Monday, 12 March 2018

Theatre Review (sort of): Hamilton

I finally saw Hamilton this weekend and, yes, it is amazing and wonderful and I am fully and instantly obsessed.

However, I’m also aware that the world needs another Hamilton review about as much as it needs another Donald Trump tweet right now. And I don’t really want to spend my pressure lunch hour expounding at length about things that everyone already knows. So what I thought I’d do, with your indulgence, is give you just a few observations on why the show is great - and in particular why the current London production is great. Look, it’s in bullet points and everything…

  • The show is a masterpiece. The music, and what it’s done to and for the musical form, is extraordinary. Believe the hype. All of it. 
  • Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius. This is indisputable fact at this point. 
  • Theatre wankery alert: there were like a lot of moments in this show where I found I was crying just because it was so good (this has only ever happened to me on one other occasion: Nathan Lane in Angels in America).
  • I wish someone had warned me how emotionally absorbing this show is, particularly in Act 2. It’s Quiet Uptown nearly killed me. Had I been more prepared I would at least have worn waterproof mascara. Not doing so was a major error.
  • The British cast is amazing. Further details below, but as a single entity they make me so hopeful for the future of British (musical) theatre.
  • There are two Hamiltons. I saw Ash Hunter and he is a superstar in the making. Or, more likely, a superstar made. 
  • The trio of supporting actors who have been Olivier Award nominated - Jason Pennycooke (Lafayette/Jefferson), Michael Jibson (King George III) and Cleve September (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton) - are all wicked awesome. Pennycooke in particular is having a frankly suspicious amount of fun. I loved watching him.
  • Rachelle Ann Go, as Eliza Hamilton, has the most beautiful voice. Also, Eliza Hamilton was far more kickass than I realised.
  • Understudies! There are many and they’re exceptional. I saw Miriam-Teak Lee on for Angelica Schuyler and Sifiso Mazibuko on for Burr and I wouldn’t have believed they were understudies had I not read the board in the foyer. Understudies are criminally underrated as a group anyway but these guys are off the hook.      
  • I’m a sucker for merch in any and all circumstances. There is so much merch here and it is so cool. I was in heaven. I am now significantly poorer.
  • Cameron Mackintosh’s refurbishment of the Victoria Palace Theatre is gorgeous and actually fit for purpose in the twenty first century. The seats are comfy, the sightlines are good, there are plenty of bars and plenty of space. I didn’t even have to queue for the ladies!!
  • I will see this show again, but I’m really sad that I’ll never get to see it for the first time again. It was truly special.

Hamilton is playing at the Victoria Palace Theatre, presumably for the rest of time.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Theatre Review: Fanny and Alexander

The Old Vic has a good track record of adapting not-theatre stuff into theatre. Bob Dylan songs, Dr Seuss, gothic horror novels, classic Hollywood films; this theatre has seemed to be at its strongest in the recent past when doing some of its own brand of recycling (The Lorax would be proud).

Currently it’s having a crack at Ingmar Bergman, the Godfather of Scandi Noir whose centenary year it is. Fanny and Alexander is the piece they’ve chosen to play with and it’s a wise choice. The story of a theatrical family whose lavish, bohemian life is thrown into austere, frightening chaos when a Bishop marries into the family this is, in many ways, a piece made for the stage as much as the screen.

In an interesting introduction to an otherwise underwhelming programme (what have you done to your programmes, Old Vic?) Artistic Director Matthew Warchus describes Fanny and Alexander as an adult fairytale which is very fitting. As that moniker implies, it does make for a slightly odd beast in terms of plot and theme, as all the best fairytales are; part love letter to the power of the theatre, part family comedy, part psychological thriller, with some magic and a bit of a ghost story chucked in for good measure. 

As a love letter to the theatre and a family comedy it works completely. Some of the magic is magical too. But is it an effective thriller? I’m not sure. It can ramp up the tension for sure, but for me never quite reaches the heights (or depths) of darkness and fear that it needs to. 

