Thursday, 30 April 2015
An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée of Follies in Concert, a semi-staged version of the Sondheim show directed by Craig Revel-Horwood for just two performances with an all-star cast, featuring none other than Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski. Having never seen the show before, I have nothing to compare it too but after hearing the score played by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the inimitable Gareth Valentine, I suspect I may never need to hear another version!
The set-up of a reunion concert for an old theatrical troupe as per James Goldman’s book works wonders for the show and especially this production. There seemed to be real joy and appreciation amongst the company as they watched their colleagues each take their turn to reprise their former glories – Anita Harris and Roy Hudd’s light-hearted skip through ‘Rain on the Roof’, Stefanie Powers’ glamorous swish through ‘Ah, Paris!’, Lorna Luft’s quirky take on ’Broadway Baby’, Betty Buckley raising the roof with a soaring ‘I’m Still Here’ - whether the onlookers were acting or not, seeing them give each turn hugs, kisses and standing ovations felt real.
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
"It's so vulgar. I love it"
There's not a ticket to be had for the Union Theatre's production of Closer to Heaven, the entire run selling out well in advance, which would seem to indicate the Pet Shop Boys have more fans than might have been expected. My 3 star review for Official Theatre can be read here which covers the sharp and sexy choreography, the tuneful score and the woeful book. Also be warned, only sit in the front row if you're a fan of direct eye contact and nipples.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May, run currently sold out
Tuesday, 28 April 2015
“How long have you wanted to be a singer?
‘Since I was a kid’”
I don’t think even now I really believe that the kids in the film of Bugsy Malone aren’t actually singing – like with Father Christmas and the future for Wigan Athletic, I choose to believe. Fortunately, there's no such doubt in Sean Holmes' production of the show, written by Alan Parker with music and lyrics by Paul Williams, a mammoth run of which has been chosen to inaugurate the newly refurbished Lyric Hammersmith. It's the first professional production in over a decade of this inimitable Chicago gangster classic and Holmes and children's casting director Jessica Ronane have pulled together a group of exceptionally talented youngsters who sing live, dance, act and fire splurge guns aplenty
Having seen the show twice now, it is remarkable how different the energy was between the two sets of child performers I got to see, they’ve clearly been encouraged to establish their own mark on their roles and it’s a joy to behold. Max Gill’s Fat Sam is an absolute scene-stealing delight, absolutely nailing the comic timing and slapdash slapstick of this hapless boss whereas Sasha Gray captured more of the attention as a supremely confident Bugsy in his group; Thea Lamb’s achingly soulful voice fills her Blousey full of longing, compared to a perkier turn from Zoe Brough; and I couldn’t pick between Asanda Jezile and Samantha Allison as Tallulah, both shining as this most sardonic of songstresses.
“That looks like George Osborne…”
Well you certainly can’t fault Chris New for finding a new angle amidst the glut of election-themed political theatre that can be found from the Donmar to Theatre Delicatessen. And there’s something fascinating in reading about the way in which A New Play For The General Election was devised over a four week period by New and his cast of four, using guided improvisation to get to a predetermined end point, a brutal “final destination” that spits with real menace.
The forty-five minutes leading up to that point don’t always kick with the same force though. Its intentions are clear as the disturbed Danny drags his abducted victim into an abandoned warehouse and commences an obtuse line of questioning which reveals that in fact, this really is George Osborne. Two more people then arrive – the equally troubled Maggie and her tolerant partner Richard – throwing an already turbulent situation into more turmoil.
Monday, 27 April 2015
“Don't confuse business with pleasure"
On our way up to the balcony of the Wyndham’s Theatre, passing the posters of the numerous past productions this venue has hosted, I was struck by a rather neat coincidence. 2005 saw David Lan’s As You Like It star Helen McCrory and Sienna Miller as a ‘40s and French Rosalind and Celia and it just so happens that the former’s husband (Damian Lewis) and the latter’s partner (Tom Sturridge) are now starring in the theatre’s latest show – American Buffalo – alongside Coyote Ugly actor John Goodman.
