Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Review: Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter Theatre

To the tune of 'Waterloo Sunset'

"First on in Hampstead, now Harold Pinter, this is a musical
‘Bout how The Kinks did, become a huge band, back catalogue got full
So a show, it got wrote
Joe Penhall’s book and, Ray Davies’ music, tell us their ups and downs
Brothers Ray and Dave and their friends Mick and Pete, oh
They really, really wrote some good music though, lots of it sounds the same

Stalls in the theatre, have regular seating, apart from front and rear
Where seats are nailed down, round cabaret tables, chairs that don’t move are weird
But the show, it is strong
Three hours fly by, telling the story, most entertainingly
John Dagleish is good as Ray, George Maguire’s Dave too
But really, really Ed Hall’s cast is all fine, Dominic Tighe is mine

Went with my friend Chris, liked it but I wish, I could have brought my dad
Music is more of, his generation, would have made him feel glad
But I will, see him soon
And maybe I’ll take him, one day to this show, it’s bound to run and run

Sunny Afternoon’s fine."



Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May
Photo: Kevin Cummins
NB: in all seriousness it is most enjoyable, even for someone who still can only really recognise 4 songs by The Kinks even though this is the second time I've seen the show. The accapella rendition of 'Days' is a spellbinding moment (pictured below) and I suppose it would have been nice to have had a little more of that musical invention though I'm just being extremely picky now. The soundtrack has been recorded by the cast and is available to buy here, feel free to buy me a copy ;-)  





Blogged: Stars in my eyes

I’m going to New York and this time, nobody’s gonna stop me… At the third time of trying (after traumatic passport lost and a wedding cancellation (someone else’s I should add), I will finally be making my way over to the Great White Way over New Year and though it will be my first trip there, I’m thinking I’m pretty much going to spend most of it in the theatre (where else!). I can do the touristy stuff next time because at the moment I’m just dazzled by the opportunities to see some proper famous people on the stage, shallow fame whore that I have turned out to be.

But even then, the people who I’m most excited about aren’t necessarily the ones you might expect – Bradley Cooper is headlining The Elephant Man but it’s Patricia Clarkson who’s most exciting me in that cast, Ewan McGregor may be the biggest name in Stoppard’s The Real Thing but it’s the opportunity to see Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon that is getting me there and if Hugh Jackman is the main draw in The River, it’s the unexpected appearance of our very own Cush Jumbo that is most intriguing. That said, there’s no point in me pretending that I’m more excited about Ruth Wilson than Jake Gyllenhaal in Nick Payne’s extraordinary Constellations – we’ll call it the most high-scoring draw ever. 

Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux

“What can ordinary people do?” 

Based on The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang and mixing in texts from numerous other writers, Daniel York’s The Orphan of Zhao Redux is a most enchanting thing indeed. The play is perhaps sadly most notorious, in recent years at least, for being at the centre of a controversy when the RSC cast just three East Asian actors in minor roles (out of seventeen in total) in what has been known as the Chinese Hamlet, such is the piece’s significance. But York fully wrests ownership away from such unsavouriness to produce a gorgeous eight minute short that is a brilliant showcase for what might have been.

The film features fourteen leading lights of the British East Asian acting scene, the narrative scattered between them all and the text reshaped into something of a poem as just as much feeling as storytelling emerges through the individual lines. Ikin Yum’s stunning monochrome cinematography has been astutely edited by Andrew Koji and the beautifully evocative music underscores the whole affair with just the right level of intrigue and emotion. Not knowing the play didn’t matter a jot, the film stirs something elemental – especially in its haunting final minute – and had me thoroughly hooked from the start.

Short Film Review: Out of Darkness

"I have hundreds of souls dancing inside of me." 

It's hard to explain just how devastatingly moving Out of Darkness is. Written and directed by Manjinder Virk, it sees 9 people tell a story - the same story or maybe their own - the narrative is fragmented and shared by all. Ostensibly it is the same story, the varied experiences of death that an aid worker has gone through, but in the hands of this company, it is enriched, enhanced, expanded so that it does feel different in each of their hands. 