Much of the credit for what works - and little of the criticism for what doesn’t - belongs to Stephen Beresford’s adaptation. It’s funny and warm and cutting and creepy. The bits on why the theatre is great were, perhaps inevitably, my favourite. They also felt extraordinarily pertinent without the meerest hint of an actual contemporary reference. The comedy is perfectly judged, expertly constructed and just very funny. There are some cracking and quotable lines (though whether these are Beresford or Bergman I confess I don’t know): “We are all born to play our part; some of us do it sloppily, some of us with tremendous style”, “There is no shame in deriving pleasure from this little world”. And those are just the ones I attempted to scribble down, possibly incorrectly, in the dark. There’s no question that this is an extremely well written piece of theatre.

It also looks and sounds amazing. Tom Pye’s design is effective and cleverly evocative. I especially loved the ‘box’ set which served as both the Bishop’s terrible palace and the Ekdahl family’s happy, loving summer home - the way that this set was used, alongside some gorgeous lighting, to transform between the awful and the lovely with the slightest of swap in props and move of a spotlight was really well done (the way the Bishop is so frequently backlit to cast a long shadow and/or silhouetted is probably the scariest thing about him too). The use of Alex Baranowski’s music and Tom Gibbons’ sound design is great, especially when it’s really cranking up the tension. Max Webster’s direction is, mercifully, sprightly. The three and a half hour (two intervals) run time never seems to drag for an instant.

For all this, in the darker moments the production never quite gets to where it needs. It feels like, for all the excellent stuff that’s going on, it holds something back and never allows itself to go truly horrific. I sort of understand the thought process here I think: it would be very easy for some of these scenes (and by ‘these scenes’ I essentially mean every scene with the Bishop after the first interval) to drift into treacly melodrama or Hammer Horror camp so let’s try and do something more subtle. Thing is, for me, it’s too subtle. Too controlled. This is evident in some of the production choices and more evident still in Kevin Doyle’s performance of the role, which doesn’t really work for me. He’s compelling and charismatic but not scary. Irritating, a cartoon villain. His Bishop feels a bit like someone who just needs a good slap rather than a truly frightening and powerful character. This isn’t an outright criticism of his performance either, it’s difficult to see how else the character could have been conceived within the bounds this production sets on its darker moments.

Elsewhere, the acting is superb; and no more so than Queen of the Show Penelope Wilton. She is masterful - waspish, sassy, extremely funny but also full of heart. It’s a big joyful hug of a performance and sheer class. Similarly, Michael Pennington’s gloriously old school performance, full of depth and pathos, is lovely to watch. You really miss these two when they’re not on stage. Jonathan Slinger - increasingly one of my favourite actors - provides some much needed comic relief and scene stealing as a loveableish philanderer, delivering two of the most enjoyable set piece speeches of the show. And, in a show where the titular characters are both children, the quality of the child actors is really something, particularly as these are difficult and often physically and emotionally unpleasant parts. Guillermo Bedward’s Alexander - the more difficult, but also more fun, of the two parts by some measure - is particularly impressive. I get the feeling he enjoys all the swearing a lot (boy after my own heart).

Fanny and Alexander is a slightly weird but hugely enjoyable show. It’s a beautiful hymn to the power of theatre, if not a particularly scary thriller, and Penelope Wilton is worth the price of a ticket more or less on her own. Worth your time, all three and a half hours of it.

Fanny and Alexander is at the Old Vic until 14th April.   

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The York Realist

One of the greatest things about London theatre is how gloriously varied it is. For example, last week on three consecutive nights I saw a scorchingly intense monologue, a (second viewing of a) ferociously exciting and immersive Shakespeare and a gentle, sad, lyrical play where very little actually happens. And all three of them were just really great.

