Theatre Treats for the Festive Season

Philip Fisher
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As the accountancy world's only theatre critic, your correspondent is frequently asked for tips about that special West End trip for business types.

A few months back, this column extolled the virtues of a trio of shows that remain as memorable now as ever they were.

For those that have seen them already or want other ideas about plays and musicals that they can enjoy over the next few weeks, here are some more suggestions.

It ought to be explained that while they have much to commend, pantos are a no-go zone for this critic and therefore you'll have to look elsewhere if you want to know which is the best Cinderella or Aladdin this year.

James Graham wrote a play called The Man about someone rather like James Graham who was struggling to comply with his tax obligations. The young playwright's latest work is called This House and sold out its initial run in the National's Cottesloe Theatre overnight but will be moving to the much bigger Olivier early in the New Year.

It views the turbulent British political scene between 1974 and 1979 through the eyes of the Whips of the two main parties. To add to the fun, Jeremy Herrin's unforgettable production allows audience members to sit in a mock-up of the House of Commons, designed by Rae Smith.

While the big names such as Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan remain in the background, their doughty representatives at the coalface fight tooth and nail to ensure that every vote goes their party's way. The result is a fascinating and totally gripping night out.

In the National's third theatre space, the Lyttelton there is currently an opportunity to see Alan Bennett's latest play People. This is a comedy set in a crumbling south Yorkshire stately home owned by Francis de la Tour's redoubtable Dorothy Stacpoole and shared with her hilarious companion Iris, Linda Bassett.

While ostensibly writing wittily about the struggles that any respectable stately home owner will suffer in these days of financial constraint, People offers far more since it subtly analyses the British class system and perhaps a little satirically eulogises its passing.

Along the way, there is the pleasure of seeing Lady Dorothy's efforts (and those of her sister) to keep the ship afloat including propositioning the National Trust, shady property developers and last but by no means least, the producers of a blue movie.

On a much smaller scale, The Promise written by Russian playwright, Alexei Arbuzov and translated by Ariadne Nicolaeff in a new version by Penelope Skinner is a deeply moving portrait of Russia commencing at the heart of the Leningrad siege of 1942 during which so many starved and froze to death.

The drama then moves forward to 1946 and eventually 1960, bleakly commenting on the vicissitudes of life fighting Hitler and then supporting Stalin. At the same time though, it is also presents a beautiful tripartite love story.

This production by the Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios features outstanding performances from stage debutant Joanna Vanderham of whom you will hear much more, Gwilym Lee and Max Bennett.

Two really exciting productions opened on the same short street on consecutive days earlier this week.

The Changeling is a sanguineous revenge tragedy from Shakespeare's day written by two of his collaborators, John Middleton and Thomas Rowley. Joe Hill-Gibbins has created a ridiculously over the top modern version, which will either enthral or repulse depending on your taste.

Sinead Matthews plays Beatrice-Joanna a rich young girl on the brink of marriage who succumbs to lust, a disease that is prevalent in the household.

This inevitably causes problems as she would rather marry her new beau, a naval officer Alsemero played by Harry Haddon-Paten rather than the man chosen by her father.

The prospective bride's solution is to enlist the assistance of Zubin Varla's appropriately named, Frankenstein-like de Flores who is desperately in love with her and will do anything to secure a taste of passion.

To add to the fun, blood and gore are replaced by punch and trifle.

Just along The Cut in Waterloo, the Old Vic's Christmas show is Kiss Me Kate, a musical based on The Taming of the Shrew set in Baltimore in 1948 where a theatre company is producing Shrew - the Musical.

The biggest problem that the company faces is a battle between former husband and wife Fred and Lilli respectively played by Alex Bourne and the sensational Hannah Waddingham.

Their offstage battle inevitably finds its way into a musical featuring glorious songs with great lyrics by the unique Cole Porter including From This Moment on, Kiss me Kate, Too Darn Hot and Brush up Your Shakespeare.

Supporting cast that everything that could be asked for under the direction of Sir Trevor Nunn, while Stephen Mear's choreography is also a wonder peaking in that 10 minute rendition of too darn hard and must leave everyone on stage take you exhausted.

Well worth a try is the Globe's all-male Twelfth Night playing at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue and featuring an outstanding performance from Mark Rylance as Olivia. Stephen Fry also makes a rare stage appearance as Malvolio to keep the star quotient at the desired level.

The other show that lives on its big names but delivers high-quality entertainment is Lindsay Posner's Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville with Ken Stott and Anna Friel leading the way in the Chekhov classic, supported by Samuel West and Downton Abbey's Laura Carmichael.

The play that is likely to be the most talked about of 2013 has not yet made it across the Atlantic. The Book of Mormon as a writing team with credentials from South Park and Avenue Q and promises to be a riot. More about that soon.


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