Saturday, 31 August 2013

Review: Cabaret, New Wimbledon

“Start by admitting from cradle to tomb, it isn't that long a stay”

Perhaps with a nod to the fact that it isn’t that long since it was in the West End, the touring production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret directed by Rufus Norris is just playing a few days at the New Wimbledon Theatre before touring the country. It was a production that I enjoyed when I saw it back at the Savoy and crucially, it has made the one casting change it needed to really improve. Despite her best efforts, Michelle Ryan never felt really at home as Sally Bowles and the introduction of Siobhan Dillon is a clever one as she embodies the simultaneous fragility and strength of this most iconic of characters.
Otherwise, there isn’t too much more to say about it that wasn’t already said in that previous review. Will Young is a genuine revelation as a chilling Emcee, Matt Rawle’s bisexual writer Cliff exudes chemistry all around and the older lovers torn apart by the encroaching regime hits a real chiming note – Lyn Paul taking over from Siân Phillips against Linal Haft. And Valerie Cutko is an inspired casting choice for Fräulein Kost, a character I always end up wanting to see more of.

Review: I’m With The Band, St James Theatre

“If rock and rolling means perforating your testes, then I’ll stick to just playing guitar thank you very much”

Between recent plays on Wikileaks and Scottish independence at this year’s Edinburgh festival, Welsh playwright Tim Price has shown himself to be utterly unafraid of tackling some of the more pressing topical subjects of our time. The well-received Radicalisation of Bradley Manning has finished for now but I’m With The Band has transferred to the St James Theatre for a two week run. Four piece indie-rock band The Union are riding high on critical and commercial success but a devastating piece of news about their finances leaves them millions in the red and prompts the departure of their lead guitarist Barry. With the original structure broken, the remaining members have to recalibrate and decide what, if any, future remains.

That the key creative relationship in the band is between the Caledonian Barry and the English keyboard player Damien adds piquancy, setting up this allegorical study of what the effects of Scottish independence might be. But he cleverly expands the picture to include Welsh bassist Gruff and Ulsterman Aaron on drums, who has an additional tortured relationship with Irish girlfriend Sinead with whom he shares a house which is divided by a chalk line they never cross, reminding us all that though the focus may be nearly exclusively Anglo-Scottish, there are two more countries involved in the wider question of separation.

Review: The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, streamed live

“Bradley Manning is just a boy”


Tim Price’s The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning premiered for the National Theatre of Wales last year and with a remarkable sense of timing, after the trial that resulted in a 35 year prison sentence and the subsequent revelation that the soldier identifies as a woman, returned this summer to the Edinburgh Festival. But with a view to vastly expanding its potential audience, each performance was live-streamed on t’internet and so I was able to catch it from the comfort of my very own home. And this seems the point about the capturing of theatre on film – no one is pretending that it matches the live experience but the very uniqueness of it necessarily imposes an exclusivity and so innovations such as these should be recognised for the opportunities they bring to people who otherwise would never have seen such shows, rather than focusing on what might or might not be lost in the transfer. 


But back to the play. Tim Price’s starting point is that Manning is half-Welsh on her mother’s side and spent around four years living in Wales as a teenager – the playwright posits that studies of politics and sociology of a particularly Welsh radical bent could well have shaped the mind of the person who caused one of the greatest leaks of classified material in history when releasing documents about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Wikileaks. There’s a convincing, if fictionalised, account of how this education gave him the inner courage to follow his convictions but also suggesting some of the demons that plagued her psyche. Price intercuts this story with a fast-moving whip around other key moments in Manning’s life - college years spent exploring sexuality, the reluctant fall into the army’s ranks, the troubled family life she runs from, the hellish reality of internment by her very own military.


Review: Relatively Speaking, Wyndhams

"I can't say I'm very taken with this marmalade"

It does seem that Alan Ayckbourn has been officially anointed national treasure status by the critical establishment but his charms have largely eluded me, appealing more to a middle-aged greying sensibility that trips merrily down the middle of the road. But the ease with which I was able to get one of the cheaper tickets for the balcony of the Wyndhams theatre, one of the more intimate West End houses and so a great bargain tip, for the final day of the run of Relatively Speaking meant a cheeky matinée was in the offing.

