Friday, 29 January 2016

A new audiobook adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses

"It's beyond my control"

Just a quick note to say that an original audio adaptation of the love letters of Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been released by Audible UK. Christopher Hampton's own adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel is currently running in a well-received production by Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse (here's my review), and this audio recording has been designed to complement that show. Directed and edited for audio by Zoé Ford, and translated by Jack Sain, this selection of letters featured within the original book sheds new intimate light onto the complex web of relationships in the play and best of all, it is free and downloadable from audible.co.uk/Donmar!

Review: BPolar, VAULT Festival

“This is no way to treat a king”

A fascinating one this, an adaptation of Gogol’s Diary of A Madman by the Israeli “Ayit” Ensemble (made up of actors from and around the Negev and Beer Sheva) which is performed wordlessly, employing instead a range of movement techniques, live video art and projections, a pulsing contemporary soundtrack and theatrical trickery to produce a dizzying non-stop hour of theatre.

BPolar follows the life of a minor civil servant, from his troubled upbringing with a violent father to a misguided obsession with his manager’s daughter, to a descent into the turmoil of the bipolar disorder that haunts him. And Yoav Michaeli’s production proves a canny way of depicting mental illness by creating an immersive experience that is near-overwhelming in its scope.

Review: PLAY, VAULT Festival

“I don’t even know what a colossus of the creative industries is”

PLAY is a new writing initiative that aims to inspire collaborative working by bringing together writers and directors and giving them two weeks to come up with a short play. And here at the VAULT Festival, there’s two sets of four plays, or PLAYs, bringing together a rather exciting set of creatives to produce some spankingly fresh theatre. The second set takes place mid-February but I’d urge you to book for this one now (you’ve got until Sunday) as I reckon it’s the best tenner you can spend this week, with some seriously impressive work going on here.

Play 9, written by Chloe Todd Fordham and directed by Polina Kalinina, felt like a bit of a riff on Shallow Grave, three university pals skirting around an uncomfortable truth about their (unseen) flatmate. Starting off with a well-choreographed sequence of fighting over a remote, Fordham’s writing quickly slipped into its structure of three differing accounts of what happened, slightly complementary, slightly contradictory, full of detail fleshing out the complex relationships herein, slowly but surely moving the place of real revelation. A couple of right-up-to-the-minute references perhaps overplayed their hand but I did mostly enjoy the shifty evasion of this guilty trio. 

Review: Gentle Tim, VAULT Festival

“I wanted to be with the animals”

There’s plenty of men looking for bears under the railway arches of Southwark for those of that particular persuasion but in Gentle Tim, it’s most definitely the more ursine types in play. Over The Limit’s inaugural London production, directed by Sinead O’Callaghan, takes its inspiration from the life of Timothy Treadwell, immortalised in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man but given a new treatment here by Joseph Cullen, who also plays Tim himself.

Treadwell was an American environmentalist, best known for spending 13 consecutive summers in Alaska with nothing but a video camera and the population of grizzly bears there for company. Cullen asks the question whether he was a genuinely well-intentioned documentary-maker or a fantasist suffering delusions of grandeur in the isolated Alaskan wilderness. Blending physical theatre, a score of cinematic scale and dramatic monologue, Gentle Tim looks anew at this fascinating figure.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Review: Escaped Alone, Royal Court

"I have to believe them
It has to be someone I believe
I have to believe they're not just saying it
I have to believe they know..."

After the divisive triptych of Here We Go, we now get a second brand new play from Caryl Churchill in the form of Escaped Alone. And rather brilliantly for a venue now unafraid to shake the rafters about received notions about women in theatre (and society) under Vicky Featherstone's leadership (cf this interview, outgoing play Linda), it stars four women of great experience, their combined acting on stage and screen adding up to over 170 years - a fact that shouldn't be remarkable in itself but sadly, still is. 

Trying to come up with a précis of 'what happens' is difficult at the best of times with Churchill's plays and Escaped Alone is no different. Suffice to say, Sally (Deborah Findlay), Lena (Kika Markham), and Vi (June Watson) play three friends enjoying a cup of tea in Miriam Buether's highly naturalistic back garden set when neighbour Mrs Jarrett (Linda Bassett) pops along to join them. What follows is a sharing of stories, personal and political, private revelations and public address. 

DVD Review: 45 Years

"You really believe you haven't been enough for me?
No. I think I was enough for you, I'm just not sure you do."

Andrew Haigh's last cinematic work Weekend is easily labelled a gay film, but truly at its heart is an aching love story in its infancy. And the same is true of 45 Years at the other end of the spectrum - a movie about old people but more than that, what happens to love in the course of a long relationship - in this case, a marriage of 45 years between Kate and Geoff Mercer. 

