DVD Review: Birthday Girl

“Are you a giraffe?”

Birthday Girl is a rather odd little thing, a 2001 film from Jez Butterworth (he of Jerusalem) that seemed to slip under the radar somewhat. It’s not brilliant but by the same token it isn’t terrible either and plenty worse films have made bigger waves. Ben Chaplin’s John is hapless in St Albans (is there anything else you can be there? ;-)), having no luck in love and so resorting to getting himself a Russian mail-order bride called Nadia. She turns up in the form of Nicole Kidman, who else, and though she can’t speak a word of English, she indulges his S&M fantasies and so job’s, it would seem, a good’un.

But it’s no happily ever after, Nadia’s two rough cousins soon turn up on the doorstep (played by Frenchmen Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz, assumedly because the Russians were out on the day they were casting?) and John’s job as a bank clerk turns out to be rather important. Their unpredictable violence pulls John deep into a morass of deception and criminality but after the mid-film twists take place, the movie runs out of energy and trundles towards a rather uninspired ending that no amount of random Brit cameos (Ben Miller, Reece Shearsmith) can rescue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Birthday Girl”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Liverpool Everyman

“We will make amends ere long”

After The Faction’s Romeo and Juliet that stretched out beyond the three hour mark, here’s a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is similarly lengthy – I’m really hoping this isn’t the emergence of a trend because it does no good to anyone in all honesty. Notions of textual fidelity are all well and good but they can also lack dramatic focus – the ever-evolving mutability of Shakespeare’s text is one of its key strengths and it is a mark of directorial nous to be able to harness that potential and deliver it onstage (and if it is going to be long, then it needs not to feel long).

But here, for every innovation that Nick Bagnall comes up with for his production at the Everyman in Liverpool – and there are many of them – there’s an overcooked scene that drags unbearably. It makes for an occasionally difficult piece of theatre but one that also has imaginatively exciting moments too. Ashley Martin-Davis’ design also embodies this conflict in its amorphous undefinability, no particular time or place evoked but rather a vaguely futuristic, dark carnival-esque atmosphere for an unfamiliar Athens and a strange forest of scattered white paper that is a great idea but not quite pulled off. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Liverpool Everyman”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse

“You take it for granted that I am in something that I want to get out of”

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire seems an unlikely choice to put on in a chilly March in Liverpool – the Donmar’s 2009 production took place at the height of summer – but Gemma Bodinetz’s production succeeds utterly in raising the temperature to create a rather stunning account of this classic play which remains taut and gripping throughout. When Blanche DuBois is forced to throw herself on the mercy of her sister Stella in her tiny New Orleans apartment, Blanche is ill-prepared for the clash of class, culture and character that comes from such proximity to Stella’s husband Stanley as he sets about dismantling her delusions of grandeur with chilling cruelty.

The stifling heat of the French Quarter, and the ever-constricting atmosphere are perfectly simulated here in Gideon Davey’s design (plus special credit to Paul Keogan’s lighting) and Bodinetz expertly increases the pressure in ever-increasing increments to an almost unbearable level. There is dark stuff contained in here, I’d forgotten just how dark myself, yet we’re constantly reminded of Williams’ point that the world is full of pain and suffering and most people just get on with it. Yet Blanche has retreated from reality, glass in hand, Stanley’s completely differing take on life set him on a collision course with her and we are spared none of the violence as class warfare degenerates into domestic abuse on a horrific level. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse”

DVD Review: North Square

“Do the thing you have to to get your client off”

Helen McCrory first came to my attention as one of the lead characters in legal ensemble show North Square. Broadcast on Channel 4 in 2000, it featured a cracking ensemble that also included Rupert Penry-Jones, Dominic Rowan and Phil Davis, yet it only had the one series which I don’t think you can get on DVD but it is available to watch on Channel 4’s 4 On Demand service.

Written by Peter Moffat, North Square is a drama set in a criminal chambers in Leeds and centres on a group of young, irreverent barristers all determined to make their mark by using unorthodox methods and unconventional approaches to counter the dusty practices of a legal profession they want to lead into the twenty-first century. They are led by their chief clerk, the highly manipulative Peter McLeish played brilliantly by Phil Davis, who is determined to make a success of this enterprise and has no scruples about negotiating with the criminal families that rule Leeds in order to maximise business opportunities even as it poses a moral quandary for some of the lawyers. Continue reading “DVD Review: North Square”