As for the play itself, it left me a little cold to be honest. My review for Official Theatre is here and whilst I thought there was some great acting on display, the pieces just didn't connect for me. Have a read and let us know what you think.
Running time:2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 27th June
“You tink it normal you wifing some dirty self-proclaimed general in de bush? You tink it normal a boy carrying a gun killing and raping? You tink it okay dere no more schools, no more NOTIN!”
In 2003, Liberia was in the fourth year of its second civil war, the first having only ended in 1997 with cumulative casualties estimated to have reached over half a million. It is the context of this situation that Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed visits four young women sequestered on a rebel army base as the wives of the resident C.O. and explores the choices that they’ve been forced to make in order to survive. The intimacy of the Gate naturally lends itself to intense theatrical experiences but Caroline Byrne’s production here captures something equal parts raw and refreshing in both its uncompromisingly Liberian-accented subject and its forthright sincerity.
It’s refreshing because the Zimbabwean-American Gurira’s writing stems from an innate desire to understand character and even though the four women have been reduced to naming each other in the order they were ‘betrothed’ to the unseen general, they’re all written beautifully. As the dominant mother figure, No 1 runs as tightly regimented a ship as the man who no longer sexually desires her, No 2 took the only escape route available, joining the ranks of the soldiers leaving No 3 to bear the brunt of the amorous intentions, leaving her pregnant. The arrival of a frightened No 4 forces a change in the group’s dynamics though, as each woman struggles to assert their position.
“It seems every man has had enough of me”
Starting quite literally with the Fall of Man, Carol Ann Duffy's contemporary verse adaptation of medieval morality play Everyman sees Rufus Norris direct his first production since taking up the reins of Artistic Director at the National Theatre and finds him in a rather provocative mood. Through 100 minutes of boldly imagined drama, it's hard not to feel that there's an element of grabbing this institution by the lapels and giving it a good old shake. Not so much in establishing a definitive vision for the future per se but more in establishing just how wide its parameters will be.
Norris and designer Ian MacNeil work cleverly within the constraints of the Travelex budget to provide impactful moments with - variously - Tal Rosner's video wall, a powerful wind machine, William Lyons' music which combines shawms with Sharon D Clarke most effectively and bags of rubbish. Javier De Frutos makes a significant contribution too as choreographer and movement director, the wordless opening sequence of a coke-and-Donna-Summer-fuelled birthday party makes for a bold beginning.
Sunday, 26 April 2015
"Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Rather than being spoken, this quote - taken from a 1939 speech by Adolf Hitler - is projected onto the rear wall of the Finborough as you enter, setting the tone for this sobering piece of documentary theatre. Neil McPherson's I Wish To Die Singing - Voices from the Armenian Genocide is pulled together from a range of sources - eyewitness accounts and personal testimonies, the worlds of academia and poetry, photographs and music, Cher and Kim Kardashian - to mark the precise centenary of the beginnings of the events that later inspired the coining of the very word 'genocide' by Raphael Lemkin.
From the history lecture-like beginnings that cover the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a Turkish Republic whose rabid nationalism saw them enter the First World War on the sides of the Germans, to the searing pain of an old man reclaiming long-buried memories of being in the middle of a human catastrophe, Tommo Fowler's production makes no attempt to sugarcoat this particularly bitter pill. The details of the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and the desert concentration camps to which they were forced to walk are laid out before us, their story told compassionately but clear-sightedly.
Saturday, 25 April 2015
“I've never been convinced by newspaper economics"
They say write of which you know and as a former showbiz editor of the Daily Express, amongst other journalistic credits, it should come as little surprise that Mark Jagasia’s debut play is set in the world of print journalism. More specifically, Clarion takes place in the offices of the kind of tabloid that revels in 300 consecutive days of ‘shock’ headlines about immigration and has few scruples about the tactics it employs in an age of declining sales.
