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. 

Cast of Pride continued



Cast of Pride continued



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

Re-review: As You Like It

I needed more confetti in my life…

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!

Cast of James III - The True Mirror continued



Review: Richard III, Trafalgar Studios

“Now is the winter of our discontent”

Like an addict that really should know better, I held out from seeing Richard III for the longest time, safe in the informed knowledge that I most probably wouldn’t like it. But sure enough when a ticket became available for the final matinée performance, off I obediently trotted to that most uncomfortable of theatres Trafalgar Studios for the latest instalment in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season. And guess what, I didn’t like it.

Clearly my opinions had already been shaped by friends and colleagues reassuring me it really wouldn’t be my cup of tea but the lure of a good cast is always strong and in some respects, this was true. Gina McKee’s defiant Queen Elizabeth, Jo Stone-Fewing’s oleaginous Buckingham, Maggie Steed’s mad Queen Margaret all emerge with credit but in the title role, Martin Freeman is much more of a debit, offering up a decent enough performance but one lacking any real gravitas.

Cast of Richard III continued



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.

Cast of James II - Day of The Innocents continued



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.

Cast of James I - The Key Will Keep The Lock continued




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: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola

“No-one has the ability to laugh at their misfortunes like the women of the East End”

I wish I liked Philip Ridley’s work more than I admire it. He has, as one of the characters here says “a remarkable way of looking at things” and his commitment to the uniqueness of his dramatic worldview is certainly impressive, it’s just that I don’t always find that I get it or that I even want to. Yet time and time again I go back to his plays as when it does work, it can have an enormous power (cf Mercury Fur). 

With the slow but steady establishment of his reputation, many of his earlier works have been popping up in recent years in new productions but it still surprising to learn that this is the first revival of Ghost from a Perfect Place which dates from 1994. Somehow pre-empting and thereby predicting the rise of girl power (think Spice Girls) and gangster loving (think Lock Stock…), it holds a real fascination, if not genuine feeling.

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.

Cast of Teh Internet is Serious Business ca continued



Review: The Dog, The Night And The Knife, Arcola

“Is that the…correct procedure”

If you like your plays with a beginning, a middle, an end and an easily definable narrative arc, then the work of German playwright Marius con Mayenburg is probably not for you. If however, you don’t mind a play that is utterly unafraid of inhabiting an obscure world and has no interest in providing any kind of traditional dramatic resolution, then the UK premiere of his 2008 play translated here by Maja Zade as The Dog, The Night And The Knife could well be up your straße.

Directed by Oliver Dawe, it is a brilliantly disconcerting piece of theatre that seems destined to be labelled “darkly comic” and/or “knotty” as the go-to phrases for this kind of work And it is work. Between them, Dawe and von Mayenburg cultivate an atmosphere of remarkable strangeness as a man, named simply M, wakes up in a world where much has changed. Normal rules of behaviour no longer apply and so he, and us the audience, needs to adapt to work out just what the hell is going on.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Review: Evita, Dominion


“The lady’s got potential” 

Right, first things first, Marti Pellow’s name is deliberately bigger than Madalena Alberto’s on the poster. Really? He may have the greater name recognition factor, indeed Popped In Souled Out was one of the first cassette albums I ever owned, but is the show called Che? It is not, it is called Evita. And more significantly, in the role of Eva Perón, Alberto delivers an utterly magnificent performance (one which should give Anna-Jane Casey pause for thought in the recently rewritten Forbidden Broadway, star quality indeed…) which far outshadows Pellow’s perfunctory work. Simply put, this is not a West End-standard leading man turn and so demanding higher billing than the show’s true star feels even more inexcusable.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show has been touring the country since May 2013 and has now turned up at the Dominion Theatre to finish its run with a seven week stint in the West End. It’s quite a successful transfer too – Matthew Wright’s design holds up well on the vast stage and directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright ensure a sense of grandeur infuses this story of the rise to power of Eva Perón under the auspices of her husband Juan who became the Argentine president. Creatively, the only disappointment comes in Bill Deamer’s choreography which lacks the organic Latin spirit that so elevated the last West End revival (the explosive power of that ‘Buenos Aires’ is one of my all-time favourite theatrical memories).

