago. On one hand that’s what made it easier for me to say ‘I’m fine really’ once Angels closed- knowing it wasn’t a real ‘goodbye’ just ‘farewell’.

So what does it mean really to fly home to Broadway? well for me the NT revival was always the big one. That was ‘home’ for ‘my’ Angels. I’ve always been pretty nerdy about the fact the technical world premiere of the whole thing was there.
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But now, for a British director and (largely) British cast to take that most American of plays back home. That takes some chutzpah- in a really good way. Because America has done productions, in fact it’s almost continually doing them. We do them about every 10 years. And this was the big one- this was the Anniversary one that nearly wasn’t at the NT (it was nearly at the Old Vic fact fans, until Mr Spacey had a change of heart, and thank God he did- just to have it back ‘home’). It was lifting it out of the Cottesloe and throwing it on the biggest stage the NT has, and one of the most difficult stages in London. It was throwing a few actors that had a lot of people scratching their heads about both individually and as a group and going ‘look what they can do’. It was directed by a woman- something we don’t seem to make much fuss about but really really should. Because as a woman who has worked on this play for a long time too, you get a lot of funny looks and a lot of Men telling you that it’s not your place.

Maybe it wasn’t perfect, not for everyone, but it was everything and anniversary production (official or otherwise) should be- it was breaking the mould and rebuilding. And it was big and bold and beautiful, and all the theatrical magic that Kushner wrote in.

And I’m proud you know? I’m proud of that collection of actors, designers, Stage management and everyone else at the NT who brought this beast back to life. Because while it’s just another play, it’s not just another play. It’s one of those rare and special plays, that deserves a rare and special production. So I say take it out there with pride not to show America ‘how it’s done’ just to show them what you can do.

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And there’s a wonderful cyclical nature to it all. That the NT was so intrinsic in giving the original production life, that it should be a part of giving it ‘More Life’ on Broadway.
And for me? well as I said previously, in my long ramble about what all this means to me (here) this will always be “my” production. The one that left it’s mark on my heart. I loved this play with all of my head before this, but this production made it a part of me again. I fell in love with theatre as a Broadway fan girl, I grew up dreaming of The Great White way and the romance and magic of those theatres. It started friendships and a life long pastime with my Mum. Only yesterday Mum said to me ‘I don’t care how we do it but we’ll make it there (to NY) for Angels’. And that’s really the marker of all this- theatre, going to New York, and the PhD have been a family affair for so long, and Angels being tied up in so much New York mythology for me- for us- has been part of that. All of which me to a PhD, which led me to all this.
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Me, my favourite Angel and my Favourite Angels Nerd.
I’d be so happy for any production in New York, but to ‘fly’ it ‘home’ with this production so dear to my heart and that made such an impact, that’s something important.  So in just under a year’s time, when it really is ‘Goodbye’ on Broadway, that feels like a right ending for me.
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To say hello to this Angel the same day as seeing this production on stage is a sight to see.
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Flying the Angel of History

This piece was originally written for Wales Arts Review,  the full version can be found here.

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“History is about the crack wide open” warns the Angels to Prior Walter. And history, of Reagan, 80s America and AIDS is certainly on show for all to see in the National Theatre’s  revival of Angels in America. But why does a play about 1980s America, specifically the title might suggest Gay America resonate still? Is it now a play that is dated?  Is it a historical piece?

Set in 1985 and Addressing issues- from AIDS to Cold War Politics that have now receded into the past or given way to new concerns?  When viewed today parts of it seem terrifyingly current. Economic downturns? Extreme right wing political views taking hold? Fear of Russia? Vague but ever present threat of nuclear war? Impending environmental disaster? Granted, when the play was announced a year ago nobody could know we’d have an American President and British Prime Minister who genuinely longed to return to the days of Reagan and Thatcher, or that the threat of war with Russia or nuclear fear like the Cold War would enter our day to day lives again.

The announcement that Angels would be returning to the National Theatre in 2017, and next to Broadway in 2018 is more of a ‘homecoming’ than the subtitle ‘A Gay Fantasia on National Themes’ might suggest. The play in fact received its world premiere at premiered at the National Theatre in 1994, where by a quirk of logistical fate it opened ahead of its Broadway counterpart. It was a hit in the smaller Cottesloe space, and earned theatrical accolades on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Original National Theatre Poster

One of the most important and memorable pieces of new work the National has staged, it was no surprise it was included in their 50th Anniversary celebrations, or that Rufus Norris has chosen to revisit the play in his second year in charge of the theatre. This time including a starry cast including Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane and Russell Tovey along with Olivier award winner, and all-round star of British theatre, Denise Gough. Combined with direction from Marianne Elliott, who has delivered some of the biggest hits for the National Theatre in recent years, this is not so much a homecoming then a triumphant return that looked to defy the previous production in scope and scale. More than this however, it is a sign of the significance of the play itself, that the NT has returned to the production on such a scale. Including it in the celebration of 50 years was an indication of its importance to theatrical history. It is also significant in it’s addressing of the AIDS crisis.