Jagasia clearly has a fondness for his time on Fleet Street and that shines through the satirical comedy here – the almost childlike rantings of a giddily autocratic editor, the salt-of-the-earth plainness of the news editor, the booze-and-expense chugging foreign correspondent, the batty astrologist, the overenthusiastic work experience kind, the journalist with pretensions of becoming a novelist. The larger scenes of criss-crossing banter have a well-wrought energy and sharpness of wit that is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.
Friday, 24 April 2015
“If you’ve not had a 4-part miniseries made about you, you’ve not lived”
Imagining a meeting between the woman who nearly brought down the monarchy and the woman credited with saving it, Chris Ioan Roberts’ Dead Royal sees him take on both the roles of an 82-year-old Wallis Simpson and a 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer in a fiercely funny hour of high-camp high comedy. The plot, insofar as the piece technically needs something to hang on, sees the ageing Duchess of Windsor determined to warn Diana off her impending nuptials, whilst the younger woman is after a significant pearl necklace that Wallis kept with her after the abdication crisis subsided.
But Dead Royal is less about story and much more about storytelling as Roberts does a magnificent job of inhabiting the twisted characterisations he has created. Swimming in a sea of pink Charbonnel et Walker chocolate boxes and surrounded by (unseen) servants who can never make her happy, this Wallis is a witheringly caustic delight, any fragility offset by a long-held bitterness that feeds her like a toxic energy, trying unsuccessfully to fend off the loneliness that her situation has placed her in, her barbed observations cutting deep even as she feigns a long-wearied self-deprecation.
Thursday, 23 April 2015
“There’s an end of outward preaching now. An end of perfection. There may be a time.”
Between this and Rules for Living, that’s two consecutive openings at the National Theatre that have been written and directed by women. Coincidence that it comes at a moment of regime change, who knows? Those more inclined to actual research might possibly tell you it’s more common you’d think but I doubt it. In any case, it’s pleasing to see Caryl Churchill getting a major production of one of her lesser-performed works at the hands of the talented Lyndsey Turner, who will soon be turning her hand to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.
And it is an ambitious mark she has made here with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, exploding the original six-strong casting of the show to a company of nearly twenty actors, supported by a community company of forty-odd supernumeraries. She needs the bodies too, to fit around an audacious design feat from Es Devlin which is best experienced with fresh eyes if possible, so no spoilers here. It is an inspired choice though, that both sets the scene perfectly for this world of political debate but also deconstructs meaningfully as the full scope of that debate becomes increasingly clear.
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
“I saw everything.
But I didn’t really see a thing”
It is little surprise that the synopsis for Simon Stephens’ new play mentions it takes place in a fractured world, that is pretty much a given for his writing. What proved more surprising for me was how much I connected to Carmen Disruption, this idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Bizet’s opera resonating strongly throughout Lizzie Clachan’s brilliantly distressed design which conspires to lend the Almeida an unmistakeable air of faded grandeur. Just with the barely breathing body of a vanquished bull in the middle of the stage, natch.
This particular fractured world is a nameless European city in which Stephens interlaces five monologues, roughly analogous to the characters we know from Bizet but as if refracted through the shattered lens of an old pair of opera glasses. So Jack Farthing’s Carmen becomes a dangerously sexy rent boy, John Light takes Escamillo from the bull ring to the bear pit as an arrogant trader, this Don José fights through traffic rather than armies in Noma Dumezweni’s achingly moving cabbie, and Micaela’s tragedy remains intact in Katie West’s emotionally raw student.