Adapted by Haigh from the short story In Another Country by David Constantine, the Mercers reside in placid retirement in the Norfolk they've always lived and worked in, plotting a big celebration for their 45th wedding anniversary. Their preparations are disrupted though when a letter arrives from Switzerland, notifying Geoff of the discovery of the body of Katya, his ex-girlfriend who fell into an Alpine crevasse 50 years ago. 

DVD Review: Love is Strange

“Sometimes when you live with people, you know them better than you care to”

The move to a more sensitive, nuanced portrayal of lives well-lived is none more evident than in the excellent Love is Strange. Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias' screenplay puts John Lithgow's Ben and Alfred Molina's George, a happy couple of nearly 40 years standing at the heart of its story and pleasingly lets them remain (relatively) happy. Instead, the trials in their life come from the fallout of finally deciding to tie the knot, it leading to one of them losing his job. 

Financially up against it, Ben and George find themselves having to sell their much-loved apartment in New York City and with limited options in a tough real estate market, end up living apart with friends and family as no-one has room for them both. Separated and going through a transitional time, it is the relationships of those with whom they're staying that get put under the microscope, particularly Ben's nephew and his family.

DVD Review: Last Chance Harvey

“Cantankerous I’ve never been”

Joel Hopkins’ The Love Punch was a film that worked far better than one might have expected, a lovely surprise in the cinema back in 2014, so I’ve been looking forward to catching up with his earlier 2008 movie Last Chance Harvey. And once again I was caught unawares, even as I knew that I would probably like it, I had no idea I would love it so completely.

Dustin Hoffman’s Harvey is a washed-up US jingle-writer, finding himself on the fringes of his daughter’s London wedding in place of a beloved stepfather; Emma Thompson’s Kate has found life has passed her by, still single and struggling with an overbearing mother. That the two will end up together somehow is never in doubt but the joy of Hopkins’ film is in making the journey so beautifully, emotionally real.

Cast of Last Chance Harvey continued

DVD Review: Late Bloomers

“Did you see how he combined misogyny with just blatant ageism"

A film that passed me by on its 2011 release (possibly as it’s a French film, though English-language), Julie Gavras’ Late Bloomers entertained me much more than the rather tepid critical response had led me to expect. I think this is mainly because the script, written by Gavras with Olivier Dazat, treats its protagonists Adam and Mary with equal importance.

Both heading into their sixties after thirty-odd years of marriage, a mid-to-late-life crisis hits the couple in different ways. He’s an architect who throws himself into working late nights with young associates rather than design retirement homes and feeling neglected, she focuses on her doctor’s advice to keep active after an incident of memory loss leaves her shaken. With three adult children watching haplessly, their parents’ different responses to the reality of ageing threatens to shatter all their worlds.

DVD Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The proof of our success is we're victims of it”

The news of a sequel to the better-than-I-thought-it-would-be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was received with something of a heavy heart, the automatic assumption being that it wouldn’t, couldn’t, match the success of the first film. But dangnabbit if ain’t actually, possibly, slightly better. Managing the not inconsiderable feat of reuniting the vast majority of the ensemble with writer Ol Parker and director John Madden, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel navigates many of the pitfalls of sequels to produce a story that is at times, deeply moving.

It manages this by emphasising its strengths in its stunning array of acting talent and really capitalising on the universe it built up. Though there are a couple of new faces (Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig), the film focuses on a genuine continuation of story and character. We return to the Indian city of Jaipur where Dev Patel’s Sonny and Maggie Smith’s Muriel’s retirement home is going great guns and they’re looking for finance for a new location, dependent on the results from an anonymous inspection (which is where Gere and Greig come in, thankfully briefly).

DVD Review: Le Week-end

"Once the kids have gone, what's left of us?"

Renewing the creative partnership between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (which has included The Buddha of Suburbia and The Mother), Le Week-End was released in 2013 to well-deserved, general acclaim. And it really is well-deserved, this is the third time I’ve seen the film and I still find myself hugely enamoured of its bittersweet portrait of a long-married couple trying to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris, with the emphasis very much on bitter.

We first meet Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) on the Eurostar, where we first see the niggling signs of discontentment, the tiny behavioural tics that in isolation seem manageable, but over a lifetime, build up to intolerable degrees. Meg’s frustration boils over with a snafu over Nick’s hotel booking and though they soon replace that establishment with a far fancier one they can ill afford, the scene is set for an excoriating examination into the state of their marriage. 