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Kushner’s was one of a wide variety of theatrical works to tackle AIDS, but also the highest profile. His depiction of AIDS in the earliest years of the epidemic is brutal in both its depiction of characters succumbing to illness, but also in the wider impact on the lives of those affected by AIDS. In so doing, addressing  issues of what it meant to be a gay man in the 1980s; from Louis and Prior’s unapologetic openness to his closeted characters, Joe and Roy.

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And while the production has gained attention for its star filled cast it truly is an ensemble piece. Susan Brown and Amanda Lawrence do a lot of the less glamourous but important work, sharing a variety of characters between them – not least in the case of Lawrence the Angel of the title which is a physical challenge as much as a performance one. Meanwhile, Brown notably as Hannah Pitt and Ethel Rosenberg becomes the focus of any scene she is in. Elsewhere Nathan Stewart- Jarret also steals many a laugh and indeed a scene from Nathan Lane with his own camp wit and sharp delivery. Stewart-Jarret shouldn’t be underestimated however as just the comic turn in ex-drag Queen and nurse Belize, as the friend of someone dying of AIDS, and the nurse to a foe he’d rather not treat, there’s a quiet depth to the performance beneath one liners and loud costumes.

 

The real heart of the piece, and the real challenge to the audience lies Prior, the insight into Kushner’s philosophical reflections yes, but also the heart of the paly as the man we watch succumbing to AIDS. The effect of this hinges largely on the performances of Andrew Garfield as Prior and James McArdle as Louis. Garfield quickly proves he is a natural Prior, balancing heart-breaking performance with a razor-sharp wit. McArdle’s understated but powerful performance as Louis is what really lifts this element of the narrative and the heart of the play.

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Angels is both one play in two parts and two separate plays, and though both are written in the Brechtian Epic style it is Perestroika in which Elliott truly runs with this style. Millennium’s at times overly-staged format becomes instead a set up for the stripping back, and (almost literal) pulling the rug away from the audience in Part 2 until they are left with a virtually bare stage. This is by no means a simplistic staging and things veer from a piling up of debris on stage, to spectacular intricate moving set pieces, to of course the returning Angel of the title.

Perestroika is a theatrical piece, reliant on a director teasing out all the elements that lift it out of what can simply end up a wordy confusing mess without the right steer. Which Elliot manages admirably, particularly when viewed alongside Millennium. Although theatricality drives Perestroika it is not without its moments of honest emotional realism, and that is the gift that is this piece a challenging but rewarding veering between the two pulling the audience along with it.  It’s a confidence of a director to take things this far,  a confidence present in knowing when to return to the words of the playwright, and trust in the power of the actors. And it is with this the play ends. Stripped back staging as part of the wider metaphor yes, but also offer no distraction from the writing.

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In doing a final battle with the Angel, Prior is released after demanding ‘More Life’ What that ‘More Life’ might mean is ultimately in the hands of the audience, and 25 years after the original naturally some of that meaning, and what is carried out may have changed. It was never about the specifics of the politics for Kushner- he was writing back to the Reagan era as Clinton was elected president. Like Louis in the play Kushner is concerned with the bigger picture, the idea again as Prior concludes ‘We will be citizens’. Grand yes, fitting with the scale of the piece certainly, and finally effective.

Angels in America transfers to Broadway from March 2018.

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New Website Coming Soon

This website is currently under construction but full Portfolio will be available again soon.

 

 

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The World Only Spins Forward…2017 reflections

As I’ve all but abandoned my old PhD blog (for those interested it’s all still here) this seems like the place to reflect on 2017 in terms of professional and the overlapping personal achievements/life/whatever. And anyway the title of this blog seems apt.

So 2017 started with a promise of a steady job for the coming months (Lesson 1, never trust such a promise) as I was offered a ‘Maternity Cover’ just before Christmas. (Lesson 2, get exactly what that means written into a contract). Truth be told I was never happy in that job. I worked in Development for the Arts Council. And while the team were (by and large) the loveliest group of people I’ve worked with- and after the horrendous experience in the job before I was grateful for that- the job simply wasn’t for me. I lurched between abject boredom, and frustration at my seeming inability to do what was needed (not entirely my fault, and in part an issue of Dyslexia). For the next 9 months however it would provide steady (if slightly shoddy) income, which allowed me to do other things. And boy did I. I’ll get to that.

