Flare Path Review

Civic Theatre, Darlington – 12 April 2016

What R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End says about the First World War, Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path tries to say about the Second, as a fine new production at Darlington Civic  this week demonstrates.

Flare Path differs from Journey’s End, which was written some years after the conflict, in being a report direct from the heart of the war, its outcome still unclear in 1942, presented by Rattigan with all his experience of the grim realities of the times.

This play has the virtue of authenticity in that Rattigan, as a young air gunner, was clearly writing about a world he knew. His setting is a Lincolnshire hotel where RAF pilots and their crews hang out after their night time sorties over German territory. Part of the suspense depends on who will, or will not, return, after one particular raid.

Rattigan’s real concern, however, is with the battle between individual longings and the collective ethos. Peter Kyle (Lynden Edwards), a waning Hollywood star, turns up to reclaim his lost love, Patricia (Hedydd Dylan), now married to bomber pilot, Teddy (Daniel Fraser) for whom she has only polite regard. The moral dilemma lies in Patricia’s decision as to which of the two men needs her more.

Two other squadron wives are also spending the weekend at the hotel with their husbands: Claire Andreadis’ cheery down-to-earth West Country barmaid married to a Polish Count, and now Countess Skriczevinsky, or as she likes to pronounce it “Scratch-your bum-sky”; and despite catching the wrong bus launderette worker Polly Hughes’ Mrs Miller manages to find her way to visit tail gunner Sergeant Miller (Jamie Hogarth).

Leading actor Graham Seed, as Squadron leader Swanson bounces on stage like an exuberant child full of enthusiasm and vigour, William Reay as Polish Flying officer Count Skriczevinsky, amuses with his broken English, as does Audrey Palmer’s no-nonsense hotel landlady, Mrs Oakes.

Rattigan’s sentimental 1942 hit gives the audience an insight into the real-life emotions of a wartime bomber and the strain on the women they leave behind – Andreadis’ Countess, gives most resonance to this.

The production lays on impressive sound of the hefty old bombers taking off as if about to drop their deadly payload on a gawping audience by Dominic Bilkey

Hayley Grindle’s 1940’s hotel set is a joy of a design and the costumes exquisite.  The lights for the flare path and the explosions are fabulous but Alex Wardle and Paul Williams triumph with a sublimely beautiful coal fire, which appears to be lit throughout the play

The ending seems too upbeat to ring true but apparently Rattigan did not want his audiences to go home feeling depressed and the audience in Darlington were surely not so.

In Darlington until 16 April and on tour around the UK

Billy Elliot Review

REVIEW: BILLY ELLIOT (Sunderland Empire)

April 9, 2016 

For: West End Wilma 


Billy is coming home declares the publicity and what a triumphant home-coming it was. The theatre-goers at Sunderland Empire certainly thought so, rising as one to give a very much deserved standing ovation at the end.

Set in Easington, less than 10 miles away from the Empire and we were entertained by Easington Colliery Brass band as we entered the theatre, which was a nice touch.

As the theatre waited to judge the show, it wasn’t found wanting. The accents were authentically Durham (not Geordie), with not a consonant out of place or a vowel over elongated.

With Billy Elliot, dance is the thing. Adapted from the 2000 movie of the same name, the musical (two hours and 35 minutes with intermission) is the story of an aspiring dancer who also happens to be a motherless lad living with his father, brother and grandmother in a rough British coal-mining community.

It’s an especially tough time. As the play opens, the year is 1984, and the community is threatened by a battle of wills between the unionised miners and the intractable prime minister Margaret Thatcher, heard in vintage footage as the play begins. The first song, The Stars Look Down, is a shout-out to a not-dissimilar 1940 movie of the same name about a young man who attempts to break out of the mining community in which he was raised.