Tuesday, 21 April 2015
“We have strict statutes and most biting laws"
Cheek By Jowl’s Russian-language take on The Tempest is seared on my memory as a most vivid interpretation of the play that I can’t imagine being bettered – any other version of Miranda and Caliban’s relationship just feels wrong now. So the news that their collaborators from Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre were returning once again to the Barbican at the end of a major tour of another of Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure. And once again, Declan Donellan and Nick Ormerod’s reimagining makes an indelible stamp that ensuing productions at the Globe and Young Vic will have to work hard to live up to.
Starting off very much in the abstract as the 13-strong company move as an amorphous single body in and out of the shadows of Ormerod’s container-strewn set, murkily lit by Sergey Skornetskiy. But as the cast make circuit after circuit, subtle differences in their movements set the scene of this particular Vienna, a world where authoritarian rule dominates harshly, and in which individual freedoms are challenged. As its ruler, Alexander Arsentyev’s Duke appears paralysed by a crisis of faith and so surrenders the pressures of ruling to his bureaucratic deputy Angelo, a fervent Andrei Kuzichev, but as this is Shakespeare, he disguises himself as a friar and hangs out nearby to observe the outcome.
Monday, 20 April 2015
“Is our emotional attachment to the NHS gonna stop it changing in the way that it needs to, to continue to thrive and survive?”
The product of eighteen months of interviews with people working in and around the National Health Service, Michael Wynne’s verbatim play Who Cares is an impassioned but clear-sighted cri de coeur for this venerable British institution but one free from too much rose-tinted sentimentality, as it performs an uncompromising health check on that which is meant to check our own health. And the prognosis? The NHS may possibly be screwed but theatre’s in great shape.
Starting off in the rehearsal rooms next to the theatre and eventually ending up in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Who Cares is a promenade production that weaves its way inside and out, up stairs and down, backstage and on, as the audience – split into small groups - take in a multitude of vignettes of the interviewees’ experiences, presented in imaginative and inventive ways by the show’s three directors, Debbie Hannan, Lucy Morrison and Hamish Pirie, plus designer Andrew D Edwards, Natasha Chivers’ lighting and Daniel Krass’ sound.
Sunday, 19 April 2015
“Raise your hopeful voice”
There should be a study into the tragic condition that afflicts so many musical theatre performers when a camera comes into view – the outstretched hand has struck down as talented a star as Imelda Staunton and John Owen-Jones has been similarly affected as evidenced by the cover of his new CD Rise. The tracklisting of this album, his third, does show some signs of trying to break free from this #stagey curse though, and with some surprising results.
None more so than the opening track, a rendition of the Eurovision Song Contest-winning song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ (does the small print specify that this song has to be sung with a beard?!) that somehow manages to bring more drama than Conchita Wurst and go all out on the Bond theme theatrics, whilst still bringing so much feeling to the lyrics. The interesting arrangement is echoed later on in an inspired take on ‘Motherless Children’ which unexpectedly reinvigorates this spiritual.
“The world's gone all strange"
For better or for worse, the aspect of Fiona Doyle’s new play Deluge that lingers most in the mind is Moi Tran’s design. Continuing a trend of adventurous transformations of the downstairs space at the Hampstead, she has flooded the stage calf-deep – appropriately so for a drama so preoccupied with adverse weather conditions – with platforms at either end and a table and chairs perched on a box placed in the middle of the water. A striking choice but not one without its trials as soon became clear once the audience had taken their place in the traverse seating.
For there’s a fair amount of stomping about from one end to the other, especially in the earlier stages of the play, and consequently splashing galore, given how intimate this theatre is. A little advance warning might have been appreciated - given a couple of the disgruntled faces I suspect a stern letter of complaint or two might well be on the way! - but more significant than any amount of damp patches on your handbag is how distracting the noisy reality of wading through the water proves to be throughout the play.
Friday, 17 April 2015
“I love him
I love him so much but
I love him so much but
One day, Jamie Samuel will appear in a play that doesn’t make me cry, but today is not that day. Along with co-star Remmie Milner in Ella Carmen Greenhill’s play Plastic Figurines, he exerted as persistent and powerful a hold on my tear ducts as he did in the glorious Jumpers for Goalposts as this quietly devastating piece of new writing unfolds its fractured narrative with all the bruised authenticity and honesty of the most intimate diary.