The Bad

I’ll spare the gory details, but let’s just say the job ended sooner than it was supposed to. And that not 2 months later I saw my own job advertised.

Honestly that was my lowest of a 3 month period of low points. An ill-timed bitchy comment on social media meant I spent a Friday night sobbing (and I mean sobbing) for 4 hours straight. To have a job taken away, in that way. I felt beyond worthless. I wasn’t even worthy of being honest with. Never mind  not worthy of being allowed to keep my job. I was, and am so very hurt by the whole situation. I’ve been screwed over in my time (hello Academia) but this felt incredibly personal. That I was also trying (and failing) to find any kind of employment, meant I was feeling incredibly worthless at the end of 2017.

I felt trapped in a circle of not even rejection, but sheer hopelessness. I couldn’t FIND jobs to apply for never mind be rejected from. I felt like there was no hope of also having a job I liked and staying where I like to live. Feeling run out of my home town is a particularly awful feeling. Having just come off an incredible summer (I’ll get to it) I felt like I was back at square one; unemployable and hopeless. That was it, I’d had a brief moment of glory and I was done. Get back to generic jobs you don’t care about and be grateful.

And I still feel that way a little. However the end of 2017 saw something of a turn, with two job interviews for dream-job type roles. I didn’t get them, but I got in the room. And a year before I wouldn’t have got that. And it was after all, a year of progress.

The Good

Obviously a great deal of this year was taken up with a little play about Angels. I’ll get back to them in a minute. But there were other successes, in my journalism/reviewing writing:

  • Continuing to review for and build up my reviewing across various sites. 
  • Learning to pitch articles, and getting a few pitches out there/learning some lessons. 
  • Writing for new places, and making contacts in others with the hope for the future. 
  • Fighting back and not taking any shit from publications that don’t deserve my time. 
Creatively it was also a brilliant year. I got to write for ‘Dirty Protest’ something I’d wanted to do for years. I had a short play performed at the Southwark theatre and off the back of that…ok drum-roll because I’ve not technically announced this anywhere:
I got commissioned to write a full length play. 

Wait, it gets better. A play about HIV. 
I got asked, and will be paid to write, the play I’d always wanted to ‘write back’ with to my research. Because a producer liked my short play. I’m still cautious, it’s a small step. A small scale piece of work. But it’s real, and happening. And more importantly I’m enjoying it. (remind me of that when a draft is due and I’m weeping into my laptop). 
Sometimes when I look at this year it feels like nothing has changed. I’m going back to a job that I don’t really want to be doing, I feel I’m not yet ‘doing’ what I ‘should’ be doing. But these things happen in increments, in pieces. Change happens slowly, and as it happens I’m not a patient woman…
But change is happening. I got a new ‘day job’ another temporary one but still one that will let me hopefully do the ‘real’ work around it. And at the end of the year, right under the wire I got what really I feel this year has been building to: a book contract. I get to write the Angels book. I get to write what I always wanted to but the constraints of PhD would never let me. I have much more to say on this in this blog. But honestly, it is a dream come true. All I have ever wanted since I was a child was to write a book. And now I can. Or as my Mum is already saying ‘You can write the first’. Let’s hope she’s right. 
But I did things I’m immensely proud of this year. And a great deal of it comes back to Angels. All that happened is well documented here in this blog, so I won’t bore you again. Except to say, I’m incredibly proud of what I did. None of that came to me or fell in my lap. I went out there, I asked for it. I fought for it. And I’m proud of that too. I got incredibly lucky this year- but that luck came out of 10 years of hard work. So it’s not all going to change overnight because of the things that happened this year, and that’s hard some days when I’m sitting frustrated in my office, or getting rejected. Or seeing others seemingly get ‘better’ things happen. 
But then I can go back to those feelings of immense pride this year gave me; seeing my words printed in the programme, leading lectures on the play, answering the phone (Oh so awkwardly) to Tony Kushner. Susan Brown and Andrew Garfield telling me how much they loved my writing (and hugs from Mother Pitt and Little Prior). Seeing actors bring my words to life. Seeing reviews I was really proud of. 
So going into 2018 I have the following:
  • A new temp job. An interesting admin job for at least 3 months (hopefully more)
  • I’m now chair of the Board for Taking Flight Theatre
  • I’ve been elected to the committee for New Researchers Network an offshoot of the Society of Theatre Research. 
  • I have a play to write!
  • I have a book contract. 
And so, as we’re doing lists, this is what I need to do this year: 
  • Write the play.
  • Write the book.
  • Get paid for at least 1 article. 
  • Write for at least one new outlet. 
Things I’d LIKE to do this year
  • Do some teaching again (please, please I miss it greatly)
  • Start doing some content writing, editing or similar as a means of income. 
  • Get a job that is more in line with my career hopes. 
  • Go on a date (I didn’t say these were all professional)
  • Hug an Angels actor (or 7) (see?!)
It’s not perfect. Little in life ever is. There’s frustration, and sadness and worry. But as the title of the blog says, ‘The World Only Spins Forward’ 
And in closing, this year saw the saddest event in my life in a long time, the loss of dear departed Doggy Chrissy. We had her for 18 years and we miss her dearly. For those who never met her this was Chrissy….