The story is one of his archetypal mistaken identity farces – Ginny has decided that Greg is the man for her even though it has only been a month and so she nips off to the country to end her affair with an older man. But she tells Greg she is going to visit her parents and in a moment of passion, he decides to follow her in order to ask for her father’s hand. What follows is confusion at the enduring mix-ups, exacerbated by the English reticence to confront the obvious and thus avoid social embarrassment. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Short Film Review #16

Stalking Ben Chadz
The characters of Stalking Ben Chadz – June and Izzy – have appeared in another short film Mourning Rules which I previously reviewed here http://oughttobeclowns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/short-film-review-5.html and enjoyed so I was pleased to see another film from Montserrat Lombard and Olivia Poulet along with their co-writer Daniel Castella. It’s another brief glimpse into the somewhat batty lives of these sisters, here literally stalking a guy named Ben, who Izzy has decided is the love of her life. It’s witty – the phone call is great fun – and silly and huge amounts of fun, both Lombard and Poulet have a gift for observational comedy and so it’s well worth 2 minutes 30 of your day.

Review: The Memory of Water / And Then There Were None / A Special Kind of Dark, Radio 4

“You’ve got that slight edge in your voice, like a blunt saw”

Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water is probably due a high-profile revival, not least for the richness of its female roles but until then, this radio adaptation will more than suffice. Starring Linda Bassett, Lesley Manville and Elizabeth Berrington as three sisters who reconvene after their mother’s death, Stephenson explores different reactions to grief through the prism of shared memories, or rather how the three women have significantly different memories of the same events. There’s an elegiac beauty to the way in which the familial bond asserts and reasserts itself even as long-held secrets are unearthed and emotional truths about the present aired, and the sheer quality of the cast make it a fantastic piece of radio drama. 

A Special Kind of Dark is a much more challenging prospect and whilst it was hard to assess how I really felt about it, given its noir-ish twists and turns and narrative unreliability, it was nice to have such a complex piece of writing to listen to. The story is told by Caspar, who starts an affair with unhappy neighbour Helene but when she is found brutally murdered, is arrested and declared criminally insane. Over the course of a year, he tells psychologist Elodie Testoud of his suspicions of Helene’s husband, the politically ambitious Felix but given we only get Caspar’s version of events, it is never clear when he is telling the truth or lost in a Marlowe-style reverie. It is appealing performed and directed but cumulatively feels as clear as mud, writer Adrain Penketh is so determinedly obtuse that any genuine clues that might exist feel lost.

Review: The Last Ever Musical, White Bear


“There’ll always be someone will does a show like this”



Despite being one of my hyper-local venues, I’ve only been to the White Bear theatre pub once before and being honest, I booked for The Last Ever Musical as much out of morbid curiosity as anything, as it had received several of the kind of reviews that put it somewhere dangerous on the Fram scale. Though as it turned out, it was nowhere near as bad as reports would have it, whilst still feeling a little underwhelming for a piece of new musical theatre writing.


A bullish programme note from composer Richard Bates sets out an intriguing stall – purporting to hold a mirror to London’s fringe theatre scene and reflecting all of its aspects, the ugliness alongside the beauty, critically appraising as well as celebrating this world in which he has worked for the last 10 years or so. But this premise doesn’t feel wholly borne out by the show, Simon James Collier’s book and Bates’ music and lyrics never really alchemising to achieve their intended aims. 

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“So we’ve lost a few children along the way, we’ve all learned something though”

One of the hottest tickets of the year is a golden one. London gets its second major adaptation of a Roald Dahl story into a big budget piece of musical theatre as the long-awaited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finally opens its gates at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And taking his cue from Willy Wonka, director Sam Mendes has mixed it with love and made it taste good, displaying, along with designer Mark Thompson, just as much wit and invention as the candyman himself in bringing this world to such entertaining life on the stage.

David Greig’s book remains largely faithful to Dahl’s novel, but expanding the poverty-stricken domestic set-up of Charlie Bucket and his extended family as the young boy dreams of finding one of five elusive passes into Wonka’s mysterious factory. As the tickets are found one by one in a series of vividly realised tableaux, his hopes recede but the presence of a shadowy tramp-like figure ensures that there’s soon a golden twinkle in Charlie’s eye and a life-changing journey can begin.

