This week, the Bridge Theater transforms into 1920s New York, starring Anne Reid in a Black mirror-esque drama, and a new play at the Young Vic is staging a revival of Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris’s second play.
Guys and Dolls – Bridge Theatre ★★★★☆
In Nicholas Hytner’s production of Boys and dolls, nothing stands still for long: not the cast, not the audience, not even the stage. After acclaimed immersive productions by Julius Caesar and A midsummer night’s dreamthe Bridge Theater manager transforms the auditorium into Depression-era New York, a place that exists in constant flux.
Hanging above the auditorium, bright neon signs point to the city’s sinister underbelly; a world of late nights and men who will gamble on just about anything. Nathan Detroit (Daniel Mays) desperately tries to find a home for his next illegal shit game, while promising his fiancee of 14 years (girl, run) Adelaide (Marisha Wallace) that they’ll get married any day now. Nathan needs an impossible-to-lose bet and figures he’s found one when he bets playboy Sky Masterson (Andrew Richardson) that he can’t “bring a doll to Havana”, the doll in question being local preacher Sarah Brown (Celinda Schoenmaker) .
Looking at the swirling ensemble, you’ll find it hard to know where to look, but our leads confidently run the show. Mays lacks a bit of energy when he comes on stage, but he quickly picks up the pace. Wallace, meanwhile, who recently received an Olivier nomination for his role in Oklahoma!continues to dominate every musical she’s in. She doesn’t overdo this easy-to-overplay role, making the oft-tweeted “A Bushel and a Peck” genuinely sexy.
The highlight of the show comes from Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Cedric Neal), who gets those not already out of their seats with an impressive rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.” In these big, powerful group songs, the ensemble comes together. There are no distractions, and the audience regains a lost focus. We are reminded why we are here: to see musical theater titans at the top of their game, singing at the top of their lungs. As stylish revivals of great musicals go, you’ll struggle 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 lightly dystopian play nine years ago, before Chat GPT’s terrifyingly good AI software was implemented to generate everything from movie posters to sonnets to wedding vows. Accordingly, he imagines a world where androids are flawed helpers for humans, rather than sinister overlords.
Last Tango in Halifax Star Anne Reid is the warm, beating heart of this show as 85-year-old Marjorie: she’s wonderfully ribald, full of life and anything but pitiful when living with dementia. But then she has a lot to be happy about. She has Walter (Richard Fleeshman) to jog her memory. He is a “Prime”, or an exact android facsimile of her late husband, forever aged 30 (it is amusingly insinuated that she wanted him at his very hottest).
This play is set 40 years in the future, but the AI can already easily create something with a Prime’s conversational skills now. And with AI throwing up so many ethical talking points, it’s a little disappointing that Harrison’s hints at some of the darker possible uses for Prime don’t come to much: The tone of this piece is as even as a gray painted wall. Scenes move at a heavy pace, static and talkative, and bound by the confines of designer Jonathan Femson’s beautiful, soft, triangular living room. Still, it’s a satisfying 80 minutes at the theater with a more abstract final scene hinting at a more chilling potential vision of the future, one where people can be squeezed by their stories and then discarded, like used tubes of toothpaste. It’s a welcome note of horror in a play that often feels too cozy. Alice Saville
Full review here
Further Than 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 migration law, the Young Vic’s revival could hardly be more relevant. But as the play progresses, the theme begins to get lost among increasingly outlandish and confusing storylines, confusing the focus.
The play begins on the unnamed 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 spending a year in Cape Town. We meet his sweet Aunt Mill (a mesmerizing Jenna Russell) and fiery Uncle Bill (Cyril Nri), who have little but still look happy. But Francis has not returned alone; with him is Mr Hansen (Gerald Kyd), a textbook villain from colonialism who taunts 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 damp, smoggy England – a country of labour, “the queen and the puddings”, as Mill laments.
It is difficult not to be enraptured by the island’s timeless world, where people’s lives are connected to the earth. They wear simple navy shoes and split toe flat shoes that mimic hooves. Around them, nature shimmers hypnotically, with neon waves and sparkling stars projected onto the slowly rotating stage. England is presented in sharp, clinical contrast in act two. The circular light and curved benches on stage may resemble an alien and crop circle, but the islanders are the aliens here. When Russell — who brings both depth and rare moments of comic relief to the show — remembers being mocked for always saying “er” instead of “am” or “er,” you can see the pain in her eyes.
Midway through the second half, Longer than the farthest goes off the rails. Mr Hansen, a cartoon villain with his cream jacket and straight hair, has a random moment of honesty and delivers a long monologue that takes the show into whole new territory. It’s a good twist, but one that doesn’t feel deserved by the play. A later, equally long, speech by Mill provides another enormous revelation. In the end, it all feels too rushed, too confused. Harris’ message — that no one leaves home unless they have to — remains, but sometimes it’s hard to see through the smog. IL