The role of Billy is shared between 4 exceptionally talented young men: Adam Abbou, Matthew Lyons, Lewis Smallman and Haydn May who performed for us on his 11th birthday. Billy is just a kid with extraordinary expressive potential, who may or may not make it as an adult, and that is exactly what this show delivers. The strength of the emotional connection flows to the rest of Billy’s family: his beloved but dotty gran (played by Andrea Miller) and his brother Tony (Scott Garnham). Garnham’s deeply wrenching performance made me believe for the first time that his character Tony was cut from the same cloth as young Billy. In other productions, he often seemed just angry, but in this he seems to be remembering his broken dreams. Billy’s gruff dad (a suitably marshmallow-centred Martin Walsh),  gives a sensitive and honest performance.

Annette McLaughlin is absolutely wonderful as the inspiring Mrs Wilkinson. She sings with a cabaret singer’s sexy, smoky voice, has a fantastic sense of humour and dances like a professional. She also gets one of the most moving moments of the play as this surrogate mother sings a duet with the ghostly real one, Nikki Gerrard.

Billy is hooked, although he worries that male dancers are deemed “poofs.” That anxiety is addressed in Billy’s subsequent encounter with his cross-dressing friend Michael (Henry Farmer, Elliot Stiff, Samuel Torpey all sharing the role) in the comic number Express Yourself (“Get some earrings, some mascara, heels and a fan/pretty soon you will start to feel a different man.”) Surreptitiously taking a few lessons from Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy proves to be a dancing prodigy. The teacher he believes he has what it takes to go to a professional ballet school in London.

That effort will require a radical change of attitude, not just from Billy’s macho family, but from an entire community seemingly built on a foundation of masculine bluster. With great comic interaction from Debbie, Mrs Wilkinson’s 10 year old daughter (Lily Cadwallender, Evie Martin and Italia Ross).

The interplay between ballet lessons and battles on picket lines is well done and gives the stage version a harder edge than the film. The first half is tremendous fun, assisted greatly by Sir Elton John’s music which is often anthemic and uplifting. Whilst the show seems to just be about an unlikely kid from an anti-arts environment trying to get into the Royal Ballet School it’s really about how artistic truth flows from deep within us and how a dancer dances because nothing else makes him or her feel the same way. And it’s about how as parent, one thing matters most of all: that you get behind your kids.

Yes, the language can be fruity and maybe more shocking when uttered by a 10 year old – but this is a wonderful show. It’s a living, breathing, feeling musical, one of the most political ever created for the theatrical stage.

A Flea In Her Ear Review

Tabard Theatre 29 March – 23 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Sacha Bush’s new translation of Feydeau’s classic farce is a whirlwind of madcap laughs and lunacy. The opening number – Flight of the Conchords “Foux du Fafa” meets Sondheim – sets the ludicrous tone for the evening and the wonderful nonsense that follows.

Parisian lady Raymonde thinks that her husband Victor is having an affair so, with the help of Lucienne, she sets up a honey trap to lure him to the Frisky Puss hotel and catch him in the act. Victor, however thinks that the letter must be for his friend Tournel and sends him instead. Doppelgangers, spinning beds and a hot headed Spanish husband combine to create a gloriously daft second act.

The fantastic cast are hysterical in their roles, Jamie Birkett is a very unsettling Dr Finache, and the moustache gimmick is a triumph. Rachel Dawson’s Lucienne is straight out of Chelsea and as Raymonde, Haley Catherine’s little tantrums are delightful. Dominic Brewer does befuddled brilliantly as Victor and Poche, Clark James’ Carlos is a superbly OTT Spanish stereotype, and Richard Watkins nearly dislocates his jaw as sweet Camille, and is wonderfully slimy as the hotelier dishing out cartoon beatings like the lovechild of Fawlty and Walliams.

The set and lighting design is cleverly cheesy, and fits the show perfectly. The use of lighting and music to highlight certain characters didn’t lose its novelty. The strobe lighting effects during the “action” sequences is great, adding a Keystone cops feel to the evening.

The pace of Alex Sutton’s production is frenetic and sometimes chaotic, with the cast sharing the roles of the remaining characters, depending on which major character is already on stage. The cast’s reactions to technical mishaps – flying moustaches, broken knobs and a jammed door – were brilliantly in character. Even after lots of drilling and banging in the interval, that door wouldn’t open! But the feeling that the production is teetering on the knife-edge of disaster just makes this show even funnier.

