Saturday, 30 November 2013

Competition - win tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

As a big thank you to their customers, Irish chocolatiers Lily O'Brien's are giving away the chance to win a fantastic trip to London to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. 

All you need to do to enter is shop online  at Lily O’Brien’s (www.lilyobriens.ie) before 31st December 2013. The winner will be informed by 31st January 2014.

We look forward to receiving your entries! 


Friday, 29 November 2013

Review: Gastronauts, Royal Court

“Brave diners…trust us”

Gastronauts is a self-identified “ theatre adventure with food and music”, a label that calls to mind Lyn Gardner’s timely blog on finding new names for alternative theatre, but the key word that reveals its nature, in my opinion, is devised. Writers April De Angelis and Nessah Muthy with director Wils Wilson have created this show in collaboration with a company of five, and as it explores the not inconsiderable topic of food and our multi-faceted relationship with it, plus serving up a range of varied nibbles to illustrate their point, the 95 minute running time seems scarcely sufficient.

For as the show touches on all of its talking points, there is barely the time to delve into them in anything but the most glancing manner. The catastrophic environmental effects of our more extravagant eating habits, the vicissitudes of the diet industry, the reality of what goes into processed foods like white bread, the profiteering that exploits those who grow much of our foodstuffs and also more benevolent aspects, like the comforting memories that food from the family table inspires in us even as we become adults. 

Review: Henry V, Noël Coward

“What art thou, thou idle ceremony?"

Early days for the final instalment in Michael Grandage’s season at the Noël Coward and another return to Shakespeare. But the Jude Law-starring Henry V did little to entertain, not helped by an abortive start which meant the opening scenes had to be replayed, with a production that is full of Acting with a capital A but little sense of theatrical vibrancy. Truth be told, I think I’m done with the play for a while – last year saw a slew of adaptations, some more successful than others, and so it doesn’t feel like a necessary addition to our stages (though I appreciate not everyone will be in quite the same position.)

Part of the problem is soon apparent with the sneaking suspicion that we’ve been here before. Longtime collaborator Christopher Oram’s distressed wood set recalls the Donmar’s Lear, the throne as icon imagery their Richard II. Ashley Zhangazha’s Chorus arrives onstage in modern dress (with what looks suspiciously like a Viva Forever t-shirt) but this is a red herring as the play is performed in classic dress, although Law’s soldier King is frequently attired in some distractingly tight-fitting trouser-wear. 

Cast of Henry V continued

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Review: King Lear, Minerva

“I am even the natural fool of fortune”

Poly over at The Other Bridge Project asks the question “can you have too many King Lears” and though she’s adamant that you can’t, I have to say my heart sinks a little every time a new production is announced, whether here in Chichester with Frank Langella or Simon Russell Beale’s forthcoming turn for the National Theatre early next year. But the enduring reputation of Shakespeare’s late classic attracts the kind of casts that are irresistible to a theatrical junkie like me and so I find myself a glutton for punishment going back again time after time.

And though I’d love to say that Angus Jackson’s production, running just a short while in the Minerva before transferring to New York, was worth the effort, it didn’t really do it for me. It is a hugely Lear-centric version of the play, placing Langella’s titanic monarch even more at the heart of the play than usual, and recalibrating the journey he takes as madness seizes him after a bit of a rum do with his three daughters. It’s a striking move, and one which showcases Langella well, but it does come at the expense of the richness of the ensemble.

Cast of King Lear continued

Review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Bush

“Remember thinking: I am quite an average man. Never thought I’d feel…”

A third visit to this play for me – Jumpers for Goalposts may have just opened at the Bush Theatre this week but this Paines Plough, Hull Truck and Watford Palace Theatre production premiered earlier this year in Watford where it utterly stole my heart and tempted me back for seconds despite the short run. Since then it has toured the UK and now ends up in the West London venue where writer Tom Wells had such success a couple of years ago with The Kitchen Sink. And in those intervening months, assisted by the intimacy of the Bush, the play has grown into something even better, even more affecting in its charming lo-fi way.

My original review says much of what I still think of the play, but I don’t think one can understate the importance of this piece of writing. The trials and tribulations of Barely Athletic, the five-a-side football team at the heart of the play are strongly, vividly portrayed, but as entirely recognisable experiences that might befall you or I. And as three of the five happen to be gay men, it holds a particular resonance for me – has a playwright ever evoked the reality of the aftermath of being gay-bashed so effectively, the mundanity of actually just having to get on with everyday life rather than focusing on the intense drama of the crime itself.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: In The Next Room, or the vibrator play, St James Theatre

“Your mouth is dry, and you lick your lips, and your face makes an ugly expression…”

Even its very title seems designed to shock - In The Next Room, or the vibrator play – but truth is that Sarah Ruhl’s play, seen in Bath last year, does little to hit the spot or indeed do much to arouse much attention. A lengthy exploration of the arrival of portable electronic devices for the treatment of women’s…hysteria, Ruhl eschews the chance of delving into the ins and outs of medicine of the time, the elusiveness of genuine understanding of female biology, or the quivering anticipation of the explosive social change on the horizon, and plumps instead for a bog-standard sex farce based on marital relations.