Cast of Evita continued



Review: As You Like It, Southwark Playhouse

“Ay sir, I have a pretty wit”

There’s a huge amount to enjoy in Derek Bond’s cheerful interpretation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, not least the multifarious showers of confetti from the sky, Audrey as you’ve never seen her before and a beautiful score by Jude Obermüller that is performed live onstage by the cast. Set loosely in the early part of the twentieth century and somewhere in the English countryside, this is a production to put a smile on the face of audiences of all ages at the Southwark Playhouse.

It takes a little while to get there though. The opening of the play grinds through the set-up of the key personnel – Duke Frederick has kicked out his brother Duke Senior and then latterly his niece Rosalind, Oliver has kicked out his brother Orlando who has the serious hots for Rosalind who is now disguised as a man, and everyone is roaming around the Forest of Arden. There’s something a little perfunctory about the way this first act plays out – the pieces are all there but they don’t quite click in the way they should yet.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time

“You don’t know what day it is today”

It's been a while since I've listened to any radio drama but the prospect of an all star cast doing JB Priestley's Time and the Conways was something I couldn't resist and under David Hunter's direction, it was a truly beautiful piece of work. The aching lyricism of the play and its innovative (extremely so for the time) non-linear structure have long been a favourite and so to see them get the luxury treatment here, headed up by Harriet Walter as Mrs Conway, is just fantastic. 

The play looks at the fortunes of the Conway family as they celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the daughters Kay in 1919 and then flicks forward 19 years where we see straightaway what has become of them. And as their lot mirrors that of the class system in Britain, it isn't a happy one. Walter's brittle blitheness as she tries to ignore the financial situation is blissful, Anna Madeley and Rupert Evans are just gorgeous as Alan and Kay - the two decent ones out of the whole bunch - and Colin Guthrie's piano adds an elegiac beauty. Sublime 

Review: Albion, Bush Theatre


“They killed your sister. They took over your karaoke night” 

Chris Thompson had a big success with his first play Carthage at the Finborough Theatre which was a… WHY WHY WHY DELILAH. And now his follow-up play Albion has opened at the Bush…. SWING IT SHAKE IT MOVE IT MAKE IT WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE. It’s a bit of a challenging work as it plays with traditional structure to incorporate the fine art of karaoke as a storytelling device…HERE COMES THE HOTSTEPPER, MURDERER…(well, sometimes, and then sometimes it is just karaoke)…NAA NANANANAA NANANANAA NANANAA NANANAA NANANANAAA into its tale of how an extremist right-wing group takes root in an East End boozer.

In an interview about the show, dramaturg Rob Drummer speaks of how “the rise of the far right needs to be understood now more than ever” but it is never abundantly clear how this chosen format is an appropriate or effective one to enable such understanding. As you can see from the opening paragraph, it can be a little disarming to have characters break out into song in the middle of conversations, especially when there is a tenuous link at best but more frustrating is the lack of consistency in the way in which music is used. The interpolation of ‘The Rose’ into a key scene is a genuinely moving moment and with its verses scattered through the company, ‘Seven Nation Army’ becomes a brutally effective rallying call.

Review: Happy Birthday Sunita, Watford Palace


Kicking off a substantial tour that will take in Delhi and Mumbai as well as numerous UK theatres, Harvey Virdi’s Happy Birthday Sunita opens at Watford Palace Theatre and ever curious, a cheeky trip to a Sunday matinée felt in order. This Rifco Arts production centres on a British Punjabi family as they gather to celebrate a surprise 40th birthday celebration for Sunita. All is going well but the birthday girl is nowhere to be seen… 

For as with any family, the Johals have their secrets and dramas and lifelong resentments and as the drinks starts to flow, truths start to spill out over the plates of curries and rotis. There’s a real sense of the family bond here though, no matter how strained it gets – in the blink of an eye, brother and sister go from bickering to bhangra dancing, the mother who makes sure all the cooking is done before unleashing her own shocking revelation. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review: Pedal Pusher, Theatre Delicatessen