That feeling is appropriate too as though the play is fictional, it is inspired by elements of Greenhill’s own life as you can feel that in every jab and joke of the complicated sibling relationship here, and in the sensitive, nuanced depiction of autism on which the plot hinges. After their mother is diagnosed with terminal leukaemia, Rose has to leave university life in Edinburgh to return to the family home to look after teenage brother Mikey.
“We can’t make piracy pay”
Gilbert and Sullivan’s titular buccaneers may struggle with a lack of a ruthless edge but Sasha Regan’s sharp eye means that piracy definitely pays as her all-male interpretation of The Pirates of Penzance enters a fifth year of swashbuckling success. From its initial run at the Union Theatre in 2009 and subsequent transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall, it has toured Australia, played the Hackney Empire and now returns for a UK tour which runs through to the end of June.
And getting to gaily tread the measure one more time was indeed an especial pleasure once again. In the august surroundings of Richmond’s Victorian theatre, the set design may look a little spare but once the stage is filled with heaving bodies – whether preening with piratical glee, gambolling in corsets or patrolling a policeman’s lot, or indeed all three at the same time, the musical spectacle of these eighteen lads, plus pianist, is quite something to behold.
Wednesday, 15 April 2015
“Ready or not, here comes Mama…”
These days, it’s more of a surprise when the big musicals from Chichester Festival Theatre don’t transfer into London (cf Barnum). And though it took them a wee while to confirm that Jule Styne’s Gypsy would be making a similar leap, after receiving the kind of extraordinary reviews (including from yours truly) that would most likely canonise Imelda Staunton right here and now, there was never really any doubt that this Rose would get her turn again, 40 years after the show was last seen in the West End.
With such a build-up and expectations sky high, Jonathan Kent’s production has a lot to live up to – and you can sense perversely-minded naysayers dying to have their turn – but dare I say it, I think the show has gotten even better. A key aspect to this is that Anthony Ward’s multi-faceted and multi-piece set design fits much better into the Savoy’s proscenium arch, its machinations felt just a little too exposed on Chichester’s thrust though the pay-off is that Nicholas Skilbeck’s supple-sounding orchestra now has to be tucked away.
“Boobs, tubes, jellies and lubes
All do the trick if the problem's a prick”
You can head over to Official Theatre to read my 2 star review of new musical Rumpy Pumpy which is playing at the Landor Theatre, a show I thought needed “a firm hand to redraft and reshape” in order to meet the full potential of the interesting source material. More show information can also be found here.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 19th April
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
“It means, Mrs Twit, we're going to have some fun"
Truth be told, I wasn’t really a fan of The Twits when I was a kid – the tales of worm spaghetti grossed my sensitive little soul out and I was much more at home reading about the delirious pleasure of the mixing of George’s Marvellous Medicine. So the news of the latest Roald Dahl adaptation to hit a London stage wasn’t one that necessarily filled me with the greatest of glee, especially since this version of The Twits is coming to the Royal Court via a “mischievous adaptation” courtesy of Enda Walsh, a playwright with whom I’ve had mixed experiences, and director John Tiffany.
And predictably, it is a curious confection that they’ve cooked up alongside the plate of wormy spaghetti which sent shivers down my spine once again. Aimed at “brave 8 year olds and their families”, it makes little concession to being a traditional family show and mines a rather dark and twisted approach – one suspects Mr Dahl might well have approved – but one which didn’t always seem to connect with the youngsters in the audience at this final preview before press night. The first half in particular saw mostly fitful adult laughter in a tale that is rather stark in its cruelty and political leanings.