DVD Review: My Old Lady

"I do not see the wonder of you"

It doesn’t feel too much to ask for a film starring Dames Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas to be worthy of their talent but in My Old Lady, there’s a definite sense of squandering in the air. Written and directed by the American Israel Horovitz, and adapted from his own play, the film makes good use of its Paris location, deep in the Marais, but elsewhere lacks any real sense of justification.

Kevin Kline plays New Yorker Mathias, a recovering alcoholic and failed playwright who journeys to the French capital on learning his father has left him an apartment there in his will. The valuation of 12 million euros pleases him but the discovery of a sitting tenant in the form of Smith’s 92-year-old Mathilde does not. For his father bought the place as a viager, an archaic French legal curiosity that allows the previous owner to remain there ‘til they die, receiving a monthly stipend in lieu of the price of the house.

DVD Review: Ladies in Lavender

“He might like some of my bottled pears”

A world where the purchase of pilchards instead of coley is the height of excitement seems about right for Ladies in Lavender, the 2004 film written and directed by Charles Dance, from a short story by William J Locke. In a sleepy Cornish fishing village, sisters Janet and Ursula Widdington are living out their days in content co-habitation but the discovery of a shipwreck victim on the beach near their house rumples their quiet existence as they nurse the foreigner back to health.

It’s all very genteel and formally unexciting, the writing veers from soapy contrivances to unsatisfying denouements and it’s hard to get too excited about the film. Where Ladies in Lavender delivers in bucketloads is in casting Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as the sisters, allowing them to work wonders with the slightest of material. Smith’s forthright war widow and Dench’s more wistful spinster imbue their scenes with such aching grace, that you almost forgive the plotting. 

DVD Review: My House in Umbria

"There are, naturally, laughter lines"

As with Ladies in Lavender (which also starred Dame Maggie Smith), early 2000s film My House in Umbria has the distinct air of talcum powder about it, a fustiness that comes its uninspired and frankly tedious ‘niceness’. Richard Loncraine made this film for US cable channel HBO and so some of its overly manneredness could be forgiven as a sop to that market, but it doesn’t change how terribly dated it feels.

Based on a short story by William Trevor, Hugh Whitemore’s screenplay does little to inject any kind of life into the tale, happy instead to potter around lackadaisically. Smith plays Emily Delahunty, a writer of pulpy romance novels who has decamped to the Italian countryside with faithful pal Quinty (Timothy Spall). La bella vita is interrupted though when a bomb explodes on a train she’s on but after she escapes unscathed, she invites the rest of the survivors to recuperate at her villa. 

Gloria Onitiri and Anderson & Petty release Alzheimer’s Society charity single

"Just hold on to me"

Written by Anderson & Petty and sung by the lovely Gloria Onitiri (who you may have been lucky enough to see in The Bodyguard), 'Dignity' is a charity single which is being released today by Auburn Jam Records in support of The Alzheimer's Society. It's a stirring song, full of soulful simplicity and beautifully performed by Onitiri, exercising a gorgeously understated tone throughout. 

You can watch the official video for the track below and buy it from all major online stores including iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. 

All profits are going straight to the charity and a JustGiving page has been set up to allow people to donate above and beyond the purchase of the track as everyone involved is hoping that people will be inspired to give more to support the important work of The Alzheimer’s Society.

Review: Springtime for Henry (and Barbara), Wilton's Music Hall


“Nobody but nobody thought that putting the life of Henry Moore into a musical was a good idea” 

It’s a real shame that Springtime for Henry (and Barbara) only ran for three performances over two nights as I’d’ve recommended it to all and sundry, not least for capturing the spirit of exactly what Wilton’s Music Hall should be used for. A highly idiosyncratic piece, described as “a fictitious lost musical reconstructed in fragments”, it’s the continuation of a multi-phase project by artist Mel Brimfield and musician Gwyneth Herbert, interrogating the relationship between sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

This it does imaginatively in a number of ways: a mockumentary format (calling to mind nothing so much as the genius behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques) detailing decades of attempts to put this show on the stage, complete with abortive scores from Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber and a high cast turnover; repurposed archive footage; a chat show section interviewing the ‘director’; and an impressively wide-ranging set of musical numbers, referencing a equally wide set of influences. The cumulative effect was very much of a variety show and that just felt perfect in the atmospheric surroundings of this oldest surviving music hall in the world.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

TV Review: Crashing, Channel 4


“Someone needs an orgasm”

After the Olivier Award-nominated success of her solo show Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has now made the leap to the small screen with Crashing, a new six-part comedy which is airing on Channel 4. Reuniting her with frequent creative partner Vicky Jones, its set-up involves a group of youngish Londoners who have opted out of increasing rental rates and signed up as property guardians for a disused hospital in which they now reside. 

