The Aisle Seat Awards

These won’t be rivalling the Oliviers but here are a few shows that have hit the spot for me in the last couple of years.

Hangmen      Royal Court


Martin McDonagh’s plays are always unsettling, dark creations but also hilarious. You find yourself laughing at the most awful things.

He is a unique voice.


Welcome Home, Captain Fox           Donmar

Fascinating update of a Jean Anouilh play. Anouilh was big when I was a schoolboy but then went completely out of fashion.

This production, set on Long Island in the 1950s was totally engrossing.


The Flick          NT

A marathon but quite extraordinary. It’s not often nowadays that I can say I’ve never seen anything like that before.

Annie Baker gets the award here.


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom         NT

This did what many great plays do. It took me to a world outside my experience and gave me some understanding of that world.

Performances were spot on. Gripping throughout.


How The Other Half Loves            Haymarket


It’s easy to forget, given his enormous output, how good these early Ayckbourn plays are. Beautifully constructed. Perfect set-piece comedy moments.

The dinner party scene made me laugh until it hurt.



The  Go-Between           Apollo

The award here goes to Michael Crawford. It’s a lovely ‘chamber’ musical by Richard Taylor and David Wood but Crawford steals the show. He is one of our great actors. Watching him as he contemplated his younger self gave me goose bumps. Entrancing.


The Red Shed             Everyman, Liverpool


Not exactly a play. More like stand-up with dramatic elements.

Preaching to the converted at the Everyman but a masterly piece.


Nice Fish            Harold Pinter

I notice how many of my award winners might be described as oddball shows. This might be the oddest of them all.

Based on the prose poems of Louis Jenkins, and set around a hole in the ice on a frozen lake, the play goes to places that most plays don’t go. Puppetry, fishing and Mark Rylance. What more could you want ?

St Joan             Donmar

This is one of my absolutely favourite plays and I approach a new production apprehensively.

Luckily, this was a brilliant interpretation ( director, Josie Rourke) with a rock solid central performance from Gemma Arterton.



Buried Child            Trafalgar Studios

It’s easy to get tired of plays about ‘The American Dream’ but this was edge of your seat stuff. Tense. Full of menace. Written in the 1970s but still has plenty to say in the age of Trump.


Speech and Debate          Trafalgar Studios

Fresh. Pacey.

Engaging performances from Douglas Booth, Patsy Ferran and Tony Revolori and a sharply pointed script by Stephen Karam.



Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead             Old Vic

Never seen this demanding play done so well. Absolute perfection.

Josh McGuire, Daniel Radcliffe and David Haig all at the top of their form.

As it ended, we rose to our feet, knowing that we had seen something special.


The Goat                       Haymarket

Staggering story. Sensational performance from Sophie Okonedo.

Really split the audience. Great fun watching the more staid members of the audience squirm, really not enjoying it.



Hamlet                         RSC

I can’t count how many Hamlets I have seen. Alan Howard was the first, followed by, amongst others, Mark Rylance, David Tennant, Roger Rees, Alex Jennings, Toby Stephens and Rory Kinnear.

Paapa Essiedu and Simon Godwin have made the play fresh as paint. Certainly one of the most engaging performances in the title role that I have seen.

Barbershop Chronicles

Congratulations to the NT on their exciting production of this intricate play. With the Dorfman in my favourite configuration ( audience on four sides of the stage ), this fast-moving show can switch like lightning between barbershops in Lagos, Accra, Kampala, Johannesburg, Harare and Peckham. Clever use of a suspended globe and advertising signs scattered around the set mean that the audience never becomes disorientated when the show jumps from country to country.

Articles in the programme focus on the mental health of young black males but the play seems to be about much more than that. It strikes a lovely balance between light-hearted crosstalk and some passionate and serious discussion of a multitude of topics.

The structure is complex and you have to stay alert to catch the links between the strands and see how the whole relates to the parts but it works brilliantly. I loved it.

Quote Quiz

I think this will be quite demanding.

Below are quotations from ten plays, some more well-known than others. Can you name the plays ?

