Gif Reviews: B + Victory Condition, Royal Court

The Royal Court continues to shake things up under Vicky Featherstone’s reign, offering two shorter plays (though not for the price of one) which are running in rep. Guillermo Calderón’s B and Chris Thorpe’s Victory Condition are both interesting in their own ways but whether it was me being grumpy, a slightly flat atmosphere or something more, neither drama really did it for me. So we’re keeping it brief!

B

Victory Condition

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: The Twits, Royal Court

“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. Continue reading “Review: The Twits, Royal Court”

TV Review: A Poet in New York

“I am such a disappointment, to everyone it seems. Of course”

Just a quickie for this as it was far too brilliant a piece of television to let slide without comment. Written by Andrew Davies and directed by Aisling Walsh, the focus is the final few months of Dylan Thomas’ life where his alcohol abuse is putting both his health and career at risk during a trip to New York intended to culminate in a meeting with Stravinsky to discuss a collaboration. Whilst staying in a Chelsea hotel, he delves back into his mind’s eye to revisit key moments of his life to desperately try and find something to cling onto.

Tom Hollander is sensational as the booze-sodden Thomas, tragically crushed by the addiction he can’t kick but yet so movingly eloquent when reciting his poetry, which Davies makes great use of throughout the screenplay, and remembering the relationships with his ailing father, and with wife (Essie Davis) and child in Wales, which stimulated such great art from him. Phoebe Fox matches him though as assistant and lover Liz, along with Ewen Bremmer as his long-suffering agent, their efforts to keep him afloat almost unbearably poignant as he pushes them away. Continue reading “TV Review: A Poet in New York”

DVD Review: Luther Series 2

“They’ve set up a new unit”

Series 1, and particularly episode 1, of Luther has to rank as one of my favourite bits of television in recent years, so it was great news to hear that a second season had been commissioned. But given that my main enjoyment came from the ladies of the show, it was perhaps unsurprising that my enjoyment didn’t quite reach the same level. Taking place months after Series 1 finished, rebel detective John Luther has now joined the Serious and Serial Crimes division after some time off following the shocking events of the season finale. There, he continues to deal with the worst of human nature and utilising his own inimitable approach to catching these criminals.

For our purposes here on a Ruth Wilson level, there’s no denying that the character of Alice really has run its natural course and so it feels like a bit of a cheat having her be the first face we see just to recap the events of the series 1 finale. She reappears a couple of times after that but not in any meaningful way for the main story, so it’s a bit of a letdown. And Saskia Reeves’ Rose is not given the farewell she deserves as Luther’s former boss which feels a real shame, the impact of his repeated actions on her life and career could have been something rather interesting to explore. Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 2”

Review: Trelawny of the Wells, Donmar Warehouse

“Reserve your tears for the bedroom Madam, this is whist!”

With just a handful of films under his belt, Joe Wright has made quite the name for himself as a director of some theatrical flair – perhaps nodding to childhood time spent at the Little Angel Theatre that his parents founded – but it is only now that he has made his directorial debut in the theatre with Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar Warehouse. Whether by design or by accident, it marks the third notable recent outing for the otherwise neglected Victorian playwright after the Rose’s The Second Mrs Tanqueray and the National’s The Magistrate but it cleaves closer to the gently farcical nature of the latter than the melodrama of the former. The text here has been ornamented by Patrick Marber, though more learned writers than I will be able to tell you by how much.

The play focuses on Rose Trelawny, a star of the melodramas that filled the Victorian stage, who opts to give up her career in the theatre when she decides to marry her paramour, the aristocrat Arthur Gower. But when the social chasm between her and his family drives them apart, drastic measures on both sides are necessary to try and restore their relationship. But for a play about the theatre, it had little of the breathless joy and theatricality that I had assumed Wright would bring into play and not all of that can be ascribed to the fact that this was a preview. Continue reading “Review: Trelawny of the Wells, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Fireface, Young Vic

“There’s a naked man in here who says our children should be committed”

Tucked away in the intimate Clare studio at the back of the Young Vic is Fireface, a 1997 work by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Sam Pritchard, the winner of the 2012 JMK Award for visionary new theatre directors. And with the aid of an intriguingly strong cast and Amanda Stoodley’s wide chipboard frame of a set, forming a timber cage for a dysfunctional family to play out their not-inconsiderable dramas, Pritchard has certainly made the most of his opportunity.

Quite how one judges his measure of success though is a matter of debate. He clearly has a keen eye for the highly theatrical: switching from having the actors sitting facing the audience and speaking their lines out to us rather than to each other to a more naturalistic style with a dizzying frequency and overlapping the scenes to increase the disconcerting effect of estrangement. It initially feels apt as a way to evoke the disquiet at the heart of this family home where Kurt and Olga are seething with teenage injustice, railing against their distracted parents and exploring an increasingly too-close bond full of burning desire. Continue reading “Review: Fireface, Young Vic”

Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse

“There’s a pleasure sure, in being mad, which none but mad-men know”

Josie Rourke’s inaugural season as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse starts off with the Donmar’s first ever Restoration comedy – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Written in 1706, it is also well known as the play that is rehearsed by the convicts in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good and Rourke has assembled a truly impressive cast in order to make a splash with her debut. Plotwise, it is mainly about men who go ‘huzzah’ a lot as they try to recruit the young men of Shrewsbury into the army, balanced with two central romances which are negotiating the impact of a big inheritance on female romantic inclinations.

It’s a whole lot of bawdy fun rather than making any serious points about anything if one is brutally honest, but it is totally made by the quality of the cast. Tobias Menzies exudes charisma as the bounding Captain Plume, well partnered by Mackenzie Crook’s Sergeant Kite, and together they brazenly try to wheedle their way into the sense of duty of the male populace and sweep them off to war. Completely amoral but largely quite funny about it, the scene with the faux crystal ball reader is extremely well done, Nicholas Burns’ demonstrating some nifty moves as gentleman Worthy, and many a laugh is garnered. Most of them come though from the friendly(ish) rivalry with Captain Brazen, a rival recruiting officer who is well portrayed as Mark Gatiss nearly steals the show with an outrageously foppish performance: his vocal delivery at one crucial point was just delicious. Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Jerusalem, Royal Court

My heart sank when I saw the running time for this play: another play at the Royal Court over 3 hours long. After Grasses of a Thousand Colours sucked the life out of my companion (he left after two hours) and numbed my bum unforgivably, I even thought about shifting these tickets to someone else. But upon reflection, I remembered that the playwright, Jez Butterworth, was also responsible for the excellent Parlour Song which I enjoyed hugely at the Almeida earlier this year, and so off I trotted to Sloane Square.

Jerusalem is a new play, a dark comedy, which purports to be a critical look at what it means to be English in these times and specifically explores this issue of identity in rural England. Set on St George’s Day, the central character is a man called George Byron who lives in a caravan, and who has built up a little community of sorts around him, living a life of general hedonism and with little care for traditional ideas of society. However, Byron’s easy life looks to be coming to a halt as the walls start closing in on him: his children, eviction notices and angry fathers are just some of the things he has to face up to. Continue reading “Review: Jerusalem, Royal Court”