Category: Review


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The continuation of the spellbinding story, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brings the magic to the west end stage, totally immersing the audience into the wizarding world. Cursed Child is event theatre. It’s something special.

Across two parts, the new play tells the story of Harry and his friends as they reach their forties, and their children attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s an epic story that needs every second of the running time to stretch its wings. It’s hard to write a review of something which bears the tag line #keepthesecrets, but needless to say this is an absolute must for any Harry Potter fan and it is well worth going in without any prior knowledge of the plot. It’s packed full of suprises….that I just can’t tell you about. (Disclaimer: If you’re not a Potterhead, it would be wise to watch the movies beforehand. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of the hefty ticket fee).

The special effects are nothing short of mindblowing. You’ll be left scratching your head and actually gasping many, many times, and there is one particularly creepy part just before the end of part one, they will leave you trembling. It’s a testament to the creative team just how awesome the effects are.

Jamie Ballard plays the adult Harry and his performance bears a striking resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe’s (they even have the same scream!). Harry faces some tough personal challenges during the play and Ballard portrays them with poignant frustration and reminds us of the flaws of Harry’s character. Franc Ashman is brilliant as Hermione and has lovely on stage chemistry with Thomas Aldridge, who plays Ron. Without giving too much away, the ensemble cast do a fantastic job at recreating the iconic characters that make appearances throughout the production.

To do both parts in one day is a bit exhausting, and the tricky plot does test your brain, but it is all tied up in a neat fashion typical of Rowling’s work. Cynics might see the play as further milking of the cash cow, but what Cursed Child does is dig deeper into the heart of the Harry Potter stories. Rowling is not shy in addressing the themes of parenting and families, and exploring the gritty reality of what becomes of the son of the Boy Who Lived.

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Admittedly, the closest I had ever got to rap before I saw Hamilton was Mel B’s verse in ‘Wannabe’. It’s been hard to escape the buzz around Hamilton, particularly since it arrived in the UK in late 2017. I remained ignorant to the plot, determined to see what the fuss was all about knowing as little as possible beforehand.

The first thing that strikes you about Hamilton is the party atmosphere. People in the audience are bopping and wrist-flicking to the beat from the beginning and it is clear everyone is invested in the story. It’s not long before you realise why it has caused such a stir – this is not musical theatre as we know it. The songs could be fresh out of radio one, featuring a mix of R’n’B, hip hop and rap. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s score is a thing of beauty, blending gorgeously poetic lyrics with catchy rhythms. (Incidentally, ‘My Shot’ is an excellent song to run to.)

The story follows the turbulent life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of America. Hamilton is played by Jamael Westman, who tackles the role with impressive conviction. For us Brits, there are a couple of moments that might leave us scratching our heads, but Hamilton’s controversial political and personal life makes for a very entertaining watch.Image result for Hamilton

Musical highlights include Rachelle Ann Go’s gutwrenching ‘Burn’, a hilarious performance of ‘You’ll Be Back’ from Jon Robyns as the prissy and spoilt King George, and the super sexy ‘Say no to this’. Miranda’s lyrics are not only relatable to the audience members, but they clearly cast a spell over the actors too, as the enthusiasm from all members of the cast, particularly the ensemble, bleeds through. Even those in the shadows are giving it their all. The ensemble move through the story in a slick and fluid way which is a testament to their skill.

Allyson Ava-Brown deserves a mention for her portrayal of Angelica Schuyler, who will have you aching with sympathy as she laments on her martyred love for Hamilton during ‘Satisfied’. There’s effective use of choreography and staging during this song to create the rewind as Angelica takes us back to the night she introduced Hamilton to her sister. Rachelle Ann Go is perfect as Eliza Hamilton, and the trio is completed by the equally brilliant Courtney-Mae Briggs as Peggy. Together the Schuyler sisters deliver some killer vocal harmonies.Image result for Hamilton

The story builds to a tragic end for Hamilton, and his downfall sequence is played out with subtle poignancy, leaving the audience gasping as Hamilton steps out of the action to contemplate his death. It’s a clever moment of quiet sobriety after such a fun and vibrant build up. The closing moments are accompanied by the haunting ‘Who lives, who dies, who tells your story’ which brings the story to its moving conclusion – quite a contrast to the upbeat house-party we had just sat through.