And for all that it is filled with the moans and groans of female (and male) “paroxysms” – Flora Montgomery’s Mrs Daldry charged with the thankless tasks of producing the vast majority of them – it is a curiously sexless enterprise. The focus remains instead on the disappointments of the marital bed, as Jason Hughes’ Dr Givings – the inventor of the new-fangled device – finds more satisfaction in treating his increasingly eager patients than connecting with his own wife, Natalie Casey’s pinched Catherine, and Mrs Daldry is happier with her doctor than has ever been with her own husband.

DVD Review: Hysteria

 "It's a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time"

I’ve had this film on my Lovefilm list for ages – I love Maggie Gyllenhaal so I knew I’d get round to it one day but I have to say it has never really grabbed me as a must-see. When a play about the invention of the vibrator was announced, it seemed as good a time as any to compare and contrast the two. A 2011 film directed by Tanya Wexler, Hysteria quickly loses points by teasing us with Anna Chancellor in its opening scene, only to never feature her again. That aside, it is actually quite the enjoyable watch as a good-natured and good-intentioned take on Victorian innovation.

Here, the vibrator is invented by Dr Mortimer Granville, a young forward-thinking doctor reduced to assisting a Dr Dalrymple in the treatment of female ‘hysteria’, basically inducing paroxysms in ladies’ private parts with his nimble fingers. His reputation for…hitting the spot, shall we say, soon means he is much in demand in society but as his arm grows overtired, his mind seeks for alternative ways of scratching the itch. Against this, is Granville’s interactions with Dalrymple’s daughters – the quietly permissive Emily and the one-woman suffragette movement Charlotte. 

Cast of Hysteria continued

Short Film Review #29

Et in Motorcadia Ego!
The ‘other’ 50th anniversary of the weekend was of the assassination of JFK and released with impeccable timing, Et in Motorcadia Ego! tips the hat to the huge place that that event occupied in popular culture. Written and directed by Tim Plester (and adapted from his own full-length play), it takes the form of a spontaneous dream-poem and performed by the intensely magnetic Kieran Bew, it is something spectacular. Plester’s camera loves the bearded Bew, but mixes shots of his recital with flashes of dream-like imagery to create something visually stunning and combined with the viscerally rich poetry, this is definitely recommended.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Review: Trout Stanley, Southwark Playhouse

“You get what you deserve in life”

It’s Sugar & Grace Ducharme’s 30th birthday. But though it’s an auspicious date, it’s also loaded with significance for the pair – their triplet died at birth, they also lost both their parents on the same day and since then, Grace keeps finding a dead body every year. And though they shared a womb, they could not (literally) be more different – Grace’s gregariousness is reflected in her putative local modelling career whereas Sugar hasn’t left their cabin in British Columbia for 10 years. And so begins Trout Stanley.

Vinette Robinson’s Grace is a kinetic ball of energy – big hair, big boots and big attitude as she dominates the household, Sinéad Matthews’ comparatively meek Sugar a quieter but still utterly captivating presence in her mother’s beloved old shellsuit as she lives vicariously through her sibling, longing for the day she can love someone for real. The unconventional emotional relationship between the pair is excellently portrayed, their chemistry palpable but one that is subject to change when an outside element is introduced.

Review: Once Upon A Christmas, Covent Garden

“Christmas may be cancelled!"

Billed as “a theatrical adventure in Covent Garden”, the details of which we’re urged to keep secret so that future participants can experience it unspoiled, Once Upon A Christmas is Look Left Look Right’s contribution to this year’s festive fare, and what an appetising treat it makes. An interactive experience for pairs (although it can be experienced solo as well), the adventure begins at a nondescript address, tucked amongst the shops and bars of this bustling part of London, but it soon becomes clear that there’s more than meets the eye here.

For this is the elf-run headquarters of Pantoland who have been forced to walk amongst humankind in order to avert the biggest crisis of them all – the cancellation of Christmas itself. This has been caused by the shocking break-up of Cinderella and Prince Charming and the only people that can -help - well, you’ve guessed it, it’s you and your friend. And so begins a helter-skelter journey of one-on-one encounters through the nooks and crannies of Covent Garden – some considerably more salubrious than others – accompanied by some extremely familiar faces, although they might not always act exactly as you might expect.