“I’d forgotten how beautiful it was, riding a bicycle”

First performed in 2009, Theatre Delicatessen’s Pedal Pusher took a searing look at a crucial five year period in the Tour de France when a doping scandal threatened this most noble of events but the sport managed to find a saviour to take them into the brightest of futures – a cyclist by the name of Lance Armstrong… With subsequent real life proving to be more theatrical (or soap opera-like tbh) than anyone could ever have foreseen, the production has been “reworked and re-imagined” to more fully explore the lengths people will go to in order to succeed.

The focus falls on three cyclists who all had the potential to become legendary but ended up infamous due to their various demons. Marco Pantani suffered career-threatening injuries after being hit by a car, Jan Ullrich experienced crippling depression, Lance Armstrong battled pervasive testicular cancer and as we’ve come to see, all three used performance enhancing drugs to carve their niche in a sport riddled with the practice. Conceived and scripted by Roland Smith from a variety of found texts, it fashions a most compelling story that is gripping in its intensity.’ 

Saturday afternoon Evita treats

With Evita about to open once again in London, this edition of Saturday afternoon treats is a Perón spectacular.

First up is a collection of 'Don't Cry For Me's' - I love the newer versions of Madalena Alberto (the incumbent Eva) and Elena Roger which are more subtle (at least at first) interpretations but there's also something thrilling about the full-on diva mode it provokes in Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige and their wardrobes.

But then I delved a little deeper and was simply blown away by the clips of LuPone's performance in the first Broadway production so there's a hugely charming take on 'Buenos Aires' and a scorching version of 'A New Argentina' that is breathtaking. The stirring choreography of Elena Roger's own 'Buenos Aires' remains an absolute delight so I thought I'd stick that on the end too.



Thursday, 18 September 2014

Review: Macbeth, Tobacco Factory

“Full of sound and fury”

For those in the know, Filter’s reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s work can be an anarchic delight but for those coming to them for the first time, as I suspect a deal of this matinée audience for Macbeth might well have been, their approach can prove a little disarming. It does presuppose a solid working knowledge of the play and an affection for the anarchic working practices of the company comes in handy too as the sound desk once again becomes an additional member, working overtime to create the truly unique soundscape of this strangely enchanting world.

I’m going to hold off too much comment about the piece as it would appear to be a bit of a work-in-progress. This is cited as the premiere of the piece here in Bristol with a UK tour coming in the new year and one imagines that changes and development will occur, it does have a rawness to it albeit one that is most appealing. More significantly, it is brimming with huge invention – the witches are brilliantly, the way that dialogue is toyed with brings a new psychological depth to play and it feels utterly contemporary in its different attacks on the main characters.

DVD Review: What You Will


“It’s brilliant not to be me”


On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.


This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company - the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally.

Review: The Liberation of Colette Simple, Jacksons Lane

“Now concentrate, Colette”

Based on one of the numerous short plays that Tennessee Williams left behind (in this The Case of the Crushed Petunias), The Liberation of Colette Simple sees eight lyricists of different persuasions writing songs to French composer Vincent Guibert’s music to tell the story of small-businesswoman Colette. It’s an admirably ambitious project and one that is surprisingly successful as the varied writers have been given just enough leeway to stamp their own identity on their pieces but not so much that Guibert’s score can’t still unify them all.

Nathalie Carrington’s Colette is resigned to middle-American obscurity when one morning she awakes to find that the outside world has intruded into her shop and ruined her flowers. From then on, nothing’s quite the same for Colette as she has to deal with the trespasser, a policeman, a nosy neighbour and the furrowed brow (if they have them) of her pet canary – all played by Gary Tushaw in an excellently diverse range of styles. And with this rupture in her daily routine comes the question, will things go back to normal? Does she even want them to?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

TV Review: The Secrets 1 – The Dilemma

“I was wondering if you would help me to die”

It’s kind of an accepted truth now that if Olivia Colman has been cast in something, it is usually in order to win a Bafta for the unerringly heart-breaking way that she breaks a nation’s heart by crying. Whether her performance here in The Dilemma, the first instalment of The Secrets, wins another is for the future to know but be warned, it is an extremely compelling example of this truism.