Hamilton has become a theatrical phenomenon and it’s clearly helped to shape the future of musical theatre. Not one to be missed (if you can beat the queues for a ticket!).

 

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‘Phone rings, door chimes, in comes company.’

To marry and settle down, or continue with a commitment free lifestyle. That’s the predicament that Bobbie faces on her 35th birthday. Surrounded by her friends, all of whom are married, Bobbie begins analysing their relationships and weighing up her options.

There are several stand out features that make Marianne Elliot’s production of Company so special. For starters, it feels so modern and relevant. Although it was written in the seventies, this production brings the action crashing into 2019, with references to tinder and modern lifestyle choices seeded throughout. In the original production, Bobby is a man, but in a clever gender-swap Bobbie is now played by Rosalie Craig. Craig performs with perfection, adding depth and bewilderment to Bobbie’s predicament. Craig also handles the role with impeccable comic timing and subtlety. Her performance as the light-hearted Bobbie is infused with angst and confusion as she begins to feel time is running out and a decision needs to be made. The uncertainty Bobbie is experiencing, as she questions her ideal partner and wonders whether he has already entered her life, during ‘Someone is waiting’ is very touching.

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Sondheim’s score is beautifully brought to life by the talented ensemble, with ‘You could drive a person crazy’ and ‘Side by side by side’ being particularly tightly performed. ‘Not getting married today’ is a hilarious number, with frantic babbling and impressive energy from Jonathon Bailey as the overwhelmed groom, Jamie, and a singing vicar in a fridge. Craig’s rendition of ‘Being Alive’, which has to be one of the most beautiful pieces from musical theatre, is filled with emotion.

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It’s also the tight-knit ensemble that adds magic to Company. It’s clear everyone is comfortable and supportive of each other. Their friendship on and off stage shines through.

In the role of Joanne is Broadway legend Patti Lupone who adds her trademark ascerbic wit to give the character several moments that have the audience almost whooping. Lupone’s version of ‘The Ladies Who Lunch’ gives a great example of her presence and commitment to the role.

Mel Giedroyc (of ‘Mel & Sue’ fame) is also wonderful as sweet but fiery Sarah, and her scene with Gavin Spokes (Harry) demonstrates both actors’ keen eye for comedy, as each partner attempts to out-do the other in a passive aggressive battle of one-upmanship.

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Elliott’s production of Company is a rare find, as it is so close to theatrical perfection. From the seamless transition of each set piece to the gripping, honest performance of the actors, it’s a joyous night out that has you questioning your own choices and values.

Being Alive, Rosalie Craig, Company

 

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A murder mystery with virtual reality flashbacks. An exciting concept for a very modern piece of theatre. On arrival, the audience are seated in the round and provided with headphones and a VR headset. Floor-level screens around the perimeter of the performance space welcome the audience to the Queensland Judicial Service and invite them to sit in on an interview regarding a previously closed case.

The case in question centres around the disappearance of Ashleigh Richardson and we see, in the live performance space, Meera Clarke as she is questioned on her knowledge of her childhood friend. Georgina Strawson plays Meera and is the only member of the ‘live cast’ to appear. The role of DCI Fiona Webb is represented by a suit-jacket placed on the back of a chair, whilst her voice is played through the headphones. Strawson brings the story to life with her raw and passionate performance. She channels Meera’s torment and grief powerfully, in a way that must be exhausting.

A green signal encourages the audience to place their VR headsets on at several points during the performance, and it is through this medium that we are transported back to Meera’s bedroom in 1995, where we are witness to several conversations between Meera, Ashleigh and their friends. Although the nineties time period is impressively reconstructed, and there are several poignant moments between the younger cast, it is the VR moments that weaken the piece. At first they are exciting and even slightly eerie, and effectively draw the audience into the mystery, but later segments of VR seem unnecessary, such as a couple of relentless trawls across the seabed in the search for Ashleigh’s body.

