Tag Archives: sam wanamaker

Shows to see before they close

If there’s one thing London theatre has taught me, it’s that there are not enough evenings in the week.  There are just too many good shows on in London at the moment – and due to some being on restricted runs, if you’re at a loose end in the next couple of weeks, here’s my list of shows that you REALLY need to see before they close:

Urinetown at the Apollo Theatre – final performance Saturday 10th January 2015
Even though I’m not a big one for musicals, this was my kinda show.  Deliciously dark and satirical, Urinetown has a strong story, good characters, infectious songs, some very timely political observations and a wry nod to the fact that this is a musical that knows it’s a musical.  Don’t let the name put you off – I adored it.  It’s been nominated in 7 categories in the upcoming What’s On Stage Awards, and for good reason.  I’m really hoping this gets a reprise later in 2015 – it deserves to.  But just in case it doesn’t, you’ve got  just under 3 weeks to do so.  If you need any more incentive, TKTS in Leicester Square are offering silly discounts on top price tickets.  Go before they change their minds.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – final performance Sunday 11th January 2015
Not only was this one of my highlights of early 2014, it’s back for the festive season.  Unashamedly silly and boisterous, TKOTBP left me grinning from ear to ear.  What’s more, most of the original cast are back, including Pauline McLynn (Mrs Doyle from Father Ted) and Phil Daniels.  This is also a great chance to see inside the beautiful candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – and that is worth the ticket price alone.

La Soiree at the Spiegeltent, Southbank – final performance Sunday 11th January 2015
If a night of deliciously grown-up naughtiness appeals to you, then head down to the opulent and cosy Spiegeltent for the saucy treat that is La Soiree.  From acrobats to contortionists to spangly camp, this assortment of curiosities will make you gasp and giggle.  Even the seats at the back are pretty close to the stage, so everyone gets a good view.  If you need any further persuasion, here’s my review from November.

Grimm Tales at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf – final performance Sunday 15th February 2015
Once upon a time, fairytales had a slightly sinister streak – then the Disney machine came along and romanticised the stories and toned down the really scary bits.  But Philip Pullman has put the ‘grim’ back into the Grimm Tales.  This stunning and inventive adaptation invites audiences to wander through the forests and take in a story.  Some are more familiar than others and after the show has finished, you are free to wander through their frankly mindblowing set, and even take pictures.  A joy of a performance, suitable for everyone aged 8 and upwards.


The Knight of the Burning Pestle – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

When Shakespeare’s Globe was built in the 1990s, the plan was always to have 2 theatres on the site – one of course being the open air Globe Theatre – but their budget fell short of being able to cover the costs of building an indoor candlelit Jacobean-style theatre, so space was left and the empty shell was used as a rehearsal room for over a decade.  But for the last few years, they’ve been fundraising (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve put in a fiver here and a tenner there) and building the sort of theatre that Shakespeare and his contemporaries would’ve been familiar with – and I finally got to see it in all its glory last week for a performance of The Knight of the Burning Pestle.  It is BEAUTIFUL.  With its oak framed U-shape and seating for just 340 people, it is wonderfully cosy and intimate – and right now, it contains the silliest play in all of London Town.

Rather than ‘a play within a play’, this is almost a play outside of a play.  We the audience are gathered to watch The London Merchant but there’s a commotion in the front row; Citizen (Phil Daniels) stands up to complain that plays are always about the nobility and that there should be more plays about ordinary people, so he suggests that the players include his apprentice, Rafe (Matthew Needham) as a knight in their story.  The Citizen and his busybody Wife (Pauline McLynn, best known as Mrs Doyle in Father Ted) then spend the evening upstaging the players by noisily eating roasted nuts out of a paper bag, offering them around their nearby audience, talking over the actors and interfering with the plot when Rafe has been off stage for too long.  It is utter mayhem and you never quite know what situation they’ll dream up next.

Pauline McLynn and Phil Daniels

The players valiantly try to carry on with their tale of The London Merchant in spite of the frequent interruptions – the Merchant’s headstrong daughter, Luce (Sarah MacRae) is engaged to be married to wet blanket Humphrey (Dickon Tyrell), but instead she has fallen in love with the devil-may-care Jasper (Alex Waldmann), the son of Mr Merrythought (Paul Rider), a rather Falstaff-like character, and his moralistic wife Mistress Merrythought (Hannah McPake).