But after this, one of the greatest things to happen in a long time happened. Mum started dog sitting. And we met this ridiculous bunch of characters. My next book may well be called ‘Adventures in Dog Sitting’ 
So if nothing else 2017 will be the year the mad dogs came into our lives…Marley Moo (the one with the bubbles) is back on Wednesday, so let the doggy chaos start again….
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The World Only Spins Forward…2017 reflections

As I’ve all but abandoned my old PhD blog (for those interested it’s all still here) this seems like the place to reflect on 2017 in terms of professional and the overlapping personal achievements/life/whatever. And anyway the title of this blog seems apt.

So 2017 started with a promise of a steady job for the coming months (Lesson 1, never trust such a promise) as I was offered a ‘Maternity Cover’ just before Christmas. (Lesson 2, get exactly what that means written into a contract). Truth be told I was never happy in that job. I worked in Development for the Arts Council. And while the team were (by and large) the loveliest group of people I’ve worked with- and after the horrendous experience in the job before I was grateful for that- the job simply wasn’t for me. I lurched between abject boredom, and frustration at my seeming inability to do what was needed (not entirely my fault, and in part an issue of Dyslexia). For the next 9 months however it would provide steady (if slightly shoddy) income, which allowed me to do other things. And boy did I. I’ll get to that.

The Bad

I’ll spare the gory details, but let’s just say the job ended sooner than it was supposed to. And that not 2 months later I saw my own job advertised.

Honestly that was my lowest of a 3 month period of low points. An ill-timed bitchy comment on social media meant I spent a Friday night sobbing (and I mean sobbing) for 4 hours straight. To have a job taken away, in that way. I felt beyond worthless. I wasn’t even worthy of being honest with. Never mind  not worthy of being allowed to keep my job. I was, and am so very hurt by the whole situation. I’ve been screwed over in my time (hello Academia) but this felt incredibly personal. That I was also trying (and failing) to find any kind of employment, meant I was feeling incredibly worthless at the end of 2017.

I felt trapped in a circle of not even rejection, but sheer hopelessness. I couldn’t FIND jobs to apply for never mind be rejected from. I felt like there was no hope of also having a job I liked and staying where I like to live. Feeling run out of my home town is a particularly awful feeling. Having just come off an incredible summer (I’ll get to it) I felt like I was back at square one; unemployable and hopeless. That was it, I’d had a brief moment of glory and I was done. Get back to generic jobs you don’t care about and be grateful.

And I still feel that way a little. However the end of 2017 saw something of a turn, with two job interviews for dream-job type roles. I didn’t get them, but I got in the room. And a year before I wouldn’t have got that. And it was after all, a year of progress.

The Good

Obviously a great deal of this year was taken up with a little play about Angels. I’ll get back to them in a minute. But there were other successes, in my journalism/reviewing writing:

  • Continuing to review for and build up my reviewing across various sites. 
  • Learning to pitch articles, and getting a few pitches out there/learning some lessons. 
  • Writing for new places, and making contacts in others with the hope for the future. 
  • Fighting back and not taking any shit from publications that don’t deserve my time. 
Creatively it was also a brilliant year. I got to write for ‘Dirty Protest’ something I’d wanted to do for years. I had a short play performed at the Southwark theatre and off the back of that…ok drum-roll because I’ve not technically announced this anywhere:
I got commissioned to write a full length play. 

