Review: Exit the King, National Theatre

Undeniably challenging but ultimately thought-provoking and impeccably designed, Exit the King plays at the National Theatre this summer

“You are going to die at the end of the play”

There’s something intriguing about the fact that Eugène Ionesco has never been programmed at the National Theatre before, perhaps a long-present euroscepticism guarding against a writer at the vanguard of the French avant garde scene (give how much Beckett gets staged, it’s clearly not anti-absurdism). But Rufus Norris has looked to rectify this by commissioning a new version of Le Roi se meurt from Patrick Marber, who also directs here.

And as an absurdist drama, Exit the King suggests a bit of different thinking. On the face of it, it’s a simple enough tale – a man is told he only has a day left to live and struggles to deal with it. But that man is a king – King Bérenger – and he’s over 400 years old. And his kingdom is dying around him, with him, stone walls cracking and crumbling away, its people disappearing into the ether, the darkness swallowing everything up whole.   Continue reading “Review: Exit the King, National Theatre”

TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

So much goodness announced here in the National Theatre’s near future – particularly excited for Nine Night’s transfer, what looks like a leading role for Siân Brooke and the prospect of Joanna Riding’s ‘Losing My Mind’. 

National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019

Nine Night, Natasha Gordon’s critically acclaimed debut play transfers to the West End following a sold-out run at the NT

Further cast announced for Antony and Cleopatra alongside Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, playing from September

Cast confirmed for world premiere of David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running, including Siân Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire

Peter Brook returns to direct at the National Theatre for the first time in 50 years with The Prisoner, co-directed with Marie-Hélène Estienne

Following the acclaimed Consent, Nina Raine returns to the NT with her new play Stories starring Claudie Blakley

Anthony Neilson makes his NT debut with new play The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding to join the cast of Follies alongside Janie Dee and Peter Forbes, returning to the Olivier Theatre in February 2019

War Horse returns to the NT marking the centenary of Armistice Day

Antony and Cleopatra and I’m Not Running to  broadcast to 65 countries worldwide as part of NT Live

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in the UK gaining the right to vote, the NT stages Courage Everywhere; a series of rehearsed readings, talks and screenings Continue reading “News: National Theatre Season: July 2018 – January 2019”

2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations

 

It’s that time of year again and getting in early with the announcement of their nominees is What’s on Stage. Voted for by the public, they’re often skewed a little towards the bigger ‘names’ but this year’s set of nominations are relatively controversy-free. There’s something a little odd about the way that regional theatre has its own separate category but its actors appear in the main ones – I feel like regional theatre productions should either be considered entirely in or out, rather than this halfway house.

Naturally, big shows rule the roost – 42nd Street and Bat out of Hell lead the lists with 8 nominations apiece – and they’ve even found a way to shoehorn in Hamilton by nominating it for the two new categories of Best Cast Recording (which somehow includes Les Mis??) and Best Show Poster, thus being able to get round it not actually being open yet and grabbing the requisite headlines once it does, inevitably, win.

 
 
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY SPONSORED BY RADISSON BLU EDWARDIAN
Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Andrew Scott, Hamlet
Bryan Cranston, Network
David Tennant, Don Juan in Soho
Martin Freeman, Labour of Love

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Eve Best, Love in Idleness
Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Olivia Colman, Mosquitoes
Natalie Dormer, Venus in Fur
Tamsin Greig, Labour of Love Continue reading “2018 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”


Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.
Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.
The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time. 

Episodes, in order of preference

Asylum of the Daleks
Cold War
Hide
The Name of the Doctor
The Power of Three
The Crimson Horror
The Angels Take Manhattan
The Snowmen
The Day of the Doctor
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
The Time of the Doctor
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Bells of Saint John
Nightmare in Silver
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
The Rings of Akhaten
A Town Called Mercy

Top 5 guest spots

1 Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling – together on screen for the first time
2 There’s not much Jessica Raine does that I don’t love and she’s great in Hide
3 Liam Cunningham/David Warner
4 Riann Steele’s Nefertiti
5 Neve McIntosh/Catrin Stewart/Dan Starkey – the Paternoster Gang deserve a shoutout because they really do work well together

Saddest death

Not really any tragic demises that caught my attention – Matt Smith’s farewell speech is probably the moment that moved me the most

Most wasted guest actor

Lots of far too small guest appearances (Tessa Peake-Jones for one) but Jade Anouka’s blink-and-miss-it waitress is a real missed opportunity to utilise such a great actor.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

Either everything in this series makes complete sense or else I’ve stopped caring… Oh I know, that conference call thing. Just no.

Gay agenda rating

A – Vastra and Jenny’s relationship is proudly out in the air, David Warner hits on the Doctor, and Clara is (at least) bi-curious

DVD Review: A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)

“I’m clean, I’m conscientous and I travel with my own tits”

Where else would you get to see Adrian Scarborough’s Richard III but in passing in a random Kenneth Branagh backstage movie. His movie as a director in which he does not star, A Midwinter’s Tale (or In The Bleak Midwinter as it appears to be known in some places) is a rather sweet comedy that makes for a light-hearted take on the often-time serious Shakespeare for which he was getting increasingly known.
Though fun, it is an acutely observed look at the itinerant life of an actor and the different ways in which people deal with its stresses. Unemployed for a year, Michael Maloney’s Joe offers to help out his sister’s local church by mounting a Christmas production of Hamlet, gathering a cast of similar odds and sods who are also available at the last minute. And together, even with the copious issues this motley crew bring with them, theatrical magic somehow begins to bloom. 