Cast of Once Upon A Christmas continued



Review: West Side Story, New Wimbledon

“There’s a place for us”

For me, West Side Story occupies that most special of places in that I can’t remember life without it. It’s a film I’ve loved to watch and a score I’ve loved to listen to since I was kneehigh to the proverbial and it is a love that has remained undiminished. I saw the last international tour of the show twice at Sadler’s Wells and so had thought I’d give this one a miss as it was more or less the same production, but the casting news for the extensive UK tour that followed meant I couldn’t resist a cheeky trip to the New Wimbledon to see it on its way.

Joey McKneely’s excellent production is well-contained within Paul Gallis’ brooding set design which forms the perfect backdrop for showcasing Jerome Robbins’ inimitable choreography which feels as fresh as it has ever done, not least because of the sheer timelessness of the gorgeous songs. Somewhere, Tonight, Maria, I Feel Pretty, America…the list goes on and given the huge enthusiasm from the fresh young ensemble gathered here, one can see the magic continuing to go on for generations of potential musical-lovers to come. 

Cast of West Side Story continued

Cast of Forest Boy


S&S Award

"Find the words"

Set up in honour of and named after his parents Sidney and Sylvia, The S&S Award was created by Warner Brown as a celebration of new and as yet unproduced British musical theatre writing and held its inaugural award presentation at the St James Theatre on Sunday 24th November 2013. Don Black presented the prize to this year’s winners – Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie – for their show Forest Boy, of which we saw an extended excerpt but the audience were also treated to snippets from other shows in the running for this new prize.

Recent graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Gilmour and McKenzie based Forest Boy on the true 2011 story of a boy who appeared in Berlin claiming to have spent the last five years living in the woods with his father. But rather than a straight retelling, they use song and dance – movement director Emily-Jane Boyce contributing some excellent work – to explore the psychological journey of the young man, the troubled relationship with his parents, and the power of the imagination to invent and/or protect, as the truthfulness of his fantastical tale is probed by officials.

Writers of S&S Awards continued

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Review: Don Juan - The Destiny of a Libertine, Cockpit Theatre

"All you talk of is heaven" 

The tale of legendary philanderer Don Juan is one which has endured for centuries, told and retold by some of our greatest storytellers and this version by French writer Molière, playing at Marylebone’s Cockpit Theatre, dates back to 1660. Inspired by these Baroque origins, La Compagnie de la Flibuste’s production conjures an effectively theatrical world – evocative dance, sinister masks, lavish costumery and uncomplicated design all combining in support of this telling of the noted lothario’s antics. 
  
Frenchman Xavier Lafaire plays Don Juan as a recognisable dandy, his swaggering cocksure manner making it easy for him to roam the land, sweeping any maiden he wants into his bed uncaring of the impact on her reputation and wrapping any number of merchants around his finger so they’ll forget the unpaid bills. But though facilitated by his resourceful manservant Sganarelle, a most affable turn by Christopher Paddon, and continually bailed out by his exasperated father, the consequences of such a feckless life cannot be outrun forever.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Review: Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre

“No-one has time for other people’s troubles in a city”

It’s a rare occasion that I get to go to the theatre not knowing anything about a show in advance and so when the opportunity comes, it makes for a nice change. And in this case a huge surprise as Emil and the Detectives turned out to be a show with a cast full of kids! I now know that Erich Kästner’s 1929 novel is a much beloved children’s classic, though it never found a home on my bookshelf, and adapted here by Carl Miller, the tale of smalltown boy Emil going on a life-changing journey through the scary metropolis of Berlin and finding an unexpected solidarity with an army of street kids – the Detectives – is a solid entry in the National’s roster of family shows.

On the face of it, Bijan Sheibani seems an odd choice of director, an undoubtedly patchy track record leaving huge question marks but the National’s faith has been largely repaid here with a mercifully flaming skeleton-free production. Bunny Christie’s set design is a glorious masterpiece, using Constructivist angles and a stark spareness to allow for a range of different atmospheres and locations to be evoked, and the collaboration with Sheibani really pays off in key moments when the simplest solution is often used to great effect. Lucy Carter’s precise lighting comes into play in ingenious chase scenes with Ian Dickinson’s sound adding suitably creepy notes.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Review: From Morning to Midnight, National Theatre

"Well, that was a bit odd"

Sometimes, one knows from the first moments of a show that it just isn’t going to be your cup of tea. And so it was with the opening montage of Melly Still’s new production of From Morning to Midnight, a landmark of German expressionism apparently but for me, a hugely ambitious piece of stagecraft that indulges far too much overt theatricality at the expense of dramatic integrity. It is worth noting ‘twas a preview that I saw and one in which understudy Jack Tarlton had to step in for the injured Adam Godley in the lead role.