The Donmar Warehouse’s new production of Peter Gill’s The York Realist is the aforementioned gentle, sad play that completed my theatregoing week. It tells the story of farmhand George and theatre director John, chronicling their unlikely romance and its ultimate demise. Avoiding the obvious ‘homophobia destroys them’ plot that a play about a same sex romance in 1960s rural Yorkshire could have opted for, it’s the conflict between the various things that comprise our sense of self - family, class, geography - that does for George and John, and makes for a far more interesting and insightful play along the way.

Peter Gill’s writing is the star of this production: it’s so well observed, so beautifully put together and slotted into a plot that is so well structured, one of those where the ending is almost inevitable but you will it not to be with every fibre of your being. His characters are perfectly formed and completely human, their relationships entirely believable and humane. His use of Yorkshire dialect, slang and speech patterns are so well judged; authentic, lovely on the ear and never coming close to caricature. There’s no judgement for any of his characters or their decisions either. All of their stories are told with and designed to generate equal sympathy.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the thing I loved most about the writing though is what it didn’t say. This play is so clearly and so cleverly about what its characters aren’t saying, either because they’re saying something else or because they’re not saying anything at all. The fact that none of the characters in George’s family ever make any direct reference to his sexuality is one of the most interesting examples of this. It’s implied that they all know, but it’s just not deemed worthy of comment. You could write an essay on that but I’ll just note that it’s incredibly refreshing and does add an extra dimension to the whole story.

This is also a play - and a production - that is very, very comfortable with silence in a way that is very, very brave. Silence in the theatre can sometimes be excruciatingly uncomfortable but it’s not here, it feels entirely natural, and it really does tell a big part of the story. It’s actually quite beautiful (I know I’m using that word a lot) too.

The writing is backed up by an extremely assured production. Robert Hastie’s direction in particular is superb, his apparently hands off approaching allowing the drama to unfold seemingly of its own volition. From what I’ve seen of his work (which admittedly isn’t much), he seems to be a director who completely gets how to present relationships and I so love that. Peter McKintosh’s design is similarly laissez faire but evocative, the projection of the Yorkshire landscape that shifts to show the passage of time is particularly gorgeous.

Acting-wise, a small ensemble are all on great form with strong accents that only wander very, very occasionally into Emmerdale Farm. As George, Ben Batt is exceptional, embodying all of his contradictions perfectly - a man who is completely at ease with himself but only within the confines of his village and the house he lives in, who is surrounded by people but also completely, acutely alone. His performance is so detailed and sympathetic and, well, real. Although paramour John is a weaker character for my money, Jonathan Bailey is also great. The pacing of his dialogue and the subtlety of his facial expressions are particularly good. Gill’s female characters are great fun and Lesley Nicol as George’s mum and Lucy Black as his sister get a lot of mileage out of them.

The York Realist is a really lovely thing. It’s gorgeously written, the staging is great and the acting incredibly heartfelt. More than anything else though, it’s a beautiful reminder that small, family drama without a huge amount of action can be every bit as compelling as something massive, action packed and/or state of the nation. It deserves a huge amount of success.

The York Realist is at The Donmar Warehouse until 24th March and then at the Sheffield Crucible (a cracking venue) 27th March - 7th April.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Theatre Review: The B*easts

This review is an unusually difficult thing to write.

Not because I didn’t like the Bush Theatre’s latest piece, The B*easts, you understand. Nor because I don’t have a reaction to it. Quite the contrary. My problem is, it’s such an effective piece and it’s disturbed me so much that I sort of don’t want to think about it. Like, ever again. 

You know that feeling you had after watching, maybe, 12 Years A Slave or United 93 or [insert your own example here]? That feeling of ‘fuck, that was amazing but I am emotionally unable to deal with it again’. That feeling of ‘I’m going to encourage all of my friends to watch that but I just can’t sit through it again’. Well, that’s how I feel about The B*easts. You should all definitely see it, it was stunningly effective, but I will 100% not be coming with you.

