Turbine Theatre, London Until December 7, 2hrs 30mins
The glaring problem with this 2006 musical about a discerning record-shop owner is that Rob, our hero and proprietor, would have winced at the score. Rob loves great music, soulful music, music with class.
He doesn’t stock, for example, anything by Natalie Imbruglia or Nineties singles such as Achy Breaky Heart. For that stuff customers are snootily referred to Woolworths.
Music snobbery and festering male loneliness are the substance of Nick Hornby’s 1995 bestseller. The novel is to sad but discerning vinyl collectors what The Riddle Of The Sands is to advanced yachters.
Oliver Ormson (above) is rather leering as our supposedly lovable, emotionally unintelligent hero who chats to the audience about the past women in his life
Yet, ironically, the music in this stage version (by composer Tom Kitt, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and lyricist Amanda Green) is the sort of bouncy vanilla theatre-rock that now infests half the West End.
The grimy set (by David Shields) for the LP-festooned shop fits snugly into a railway arch by Battersea Power Station, London’s second new venue to open this season.
As in the book, Rob pines for Laura (Shanay Holmes), who has finally walked out on him. But in this, Laura likes Art Garfunkel’s shocker, Bright Eyes. So why didn’t he leave her? It’s all wrong.
Robbie Durham (above centre) is funny as the pop-despising shop assistant. Robert Tripolino (above right with Bobbie Little as Liz) plays Rob’s love rival, an obnoxious retro-hippy vegan
Oliver Ormson is rather leering as our supposedly lovable, emotionally unintelligent hero who chats to the audience about the past women in his life – like his records, they are ranked.
But the big disappointment is that the music discussed is never heard in the show. Although a fantasy Bruce Springsteen comes on and shows Rob how to be like The Boss.
Robbie Durham is funny as the pop-despising shop assistant. Robert Tripolino plays Rob’s love rival, a retro-hippy vegan so obnoxious you want to bludgeon him with a salami.
Despite its railway setting, this isn’t really worth making the trip.
Boulevard Theatre, London Until January 4, 1hr 30mins
The West End has a new, comfy, bijou venue. The Boulevard is on the site of Britain’s first-ever strip club, the Paul Raymond’s Revuebar; the theatre is overseen by Raymond’s granddaughter, Fawn James.
Nostalgists may find it much too tarted up, if that’s the right expression. The theatre has an upmarket, Art Deco-style restaurant and a cool glass walkway to the new auditorium, its circle of 165 seats making it ideal for intimate musicals like this one, a deeply odd but agreeably moody song cycle written by Dave Malloy.
The theme is seasonably spooky, mixing Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall Of The House Of Usher with folk tales, ballads, Arabian nights, drinking songs and warped stories, such as that of Rose, who made a violin from her dead sister’s breastbone.
It’s a blend of very old and contemporary material – all of it haunted.
Maimuna Memon sings beautifully and plays drums and xylophone and Niccolò Curradi artfully scrapes the cello (both above)
Carly Bawden and Maimuna Memon sing beautifully and play drums and xylophone. Actor Zubin Varla is at the piano (his Thelonious Monk rendition is knockout) and Niccolò Curradi artfully scrapes the cello.
The evening is directed for maximum atmosphere by Bill Buckhurst, and the cast hand out drams of whisky – always a good move.
Audience members also get to play instruments, and in the brilliant closing number, The Wind & Rain, the musicians beat a memorable retreat into a dark and stormy night.
Dorfman stage, National Theatre, London Until November 23, 2hrs
What a Marmite writer Annie Baker is. Her unmistakable plays are laced with detail, weirdness and comedy. But surely even for her legion of fans, this latest is a grind, despite a fine cast.
A bunch of blokes sit in a room to brainstorm an idea, for a film or maybe an advert. The boss (a hilariously preening Conleth Hill) wants them to come up with something ‘monstrous’.
The team goes in for a lot of sexual confessions. I rather rooted for the only woman (Sinéad Matthews) at the table, who sits knitting.
A bunch of blokes sit in a room to brainstorm an idea, for a film or maybe an advert. I rather rooted for the only woman (Sinéad Matthews, above) at the table, who sits knitting
There is a yuk moment, when the office lad sicks up a yellow lump that then twitches on the table! Is this the sight of the play regurgitating its own inertia?
The night I went, several people shuffled out, as the evening inched snail-like without interval to its non-conclusion.
The play asks if there are any stories left in the world. Perhaps because the writer hasn’t managed to find one.
Sydney And The Old Girl
Park Theatre, London Until November 30, 2hrs 20mins
Eugene O’Hare’s play opens with the instruction ‘shut up’. Unfortunately, you spend much of the show wishing his characters would take their own advice: while the play boasts a performance by the redoubtable Miriam Margolyes, it’s a tiresomely nasty piece of work.
Margolyes plays Nell, a wheelchair-bound old woman stuck in her East End flat. Her bigoted, embittered middle-aged son, Sydney, has never quite left home.
The set-up has the feel of an old-fashioned sitcom, and the two go at each other hammer and tongs, slinging repetitive, vicious insults as part of a lifelong game of one-upmanship.
While Sydney And The Old Girl boasts a performance by the redoubtable Miriam Margolyes (above), it’s a tiresomely nasty piece of work
Sydney sticks around only because he wants to inherit the flat; Nell schemes to use her sweet Irish care assistant Marion to deprive him of even that.
But O’Hare provides woefully little insight into why they’re like this, beyond the tragic death of Nell’s other son, who had Down’s syndrome. O’Hare doesn’t dig into what grief really does to people, and the ending mawkishly rinses its potential for pathos in a way that feels unearned.
The play is billed as looking at how London is changing – yet Sydney’s paranoid and prejudiced attitudes are such that you can’t imagine him ever really enjoying the city, and make it hard to sympathise with him.
IT’S A FACT
Miriam Margolyes was the voice of the seductive, eyelash-fluttering Cadbury’s Caramel bunny in the TV adverts.
This isn’t helped by O’Hare lazily relying on the supposed comic potential of hearing an old lady swear, or having violent sexual innuendo flung at her. Throughout, Sydney makes thoroughly un-PC remarks, as if ‘mong’ and ‘lesbian’ are somehow punchlines.
It is witless stuff.
Mark Hadfield does his best to embody the icky contradictions of Sydney, and Vivien Parry warmly fleshes out the two-dimensional Marion. But it is Margolyes who comes closest to elevating things.
She’s brilliant at capturing the manipulative nature of Nell, giving the ‘old girl’ a malicious twinkle and a wicked grin. She’ll always be a draw, even if it’s hard to see what drew her to this play.
Richmond Theatre Touring until November 7, 2020, 2hrs 10mins
David Walliams’s bestselling book has already been adapted for television and into a musical, as well as this latest, a play with songs. It’s the tale of Joe (played by Matthew Gordon) who has everything – three speedboats, £2 billion for his birthday – thanks to his dad inventing Bumfresh, a mega-successful loo roll.
But what he really wants is a true friend.
No surprise that this story has been much adapted, with its themes of friendship, bullying and riches not bringing happiness, as Joe navigates his way through a new school.
It’s the tale of Joe (played by Matthew Gordon, above with Aosaf Afzal) who has everything – three speedboats, £2 billion for his birthday – thanks to his dad inventing Bumfresh
Neal Foster’s production has pace and an incredibly hard-working cast – fast costume changes a speciality. It has a smattering of funny jokes for adults too.