Film Review: The Theory of Everything

“One simple, elegant equation to explain everything”

Alongside The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything offers a double whammy of Oscar-baiting, British-biopicing filmic goodness – Benedict Cumberwhatsit’s Alan Turing and Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking seem dead certs for Academy Award nominations alongside their respective films – and for my money, it is the latter has the edge on the Cumbersnatch-starring film as something slightly less Hollywoodised and thus more interesting. That’s not to say that James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything is all rough edges – it is based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir of her marriage after all and both she and Hawking have ‘blessed’ the film – but it is a complex love story that doesn’t shy away from too much challenge.

The focus of the film is in fact the relationship and marriage between physicist Stephen and Jane Wilde, his contemporary at Cambridge University where she studied literature, and the severe pressure that it came under after his diagnosis with motor neurone disease and then his increasing fame as his discoveries broke exciting fresh ground. Redmayne’s physical performance as Hawking is undoubtedly astounding as his condition worsens but there’s something deeper there too that comes across later on, in the merest flicker of the lips and glints in the eye that come before the synthesised voicebox kicks in, an enigmatic level of emotion that we never get to truly discover and that is entirely beguiling.

Continue reading “Film Review: The Theory of Everything”

Review: Accolade, St James

“Everybody has one vice…”

An interesting choice of revival rounded off the One Stage season for emerging producers that has been taking place at the St James Theatre in Emlyn Williams’ Accolade. Previously seen at the Finborough back in early 2011, it won awards and critical acclaim as it formed part of Blanche McIntyre’s rise to one of the most eagerly watched directors working in British theatre and so despite the delay, it does seem like an astute decision from producer Nicola Seed to nurture this back onto the stage.

And something I hadn’t appreciated was how different it would feel in both a post-Leveson and post-Yewtree world. Will Trenting’s huge success as a novelist has seen him be awarded a knighthood despite the salacious nature of his fiction but the night before he is due to receive it, secrets and scandals come creeping out of the woodwork. For Trenting has taken the maxim ‘write of which you know’ most seriously and enjoys a regular dose of orgies in Rotherhithe on the side of his otherwise happy family life and a participant at one of them is discovered to have been underage.

My original review can read here and much still stands true now, if not even more so. McIntyre draws out the contemporary resonances in a society that revels in celebrity gossip and the dismantling of reputations, however they’ve been earned, and the hypocrisy endemic in its higher echelons. And she also lets us make the connections about Williams’ intentions in writing the play, the appeal for tolerance of alternative lifestyles is impassioned but not overstated, even as he suggests that it is possibly a necessary part of any creative spirit.

Alexander Hanson and Abigail Cruttenden embody this tension beautifully as Trenting and his wife Rona – Hanson is marvellously, unapologetically frank about his predilections and persuasions whilst Cruttenden’s quietly affecting devotion speaks of the deep connection between the pair that transcends conventional notions of marital fidelity and there’s great support all around them, not least from Sam Clemmett as their son. The slightly depressing treatment of the underage girl strikes the only bum note, popular ideas of consent and victimhood as problematic then as they ever have been now.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th December

DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)

 “I need to know if he still loves me”

Joe Wright’s film version of Anna Karenina was, for me, a hugely under-rated piece of work, a sumptuous feast for the eyes in his inimitable style. But I can see it might not be to everyone tastes, which is where the 2000 mini-series should step in as an ideal replacement. Stretching out luxuriously over four hours, David Blair’s production of Tolstoy’s classic, adapted by Allan Cubitt, is something quite close to triumphant, not least for a desperately compelling performance from Helen McCrory as Anna but from a detailed realisation of so many aspects of the novel.

For though the tragic love triangle of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is the best known strand of the story, Levin and Kitty’s relationship is just as significant in the grand scheme of things and there’s also room here for a fully-fleshed version of Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. The way in which the multiple lines are followed is expertly done and begins to do some justice to the weight tome that is the piece of literature on which it is based. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)”

Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming

“When blood is spilt, disputes between people, nations, religions become all but impossible to solve”

A complete Brucie bonus to start off the year was the unexpected announcement that Howard Brenton’s new play Drawing the Line – a sell-out success at the Hampstead – would have its final performance live-streamed on t’internet. I hadn’t booked for the show as something had to give over Christmas and New Year and so the chance to catch up with it for free, albeit on the screen of my laptop, was one I was glad to take.

The play is set in the final days of the empire, as the British are beating a hasty retreat from the subcontinent but are determined to partition the land, and its diverse people, into India and Pakistan. The job of, quite literally, drawing the line falls to archetypal Englishman and judge Cyril Radcliffe who is shipped off to somewhere he has never been before, to accomplish what turns out to be a fiendishly complex assignment.  Continue reading “Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming”

Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace

“Art can’t be made into a spectacle; you can’t put it in a box”

There’s something quite remarkable about the boldness with which Blanche McIntyre has reinterpreted Chekhov’s perennial classic The Seagull for Headlong. Gone is the stuffy country house to be replaced by Laura Hopkins’ expressionistic, open space and the formality of the Russian’s words has been supplanted by John Donnelly’s fresh new version which refocuses the play’s centre away from melodrama to something sharper, funnier, more powerful even. This is an interpretation that genuinely makes the play feel new. 