If you are looking for an evening of escapism and laughter, then this is the show for you.

Frank N. Furter/Jesus/David Bowie hybrid new rock musical at the Arts Theatre in May

Hannah Elsy Productions presents:

16 May – 28 May 2016, Above the Arts Theatre

The cult hit Edinburgh Fringe rock musical is reborn in London! This new, original musical by Henry Carpenter set tongues a-wagging at the Edinburgh Fringe 2015, and now runs Above the Arts Theatre this May.

“Frank N. Furter/Jesus/David Bowie hybrid new rock musical: what’s not to like?”  (The Play’s The Thing)

Keith and Nat’s relationship needs intensive care. So when they accidentally summon the supernatural therapist Quentin Dentin out of the radio, it seems like a dream come true. But the charming Mr Dentin’s mission of happiness has an altogether darker purpose… also, he just won’t stop singing.

★★★★ “A weird and wonderful show that keeps you guessing” (Arts Award Voice)

The Quentin Dentin Show is an “extraordinary and eccentric” (Broadway Baby) exploration of life, love and therapy, featuring a live rock band and a full chorus of fish, ‘friends’ and lemons.

Significantly reworked since last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the show is now in its seventh iteration after a residency at Rich Mix and research and development at the National Theatre Studio.

★★★★ “unique, startling and very funny (…) like nothing I’ve ever seen” (MusicalTalk.co.uk)

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea Review

Theatre N16 4 – 14 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

I fear I’ve become a jaded old lady.

When John Patrick Shanley wrote the play in the 1980s, this may well have been a hard hitting piece. But since then, every writer wanting to be taken seriously has churned out something about two “broken characters finding redemption in each other”. It may be that I have seen far too many of those plays and films, or watched an unhealthy amount of Jerry Springer whilst at uni, to see two Americans provoking, shouting at or fighting with each other and actually care about them.

Danny is a violent thug called the Beast by his workmates, who only finds peace when he’s beating the living daylights out of someone, and Roberta is a divorced mother living with her parents and hiding her “crime”. Neither thinks they deserve happiness or love, and then they spend the night together.

The Apache Dance sequence of violence and sex is interesting, but the most successful scenes show the fanciful couple planning their wedding. Shanley writes much better tender scenes than violence, and the cast excels in the moments of gentle sweetness. Danny’s outbursts are petulant and pathetic rather than intimidating, and become predictable, with each incident better signposted than most London roundabouts. Gareth O’Connor gives his all in the role, as does Megan Lloyd-Jones as Roberta, but the characters are written as if Shanley wanted to include as many audition pieces for young actors as he could in one play. It’s just too much self-absorbed angst that makes the characters irritating rather than sympathetic, and you switch off. I have been to this theatre many times, but this is the first time I have ended up counting the trains as they passed.


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Robert Hastie (photo by Richard Davenport) Lower ResSheffield Theatres today announces the appointment of Robert Hastie as the company’s new Artistic Director. Hastie takes up the position in July 2016, taking over from Daniel Evans who steps down as Artistic Director at the end of June to join Chichester Festival Theatre. This appointment sees Hastie return to Sheffield Theatres, where he began his professional theatre career as an actor in Edward Bond’s Lear in 2005.


Robert Hastie said today, “I am overjoyed to have been asked by the Board of Sheffield Theatres to be their next Artistic Director. The Crucible, the Lyceum and the Studio together constitute one of the finest theatre complexes in Britain. Their reputation has been strengthened under the inspired leadership of Daniel Evans and Dan Bates, as a destination for audiences from both near and far who come in search of brilliant theatre and have their hopes more than fulfilled.


“As a Yorkshireman, I am hugely looking forward to contributing to the cultural life of this great city. My first theatre job out of RADA was onstage at the Crucible, acting in a production of Edward Bond’sLear. It’s wonderful to be returning here as Artistic Director to lead such an exceptional team.  I could not be happier or prouder.”

