Lyn’s weekly picks
Every week, Lyn will be sharing her recommendations on the Stagedoor app. Sometimes these will feature shows on the West End. Sometimes they’ll be on the Fringe. They’ll always be exciting.
Lyn’s recommendations will be joined by longer, thematic articles commenting on the latest trends in how theatre is being made – and what we’re making theatre about.
So, what are you waiting for?
Follow Lyn on the Stagedoor app.
Follow Lyn on the Stagedoor app.
Articles by Lyn Gardner
Review: All My Sons
It’s clear right from the start of Jeremy Herrin’s revival of All My Sons that this is an America in denial.
Promising Scottish playwright Libby (Neve McIntosh) moved to London. But now Libby is in her forties, her once auspicious career is on the rocks and she’s back in Edinburgh standing on Salisbury Crags thinking of stepping out into the void.
Review: Funeral Flowers
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet we last see the doomed Ophelia handing out flowers. These flowers have meaning. Rosemary is for remembrance. Pansies are for thoughts.
Review: Three Sisters
Rebecca Frecknall’s staging of Three Sisters at the Almeida begins a year before Chekhov’s play normally begins. It opens with the funeral of the siblings’ father, the late General, who brought them to the provincial Russian garrison town where they are now stranded far from their beloved Moscow.
Review: The Show in Which Hopefully Nothing Happens
Some of my best friends think theatre is boring. There are plenty of nights in the theatre when I think they might have a point. Then I see something brilliant and I fall in love with theatre all over again and leave the theatre giddy with excitement.
Critical disagreements: Admissions
Prejudice, privilege and provocation — how Admissions is pressing people's buttons
Review: A Family Outing - 20 Years On
Twenty years ago, Ursula Martinez made a revelatory show, A Family Outing, in which she unpicked family life, myths and relationships with the help of her mum and dad who appeared alongside her on stage.
There is a touch of Disco Pigs and something of Blood Brothers about Wolfie at Theatre 503.
Review: Mary's Babies
There is a bit of a VAULT Festival takeover on the London fringe at the moment.
“Search for this and you won’t find it,” is one of the refrains of Emilia, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s gloriously enjoyable comedy which celebrates the late Elizabethan poet Emilia Bassano.
Richard Eyre has talked about the way that theatre creates empathy, arguing that the arts "enable us to put ourselves in the minds, eyes, ears and hearts of other human beings." Bruce Norris' latest play, Downstate, is an exercise in empathy, a test of our humanity.
Naked lightbulbs glow in the haze hanging over the stage in Battersea Arts Centre’s Grand Hall. From out of the shadows emerge sounds like the rumbling of thunder or the rustle of leaves or the coo of doves. Voices soar in lament, tongues click, and the stage shimmers with sound and emotion.
So, to which Betrayal exactly does the title refer? There are many different kinds of betrayal in Harold Pinter’s 1978 play inspired by his own adulterous relationship with Joan Bakewell.
VAULT Festival Reviews: 10, Lights! Planets! People! & Bite Me
Like last year’s Edinburgh fringe, one of the things that the 2019 Vault Festival has proved is that, while more established theatres are still struggling to tell different and more diverse stories, those at the beginning of their careers are making it look as easy as drinking a glass of water.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Blue Thunder & Lucy Light
Shows can look and feel very different depending on the seat from which you experience them.
Review: The Ridiculous Darkness
Ultimo (Rochelle Rose) is in the dock in a Hamburg court on trial for piracy.
Review: A Hundred Words for Snow
In 'A Hundred Words for Snow' at Trafalgar Studios 2, Rory’s geography teacher dad has been planning a trip for him and his teenage daughter to the North Pole.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Pufferfish, Thrown, 3 Billion Seconds & Dangerous Giant Animals
In 'Dangerous Giant Animals' Christina Murdoch plays Claire, the middle and often overlooked sister in an American family.
Bloody hell, Medea at the Barbican is frighteningly good.
Review: Alys, Always
If you were Nicholas Hytner and over a 40-year career you had never directed a play by a woman Alys, Always seems a curious place to start.
Review: Inside Bitch
Most of us think that we are experts on what it’s like to be in prison on the basis of having seen a few episodes of Orange is the New Black or Locked Up.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Wood, It’s Not a Sprint & Mara
Wood is a smart, funny and seriously thoughtful show created by writer Adam Foster, director Grace Duggan and the cast: George Fletcher, Claire Cartwright, Phillipa Hogg and Nneka Okoye.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Ladykiller, Narcissist in the Mirror & I will still be whole (when you rip me in half)
The maid in the hotel room is up to her elbows in blood. There is a dead body on the floor and a congealing rust-like puddle spreads out from beneath it. There follows a breathless story from the maid about how the hotel guest attacked her and how she killed in self-defence.
Review: The Trick
The real sleight of mind we perform upon ourselves is the way we live our lives pretending that we are immortal. But we are dying the moment we leave the womb.