The B*easts is a one woman meditation on the sexualisation of girls, as told by the therapist of a woman whose pre-pubescent daughter convinced her to buy her breast implants. At age eight. It’s not, as far as I know, based on a true story but the thing that this production really drives home is not only that it could be but it’s surely only a matter of time until it is. I think the point at which this production pretty much broke me is the point where the sheer plausibility of its central - and initially seemingly quite outlandish - premise hit me like a fucking train. 

Because actually in the society we currently live in, why should little girls reach any other conclusion than that their worth is reliant entirely on their appearance? That message is everywhere and it feels a bit overwhelming. How on earth does it stop? Have we, this production’s most depressing idea, reached the point where it’s just a ‘universal truth’? Why should an eight year old girl read her mum’s magazines and conclude anything other than that having her boobs done is the way to be happy, be noticed and get where she wants to be in the world? AND ISN’T THAT THE MOST AWFUL SENTENCE?

I’m aware I’m getting a bit ranty, but this piece has really struck a nerve with me. A lot of my friends are raising little girls (not that that should increase my capacity to care, but it does) and this production just made me feel sick for them. There’s a line at the end where the therapist says that she doesn’t know how to help people function in this world as things stand and that, well, yeah. I get that. And that feeling is fucking horrible. 

Ok, let’s get back on some solid ground. Monica Dolan is both writer and performer here - which helpfully eliminates the need for me to write about those things in separate paragraphs - and she is just sublime with either hat on. As I think I have probably demonstrated ad nauseum, the writing is extraordinarily powerful. It’s also extremely well structured, the move from ‘well this story is preposterous’ to ‘shit it’s probably happening literally now’ is perfectly paced and the interlacing of the therapist’s own story (struggling with breast cancer and a potential mastectomy, because having boobs is complicated) is subtly and touchingly done. The acting is phenomenal: straightforward, conversational, detailed but entirely without window dressing. Dolan is a great, warm story teller too, which the production really uses well to break through the bleakness. I could listen to her all night (just not telling this particular story). 

Production values-wise, there’s almost literally nothing going on and the show is all the better for it. The set comprises a chair and a lamp, an iPhone, some books and sundry other props. The sound is restricted to an occasional telephone ring (though plus one for whoever selected High Flying Adored from Evita as one of the pre-show songs - it so works with the story), the lighting design and direction barely perceptible. Exactly how things should be to make a production of a piece like this work, in other words. Kudos to director John Hoggarth for having the balls to allow it to play out so perfectly stripped back.

The B*easts is a phenomenal piece of theatre anchored by a script and performance from Monica Dolan that are as fearless and powerful as you’ll find anywhere in London. Anyone with even the most cursory interest in, y’know, the future of the humaan race should see it. Just don’t ask me to go with you.

The B*easts is at the Bush Theatre until March 3rd.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Theatre Review: The Host

As a rule, I don’t like young people. With their optimism and their energy levels that aren’t based entirely on caffeine and their, well, youth. How dare they.

[Fifteen minutes of angry silence passes]

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. I’m prepared to make an exception for them. Their optimism and energy and youth is something that I actively admire. And, more to the point, it’s something that always makes them a theatre company worth watching.

Their latest production is a revival of something they’ve done before, Nessah Muthy’s The Host. Roughly speaking, The Host is a play about the refugee crisis from the perspective of a Syrian refugee, Rabea, and the working class British woman, Yasmin, that hosts him whilst he’s trying to get his papers in order. Yasmin’s family life is a mess and her half sisters (who, unlike Yasmin, are white) have fallen through the cracks in the welfare state. If it’s not obvious from that description, this play is trying to tackle some big issues: not just the refugee crisis, not just race in modern Britain but the whole concept of otherness and belonging. The whole concept of family, I suppose. It’s not entirely successful in dissecting them all, but it definitely lands some big punches across the board. The scene between Yasmin and big sister Pearl where they discuss/row about the issue of their different races is really strong, as is the scene where Yasmin explains her complex family to Rabea and pines desperately for her dead mum. It rather runs out of steam at the end, but there’s some real moments of loveliness to be had here. 