The live elements of the story are engaging, but although the concept of the VR is initially exciting, it does lose its way as the piece progresses. The story culminates in a confusing ending that would have benefitted from a touch more finality.

Frogman certainly makes for an engaging and innovative theatrical experience, but the concept over-shadows the storyline.

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The rising crescendo of the March of the Valkyries as the audience takes their seats gives me the impression that this could be a tense couple of hours and, prone to jumping out of my skin, I realise I could have made a mistake in coming alone. As part of my resolution to book more blindly, I didn’t know anything about The Lady Vanishes, other than it boasted an impressive cast of TV veterans, such as Juliet Mills, Maxwell Caulfield and Phillip Lowrie. Flicking though the programme, I realise it’s based on a Hitchcock film, and start to feel quite anxious about embarrassing myself by shrieking at the smallest shock.

Thankfully for my dignity, The Lady Vanishes reserves most of its surprises to the last ten minutes, particularly during a tense shoot out featuring nerve-testing sound effects. The preceding two-hours begins sharply with the impressive set of a bleak German train station, swastikas ominously looming over head. It’s in this sequence that our characters are introduced as they await the delayed train (clearly it’s a Transport  for Wales service), but frustratingly the sound quality dips at this point and even three rows from the front it’s hard to make out some of the mumbling. Although a bit rickety, the set folds together effectively to create the train carriages and the reduction of the action to two carriages adds an unnerving claustrophobia.

Juliet Mills is wonderful as the dotty and charming Miss Froy, as is Lorna Fitzgerald as the fraught and paranoid Iris, the only passenger to remember Miss Froy before her disappearance. The first act rattles along at an impressive pace, setting up a mystery that will definitely have you scratching your head throughout the interval. But it’s the second act where things get a little bit messy. The bizarre plot of the illusionist and his disappearing cabinet prove to be an unnecessary red herring and the fight sequence in the luggage compartment is rather silly. Although the production is peppered with subtle humour, this scene does tip the balance into slapstick.

For its plot holes, over-zealous sound effects and messy climax, The Lady Vanishes is rescued by its stellar cast. The ensemble works beautifully well together. Mills, who steals a scene just by reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich, gives a masterclass in subtly, whilst Fitzgerald gives a performance worlds apart from her famous role on EastEnders. Caulfied is chilling as the sinister Dr Hartz and Lowrie is frustratingly unlikeable as the bumbling lawyer wanting to keep his affair secret. Elizabeth Payne cuts a sympathetic but gutsy figure as Margaret, Eric’s mistress who is desperate to leave her husband, and who we find out is perfectly capable of defending herself.

The Lady Vanishes is a decent thriller, bolstered by its impressive casting.

Image result for Mary Poppins returnsAs a child, I was the boy who skipped around the garden with his umbrella raised high, in the hope that he would take off and float away (it did not go down well). Mary Poppins was one of my favourite films growing up and I have found memories of singing the songs with my Grandma. The classic film means a lot to many and their childhoods.

So when the sequel was announced I was cautious. I was initially worried that it wouldn’t live up to the magic of the first film and was simply a cheap effort to make money (having the same thoughts about Toy Story 4. Please don’t mess it up, Disney). But I was wrong to worry, as this film has clearly been in very capable hands. Mary Poppins Returns is practically perfect in every way. *smug face*.

From the gorgeous opening credits, it’s clear this is a film made with love and respect. Spotting the fleeting glimpse of the bird woman on the steps of St Paul’s made my inner-child jump and that was just the first of many exciting moments. It’s a carpet-bag full of pure joy.  Newcomers to the franchise will enjoy the new story, but those familiar with the original classic are invited onto a carousel of nostalgia.

Obviously the main buzz has been around Emily Blunt taking on Julie Andrews’ iconic role. Blunt slips into the hat and heels perfectly, adding her own dash of quirkiness to the titular character. Lin Manuel Miranda is a great addition as cheeky lamplighter Jack, sharing his impressive trademark musicality, particularly during a rap (yes, I know, but trust me) segment of ‘A Cover is not the book’. Then there’s Ben Whishaw, who will overwork your tearducts as a grieving and grown up Michael Banks. Seeing him smile in the final number would melt the coldest of hearts. Emily Mortimer is perfect as an adult Jane Banks, mixing the innocent giggling girl from the first film with her mother’s determined activist nature, to create a progressive and passionate character (and wearing trousers throughout – a nice touch.)