Kandinsky’s Dinomania takes place in a theatre—the New Diorama—but in Joshua Gadsby and Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s design it also looks as if it might be taking place in a particularly tasteful funeral parlour complete with a pianist (Zac Gvirtzman) performing throughout.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Vespertilio, Digging Deep & Drought
Barry McStay's Vespertilio couldn't have found a better home than at VAULT Festival. In Lucy Jane Atkinson's nifty production it transports us from the tunnels under Waterloo Station to another railway tunnel deep in the Sussex countryside.
VAULT Festival Reviews: The Apologists & Orlando
Jon Ronson’s 'So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed' has inspired Molly Taylor’s 'Cacophony', produced by the Almeida Young Company, and which is at the Yard until Saturday.
VAULT Reviews: Call Me Fury & Bottled.
There is a power in naming. In Salem during its 17th century witch trials the accused were urged to name others who were also witches. In times of fear naming can be a kind of contagion.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Girls, Everywoman & Jammie Dodger
I loved Pappyshow’s Boys at the New Diorama last year, a disarmingly charming and heart-felt physical theatre piece created by a group of young men exploring their individual identities and what it means to be a man.
Review: Binaural Dinner Date
I once read an article suggesting that only a few questions were required to discover if a couple were compatible.
Review: Why you should see Soft Animals at Soho Theatre
Holly Robinson’s play is a debut and it is always thrilling to hear a distinctive new voice and see a first play of such startling assurance.
Vault Festival Reviews: Mancoin & Jericho
There are lots of smart shows at the Vault Festival but the conditions seldom lend themselves to work which is also slick. But Saturday night’s viewings brought forward two very neatly put together shows that both know exactly what they are doing and are both smart and slick.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Sexy Lamp, Greyscale & A Wake In Progress
You all know the Bechdel test, don’t you? It’s a measure of the representation of woman in plays, movies and novels that asks whether the work features two women talking to each other about something other than a man. But do you know about the sexy lamp test?
VAULT Festival Reviews: We’ve Got Each Other, Jade City & The Good Landlord
“Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts,” says the Chorus at the start of Henry V, adding, “Think when we talk of horses, that you see them/ Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth.
Review: Counting Sheep
Most protest takes the form of theatre, a spectacle that disrupts the status quo. Inspired by their personal experiences of manning the barricades in Kiev's 2014 uprising, Mark and Marichka Marczyk's folk opera harnesses that idea.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Kicking all the Boxes & Womans
When 15-year-old Cork resident, Naoise, wins the Under -16s European kick boxing championships her future seems assured.
VAULT Festival Reviews: The Darklings, Nikolaos the Wonderworker & Yours Sincerely
To be honest I'm not a great one for horror. The last horror film I saw was the Shining and that finished me off. Comedy? I last had a really good laugh in about 2002.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Astronaut & Fight Night
When the boy was a child his father used to tell him stories of the Apollo moon landings and how the stars were in reach for all of us. The boy wanted to grow up to be an astronaut but now he is a man—nameless and just a statistic like so many of the homeless.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Salaam, Hear Me Howl & The Noble Nine
Rema (Raagni Sharma) and her mother Mariam (Yasmin Wilde) are preparing for Ramadan. Mariam says that the words of the Koran are like music but for Rema they stick like tar in her mouth. She is writing her own words to express how she feels and who she is.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Open, Thomas & Blue Departed
Christopher Adams and Timothy Allsop are a couple in real-life. They say that they don’t work together because Orton and Halliwell were not the best role models. But in Open they are not just appearing together on stage they are excavating their own life as a couple.
VAULT Festival Reviews: Lola & Kompromat
The “teenage temptress” was a stock character of 20th century novels and movies. Her influence extended to the courts with lawyers arguing in rape trials that she led the defendant on because of her voluptuous figure and the way she dressed.
VAULT Reviews: Opal Fruits, Dangerous Lenses and The Pantechnicon
Day 2 of VAULT festival
VAULT Festival Reviews: Inside Voices & Juniper and Jules
The VAULT Festival is effectively Edinburgh in London with about the same level of dampness and similar spiralling levels of excitement. It makes theatre an event. It makes it fun.
Homing in: Reviews of The Unreturning & Backup
"There is no place like home," says Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. But for the young men coming back from war in The Unreturning (Stratford East), home turns out to be less welcoming than they remember.
Success, lies and videotapes
A woman dressed like Princess Diana on her wedding day sits at a table covered in a Union Jack and eats.
Approaching Empty at the Kiln
Ishy Din's latest play is set in a Northern mini-cab office in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's death.
When aspects of love are unpalatable
The 20th century musical is one of the most under-rated art forms, as if its commercial successes and the fact that audiences love it inevitably means that it's artistic creditability is sapped.