“Blaming ‘fucking migrants’ for every single thing we don’t like about ourselves”
There’s something rather ingenious about Lucy Osborne’s design for Anders Lustgarten’s new play Lampedusa. It’s the type of set that invites descriptors like ‘bare’ and ‘minimal’ (cf the Guardian’s reduction of Jan Versweyveld’s Olivier-nominated work to “there is no set”) when you walk into the upstairs space at the Soho Theatre, there appears to be nothing but circular, backless benches on which we must gather around. But even the act of taking a seat becomes charged with something more as the collective gaze of the audience is turned in on each other, even before the play has started.
That’s the point that Steven Atkinson’s production skilfully but pointedly makes, and that Osborne’s design in all its ostensible simplicity never lets us forget, that – to coin a phrase - we’re all in this together. As the voices of an Italian coastguard and a Yorkshire payday loan collector speak out from in amongst us, you realise there but for the grace of God - the people forced to flee persecution or government crackdowns, those who suffer the indignities of derogatory language spat at them or ATOS’ risible assessment procedure, those left with no choice but to make desperate, desperate decisions – it could be us, it is us.
Sunday, 12 April 2015
So here we have it, barely six months after opening, the machinery at Ford Dagenham has ground to a halt for the last time and Made in Dagenham has played its final performance. To say I’m gutted is putting it mildly, this was a piece of shining musical theatre that I took to my heart from the first time I saw it and again on my subsequent two revisits. You can read Review #1 Review #2 and Review #3.But the opportunity to see it one last time was one I couldn’t resist and if a show has to shutter, then the special energy of a closing night is probably the time to do it.
And I’m so glad that we went back for more (this is the first show I’ve ever dayseated twice and you can count the number of times I’ve dayseated on one hand!) as it was a truly special night. The occasion aside, it was a genuine pleasure to see and hear the show again and the cast were on fire to a (busy wo)man. Adrian der Gregorian has never sounded better than pouring all his heart and soul into ‘The Letter’, Sophie-Louise Dann tore up the stage and her colleagues’ tear ducts in ‘In An Ideal World’, Mark Hadfield’s Harold Wilson went even further over the top (if such a thing were possible), and Heather Craney’s goofy Clare became almost unbearably heart-breaking with such emotion on show.
Friday, 10 April 2015
“You don’t have to worry about taking the perfect picture”
There’s much to enjoy about Idle Motion’s Shooting with Light, currently selling out night after night at the New Diorama ahead of a UK tour, not least in their exploration of the life and work of photojournalist Gerda Taro. A devised work, it blends its text with striking use of movement, multimedia projections and innovative design, to create an impassioned, time-jumping romance slash mystery that has some truly beguiling moments.
Fleeing the rising anti-Semitism of the 1930s, German Gerta Pohorylle and Hungarian Andre Friedmann met in a Parisian café and quickly bonding over a mutual love for each other and photography, reinvented themselves as the First Couple of photojournalism – Gerda Taro and Robert Capa. Initially just acting his agent, Taro’s own love for the lens saw her develop her own path, becoming the first female photojournalist to cover a war from the front line. And to die whilst doing so.
Thursday, 9 April 2015
“How long was it supposed to go on – this mother thing?”
On the one hand, it’s rather flipping marvellous to see a play that places multiple older female characters at its heart, continuing the stirring efforts of Indhu Rubasingham’s artistic directorship at the Tricycle Theatre to continue to broaden the scope of the stories it tells, far beyond the white male dominance we often see on our stages. And its themes of individual expression versus maternal love fit neatly into an emerging trend that we’ve seen in contemporary plays I’ve really loved like Love Love Love and The Last of the Haussmans.
On the other hand, I’m not too sure that I really liked April De Angelis’ After Electra, a Theatre Royal Plymouth production directed here by Prince Caspian himself Samuel West. It has a sparky beginning as uncompromising artist Virgie decides to celebrate her 81st birthday with family and friends by declaring that she’s going to take her own life while she’s still compos mentis enough for it to be her decision. Notions of what longer life expectancy really means and how that impacts on familial relationships suggest something intriguing lurking in Michael Taylor’s handsomely appointed set.