It’s also great to see some of the secondary characters from the first movie given more screen time. Housekeeper Ellen (this time played by Julie Walters, who is her usual fantastic self), neighbours Admirable Boom and Mr Binnacle, and Bank Manager Mr Dawes all make lots of appearances that aren’t just self-indulgent but serve the plot well. Mr Dawes Jr is played by Dick Van Dyke, and his short appearance towards the end of the movie is lovely. It’s clear this film means a lot to everyone involved, and this is beautifully evident in the emotion in Van Dyke’s eyes as he reprises a role similar to one he played in the original movie. Speaking of Disney royalty, Angela Lansbury also makes an appearance as the Balloon lady, a role that could have been written for Andrews, but Lansbury is perfect, adding her trademark warmth and wit to her small scene. I’m glad Lansbury appeared because I bloody love her. If your inner-child hasn’t overdosed on nostalgia, it will be totally hyperactive by the time Mr Potts starts singing.

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have done a cracking job of the score, blending just enough wistful references to the previous score with new material to create some very catchy and moving new numbers. ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ will have you sniffling in your popcorn, whilst the final number, ‘Nowhere to Go but Up’ will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

Some people have picked holes in the plot but honestly……I don’t care. Who cares if a couple of things don’t quite make sense? This film wraps you in a feeling of warm, satisfying nostalgia that is worth overlooking a few minor quibbles.

So much care has been put into this film, and it has been met with so much love and praise, that, as much as I would enjoy a chance to visit these characters again, I hope Disney aren’t tempted to make a third any time soon. Sequels aren’t usually a success, but this one is so close to the original (which is a brilliant achievement considering the time span between films) and made with so much respect that its success is well earned. This is going to become a modern classic.

*grabs a balloon and runs to the garden*

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Blwyddyn newydd dda!

As 2018 draws to a close and I crack open the wine and tuck into the Christmas chocolates, I’ve joined the NYE bandwagon in looking back over the last twelve months. I’ve seen some cracking theatre productions and some, frankly mind-boggling shows (Summer Holiday, I’m looking at you), but here are 8 of my best from 2018.

Wicked, UK Tour, Cardiff Millennium Centre, November

Fifth time viewing, but no less spectacular. Wicked was an optical and musical treat. Despite knowing the show inside out since 2006, the UK tour cast brought fresh joy to one of my favourite shows. Sitting in the front row during Defying Gravity added extra special goosepimple-ness.

Full review

Home, I’m Darling, Theatr Clwyd, June

Theatr Clwyd has been my home from home this year and we are SO lucky to have such a fabulous venue on our doorstep. Theatr Clwyd has welcomed some excellent productions but one that’s caused quite a stir is Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling. A thought-provoking, topical and hilarious play, featuring the wonderful Katherine Parkinson, Home, I’m Darling is set to transfer for a limited run to the Duke of York’s theatre in January.

Full review

Strictly Ballroom, Piccadilly Theatre, London, June

I think this one has suffered quite an injustice and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. A vibrant but touching show centred around an Australian dance competition, Strictly Ballroom features some impressive choreography and catchy renditions of familiar tunes. Unfortunately the show closed in October but fingers crossed for a UK tour!

Full review

Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre, London, April 

The stage version of the Disney classic may have had a panto flavour to it, but there’s no doubt it boasted a talented cast and some very clever visuals. Friend Like Me was a show stopper thanks to the charisma of Trevor Dion Nicholas and it’s well worth catching the show before it closes in the autumn.

Full review

Thick as Thieves, Theatr Clwyd, Wales, October 

A powerful one-act play that was a last minute ticket-buy for me. I’m rarely gripped from start-to-finish but this play had me thinking of nothing else. Full of twists and turns with plenty of secrets spilling out across the stage. Thick as Thieves saw powerhouse performances from Polly Frame and Siwan Morris. So glad I caught it!