Wait, it gets better. A play about HIV. 
I got asked, and will be paid to write, the play I’d always wanted to ‘write back’ with to my research. Because a producer liked my short play. I’m still cautious, it’s a small step. A small scale piece of work. But it’s real, and happening. And more importantly I’m enjoying it. (remind me of that when a draft is due and I’m weeping into my laptop). 
Sometimes when I look at this year it feels like nothing has changed. I’m going back to a job that I don’t really want to be doing, I feel I’m not yet ‘doing’ what I ‘should’ be doing. But these things happen in increments, in pieces. Change happens slowly, and as it happens I’m not a patient woman…
But change is happening. I got a new ‘day job’ another temporary one but still one that will let me hopefully do the ‘real’ work around it. And at the end of the year, right under the wire I got what really I feel this year has been building to: a book contract. I get to write the Angels book. I get to write what I always wanted to but the constraints of PhD would never let me. I have much more to say on this in this blog. But honestly, it is a dream come true. All I have ever wanted since I was a child was to write a book. And now I can. Or as my Mum is already saying ‘You can write the first’. Let’s hope she’s right. 
But I did things I’m immensely proud of this year. And a great deal of it comes back to Angels. All that happened is well documented here in this blog, so I won’t bore you again. Except to say, I’m incredibly proud of what I did. None of that came to me or fell in my lap. I went out there, I asked for it. I fought for it. And I’m proud of that too. I got incredibly lucky this year- but that luck came out of 10 years of hard work. So it’s not all going to change overnight because of the things that happened this year, and that’s hard some days when I’m sitting frustrated in my office, or getting rejected. Or seeing others seemingly get ‘better’ things happen. 
But then I can go back to those feelings of immense pride this year gave me; seeing my words printed in the programme, leading lectures on the play, answering the phone (Oh so awkwardly) to Tony Kushner. Susan Brown and Andrew Garfield telling me how much they loved my writing (and hugs from Mother Pitt and Little Prior). Seeing actors bring my words to life. Seeing reviews I was really proud of. 
So going into 2018 I have the following:
  • A new temp job. An interesting admin job for at least 3 months (hopefully more)
  • I’m now chair of the Board for Taking Flight Theatre
  • I’ve been elected to the committee for New Researchers Network an offshoot of the Society of Theatre Research. 
  • I have a play to write!
  • I have a book contract. 
And so, as we’re doing lists, this is what I need to do this year: 
  • Write the play.
  • Write the book.
  • Get paid for at least 1 article. 
  • Write for at least one new outlet. 
Things I’d LIKE to do this year
  • Do some teaching again (please, please I miss it greatly)
  • Start doing some content writing, editing or similar as a means of income. 
  • Get a job that is more in line with my career hopes. 
  • Go on a date (I didn’t say these were all professional)
  • Hug an Angels actor (or 7) (see?!)
It’s not perfect. Little in life ever is. There’s frustration, and sadness and worry. But as the title of the blog says, ‘The World Only Spins Forward’ 
And in closing, this year saw the saddest event in my life in a long time, the loss of dear departed Doggy Chrissy. We had her for 18 years and we miss her dearly. For those who never met her this was Chrissy….

But after this, one of the greatest things to happen in a long time happened. Mum started dog sitting. And we met this ridiculous bunch of characters. My next book may well be called ‘Adventures in Dog Sitting’ 
So if nothing else 2017 will be the year the mad dogs came into our lives…Marley Moo (the one with the bubbles) is back on Wednesday, so let the doggy chaos start again….
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2017 Favourite Theatre

Here it is a list of the 10 shows that for various reasons made a mark in 2017. Some commentary being naturally longer than others…
Outside the ‘Top 10’ some Honorable mentions as well…
The Wedding Singer: Saw this on what was, by far the saddest day of the year- when our dear Doggy died. It didn’t quite block that out but this lovely cheerful little show, with such a brilliant cast really went a long way to making a horrible day bearable. I’ll always be thankful for that.

Harry Potter: I finally saw it and got swept away in Hogwarts magic once again. Another one in the ‘refuelling my love of it’ category. You never really leave Hogwarts, but it’s nice to be reminded of it and why you love it now and again. For this, Cursed Child is perfect. It’s not a perfect play, and its spectacle outweighs any substance, but it’s a great experience for those who love Harry and Co.

Where do Little Birds Go- Camilla Whitehills’s fantastic one-woman-play directed by my friend Luke Hereford as part of Cardiff Fringe and performed gloriously by Kate Elis. A simple delight of theatre. 

Here are my ‘top 10’ in sort of order but sort of not…

Far Side of the Moon- Robert Le Page- WMC


I’m including in part for the experience of seeing a Robert LePage work in the flesh. It’s a rare opportunity in the UK and rarer outside London. So, in a theatre nerd sense the ‘experience’ as much as the performance motivates this ranking. However, ‘Far Side of the Moon’ was such an engaging fascinating experience, and really unlike the rest of the year’s theatre going that it had to be included.
Yank! – Hope Mill Theatre/Charing Cross Theatre



Musical theatre is my theatrical life-blood. It’s what I fell in love with, and I love when a show comes along that just captures your heart. Yank! Is a deceptively simple piece of musical theatre writing- a short and heart-breaking love story- but it’s a brave, and beautifully written piece of work. The music is beautiful, again deceptively simple that just sneaks in, takes hold and sweeps you away. I’m so glad it got the reception it did in London and Manchester this year and the small cast really were exceptional. Yank! Rode in and stole a piece of my heart
My Body Welsh – Chapter- By Steffan Donnelly