And what a cast Virk has assembled here, all shot from their head and shoulders - Tom Hiddleston may be the better known but my heart leapt to see Monica Dolan and Noma Dumezweni in there and in the stark black and white cinematography that makes the headshots feel like portraiture make it simply gorgeous to look at. 

Harry Escott's plangent score deepens the emotional current that runs through the film but to hear this cast talk of death, and life, and death with such purity and clarity -Andrew Gower is heartbreaking, Jimmy Akingbola too and the rich timbre of Dumezweni’s voice has never sounded more elegantly powerful - it is scarcely needed. I urge you to spend the tiny amount of money required to see this film in full, I promise you won't regret it.


Short Film Review #55

I have a thing about spiral staircases and though the one at the heart of The Last Ten is squared off, it is still freaky as shit. A genuinely disturbing film that is ingeniously conceived and shot by David Higgs with some fantastic cinematography from Nicole Heiniger, it’s all about the perspective as a single camera looking down the middle of a stairwell captures the story of a man returning home to find…well, that would be giving it away. Hitchcock-inspired brilliance, just don’t watch it on your own, or in the dark.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Review: Into The Woods, Ye Olde Rose and Crown

“The way is clear
The light is good"

Last night I saw some great fringe Sondheim and late last week I saw some of Grimm’s Tales brought to life and so in the natural coincidental way of things, tonight’s show combined both of those. Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods sweeps up a collection of those fairytale characters and asks the question what happens after happy ever after. And in Tim McArthur’s re-envisioning for All Star Productions way up north-east in the Walthamstow pub theatre Ye Olde Rose and Crown, it gains a surprising cultural relevance.

A big budget Hollywood adaptation may be on its way over the Christmas period but McArthur looks closer to home for inspiration, to the kind of popular television programming that clutters the schedule these days – Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, Jeremy Kyle ad nauseam – plus throwing in all manner of other modern references, Wills and Kate and the ubiquitous selfie. But somehow it does all hang together into a surprisingly cohesive whole, this motley crew bound together by the richly complex score and book.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: Sweeney Todd, Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop

“Did you come here for a pie sir?”

Tucked away in an unassuming side street in Tooting, Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop has incredibly been serving the locals for 106 years – a venerable local institution and now the location for a strikingly unique interpretation of Sondheim’s masterly Sweeney Todd. With room for just 32 inside, Bill Buckhurst’s production for Tooting Arts Club is shockingly intense, literally so given the constricted space and the predilection of the performers to jump up on the tables, get right in our faces or even rub a dab of some hair tonic in the case of one noted critic- this sure ain’t for the fainthearted. 

As the company of eight command us to attend the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street (well, Selkirk Road actually!), there’s no escaping the compact world that they create but it is hard to imagine that you’d want to. It’s like a concentrated shot of musical theatre perfection, the operatic scale of the show distilled into an almost personal experience and led by the magisterial, menacing presence of Jeremy Secomb’s Sweeney whose eyes bore unblinkingly into the very soul, the intelligence of this immersive production shines throughout. 

Review: The Wild Duck, Belvoir Sydney at Barbican

“There are things not everybody needs to know”

You’ve got to love an adaptation that ruffles a few feathers and Simon Stone and Chris Ryan’s take on The Wild Duck for Belvoir Sydney certainly does that, quite literally in one case as the show features a live duck that paddles the stage in a striking opening image. Part of the Barbican’s International Ibsen festival, this is a startlingly contemporary look at the Norwegian classic which strips it to its spine (as Stone says in a programme note) and reimagines it significantly as a modern fable about secrets and lies (and a duck).