Daniel Evans said today, “I’m truly delighted the board has appointed Rob as the next artistic director of Sheffield Theatres. It’s a glorious organisation with a glorious team, and knowing that I am leaving the company in Rob’s hands, means I know the company’s future at the forefront of UK theatre is assured. Sheffield has a tradition of actors turned directors at the helm – it’s a combination that I believe draws the best from people from across the company. Rob will be no exception, and I wish him every success as he begins his tenure.”


Chair of the Board Lord Bob Kerslake commented, “I am very happy to confirm that Rob Hastie will join Sheffield Theatres as our new Artistic Director. Rob’s talent, his passion for the organisation and his vision for the company’s work made him the perfect choice for the role. I am thrilled that he has agreed to join us as we embark on our next exciting chapter.”


Robert Hastie was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.


He most recently directed the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the inaugural production in Artistic Director Tamara Harvey’s first season at Theatr Clywd. He is Associate Director of the Donmar Warehouse, where his recent work includes acclaimed productions of My Night With Reg by Kevin Elyot (also West End – Hastie was nominated for Best Newcomer at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards; and the production was nominated for Best Revival at the Olivier Awards), and Splendour, by Abi Morgan. Hastie recently completed the first stage of the Donmar Warehouse’s ten year long My Mark project with Michelle Terry, undertaking and filming interviews in schools nationally to document the views of those eligible to vote for the first time in the 2025 general election. He will reunite with Terry later this year, when he directs her as the title role in Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.


His other directing credits include Carthage, Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun (Finborough Theatre), Sunburst (Holborn Grange Hotel), Sixty-Six Books: In The Land Of Uz, Middle Man, David and Goliath, Snow In Sheffield and A Lost Expression (Bush Theatre).


As an actor, his work included productions with the National Theatre, RSC, Chichester Festival  Theatre, Glasgow Citz, Cheek by Jowl, Frantic Assembly, Northampton Royal & Derngate, Headlong, Birmingham Rep, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Lyric Hammersmith, Derby Playhouse, Playful Productions, Liverpool Playhouse, as well as Sheffield Crucible.



Twitter: @crucibletheatre @SheffieldLyceum

Instagram: sheffieldtheatres


Cult rock musical heads to the King’s Head Theatre

Hannah Johnson Productions presents:

26 April – 21 May 2016, King’s Head Theatre

Fringe First Award-winning cult musical Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens returns to London in its 20th year, with original writer/curator Mike Fidler returning to direct the show!

“The Rocky Horror Show for the Millennium” The Daily Mail

In a seedy cabaret bar on the dark side of a distant planet, artistes are being picked off by a serial killer with a penchant for sequins… Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens is a truly immersive theatrical experience. The audience are the patrons of Saucy Jack’s bar, relaxing at tables, drinking and dancing while the show explodes around them.

Having delighted audiences around the world for over 20 years, including three West End runs, this award-winning musical is back in the capital with a transfer of its exuberant cyberpunk production fresh from the Edinburgh Festival. Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens lands at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington for four weeks of glitter-fueled fun from April 26th. Dust off your glitterboots, set your disco beams to stunning and join in with this all singing, all dancing, disco spectacular.

“THE party night out” The Guardian

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens was born at the Edinburgh Fringe as an alternative comedy musical in 1995. Created by an unlikely group of students, the show received the coveted Fringe First Award and has enjoyed widespread success across planet Earth ever since.

“A wild and whacky night of plasticky razzmatazz” Time Out

After a bombastic, exciting & innovative 45th year, the King’s Head continues its new artistic policy of being a crucible of new writing and critical rediscoveries, with the aim of being the best pub theatre in London. The King’s Head offers an unashamedly broad church of programming including theatre, musical theatre & opera, transfers to & from the biggest arts festivals in the world, & a trail-blazing policy of ethical employment on the fringe – if it’s on here, you won’t see it anywhere else.


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Hear the story of the Voice of the Valleys in TOM. A Story of Tom Jones. The Musical at the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 April.


TOM.  A Story of Tom Jones. The Musical.  Kit Orton %27Tom%27. Photo by Simon Gough (4)Step back in time to the dance halls, working men’s clubs and recording studios of the ‘60s where the legend of Tom Jones was born: a Valleys boy with a heart-stopping voice who dreamed of making the big time, no matter what it took.