Making new writing more Pleasance
I've always thought it was odd that The Pleasance is such a major player in Edinburgh every fringe, but that its London venue never feels like a significant pin on the theatrical map.
War of the Worlds: the truth about myth-making:
We all know the story of Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds which, with its convincing simulated news bulletins, spread mass panic across the US leaving millions believing that America was being invaded by aliens. Right? Actually, no.
VAULT Festival 2019: the lowdown on Weeks 6-8.
Here's the final part of my pre-festival guide, featuring the VAULT Festival shows that have caught my eye from weeks 6, 7 & 8.
A few random thoughts about Pinter Five and Six
I felt slightly doubtful about seeing five Pinter plays—albeit some of them short—in a single day. I reckon that a little Pinter often goes a long way.
Times they are a changing
History and experience tell us that the world shifts on its axis. Regimes crumble, industries disappear, jobs are lost, people die, power is lost or gained, and the regular monthly pay-check suddenly stops coming. The warning signs may be there but we refuse to heed them.
VAULT Festival 2019: the lowdown on Weeks 2-5
Continuing from last week’s article, here’s my guide to VAULT Festival from weeks 2 to 5. This is a mix of shows I've seen before and enjoyed – and new shows that have caught my eye.
VAULT Festival 2019: the lowdown on Week 1
VAULT Festival begins later this month, and I’m going to be trying to cover as much as I can of the eight-week festival which gives a London platform (albeit a subterranean one) to both emerging and established artists from the UK and abroad.
It’s all child’s play
If you were to ask me about the great theatre companies of the last 30 years, I’d say that one of the very greatest has been Oily Cart.
The welts left behind
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” begins LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go Between. But as Hartley’s anti-hero discovers we carry the past with us. There is no escaping it.
The Tell-Tale Heart: the eyes have it
That Anthony Neilson is a sly one. Smart too. His latest piece, the Tell-Tale Heart at the National Theatre’s Dorfman space, takes Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy 1843 story of madness and murder and gives it a contemporary spin.
Camden People’s Theatre: rackety and radical
London is bursting to the brim with theatre from the West End to the NT on the South Bank to the boutique venues such as the Donmar to the Almeida.
In Natasha Gordon’s Nine Night at Trafalgar Studios, Gloria is dead. She came to England on the Windrush, leaving behind her first-born daughter Trudy in Jamaica. Now her clan is gathering for nine days of mourning at her home.
10 things I love about Orpheus at Battersea Arts Centre
1. Like Emma Rice’s Wise Children, Little Bulb’s show within a show is a celebration of theatre itself in all its gaudy down-at-heel red velvet glory and tawdry illusions.
I came late to The Inheritance at the Duke of York’s, only catching up with it on World Aids Day.
Look back in anger
Ellie Kendrick’s Hole at the Royal Court Upstairs operates like an all- female cosmic cabaret, and one whose rocket fuel is rage.
Losing the path, finding yourself
In Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Red Riding Hood tells the Baker that her mother has warned her never to stray from the path. To which he quite rightly points out that it’s already too late because “the path has strayed from you.”
Artful autobiographies: It's my life and I'll lie if I want to.
“Nothing I have said is factual except the bits that sound like fiction,” declared Clive James in his Unreliable Memoirs.
The kids are not alright
We can tell from the fact that 4.5 million children live below the breadline, up by a million in less than a decade.
Rendezvous in Bratislava: reclaiming the past
History is too serious to be left to the historians. Particularly personal histories. But it is these individual stories, the ones that never make it to the history books, which shed the greatest light. Yet so often they remain hidden from view.
Hadestown: Definitely not a love story
The National has always had better luck with musicals the more off-beat they have been.
New Diorama: inventing the future
The value of a theatre lies not just in the work it does for itself — effectively, the shows that the team have a yen to produce — but in what it does for everybody else.
It’s grim and getting grimmer
The Doomsday Clock stands at two minutes to midnight. Scientists have warned that we have 12 years to avert climate change disaster. But still we sleepwalk towards catastrophe, taking no responsibility. We assume, like children, that the grown-ups—the scientists and the policy-makers—will save us.
All the dead voices: how are we remembering the Great War 100 years on?
In Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Estragon and Vladimir talk about “all the dead voices” which they hear. The dead, they say, make a noise like wings, like leaves, like sand.
Babies on stage: we shouldn’t coo, but we do.
How often do you see a pregnant woman on stage?
Young Vic 2019: plenty to get excited for
As Rufus Norris has discovered at the National Theatre, taking over as Artistic Director from a regime that has been seen as a huge success is not always a bowl of cherries. Mostly what audiences and critics want is more of the same.
Ducking the truth
"One of the beauties of Icke’s production is its ability to continually deceive and then flaunt the truth in front of us"
Liberating Shakespeare from a culture of awed reverence
Nobody would dispute that it is an honour to be the theatre culture that produced the playwright who many agree is the greatest that the world has ever seen. But it can also be a bit of a burden.