Each scene is bookended with a traditional Boy (Samuel Hargreaves) who gracefully presents placards and plays the lute.  It seems that two stage hands, Tim and George (Dennis Herdman and Dean Nolan), have been enlisted as squires on Rafe’s great quest, much to their annoyance.  But it is these two who provide endless amounts of comedy, shuffling about rather like the little men you’d see on a cuckoo clock, falling over, turning the Boy into a human maypole, almost strangling him with ribbons.

It’s occasionally confusing to watch, but you can tune into the language very quickly and there is so much slapstick that it almost doesn’t matter which plot we’re in – when the Merrythoughts and their precocious son Michael (Giles Cooper) set out to rescue Luce, they enlist Rafe and his companions to fight Jasper, which soon descends into chaos as various character flail about with swords, clamber through the audience and tear around the outer perimeter of the auditorium (there’s a wonderful moment when a face slides down a window) and tumble back onto the stage in a mess of shouting limbs.  Brendan O’Hea also plays a variety of increasingly ridiculous characters (as requested by the Citizen’s Wife) including a pirate and a grotesque giant.

Matthew Needham, Brendan O’Hea and Dean Nolan

But in total contrast, there are some darker moments of drama where a candlelit venue really comes into its own; all of the candelabras can be raised and lowered on ropes – so during one scene they were brought right down, hovering just a foot off the stage floor – the total change in atmosphere was incredibly effective, to the point that you’d almost forgotten that you were watching a comedy.

At times the whole thing descends into utter nonsense – but very entertaining nonsense.  Yes it is far-fetched, but this is a zany satire on badly behaved audiences, a problem which remains in theatres today with mobile phones, chattering and rustling.  If you are happy to put realism on hold for an evening, this rebellious comedy will have you grinning from ear to ear all the way home.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT until Sunday 30th March 2014.  For tickets and information, go to http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse/the-knight-of-the-burning-pestle 

The Tempest – William Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s Globe)

I am a long term fan of Shakespeare’s Globe.  I bought a brick for £5 when it was being built in 1996, and having now seen 8 excellent productions on its stage, I’d say it was a great investment.  If your back, legs and feet can handle it, standing in the yard with the groundlings is the best ‘seat’ in the house – you get a great view of the stage and can always move if someone tall stands in front of you.  At just £5.00, it’s also the cheapest theatre ticket in London.


Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan was banished by his brother Antonio and 12 years later, he still wants revenge.  When Antonio’s ship sails near the island, Prospero uses his magic to conjure a tempestuous storm.  The play opens with its iconic shipwreck scene, with all sound effects provided by the percussionists in the gallery – the matinee sunshine is a little at odds with the sounds of rolling thunder and howling wind, but the men onboard the ship become separated in the storm and each in turn wash up on the island.  There we meet Prospero (Roger Allam), his daughter Miranda (Jessie Buckley), his spirit companion Ariel (Colin Morgan – Merlin in the BBC TV series of the same name) and his deformed feral servant Caliban (James Garnon).

Roger Allam gives a great performance as a man whose bitterness has been reignited by the reappearance of his brother and he proceeds to play tricks on the shipwrecked men, aided by Ariel.  Colin Morgan imbues his character with an almost childlike mischievousness and proves himself more that worthy in a stage role.  Jessie Buckley gives Miranda a glow of naivety, almost drunk with joy when she first encounters the strangers arriving on the island.  But it is James Garnon whose wronged simian-like Caliban steals the show at times with his vocal gymnastics, swinging from deeply guttural to high pitched squeaking.

The highlight of the play is a typical Shakespeare slapstick scene; drunken jester Trinculo (Trevor Fox – last seen in The Pitmen Painters) stumbles ashore, wrings out his oversized codpiece and hides under a blanket waiting for the storm to pass, only to find Caliban underneath and the two proceed to get tangled up in the fabric.  The writhing, shouting mass of limbs is found by Stephano (Sam Fox, a regular face in Shakespeare comedy roles) a drunken steward from the shipwreck who believes it to be creature that is either ill or possessed: “four legs and two voices: a most delicate monster!”  Shakespearean comic acting at its best.

The Tempest runs on selected nights up until Sunday 18th August, however it forms part of the ‘Season of Plenty’ at the Globe which includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth which are running until Sunday 13th October.

Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, LONDON, SE1 9DT


Shakespeare’s Globe is currently building a traditional indoor Jacobean theatre which will be open for its first performances in January 2014.  To be named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, after the Globe’s visionary founder, this will be an exquisite candlelit venue in which Shakespeare would have felt right at home.  They have so far raised 94% of their £7.5million target.  If you would like to contribute towards this exciting new venture, you can do so by clicking this link.