Encased in the confines of Ralph Myer’s clear perspex box and dramatically illuminated by Niklas Pajanti’s utterly complete lighting design, the family drama of the Ekdals and the Werles play out to levels of intensity normally associated with Greek tragedy. And under this scrutiny, there’s nowhere for them, or us, to hide – the private grief of Anita Hegh’s catatonic Gina is exposed like a raw wound for nigh on 20 minutes, the uncontrollable anger of Brendan Cowell’s Hjalmar literally bounces off the walls, the target for Hedwig’s shotgun practice is quite simply the audience.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Review: Wet House, Soho Theatre

“Do you ever question your decision to pursue a career in the care industry?"

Now this, this is the state of the nation. A country in denial about its alcohol habits, a caring profession stretched to breaking point and beyond, a society ill-equipped to deal with the problems that arise from both – Paddy Campbell’s Wet House forces a brutally uncompromising look at what we too often turn our heads away from. And though it is a first play based on his own experiences working in a wet house – a residential facility for the chronically alcoholic and homeless where they can drink however much they want – its dramatic construction, mordant humour and stunning character work clearly mark Campbell as one to watch as Max Roberts’ production so skilfully shows.

He plunges wet-behind-the-ears new graduate Andy into the murky waters of Crabtree House, such a hostel somewhere in the North East, with just the soggy good intentions of Helen and the eviscerating bone-dry wit of Mike to help keep him afloat. As Andy tries to become accustomed to the working practices of caring for people who, on the face of it, can’t or won’t be helped, the appalling truth of how much this work demands bobs into view and the coping mechanisms necessary, shocking as they may seem, perhaps that little bit more justified. It’s a testament to the veracity of the writing that this equivocation feels utterly, completely earned. 

Review: Spine, Soho Theatre

“There’s nothing more terrifying than a teenager with something to say”

Amongst many things, this blog is useful for reminding me of exactly how I felt about this production or that actor but in some cases, I don’t need to be reminded. Seeing Rosie Wyatt in a solo piece for the first time (in Jack Thorne’s Bunny back in 2011) was a genuine revelation, at the time I was always unsure about monologues and hardly went to any and it is no overstatement to say she changed my mind about a whole genre – that’ll be why she was ranked as one of the top six female performances of the year for me. So it was no surprise to see me at the Soho Theatre Upstairs (again) on a dark October evening (again) to see Wyatt (again) in a solo show (again). Creatures of habit… us?

This time round it is Clara Brennan’s Spine to which she is giving her unbridled dramatic energy, inhabiting the play and the space so thoroughly that she ought to charge other people rent for coming in to use it when she’s not there. It’s quite a remarkable thing to watch, seeing her perform, as she flicks so effortlessly between the two characters of the show – ferocious but fragile Amy and perceptive pensioner Glenda – and traces the growing if unlikely friendship between the pair as circumstance thrusts them together. She demands the full attention too, some may baulk from the direct eye contact but it is such an integral part of the theatrical transaction here that it ought to be compulsory to embrace it. Be warned though, Wyatt takes literally no prisoners!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Re-review: The James Plays, National Theatre

“The wheel will turn. The wheel always turns. The wheel will turn around again."

One of the joys of a boxset is that they can be watched over and over again so when I equated the joy of seeing all three of The James Plays on the same day as below   I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I would be trying my damnedest to get to the second of the two three-show-days in order to get that experience again whilst the opportunity was there. 

And since I'm clearly in credit with the theatrical karma gods at the moment, a ticket made its way into my grateful hands and I was able to go through the whole 10 and a half hour rollercoaster ride through this vibrantly realised cross-section of under-explored Scottish history. As ever, it was great to be able to revisit such interesting plays - original reviews can be read here James I - The Key Will Keep The LockJames II - Day of The Innocents and James III - The True Mirror - especially now there's a little more distance from the Scottish referendum which coloured much of the coverage of the plays. There isn't too much more to say about them aside from I hope they are absorbed into the theatrical culture and emerge again soon somehow, somewhere. 

Saturday afternoon Memphis treats

Make no mistake, there's a talented cast at the heart of Memphis and here's some supporting evidence.

Killian Donnelly + Nadim Naaman – Agony (from Into the Woods)
An adorkable duet from these two princes amongst men.