This was a show early in the year. A fairly quiet one man show, telling stories about growing up in Wales. When I scanned down my list of shows for the year it just gave me a warm feeling remembering the show- often funny and almost poetic in the writing. It was one that stuck with me, and a worthy mention in the top 10.
Our Town- Royal Exchange Manchester



I was very lucky to be going to the Exchange for a meeting, and to be invited to a matinee at the same time. My first time up there seeing a show, and what a show. A brilliant adaptation/updating/call it what you will of the classic American play. The Exchange is masterful at working their unique space and this worked brilliantly. From the incorporation of audience on stage in Act 1 to the ‘lights up’ approach to much of the play that meant looking the audience and actors in the eye. Despite all these innovations it was the strength of the actors that really elevates this. In act 2 when everything else is stripped back to a virtually bare stage, it was simply one of the most moving experiences in the theatre all year.

 The Busy World is Hushed- Finborough

Sometimes you see a play at the right moment for it to work its way into your head and heart. Busy World is Hushed did that. More than this though it’s an example of an excellently crafted play in both the writing and production. It’s written in the way that great plays are, in a way that it tackles big questions through smaller moments. It may be, on the surface, three people in an apartment talking for much of the play. But what it asks of the characters, and of the audience is far more. From sweeping questions about life, death and faith. To seemingly smaller ones about the choices and attitude we adopt to our lives, Busy World is Hushed covered a broad spectrum. But the setting felt real enough, honest enough for it not to be a play ‘about’ these but one that was honest to these fascinating characters instead. For me that’s the kind of play I love, the kind of play I hope to write. It was also an example of how to craft a production- the intimate setting of the Finborough working perfectly with the setting in a crowded New York apartment. And a three-hander handled impeccably by a trio of excellent actors. It was,  in short, an evening of what a damn good play should be.
It struck a few chords with me- from life past and present, and for that had a real impact emotionally and intellectually.  From the fact one character is an academic struggling with a book project (amused me more as I was interviewing one of the actors that weekend for my own book project). To the line that (to paraphrase) as an only child, all the responsibility is on you. It’s a play that I just ‘clicked’ with and one that a couple of months later still pops up in my thoughts.
Holding the Man- Above the Stag
 A little play in a little theatre, but one that moved me as much as any of the ‘big hitters’. I adore this play, and this production more than does Conigrave and Murphy’s work justice. It’s obviously one that speaks to my ‘sensibilities’ being an ‘AIDS play’. But I’ve always had a soft spot for this story- the ‘Coming of Age’ story cut short by the epidemic. The one set outside the usual parameters of New York and San Francisco. The one that has a peculiarly Aussie aporach to things that is refreshing.
I love this play for it’s sheer theatricality too. It’s simple in many ways- doubling, lots of use of props and wigs and the odd silly voice. But it’s effective. It’s damn funny, it’s sweet, it doesn’t make a fuss about sexuality while also addressing it head on. If you asked me ‘how to write an AIDS play’ this is actually the one I point to- it’s the one I can watch over and over. And that doesn’t mean it isn’t packing an emotional punch. I actually cried buckets more tears at this than some of the other more ‘famous ones’. In short it’s my ‘little play that could’ and I will always adore a chance to see it again. As my review (here) talks about this company truly got to the heart of it and I love them for it.  
Hamlet- Almeida


Hamlet was once my most loathed Shakespeare play, so that I saw this twice in one summer is testament to how much I loved this production/Andrew Scott’s performance. Like two other productions further down this list, Robert Icke’s production did that thing of building it up from the ground up again. As did Scott. It’s a feat to say, ‘To be or not to be’ as if nobody has uttered those words before you, but he managed it.

The sheer raw emotion of Scott’s performance took it away from ‘The Danish Prince’ and back to the young man struggling with grief and life. It was masterful, understated and a wonderful two fingered salute to anyone who ever under-estimated Scott as just ‘Moriarty’.