The cast is of course always the primary joy of an NYT production and that’s certainly the case here. Rebekah Murrell is absolutely fantastic as Yasmin; a bundle of contradictions and emotional turmoil always at equal risk of exploding with rage or sadness or embarrassed kindness or all three. I don’t often mention this, but the way she uses her voice is exceptional too. Zakaria Douglas-Zerouali is a perfect foil for her as Rabea, fighting his own desperate sadness in an entirely different way. He brings some real depth of emotion to the table as well as a natural affinity for humour. These two are surely destined for success, write their names down somewhere. Phao May, Amy Parker and - particularly - Taylor Keegan do some nice work as Yasmin’s half sisters too, giving them a depth that I’m not entirely convinced is otherwise present in the text.

It’s a shame that the production itself doesn’t do justice to the company or the play. There is one overriding issue here: this revival is staged in a church (St James’s Piccadilly to be precise). The consequences of this are many and all negative - crap acoustics (some of the dialogue was completely indecipherable from where I was sat, despite the cast being miced up), extremely restricted sight lines for I guess at least 80% of the audience and an hour and a half sitting on the most uncomfortable form of seating ever invented, church pews. I get that the production is here to sit alongside an art installation, Suspended by Arabella Dorman (it’s made of clothing abandoned by refugees in Lesbos and it’s well worth a look if you’re in the area), and the couple of times the installation is lit so it becomes part of the production are very atmospheric. It’s not enough, though, to justify the detriment this venue does to the play and the cast, at least not for my money (and spine). I mention this not to be crotchety or because my back hurts from the pews but because I’m irritated on behalf of the excellent cast who are doing fantastic things on the stage that much of the audience can’t see - or even hear - properly. It’s not fair to anyone involved.

Still, there’s much to admire in The Host. And there’s no questioning the good intention or the boldness of the NYT in taking on this play in this venue at this moment. The young cast are a joy to watch, completely worth your time if you’re in any way interested in the future of British theatre. Maybe bring a cushion though.

You have two more chances to catch The Host at St James’s Piccadilly, it closes on Saturday 3rd February. Skates on. 

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Theatre Review: Julius Caesar

When you go to the theatre as much as I do, it’s sometimes difficult to connect with anything on more than an academic level. Even with stuff I really enjoy, I often find myself sitting in the audience mentally composing the accompanying blogpost. And in a sense that’s fine - I still really enjoy it.

But I do like it when something comes along that really punches me in the gut.

Julius Caesar at The Bridge punches the head, heart and gut simultaneously. Which is a compliment, even if it doesn’t sound like one. It’s a technically faultless production which is also alive and exciting and dangerous and visceral. I’ve never seen Shakespeare that’s so relevant with only the barest amount of effort to make it so. I loved this show.

A controversial (apparently) opinion to start with: Julius Caesar is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Yes, the final battle scenes can sag a bit but I love the complex, political build up to them. The Brutus vs Mark Antony eulogy-off alone is enough to make me applaud like a seal. It is unarguably the most relevant play for the omnishambles that is politics/the world at the moment too; just sit and read the aforementioned eulogising and think about the Brexit campaign or any of Caesar’s lengthy pronunciations of his own greatness and think about Donald Trump if you’re in any doubt of that.

One of the joys of this production is that it feels so achingly relevant without ever labouring the contemporary political parallels. Yes there are bright red baseball caps and a Caesar with an eerily familiar swagger but the baseball caps do not say ‘Make Rome Great Again’ and the sublime David Calder is certainly not doing any kind of Trump impression. There are so many contemporary references that can be drawn from this play and this production but director and General Hero Nick Hytner allows the audience to make those references for themselves. Essentially, he sits back and lets the text, and the cast, do the talking. It’s a laissez faire approach which totally pays off. Though I do think they missed a trick by including Seven Nation Army in the show’s brilliantly wild live musical opening and not having anyone start an ‘Oh Julius Caesar’ chant.

