Tag Archives: Philip Wilson

“Starcrossed” at Wilton’s Music Hall

Aside from the Greeks, can you think of a play that’s inspired as many others as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? Rachel Garnet’s 2018 take is to tell the tale from the perspective of Tybalt and Mercutio. And to make the men a new pair of star-crossed lovers.

The idea shouldn’t be a surprise, given how much Shakespeare is played with. But if it sounds a little sensational, think again. Starcrossed is a serious piece – if it has a failing it’s a lack of humour – that shows deep thinking and sensitivity, and a firm grasp on its source material that is super smart.

The development of Shakespeare’s minor characters is a huge success. Yes, Garnet has plenty to work with, but she creates solid, interesting characters that are an exciting prospect for performers.

Mercutio – a “fickle creature” – is a pacifist and an all-round outsider, vividly brought to life by Connor Delves, who has travelled with the show from New York. It’s easy to see Mercutio captivating all he meets with his intelligence and dangerous flair. Tommy Sim’aan takes the role of Tybalt and is just as magnetic to watch. The character’s confusion about his status as well as sexuality are evoked in equal measure and never overstated.

Gethin Alderman

Starcrossed has charm too – which brings us to the final performer, known as The Player, who takes on all the other roles! So, Gethin Alderman becomes Lord Capulet, Paris, Romeo (and Juliet) as well as Tybalt’s father – a great creation whose scenes are a real highlight. Switching so many roles cannot fail to impress, and Alderman adds a playfulness that is welcome.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Garnet’s script is a marvel, a verse play with snatches of Shakespeare (not just from Romeo and Juliet) cleverly incorporated. Stimulating and erudite, this is a text to treasure. It is a credit to the performers and Philip Wilson’s impeccable direction that such learning is worn easily. As with the best Shakespearean productions, we appreciate the wit but don’t feel excluded by it.

Garnet manages to look at the circumstances she creates from the perspective of gay men and pays attention to the history. The couple’s fear and the degree of acceptance they have about keeping their love a secret is moving. There’s a consistent tension in seeing how the script fits into the bigger story, what lines are used or ignored, as well as the exciting speculation about how much change we’ll see.

Best of all, concerns for the future, wrapped up in questions of honour and legacy, are explored with insight and originality. Creating a story “never told” has a powerful impact. Along with Mercutio’s speculation about how lives might be different in 500 years’ time, the idea that so much LGBTQ+ history has been lost is used by Garnet to great effect.

Until 25 June 2022


Photo by Pamela Raith

“This Island’s Mine” at the King’s Head Theatre

Landmark is the label given to Philip Osment’s play, which premiered with the Gay Sweatshop in 1988. Undoubtedly, the piece makes for interesting history: early Pride marches, the role of the press in forming prejudice against AIDS and campaigns during the miners’ strike are all covered. It’s a play of valuable lessons. But theatre can’t just be a historical excursion. The key to the success of this first ever revival, by director Philip Wilson, is to allow the play to inspire today, by bringing out its universal power.

These tales of the city contain men and women of all ages and classes, going back and forth in time, with surprises in store as to how they interweave. Osment is an exemplary chronicler of London; locations are used effectively, rooting the play. For sure, too much is tackled at times, especially when bringing broader political struggles into the play. And some connections between the characters fit less well than others; a production of The Tempest forms one pivot but any aims of injecting anger with the rage of Caliban sit uneasily in a piece trying hard to be positive. Yet overwhelmingly, the rich themes of lives and loves, family and community, make for captivating stories.

Rachel Summers and Corey Montague-Sholay

The fictional biographies presented are respectfully delivered by Wilson and his cast. Connor Bannister, whose character’s coming out story is one focus, and Jane Bertish, taking the role of an elderly Jewish woman who fled World War II, give strong performances that form the backbone of the show. The rest of the cast all impress by taking on multiple roles, swooping ages, nationalities and genders, often with wit. There’s a lovely turn from Corey Montague-Sholey as a young actor and a ten year old boy, while Rachel Summers does well with four roles including an aged Russian aristocrat in exile. The show’s considerable humour is best served by Theo Fraser Steele who tackles the part of middle aged Martin with waspish panache.