This is one of those productions I actually have little to say about, because I can’t actually articulate it. I think with Hamlet we all connect with different versions of him at different times, and for me that version really struck home. Something about the raw power of grief- the anger of grief and the confusion in life that it creates just really came to life in the play for the first time, and touched a raw nerve somewhere inside me. I fell in love with Scott as Hamlet, his vulnerability as a n actor but also the sheer intelligence of it. Really though these are just words failing to articulate what is intangible. Which is really the magic of Shakespeare done right.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie



My final theatre outing of the year, and it was a gem of a production. I cried with happiness within the first 10 minutes. It just felt like one of those magical musical theatre moments that grabs hold of you and just soars. It’s a beautiful high-energy production that leaves you grinning and full of love for it’s camp fabulousness. More importantly it’s also a diverse, inclusive and working-class without going the full Oliver. It feels real underneath the glitter and heels. There’s such heart to it.
To see on stage somewhere that resembles where you grew up shouldn’t’ be underestimated. I feel like I went to that school. It felt real. So, thank you for that, for a world on stage that looks like the one I grew up in. Yes, this is all in musical theatre land, it’s the fairy-tale version. But it’s a fairy tale that felt like it had enough truth to it to be honest.  To see also a musical that unapologetically and matter of factly embraces LGBT characters is frankly where we should be in 2017 (or 2018 now). That it’s simply not an issue for Jamie or his family that he’s gay, that he’s accepted and supported sends a powerful message. Yes, it might be a fairy tale for some still, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power and importance of having characters, and stories like this on stage, even in 2018.
We often lament the lack of musical theatre writing in Britain, this shows we do have the capability, if only theatres could invest more in developing the work.
The last two of this year really couldn’t have been anything else really….


Rent- Theatre Clwyd/St James/Tour



Technically this production began in 2016 but as it was the first thing I saw in 2017 I’m counting it. (and as it toured for a good chunk of the year). And anyway, how do you measure, measure a year…
What to say about Rent? It’s like having an old friend back. It had been long enough since I last saw it for Bruce Guthrie’s production to really work it’s magic again. It was like coming home.
And yet it wasn’t. Because this production felt like it built it again from the ground up. Having spent far too much of my life as both a fan and academic looking at Rent, I know the tendency to enshrine it in the infamous ‘Xerox production’ of a musical. And so, I applaud Guthrie for his wiping the slate clean approach. These were no longer echoes of the original cast- and perhaps because now enough time has passed for it to be so- but they were their own characters again. Seeing it so intimately from row B in the St James’ was so powerful an experience it too me back to the first time I saw it. Afterwards I sat on a freezing cold bench texting the two people I knew would understand until I could get myself together enough to walk to the Tube.
When something is that ingrained in you, so much a part of you, to feel it re-written and given back to you, that’s something special.
I saw Rent twice more on tour. Someone asked me after my feelings about it, and I said something like
‘Rent will always be a part of my life I’m sure, but if that was the last time I see it I can’t think of a more perfect way to remember it’
Angels in America- National Theatre


I should have no words left for this by now…but I am a child of Kushner and I’m sure I’ll find some. I can’t separate the production, and the experience I had with/around it.  But I’ll try for a moment.
The production, like Rent re-wrote what I thought I knew (and as an aside, if theatre ever stops doing that, it’s time to stop). It looks and feels different to any other incarnation I’ve seen- as well it should, what’s the point in a ‘landmark revival’ that keeps things static. I’ll be shouting about Perestroika in particular the Brechtian Epic staging that Elliott took literally and then some. I’ll be cursing the lights going up while praising the genius of it for years to come. And now when I hear the birds in Central Park for real, I’ll also hear and see that stage. Which is exactly as it should be. The beauty of the neon, the almost balletic quality of the design…and that Angel crashing in. It was everything I never thought it would be, everything I wanted it to be. Even in it’s imperfections, which I grew to love too. It was falling back in love with the thing I thought I’d lost.
And those performances. These characters I know better than my own friends. I’ve lived with them for so long, and I’m incredibly fussy about how they get brought to life.  But boy did this team do them proud. It’s unfair to pick favourites as it’s a team effort, but my dear ‘Mother Pitt’ Susan Brown (along with all the others she takes on) is a tour de force of a performance. Denise Gough ripped through Harper and the audience with a force of a tornado but then quietly sat down and broke everyone’s heart. Andrew Garfield screeched so high that only dogs could hear him, but underneath it was a Prior who was sweet and vulnerable and so very strong. Amanda Lawrence flapped those wings and gave us unhinged Angels by the whites of her eyes, Nathan Lane gave us the evil of Roy Cohn, with a mischievous and dangerous comic timing. Baby Joe by Baby Russell had a darkness too him that was painful to watch (and yes that arse). And Nathan Stewart Jarrett could command an audience with the snap of a finger. And finally, in the nicest possible way, I still want to slap James McArdle in the face and say ‘You bastard, that’s it! That’s what I’ve been waiting for.’ (I mean I probably won’t actually slap him. Probably).
And as for the experience, what more can I say? (wait that’s the other AIDS musical). I said a lot here, but really Angels gave me so much this year. Some of you are probably tired of hearing it. But I can’t under-estimate how much the experience meant, and what it will (hopefully) mean. I’m writing a book. I’m writing a book about Angels. Nearly 10, 000 people saw my essay in the programme. I met Tony Kushner and talked on the phone with him. I connected with so many people via this play, so many people who cheered me on, who thought what I had to say was interesting and gave me the confidence to go forward and chase after those things I wanted.
When Marianne Elliott thanked me for my help, when she said I helped make it. Or when Andrew Garfield hugged me and did the same. It’s not because they are ‘famous’ people that it meant so much. It’s because they had made that thing I describe above, the thing that meant so much.  They gave me back the thing I loved, and let me be a part of it. And for that, 2017’s theatre will never leave me.