This inspirational story of self-belief and determination is performed live on stage by a phenomenal cast of actors and musicians, celebrating an ordinary man with an extraordinary talent who became a superstar on a world stage.

Featuring hits of the era including ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘Lucille’, we track Tom’s climb to stardom. Ending with some the hits that made him one of the most charismatic stars of the day: ‘It’s Not Unusual’, ‘Delilah’, ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’, ‘What’s New Pussycat’ and more.

TOM. A Story of Tom Jones. The Musical is at the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 April.  Tickets can be purchased from Sheffield Theatres’ Box Office in-person, by phone on 0114 249 6000 or online at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk and are priced from £19.00 – £35.00 (a transaction fee of £1.50 (£1.00 online) applies to all bookings made at the Box Office, excluding cash).  Family tickets and discounts are available.




Artistic Directors of Paines Plough James Grieve and George Perrin today announced the company’s full Programme 2016.

James Grieve and George Perrin said today: “We’re raring to hit the road to the four corners of the UK with this cracking programme of new plays from some of the most exciting writers around. Roundabout will pop-up across the country with comedies from Luke Norris and Alan Harris, a superhero tale for children from Katie Douglas and a host of events from international visiting companies and local community groups, bringing a festival feel to every place it visits. We’re honoured to be working with talents as innovative as Sabrina Mahfouz – whose UK Garage musical is theatre you can rave to – and Tom Wells whose heart-warming new play will delight fans of his previous Paines Plough hit Jumpers For Goalposts. With Every Brilliant Thing returning to the UK after an international tour, London stories in Come To Where I’m From and new plays from Elinor Cook, Nathan Bryon, Lucy Gillespie, there’s a play for everyone, everywhere in Programme 2016.”

Paines Plough presents

2016 sees the return of Roundabout, Paines Plough’s award-winning portable in-the-round auditorium. The Roundabout season will preview from 19 – 24 July at Hackney Showroom in London before taking up residency once again at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 4 – 29 August.

In rep will be three World Premieres:

A Paines Plough, Sherman Cymru and Theatr Clwyd production
Love, Lies and Taxidermy
By Alan Harris

This is a boy meets girl story. Son of a Polish taxidermist meets daughter of a failing ice cream salesman. At a medical research facility in Merthyr Tydfil. First date in Tesco and things are going well.

But it’s difficult to fall in love when your parents need saving from themselves, their weird hobbies and the threat of a prison sentence.

An offbeat love story about Mr. Tutti Frutti, a stuffed owl and the struggle to fit in from writer Alan Harris (BBC Radio 4, National Theatre Wales, Sherman Cymru).

A Paines Plough production
By Luke Norris

“That? That’s. I mean.


It’s a lump in a bag of lumps.

I mean.

It’s normal.”

Tobes is young, free and having a ball. Off.

He’s successfully ignored his lump for two years but it’s starting to get in the way. Cramping his style and worse than that – affecting his sex life. So now there are pants to be dropped, and decisions to be made…  It’s a real ball ache.

Growth is a comedy about growing up and manning up from rising star Luke Norris (So Here We Are, Royal Exchange; Goodbye To All That, Royal Court).

A Paines Plough and Half Moon production
I Got Superpowers For My Birthday
By Katie Douglas

Ethan, William and Fiona are about as different as three almost-teens can be. The only thing they have in common is that tomorrow is their birthday. And they’ve just discovered they have superpowers.

Which is lucky because someone needs to protect the world from The Darkness. An evil overlord with plans to turn everything to ice.

Join our three heroes on an epic quest to save the planet in this brand new play for ages 7+ from award winning writer Katie Douglas.

Roundabout will again host a programme of visiting companies at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and on tour, and see the return of EARLIER / LATER, Paines Plough’s early morning and late night series of one-off shows, events, workshops and more.

Following the run in Hackney and Edinburgh, Roundabout will tour to Salford, Cornwall, Margate, Lincoln, Kendal, Barnsley, Stoke and Luton.