It's hard to judge a series on its first episode alone but it does feel that Crashing has a way to go if it is going to work effectively. The writing does feel rather derivative - I kept having flashbacks to The One, with its repeated fake-outs - and rather too determined to be bolshy and indeed banterish, instead of, well, funny. The jokes about tampons, lesbian porn et al try too hard, the will-they-won't-hey trope is deployed twice in this first episode alone, there's work to be done... 

Review: Pink Mist, Bush

“Who’s going to pick up the pieces? Not all the king’s horses that’s for sure”

From a well-received run at the Bristol Old Vic last year, Owen Sheers’ Pink Mist arrives at the Bush Theatre in a quiet storm of heartbreaking poetry and theatrical splendour. With little to look forward to in their downbeat Bristol lives, Arthur leads his pals Taff and Hads in following the maxim “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” and enlisting for the armed services. But much as the men who marched asleep in Wilfred Owen’s poem, this trio’s experience of warfare is a brutalising, dehumanising affair. “Who wants to play war” is the updated refrain for this generation.

Fittingly, Sheers’ play – originally written for radio – is as much dramatic poem as pure drama, a deeply lyrical response to the war on terror, to all wars in fact. These characters may be fictional but they’re based on extensive research by the writer and rooted deeply in their birthplace, hyperlocal references constantly reminding of the importance of home. And it’s not just their tale, the men leave behind a girlfriend, a wife and son, a mother to fight in Afghanistan and Pink Mist gives voice to their struggle too, to demonstrate how the ripples of war casualties echo far beyond the front line.

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover. 

Cast of Legend continued

DVD Review: The Falling

“What’s a man I’ve never met got to do with all of this?”

Having cast an eye over the reviews for Carol Morley’s The Falling, I was interested to see how well it has been received by real cinephiles, their writing suffused with cinematic references to the likes of Lucrecia Martel and Lucile Hadžihalilović, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wicker Man. I was interested because the film really turned me off, despite containing many things that I love – not least a cast with Monica Dolan and Maxine Peake and a score by Tracey Thorn, late of Everything But The Girl.

Set in 1969, The Falling concerns an outbreak of what we now call mass psychogenic illness, aka hysterical fainting at an English girls’ school. At the heart of it are best friends Lydia and Abbie, the latter’s exploration of her sexuality (namely by sleeping with the former’s brother) sparking an intensification of feeling which leads to tragedy. And as a result, an epidemic of fainting spells sweeps the school, affecting even staff, unleashing its own torrent of private truths about Lydia’s family circumstances.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Review: Yen, Royal Court

"Brother, I've come home"

Anna Jordan's Yen follows its fellow 2013 Bruntwood Prize-winner The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch in transferring from Manchester to London and given that In-Sook Chappell's P'yongyang was on the shortlist for the same year and is selling out the Finborough now, it's all rather a good showcase for this particular cohort of that playwriting competition.

The play is a taut, terrifying version of corrupted teenagerhood, not a million miles away from the world of Simon Stephens' Herons, just set on the other side of London in a council flat in Feltham. There, brothers 16-year-old Hench and 13-year-old Bobby have been left alone by their mother and become cut off from the world around them with no family, friends or school to distract them from a relentless diet of porn and computer games and just a single t-shirt to share.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Review: The Rolling Stone, Orange Tree

“Memories fade. Memories contort and change”

First seen last year at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse where it was partially cross-cast with a striking reinvention of Anna Karenina, Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone has kept on rolling down to Richmond where it has now opened at the Orange Tree. And at its helm, Ellen McDougall continues to prove herself one of the more exciting and inventive of a new generation of directors, with a simple but searing production. 

The title comes the name of a Kampala newspaper that outed gay Ugandans by publishing their names and addresses and calling for their execution and Urch examines its fallout in the micro-perspective, looking at how it played out for one family. Joe has just become pastor of an Anglican church, under the aegis of the manipulative Mama, but neither are aware that Joe’s younger brother Dembe is happily cavorting with a mixed-race doctor from Northern Ireland called Sam.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker


“Fear no more the frown o' the great"

You wait for a production of relatively little-performed Shakespeare play and then three come along in the same year. Melly Still is doing Cymbeline for the RSC in the summer, Emma Rice is reclaiming and renaming it Imogen for her inaugural season at the Globe and inside at the same venue, it is being performed as part of a run of the Bard’s late plays in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, directed by Sam Yates.

