Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Film Review: Pride (2014)

“To find out you have a friend you never knew existed, well it’s the best feeling in the world”

I kind of knew that I would like the film Pride, I hoped that I would really like it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I loved it – the kind of joyous, timeless film-making that makes you want to trot tired old clichés like Great British Classics. But it’s true, it really is. And it is also factually true - based on the real story of an unlikely alliance between a group of gay activists from London and a small Welsh mining community in the heart of the 1984 strike.

Written by Stephen Beresford (whose The Last of the Haussmans probably ranks as one of my favourite new plays of recent years), there’s something just straight up lovely about the culture clash that emerges between the two groups, but also in the way that the assortment of odds and sods on both sides who are completely changed by the experience. I don’t think a coda has ever affected me quite so much in the revelation of finding out what actually happened to these people in real life. 

Review: Shoot, I Didn’t Mean That / The Last Days of Mankind, Tristan Bates

“I should have been drunk. That would have made sense. A drunk Brit abroad. But no, I wasn’t. I was sober…”

Much of the commemoration of the start of World War I that we have seen in British theatres has been from British writers so it is interesting to see that this double bill combines not only a classic piece of Austrian writing from the time but also a contemporary response to it as a result of a competition run by Time Zone Theatre and director Pamela Schermann. The result is a powerful look at the sad timelessness of global conflict that speaks as much to world affairs today as it does to the events of a century ago.

Catriona Kerridge’s Shoot, I Didn’t Mean That was the panel’s choice and has a raw energy that sprawls occasionally as its three disparate story threads wind their way across the stage. Over there a woman is locked in an Austrian prison, just here two girls are chattering away and in the middle another woman is trapped in a box reciting bland political statements. We gradually find out that none are quite as harmless as they seem, no matter how innocent their actual intentions may or may not be, and Kerridge perhaps underplays this notion.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Review: Next Fall, Southwark Playhouse

“I want you to love me more than you love Him”

Like the warmth of a hug you didn’t know you needed, the tender beauty of Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall creeps up on you gradually as an initially comic tone melts into something infinitely more moving. Though the play hooks on a dramatically convenient device to bring together a group of people, the way that it explores the various intersecting relationships between them all is a masterpiece of quietly compelling emotion and perfectly honed construction – one can well see why it was a much-nominated success during its 2010 Broadway run.

Adam and Luke have been together for several years now, navigating the twists and turns of their relationship like old pros, like Adam’s insecurities as he’s just that little bit older than Luke and Luke’s refusal to come out to his family back in Florida even though he’s out and proud in their pokey New York apartment. At the heart of that decision though is something more fundamentally serious – Luke’s devoutly Christian beliefs which fly right in the face of Adam’s atheism, an issue which is interrogated sensitively but deeply as Nauffts asks us what it really means to have faith as we flashback to key points in their time together. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

(Not really a) Review: Speed-The-Plow, Playhouse Theatre

“I think I’m being punished for my wickedness”

When did we become a society so keen on a hot mess? I’m as guilty as anyone for finding guilty pleasure in (some of) the car crashes that increasingly clutter our television screens and if I protest that it’s only really the likes of Greg(g) Wallace I want to see make a fool of themselves on the dancefloor, one can equally argue that that is just the thin end of the wedge. Lindsay Lohan found herself very much at the deep end when the announcement that she would be making her stage debut in David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow was first made, scepticism rather than enthusiasm being the prevailing tone, and the gleeful reports of a challenging first preview – which have been so incredibly widely reported (and again, I'm no innocent here) – would seem to indicate that many would like nothing more than to see her fall flat on her face. 

Whatever the perceived sins of a celebrity, it’s not a particularly good look on any of us, this baying for failure and so I thought I do my best to redress the balance a little. I caught the show on Saturday night (still in preview, opening night is this coming Thursday) to find that Richard Schiff was off sick and understudy Adam Morris would be playing Bobby Gould. Morris was impressively almost entirely off-book (he also performed the matinée that day) and it just goes to show the unpredictability of theatre work, something that any theatrical debutante would have to get used to, especially when a production is in such early days as these. That’s not to place anyone beyond reproach but merely a recognition that getting a play up and running with delayed starts, cast changes and all in the first week alone is no mean feat.

Review: Seminar, Hampstead Theatre

“Am I trying to construct a living breathing cosmos with language or am I just scratching on the wall of a cave?” 

Was there ever so suggestive an image as Roger Allam tossing paper into the air? Certainly not within a subset of my Twitter followers for a week or so when the publicity for Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar was released, marking the opening of the autumn season at the newly refurbished Hampstead Theatre (box office is on the left as you go in btw). Though sadly without beard, the prospect of seeing this most beloved of actors is always welcome, especially in as unfamiliar a milieu as modern American drama.

Four aspiring young novelists sign up to a writing group in New York which is led by the revered Leonard, once a celebrated novelist but now an editor and war chronicler, and through a series of classes, we see him ripping his new students to shreds in order to remake them into writers that might, just might, survive in the modern publishing world. Not everyone responds quite so well to this unorthodox approach however and their reactions and interactions mutate accordingly.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Review: James III - The True Mirror (plus overview of the trilogy), National Theatre

“Scotland herself doesn’t know what kind of nation she is half the time but I’ve learned that there’s no sense being frightened of what you don’t know”

If the world of James III - The True Mirror is what Scottish independence might have actually looked like, then I reckon the Yeses might have had it. Pithy remark aside, the costume work is spectacular here, conjuring up a modern classic look for the Scots that is to die for and which also serves as a visual cue into this production, the final of Rona Munro’s James Plays which abandons its medieval setting for this notional updating. Seeing it as the final part of the marathon trilogy day, it was a brilliant shift in tone and the pre-show entertainment (simply not to be missed) just adds to the sparkling invention as pop songs get the ceilidh treatment from Alasdair MacRae.