Cast of Charlie continued



Thursday, 29 August 2013

Review: Armstrong's War, Finborough

"I wanted something to be true but it wasn't"

In the rehab unit of St Vincent's Hospital, 21 year old Canadian soldier Michael Armstrong is back home recovering from his war wounds after a IED blast in Afghanistan. But though his physical wounds are healing, there's more than a hint of post traumatic stress disorder about the young man as he seems happiest hiding away under his bed and chatting with the imaginary presence of his friend and comrade Robbie. A half-forgotten decision to let a girl guide read to him to earn a Community Service merit badge rouses him out of his stupor as it turns out his particular helper wheelchair-bound Halley, is a fearsome whirlwind of good intentions and over the six weekly visits it takes her to get the award, the pair find themselves connected in ways they could never have imagined.

Colleen Murphy's new play Armstrong's War may be having a criminally short run at the Finborough before its official premiere in Canada later this year, but this production touched me like hardly any other play I've seen recently and left me confident it is one of the better pieces of theatre I have seen all year. The way in which this unlikely pair develop such an intense relationship is extraordinarily done over 90 short minutes, the depth of the emotion it provokes is devastatingly honest and true, the performances under Jennifer Bakst's direction unflinchingly raw and exposed, all combining to create the kind of theatre that lingers long in the mind.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”

There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.

The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.

Cast of Sweet Bird of Youth continued



Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review: A Chorus Line, Palladium

“Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch…again!”

When I was learning to play the piano as a young’un, we had a book of tunes from the movies which included One and What I Did For Love, both from A Chorus Line. I’d never seen the film (and still have not) but I loved both of those songs and so practiced hard to be able to play them well. But even when a new production of the show was announced earlier this year, the temptation to go and see it was never too strong. Part of that came from the venue – the Palladium is a most unforgiving of theatres if you don’t have a front centre stalls seat – but there was also a sense that its conglomeration of backstage stories might be a little dated in a world where the audition process has repeatedly been laid bare on our television screens.

I perhaps wasn’t alone in feeling this way as the production was forced into publishing early closing notices, meaning it shutters at the end of this week. But in forcing my hand and making me book via a bargainous deal that got us into the middle of Row C of the stalls, I belatedly came to realise that the show is much better than I thought it would be and perhaps deserves a longer life than it has had. Its set-up is simplicity itself – seventeen Broadway dancers audition for eight spots on the chorus line for a musical and as the director takes them through their paces, we get to hear the tales of these hopefuls, their dreams and aspirations, their fears and frailties, in some cases their most intimate stories about what dance and being a dancer means to them.

Cast of A Chorus Line continued



Monday, 26 August 2013

Review: Blue Stockings, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The only thing a woman can own is knowledge”

The experience of a groundling at the Globe can range from the sublime (Eve Best clasping your hand) to the ridiculous (standing for two and a half hour in the pouring rain) yet it is a unique kind of experience that always keeps me coming back for more. At £5 a ticket, it is the bargainous type of risk that is worth taking and with plays like Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings, the dividends it pays forth make up for the sheer sogginess of the journey home. Swale is perhaps best known as a director, particularly for her inimitable takes on Restoration comedies but also for striking contemporary work of devastating precision but she now returns to Shakespeare’s Globe, where she directed 2010’s Bedlam, as a playwright with this, her first play. 

The play is set in 1896 in Girton College, Cambridge which 20 years prior, became the first college in Britain to admit women. But though they can study, they are denied the right to graduate, their time at university leaving them with little but the stigma of being a “blue stocking”, a woman whose education was deemed unnatural and thus leaving her unmarriageable. Swale explores the year their right to graduate was finally put to the vote, following a group of four students as they are introduced to the novelties of university life, albeit segregated and belittled by the vast majority, where taking exams has to compete with the richer pleasures that a modicum of independence brings. 

Cast of Blue Stockings contd

Review: Alice in Wonderland, St Paul’s Church

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then”

Iris Theatre’s 2013 summer season got off to a cracking start with a viscerally imaginative take on Julius Caesar and much of the same company has stayed put to present the more family-friendly, but no less inventive semi-musical take on Alice in Wonderland. The audience fall into the rabbit hole as soon as we arrive, ending up in a Victorian fairground where a number of sideshow acts entertain the crowd until a young lady comes tumbling through behind us and the play begins. That girl is of course Alice but she has lost her identity and in order to try and reclaim it, she has to journey deep into Wonderland, meeting all kinds of strange creatures and fulfilling all manner of tasks to try and help her on her way.