Ah yes, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I’ve not been much of a fan of this theatre, for purely practical reasons rather than artistic ones, but with this programming that has allowed me to tick off Pericles and see Rachael Stirling, Niamh Cusack and John Light onstage, I’ve succumbed to a rash of bookings. With that, I’ve opted to be brutally honest about the experiences as a paying customer.

Cast of Cymbeline continued

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Review Five Finger Exercise, Print Room

“She got all dressed up and went to a sexy club in Ipswich”

In the characterful, if chilly, auditorium of former cinema The Coronet, actor Jamie Glover has returned to the world of directing with this little-seen debut play from Peter Shaffer (he of Equus and Amadeus). Set in the 1950s, Five Finger Exercise follows the Harrington family as they retire to their Suffolk country cottage to try and ease their dysfunctional ways but the employment of a young German tutor shatters what uneasy peace existed as his interactions with each cause mayhem and meltdown.

In some ways it is quintessentially English, hints of Coward-like playfulness and Rattiganesque repression but as a programme note points out, Shaffer’s time in the US as a young man is just as much in evidence with the ferocity of the emotion that spills out here. Strapping and handsome Walter thinks he found the ideal family unit in which to seek refuge from his Nazi officer father but one by one, he releases something in each Harrington that simply won’t go back.

Review: Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

“I’ve got nothing to look forward to"

There’s something rather apt about members of the Bugsy Malone graduating onto other productions at the Lyric Hammersmith, emphasising the ensemble feel that has taken over the building under Sean Holmes’ stewardship. And in Max Gill (a sensational Fat Sam) and Sophia Decaro (the Tallulah I didn’t see), there’re two young talents deservedly getting the chance to explore a wider range of teenage experience in Holmes’ production of Simon Stephens’ 2001 play Herons.

A brutal look at teen violence and cycles of revenge, it’s a play that’s marked by a truly shocking scene of rape, the haunting sound of which is still echoing in my mind now. Set on the Limehouse Cut, a canal in London’s East End, the ugly desolation and desperation of this world is clear from the off, a world where 14 year old Billy spends his time hiding from bullies and fishing for whatever small fry he can. Though when he becomes the catch of the day, the extent of its viciousness is exposed.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Review: Private Lives, Churchill Bromley

“Don’t quibble, Sibyl”

Given that this touring production of Private Lives is going on for a couple of months and stretching from Glasgow to Torquay, it seems odd that they’ve decided to hold its press night so early, when the show is in distinct need of bedding in. As Elyot and Amanda, the warring ex-couple who end up in adjacent hotel rooms celebrating honeymoons with their new partners, Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers just haven’t got there yet.

In the singing, the dancing, the bantering, the fighting, they’re decent but not much more, fatally mismatched as Chambers’ easy geniality has none of the requisite bite to be the equal sparring partner that Laura Rogers’ expressively daring Amanda needs, and deserves. He makes little attempt to stamp character onto the lines, to make them funny for him, instead relying too much on the fact that they’re just funny on the page.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Introducing Tyrone - the truth-telling sock puppet -

Hand To God opens at the Vaudeville Theatre next month, hot from a Tony Award-nominated run on Broadway and there's a little hint of a teaser for you in this video, introducing Tyrone who is, as the title says, a truth-telling sock puppet.



Previews start on 5th February and booking runs until 11th June, Wednesday matinées are priced at a bargainous £25, and the cast includes the excellent Janie Dee, Jemima Rooper and Harry Melling. Also, h
ow could you not want to see a show directed by someone as stupendously named as Moritz von Stuelpnagel?! 

Monday, 18 January 2016

CD Review: To Do. To Be. - The Music of Tim Prottey-Jones

“What man could ask for more”

To Do. To Be. - The Music of Tim Prottey-Jones is Prottey-Jones’ third CD, an album collecting together music from a range of sources for which he has written – stage musicals After the Turn, Equally and The First Last Kiss, musical films Down Flew the Doves and Standing on the Edge and lastly one play with music Exes. And though he is a performer himself (currently to be found in Kinky Boots), he’s gone down the tried and tested route of going through his address book to get an impressive roster of talent to perform his songs.

So the album opens with Kinky co-star Amy Lennox’s sweet but determined ‘Have you ever?’, former Once colleagues Declan Bennett and Arthur Darvill rock out gently on ‘Kiss till you can’t kiss anymore’ and ‘Leaving for you’ respectively and from the same show, Zrinka Cvitešić gives a gorgeously tender vocal performance in ‘I for one’. That Prottey-Jones can write a decent song is in no doubt and in the case of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s ‘Nothing’ and Jacqueline Hughes’ ‘I’ll Be With You Always’, exciting musical theatre leaps from the speakers, the potential here is considerable. 