McIntyre introduces notes of meta-theatre to push home the exploration of the nature of art and artists that now sits at the heart of the play – the house lights come up as characters direct their soliloquies straight to the audience, the blank rear wall becomes the page of a notebook complete with significant changing scribbles, the stark simplicity of the set allowing for a deeper intellectual excavation of the issues of art and love and creativity and sex. And it is a compelling mixture, all pushing along the vital narrative and driving these familiar characters to their predestined fates with a fresh new verve.  Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

DVD Review: Charlotte Gray

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“Is it possible for a person to commit a crime without knowing it”

My abiding memory of seeing Charlotte Gray at the cinema was the much, much belated realisation that I had indeed previously read the book by Sebastian Faulks, it finally clicking about 10 minutes from the end as I realised I knew who she was going to see at the top of the stairs! I did enjoy the film though, even if it didn’t go down particularly well with the rest of the world, for it hits many of my buttons – I love Cate Blanchett, I love wartime stories that focus on women and I love France.

I also love Helen McCrory and she makes a brief, but enormously impactful cameo in this film which was a joy to return to and appreciate, me not being aware of who she was first time round, along with its other various treats. Charlotte Gray is set mainly in Vichy France during World War II where our eponymous heroine, a shy Scottish woman has joined the French Resistance as a covert operative. Her motivations are mixed though as she is determined to find the man for whom she has fallen hard, an RAF pilot, but as the war continues and Charlotte becomes accustomed to life undercover, her priorities begin to change as she learns much more about herself than she ever anticipated, thanks to the attentions of her handsome contact Julien, Billy Crudup, and his father, Michael Gambon in excellent form as Levade and the two Jewish orphans that they are harbouring and to whom she becomes housekeeper. Continue reading “DVD Review: Charlotte Gray”

Review: Backstage Pass (pilot) Inside Fanny

“You’ve got to feed your fanny”

Ain’t Twitter grand. All sorts of randomness appears on Twitter, peccadilloes exposed, truths revealed and a whole lot of guff expounded about any range of subjects. But sometimes little gems appear (and not just the lettuces) as it was with this YouTube clip that was pointed out to me. It’s a spoof South Bank-style documentary, following the fortunes of an actress ‘up-and-coming’ as described by only her, and her disastrous experiences in the company of a newly opened show.

It was actually put together by the cast of When Did You Last See My Mother which played at the Trafalgar Studios 2 last year, assumably for a bit of a laugh and though it is perhaps a little overlong, I’d say it is worth the watch. It feels quite Victoria Wood-like (I think it most reminds me of a backstage episode of Acorn Antiques) and is often quite amusing in the way it contrasts the accounts of her God-given talent and the forced smiles of her co-stars as they are grudgingly interviewed, and the realities of just how shit she is as revealed by hilarious ‘candid’ encounters with the same colleagues as she continually screws up and is exposed for the chancer she is. Continue reading “Review: Backstage Pass (pilot) Inside Fanny”

Review: When Did You Last See My Mother, Trafalgar Studios 2

“You can be terribly tactless Ian”

There are two ways this review could go and since I ticked the ‘fanboy going overboard’ box with a mildly amusing drunken encounter (which rebounded on me in the most unexpected way – actors read this thing?!) at the Hampstead Theatre 2 Fridays ago, I shall try to use a more measured approach here. But the uninitiated should know that I do have a slight admiration for the work of Sam Swainsbury… đŸ˜‰ Anyhoo, to the matter in hand. When Did You Last See My Mother was the first play that Christopher Hampton ever wrote as a teenager in 1964, but despite his reputation has remained rather unknown.

And it is a little hard to believe as whilst it may not be the most sophisticated piece of theatre with an ending which whilst sweet is a little too neat, it contains a masterful piece of character work with main protagonist Ian that is a gift of a role for a talented young actor. Director Blanche McIntyre has chosen wisely in casting Harry Melling, perhaps the one of the kids from of the Harry Potter who has shown the most promise as an actor, on the stage at least, and he delivers an extraordinary performance. Continue reading “Review: When Did You Last See My Mother, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: The Knot of the Heart, Almeida

“If we don’t like it, we can get on a boat to the Isle of Wight”

Following the well-received, sharply funny Becky Shaw into the Almeida is David Eldridge’s new play The Knot of the Heart about middle-class drug addiction: this is a review of a preview performance on Monday 14th March. The play stars Lisa Dillon, for whom the central character was specifically written, as comfortably middle-class Lucy whose recreational drug use leads to her losing her job as a children’s TV presenter and sets her on a downwards spiral into genuine hard addiction as her mother and sister struggle to deal with the impact it has on the family.

On Peter McKintosh’s set of sliding glass panels and doors, dividing up the revolve into ever-shifting living rooms, hospitals, bars in and around Islington, we see how Lucy’s life crumbles around her, reduced to stealing from her sister and forced to move back into her mother’s house, unable to extricate herself from the grip of heroin no matter how grim things get. But what Eldridge is also interested in looking at is how Lucy’s key relationships are affected and defined by her addiction, how parental and sisterly love can actually help to enable it due to differing attitudes to drugs: at one point, the mother actually goes out to buy the heroin for her daughter from a guy at a bakery on Upper Street, after she is raped by a different dodgy dealer, at another she wonders whether she should have stopped Lucy’s teenage dabbling in pot, despite finding it innocuous at the time given her own youthful experiences in the 60s. Continue reading “Review: The Knot of the Heart, Almeida”