The varied grounds of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden serve as an excellent starting point for director Andrew Lynford to let his imagination run wild with Andy Pilbeam-Brown’s set design and Emma Devonald’s costumes evoking a near-Gothic Victoriana which feels wonderfully lively. And key to this is the frequent encouragement of audience participation – so many of the younger members of the audience (and indeed some of the older) got to take part, whether in the dizzying madness of the Caucus race, the hilarious antics of a game of croquet or the simply delightful Mad Hatter’s tea party with its over-friendly dormouse. It is utterly charming and never loses sight of exactly who it is trying to entertain.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Review: Pipe Dream, Union

”You wonder where your heart can go”

As unlikely as it seems, there are still Rodgers and Hammerstein shows that have never been performed in the UK and in the hope of unearthing a little gem, Sasha Regan’s Union Theatre took on the 1955 flop Pipe Dream and given it the chamber treatment. Some of the songs may be familiar from State Fair which was recently very well-revived by the Finborough and unfortunately, it’s a comparison which does Pipe Dream few favours, as I couldn’t help but feel that this show had little to really commend it and pretty much deserves the obscurity in which it has languished.

Based on two John Steinbeck novels, Sweet Thursday and Cannery Row, the show focuses on the deadbeat end of society – prostitutes and layabouts populate this Depression-era world, an innovation which popular wisdom would have was too outrageous for 1950s audiences. The problem seems more to be the coyness with which Rodgers and Hammerstein treat this though – Suzy the heroine of the show works in the local whorehouse yet the conservatism of the writing never explains it properly, and this cripples her burgeoning relationship with marine biologist Doc which forms the backbone of the show, their pairing stuttering and staggering over obstacles which are never quite clear.

Review: A Little Hotel on the Side, Theatre Royal Bath

"I’m the headless hunter of Honfleur, I’m the strangled Sister of Soissons, I’m the noseless Nun of Nantes”

Those who know me will attest to how firmly I tend to hold my preconceptions, but I do try to test them fairly regularly on the off-chance that a certain production might prove me wrong, if not about the whole genre then at least about that particular show. And despite its much-beloved status by the likes of Billington, Spencer et al, farce is one such genre of which I am no particular fan. I am one of the few who found One Man Two Guvnors painful in the extreme but I found myself tumbling easily for the charms of Noises Off, so whilst I might not ever call myself a fan of farce, I do know that it is impossible to lump them all together dismissively.

Which is a most long-winded way to say that I went to the Theatre Royal Bath to see Georges Feydeau and Maurice Désvallières’ A Little Hotel on the Side. Adapted by John Mortimer and directed by Lindsay Posner with an amazingly luxurious cast including the likes of Richard McCabe, Hannah Waddingham and Richard Wilson, it seems incredible that the run is just two weeks long but I would struggle to recommend dropping everything to try and see this. My only previous experience of Feydeau was with the Old Vic’s 2010 A Flea In Her Ear, which decidedly didn’t tickle my funnybone, and this felt far closer to that than to the delirious pleasures of Frayn’s backstage antics.

Review: A Season in the Congo, Young Vic

“This is our Africa"

The curse of theatre addiction is that even when I know I don’t want to see something, I quite often end up going anyway, especially when it has been well recommended by friends and colleagues. So it was with the Young Vic’s A Season in the Congo, particularly galling as someone very kind indeed offered to queue for dayseats… Joe Wright’s theatrical debut as a director came earlier this year with Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar, a production I wasn’t much enamoured with, but he kicks into another gear altogether with this 1966 play by Aimé Césaire about the life and death of Patrice Lumumba, one of the men who led the Democratic Republic of Congo to independence.

It’s a vastly collaborative work, pulling together wide-ranging artistic elements into a hugely theatrical experience which is hugely ambitious and was clearly well-received, though I found it to be distracting and distancing. Choreographer (and co-director) Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui intersperses numerous dance sequences, musician Kabongo Tshisensa makes a Brechtian troubadour-like figure who passes comment throughout on the action in tribal dialect, puppets and masks are used to represent the white characters and colonial powers whose influences are very much in decline. They’re undoubtedly impressively done yet for me, all over-used, reducing their impact and padding out an already healthy run-time unnecessarily.

Review: Titanic, Southwark Playhouse


“Possibly she won't go down
Possibly she'll stay afloat 
Possibly all this could come to an end 
On a positive note...” 