TV Review: The Rack Pack, BBC iPlayer

"Think of it as mental snooker"



For somebody whose exposure to snooker was mainly limited to BBC1’s Saturday night show Big Break (and how I loved the trick shots), you might not have expected a drama about snooker to be high on my list of things to watch. But I’m nothing if not tricksy and the announcement of a play about snooker in Sheffield, The Nap featuring a rare foray into theatre for Jack O’Connell, has left me wondering if indeed I really want to schlep up to South Yorkshire to sit through a play about a sport of which I know very little.


Plus The Rack Pack also has a Treadaway (Luke) in it, which always ranks highly in my book, and so I sat down to watch it, hoping that John Virgo might at least have a tiny cameo in it. Written by Mark Chappell, Alan Connor and Shaun Pye, the comedy drama focuses on the rivalry between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis during the 70s and 80s when televised snooker was becoming increasingly popular and so the game became more professional but also more commercialised, each man having their own role to play in this.



Review: The Long Road South, King’s Head

“I don’t drink…I imbibe

In the midst of the US Civil Rights Movement igniting, Paul Minx’s The Long Road South takes a micro-perspective on this momentous time, looking at the experience of a single family in the baking heat of an Indiana summer. Andre and his partner Grace have spent the summer working for the Price family but now the time to leave, and more importantly to get paid, has come, it’s proving a lot more difficult than anticipated.

Andre has been employed as a gardener and also to tutor the daughter of the family for a Bible-speaking contest but his religious resolve is being tested by the precocious Ivy, whose determination to ‘get her man’ proves to be the spark in a powder keg already full of simmering tensions. Jake Price is having trouble at work, his wife Carol Ann is lost in an alcoholic haze, Andre is desperate to be reunited with his institutionalised daughter Jule and his partner Grace is anxious to join the protests.

Review: Audra McDonald, Leicester Square Theatre

“Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy, too”


It’s hardly Audra McDonald’s fault that the audience for her long-awaited return to the London stage with these two concerts was so de trop but for me, the adulation was exactly that, too much. For the (relative) intimacy of the Leicester Square Theatre, for the cultivation of a cabaret atmosphere, for the genuine appreciation of this her performance here as opposed to the bottled-up idolisation for a body of work from over the ocean.

Which
 is not to say that the reputation isn’t well-deserved, not at all. A hugely accomplished actor and singer, her record six Tony Awards unprecedently span all four acting categories. And her choice of material here, along with MD Andy Einhorn, demonstrates a real commitment to American musical theatre, delving back into the classic songbook but showcasing newer composers too, never letting an opportunity to explore her social conscience slide. 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3

“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them, they went out and happened to things”

I came to Da Vinci's Demons late but I really enjoyed working my way through Series 1 and Series 2 of this historical fantasy in order to get up to speed for the arrival of the third series. This turned out to be a bit of a bittersweet exercise as the show was then cancelled and the decision made to release the final series in its entirety online. I reviewed the first two episodes here but it has taken me a while to get to watching the rest though sadly, it wasn't quite the swansong I'd hoped for.

Now thoroughly uprooted from Florence, the multitudinous locations of the many-stranded narrative leave Da Vinci's Demons flailing aimlessly a little too often, with a sense of confusion about where and when (and indeed why) things are happening and not enough of a grand design emerging, drawing the pieces together with increasing clarity. The most frustrating part of this is the prominence of the programme’s internal mythology, pitching the Sons of Mithras (now bad) against the Labyrinth (possibly good, I think).

Cast of Da Vinci's Demons Series 3 continued

DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn


“I thought you hated all that Royal Court stuff” 

I never quite got round to watching My Week With Marilyn when it was released in late 2011: it came out at a busy theatre time (as if there’s any other time for me) and clearly I wasn’t in a particularly cinematic frame of mind as this kind of film would normally be catnip to me with its combination of old-school Hollywood and a British thesp-heavy cast. So I’ve only just gotten round to watching it now and though it clearly contains a performance of exceptional grace and ingenuity in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was surprised at how lightweight the film was as a whole. 

Based on two books by Colin Clark, a young man so determined to make a career for himself in the film industry that he managed to wangle his first job as a production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring Lawrence Olivier. But working with such a megastar as Monroe does not prove easy: her personal demons constantly threaten to overwhelm her, exacerbating her already-troubled new third marriage to Arthur Miller, and her over-reliance on her acting coach causes much tension as she ends up delaying the making of the film time and time again. In the midst of all the chaos, she lights upon Clark, who is completely bewitched by his idol, as an emotional crutch and he ends up spending a week escorting her about and providing some light escapism from her life. 