Georg Kaiser’s 1912 play uses an episodic form to tell the story of an everyday clerk who is jolted from the mundaneness of his existence when a sultry Italian wanders into his bank, inspiring him to seize the day and make a change to his dull family life. That he does by stealing 60,000 marks from the bank with the intention of eloping with this woman but when she rejects him, the clerk delves into a journey of the soul – both actual and metaphysical - that lasts for a day but feels like a lifetime.

Review: Home, Arcola

“One works. One looks around. One meets people. But very little communication takes place”

An unexpected delight, David Storey’s much-celebrated but rarely performed Home proved to be something rather lovely in its strange way, almost anti-dramatic in its structure and conventions, but beautifully moving in its deliberate poetry and pitch-perfect performances. Amelia Sears’ production for SEArED reconfigures the smaller Arcola studio into the round and Naomi Dawson’s design is just beautiful, hinting at where we might be but carrying much of the ambiguity that is contained within the play itself.

We start with a gorgeous sequence between old hands Jack and Harry, bantering and chatting about the old days in a most fragmented way, lamenting the Britain of the past and delivering their old patter routines to while away the hours as if two old friends had just met up. But their reverie is shattered by the arrival of Kathleen and Marjorie as we soon realise that we’re actually in the grounds of a mental asylum, something confirmed by the final addition, the genuinely disturbed, and much younger, Alfred.

Cast of From Midnight to Morning continued



Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”

Despite never having seen or read Strangers on a Train, I seemed to carry a strong idea of what the plot would entail. So of course I was disappointed to find out that the play wasn’t actually about two men deciding to kill each other’s wives on a long journey on the rails and that the action actually left the train carriage pretty early on. Expectations aside, I was also a little surprised at just how cinematic Robert Allan Ackerman’s production was, a veritable film noir brought to life in all its tense monochrome glory.

But for all the gloss that Tim Goodchild’s ever-revolving set and Peter Wilms’ frequent projections bring, there’s a curious lack of effective theatricality to Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. The fateful initial meeting between Laurence Fox’s Guy and Jack Huston’s Bruno is charged with homoerotic tension as the latter teasingly offers to kill the former’s unloved wife if he will reciprocate by offing his overbearing father. Yet this isn’t something that is played out in the psychodrama that follows, exploring the effects on each man of perpetrating their crimes.

Short Film Review #28

77 Beds
A curious little thing this. Written and directed by Alnoor Dewshi, 77 Beds features Ben Whishaw as Ismael, a young man having problems sleeping who decides to count things to try and get to the land of nod. But instead of sheep, he counts the number of beds he has slept in, and so follows a kind of patchwork personal history, snippets of his life, his friends, his family, appear in brief recollections of significant events and the beds that accompanied them. It’s intriguing but never really develops into something compelling, though it is always good to see Ben Whishaw, his angular youth a powerful central presence. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Reviewer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“A manly enterprise”

Propeller’s 2013/14 tour sees them revive their productions of The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the latter kicking things off in a few venues this winter before the former joins it in rep early next year. The all-male Shakespeare company has rightfully garnered considerable praise for its innovative ensemble-driven approach to the Bard’s works but returning to this interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, previously seen in 2003 and 2009, sees them lose a little of that special magic that they have previously brought to bear.

Located in a Victorian attic of sorts, the story of the course of true love is surprisingly leaden in a protracted first half which fails to reveal any real sense of purpose to Edward Hall’s production. The ducal court is dull with a criminally insipid Hippolyta, any character that does arrive in Will Featherstone’s performance is too little too late; there’s a quartet of curiously bloodless lovers, with only Dan Wheeler’s Helena really standing out; and the Rude Mechanicals are serviceable but little more. Joseph Chance’s Wizard of Oz-inspired Puck really is the saving grace with his supple slyness. 

Re-review: Scenes from a Marriage, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican


"I don't know what my love looks like, and I can't describe it. Most of the time I can't feel it"

A bit of an ironic choice of quote as this production is one which made me feel so intensely that after sitting through its four hours on Thursday, I booked again for the Sunday. Toneelgroep Amsterdam's far too short stay at the Barbican is an undoubted highlight of my year - their interpretation of Scenes from a Marriage proving to be a simply extraordinary piece of theatre that I knew I had to go and see again.