Between them, producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland have been responsible for some of London’s best small-scale musical revivals of recent years, so it was with interest that their production of the 1997 show Titanic was announced as the Southwark Playhouse’s first musical in its new premises. It won Tony Awards though little critical favour on Broadway, yet timed itself well to ride on the coat-tails of the extraordinary success of James Cameron’s film of the same story which opened some six months later. And as such an enduringly popular tale, Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics and Peter Stone’s book thus have much to battle against to make its own mark. 

Based on real passengers and the accounts of survivors, Stone’s book focuses in on a number of couples travelling in different parts of the boat, which means that the emphasis lands heavily on the class divisions onboard. A decent decision one might think but in populating the worlds of first class, second class and third class, all within the first half, the show already feels doomed to sink. There’s just simply too many characters for us to process, never mind genuinely empathise with, and though a hard-working ensemble strive excellently to differentiate their various characters (with some surely sterling backstage help) it does take a while to be entirely sure who is who. 

Cast of Titanic contd

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre

But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past there must have been a moment of truth"

Despite never having seen it on the stage before, I hadn’t originally intended to go and see the Open Air Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music. But whilst on holiday, we watched the film on TV en famille whereupon I was reminded of its charms and hearing the good reviews of this production, duly set about booking tickets for an evening when I hoped the sun would shine. And I clearly had some good theatrical karma as a glorious summer’s evening set up what a simply delightful evening of old school musical entertainment.

It may not be the most adventurous of programming choices and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production plays a very straight bat but in many ways, this is why it is so successful. Its straightforward simplicity allows for a direct emotional hit, one which plays off the indubitable familiarity of so much of the material but also the opportunities offered by this open air venue and the freshness of a supremely talented cast. Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria and Michael Xavier’s Captain may initially seem more youthful than one might expect but together they work like a dream, combining with the whole company to create the kind of warmth that would brighten even the soggiest of September evenings (the run has extended by a week due to its success).

Cast of The Sound of Music continued



Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Review: Fences, Duchess

“Don’t try and go through life worrying about if somebody like you or not.”

The role of the anti-hero is a curious one - featuring a protagonist who sours and curdles as the play progresses is a bold move, especially when presented with such a lack of sentimentality as in Paulette Randall’s production of August Wilson’s Fences. There’s no doubting the horrendous circumstances that black people found themselves in even after the abolition of slavery, in a world that had emancipated them yet still considered them way less than equal. This is given visceral life in the lead character of Troy Maxson, whose own promising baseball career was stymied by the enduring racism he faced and an inopportune trip to prison and so as life has progressed and a family built up around him, he has ended up providing for them by becoming a garbage collector.

But Troy is a hugely proud man and the scars of his experience linger on perniciously, affecting the lives of all of those around him even as the opportunities for his sons become greater than anything he was ever granted. Lyons is a great musician but his father refuses to go and see him but the younger Cory bears the brunt of his father’s frustrations as his talent for American football puts him in line for a scholarship, a chance Troy decides to sabotage. Even his marriage to the ever-faithful Rose comes under threat in his search for the satisfaction that constantly eludes him.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Review: Liolà, National Theatre


“This is a potato party” 

Expectations are a funny thing. Luigi Pirandello’s reputation as one of our foremost dramatists comes from his metaphysical musings on identity and self but his 1916 play Liolà comes from a very different place and so may leave you nonplussed if expecting something akin to Six Characters in Search of an Author. Instead, Tanya Ronder’s new version directed by Richard Eyre is a rollicking tale full of song and dance, set in a Sicilian village from which most of the men have migrated. The two that remain, Liolà and Simone, are surrounded by a veritable multitude of women with whom a number of complicated relationships are in place.

Ageing landowner Simone married the much younger Mita in order to provide him with the heir he desperately craves but five years of marriage have produced no children. By contrast, local lothario Liolà has knocked up at least three of the local girls and now has three children who are raised by his mother. But when he gets Simone’s young cousin Tuzza pregnant, she and her mother espy a scheme to play on Simone’s fears of childlessness and pass the child off as his own. But Mita and Liolà were childhood sweethearts and together they plot her own revenge. 

Cast of Liolà continued

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Review: The Same Deep Water As Me, Donmar Warehouse

“I’m exhausted, sweating like a fucking dyslexic on Countdown”

The Donmar Warehouse has two levels, stalls and a circle. It’s fairly obvious, you can’t really miss it – about half the audience is upstairs. Yet watching The Same Deep Water As Me, directed by John Crowley and designed by Scott Pask, you’d think they’d forgotten that simple fact, or else considered that those in the ‘cheap’ seats would simply have to make do. Pask’s reconstruction of a non-descript office stops at room height, as does the second half’s courtroom and Crowley has much of the action throughout inward-facing, somehow contriving to make even this intimate studio feel as distant as a West End house. 
  