Written by Branagh with various of these actors in mind, the film balances its serious consideration of what it means to be an actor, not just for oneself but for one’s loved ones, with a deliciously sharp sense of wit, poking fun at any manner of luvvie pretensions. Whether Richard Briers’ Henry passing as a Shakespearean veteran simply because he’s old, Nicholas Farrell’s Tom fighting over every one of his cut lines or Celia Imrie’s designer Fadge unable to commit to a decision, it is all wittily done.
Joan Collins as Joe’s agent and Jennifer Saunders as a Hollywood producer boosts the name recognition but it is the quality of the cast that really allows the writing to shine through – John Sessions’ old queen Terry revealing aching personal stories, Gerard Horan’s Carnforth unable to admit his drinking problem or Michael Maloney’s Joe running around trying to make it all work whilst also tackling the lead role, A Midwinter’s Tale actually becomes quietly moving as well as noisily funny.

TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4

“Everyone fucks everyone, eventually”

I wrote here about the first episode of Crashing, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sitcom for Channel 4, and though it didn’t really float my boat, I did persevere with the rest of the series. Truth be told though, it was just more of the same – I continued to like what I liked about it and similarly, what substantially rubbed me up the wrong way continued to bug me.

Namely, the thoroughly unlikeable nature of Waller-Bridge’s self-played lead Lulu, crashing into the lives of old friend Anthony and his fiancée Kate and doing her utmost to fuck up their relationship in order to act on their hitherto unexplored lifelong sexual tension. Not that characters have to be likeable to be good but I found nothing redeemable in Lulu, just a thoroughly obnoxious selfishness that turned me off pretty much the whole show. Continue reading “TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4”

TV Review: Crashing, Channel 4

Someone needs an orgasm”

After the Olivier Award-nominated success of her solo show Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has now made the leap to the small screen with Crashing, a new six-part comedy which is airing on Channel 4. Reuniting her with frequent creative partner Vicky Jones, its set-up involves a group of youngish Londoners who have opted out of increasing rental rates and signed up as property guardians for a disused hospital in which they now reside. 

It’s hard to judge a series on its first episode alone but it does feel that Crashing has a way to go if it is going to work effectively. The writing does feel rather derivative – I kept having flashbacks to The One, with its repeated fake-outs – and rather too determined to be bolshy and indeed banterish, instead of, well, funny. The jokes about tampons, lesbian porn et al try too hard, the will-they-won’t-hey trope is deployed twice in this first episode alone, there’s work to be done…  Continue reading “TV Review: Crashing, Channel 4”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home.

The Iliad took place on the day I came back from holiday so I was only able to watch the tail-end of it so I was determined to catch more of The Odyssey, intending to drop in and out of it all day (as technically I was at work…) but it was so seductively brilliant and relentlessly interesting that there was barely a moment I was able to tear my eyes away. From an impassioned Simon Russell Beale beginning at the fall of Troy to the glorious Lia Williams bringing us to the climax 10 years later, it was an absolute triumph.

Highlights from this treasure chest of wonders were many and varied – Ian McKellen giving forth from the Council Chamber of Islington Town Hall, Stanley Tucci orating on the choppy waters of the Thames, Miranda Richardson, Janet Suzman, Toby Jones… But The Odyssey really came into its own when certain actors had to deal memorably, and unbelievably professionally, with the vagaries of live performance combined with the unpredictability of a city that doesn’t stop for anyone, not even Juliet Stevenson.

Stevenson delivered her Cyclops-bashing segment from a capsule on the London Eye and tussled magnificently with the automated voice in there, reminding her to smile and take her belongings with her to which the text gave her the perfect riposte. And a medal should also be awarded to Stephen Fewell who came up against a jobsworth who wouldn’t let him on the boat he was due to take yet barely batted an eyelid. Andrew Scott and Anna Madeley also both stood out with fiercely committed recitations, bringing blistering life to the text. Another stunningly audacious theatrical treat from what has been a five-month-long highlight of the year.

DVD Review: To Kill A King

“This is not war…”
As with many historical films, it is easy to get caught up in matters of accuracy with To Kill A King’s portrayal of Oliver Cromwell and the puritan movement he led with Thomas Fairfax which ultimately saw the trial and death of King Charles I. The casting of Tim Roth instantly points toward the direction Mike Barker’s film leans in and before even a word is spoken, we’re left in no uncertain terms about the psychopathic tendencies of this interpretation of Cromwell. But written by Jenny Mayhew, the film’s focus is actually on the relationship between the two friends and the strain it faces as they set about rebuilding a nation.
And in that respect I think it is quite a successful piece of work. Roth’s furious intensity as he fights for a republican ideal is tempered by Dougray Scott’s intelligent ambivalence as Fairfax, less inclined to shake up the societal order that is such a major part of his and his family’s life, not least his wife Lady Anne, played excellently by Olivia Williams. The way in which the two are slowly pulled apart as their political ideals are twisted by the realities of negotiating with a recalcitrant Parliament and a manipulative King, active even after his deposition, is compellingly told and engagingly performed.
Scott is particularly good when examining the ramifications of his actions through the reluctant eyes of his wife and he has a genuine chemistry with Williams that makes their scenes a joy. She remains a monarchist and thus is a major force in Fairfax’s own ambivalence, his preference is for a limited monarchy rather than its entire abolition, and this dilemma is the film’s driving force. With Cromwell on the one side and Charles on the other – Rupert Everett has rarely been this good as the king utterly convinced of his divine right – it’s a fascinating struggle, whether true or not.
The cameo hit rate is quite good in here. Finbar Lynch glowers excellently as a key member of the republicans, Adrian Scarborough is an endearing soldier and Steven Webb, Jonathan Coy and Benedict Cumberbatch all pop up at various points. Your enjoyment of To Kill A King will be dependent on your inclination to forgive historical liberties – not being a period of history I know too well, it didn’t bother me so much and crucially, the story it does tell is an interesting one.