Tuesday, 7 April 2015
“Sit down, have a sausage roll”
What if the sun didn't come out tomorrow? In Samuel Evans’ dystopian miniature, that’s a distinct possibility as a series of global apocalyptic happenings – as rather neatly surmised in a news broadcast that is playing as we enter the theatre – have led to tomorrow being declared as the end of the world and the beginning of, well, something new. Or so the people gathered in Clive’s front room on the 15th floor of an Elephant and Castle tower block hope.
Whistlestop Theatre’s production of Tomorrow at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington hinges on two key aspects here and delivers strongly on both – a thought-provoking approach to the genre that forces a fresh appraisal, and the kind of hyper-localism that money just can’t buy. There’s something hugely appropriate about being able to see where a play is set (more or less) from the front door of the venue, especially when writing and direction combine as effectively and sensitively as they do here.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”
Not gonna lie, the prospect of Man and Superman has had me vacillating between
after ill-timed illness meant we couldn't use our £15 seats in the front row. Some stalking of the website got me another cheap seat but this time up in the circle slips which is somewhere I never want to sit again - it may be a bargain but you sacrifice an awful lot to tucked away up there (although the individual seats are quite nifty themselves).
The play itself isn't bad, not as good as I'd hoped in all honesty given how lovely and sunny it was outside, and I rarely felt that inspired by it (a consequence of being much farther away than I'm used to I think). So for this one, I'm abdicating my blogging responsibilities and you'll have to look elsewhere for a review...
Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th May
Monday, 6 April 2015
"She says thank you, and that you have a nice dimple”
Ben Whishaw certainly has his ardent fans (naming no religiously-monikered fellow blogs…) but though I like him as an actor, I’ve never really had that breakthrough moment that would have pushed him onto my must-see list. Hong Khaou’s 2014 film Lilting comes pretty darn close though with its achingly beautiful musings on love and loss and the importance of a shared language in truly communicating and connecting with someone.
Whishaw’s Richard is grieving the death of his lover Kai, an affecting Andrew Leung, but has a dual problem in dealing with the woman who would have been his mother-in-law. The Cambodian-Chinese Junn is in a nearby retirement home and despite speaking six languages, can only swear like a trooper in English. Furthermore, her son never came out to her so Richard has only ever been the flatmate she did not like – something he is desperate to rectify.
"You don't trust God when it comes to concrete"
Steven Knight’s Locke is a really rather remarkable film, set in real-time in a BMW as engineer Ivan Locke makes a hurried journey from Birmingham to Croydon. He’s the only person we see on screen, though he spends much of the time on his phone, and a large part of the dialogue is taken up with the logistics of what will be the most ambitious pouring of concrete since…well, who knows, but from these unlikely beginnings emerges a genuinely gripping thriller.
With a huge skyscraper project about to crown a glowing career and his wife and two teenage boys setting up a blissful family night in watching the football, Tom Hardy’s well-bearded Locke seems to have it all set. But the phone call that has precipitated his dash onto the motorway throws everything up in the air and forces him to face some huge challenges, all whilst never leaving his seat or letting his foot up off the accelerator.
"Our own worst enemies are ourselves, our fears"
Where films succeed, sequels must now follow and after The Woman in Black did decent Harry Potter-fuelled box office, it was inevitable that a return engagement would follow. The Woman in Black 2 - The Angel of Death hit cinemas at the beginning of the year to less-than-stellar reviews and on watching the film, it isn’t too hard to see why despite the presence of Phoebe Fox and Helen McCrory at the head of the cast.
That said, it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Jon Croker’s screenplay uses another story from Susan Hill, set 40 years on from the first film in the middle of the Blitz from whence McCrory’s headmistress Jean Hogg and Fox’s Eve Parkins are evacuating a group of their schoolchildren. But the frying pan of Nazi bombers is followed by the fire of malevolent spirits as the safe haven they are granted turns out to be the haunted Eel Marsh House.