My review is here and I have little to add to it, it expresses everything I have to say for once. I am now looking at their programme over in Amsterdam to see what I can nip over and see in their surtitled selection, as I can't wait for them to come to me again, it will just take too long! 

Photo: Ivo van Hove

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review: Henry the Fifth, Unicorn

“This is a story about a king”

The Unicorn’s A Winter’s Tale, written by Ignace Cornelissen from Shakespeare, was something unexpectedly brilliant last year, and powerfully moving – unsure of what to expect, I didn’t think that I’d be crying for a good while after at what was ostensibly a children’s show. So you’d think I’d be pre-warned going into Henry the Fifth, likewise an adaptation of, or more accurately a response to, Henry V, but once again, I found myself weeping, most likely scaring the children around me and even now, I’m unable to look at a balloon without welling up.

Cornelissen, translated by Purni Morell, re-envisages the war at the heart of the play as a playground struggle and in Ellen McDougall’s lucid production, we see that the actions of those concerned are as impactful whether on a school field or a battlefield. The power games of climbing to the top and grabbing it all apply equally in both scenarios but more tellingly, the effect that they have on the people around them can be absolutely devastating. It is such a simple technique but one which is spellbindingly effective. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Review: Eat Pray Laugh!, Palladium

“You’ve aged…but I’ve stayed the same”

Ours was never a household that watched “variety’s gigastar” Dame Edna Everage and to be honest, her schtick always seemed a little old-hat even as a young’un. Still, one has to appreciate the towering achievement of over 50 years in the business and so when a kind invitation to the opening night of Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour came my way, a trip to the London Palladium was in order. And to further ram home how out of sync I am with this performer, I found myself amazed at the size of the star-studded gala put on and the near-full critical complement that had turned out to see Eat Pray Laugh!

Additionally, I don’t watch much live comedy at all. It’s always a bit too hit and miss for my liking – there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re the only person not laughing – and being deaf, the acoustic challenges are often too much to surmount – actually, there’s nothing worse than a hall full of people pissing themselves at a joke you didn’t hear clearly. But along with the range of celebrities that turned up this Friday night, who am I to turn up my nose to a free ticket and so I shuffled past Elaine Paige and Maureen Lipman having a gossip, Richard E Grant taking sneaky pics of the set and Vivienne Westwood looking flawless to take my seat in the stalls.

Review: Tartuffe, Birmingham Rep

“I am a native of Wolverhampton”

Molière in the modern day via the Midlands? Tartuffe is Roxana Silbert’s first production as Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep and sees her bring a distinctly local flavour to this classic French comedy. Chris Campbell’s new version dispenses with the rhyming couplets and crowbars in a ton of local references and fourth wall breaking to create a highly comic atmosphere, but one which sacrifices any sense of subtlety or depth of character for the quickfire laughs which feel more reminiscent of a panto than anything else. 

My main reason for booking, aside from a trip to see the new theatre, was to see Siân Brooke, too long absent from our stages, but the main draw in the case is Mark Williams as Tartuffe, the religious hypocrite who inveigles his way into the household of self-made man Orgon, with designs on both his wife and his daughter. Not everyone falls under his spell though and the situation quickly turns farcical as they try to expose Tartuffe for what he really is, with Aston Villa scarves, jokes about HS2 and funny walks aplenty. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Review: Scenes from a Marriage, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

“It seems like you two are going through something of a rough patch”

Stripping away all the technical innovation that has characterised Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s last two visits to London, Ivo Van Hove’s take on Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage is not just an extraordinary reinterpretation of a seminal classic but also one of the most exhilarating pieces of theatre you could hope to have the privilege to see this year. Utterly reinventing the space of the Barbican’s main theatre and toying with conventional modes of story-telling, I spent most of the astonishing second half in a state of near constant goose bumps. 

From the beginnings when we’re colour-coded by wristbands into three groups, it is clear something different is afoot. Jan Versweyveld’s design splits the stage into three rooms, connected by a central chamber into which we can occasionally peer, and the first half sees the audience progress through the areas, simultaneously witnessing a scene in each. Each scene features Johan and Marianne and the implosion of their picture-perfect marriage but van Hove has three different couples play the roles at different points in their relationship. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore, Union Theatre

“We’re sober, sober men and true”

The Union’s all male productions of Gilbert and Sullivan has become a reliable institution on the theatrical calendar and this year is no exception with their revival of HMS Pinafore (Or The Lass That Loved A Sailor) which they last delivered back in 2007. This interpretation starts off onboard a ship in the 1940s as a group of young sailors are killing time on their bunkbeds. As one strikes up a tune on his handy recorder, so the show slides into place as a little amusement for these men and it’s a neat way of subtly justifying the all-male conceit, with makeshift costumes just thrown together from whatever is at hand, playing up the inventive feel of the whole enterprise.