Full review

Kinky Boots, Opera House Theatre, Manchester, December

A big bundle of fun to warm up the pre-Christmas chill. Myself and my Kinky Crew weren’t too sure what to expect with this one, but it turns out Kinky Boots is a warm-hearted show with some cracking musical numbers, which is definitely deserving of its popularity.

Full review

The Assassination of Katie Hopkins, Theatr Clwyd, May

Assassination caused a bit of controversy when it was announced late last year and with a title like that I knew I had to see it. Topical and thought-provoking, Assassination isn’t the Hopkins-hating leftie production you might expect, but neither is it a love letter to the professional troll. Another show that deserves a comeback in 2019.

Full review

Miss Saigon, Palace theatre, Manchester, March

Finally, a classic musical that had managed to escape my interests until recommended to me in March. An emotional story with a beautiful, haunting score. I didn’t expect this show to be so….sad! And the drive home with my pals was a lot more morose than the journey home from Kinky Boots. Unless you have a heart of stone, you’re going to need tissues after this one.

Full review

It’s been a great year in terms of my personal theatre-viewing and it was hard to whittle the list down to just eight. Also deserving of a mention is my trip to West End Live, which shared brilliant performances from many top west end shows. I’ll definitely be planning on going to West End Live again in the future. I’m not making resolutions this year, but it goes without saying I’ll be hoping to see more excellent productions in 2019, with some really exciting shows already booked in (Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to name two *squeak*). The ticket shelf is already filling up, so as the curtain falls on 2018, here’s to an exciting new year. Now, let’s crack open that box of Heroes from under the tree…..

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‘Change the world when you change your mind.’

That’s the message behind Kinky Boots, currently touring the UK.

Part fabulous, part hilarious, with a great big dollop of heart-warming, Kinky Boots is the show that stands on high heels above the rest.

We follow the story of uninspired and fed up Charlie (Joel Harper-Jackson) as he inherits his father’s shoe factory and, ahem, struggles to fill his shoes. After a chance encounter with bold and beautiful drag queen, Lola (Callum Francis), the pair join forces to make some super sexy boots and rescue Charlie’s factory. An odd partnership at first, we learn they’re not as different as it might seem.

Joel Harper-Jackson delivers some powerful vocals, particularly in his emotionally charged ‘Soul of a Man’. Charlie is conflicted throughout the show as his is torn between honoring the memory of his father, re-inventing the family business, pleasing his new friend Lola, as well as keeping his fiance Nicola happy. Harper-Jackson portrays Charlie’s enthusiasm and frustration well, ensuring he is likeable even during the moments when Charlie isn’t making the right choice. Paula Lane proves to be equally hilarious and endearing as gobby factory worker Lauren, especially during her solo ‘The History of Wrong Guys’. Callum Francis is mesmerising from start to finish, serving up sass with every line but not failing to show Lola’s vulnerability. Surrounded by his team of glamorous angels, Francis performs with fizzing energy and it is a joy to watch him on stage. Francis shines during the more emotional numbers, such as the stunning ‘Not my Father’s Son’, where he sings about his father’s struggle to accept him.

From Lola’s entrance during the earworm, ‘Land of Lola’ ,to the empowering final number ‘Raise you up’, each song will have you grooving in your seat. ‘Sex is the Heel’, sung with pure sexy sass from Francis, also boasts some highly impressive choreography on a set of conveyor belts.

But it’s not just about boots and glitter. This show carries an important message, which is sung in its final number – just be! Whether you like flats or heels, overalls or dresses, boys or girls – this is a show that tells its audience that it just doesn’t matter. ‘Just be who you want to be.’

Kinky Boots is a fun, glittering night out with a heart. Enough to warm up any December night.

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There’s almost too many fabulous attributes to Wicked that make it the success it is. Twelve years after opening in the West End, Wicked is coming to the end of its second UK tour, just opening in its penultimate venue at the Millenium Centre, Cardiff (which was suitably illuminated green for the event).

