Selected reviews by theatre critic Tim Bano.
Tim Bano is a journalist and theatre critic.
Tim Bano has contributed to numerous outlets including being joint lead critic of The Stage, and writing and presenting for the BBC, The Guardian, The Stage, Financial Times, The Independent, Time Out London, Time Out New York, Exeunt Magazine and Fest Magazine. He has also worked as a producer for BBC Radio 4.
Tim won best writer at the 2021 Independent Publisher Awards.
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"An unrelenting stream of obvious jokes"
"Harry Hill’s musical about the the former prime minister is overlong and obvious"
"It’s a funny idea, turning the story of Tony Blair into a rock musical. The problem is nothing else in the show is as funny as its concept."
"The songs aren’t bad. Brown can write a tune. He takes off Gilbert and Sullivan, baroque arias, tangos, big chorus-line numbers. Some are pleasantly daft, such as the recitative set to a verbatim speech by Gordon Brown on macroeconomics. Others are catchy, including the Monty Python-esque closing number, part of a naffly serious ending that asks us to ponder our culpability in electing tossers. But competent pastiche isn’t enough, and no song earns its place or has much to say."
The Unfriend (2022)
"Tour de force of toilet farce"
"Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss team up for a hilarious dark comedy of good manners"
"There’s a stretch of Moffat’s play that doesn’t quite hit the high leagues. The gags are there, plenty of them, but the production struggles to lift itself beyond decent TV sitcom fare. Every so often, it pulls out an absolutely glorious line delivered exquisitely by one of the cast and that’s enough to keep us going."
"But as it moves into the second act, the whole thing quickens, and by the time it reaches a tour de force of toilet farce from Shearsmith, Abbington and Marcus Onilude as a police officer negotiating some dodgy sandwiches and a downstairs loo, it’s proper gut-busting stuff."
The Glass Menagerie (2022)
"Amy Adams gives an understated performance in Jeremy Herrin’s restrained production"
"It’s all quite self-consciously stylised. Herrin is keen not to turn memory into something beautiful and elegiac, but restrained and uncomfortable instead."
"Tears seem to perpetually be welling in Adams’ eyes, although her Amanda smiles to cover it up. Even when her lines are overbearing, sometimes cruel, she delivers them in a fragile one-note, pitched somewhere between head and chest voice that seems to make her warble."
"There’s a bit of youth left to Adams’ Amanda. She isn’t just faded but faded before her time. It’s all very sad and understated, but it doesn’t always land. Some of the great lines feel like missed opportunities."
Legally Blonde The Musical (2022)
"Impossible not to have fun"
"It’s a statement piece with a generously Gen-Z approach that celebrates diversity of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and body shape."
"Mostly the unrestrained approach adds to the show’s inherent silliness, but sometimes it makes things look a little sloppy. The set design featuring tassels of blonde hair hanging in fringes is an ugly backdrop, with clunky chunks of set that fold or roll out of a central revolve."
"Stark and sparse – Oklahoma with a snarl"
"Curly’s relationship with Laurey – a captivating, unsmiling Anoushka Lucas with a voice like gold – doesn’t come across as lush and romantic but slightly dark and dangerous. They’re certainly made for each other. As dislikeable as they are, they still swoon with romance in People Will Say We’re in Love."
"This isn’t simply dusting off a classic or giving it a spit and polish, it’s a complete dismantling of the show. It’s hard not to long for the good cheer we’re all so used to – it makes us feel, still, but in a different way. Uncomfortable, mostly.
"When the final number comes – "Ooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain" – there’s no joy. It’s a deeply discomfiting moment, the climax of a production that starts with community and ends with complicity, twisting those two strands more and more tightly together until they can’t be undone."
"It remains phenomenal"
"Thirteen years on, Jerusalem remains an extraordinary experience anchored by an incredible performance from Mark Rylance."
"Jerusalem is the greatest play and Mark Rylance’s performance the greatest performance of the year. Of the decade. Of the 21st century."
The Corn is Green (2022)
"Precision-tooled acting from Nicola Walker"
"Nicola Walker leads a stunning cast in Dominic Cooke’s smart revival of Emlyn Williams’ autobiographical play."