Perhaps you just get what you pay for - I opted for a £7.50 standing ticket in the circle and was promoted to front row circle for the second half but the nagging feeling of neglect never left me, as I gazed on the wiring in the ceiling for the lights in the office below and the backs of many peoples’ heads during the courtroom conversations. And as a ticket-payer (even at that price), it’s hard not to feel a little disheartened at what feels perilously close to disregard with a set that simply stops at stalls level. It is somewhat of a shame that this is the primary thought in my head after seeing Nick Payne’s new play but I have to be honest about what my experience was like.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Review: The Comedy of Errors, Oxford University Dramatic Society at Southwark Playhouse

“Your town is troubled with unruly boys”

With alumni such as Rory Kinnear, Rosamund Pike and Julian Ovenden, the Oxford University Dramatic Society seems as good a place as any to spot potential stars for the future and obliging with their now customary summer tour, I only had to nip up the road to the Southwark Playhouse to go and see them in their short run of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. As he alludes in his programme note, companies often try to take a different route into such familiar work and director Christopher Adams has relocated this play to the modern day ex-pat community living in the Spanish city of Málaga. Wisely, it’s a choice that the production wears lightly and thus is quite effective, if a little reminiscent of Propeller’s own recent reimagining.

The debauched world of the Costa del Sol serves as a splendid stand-in for Ephesus – a surfeit of sex, sun and sangria seduces the newly-arrived and much-wearied Antipholus of Syracuse into temporarily abandoning the search for his long-lost brother, and the easy hedonism of his city allows Antipholus of Ephesus to pursue a self-destructive path as he struggles to deal with a loss he doesn’t understand. As the latter, Artemas Froushan delivers excellently the cocksure swagger of a man used to having his way completely and so raging violently once things start to go awry. David Shields as his more serious brother revels in the madcap capers but could perhaps have layered in a little more of the strait-laced characteristics instead of abandoning them completely, and their reunion lacked the emotional heft it ought to punch with.

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Broadway Studios

“A merrier hour was never wasted there”

Tucked away down the narrowest of alleyways on Tooting High Street is one of the most boisterous Shakespearean adaptations you could hope for, full of your mom jokes, nipple tweaks, disco dancing, handcuffs and Googlemaps. Tooting Arts Club’s production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed here by a most hard-working ensemble of 8, is also full of great humour and accessible warmth, director Bill Buckhurst modernising and revitalising this lightest of comedies into something quirkily adorable.

Buckhurst has made some great choices. Having the quartet of lovers as teenage schoolkids makes good sense of their headlong rush into the forest and the fierce intensity of their burning loins, and making the fairies a bunch of slightly past-it club kids having a bad comedown and merely toying with the intruders into their domain is inspired. Titania’s blissed-out idolatry of Bottom suddenly becomes recognisable as any bad choice one might have made on the dancefloor; Puck’s hyperactive 1000 watt personality just like ‘that guy’ you meet and find impossible to shake off.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: Josephine and I, Bush Theatre

“How could I be a Communist? Have you seen how they dress in Moscow?”

There is always something of a thrill about feeling slightly ahead of the crowd though I think in the case of Cush Jumbo, that moment has now passed. Her increasingly high profile work at the Royal Exchange in Manchester along with roles at the National and Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Julius Caesar for the Donmar have seen her star rise continually over recent years. And it has culminated at the Bush Theatre with Josephine and I, her debut play and a one woman tour-de-force which serves as firm notice that she is here to stay.

The Bush has been reconfigured into a cabaret bar, the likes of which Josephine Baker rose to fame in in the 1920s, but rather than presenting a straight biography of this remarkable woman, Jumbo intertwines another story, that of ‘I’. ‘I’ is Jumbo herself, or at least a version of her, and so parallels are consistently drawn between the experience of arguably the first African-American superstar and that of a young female actress on the cusp of a possibly similar breakthrough today. It’s a nifty device, albeit one that isn’t always necessarily as successful as it could be.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Review: Gabriel, Shakespeare’s Globe

"It may suit the crude palates of ruffians, but there’s more tune in the one derisory ditty my flunkey can play on his fiddle called 'Lumps of Pudding' than there is in an entire afternoon of this inflated chronicle of Purcellian shit"

Alongside their much-vaunted productions of Shakespeare’s work, the Globe theatre is a sterling champion of new writing for its theatre as well. The results have arguably been a bit patchy (Globe Mysteries…) but in some cases simply divine (the glorious Anne Boleyn) and so I approached the new first offering of the season - Samuel Adamson’s Gabriel – with cautious optimism. The caution came mainly from hearing that this wasn’t so much as a play as “an entertainment with trumpet”, and I have to say that for me, only the second part of the description was true.