Though the play may be entitled James III, the reality is that this slice of the Stewart monarchy was indubitably shared with his wife Margaret of Denmark. The third king of his name was a capricious fellow indeed, the self-confessed “sparkle before the dark”, a rebellious dandy concerned far more with the trappings of monarchy than the minutiae of ruling, most amusingly evidenced by his procurement of a choir to accompany him at all times. By contrast, his pragmatic wife (“from a rational nation with reasonable people” lest you forget!) looks after the treasury, pets the furrowed brow of the privy council and generally rules the roost. Of course she does, she’s Sarah Lund!

Review: James II - Day of The Innocents, National Theatre


“You’re a great-great-great-grandson of the Bruce. Like me. You could be King.”



On first sight, it may seem that James II - Day of The Innocents is the weakest of The James Plays. On a personal note, it is blighted with blasted puppets which is rarely a good thing for me and more generally, the structure of the first half is more challenging than anything else across the trilogy. But on reflection and on reading the play, it isn’t that difficult to follow and across the broader sweep of the three dramas, there’s something admirable in the determination of writer Rona Munro and director Laurie Sansom to stamp a different identity on each one and ensure that whilst seeing them all would be great, it is far from necessary.


As with his father, assassinated by some disgruntled noblemen, the young James II finds himself a prisoner for much of his early life, this time held captive by Scotsmen though, who use the young monarch to legitimise their dominance of the privy council. Through a series of fever dreams, flashbacks are played out with nightmarish intensity by the puppets whilst concurrently we see their effects on a haunted young man. Much of the success of these scenes lies with the listeners – Blythe Duff’s imprisoned Isabella and Sarah Higgins’ compassionate Meg – who anchor the fantasia of this first half and gently hint at the forthcoming trials that James must face.

Review: James I - The Key Will Keep The Lock, National Theatre

“I am the King of Scots. In 18 years I never forgot that”

The first of The James Plays – a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre (of Great Britain) - James I - The Key Will Keep The Lock sets the tone for this Scottish history trilogy brilliantly. Rona Munro guides us in with the recognisable figure of Henry V of England but then unleashing upon us the little-known and little-explored early Stewart kings and the maelstrom of conflict that was the Scottish court.

The reason we meet Henry V (a wonderfully belligerent Jamie Sives) is that for 18 years he kept James Stewart a prisoner, humiliating him at every opportunity, and it is only after Henry’s death that James was able to negotiate a release to return to his own kingdom, albeit one that barely recognised or wanted him. From these inauspicious beginnings, we then see how he sets about ruling with an iron fist, finding that the only way to dominate the murderous noblemen is join right in the skulduggery.

Saturday afternoon music treats

Patti LuPone – Anything Goes
I got sucked into a LuPone YouTube spiral last week and this is one of my favourites that came out of that heady couple of hours – she is uh-mazing of course but the dancing is sensational too, (from 3.30)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Review: The Girl Who Looks Up At The Stars – Live Lunch at the Royal Court

“No one wants to be average”

The Royal Court has tried different ways of showcasing the work of the new writing talent that it so vitally nurtures and this autumn sees them try out Live Lunch, a set of six new plays – written from scratch over the summer - which fit into the lunch break (assuming you work nearby!) and to which the audience is invited to bring their own lunch. I brought a sandwich but wimped out of eating it and I’m glad I did because it meant I could focus entirely on the rather brilliant piece of writing that opened the season – Luke Barnes’ The Girl Who Looks Up At The Stars.

In the world of up-and-coming writers as they’re termed here, Barnes has already upped and come into the realm of ‘writers whose work I will definitely go and see’. His Bottleneck was a heartbreaking delight and the underdog charm of The Saints was a highlight of the summer for me, and there was no disappointment here with a tough but tender portrayal of a young woman struggling to hold onto her dreams in the drudgery of life in a depressed town in the north west of England.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review: Electra, Old Vic

“They took his life. They took MY life”

There’s something fiercely elemental about Kristin Scott Thomas’ extraordinary performance as Electra that makes it the perfect choice for the in-the-round setting that the Old Vic has wisely kept for a season of work. The sheer depth of feeling she generates like a vortex that sucks us all in, with her at its dark heart, hollowed out by grief and howling through the floor at Persephone to unleash the power of the underworld or perhaps just swallow her whole to release her from the torment of her existence.


Why so sad? Well, her father Agamemnon sacrificed her sister Iphigenia which annoyed her mother Clytemnestra (along with his schtupping Cassandra) who then murdered Agamemnon with her new lover (and his cousin) Aegisthus. Electra thus swore to avenge her father’s death, sending away her young brother Orestes to return when he was old to enough to fulfil the deed, and remaining rebelliously in court with her sister as an almost impossibly embittered soul.


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Review: Teh Internet is Serious Business, Royal Court


“Confused people may need some help”

I’m pretty sure that somebody has already reached this blog before by googling “sexy Peter Pan takes a load in the face” – such is the way that these search algorithms work (don’t talk to me about how my search results were skewed by seeing a play called Reclining N*de With Black St*ckings) – so there’s at least one person who will be inordinately excited by the anarchic spirit that rules the first half of Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, directed with some astonishing brio by Hamish Pirie.
A fictionalised story, albeit inspired by events that happened to the members of hacker groups like Lulzsec and Anonymous, the show’s real strength comes from the playfully imaginative ways in which the online world is represented. There’s not a screen or a graphic to be found anywhere; instead, the company take on multiple roles, playing websites, online avatars and memes as well as giving us glimpses of the IRL personae involved too, the real people in front of the computer screens.