What to see this summer in London’s West End

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Funny Girl | © Scott Landis Productions

Funny Girl

Savoy Theatre, Savoy Court, Strand, London, WC2R 0ET

Showing until October 8th

Rating: *****

Funny Girl | © Scott Landis Productions
Funny Girl | © Scott Landis Productions

“The Barbra problem” – one which harangues any attempt to stage this show. For those of you who are familiar with the film version of Funny Girl, starring the incomparable Barbra Streisand, you’ll have a sense of how difficult recasting Fanny Bryce can be. She’s a funny girl, in a world of pretty girls and a role that the legendary Streisand basically created. Natasha J Barnes, Sheridan Smith’s understudy, however, does a fine job of making it her own. At times hilarious, heartbreaking and cheeky but always so real, I was not surprised by the standing ovation at the end of the show. A particular highlight was when – ever the pro – she improvised with her failing stick on moustache, much to the hilarity of the audience. The staging of the production sported a clever use of a painted backdrop, which was dealt well with the show within a show difficulty of staging Funny Girl. A new character, Eddie, the foil for a potential love triangle, provides a useful link between the small town Jewish Girl and the Fanny Bryce of the big time. There was a new musical duet, ‘Rain’, performed by Nicky Arnstine and Fanny, whose love story was somewhat altered in this production. The director also chose to omit ‘My Man’ (something I disagreed with), but great chemistry, particularly in ‘You Are Woman’ meant the audience completely fell for their love story nonetheless. It was the kind of show that made you believe in the magic of theatre, music, and love all over again. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket, even if it’s just so you can say you saw Natasha J. Barnes, when she was merely Smith’s understudy.

The Spoils

Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, SW1A 2DY

Showing until August 13th

Rating: ***

The Spoils | © Monique Carboni
The Spoils | © Monique Carboni

Ben, played by Jessie Eisenberg is a rich, self-absorbed brat and a film school drop-out, who spends the majority of the play treating his Nepalese flat mate like a new exotic toy, showing off how “not racist” he is. He’s dumbstruck by his childhood crush, Sarah and her engagement to the boring, ‘all-American’ dream banker Ted. There are clever, funny moments, fronting up to certain prejudices and nepotism prevalent in America today, with a stand out performance by Kunal Nayyar. However, the main issue is that the protagonist, Ben – who the audience is somewhat amused by but eventually hates-  is simply ‘misunderstood’. In a clichéd turn, he’s unaware of the kindness that exists, deep within his soul, after Sarah recounts a forgotten childhood anecdote. This morale was shoehorned in at the end, and by that point Ben had become so unlikeable that I really didn’t care.

The Deep Blue Sea

Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, Upper Ground, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX

Showing until 21st September

Rating: ****

The Deep Blue Sea |© National Theatre
The Deep Blue Sea | © National Theatre

This play focuses on the tortured mental state of Hester Collyer, opening with her failed suicide attempt and played by the mesmerising Helen McCrory. Tom Burke, taking on the role of alcoholic and retired RAF pilot somewhat lacked the emotional depth required to match up to the effortlessly believable McRory. Also gracing the stage were some truly secondary school performances from Yolanda Kettle and Nick Figgis. I regret to say that it was laughable to see such rudimentary acting on the esteemed National Theatre stage. The doctor was beautifully played and provided a jarring yet amusing straightforwardness to the other characters, who were continually trying to create some ideal version of themselves. Kudos must also go to the tech and design teams; the transparent nature of the set gave a real sense of the surrounding apartments being inhabited by real people. The shifting blue wash that would occasionally submerge the stage, with distorted sound effects was incredibly effective once Hester finds herself drowning in the poisoned love of Fred. The play left me filled with a kind of intense, enjoyable melancholy and questions about the nature of pain and love. The script in and of itself is good – very good – but the complex, realistic relationship given to the spell bound audience and crafted by the direction of Carrie Cracknell, made it a great one. Don’t miss this one!

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