"On a technical level, the production stuns, with Christopher Shutt’s sound and Charles Balfour’s lighting designs on stark display, while ULTZ’s design layers itself slowly into a complete world, cornered by descending staircases like entrances to a pit."
"As the industrious improver Miss Moffat, every syllable a bark, the peerless Nicola Walker condenses the Lyttelton until it’s like we’re watching a TV close up. As she comes to realise that, for all her to-a-fault dedication to the improvement of others she has, along the way, forgotten to show any kind of affection to Morgan, Walker shows immense control over the way she metes out that affection. It’s precision-tooled acting."
Straight Line Crazy (2022)
"Big, lively characters"
"Maybe the biggest flaw is the underuse of Helen Schlesinger as Jane Jacobs. Often mentioned in the same breath as Moses, the journalist became his nemesis in the 1960s. Hare foregrounds her at the beginning of the play and then almost entirely forgets about her. Deeply examined and given more space, these elements would elevate the play."
"Meanwhile, Fiennes eats it all up. He moves monumentally, one great slab, like the slabs of concrete Moses erected across New York, his spine always straight, a tower block of a man, relishing the great declamatory chunks Hare has supplied."
"It’s the cast, really, that sustains an interesting, flawed portrait of a man who built bridges as fast as he burned them."
"Exudes energy like a firework"
"An indulgence, she calls it, and that’s the nail on the head really. For anyone who loves Sondheim, Hamlisch or Legrand – preferably all three – the hit list intercut with backstage anecdotes from Friedman’s relationships with the composers is soul sustenance. That indulgence will be just as alienating for anyone else; there’s a lot of "then Steve told me I was the best singer he’d ever heard and put me on a plane to New York".
"Friedman’s voice has occasional lapses, usually in the quieter passages, with notes that emerge awkwardly. It’s when songs reach their climaxes that she can comfortably belt. There’s always a sense that her huge personality and the set list of giant songs – Being Alive, The Way We Were – are desperate for a bigger room; the intimate parts are less effective."
"This irrepressible celebration, especially when sung by the younger singers, is a comforting reminder that the work is still with us and it’s in safe hands."
"Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley are sublime"
"But Frecknall’s direction doesn’t let style sideline substance. Perhaps her strongest play is the careful balance she maintains in terms of the Nazis as metaphor and as literal Nazis. This is a production specifically about antisemitism and the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany. It’s also about attacks on sexuality, gender, ethnicity and religion – or any other marker of identity at any other time."
The Book of Dust (2021)
"A rollicking adaptation"
"At the Bridge rather than the Olivier, on stage rather than in a book, Hytner and adapter Bryony Lavery have quite a challenge to make the story satisfying on its own terms while nestling into a wider mythology. They mostly rise to it."
"Puppeteered paper daemons with illuminated heads catch the strange magic of human souls in animal form. Some disappoint, like Mrs Coulter’s golden monkey daemon, but others – the three-legged hyena of the deranged Gerard Bonneville – bring chills. The hideous empty cackle of Julie Atherton as the hyena’s puppeteer paired with the oleaginous charm of Pip Carter’s perverted Bonneville make for a grimly memorable antagonist."
"While Lavery’s adaptation rollicks along entertainingly, with an unrelenting sense of forward motion from Hytner and many moments that stun, it seems in conflict less with its forebears and more with itself, stripping away too much to feel epic and yet still slightly lost in having to explain its expansive mythology."
"Mark Gatiss adapts and stars in a joyful but messy adaptation of the Dickens classic"
"The greatest consistency comes from the uniform strength of the ensemble, led by Nicholas Farrell as a sinewy, buckled Scrooge – cartoonishly evil rather than genuinely malevolent and transforming giddily at the end. There are also two remarkable debuts from Zak Ford-Williams as Tiny Tim and Aoife Gaston as Belle."
Frozen The Musical (2021)
"A huge determiner of Frozen’s success comes down to the casting of Anna and Elsa, the princesses of fictional Scandinavian kingdom Arendelle, who fall out, reconnect and discover themselves – one of whom has an uncontrollable ability to turn things into ice.
Samantha Barks is ideal as Elsa, bringing a sense of interiority and inner conflict to the unhappy princess; she’s all grace and poise in her regal gowns and remains very still, as if by allowing herself to move at all she would buckle under the weight of her icy curse and her duty to the throne."