And with Regan’s sure hand at the tiller, Lizzi Gee’s choreography sweeping across the deck and Chris Mundy’s nimble fingers billowing the musical sails, it makes for a successful voyage across the Southwark seas. The playfulness of the concept makes for guileless pleasures – the nifty twist of a neckerchief turns a sailor into a sister (or a cousin, or an aunt) and Gee makes the most of the ensemble’s physicality with routines based around skipping ropes and press-ups, and the interlocking movements of different groups is beautifully realised using the sheer simplicity of Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design.

Cast of HMS Pinafore continued



Short Film Review #27

Passing Through

With the news that the wonderful Rio cinema in Dalston is once again under threat, Paul Rapacioli and Joe Shaw’s film Passing Through feels an entirely appropriate starting point for this post, even though it was made in 2002. A ruminative love letter to the cinema – both in terms of classic film-making and also the demise of old-school picture houses – it’s a powerfully moving and beautiful piece of work as Graham Pountney’s projectionist marks his last day at work, before enforced early retirement, with an uncharacteristic act of rebellion. It’s a heartfelt choice and even in the depths of despair, it brings to him something infinitely lasting, reminding us all of the magic of the cinema. Highly recommended. 


Monday, 11 November 2013

Review: Twelve Angry Men, Garrick

“There’s always one”

My classic movie knowledge is terrible – I rarely watch old films and though I am frequently bought DVDs of “must-see classics”, they invariably remain in their wrappers on a shelf, waiting for the day when I finally decide to catch up on years of cinematic history. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never seen Twelve Angry Men. Nor had I any intention of going to see it onstage to be honest – though the Garrick Theatre is blessed with a lovely intimacy from the Grand Circle, charging 40-odd quid does seem a little optimistic, but the lovely people at Bargain Theatre (worth following on Twitter too) came through with a deal that saw those seats reduced to £16 and so I took the bait. 

Playing out in real time, the play follows the deliberations of an all-white 12-man jury on a hot and sticky New York afternoon in the 1950s as they are tasked with delivering a verdict on a murder case which has seen a young black man be accused of stabbing his father. But what seems like an open-and-shut case becomes more complicated when the initial vote indicates 11 consider him guilty and 1 considers there to be reasonable doubt, and so the debate begins as each side tries to win the absolute majority it needs to prevail. In doing so, the various men – all only known by their juror numbers, never their names – reveal how their prejudices and presumptions have guided them as they decide whether to send this man to the electric chair. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Review: The Dumb Waiter, Print Room

“Scampi!”

The charms of Harold Pinter have long eluded me and so the idea of a £20 50-minute show in a theatre far away from mine on a TFL-challenged weekend did not fill me with the hugest amount of excitement. But the promise of a nice dinner afterwards got me there and whilst I can’t say that The Dumb Waiter provided any Damascene conversion, it was definitely better than I thought it was going to be.

Two hit men sit waiting in a basement – it is Pinter after all – expecting someone to get in touch with their next job and whilst they wait, they fill the time with banal discussions and squabbles over such minutiae as football matches from their past, the local news and the correct wording of a particular saying. The banter bounces back and forth and as the time comes ever closer to the order being received, the mood darkens into something much more menacing.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Review: Our Ajax, Southwark Playhouse


“Now I know war makes men lose all sense of themselves”

Like Caroline Bird last year for the Gate, Timberlake Wertenbaker has looked to tales of Ancient Greece to create a new play that speaks of the unique trials of modern warfare and the demands it places on soldiers from “Troy, Flanders, Basra, Helmand” and beyond. Our Ajax draws on Sophocles’ Ajax as well as dialogues with people serving in the armed forces right now, but as with Bird’s The Trojan Women, there are difficulties in combining the Hellenic elements - not least the presence of divine power - with the all-too-real scenario of modern-day desert combat.

In a world where the acronym PTSD is chillingly familiar, this Ajax is a decorated Lieutenant Colonel who flips over the edge when he is passed over for a promotion to Brigadier which goes to rival Odysseus instead. But though his devoted battalion recognise what is happening, there are no structures in this version of the military to deal with such crises and so as Wertenbaker unpicks the varied reasons for Ajax’s mental collapse, there’s an inexorable slide towards tragedy that spans from the personal to the institutional.


Review: Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, Duke of York’s

“Do what to a what?”

The whole Jeeves and Wooster thing has passed me by in life – I’ve never seen the TV show or read PG Wodehouse’s stories, nor ever felt the need to catch up. But I do like me some Matthew Macfadyen and so the lure of seeing him onstage – after an absence of three years – meant that a trip to the unwieldly titled Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense was in order. The play was adapted by Robert and David Goodale and is directed by Sean Foley, who brings a strenuous theatricality to the whole affair.