Theo Frazer Steele and Connor Bannister

Osment’s text is marked by attention to detail. So much so that it’s occasionally overpowering, if often beautiful. That characters also narrate their own actions, interestingly a technique seen recently in The Inheritance, isn’t to all tastes – it can be long winded – but it proves a boon to performers here and Wilson adds some lovely theatrical touches that prevent the piece from becoming too static. And the play is remarkable democratic, even a cat gets attention, as gay life in many forms is celebrated. Race and sexuality, along with gay parenting and marriages of convenience are all addressed. Osment’s play reflects life’s complexity to an impressive degree, his opposition of fate to “patterns of coincidence” provokes thought and sentiment in equal measure. Admittedly meandering at times, This Island’s Mine has both tragedy and comedy to recognize and inspire an audience; the play’s success boils down to superb storytelling, excellently delivered.

Until 8 June 2019


Illustration by Curtis Holder, Photos by Mark Douet

“Beacons” at the Park Theatre

“A beach, a bench and an ice-cream van” are the setting for Tabitha Mortiboy’s sensitive new play. Despite the protestations of the van’s owner, Julie, there is magic in this place – theatrically anyway – with a story of three lonely people making their own kind of family.
Sick of it being just “Me and Mr Whippy”, Julie takes to online dating, reluctant to recognise the attentions of her friend Bernard. In attendance is a young girl called Skye, an “old Romantic”, keen to shake things up but with a secret that haunts her.

Beacons-ParkThr-SRylander-PRESS-001 - small
Emily Burnett

Great credit goes to Tessa Peake-Jones for making the heroic Julie so believable. And to Paul Kemp, whose Bernard is a rich, three-dimensional figure. The finest written part is Skye, and Emily Burnett excels here – playful and wounded by turn, she is an intriguing and poetic figure.

Mortiboy’s writing has a lyrical gentility and understated power. This is a sweet love story but contains two scenes of resolution that are forcefully dramatic. Suffice to say the ice creams are sold on suicide hot spot, Beachy Head, and that Julie patrols the cliffs at night helping those in trouble.

This well-written play is served superbly by spot-on direction from Philip Wilson. A thrust stage takes over the space and emphasises Park 90’s intimacy; the sightlines are impressively managed. Wilson understands the tone of the piece, avoiding the bombastic (as the text indicates he should). Mysteries aren’t overstated, the out-of-season seaside feel perfect, and the result enchanting.

Until 16 April 2016


Photo by Scott Rylander

“The Three Lions” at the St James Theatre

One of the funniest plays I’ve seen in a long time, William Gaminara’s The Three Lions imagines the meeting of David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, as they campaign for England to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Every ounce of comic potential in the scenario is exploited and the play opens up to be about far more than football – politics, power, celebrity and compromise – all perfect sport for excellent satire.

The material is superb and the demanding mix of one-liners and farce played expertly. Ably supported by Antonia Kinlay, as Cameron’s gushing PR, and Ravi Aujla, as a suspiciously effusive hotel employee, the three leads give a winning hat-trick of performances. All embrace the caricatured, public faces of these famous men, so the portraits convincingly duplicate what we think we know about Cameron’s slickness, William’s blandness or Beckham’s intellect.

Tom Davey has the hardest job as Prince William, a generic nice-but-dim, but reveals a taste for practical jokes perfectly. Cameron comes out well, with Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s careful study of a leader new to power and struggling with it already. A scene where Cameron swaps trousers with Beckham caused so much laughter I missed some lines. Stealing the show is Séan Browne’s Beckham. And not just because of the casting coup of an uncanny physical resemblance. As soon as Browne opens his mouth he has won the audience and there are countless times when Beckham’s idiotic replies are deftly handled.

While Gaminara’s targets might be easy, there’s nothing mean spirited about The Three Lions. And there’s a healthy undercurrent of anger about the abuses of power that are the play’s real concern. The text has a mass of gags and it’s Philip Wilson’s direction that ensures its success. There must be a football metaphor for how sure his work is: never taking his eye off the ball and scoring with each line. Simply insert your favourite football manager here to praise his work. Not that an interest in the game is needed to enjoy this beautifully crafted piece: huge fun, superbly done, Premier League stuff.