Adamson has written a series of playlets set in late-Restoration period London (1690s) about life and love and sex and music, which are threaded together by a series of musical interludes from the English Concert Orchestra led by trumpeter Alison Balsom who takes us through a selection of Purcell’s music. It’s a strange mixture and one which never really quite finds a satisfying balance – the snippets of drama mainly crude and banal, the rare moments of enlightenment over far too quickly to really give gratification. And the music feels constrained by its setting here, constantly interrupted by the dramatic diversions and of a far superior standard.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

DVD Review: These Foolish Things

“You always do the decent thing”

Noel Langley might be best known for being one of the screenwriters for The Wizard of Oz but his work as an author and playwright stretched over several decades and in 2006, an adaptation of his novel There’s A Porpoise Close Behind Us was released with the title These Foolish Things, both adapted and directed by Julia Taylor-Stanley. It’s a perfectly passable 1930s romp, set in the world of the theatre as the dark shadows of war gather (but not too closely) and a struggling young playwright goes about trying to get his play and his girlfriend on the London stage. What is oddly notable about it is the heavyweight Hollywood legends that have somehow gotten roped into the whole shebang – Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Terence Stamp…none of whom are in a major role.

Instead it proves to be something of a Brit flick. Floppily handsome David Leon plays playwright Robin who offers Diana a place in his lodgings as she moves to London to follow in her actress mother’s footsteps but finds herself overwhelmed by the demands of the theatre world. As she steadies herself, she finds both allies – Julia McKenzie’s compassionate landlady, Andrew Lincoln’s helpful Christopher – and enemies – her own nefarious cousin Garstin, Leo Bill in full-on sneering mode, and Mark Umbers’ sexually voracious and unfussy Douglas. With Huston’s glamorous patron of the arts Lottie Osgood in the middle of them all, the play edges ever closer to production, but at no small cost to everyone concerned.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Short Film Review #15

Two Peas
TWO PEAS from Azul Serra on Vimeo.
Prompted by last week’s Emily Taaffe-starring film, another of her appearances in a short film was recommended to me in Aoife Crehan’s Two Peas. I was a little less enamoured of this though, a two hander in which a lonely man and woman start to connect over the telephone, coming to realise the connection between them. The conversations are recapped rather than played out, the voices narrating impressionistic shots of the pair going about their daily business and this kept me at something of a remove from the film, it never really touched me in the way it ought to have done and the ambiguity of its climax further emphasised by own ambivalence.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

DVD Review: Threesome (Series 1)

“Do you know what would make me feel less old?" 

Tom MacRae’s 2011 sitcom Threesome was the first original scripted comedy commissioned by British satellite channel Comedy Central. Starting off as a flatshare comedy about 3 college friends making the most of carefree living in their twenties, the big shift comes after a huge night out which ends up with them regretting a drunken threesome. And this being tv-land, it is not Amy’s boyfriend Mitch who impregnates her but rather their friend Richie, who just happens to be gay. And really being tv-land, they opt to have the baby altogether, raising it as a threesome. 

Working their way through the tropes of pregnancy-based comedy, this offers a rather neat twist on the standard gags (Sylvestra Le Touzel makes a great ante-natal class leader), allowing for the complementary characteristics of the trio to make up just about enough maturity for one adult - at least at the beginning of the series – as they each come into their own, Stephen Wight’s Mitch doing the most obvious maturing as the father-to-be of a son who isn’t genetically his. 

Monday, 5 August 2013

Review: Marple – Nemesis

“How do you know?”

Working my way through the works of Ruth Wilson, I came across an episode of Marple in which she appeared, but the most striking thing about was the name of the director - Nicolas Winding Refn. Yes, the man better known for films such as Drive, Pusher and Only God Forgives once directed an episode of Marple for ITV back in 2008 when Geraldine McEwan was playing the role of the intrepid sleuth, a choice he now admits was made entirely because he was broke and one which was full of frustrations for him. And as you can see for yourselves on the YouTube clip below, it isn’t really the finest of works.