Cast of My Week With Marilyn continued

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Review: in/out (a feeling), Hope

 “No sensation, just…feeling”

There’s nothing like live theatre. For all the benefits of increased access in filming shows (Gypsy on BBC4 over Christmas being a great example), nothing compares to the thrill of that unique communication between performer and audience, that which electrifies and enhances. And it’s something that is in plentiful supply at the Hope Theatre right now, in Andrew Maddock’s new play in/out (a feeling), directed by Niall Phillips for his Lonesome Schoolboy company.

Within the first five minutes, Alex Reynolds’ baleful stare as sex worker Blue had me utterly pinned me to my seat and wanting to apologise to her on behalf of all men, such is the raw intensity of both her performance and Maddock’s writing. Inspired in part by the extraordinary play Elegy and real-life testimony of women affected by trafficking, Blue’s account of how she has become entrapped and entwined in her situation simply burns with its quiet directness.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Review: Guys and Dolls, Savoy

“Let's keep the party polite"

In the absence of a long-runner, the Savoy Theatre has becoming something of a receiving house - Guys and Dolls has followed in the rapturously received Gypsy, both from Chichester, and the Menier's Funny Girl lies in wait in April. But what was interesting to see on my return to Guys and Dolls (after seeing its original run in Chichester the summer before last) is that one size does not fit all, the business of transferring isn’t quite as easy as all that. 

For where Gypsy seemed to gain in intensity in the confines of the proscenium arch, Guys and Dolls feels a little constrained by it. Maybe it's just the memory of Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright's explosive choreography on the openness of the thrust stage but it seemed to pop better there (he grumbled, from the rear stalls), it doesn’t benefit from the same width here at the Savoy and so some of the set pieces – as impressive as they remain – didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.

Cast of Guys and Dolls continued

Monday, 11 January 2016

Review: Richard III, New Diorama

“I am determined to prove a villain"

It’s nice to see The Faction switching things up a little. Their rep seasons at the New Diorama have considerably brightened up the last few Januaries with Shakespeare, Schiller and more but this year sees them drop the three play model for a single show in Richard III and expand their ensemble to 19 bodies, impressively increasing its diversity in age, colour and gender. The Faction’s playing style is stripped-back and largely prop-free, allowing a focus on physical expression to reinterpret the text.

It’s an approach that is suited to the black box of the New Diorama with its blood-red floor mat, Mark Leipacher’s production making varied and visceral use of bodies to form everything from the tower walls that imprison the young princes to the horse Richard rides into battle. And it’s clear that nothing is accidental here, every choice intelligently considered as seen in the bodies that make up the throne to which Gloucester finally accedes, being those of the four men he has most recently had killed.

Cast of Richard III continued

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Review: Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, Union


“Justice is what serves the Germans best” 

The title of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich might not seem like the most appealing at this time of the January blues but it is precisely this kind of complacency that Bertolt Brecht was cautioning against, and that Phil Willmott’s production for the Union Theatre highlights so effectively. Written by the playwright in 1938, this collection of inter-connected vignettes shows both remarkable insight into how prejudice and paranoia were manipulated to allow National Socialism to permeate all levels of German society, and an alarming prescience in how such behaviour might persist even today. 

So in a series of scenes that jolt from farcical comedy to the darkest drama to pointed symbolism, Brecht takes us on a journey though the rise of jackbooted thuggery, overt anti-Semitism and bigoted political rhetoric. And the way in which people are browbeaten into submission - from the factory workers coerced into participating in fawning propaganda broadcasts to the parents anxious not to show their injured son too much concern after his release from a concentration camp lest they be reported for fraternising with the enemy – demonstrates the difficulties in trying to resist such a sea change, no matter how much one might recognise that it is wrong.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Review: P’yongyang, Finborough

“Those stories…they’re not for us. Why dream about something that can’t be?”

You know how it is, you wait for a play about North Korea and two come along at once. But where Mia Ching’s You For Me For You used an absurdist approach to explore the impact of the Kim regime on individuals (and by extension, whole swathes of its population), In-Sook Chappell uses the frame of a classic thwarted love story, stretching over nearly three decades, to examine what life might be like in the harsh realities of the Communist state in P’yongyang.