The Secrets is a series of stand-alone dramas commissioned by the BBC and featuring four “upcoming” writers although in the case of this first one, Nick Payne could well be considered to already have upped and came in the world of theatre (Constellations being his most famous and awarded work). And it will come as little surprise to regular theatregoers that his first piece is a musing on mortality, following hard on the tear-soaked heels of The Art of Dying.


TV Review: The Secrets 2 – The Conversation

“He was mad and French and horny”

Part 2 of The Secrets failed to live up to Nick Payne’s opening salvo if I’m completely honest. Sarah Solemani’s The Conversation, in which she also stars, centres on a young couple on the eve of their wedding as an ill-advised secret sharing session opens up a whole can of worms as Charlotte’s revelation that she once had a threesome is blown out of the water by her discovery that Tom was once accused of rape.

That then sets Charlotte off on a spiral of reflection and recrimination as she throws her whole relationship under the spotlight, something aided by the late arrival of her sister who may or may not know more than she is letting on. Something just didn’t click for me in the way that Charlotte unravelled, Solemani bravely leaving the detail of her plot quite sketchy but consequently leaving her characters to make somewhat improbable leaps.

TV Review: The Secrets 3 – The Visitor

“…something inside of me, it’s just been missing”

Ben Ockrent’s contribution to The Secrets is the rather tender The Visitor, the third in the series, where Dean’s life in his adoptive home is rocked when a young woman tracks him down and claims to be his sister. The cosy domesticity of his middle-class existence is thus challenged by the revelations that spill from her mouth but is her desperation rooted in complete honesty or something more calculating. 

Ockrent explores the tension at the heart of Dean’s life beautifully, torn between the present and the past, questioning the strength of blood ties, and layering in the aspects of class and race that figure into the equation. Paige Meade’s Cassie is a Southend girl through and through and her rough edges clearly ruffle the liberal well-to-do consciences of Helen Baxendale and Anthony Flanagan’s parents Julie and Nigel. 

TV Review: The Secrets 4 – The Lie

“Are you in a relationship now?”

The Secrets now turns to Elinor Cook’s for The Lie as once again marriage falls under the scrutiny of our young writers. Here, Lexie’s domestic bliss is shattered when an inopportune phone call reveals that her husband is hiding something from her, a double life as she quickly finds out. And as with all such things, she visits the other woman’s house, who turns out to be a counsellor, and pretends to be a client in need of help.

Thus Lexie tries to explore what her husband has been up to and why, whilst not letting on to him that she knows, Joanne Froggatt’s brittle intensity perfect for the role as she comes up against the comparative glamour of Emilia Fox’s Zara. Their shared scenes are excellent and the hints of psychodrama that creep in here are amongst the story’s highlights. Ben Chaplin’s Philip isn’t quite the draw he needs to be though, the character never really suggesting adequate appeal.

TV Review: The Secrets 5 – The Return

“I’m trying to tell you something for your own good”

Last but by no means least in The Secrets is The Return, which sees Nick Payne return to the writing table along with Dominic Savage who masterminded the whole shebang as one of the executive producers and director of all five. In this case, matters of the heart were involved once again as Ray and Lorna struggle to tell Ray’s brother Anthony, who has just done time, that they are now together and engaged, the complicating factor being that Anthony was with Lorna before he went inside.

Once again, an impressively slow-burning atmosphere prevails as the secret is kept as long as it can be for fear of unleashing Anthony’s rage, Tosin Cole’s focused anger feels genuinely threatening, and the good intentions of the thoroughly decent Ray and Lorna shine through in Ashley Walters and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s performances – there’s no malice here, just an unfortunate turn of circumstance and the consequences of not facing an awkward truth. Simply but powerfully done.


Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles, New Wimbledon Studio

“I deal in ideals”

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D'Urbervilles may not seem like the first choice for a musical adaptation as Hardy subjects his literary heroine to several worlds of wrongdoing, mainly at the hands of men, so it is hardly a barrel of laughs. But it is (hopefully) well established now that musical theatre isn’t always just about jazz hands and writing and directing brothers Alex and Chris Loveless are exponents of this, a recent production of The Remains of the Day being a case in point and if this production may overemphasise the archetypal Hardy mood of relentless gloom, it is fitfully intriguing. 

The central relationships between Jessica Daley’s Tess and the men in her life, Martin Neely’s Alec D’Urberville and Nick Hayes’ Angel Clare are powerfully done and gripping as all three performers deliver the kind of tortured intensity of which Hardy would surely have approved. Daley brings a spritely spirit to Tess which acts as a useful balance to the misery around her and her emotional connection with Hayes’ romantic Angel is delightful to behold. 

Review: Eye of a Needle, Southwark Playhouse

“I am black, I am gay, do you think these people want me in their country?”

For all that it is one of the most provocative of hot-button topics, the workings of the current UK immigration system remains a mystery to many and so there is a fascination to Chris MacDonald’s debut play which if anywhere near the truth, indicates it must be one of the most harrowing places to work. Eye of the Needle shows us the world of an Immigration Detention Centre through the eyes of not-quite-a-newcomer Laurence, a junior caseworker struggling to keep himself detached from the work.

Initially, he’s more interested in funding a nightlife in Dalston’s finest watering holes, regularly rocking up to work with a hangover and barely stifling giggles as he asks gay asylum seekers the ridiculous requirement to provide some sort of proof of their sexuality. An early scene does find the humour here but the laughter is soon cut off as a big case lands on his desk, that of Ugandan gay rights activist Natale, and finally the gravity of his position within the UKBA, and the power he wields over the lives of his caseload, begins to sink in.

Web Sitcom Pilot Review: Queers

“Come to think of it, I’ve never actually played bingo”

A teaser of what might be to come, this five minute pilot is an entry into the Raindance Dailymotion Web Series Pilot Competition, in which the winning short will receive a full series. Created, written, directed and produced by Guido Lippe, it features the fortunes of an ailing gay bar – for which WestFive Bar in Ealing stands in excellently – as its owners look for ways to perk up business. The main point of interest for me was familiar faces Adam Lilley (The King’s Speech) and Simon Wegrzyn (Grimm’s Tales) as the squabbling couple at odds over what lengths they should go to save the bar and sure enough they make an endearing pair. Lippe’s writing has its funny moments and it would be interesting to see how it would develop without the constraints and pressures of the competitive pilot environment so have a watch of it below and just like with Scottish independence (or otherwise) if you like it, vote for it! 

 

Short Film Review #50

Passenger from HMT Productions on Vimeo.
Aaaarrgghhh – proof positive as if it were ever needed that you shouldn’t ever talk to strangers on the tube. Ed Rigg’s Passenger follows a couple at the end of a long day as they catch the Victoria Line up to Walthamstow Central and make the fatal mistake of making eye contact with the guy sitting opposite after a mildly amusing episode. Sara Vickers and Mark Quartley do a great job at capturing the helpless awkwardness of the situation but Samuel Edward-Cook really excels as the ex-serviceman who won’t leave them alone, invading their headspace as well as their personal space as the encounter becomes more and more chilling. Great work. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review: Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, Tabard

“Do I sense a wider deeper sense of wonder and mayhem?”

I have a great sense of affection for Will Eno’s Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions for a previous production at the Soho Theatre introduced me to the glorious talents of Lucy Ellinson. So this production at the Tabard Theatre, the debut show for the End of Moving Walkway company, was something I was keen to fit into the diary, not least because director Paul Lichtenstern has flipped the script in terms of casting a company of nine rather than having three actors covering multiple roles.