Sunday, 5 April 2015
“If I go to Heaven, my fate is assured"
Full disclosure first, I was a contributor to the Kickstarter campaign for this studio cast recording of new musical Paradise Lost as attested on this page here (although darn that pesky line break!) I can’t really remember what prompted such benevolence from me, ‘twas just the second thing I have helped to fund in the smallest way but something about this musical treatment of John Milton’s poem clearly caught my attention and with the finished product now in hand, I can clearly see why.
Lee Ormsby’s music and story and Jonathan Wakeham’s book and lyrics has a self-confessed aim of “epic storytelling” and through a determination to forefront character and bold, accessible music, the 24 tracks that make up this double album offer a tantalising glimpse into what has the potential to be a truly spectacular musical. Bucking contemporary trends somewhat, it looks back to a time of 80s mega-musicals but infuses it with real heart to make a beguiling confection.
“How we miss his entertaining dreams”
An impromptu Easter treat came courtesy of a charity shop in Stratford-upon-Avon with this daft filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat featuring Ken-doll-in-human-form Donny Osmond as the titular entitled brother. It’s a rather odd screen adaptation, using a school show conceit to pay tribute to its theatrical origins/get away with a micro-budget (delete as you see appropriate).
This approach does allow for one genius moment as we see Joan Collins’ music teacher indulging in some amazing fake piano playing as the production starts, and from then we go way way back and enter the land of Canaan in the stagey but safe hands of Maria Friedman’s Narrator. I like Friedman, I really do, but she is so hammy here that she makes sitting in the back row of the upper circle seem like a sensible option to avoid being blinded by its glare.
“Certain men just don’t get started ‘til later in life”
To criticise an RSC production of being traditional seems a little bit beside the point, especially under this artistic directorship, but that’s how I felt on leaving this production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It is undoubtedly impressive but it rarely feel inspired, it just doesn’t do enough to convince that the sobriquet “greatest American play of the 20th century” (as Doran labels it in the programme) is well-deserved, especially in the light of such revelatory work being done on one of Miller’s other plays even as we speak.
Antony Sher’s Willy Loman, the American Dreamer who never quite gets there, has been done in by life. Business as a travelling salesman has dried up, his older son has severely disappointed him and ghosts of the past plague his mind so virulently that they seem real. Miller weaves in scenes of the Lomans’ past most ingeniously into Willy’s current day affairs but though Sher gives us all of the abrasiveness of a frustrated would-be patriarch, his performance lacks the psychological intensity to really pull you into his thought processes.
Friday, 3 April 2015
It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.
Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects - the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).
Thursday, 2 April 2015
“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”
And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still...* Lonny Price's semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared "there's no place like London" and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson's daughter) and a lush-sounding orchestra of 60.
Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra.
Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Last year, I made a weekly feature out of short film reviews (if you explore the film tag, you can find them all) but in the name of reclaiming some semblance of a normal life, I've put them on hold. Things still pop into my awareness or my inbox though so I thought I'd flag these up.
Not quite a short film but an interactive video game, 5 Minutes features newly-announced Beowulf Kieran Bew (and it’s good news, he’s a bearded Bew in this one) as a father trapped in a zombie nightmare with his teenage daughter. You can select three levels of difficulty to help them through their journey to try and escape the zombie curse (I’ve managed medium, just about) and it is all rather well done. I’m no expert at all in this kind of thing though so make of it what you will!
And Pet Shop Girls is a delightfully surreal sitcom in the making, full of off-kilter characters and wryly amusing dialogue as we follow a day in a high street pet shop. Written by Kirsty Woodward, Luke Norris and Ed Hancock and directed by Ben Aldridge, it really is rather good, you could imagine it slotting into BBC3's schedule quite easily.