"Amusing, unexpected, enjoyable"
"It’s the cast that carries the show: Carrie Hope Fletcher takes the lead and stomps around the stage in DMs with a brilliant ease. She catches the timing of Fennell’s comic lines, and her voice is ideal: strident, loud and occasionally fragile."
"If I could watch three hours of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as the evil Stepmother, I gladly would. In a succession of elaborate costumes that seem to make her spine buckle and bow, she channels Cruella de Vil and Hyacinth Bucket, adding a 40-a-day wheeze. She is a straining, hunching grotesque, and a blast of pure pantomime joy every time she totters gurningly on stage."
Mary Poppins (2021)
"Distinctly lacking in magic"
"When so many top-drawer creatives are trying to cast different spells, no wonder the enchantment doesn’t work. You’ve got Julian Fellowes trying to cram in characters and scenes from the books, and Richard Eyre’s A-to-B direction chafing against co-director Matthew Bourne’s ballet moves, which jar with Stephen Mear’s choreography."
"George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have provided new songs that fill long, forgettable stretches alongside the Sherman Brothers’ iconic original compositions, tunes etched in the cultural consciousness. Stiles and Drewe’s music is frustratingly bland, the lyrics worse, with every tedious couplet in service of the rhyme, rather than story, sentiment or character."
"Each creative does his own thing, and the result is a series of set-pieces that don’t mesh. There’s no joined-up thinking."
Anything Goes (2021)
"It's delightful, It's delicious. Sutton Foster makes her London debut in a sumptuous production of the classic Cole Porter musical"
"Though Sutton Foster is the big draw here, Nicole-Lily Baisden, Carly Mercedes Dyer and Samuel Edwards also dazzle in Kathleen Marshall’s production of the Cole Porter classic. The show combines star pull with sheer talent, topping things off with a sheen of stunningly slick comedy. It’s delightful, it’s delicious, etc."
Les Miserables (2020)
"It’s really quite magnificent. When you combine the new production with the renovated theatre, the experience is completely different from anything that came before. While it is a huge shame the original production no longer exists, this ‘new’ version keeps the show alive. It’s angstier, angrier, with a little dose of psychological realism and crucially, considering it has been scaled back in so many ways, there’s no less sense of spectacle."
& Juliet (2019)
"The apotheosis of the jukebox musical"
"Having covered all three Schuyler sisters in Hamilton, The Stage Debut Award winner Miriam-Teak Lee now gets to shine in her own right – and, bloody hell, does she. Her voice is something to be reckoned with. At one moment, during her performance of Roar, she exudes a pure electric charge."
DEAR EVAN HANSEN (2019)
"Powerful, moving and superbly performed"
"As shown in The Greatest Showman, Pasek and Paul have cracked the formula for four-chord pop songs; songs with a golden touch that means they’ll be audition numbers for the rest of time. Yes, a couple of those in second act are mawkish, but the rest are superb."
"It’s a massive blast of joy"
"Lloyd Webber and Rice wrote it for a school choir. It makes so much sense for children, and for a childlike sense of fun and innocence, to be the driving force. It gives the show a purpose that a lot of other stale productions have failed to find."
"The design sort of builds from nothing; at the start it's a couple of sheets hung up by the corners to look like sand dunes. By the interval, we've got 10ft tall, gold-plated, guitar-playing sphinxes – the power of the children's imagination. There are starbursts of rainbow colours, unsubtle and childlike, matching those qualities in Lloyd Webber's music."
"Connor really does not know what to do with the women in the ensemble. There's an equal gender split – great – and a really diverse cast, too – also great – but the men get to play actual characters, while the women have nothing to do except being never fully clothed and dancing sexily."
"At the centre is narrator Sheridan Smith in a glittering tracksuit treating us to two hours of cheeky, perfectly timed comedy. There are so few entertainers like her, and she makes such a massive change from the cloyingly sweet school teacher narrators that have usually corralled the kid chorus in Joseph. Instead, she’s like a naughty babysitter, or some anarchic imp, dreaming up this bright and silly world as she goes along."
The Starry Messenger (2019)
"Broderick and Eleazar are both brilliant, as is the always excellent Jim Norton, as a straight-talking old man on his deathbed. It’s a shame that Elizabeth McGovern, as Mark’s wife, Anne, gets pretty short shrift."