The conceit sees Stephen Mangan’s toff Wooster intending to put on a one-man show but soon finding that he needs the assistance of his trusty manservant Jeeves, played by Macfadyen, who helps him relay the tales of Wooster’s adventures by stage-managing the whole affair and portraying any number of supporting players. Thus we get a dizzying whirl of characters, locations and scenarios all conjured from Jeeves’ resourcefulness but not content with the The 39 Steps-style carousing, there’s possibly the hugest amount of arch nudge-nudge-wink-wink business ever seen on a London stage. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Old Red Lion

“That’s all the universe is, one big torture chamber”

Written in the early 1990s, Philip Ridley’s The Fastest Clock in the Universe has always carried echoes of Dorian Gray but watching it in 2013 in Islington's Old Red Lion theatre pub (where Mercury Fur was memorably revived last year), it is remarkable to see how it prefigured the cult of celebrity and so-called reality television shows like The Only Way is Essex. The perma-tanned, pec-tastic, plucked vanity of protagonist Cougar Glass epitomises the obsession with image that looms large over contemporary society and consequently casts a new sheen over the self-gratifying urges that form the backbone of Ridley’s still disturbing play.

Glass is celebrating his 19th birthday, he’s been celebrating it for a number of years now and aided and abetted by his faithful companion Captain Tock, he has special plans indeed for his party, centred on the twinkish delights of 15 year-old schoolboy Foxtrot Darling. Obsessed with holding back the years, his narcissism is cruelly magnetic yet the vortex it creates pulls people mercilessly into its most destructive orbit, meaning that it is inevitably more than party favours that are going to be handed out by the end of the evening.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Review: An Enemy of the People, New Diorama

“If we took a vote now, whose side would you be on?”

The works of Henrik Ibsen are often cited as some of the greatest committed to paper but though his plays are frequently performed, they are rarely adapted, seldom excised from their 19th century Norwegian settings to explore how they might resonate in a more contemporary context. David Harrower had a go at putting Ibsen into the 1970s with Public Enemy for the Young Vic earlier this year but Rebecca Manson Jones has brought the same play – An Enemy of the People – bang up to date with this new adaptation which is now playing at the New Diorama Theatre after a tour of London and the South West of England. 
  
She places the play in a modern-day but fictional small town on the Cornish coast – Porth Kregg – which is finding its way out of economic depression through a co-operative owned health spa, run by the Stockmann siblings. But when the ethical business ethos of one is compromised by the environmentally unsound supplier found by the other, the convictions of all concerned are challenged as the whole community is forced to identify what they consider to be more important – the health of the planet versus the weight of their purse. And it’s a question that we as the audience are also asked to contemplate, in a way that shapes the play itself.

Short Film Review #26

Rubbish

Rubbish sees Martin Freeman and James Lance reprise characters from an earlier short film Call Register, best mates Kevin and Julian. Once again tussling over a girl, in this case Anna Friel’s new neighbour Isobel, this time the scenario is around recycling in the flats where they live. Ed Roe’s film neatly punctures the hypocrisy that many of us carry about green issues, the lip service we pay and in this example, how that can rebound on us. Lance carries on his laidback swagger and Freeman is brilliant once again as the constantly over-compensating Kevin, aware he’s about to lose another girl to his handsome friend.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear”

Whether considered a problem play or no, the fact that All’s Well That Ends Well is performed relatively infrequently is testament to the inherent difficulties of the play. Helena’s relentless pursuit of a man who does not love her, her determination to have them betrothed, the way she later inveigles her way into his bed, the story is an uneasy tale to take in a world of more enlightened sexual politics and though Nancy Meckler’s production for the RSC, here in Newcastle for a week, shines a fantastical light on the play (although not as successfully as the National’s excellent Grimm-like version from 2009) I think the issue around its uncommon revival is more careful avoidance rather than criminal neglect. 

Joanna Horton is good as the poor physician’s daughter who is adopted by the Countess of Rousillon yet finds herself falling in love with her ‘brother’, Alex Waldmann as a Prince Harry-inspired Bertram who soon heads abroad pretty sharpish. She follows him to the French court, winning the favour of the King by utilising her father’s knowledge and persuading him to offer Bertram’s unwilling hand in marriage as reward. Again he flees (this time to the battlefield) and again she follows, determined to get her man even if it means tricking him into bed and as one is meant to assume with the ginger Prince, combat has a maturing effect meaning that he allegedly becomes quite the catch and her doggedness is thus rewarded.

