Our newest critic on the BritishTheatre.com team, Gary Stringer, selects his theatre highlights for 2019.
Betrayal – The Harold Pinter Theatre
Director Jamie Lloyd brought secrets and lies from Pinter to the Pinter with Betrayal, a study of relationships in reverse. Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Cox displayed a frisson of homoerotic tension as they orbited a mutual object of affection, an excellent performance from Zawe Ashton as the woman in both their lives. The reverse chronology kept you guessing as it uncovered more truths while discrediting others, laying bare the frailty of the human heart. The stark set and impressive lighting from Soutra Gilmour and Jon Clark respectively kept the players centre stage in this unflinching examination of the machinations of relationships.
My Beautiful Launderette – Curve, Leicester and touring
As well as providing new material, Tennant and Lowe, aka Pet Shop Boys, mined their stellar back catalogue to provide a perfect soundtrack to this adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s modern classic. Jonny Fines and Omar Malik were delightful as the soap-crossed lovers, playfully flirtatious and eager to embrace the “opportunities” of the Thatcher era, despite the numerous cultural, social and familial obstacles in their path. A clever piece of casting with Gordon Warnecke, Omar in the 1985 Oscar-winning film, taking on the role of Papa. Over three decades since the film shook up cinemas, and despite greater tolerance and integration, sadly I fear Jonny and Omar would not be left to their own devices in modern Britain and My Beautiful Laundrette remains a pertinent reminder against complacency
Sweet Charity – Donmar Warehouse
Do you want to have fun? This spirited production certainly delivered it, with Anne-Marie Duff giving her all in a charming portrayal, which really captured the hope, ambition and naiveté of Charity. The original swinging Sixties setting was stunningly evoked in Robert Jones’ Warhol-inspired Factory set design. The course of true love certainly doesn’t run true for taxi dancer Charity, but she still dares to dream and dream big. I certainly shared Oscar Lindquist’s (Arthur Darvill) claustrophobia during the touching lift scene. A big, bold and brassy production.
Lungs – The Old Vic
Matt Smith and Claire Foy brought their small-screen chemistry to the Old Vic with great effect for Duncan Macmillan’s bleakly humorous Lungs. Directed by Matthew Warchus on an effectively stark set from Rob Howell, it is a timeless tale of true love complicated by very current concerns about climate change and how our everyday actions impact on the environment. How do our personal freedoms and expectations weigh against our wider social commitments and our responsibilities to future generations? Big questions delivered with a big heart, this powerful two-hander offered no easy answers, but plenty of humour to offset the 21st-century anguish.
One Man Two Guvnors – Derby Theatre
Derby – Britain’s most central city – got to enjoy some time beside the seaside, beside the sea when Richard Bean’s farcical modern classic came to Derby Theatre in a co-production with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. David O’Reilly conquered the role of Francis Henshall with an easy charm, perfectly timed physical comedy and engaging complicity with an eager audience. Double-crossing and double-takes mined the laughs and kept the audience second-guessing and suitably tickled. The end-of-pier intimacy was heightened with excellent musical support from house band The Rozzers, who really should get a recording contract.