A Paines Plough and Live Theatre production
Broken Biscuits
By Tom Wells

In October 2016, Paines Plough and Live Theatre Newcastle will premiere Broken Biscuits a new production written by Tom Wells. The production is a very funny and heart-warming coming-of-age story about three teenagers who decide to form a band. The production will premiere at Live Theatre in Autumn 2016 before embarking on a UK tour. Full tour dates and casting forBroken Biscuits will be announced in due course.


A Paines Plough and Latitude Festival production
With A Little Bit of Luck
By Sabrina Mahufou 

Following the current UK tour Sabrina Mahufouz’s play-come-gig With A Little Bit of Luck will come to The Roundhouse from 14-18 June as part of The Last Word Festival. Originally commissioned for a festival audience, With A Little Bit Of Luck premiered to standing ovations at Latitude Festival in 2015. The production features Seroca Davis as Nadia alongside the vocal talents of Martyna Baker and musician Gabriel Benn, directed by Stef O’Driscoll.

Produced by Paines Plough and Latitude Festival, With A Little Bit of Luck is rhythmically underscored by a live mix of old school UK Garage as award-winning writer Sabrina Mahfouz explores the legacy of a cultural movement that defined the hopes of a generation.


A Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company production
Every Brilliant Thing
By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe

Following an international tour, the hugely acclaimed Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe will embark on its third nationwide tour in autumn 2016. A play about depression and the lengths we go to for those we love which has won plaudits around the world, Every Brilliant Thing will return to the UK in September visiting Maidstone, Alton, Worthing, Corsham, Aldershot, Preston, Berwick, Selby, Taunton, Isle of Wight, Dorchester, Chichester, Lincoln and Otley.


A Paines Plough and Tamasha production
Come To Where I’m From: London

Since 2010, Paines Plough’s nationwide project Come To Where I’m From has seen more than 100 playwrights across the UK perform pieces in and about the places which have shaped them. From 6 – 12 June Paines Plough will partner with new writing theatre company Tamasha to present Come To Where I’m From: London in which writers from across London will perform plays about their area in a series of live events across the city. The full programme of playwrights and participating venues will be announced in due course.

Homophobia in rugby is addressed in Odd Shaped Balls at the Old Red Lion

Plane Paper Theatre presents:

May 31st – June 25th 2016, Old Red Lion Theatre

“His name is Jimmy Hall. He plays with odd shaped balls. So put your bums against the wall, here comes Jimmy Hall…”

Rugby player James Hall has the world at his feet. But when his biggest secret is revealed, his whole life begins to crumble around him, and James must decide if he has the courage not only to be true to himself, but also to be a role model for others. Odd Shaped Balls is a funny and poignant one man show that raises awareness of issues surrounding homosexuality in sport and ultimately asks the question: how would you feel if your sexuality prevented you from playing the sport you loved?’

***** “a stunning play” (Broadway Baby)

Deciding the right time to come out can be a tough decision for anyone, but for those in the limelight in can be even more daunting. The decision can be entangled with fears of homophobic abuse and negative reactions from their teammates. In a recent study of over 9500 participants, only 1% of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual respondents felt they were fully accepted within sporting culture. Director Andrew Twyman says: “Odd Shaped Balls doesn’t just confront homophobia in sport, it stands up and shouts, lays bare every nuance of locker-room culture.” With the overwhelming support rugby star’s Sam Stanley and Keegan Hirst received when they came out last year, as well as the release of the Scottish LGBT Sports Charter last May, now has never been a better time for Odd Shaped Balls.

“a clever, thought provoking play superbly executed by this young, vibrant company” (Beverley Guardian)

Plane Paper Theatre is proud to transfer Odd Shaped Balls to the Old Red Lion after a successful run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015. Plane Paper Theatre is a young, vibrant company dedicated to creating a platform for emerging theatre makers to develop and produce original work that explores interesting questions and themes. They recently produced Don’t Smoke in Bed at the Finborough Theatre, and are Live Theatre’s Associate Artists for 2016.

“(Plane Paper) certainly deserve praise and it is easy to see why the play was chosen for programming now” (A Younger Theatre on Don’t Smoke in Bed)