When we first meet them, Anna Leong Brophy’s Yeon Eun Mi and Chris Lew Kum Hoi’s Park Chi Soo are schoolmates with a shared passion for cinema and soon enough, each other. They both dream of attending prestigious film classes in the capital P’yongyang but the revelation that Chi Soo’s father was born in the South demarcates him as lower-born in the strict rules of their society and thus their lives are set on radically different paths.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Review: Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse

“Those on the outside clamouring to get in, those on the inside dying to get out”

The story of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale was immortalised in a 1975 documentary called Grey Gardens. As part of the American aristocracy, insofar as their connections with the Kennedys (their niece/cousin Jackie would become Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), they held a certain fascination but the discovery that they were living together in squalor, their fortune squandered and their East Hampton mansion overrun with cats, made them appallingly compelling subjects and consequently elevated them to cult status.

That it took someone ‘til 2006 to turn it into a musical feels like a surprise, but Doug Wright’s book, Scott Frankel’s music and Michael Korie’s lyrics are more thoughtfully considered than one might expect – reflected in the success of its Tony-winning Broadway transfer from Off-Broadway – and so it’s only fitting that it is now added to director Thom Southerland’s roster of musical theatre hits at the Southwark Playhouse.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Review: DÓTTIR, Courtyard

“What did your father do?”

With a set-up that reads like a Shakespearean version of the Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman joke, Whit Hertford’s new play DÓTTIR takes an interesting spin through the Bard’s knotty relationship with gender. So Ophelia, Desdemona, Jessica, Cordelia, Lavinia, and Kate the Curst wake up in a room from which Miranda has just fled and the Jailer’s Daughter has just been placed. But it’s far from a joke, they’re all handcuffed and anonymised in monochrome utilitywear and balaclavas. And when a piercing siren sounds, we bear witness to the extent to which they fear their unseen captor.

One by one, they detail the faults ascribed to them in their respective plays (Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest and Two Noble Kinsmen, in case you weren’t sure), as told them by men. But Hertford then does is to delve deeper into each woman and her circumstances, building up backstory and fleshing out detail, giving each character their due. This is done to varying degrees of effectiveness but crucially, you come to realise the commonalities that Shakespeare gave them in their parental relations. 

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

2016 Vault Festival - tickets now on sale

(c) Will Hazell
Tickets are now on sale for the 2016 Vault Festival which is bringing together over 100 productions from across the widest possible spectrum of the arts. Running from 27th January until 6th March, there's six weeks of programming from family-friendly work to late-night parties, with comedy, cabaret, theatre and much more inbetween.

With seven custom-built theatre spaces operating for the entirety of the festival in the maze of vaults underneath Waterloo Station, there's a huge amount to choose from - you can explore the programme digitally here but as they remind you, most shows are only playing for one week so best not to delay booking if anything particularly takes your fancy

Monday, 4 January 2016

Review: Pericles, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Few love to hear the sins they love to act”

A New Year, a new chance for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a venue that critics love to describe as beautifully atmospheric because they’ve never had to sit anywhere apart from the good seats that press agents put them in. For it is a difficult theatre for the regular theatregoer – recreating as it does the candlelit ambience of a 17th century indoor playhouse, it also has that (possibly) Jacobean feature of premium seating at over £60 a pop. At the other end of the scale, £10 standing spots are available in the upper gallery but there, one has to deal with considerably restricted views. 

As a result, it’s thus been a theatre I’ve easily decided not to frequent that often – the levels of discomfort in the backless seats not endearing me much either – but the lure of the last Shakespeare play I’ve yet to see in Pericles and Rachael Stirling, John Light and Niamh Cusack in The Winter’s Tale has tempted me to bite the bullet. That said, I will be unflinchingly honest about the experiences, as it is a theatre where you want to be forearmed with as much knowledge as possible. For reference, I saw Pericles from standing spot D32 in the upper gallery. 

Cast of Pericles continued

Leading Man of the Year 2015

I do aim for a relatively professional standard on this blog but there comes a point in the year when you have to surrender to the pretty and once a year, we get a list of the leading men who have caught my attention one way or another.



And far be it from me to deny my readers as these posts habitually end up being among the most read - or looked at - of the year! Naughty  ;-)



                         


So without further ado, here we go!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The 2015 fosterIAN awards

Round-up of the 2015 fosterIANs

Best Actress in a Play

Lia Williams, Oresteia

Best Actress in a Musical
Natalie Dew, Bend It Like Beckham


Best Actor in a Play
John Heffernan, Oppenheimer


Best Actor in a Musical
Giles Terera, Pure Imagination

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Daisy Haggard, You For Me For You

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Emma Williams, Mrs Henderson Presents

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
John Simm, The Homecoming

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Emmanuel Kojo, Show Boat


And my top 10 plays of the year:

1 Eclipsed
2 Oresteia
3 Lela & Co.
4 Little Shop of Horrors
5 hang
6 Radiant Vermin
7 Plastic Figurines
8 Hangmen
9 Kinky Boots
10 The Effect