Until 2 May 2015


Photo by Craig Sugden

“Grimm Tales” at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf

The first incarnation of director Philip Wilson’s Grimm Tales, in Shoreditch, now seems like a trial run for this – a bigger and better version of the show – at the Oxo Tower Bargehouse. Six different stories, adapted from Philip Pullman’s retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, are presented with enchanting insight, using every inch of the huge building as a remarkable canvas.

Grimm Tales is the best kind of immersive theatre. The location is transformed to add to the telling, but Wilson’s strong vision never loses sight of the simple power the stories have. It’s like Punchdrunk without the puzzle – challenging yet satisfying. The tales chosen are relatively obscure. Hansel and Gretel make an appearance but their story is more complex than the one we’re all familiar with. Each tale is wonderfully weird and scarily dark.

Groups of performers share the words between them, mixing dialogue and narration, creating an engaging, forceful style. The actors do a superb job conveying an underlying excitement about the stories and the telling of them, as they guide you onto the next suitably grim spectacle. James Byng stands out as the Frog King and Megan Salter is wonderful as the princess who runs away from an incestuous father to become Thousandfurs.

Pullman and Wilson bring out a great deal of humour in telling the tales and never shy away from their appalling content. Even Hollywood presents us with different sides to fairy stories nowadays, but Grimm Tales is a long way from Disney. I’d be a little wary about the eight and above age guide, the show is two and three quarter hours long for a start, but that’s probably because I don’t have children myself – I’ve heard kids can be pretty bloodthirsty.
Most thrilling of all is the detail that’s gone into creating a unique world to tell these stories. The costumes and sets by Tom Rogers are astounding: everyday props and lo-fi puppetry belie an exciting inventiveness and a huge technical achievement. With 2,000 light bulbs above and nine tonnes of rubber crumb underfoot the scale is impressive. Yet the stripped-back bricolage aesthetic works brilliantly to focus attention and captivate the imagination.

As the stories end, the audience is free to explore other rooms; further fantastic spaces to imagine other stories in are revealed. These sets are like something from an art gallery – maybe installation theatre would be a better term for this immersive experience? One thing is for sure; once upon a time doesn’t feel anywhere near long enough to explore this magical space.

Until 11 April 2015


“Grimm Tales” at Shoreditch Town Hall

The trend for immersive theatre reaches new heights in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall with Grimm Tales, which opened last night. Based on Philip Pullman’s recent retellings, adapted and directed by Philip Wilson, a small audience is taken around magically transformed spaces to experience the stories anew and undertake a journey of our own. Pullman’s fame should secure the show’s success, while Wilson’s theatrical creativity makes this a night to remember.

Five tales are tackled, from the well-known Red Riding Hood to the (to me) more obscure Hans-My-Hedgehog. Bizarre and macabre touches are preserved, expanded even, with a gleeful sense of humour. Following Pullman’s text, the storytelling is wonderfully clear. Unlike some theatre that takes on the immersive label, this evening never baffles and only satisfies. The stories have a rewarding personal resonance and make full use of the audience’s own imagination.

The cast, billed as The Storytellers, is impressive. Taking on a variety of roles, the players are constantly engaging and keep up a terrific pace. Simon Wegrzyn is particularly impressive as both the wolf and the eponymous Hedgehog Boy. And James Byng gets to show off his considerable skill as a puppeteer. Any bedtime story you might read will pale in comparison with the hard work going on here.

It’s the detail that makes the night. The set and costume designs by Tom Rogers are a marvel, with each room you arrive in a wonder of sights and smells. The aesthetic is lo-fi with a bricolage feel adding to the atmosphere of the location. Don’t be fooled though; the make-do-and-mend touches show off the sheer invention of the staging born from intelligence and experience. An umbrella turned into a bird was a personal favourite, but the theatrical touches are a continual delight.

I am sure that children would love Grimm Tales (eight years upwards is the recommendation) but I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t leap at the chance to run around in this world. The evening concludes with the chance to do just that, as other rooms, potential stories that have been tantalisingly glanced at as you move around, can be explored. The seven dwarfs’ dormitory made me laugh out loud. Fairytales made real – what’s not to wolf down?

Until 24 April 2014


Photo by Tom Medwell

Written 21 March 2014 for The London Magazine