Scroll down for the answers.

  1. Whilst far away the King and Queen do rule / Over a golden age of monarchy / That bothers no one, does no good, and is / A pretty plastic picture with no meaning
  2. What I want you to remember as the bullets come out through yere foreheads, is that this is all a fella can be expecting for being so bad to an innocent Irish cat.
  3. The human race is a let-down, Ernest; a bad, bad let-down ! I’m disgusted with it. It thinks it’s progressed but it hasn’t; it thinks it’s risen above the primeval slime, but it hasn’t – it’s still wallowing in it. It’s still clinging to us, clinging to our hair and our eyes and our souls.
  4. The profoundest voice in the world reduced to a nursery tune.
  5. Film can express things that computers never will. Film is a series of photographs separated by split seconds of darkness. Film is light and shadow and it is the light and shadow that were there on the day you shot the film.
  6. Do it on the radio.
  7. I can’t use the word ‘semen’ at lunchtime and I can’t use it at six o’clock.
  8. You see, I’m in a more peculiar position than I could ever explain. I am a woman with a history.
  9. How in hell on earth do you imagine that you’re going to have a child by a man that can’t stand you ?
  10. Poor old Lord Mortlake, who had only two topics of conversation, his gout and his wife ! I never could quite make out which of the two he was talking about. He used the most horrible language about them both.

Quote Quiz Answers





The plays are:

  1.  King Charles III                  Mike Bartlett
  2. The Lieutenant of Inishmore        Martin McDonagh
  3. Design for Living        Noel Coward
  4. Amadeus        Peter Shaffer
  5. The Flick        Annie Baker
  6. Educating Rita        Willy Russell
  7. London Road      Alecky Blythe
  8. Charley’s Aunt         Brandon Thomas
  9. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof         Tennessee Williams
  10. An Ideal Husband        Oscar Wilde

I hope that wasn’t too difficult.

Two Shows That Deserve A London Transfer

The Exorcist

Seems like a crazy idea to stage this most unstageable of movies but that’s what Birmingham Rep. did towards the end of last year and it really worked. All your favourite bits from the film were there – projectile vomiting, flying beds and a 360 degree rotating head. Adapted for the stage by John Pielmeier from the novel by William Peter Blatty and directed by Sean Mathias, the show had all the tension of the movie and the atmosphere in the packed house was electric. It’s a while since I heard so much screaming in a theatre. The visual effects and magic ( Duncan McClean and Ben Hart ) were spectacular. This is the sort of show that will bring younger audiences to the theatre and, if it hits London, will run and run.

Caroline or Change

This was presented recently at the Minerva studio theatre in Chichester and has at its centre two bravura performances from Sharon D. Clarke  as Caroline and ( at the performance I saw ) Daniel Luniku as young Noah Gellman. It is a sung through musical by Tony Kushner, directed by Michael Longhurst. It is hard to convey the flavour of the piece but if I tell you that the cast list includes Me’sha Bryan as The Washing Machine, Ako Mitchell as The Bus and Angela Caesar as The Moon you might get an idea. I think this is the second UK production of the show. It passed me by the first time. I don’t understand why it has not yet hit the big time in this country. It’s not a show for the big West End musical palaces but in a suitable venue ( The Dorfmann, The Southwark Playhouse, the Chocolate Factory ) it would be this year’s hot ticket.

November 2017 update:

The London transfers have happened.

The Exorcist opened at the Phoenix. Caroline or Change opens at Hampstead in March 2018.


Aisle Seats

I like an aisle seat. There aren’t enough of them. I like to stretch my legs. I like to be comfortable in the theatre.

Cinema designers seem to have understood this need. Most theatres, though, seem designed to cram as many people into as small a space as possible.

There used to be more aisle seats. There used to be an aisle in the centre of the auditorium. Bliss. A good view and leg room. Then someone realised that at West End prices this space in the centre of the audience could potentially generate thousands of pounds.

So the centre aisles were filled with seats and aisle fans now have to settle for life at the edge and a cold draft from the emergency exit.