The Old Vic, London Until November 9, 1hr 20mins
Here’s a play that sounds like it’s been dreamt up in a vegan bicycle-repair shop. It’s about a couple who want to have a baby. They fret that the baby will, over a lifetime, emit the weight of the Eiffel Tower in CO2 gas.
Cue a ferociously talky, wind-driven play for carbon-aware extinctionists.
The cast is positively regal, however. It stars Claire Foy and Matt Smith, twin jewels in The Crown (on Netflix) who played the Queen and Prince Philip. Indeed, this play put me in mind of the real prince, who on the deck of the royal yacht Britannia in Belize once shouted at the Queen, who was chatting happily: ‘Yak, yak, yak; come on, get a move on.’
Here, Claire Foy effs and blinds for England. Matt Smith looks on baffled, an unsuccessful musician swamped by the sudden moody tsunami of female hormones
Well, the yakking in this is epic. It starts in the queue in Ikea. He moots the idea of having a baby. She turns it into a row. There’s no mention of Brexit, thank goodness: Duncan Macmillan’s play was written in 2011.
But everything else going on at the moment is composted into the play’s orbit of concern: recycling, population control, gender, carbon dioxide, plastic, you name it.
Here, Foy – wearing dungarees – effs and blinds for England, a ball of contradictions and gabbling rant. She makes her character compelling, just occasionally even adorable such as when she’s most scared by childbirth.
IT’S A FACT
Former Doctor Who Matt Smith was discovered by agent Wendy Padbury – once best known as the second Doctor’s companion Zoe.
Smith looks on baffled, an unsuccessful musician swamped by the sudden moody tsunami of female hormones. (I’d forgotten what pregnancy was like: pregnant women are an uncleared minefield and the father soon learns to approach with caution and without helpful suggestions.)
However much you want to strangle this metropolitan pair, it’s impossible not be drawn in by the dizzyingly fast Formula One gear shifts as events overtake the couple.
Director Matthew Warchus even gets them to look natural on a shiny plinth, poised on what looks like a job lot of crystals from an aromatherapist’s front room.
The two stars act like old mates, which offstage they are. There’s true tenderness and a gasp-inducing plot twist that raises the game. But is this couple for real? Ordinary people manage to have babies without all this blather and self-doubt.
Is this a satire on the gabbling absurdity of the marriage-averse, ethically sourced lifestyles of the woke middle classes? If that’s what it is, then it’s not merciless enough.
In the end, it’s these characters’ utter self-absorption that’s most true to our times.
Cardiff New Theatre Touring until April 11, 2hrs 40mins
Kander and Ebb wrote both Cabaret and Chicago. This 2006 show was among their last, although lyricist Fred Ebb died before it was completed.
It’s a murder mystery set in a 1950s Boston theatre. When the hugely untalented leading lady of a cowboy musical gets murdered, Lieutenant Cioffi – charmingly played by Jason Manford – has to find out whodunnit.
The gag is that our Columbo-ish sleuth is a smitten musical buff who’s happier improving the ailing show than nailing the killer.
When the hugely untalented leading lady of a cowboy musical gets murdered, Lieutenant Cioffi – charmingly played by Jason Manford – has to find out whodunnit
Rebecca Lock stands out as the hard-boiled producer, and Samuel Holmes has the best lines as the caustic English director. Of the songs, none is a classic, but What Kind Of Man? savages theatre critics with unseemly relish.
Choreography (Alistair David) and direction (Paul Foster) are tight. But Curtains is overlong and never resolves the clash between a sweet, Cluedo-like backstage daftness and the profaner, Chicago-like cynicism.
It’s good, though, to see a musical rarity getting such a lively outing.
Almeida Theatre, London Until November 23, 2hrs
The great proletarian Russian writer Maxim Gorky wrote this death-of-capitalism play in 1910. It’s about an utterly amoral matriarch running an ailing family business. The title role is taken, splendidly, by Siobhan Redmond, standing in for the injured Samantha Bond.
Icy-veined and calculating, Vassa dominates her spineless sons and hapless daughter through coercion, blackmail and sheer unmumsy scariness.
Tinuke Craig cleverly stages this as if it were a farce on a set with multiple doors. Mike Bartlett’s adaptation is blackly funny but it’s written in such a slangy, modern idiom that it elbows out all the play’s vital historical context.
Vassa is about an utterly amoral matriarch running an ailing family business. The title role is taken, splendidly, by Siobhan Redmond, standing in for the injured Samantha Bond
I emerged admiring the work of this vivid cast but wondering if Gorky hadn’t been totally kicked off the stage in this vague approximation of his play.
A Taste Of Honey
The Lowry, Salford Touring until February 29, 2hrs 15mins
It’s been 60 years since Shelagh Delaney’s debut play brought an unvarnished portrait of northern working-class life to the West End .
Bijan’s Sheibani’s National Theatre production rightly puts to the fore the fraught relationship between brassy, waspish Helen and her uncherished daughter Jo. The action kicks off with them moving into a comfortless flat – all tattered sofas and naked light bulbs.
Helen soon slinks off with her latest boyfriend, leaving Jo to seek support wherever she can find it – first with a sailor who leaves her pregnant, next by living with gay art student Geoff.
Jodie Prenger (above, with Tom Varey) struts around the stage as Helen, emphasising her character’s vulgarity and the grim comedy of the lines
Jodie Prenger struts around the stage as Helen, emphasising her character’s vulgarity and the grim comedy of the lines. Meanwhile, Gemma Dobson captures both Jo’s vulnerability and determination.
However, Delaney’s litany of one-liners allow for little light and shade, and the actors by and large fail to inject this into their performances.
But the production highlights the play’s wry humour, musicality and its bruising portrayal of thorny familial ties.