Friday, 31 August 2012

Review: Soho Cinders, Soho Theatre

“It’s hard to tell the gay guys from the straight”

Technically speaking, Soho Cinders is a new musical. But given that some of the songs were first premiered at a Stiles + Drewe concert and subsequently released on CD and that the musical itself received a concert presentation late last year, it feels more like the return of an old friend. Though in the way that you can’t always control when friends come back into your life, this fable-like gay retelling of the Cinderella story was booked into the Soho Theatre in the middle of the summer.

Cinderella here is Robbie, a law student who works as an escort on the side and his Prince Charming is James Prince, a bisexual candidate in the London Mayoral race with whom he has been carrying out a clandestine affair. Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davis’ book retains much that will be recognised, like ugly stepsisters, but has also taken a bit of a spin on things, Buttons has become Velcro, the carriage becomes a Boris bike and the story has generally been modernised to cover the world of politics and sex scandals.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Re-review: The Last of the Haussmans, National Theatre

“Mystic, wonderful, amazing things are going to happen”

In what turned out to be a rather fortuitous piece of timing, my return visit to The Last of the Haussmans came at a point when I was beginning to think that I’d left my love of theatre back with a broken pair of flip-flops on holiday, so uninspiring have my last few trips to the theatre been. But this play blew me away back in June, I left the National Theatre via the bookshop to immediately pick up the playtext and already planning who I might invite on a return trip. And sure enough it did the job, a jolt of theatrical Prozac that more than lived up to my expectations and reconfirmed my belief that this is one of the most exciting new plays of the year.

I won’t say much here as it would just be a retread of my original review and to be frank, there are only so many ways that one can describe the eighth wonder of the world that is Helen McCrory. She is just so truthful an actress that her mere presence on the stage is just hypnotic, and her talent so great that it really does convince people (as it did again tonight) that she is corpsing in one particular scene here. I thought I’d spend a little less time watching her as I did first time round and concentrate more on the other actors, but it was not to be – every time I looked away from her I felt like I was missing out on something!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Review: The Illusion, Southwark Playhouse

“What in this world is real and not seeming?”

Featuring a new ensemble of RADA graduates alongside some more experienced hands, Southwark Playhouse’s latest main house show is a UK première of The Illusion. Adapted ( though most freely I am told) by Tony Kushner from the 1636 L’Illusion Comique by Pierre Cornielle, who was a contemporary (or thereabouts) of Molière and Racine, the play is constructed as a potentially deft piece of meta-theatre, passing comment on the extraordinary capacity that the theatre to create its own universe and the illusionary nature of the very same. Kushner weaves his own idiosyncratic verbosity around this tale, though the result is something of a curious mix.

Matters begin with the arrival of Pridamant at the grotto - Sarah Jane Prentice's design and Howard Hudson's lighting playing to the strengths of the railway arches - of noted magician Alcandre. He’s there to find out where Clindor, his estranged son is and Alcandre obliges, providing snippets of the last 15 years of his son’s life as he deals with a number of romantic entanglements and social adventures. But it is made clear that the scenes are all visions, the uncertainty of what we’re witnessing enhanced by the constant changing of the character’s names and we are joined with Pridamant in the journey of discovery to his son’s real fate.

Short Film Reviews #3

As predicted, more of the same - click on links to see first lot and second lot - there are just hundreds and hundreds of films out there! Keep sending me links though ;-)

Wednesday - Short Film from Rob Sorrenti on Vimeo.
I'm not one to understate things much, honest, but this is an utterly gorgeous piece of film. Conceived and created by Rob Sorrenti, it stretches over nearly 20 minutes to become an epic short but it is worth it as the story spans a couple of decades to look at fate, coincidences and the possibilities of soulmates. Sam and Lilya are born on the same day in the same hospital, but it isn't until 25 years later that their fates intertwine around the same location. Sinéad Matthews - an actress who is fast rising up my 'must see in everything' list - is heartrendingly sweet as Lilya, a warmly kind nurse, and Tom McClane's Sam, a trainee lawyer, expertly evokes the quiet damage of his emotional losses. But it is Ann Emery's Nan who steals the show, as she does with most shows she is in, with a beautiful performance. Production values are exceptional - though with Stephen Daldry on board, one would hope so! - and there's some lovely use of aerial shots of London that really elevate this into something special. The only minor criticism would be on the over-insistent soundtrack which is a little heavy-handed in places, though undeniably effective.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

DVD Review: Breaking the Mould - The Story of Penicillin

"Dirt is the enemy"

Breaking the Mould was a 2009 TV movie for BBC4, starring Denis Lawson and Dominic West, about the development of penicillin for use as a medicine. It occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality, in that it is based on real people and events but contains invented scenes "for the purposes of the narrative". Added to that is a rather tight timeframe of 80 minutes in which the story is told, which results in a rather lightweight affair, which is nonetheless intermittently entertaining. 