"Sweet as the best homemade pie"
"It’s really wonderful, with the sweetness, crispness and comfort of the best homemade pie, and boasts one of the best scores to be written in recent years."
"the music by the many-times Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles: perfectly constructed pop songs with a conversational feel, full of piano-driven riffs and jam-packed with baking metaphors. Bareilles is the consummate queen of hooks. Every song is instantly singable, each with beautifully melodic tunes full of unexpected intervals."
"Paulus very skilfully directs the scenes with husband Earl (Peter Hannah). The threat of violence is always latent, but only barely displayed. We don't need to see physical violence to recognise an abusive, coercive, incredibly toxic relationship."
"The ending is conveniently swift and certain, resolving many its problems with a dusting of sugar. But the show is never too sickly sweet not to have serious points to make, and to make them forcefully."
Fiddler On The Roof (2018)
"Trevor nunn's tight, trad revival"
'Nunn is a master of musicals, and one who knows the Menier space well. He builds a bustling village from nothing, whips up whirlwinds of motion and noise in split seconds, and makes the Menier’s dungeon-theatre look vast and liveable in, almost, with huts of wood and a yard of compacted dust.'
'It’s great to see Judy Kuhn on a London stage as Tevye’s wife Golde. She and Nyman get their rapport just right, which makes for a really sweet version of Do You Love Me. Kuhn’s face is full of confusion and agonising as this brand new concept of ‘love’ creeps into her marriage to Tevye.
But it’s Nyman is without a doubt the best thing about this tight, trad revival.'
Billionaire Boy (2018)
"Irreverent, funny new hit British musical"
“Irreverent, fantastically funny and hit-heavy new musical based on David Walliams’ monster-selling novel”
"Walliams’ ever-so-slightly savage humour and his penchant for meaty, monosyllabic surnames – Grub, Spud, Spite – mark him out as a natural successor to Roald Dahl."
"Stunning new folk opera"
"Anais Mitchell’s folk musical is much more than just the love story."
"Dialogue melts imperceptibly into song. Lines that start as spoken end up in full chorus and Mitchell’s stomping folk songs sound timeless. Chavkin oversees some great visual set pieces, particularly making use of the Olivier’s revolve. At one point Hades, Persephone and wafts of haze get sucked into the drum, descending into hell."
"An astonishing reinvention"
"Stephen Sondheim and Marianne Elliott unite for an astonishing reinvention of a classic musical.
Marianne Elliott has gone beyond that. Her neon-flooded, gender-bended production is more a reinvention than a revival – and it’s a revelation. Bobby, male in the original, is female Bobbie here."
"The show feels like it could have been written yesterday, rather than 48 years ago, and is contemporary right down to the Starbucks keep-cups that characters drink from. Every modification makes sense, and finds a new resonance."
"What do you call a revival that makes a show seem brand new? Company 2018 is more than a clever concept."
"Elliott has managed to take a 48-year-old musical that spoke to its time and made it speak precisely to us, now.”
Killer Joe (2018)
"An unpleasant revival of a nasty play"
"Despite Bloom’s protestations, one thing is for sure: there is nothing remotely feminist, empowering or timely in watching a woman forced to simulate oral sex on a chicken leg in a production written and directed by men."
"Even putting aside the play’s toxicity for the moment, under Evans all the acting is so painfully mannered that the cast forgets to be human, despite the pedigree of excellent actors such as Steffan Rhodri and Neve McIntosh".
"Richard Howell’s lighting, big blocks of primary colours like the glare from a TV, is striking and sits well on Grace Smart’s detailed trailer set. That’s about it for the positives."
"If the production wants to make that point, it needs to be much more certain of itself. Confused about whether it’s comic or not, farce or horror, its cast of grotesques, acted to their extremest edges, encourages laughter more often than revulsion. That’s a queasy directorial decision.”
"Yes, it’s a jukebox musical. And no, it’s not imaginatively told, galloping straightforwardly through Tina Turner’s life and works from childhood to the peak of her fame in 1988."
"But two things make this new West End mega-musical incredible: one, her life story – the fact that the unwanted daughter of poor black sharecroppers in racist small-town Tennessee became Tina Turner; two, Adrienne Warren as Tina."