For those familiar with the novel, this adaptation takes huge liberties with the story as to be almost unrecognisable from the source. And sadly, it never feels like any of the changes were worthwhile, strictly necessary or indeed effective. In this version of Nemesis, Marple is still invited to solve a murder by an old colleague John Rafiel by taking part of a Daffodil Tour Company mystery tour with a carefully selected group of people who, as always, are more connected that first impressions reveal.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

DVD Review: Capturing Mary


"Is that the back of Evelyn Waugh's head?"

Whether you care for his work or no, the body of work that Stephen Poliakoff has accumulated is most impressive as he consistently gathers top-calibre casts to deliver his often obtuse musings on human nature. And in what for me is a dreamily fantastic bit of casting, in Capturing Mary he has Maggie Smith and Ruth Wilson playing the older and younger versions of the same woman. That woman is Mary, who in the present day visits a hugely significant house and when the caretaker there takes pity on her, she regales him of tales of just why it was so important.

It turns out that she was a journalist and something of a socialite in the 1950s and so attended many a high society soirée in this venue and at one of those parties, she met Greville White, the man who would irrevocably change her life and not for the better. With his purpose unclear, he revealed a wealth of dark and dirty secrets about the rich and famous and important and influential people in the same house as them, secrets which involve some most distasteful revelations indeed. Greville saw this as an opportunity for Mary to join him in cahoots on the fringes of this powerful upper class world but she decided to demur. 


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Short Film Review: Get Off My Land

“The moral hypocrisy of the land-owning upper classes…”

There’s not really much I can say about Douglas M Ray’s short film Get Off My Land apart from just watch it. It’s less than 5 minutes long, stars Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall as a couple going for a country walk and looks absolutely gorgeous, filmed just as sunset is about to start. DoP George Steel does an amazing job of capturing the stunning light, framing some beautiful tight shots, particularly of Wilson, and whilst Ray’s hard-hitting humour may not have huge amounts to say that haven’t been said before, it can rarely have looked this good.


Friday, 2 August 2013

DVD Review: The Prisoner (2007)

“6 knows that 6 is 6”

I’ve never seen the original series of The Prisoner from the 1960s so I was able to approach the 2009 remake with a fresh mind and take in another of Ruth Wilson’s earlier televisual appearances. A co-production between ITV and US cable network AMC, it was filmed in the Namibian desert and featured the likes of Ian McKellen and Jim Caviezel in its cast as a man who wakes up in a strange isolated village with people calling him 6, and no idea of how or why he got there or how he can escape. It’s something of a curious beast. Caviezel’s 6 is the leading man of this show yet it is not always immediately apparent why we should really care about his fate. Somewhere between Caviezel’s handsome but anodyne looks and Bill Gallagher’s simplistic script, the driving thrust of the show just isn’t there.

There are aspects to enjoy though. Wilson gets some brilliantly emotive scenes as 313, the doctor who finds herself at the forefront of event as she is caught up in 6’s battle against the Village, and there’s some amazing work from her in the final episode, and Ian McKellen really is excellent as the Machiavellian 2, the sinister puppeteer who controls so much of what is going on, even as it seems that things are slipping from his grasp. Good support comes too from a range of strong actors in minor parts like Hayley Atwell, Lennie James and Rachael Blake.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2


“Posh girls don’t hit people”

Series 1 of Suburban Shootout was something of a pleasant surprise, a rather mental British TV series set in the idyllic country village of Little Stempington which is the scene of secret gang warfare between two rival groups of housewives. The first season finished on something of a cliff-hanger and that is where things pick up, with Joyce Hazeldine having to pick up the mantle of leader of the ‘good’ group after Anna Chanceller’s utterly fierce Camilla framed her bitter rival Felicity Montagu’s Barbara Du Prez.

What follows is essentially more of the same, except it just isn’t quite as funny as before, certainly not as compelling now that the novelty has worn off and the writing sadly just feels largely uninspired. The major storyline follows the attempt to get a supercasino built on some treasured wetlands, Barbara’s trials in prison and the struggles of Camilla and Joyce to keep control of their respective situations. But it’s over in six quick episodes and to little real impact. And worst of all, Ruth Wilson is hardly in it.