Amy Ross takes the lead as troubled green teen Elphaba, with Charli Baptie as her nemesis-come-best-friend Glinda. We witness Elphaba’s struggles and talents through university which eventually lead her to meet her idol, the Wizard of Oz. After discovering his disappointing lack of power and the corruption he has instigated within Oz, Elphaba is forced into hiding, triggering a chain of events that lead her to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West.

Ross gives a powerful performance as Elphaba, delivering the right amount of stubborn, angry and vulnerable that makes the role so iconic. ‘The Wizard and I’ is a highlight for Ross, and she gets to flex her belting vocals at several points throughout the show. Of course, ‘Defying  Gravity’ is another chilling moment which Ross performs with astonishing verve. It’s this mid-point where Wicked really grabs its audience and ends with the first act with sucker-punch dramatic spectacle. Ross portrays Elphaba’s downfall beautifully and her pre-melting goodbye to Glinda in the second act is emotionally charged.

We also learn the history of another famous figure of Oz, Glinda the Good. It’s intriguing to see Glinda’s manipulative and selfish side played out, as it can sometimes come across as over-exaggerated, played too much for the comedy and ‘silliness’ of Glinda. She works best when she is grounded, as she becomes a far more sinister, smiling enemy, one that we have all surely come across. Glinda is redeemed throughout the production as her love for Elphaba is genuine, but she allows her jealousy to cloud her intentions. What is intriguing about Wicked is it is not so much a clear-cut story of Good vs Evil, as is outlined in Baum’s original novel. Wicked blurs the lines between good and evil and shows the familiar characters as conflicted, mistake-making humans.

Aaron Sidwell gives a good performance as Fiyero, mixing privileged posh-boy with sensitive romantic. Kim Ismay cuts a formidable figure as Madame Morrible, and you can’t help but like Steven Pinder as the Wizard, despite all the double-handed treachery.

Wicked casts a dark and political shadow over the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz, twisting our pre-conceptions and challenging us to question our judgements. It does all this with a magnificent score and a generous splash of spectacle.

Image result for thick as thieves theatr clwydTwo people. One room. Just over an hours running time.

It was all quite simple. A minimal set, consisting of just a desk and chair, played in the round. But Thick as Thieves is evidence of just how powerful drama can be.

Within the short playing time, we meet Gail. Hard on her luck, fresh out of prison and desperate to get her kids back, Gail rocks up at old friends Karen’s office in need of her help. Karen is head of children’s services and, although Gail initially pretends it is a spontaneous visit, it quickly becomes very clear that she has a hidden agenda. The next hour is packed full of twists and turns and powerhouse performances from Polly Frame as Gail and Siwan Morris as Karen. Through echoing sound bites and moody instrumentals you are absorbed into Gail and Karen’s world and find it hard to pull yourself out even at the very end.

As Gail lets slip information that she knows Karen’s address, and subsequently has been visiting the school Karen’s daughters attend, we see a power struggle between the two, represented by a tilting performance platform, as secrets are unearthed, and Karen’s safe and secure world is rocked.

The opinions of the audience towards both characters change through the play, with the audience being asked to judge each woman, and then questions their judgement just a few minutes later. Karen appears to be ‘one of those mums’, (family car, baby yoga, hummus and carrot sticks), whilst Gail initially comes across as a selfish and unreliable mother. Our opinions are challenged at several points – are Gail’s actions as sinister as they first appear? Or is she acting in the interest of her own children?

It transpires the two share a traumatic past, with Karen particularly bearing the brunt of a careless and violent upbringing. Her story about her short career as a teacher is particularly chilling, as she describes teaching the children of life’s pain and injustice. The play raises interesting themes, such as motherhood and the lengths a parent will go to in order to satisfy their ‘addiction’ to their children.

By the end of the play, just when you think you have experienced every emotion, you are confronted with hope, as Karen’s covert helping of Gail is revealed and Gail remains determined to win back her children. Amongst the angst and darkness, it is refreshing to be left with a glimmer of hope that our characters can succeed in what they want, and move on from the trauma of the past. Siwan Morris and Polly Frame are electric, particularly during the more fraught moments.

Bleak, tense and chilling in parts, Thick as Thieves is a must-see.