One of the most talked-about aspects of this production so far has been the fact that it’s staged in promenade. The decision to go this way, with the audience-mob becoming a character in its own right, is so ballsy on Hytner’s part and a lesser director would surely have struggled. Hytner and his team do not. Like, at all. It helps that he has the amazing Bunny Christie as his designer. Her astonishing set almost deserves an acting credit all of its own it moves around so much and is so much part of the action. It’s also a great example of the way this production plays to both head and gut: my head would like you to know that, technically, this set is baffling in its complexity and effectiveness (book a seat high up in the circle to appreciate it in all its glory - don’t feel you have to stand to enjoy this show because you really don’t), my gut on the other hand is just blown away at how beautiful it is, even if that beauty is sometimes extremely bleak. It’s a design that deserves all of the awards and if it doesn’t get them I will be very cross indeed. The use of music - both live and soundtrack - is so effective throughout too, as is the lighting design. The latter really comes into its own during the battle scenes whilst the former is at its best during the aforementioned opening musical segment.

It almost goes without saying in a show directed by Nick Hytner these days, but the cast is also utterly superb. There are some big names here and they are all on top form. I’ve mentioned David Calder, veteran of, like, everything, already and he is an excellent Caesar. There was a great video interview with him as part of the show’s marketing campaign where he talked about being “a Caesar worth killing” which I struggled to understand a bit until seeing his performance. He is much more than the bit of a dick that Caesar can be in this play: he is charismatic, he is nasty and he is dangerous. Ben Whishaw’s Brutus is acutely well observed as a paradigm of liberal elite loserdom, almost always visually separated from everyone else and too concerned with signing copies of his book on political theory to notice that all of his decisions are terrible. As a gender swapped Cassius (a great decision - it makes the play feel even more contemporary to have the character who everyone seems to deride most of all be a clever, ambitious woman, sadly), Michelle Fairley is spectacular; far more principled and clever than Brutus and just a better human being to boot. In some of the smaller roles, Adjoa Andoh is the sassy Casca of my dreams (and so funny) and, in many and varied parts, Abraham Popoola is exceptional, dripping with charisma and cajones, which sounds gross but you know what I mean. He’s surely one to watch in the future. A shout out too to the incredible team of auditorium staff shepherding the audience and the set around, in what must surely be one of the most stressful and difficult jobs in British theatre.

It’s David Morrissey that steals the show for me though - as you can tell by the fact he’s getting his own paragraph. Praise by grammar. His Mark Antony is a proper rockstar who I would legit follow into any battle. He sets out Antony’s stall early and mutely, running through the crowd wearing a tracksuit with his name on the back during the musical opening and jumping on the stage with the cast-member band. Arriving late and hungover for Caesar’s fateful trip to the Senate, getting a huge laugh from the crowd for his ‘sorry/not sorry’ face in the process, this is the sort of Antony who would definitely have been the most popular guy at school. As soon as Caesar is good and murdered though, Morrissey transforms him into the most consummate - and threatening - populist politician. His ‘friends, Romans, countrymen’ is exceptional, a real Moment, and a feat of political manoeuvring - figuratively and literally, given the staging. The speed of the switch of frightening and the nasty side he allows to shine through is great. Of course the mob love Antony, why would they not? To quote another of David Morrissey’s current crop of semi-fictionalised Roman leaders: he is Rome, and where he walks is Rome. It’s a completely magnetic performance full of energy, malice and charm. And just oh so exciting to watch.

Julius Caesar is the sort of theatre that makes me remember why I love theatre. It speaks to the head in its technical brilliance; it speaks to the heart and the gut in its sense of life, danger and real, blood pumping excitement. Whether you choose to be part of the mob or sit at a safe distance and observe - or, as I intend to do, see it twice and do both - this is just a stunningly well done production. A depressing cautionary tale about the state of our world at the moment that’s rendered shatteringly compelling by this gem of a show.