Starting in 1938, after beginning with one of those annoying flash-forwards to the end of the story, the film focuses on a group of scientists at the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, led by Australian Howard Florey. Aided by the German Ernst Chain and the English Norman Heatley, he was preoccupied creation of a stable form of penicillin that could be developed for medical use, following Fleming's initial discovery of its antibacterial properties. Against the antipathy of the scientific community and the hardship imposed by the declaration of WWII, their determination to succeed eventually led to one of the most significant discoveries of the century, although it doesn’t always necessarily feel like it here. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review: Barrow Hill, Finborough

“Maybe I'm meant t'stay 'ere. Maybe..."

Barrow Hill is Jane Wainwright’s debut play, set in her native Derbyshire. 86 year old Kath Bilby is determined to save her local Methodist Chapel from being converted into flats as her family ties to the place are numerous and considerable. But when she finds it is her own son Graham, seeing an opportunity to address financial difficulties, who has won the building contract, both mother and son are forced to deal with their divided allegiances in this delicately moving tale at the Finborough.

Wainwright presents the idea of family loyalty and community as a double-edged sword. The succour that Kath finds from the wealth of family history and intimate familiarity around her is contrasted with the stifled ambition of grand-daughter Alison, itching to explore life beyond Derbyshire though keenly aware of how tightly the family bonds are felt. There’s a subtle grace to much of the writing here, Janet Henfrey’s determined feistiness convinced of her path of action and filling the void in a life where so many of her friends have died, and Cath Whitefield’s brusque wit just about hiding the more sensitive soul longing to come out.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: Hysteria, Richmond Theatre

“This is a complete farce"

Terry Johnson’s 1993 play Hysteria garnered all sorts of awards for its original run at the Royal Court and this revival, from the Theatre Royal Bath, features Antony Sher in its leading role, so it is clearly a play that is held in some considerable regard. Set in the leafy Hampstead refuge where Sigmund Freud has sequestered himself as he battles cancer, his seclusion is interrupted by a series of visitors. Jessica, a mysterious young woman arrives, determined to have some of his time and seeking attention by stripping off her clothes, the subsequent arrivals of his elderly doctor Yahuda and then Salvador Dalí – Johnson was inspired by a real life meeting between the pair – leads to much slapstick comedy as Freud tries to hide the naked Jessica. But the real reasons for their visits are more serious and the play evolves into something much more complex. 
Structurally though, it poses challenges as the mix of high-concept verbosity and low-rent humour is not always a comfortable one. Jessica’s presence, which sparks off the chain of farcical shenanigans – which, if you find the sight of a man in his underpants generally hilarious, you might like –subsequently becomes the vehicle for the playwright’s delving into the much more cerebral. The ethics of psychotherapy are interrogated as Freud’s own case histories come under the microscope, matters of Jewish identity explored as the Blitz rains down outside and the spectre of the Holocaust looms ever large, but the farce still remains, an uneasy bedfellow in the superstructure of the play. The comedy never advances the action, in fact the reverse is true: the play essentially stops to let these scenes play out, resulting in a first half which is close to 90 minutes. They never feel like a fully incorporated part of the writing.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Review: Cornelius, Finborough

“So all the time, while you were pretending to work, you've been having the most astonishing adventures in that corner?"

Continuing their well-trodden path of delving into the dusty shelves of neglected British plays, the Finborough have come up trumps yet again with this neatly amusing and unpredictable little curiosity Cornelius. Written in 1935 by J.B. Priestley, especially for his friend Ralph Richardson, it was something of a flop and consequently remains little produced – this will be the first time in over 70 years that the play has been seen in London – but Sam Yates’ production flows with an undeniably persuasive energy to make this a revival worth paying attention to.