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie- Apollo Theatre



Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
This was my last theatre outing of the year, and what a way to end a year. Everyone should be talking about Jamie if they aren’t already. From what I saw on stage in front of me, and the fact that this is a new original British musical, Jamie is something special indeed.
First and foremost, Jamie is just an excellent musical. It has everything a good musical should; excellent music, a strong story and a stellar cast who execute it all perfectly. But we all know that pulling that off isn’t easy. We often lament the lack of musical theatre writing in Britain, this shows we do have the capability, if only theatres could invest more in developing the work. What Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom McRae have created is a musical that sounds authentically ‘musical theatre’ while keeping that pop music edge that makes it feel current and fresh. There’s a great balance between the up-beat ensemble numbers, and emotional ballads to move the story along. And the music itself is catchy and infectious.
The story- the ‘fairytale’ re-telling of Jamie the 16-year-old Drag Queen, combines all the elements of a classic coming-of-age story with a twist (and infusion of camp fabulousness). It’s genuinely funny, as well as heart-warming. There are moments of that real elation you get when musical theatre starts to ‘fly’ and the sheer joy of it is enough to bring tears. But there’s also a balance of genuine heart, it’s a simple story really but one that evokes ideas of love, family and friendship that are truly sweet and heartfelt.
The cast is outstanding, and elevate the already brilliant writing to another level. At the heart of it all John McCrea shines as Jamie. He has every gesture down to an art, creating ‘Jamie’ and ‘Mimi Me’ perfectly enshrine in camp fabulousness. But it’s not all struts and sequins- his Jamie feels real, we see the emotion and teenage struggle beneath and it feels real, not created for sentiment. He’s a joy to watch, but also like the rest of the musical, keeps an honesty to the performance that really makes it. Supporting McCrea is an excellent cast of young actors- Lucie Shorthouse as Pritti and Luke Baker as school bully Dean. I saw understudy Rebecca McKinnis as Jamie’s Mum Margret and she was truly excellent while Mina Anwar as Margret’s best friend Ray brings some great comedy to the family dynamic. The cast works impeccably as a unit bringing Jamie’s world to life, and it has the feel of a real ensemble piece despite the stand-out roles.
To see on stage somewhere that resembles where you grew up shouldn’t’ be underestimated. I feel like I went to that school (and taught in it later) from the kids being told they should aim for ‘Forklift Truck Driver’ and those thinking even a job is optimistic. To the diversity of the kids there (and thank you, for putting two Hijab wearing girls on stage. I’m whiter than white, but my school wasn’t, and I loved seeing groups that looked like my class on stage). To Jamie’s home life/home. The house with the ‘yard’ rather than a back garden, what I imagine to be a terraced street in Sheffield. It’s working-class life without resorting to a 2017 ‘Oliver’ scenario. It felt real. So, thank you for that, for a world on stage that looks like the one I grew up in. It also feels like a world I grew up in. The world where ‘men are men’ and don’t like boys in dresses. And the world where Mum’s (and surrogate aunties) are strong, keep things going and will do anything for their kids. The kids felt real as well- the fact that kids can be incredibly cruel but also, they can be incredibly kind and pull it out of the bag when it matters. Yes, this is all in musical theatre land, it’s the fairy-tale version. But it’s a fairy tale that felt like it had enough truth to it to be honest.  To see also a musical that unapologetically and matter of factly  embraces LGBT characters is frankly where we should be in 2017 (or 2018 now). That it’s simply not an issue for Jamie or his family that he’s gay, that he’s accepted and supported sends a powerful message. Yes, it might be a fairy tale for some still, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power and importance of having characters, and stories like this on stage, even in 2018.

Even if Jamie’s world isn’t one that’s familiar there’s something special in this musical. It combines such a joyous energy, and honest emotion is something that captures the heart. I cried tears of joy at some numbers, and was taken with tears of emotion alongside the characters. It’s a musical that left me with such joy and hope about the world we live in. And surely that’s something we all could do with more of (that and a little bit of sparkle).