It’s a collection of five short plays that at their simplest, touch on the randomness and ordinariness of life and all its ups and downs. Connected by a (scarcely needed) directorial innovation that sees the action play out in Andy Edwards’ photography studio-like set design, Eno’s writing revels in dense wordplay as many of his characters struggle to deal with the situations in which they find themselves – a demanding press conference, the aftermath of a plane crash, emotional crises – and the cumulative effect can occasionally become a little wearing.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange

“What a piece of work is a man”

The political may be largely subsumed into the personal here but rarely has Hamlet felt so universal. Sarah Frankcom’s stated aim was to create “a Hamlet for now, a Hamlet for Manchester” and in the casting of the towering thespian might of Maxine Peake, it is not hard to feel that she has succeeded. Court scenes are played out around the dinner table, affairs of the state dealt with in business meetings, but all serve to intensify the pained intimacy of a family gone wrong, the suffering of people trapped in a dark world of pain at the heart of which lies this tortured sweet prince. 

Dressed in a dark blue Chairman Mao suit (a neat nod to the politics of a determined contrarian) with hair cropped and shaved, Peake’s androgyne is a mesmeric figure from start to finish. The intelligence that sparkles from that voice, the openness that is commanded from that unflinching stare, it is nigh on impossible not to get swept away in the beauty of the performance. It remains at all times deeply humane too – this is a Hamlet who is really teetering on the brink as we see in the shaking hand that cannot pull the trigger, the vocal tremors throughout, the quivering lip at the news of Yorick, .

Cast of Hamlet continued



Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: Ballyturk, National Theatre

“It feels like we might be less than we were in a place we don’t know now”

Set in “no time, no place”, with characters merely named 1,2, and 3, and doing marvellous things with yellow jumpers, talc, 7 inch records and a pile of chocolate bourbons and pink wafers, you’ll understand that Ballyturk really is the type of show you need to see to truly understand. Enda Walsh directs his own play fresh from premiering it in Galway this summer and it is a breathless delight, although through the piercing humour, one catches glimpses of an absolute bleakness.

I could talk about Kate Prince’s energetic choreography which calls to mind a hyped-up Morecambe and Wise, or the endless surprises hidden in Jamie Vartan’s design which capitalises on the height and depth of the Lyttelton Theatre, the powerfully evocative compositions from Teho Teardo which combines 80s delights like ABC and Yazoo with moodier self-penned work and the extraordinary textures of Helen Atkinson’s sound design which brings the town of Ballyturk to life.

Saturday afternoon music treats

A rather diverse mix this week

Glenn Close + Jonathan Groff – Oh False One! (from The Pirates of Penzance)


The Magician ft Years and Years - Sunlight


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Review: Reptember – Triple Bill B, New Diorama


“I can highly recommend the apricots” 

And so to complete the set of triple bills at the New Diorama, Programme B of The Faction’s Reptember saw my third trip in quick succession to this most friendly of theatres, tucked away near Warren Street station and possessing some of the loveliest people working there. My mood was further enhanced by this proving to be my favourite of the three shows, demonstrating the greatest variety of style and mood in the solo performances that have made up this rep season. Programme A was also strong and if Programme C wasn’t quite my cup of tea, any issues I felt it had were more than compensated for here. 

First up is Lachlan McCall in The Man With The Flower In His Mouth written by Pirandello and adapted and directed here by Faction AD Mark Leipacher. McCall is the perfect choice from the ensemble for this ruminative piece, his ruffled everyman demeanour suits the gentle rhythm of this late night interaction between his character and a man who’s missed the last train. The role of the other guy is taken by a video camera into which McCall speaks, the image being projected onto the back wall thereby co-opting us all into the reveal of the depths of his melancholy soul. It’s subtle but becomes most moving. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Reptember – Triple Bill C, New Diorama

“You would like to hear that one wouldn’t you”

A second trip this week to Reptember at the New Diorama saw me take in another of The Faction’s triple bills after a strong start with programme A. For me though, programme C didn’t quite hit the same mark with its collection of solo performances. Whether connected or not, these were all new pieces for me so I wonder if that lack of familiarity played into my mindset. Additionally, it didn’t feel like there was quite as much directorial innovation at play here, previous work from The Faction having raised the bar in terms of expectation.