Set in the Holborn office of an aluminium import firm that is struggling to avoid bankruptcy, junior partner Jim Cornelius sets about trying to keep the creditors sweet and the office spirits from flagging, in the hope that salvation will come at the last minute from the firm’s senior partner. He suspects it is a vain hope though and as he swings from poignant reflections on lives that have been lived and exuberant positivity in the potential that still remains out there, a delicately touching portrayal of office life emerges which is hard to resist.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Re-review: London Road, National Theatre

"Begonias, and... petunias, and... um, impatiens and things"

Technically speaking this is a re-re-review of London Road, which has made a belated transfer from the Cottesloe to the considerably larger Olivier at the National Theatre, as it is the third time that I've seen it. I saw it when it first opened and was blown away by its inventiveness and genuine originality as a piece of musical theatre, and then made a return trip when the show extended its initial run, a visit which coincided with the summer riots here in the UK last year, a time which magnified one of the key messages of the show, of the importance of community. The decision to remount this award-winning and critically acclaimed show, even after a considerable gap of nearly a year, may have seemed like a no-brainer but for those who were able to catch it in the Cottesloe like me, I suspect there may be a little disappointment as something of the magic has been lost in the move.

A strong element to this could well be my own snobbery. As the ticket purchasing was up to someone for once, I ended up in the circle – for the first time in years! – and whilst it wasn’t as bad as I had first feared, the distance does make it a completely different theatrical experience. And ‘experience’ is the right word, for this is such a unique show in its hybrid of verbatim theatre, which replicates the speech patterns and intonations of interviewees, and freestyling atonal music, which forms an additional structure and texture as it layers, repeats and counterpoints the speech into something strangely hypnotic and beautiful.

Short film reviews #2

There are so many short films out there featuring so many actors that I like that I found it impossible choose my here's a second set for your delectations, there may well be more to come!

I do

The main reason I started looking at short films was after having been sent this little beauty which was a finalist in the 2010 Electric Shorts competition. It stars both Julian Ovenden and Aden Gillett so it should be clear why someone thought it relevant to my interests, but it is actually a really well put together little film by Duncan Cargill. It looks good, it is sexy and fresh and wittily clever all within less than three minutes. If you only watch one of these films, I'd make it this one!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse

“Just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean that he hasn’t feelings like the rest of us”

Instincts can be useful and they can also be really annoying, especially when you don’t follow them. After three weeks away from the theatre, most of which has been spent lying by a pool in the South-West of France, my first engagement back was at the Donmar Warehouse to see Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! As with most things at theatres such as these, I automatically book for everything as soon as it is released, sometimes it’s the only way to guarantee getting the cheap seats, and so there is rarely any sense of deciding whether I actually want to see something or not. And because it is then cheap, thus one can argue that it doesn’t really matter if I don’t like it – such excellent self-perpetuating logic is needed to ensure I keep getting up early to join the website-crashing scrum of first day booking. 

But my tolerance has lessened somewhat as I’m slowly weaning myself off my addiction to theatre (at least to a more manageable position…) and after having unpacked my holiday things and checked the calendar as to when I was next booked in anywhere, my heart was not particularly singing with joy at the prospect of seeing this play. I allowed myself to be persuaded that I needed to “get back on the horse” and that I was just suffering from post-holiday blues – my companion reckoned I wouldn’t have been enthused about any play that didn’t involve me sitting in a hot tub - but in all honesty, my overall impression of Philadelphia… was one of overwhelming ‘meh’. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Short film reviews #1

This post was originally meant to be the out-of-office message that went on here before I went on holiday, but time ran away from me as I left myself much too much to do and so it was left unfinished. But I liked it too much to abandon it completely, as my entrée into the world of watching short films was far too much fun to go unmarked. So here is a collection of short videos, many of them featuring familiar faces from the theatre, that should hopefully entertain you as much as they did I.

The Continuing and Lamentable Saga of the Suicide Brothers
The Suicide Brothers from Bridge Williams on Vimeo.
Written by, and starring, Tom Mison and Rupert Friend, The Continuing and Lamentable Saga of the Suicide Brothers is a quirky homage to the silent film era, directed by the Brownlee brothers (no, not those ones, these are called Arran and Corran). The boys play brothers, who as per the title, are determined to end their lives but are not having much success with it, as they are being watched over by a good fairy, who just happens to be Keira Knightley. It's silly and quirky and lots of fun, not least during the closing credits with a lovely bit of German slap dancing which ought to replace at least one of the post-show jigs at the Globe.