Cast of RSC's All's Well That End's Well continued


Review: Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs

“You have to stop seeing the good in everyone all the time”

With Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs continues its merry way of putting on some interesting theatre yet not opening it up officially to critics with a view to protecting the creativity and experimental nature of the work being performed. Deborah Bruce’s debut play is a rather conventional affair though and being directed by Michael Attenborough does nothing to challenge this and so one is left wondering why the Hampstead Theatre are shying away from replicating the model of the Royal Court Upstairs and really capitalising on being an out and proud two-studio venue.

Better known as a director (and half of a directorial super-couple with Jeremy Herrin) Bruce’s play occupies fairly safe territory in its comedic depiction of Lou, a forty-*cough*-thirty-something carefree Londoner whose style is well and truly cramped when her nineteen-year-old god-daughter Minnie moves into her flat to take up a place at university. Having fully embraced the vagaries of metropolitan living and its consequent inhibiting effect on conventional ideas of maturity, Lou is thus forced to face the difference between feeling nineteen and the dilemmas of actually being nineteen. 

Review: Secret Theatre 3, Lyric Hammersmith

“Your last meal - what would it be?” 

Where shows #1 and #2 of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre season maintained complete radio silence about their content (even if certain critics weren’t able to hold off revealing titles at the interval…), it seems that the efforts of keeping things mysterious have gotten a little too much. Secrets are still thrillingly in store for other aspects of the show but clues are being offered for #3 right up front on the website, strongly hinting that the death penalty is something to do with the production.

And so it proves, Caroline Bird’s new play Chamber Piece is an unremittingly dark piece of writing, set in a near-future where capital punishment has been reintroduced to Britain. But Bird wants to look at what happens when it goes wrong, as we witness an execution that doesn’t follow through and the ethical and practical mess that emerges in the aftermath. Can the state try again to kill someone for whom they have a death warrant? Should they?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Review: Unscorched, Finborough


"You go through life thinking there's a limit to the things people will do to each other. But there's not. There's just not"

The Papatango New Writing Prize is now in its fifth year and continues its excellent working relationship with the Finborough Theatre in offering a month's full run to the winning play. And following on from such interesting works as Dawn King's Foxfinder and Louise Monaghan's Pack, Luke Owen's Unscorched feels a worthy winner, an intriguing debut play which navigates its intensely serious subject matter with a supremely deft touch.

That subject is child abuse, but specifically how it impacts those whose job it is to investigate the images and films that are flagged up as crimes against children. Owen's play follows Tom as he starts a new job in such a digital analysis team and explores how the pervasive effects of what he has to watch permeate into every aspect of his life. Echoes of what he sees and hears taint his sense of normality, the challenge to his faith in human nature threatening his burgeoning relationship with the sweet Emily. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Review: The Events, Young Vic

“If I’m going to make a mark on the world, I have to do it now”

The Events had a curious impact – Ramin Gray’s production for Actors Touring Company has the kind of sinuous mellifluousness that makes it the kind of show that lingers long in the memory, yet David Greig’s actual writing is ultimately a little bit frustrating in the final analysis. The combined effect though is something complicated and complex that takes a unique look at the way in which terrible atrocities affect the communities on which they are inflicted.

Greig has taken inspiration from Anders Breivik’s horrific rampage in Norway back in 2011 as a boy devastates a village choir rehearsal, shooting many of its diverse members dead. But his focus is on the aftermath, the way in which those who survive try to process what happened, as so we see choir leader and priest Claire (Neve McIntosh) searching for answers even though it seems that there may not be any forthcoming.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Review: The Scottsboro Boys, Young Vic

“That’s what we call Southern justice”

The Scottsboro Boys were nine black teenage boys who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, Alabama in 1931 to be precise, and falsely accused of the rape of two white women, found themselves imprisoned in the hostile Deep South. But theirs was a case that ignited the racial debate in the USA and turned it into something of a cause célèbre, perhaps losing sight of the lives of these young men – some illiterate, all poor – that were irrevocably changed by their experiences. And ironically, that is the same fate suffered in this sharp-edged musical adaptation by Kander and Ebb, their last collaboration, and book writer David Thompson.

The show uses the minstrel form to frame the action, staging its own version of events in the vignettes of a minstrel show led by Julian Glover’s Interlocutor, a benign presence but in the way that some plantation owners were ostensibly nice. But rather than have white men wearing blackface, it is a black cast who play the white characters alongside the tribulations and many trials of the boys as they come up repeatedly against a society that is determined to deny them everything. And using an exaggeratedly vaudevillian style of performance, the truly shocking nature of what they went through is unblinkingly portrayed.