So with Aeschylus‘ Prometheus in a new version by Will Gore, director Rachel Valentine Smith has Faction AD Mark Leipacher up a stepladder, bound there by the dark deeds and secrets of his past but though it makes for an arresting initial image, the static nature it enforces on the piece leaves it feeling a little flat. Like with Borkmann, adapted by Leipacher from Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman, Alexander Guiney’s self-flagellating banker never managed to capture my imagination as he addresses the empty chairs that represents the family he’s let down.

Short film Review #49

This Way Up from Shoot Productions on Vimeo.
All you really need to know about this is that it has Lucy Ellinson in it. And a cute little tyke. Aw.

Review: True West, Tricycle

“I love the smell of toast. It makes me feel like anything is possible. Like a beginning”

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays of the last century has actually proved to be quite useful in ensuring a wider variety in my theatregoing than might otherwise have taken place. With a trusty partner in crime who’s equally determined to tick off the whole list, I’ve seen a few things now that I wouldn’t necessarily have gone to – the notion of a ‘classic’ play isn’t necessarily something that appeals to me in and of itself, I want to be able to make up my own mind thank you very much. But this is a list that knows of what it speaks and this week it sent me to the Tricycle to see Sam Shepard’s 1980 play True West.

And sho’nuff, it’s a stone cold classic. This production premiered at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow last year and whilst it may have taken a while to transfer to London, we should be grateful indeed that it has for Phillip Breen marshals some extraordinary stage work by Eugene O’Hare and Alex Ferns as a pair of dichotomous brothers who represent the split in America itself. The well-put-together Austin is a family man who is an aspiring screenwriter on the cusp of a breakthrough deal in Hollywood, whilst Lee is an altogether more primal spirit, a drifter and a petty thief more at home in the Mojave Desert. When they meet for the first time in five years whilst house-sitting for their ma, sparks inevitably fly.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: Some Girl I Used To Know, Arts

“Give me time to realise my crime”

Sometimes you can step around the difficult bits of a show to appreciate what works, give it the benefit of the doubt if you like, but Denise Van Outen’s one-woman show Some Girl I Used To Know left me so frustrated, annoyed even, that any sense of benevolence has gone right out of the window. Van Outen is a talented performer – I enjoyed her Tell Me On A Sunday though the less said about Rent Remixed the better for everyone concerned – but it is hard to see what she’s really trying to achieve here with this self-penned show (co-written with Terry Ronald) which arrived at the Arts Theatre after a UK tour.

On the one hand, there’s a tiresome, paper-thin monologue about a successful businesswoman who is thrown into a tailspin when a Facebook poke from her first love makes her realise just how unhappy she is in her relationship. And on the other there’s an 80s/early 90s jukebox show which revisits her formative years in Essex. For me though, neither one works satisfactorily. The book focuses on comedy of the lowest crudest denominator (of course she’s a lingerie designer) and none of the three characters are ever allowed to develop to the point where any of them might seem like vaguely realistic people who could ever be in a relationship.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Review: The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre

“War is hell
Why rebel
You can’t change things on your own”

There’s something simply exquisite about The Return of the Soldier, an intimate chamber musical tucked away into the Jermyn Street Theatre that might just be one of the best things I’ve seen this year. Granted, it may contain a checklist of some of my favourite things – the experience of women in wartime, a score for piano and cello, Laura Pitt-Pulford – but they combine into something above and beyond, a powerful meditation on the psychological effects of war on those not at the front, a valuable reminder in a year that commemorates the start of the First World War that the impact of war ripples through all levels of society.

Tim Sanders’ book adapts Rebecca West’s novel from 1918, a piece of literature that emerged directly from the author’s experience during wartime, to give us characters – but particularly women – with rich emotional lives. Captain Christopher Baldry has returned from the frontline with shellshock and instead of falling into the arms of his upper-class wife Kitty, his memory has obliterated her and so it is the earthier charms of early love Margaret that he craves. She’s stuck in an unfulfilling marriage herself so is faced with conflict when asked to help cure his amnesia, knowing full well that to do so will end her nostalgic fling.