Bridge Theatre, London until Sep 29, 2hrs 35 mins
Alan Bennett’s new play is about a bunch of geriatrics on a ward in the ‘Beth’ (Bethlehem), an old-style cradle-to-grave hospital in Yorkshire that’s threatened with closure.
Bennett, aged 84 and a cancer survivor, clearly warms to these old bats, all wondering if there’s life beyond ‘the next dollop of turkey mince’.
Alan Bennett’s new play is about a bunch of geriatrics on a ward in the ‘Beth’ (Bethlehem), an old-style cradle-to-grave hospital in Yorkshire that’s threatened with closure
A really choice cast playing past-it northerners is directed by Nicholas Hytner, and every so often they all leap up and kick their heels to a tune. Imagine A Chorus Line with bunions.
Hits include Love And Marriage, Good Golly Miss Molly and On The Sunny Side Of The Street. Bennett pinched this singing business from Dennis Potter, but he manages to make it his own.
It helps divert us from a lack of plot – save in Act Two when some unexplained deaths give the evening a jab of fortuitous NHS topicality.
Of the cast, Deborah Findlay is superb as the hard-boiled ward sister, Peter Forbes is the Beth’s puffed-up chairman, and Samuel Barnett is the heartless young man from the hostile health ministry and the semi-estranged son of a male patient (the superb Jeff Rawle in jim-jams).
Bennett airs some predictable prejudices on immigrant doctors (good), privatisation (bad), Brexit (awful) and Mrs Thatcher (evil). Expect, too, references to Angel Delight, sexual intercourse and Scunthorpe.
The play is at its most eloquently serious on the mixed blessing of longevity and the hypocrisy of farmed-out care. ‘If people love their parents, why do they put them away?’, as one nurse puts it.
Allelujah! is no masterpiece, but it comes with a warm glow of human charity, plus the great bonus of laughter, which means that you can forgive it pretty much anything.
The Lehman Trilogy
Lyttelton stage, National Theatre, London, until Oct 20, 3hrs 20mins
This excellent evening tells the story of the three German-Jewish Lehman brothers, who arrived in America in 1844 from Bavaria and started a cotton shop. Over 150 years the business grew from cotton shop to cotton brokers, finally becoming a Wall Street bank. The dream ends in 2008 when Lehman Brothers went spectacularly bust.
This excellent evening tells the story of the three German-Jewish Lehman brothers, who arrived in America in 1844 from Bavaria and started a cotton shop
Director Sam Mendes chucks the works at this tale of risk and high finance. The show has a no-expense-spared set, with a revolving glass cube containing an office, and there are dazzling projections of burning cotton fields, the Manhattan skyline and so on. But for nearly all the three-plus hours running time, this vast stage is inhabited mainly by just three multi-tasking actors.
Yet it works. Simon Russell Beale plays Henry Lehman, the rock-solid, hard-working brother who’s never wrong. Ben Miles is his pushy younger sibling, while Adam Godley is the piggy in the middle, the diplomat who keeps the peace.
The three, all in sombre frock coats, emerge reborn as the generations change and the actors turn into their descendants.
The trilogy has something of the epic sweep of the Godfather films but without the violence. When the Wall Street crash comes, gun shots ring out as ruined brokers put a gun to their temple.
Beale is terrific as Henry’s Aspergic nephew, but for me, Godley is the show’s chief delight in the Sixties as the lethally entrepreneurial Bobby.
Growth, greed, ambition and catastrophe – it’s all here. The five-star staging is perhaps better than Stefano Massini’s slightly sagging script. But it’s still a major theatrical event, and well worth the investment.
A Monster Calls
The Old Vic, London, until Aug 25, 2hrs 20mins
Thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley is dealing with his mum’s galloping cancer. His dad is in America with a new wife, his grandma is a neat-freak and he’s being bullied at school. But then a yew-tree monster calls at night with stories that lead Conor down a terrifying path of liberating truth.
The killer asset here is Matthew Tennyson (above), who has us totally rooting for Conor. Selina Cadell (also above) as Grandma and Marianne Oldham as Conor’s mum provide strong support
Fans of Patrick Ness’s fabulous book have probably already seen the emotionally diluted film with Liam Neeson hamming the voice of the monster. This stage adaptation (a co-production with Bristol Old Vic) by Sally Cookson is very good, loyal to the novel, and has the audience snuffling by the end. But I have reservations. The demonic tree monster is an actor (Stuart Goodwin) swathed in white ropes – very un-gnarly – and Conor’s internal emotions often feel locked inside the show’s artful choreography.
The killer asset here is Matthew Tennyson, who has us totally rooting for Conor. Selina Cadell as Grandma and Marianne Oldham as Conor’s mum provide strong support. Inventively staged though this is, I’d say the extraordinary book packs a heavier punch.
Soho Theatre, London, until Aug 25, 1hr 5mins
This show opens with a couple having sex on a sofa, during which the woman flips TV channels and munches Wotsits.
Who said romance in the theatre was dead? Fans of Fleabag flocked to this play, written by Vicky Jones for her friend Phoebe Waller- Bridge, who starred in it in 2014.
It is now revived with Tuppence Middleton (terrific in the BBC’s War & Peace) playing a smirking young woman in her late 20s. John Hopkins is her smug boyfriend, ten years older, who You can bank on this Wall Street kerfuffle John Hopkins and Tuppence Middleton taught her at university.
Vicky Jones’s play is revived with Tuppence Middleton (above) playing a smirking young woman in her late 20s. John Hopkins (also above) is her smug boyfriend
Their relationship is built on seeing who can be the cruellest. This sweary, compassionless comedy spills into violence, rough sex and pain. It’s a bit like a twisted modern prequel to Noël Coward’s Private Lives.
Things in the flat turn a corner when a friend (Julia Sandiford) turns up late at night believing she’s been raped by her boyfriend. Was she raped or ‘sort of raped’? The question is met with a daring that would seem topical. But I’m afraid the current West End hit Consent has stolen this play’s thunder.
Director Steve Marmion uses snatches of Lloyd Webber’s Music Of The Night mockingly, as if to underline the importance of this supposedly probing drama of human desire. But hearing that hit song made me wish I was watching Phantom instead of this sordid tosh.