Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse

I like almost everything about The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre apart from the main performance…

“I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me”

Mark Gatiss has been getting rave reviews for his performance in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse but for me, there was just a little bit too much of
for my liking. There’s lots to love in Adam Penfold’s production, particularly in key supporting roles like Adrian Scarborough’s Dr Willis and Debra Gillett’s Queen Charlotte, and some of the smaller parts like Nadia Albina’s Fitzroy and Jack Holden’s Greville.

And I enjoyed that Penfold cast several of the ostensibly male parts with women, allowing the likes of Louise Jameson and Stephanie Jacob. Throw in a lusciously opulent design from Robert Jones and strikingly dramatic lighting from Richard Howell, and it’s a real theatrical treat, a real statement of intent from this nicely ambitious artistic director.  Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse”

Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

Review: Kafka’s Dick, Theatre Royal Bath

“Hey, you look really depressed”

I fly off on holiday in mere hours so the briefest of mentions for this Alan Bennett play. My second comedy in a day after a Chichester matinée and a thankfully traffic-free drive over to Bath, Kafka’s Dick is a remarkably prescient play (from 1986) which looks at our ever-increasing desire to know more about the private details of our public figures. Sydney and Linda, a regular Yorkshire couple (is there any other kind?!) have their lives disrupted when Franz Kafka, his friend and contemporary Max Brod and his father Hermann all turn up at their home.

That they’re all dead is one thing but more importantly, Elliot Levey’s Brod promised Daniel Weyman’s Kafka that he would destroy all his writings on his death but published them instead, garnering the writer unimaginable posthumous fame. And as it turns out, Sydney is something of a Kafka scholar who focused on the family dynamic of the Czech, so the arrival of Matthew Kelly as Hermann adds a surprising depth to the play, far beyond the initial comic stylings. Continue reading “Review: Kafka’s Dick, Theatre Royal Bath”

2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: People, National Theatre

“People spoil things”

Were I watching Alan Bennett’s new play People at home on DVD, I would probably make it a drinking game, with a shot to be taken every time the title appears. Except it wouldn’t last very long at all, no matter how strong your liver, as it is repeated, repeated and repeated in this lament for the fading fortunes of the English aristocracy. Dorothy Stacpoole, a former model who now lives a semi-reclusive life with her companion Iris, is being forced to decide the fate of her near-decrepit South Yorkshire stately home: should some of the contents be sold on to private investors, who are also interested in buying the whole house, or should it be given to the National Trust, who Bennett has decided to take aim at with this piece of writing.

In an incredibly slow-moving opening 30 minutes or so, it becomes apparent that Dorothy – Frances De La Tour oozing hauteur – favours the former option, whilst her Archdeacon sister June is determined that it should be the latter. Bennett rails against the commodification of history and the creation of ‘experiences’ but curiously he makes Dorothy the mouthpiece with her fears of having people traipsing through her home and disrupting her life. Quite why we’re expected to feel sympathy for this poor little (formerly) rich girl whose inability to take responsibility has left the house, and her life, in the state it is in, I’m not sure. Continue reading “Review: People, National Theatre”

DVD Review: The Madness of King George

“Do you think that you are mad?”

I remember very little of this film, having not seen it since it was first released, so much so that much of the stage play – recently revived for a tour which will shortly take up residency in the West End – felt brand new to me. Alan Bennett adapted his own play, The Madness of George III (the film had to be retitled for international audiences…) and Nicholas Hytner directed the film, as he directed the show at the National Theatre, and it fit quite neatly into my post-Christmas costume drama/Royalty film splurge.

The story of how George III’s deteriorating mental health led to a constitutional crisis as his ambitious son made a play for power to try and force a Regency forms the backbone of the film as Nigel Hawthorne’s monarch is subjected to the vagaries of contemporary medical practice which had no understanding of mental illness and contained very little practice, instead being based on observations. It is only when a new course of action is recommended by non-medical man Dr Willis who utilises behaviour modification to try help regain equilibrium that progress is begin to be made, but the Prince of Wales and his political allies are moving fast to seize power. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Madness of King George”

Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre

“The state of monarch and the state of lunacy share a frontier”

Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III is perhaps better known under its film moniker of The Madness of King George which featured a superlative performance from Nigel Hawthorne who originated the role on stage which was then later immortalised on film and criminally overlooked for an Oscar: a certain Mr Hanks winning instead for Forrest Gump. This Theatre Royal Bath production, starring David Haig as the eponymous monarch, is touring the country for the next couple of months, marking a rare outing for the play.

The year is 1788 and fresh from defeat in the American War of Independence, George III is increasingly afflicted by a mysterious ailment as he slides into mental decline. He is then subjected to the vagaries of 18th century medical practices which were only slowly making advances towards a more modern understanding of the body and mind and whilst undergoing treatment, power struggles rage between opportunistic politicians on both side and more crucially, his fiercely ambitious son and heir who has his eyes on an early assumption of power. Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre”

Re-Review: The Habit of Art, National Theatre

“I don’t prey on boys…”

Given how much theatre I like to get to see, it is very rare that I go to see plays for a second time, much less those with which I wasn’t wholly enamoured first time round, but circumstances conspired to get me back to the Lyttleton with an old friend from far away to see Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art. The show has returned with a new cast for a brief residency here before a nationwide tour, taking in 9 cities in the UK.

You can read my thoughts on the original production here but I’ll quickly recap here for you. Through an imagined meeting between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten, Bennett’s canvas covers a huge range of issues, the nature of creativity and what to do when the inspiration stops, following these two artists dealing with their homosexuality and growing old in their own ways. It also looks at the ethics of biography, the role of the National Theatre and the generation of all kinds of arts, so weighty stuff! When it works it is brilliant, but it must be said there are also times when it doesn’t quite click. Continue reading “Re-Review: The Habit of Art, National Theatre”