THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME *****
Apollo, London, March 12-May 25
The best art should make you see your world afresh and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT... which has transferred from the National to Shaftsbury Avenue’s Apollo, succeeds triumphantly. It’s the story of Christopher a 15 year old boy from Swindon who has Asperger Syndrome which means, amongst other things, that he’s easily confused by the illogical, over loads with too much everyday stimulus and doesn’t like to be touched. Not only does he have to cope with all that but his family is pretty dysfunctional too.
As beautifully played by Luke Treadaway he is an absolutely adorable mixture of cockiness and vulnerability as he sets out to discover who murdered his neighbour’s dog. It’s not the investigation itself that grips us but learning to see life through his eyes. Metaphor is confusing, precious arrangements muddled by an irrational adult world, a trip on the underground is a terrifying journey to hell and back. This may sound rather grim but there’s plenty of laugh out loud comedy in this quest for understanding, stability and love.
The staging is equally memorable with events played out against a graph paper backdrop that adapts to represent everything from our hero’s note book to an escalator on the Bakerloo line. It can switch from the clutter of a train set to the calm cool simplicity that Christopher craves in an instant with a fantastic supporting cast conjuring up all kinds of events and locations with simple mime and storytelling.
Don’t miss this. It’s fascinating, poignant, hilarious and life enhancing. The National Theatre at its best and theatre at its most immediate and engaging. It’s likely to sell out but there’s a generous number of great seats at low prices available every day if you go down and queue at the box office in person. Trust me – it’s worth it! And if that weren't enough the production also includes a very cute puppy and I’m not even referring to the buff and often topless Treadaway.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM ****
Theatre Royal, Bristol, February 28-May 4
The MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM currently playing at Bristol’s beautifully refurbished Old Vic is a much anticipated new collaboration from the team behind international horse-puppet hit, War Horse. Here the puppetry is amalgamated into a production of a Shakespeare fantasy, providing an added layer of magic, not just to the supernatural scenes, as you might expect, but to the mortal scenes too.
On the eve of a royal wedding all kind of entanglements are created by the feuding king and queen of fairyland as an am-dram company prepare the entertainment and two sets of teen lovers head to the forest in search of love. It’s a wonderfully funny play, interestingly on press night the biggest laughs came when the ancient text was performed without gimmicks.
However the puppets undeniably add an additional sense of reality unravelling. It’s all unashamedly low-tech, you can always see the operators; The mischievous sprite Puck for example is conjured up by four performers pulling together an oil can, a basket, a saw and a gardening fork but the added investment our imaginations make fleshes this apparition out so he becomes completely believable. He even breakdances!
Each of the lover’s carries a smaller puppet version of themselves which is useful to show their fearful inner lives and the actors who play Theseus and Hippolyta wield giant classical masks to transform themselves into fairies Oberon and Titania
The jaded national critics have carped but I’m with the Bristol press who’ve declared it an extraordinary and magical evening.
BURN THE FLOOR ****
Shaftesbury Theatre, London, March 11-September 1
I wasn’t expecting much from this, a touring dance show that’s been around for years pepped up by the inclusion of some Strictly TV stars. How wrong I was. It’s terrific. An international collection of the sexiest dancers you’ve ever seen will take your breath away with a series of extraordinary high energy routines, each more dazzling then the last, accompanied by a fantastic band and vocalists. These boys are seriously ripped - when the topless matadors emerge through the stage smoke prepare to swoon. The fact that their dancing is as good as they look makes for a classy evening full of passion and romance. Relish all the fake tan, glittering teeth and savour the skin tight trousers stretched across those bubble butts – and that’s just the audience! Fierce, camp and as sexy as hell!
THIS HOUSE ****
Olivier, National Theatre, London, February 23-May 16th
If like me, you love a political drama – the West Wing, Lincoln etc – you won’t want to miss this fascinating and very funny play concerning an absurd four years in the 1970s when Labour only clung to power with a tiny majority of MPs necessitating all kinds of skulduggery to ensure everybody voted every time. It didn’t matter if the MPs were sick or long distances away everyone had to be there or the vote would have been lost to the opposition.
I didn’t see this production in the smaller Cottesloe Theatre but it works extremely well on the big Olivier stage. Some of the audience are sat on mock ups of the House of Common benches which swing into different positions to suggest locations beneath the huge face of Big Ben. Most of the action takes place in the Whips offices amongst Westminster enforces who are in charge of galvanising their MPs into action. There’s no doubt that some understanding of how Westminster works will add to your enjoyment of the piece but even without this you can savour the desperation of these larger than life figures in a constant battle to save their own skin. It’s staged brilliantly by Jeremy Herrin as a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of scurrying politicos and, this being our National Theatre, the acting is of the finest order. A grown up night of grown up theatre.