Julius Caesar is at The Bridge until 15th April.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Theatre Review: The Believers Are But Brothers

In terms of exciting programming - and proximity to a Westfield, also a plus - the Bush Theatre has got London theatre sown up.

Always exciting, always diverse (I have yet to see a play there written by a white man) and always innovative, almost everything I’ve seen recently in the category of ‘well I’ve not seen that before’ has been at the Bush. Also they have an onsite play library and excellent coffee both of which are just fucking A. 

Their latest commission is a transfer of hit Edinburgh show The Believers Are But Brothers, written, performed and co-directed (with Kirsty Housley) by Javaad Alipoor. This is a super interesting piece which, like many past Bush pieces, is difficult to really describe without giving away too much about it. So in the vaguest possible terms, Believers is a show about the internet and social media; how it can be used for good fun stuff and decidedly ungood unfun stuff. It tells the surprisingly interwoven stories of a wannabe British jihadi trying to join Isis, a British teacher caught in the crossfire, literal and figurative, of the Syrian civil war and an American alt right keyboard warrior spreading his hateful credo across the world. Fun and lightness this is not; fascinating and insightful it definitely is. 

Alipoor has done his research to a slightly terrifying degree and the pictures he paints of the three men - and kudos to him for acknowledging and explaining his lack of female protagonists as part of the show - are vivid, nuanced and disturbing/sad (as appropriate). He doesn’t seek to excuse anything that these three men do, but he does seek to understand it in a way that it would be hugely helpful to international politics for other people to do. He avoids making this a piece about the failings of Western foreign policy in the Middle East or the rise of Isis or Brexit or Trump, though all of these are certainly touched on. He does have a lot to say about the wonders and dangers of the internet and social media though and the explanation and analysis here is razor sharp. And very frightening. My phone will be staying in my pocket a bit more over the next few days I think.

By and large though Believers is not an issue piece, it’s a people piece and all the better for it. It’s never better than the lengthy segments where it’s just Alipoor at a microphone - beautifully lit by Ben Pacey - telling the stories of his three protagonists in a beautiful act of old fashioned oral storytelling. His writing in these segments is particularly strong: punchy and emotional and complicated and rich. His stage presence and charisma is thrilling. I would probably have loved the show even more if it had just been 100% this. 

The staging of Believers is great too, with an effective and not overdone use of video and a great but simple set that evokes the sort of computer dominated geek-holes that his protagonists inhabit. It also normalises them in a really clever way - we’ve all seen someone with the sort of computer dominated bedroom that this set represents. One thing I wasn’t overly sold on though is the production’s use of an audience WhatsApp group. Again, I won’t go into too much detail here for fear of spoilers but for me it was very rarely something that added to the show and very often something that distracted from it. Perhaps I’m just too old fashioned to ever get with the idea of phones in the theatre being ok - and you’re told to leave your notification sounds on too! - but the constant ping of everyone’s show-related notifications, non-show-related notifications, assorted BBC News Alerts and amazing Bruce Springsteen ringtones* was just a bit annoying. It is used effectively a couple of times, but overall I didn’t feel the show would have lost anything if it wasn’t there. I applaud the attempt at innovation though and it’s exciting to see the Bush yet again toying with the idea of what a theatre audience is and can be.

I really enjoyed, though perhaps enjoyed is the wrong word, The Believers Are But Brothers. It’s such an interesting, thoughtful and thought provoking piece and it’s difficult not to get excited about watching someone with Javaad Alipoor’s vision and creativity. The Bush’s commissioning is as brave and bold as ever with this piece. I look forward to many more visits this year.

The Believers Are But Brothers is at the Bush until 10th February.

*Yep, that was mine. And I have never felt more guilty in a theatre.