Review: Gundog, Royal Court

“Just make them shag each other and sell all the littluns to rich people who want pets of something”

There’s something unremittingly bleak about Simon Longman’s Gundog that makes it a real challenge. It’s an impressively bold depiction of the complete decline of a way of life, the kind of rural farming that the Common Agricultural Policy hasn’t managed to reach and protect. None of the loneliness or impoverished desperation is spared in what can feel a tad like punishment by the end. 

After the death of their parents, and with their grandfather’s illness and their brother’s listlessness, sisters Anna and Becky find themselves landed with the thankless task of looking after the remotest of farms in an area that can’t even sustain a local pub. The arrival of a foreigner with a nifty line in knitwear is a rare harkening of the potential of change but we’re never allowed to forget that times really are tough.   Continue reading “Review: Gundog, Royal Court”

2016 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Peter Polycarpou, Scenes from 68* Years
In the midst of a heartbreaking play (by Hannah Khalil), Polycarpou’s contributions to the multi-stranded narrative were more heartbreaking than most – agonisingly, beautifully evoking the Palestinian struggle in the most heartfelt way.

Honourable mention: Anthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
We may be being urged to #keepthesecrets, but there’s no mystery that Boyle has been the breakout star of Cursed Child as Scorpius Malfoy, especially when the homoerotic undertones are more like overtones in the first part.

Rudi Dharmalingam, Mary Stuart
Dex Lee, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Nick Fletcher, The Deep Blue Sea
Jonjo O’Neill, Unreachable
Alan Williams, Mary Stuart

8-10
Robert Hazle, Home Chat; Tobias Menzies, Uncle Vanya; Paul Thornley, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Julian Bleach, The Grinning Man
As the Machiavellian manservant Barkilphedro, Bleach was deliciously arch throughout this captivating show and as his grasping ambitions brought him to the centre of the action, it was hard not to be slightly seduced by his awfulness.

Honourable mention: Tyrone Huntley, Jesus Christ Superstar
In an extraordinarily good company revitalising Lloyd Webber, Huntley was a stellar presence alongside Declan Bennett’s Jesus, a real thorn in his side. But now he’s firmly ensconced in Dreamgirls, will he be joining the shows return to the Open Air next summer?

Adam J Bernard, Dreamgirls
Daniel Crossley, Sweet Charity
Stuart Neal, The Grinning Man
Dominic Tighe, She Loves Me
Gary Tushaw, Ragtime

8-10
Peter Caulfield, Jesus Christ Superstar; Michael Esper, Lazarus; Thomas Howes, The Wind in the Willows

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

Review: Mary Stuart, Almeida

“The Queen? Which Queen?”
 
Robert Icke’s Mary Stuart is a towering success, an extraordinary piece of theatre that surely ranks amongst the year’s best, no mean feat considering his Oresteia, also for the Almeida, did the same thing last. There’s added spice here too since leading players Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson do not know which of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots they will be playing until the beginning of the performance when it is decided with a coin toss. And so too, dear reader, must you decide…
 

Heads          Tails

News – more tickets for Mary Stuart released today

“It’s all in the execution”

Aside from an excuse to use one of the greatest publicity shot ever created in our lifetimes, courtesy of Miles Aldridge, this is actually a public service announcement to let you know that more tickets for Mary Stuart will go on sale at 10am today (Monday 5th December). And  a little bird can tell you that since the show is pretty much in the round, the new seats that they’ve added in the Stalls (Section C) are really rather good as you’re very close to the action. (Sightlines are affected occasionally esp in final scene so I’d opt for 3-4 or 31-32 if you can). That little bird might also tell you to book now for the love of God, tickets will be like gold dust!

Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes (with interval) (subject to change)
Booking until 21st January

Mary Stuart – heads you win

“We are both queens”
 

There’s much to enjoy about this Mary Stuart but what is particularly pleasing to see is Robert Icke’s directorial instincts developing and maturing. The production opens with Tim Reid’s live video, capturing the opening gambit, but cannily isn’t used again until a key counterbalancing action later on; likewise original compositions from Laura Marling are quite the coup but again are used sparingly, wisely, at two crucial and contrasting moments. The timestamping of each act over a more or less 24 hour period measures out a steady but always forceful sense of pace – Icke has always been a strikingly effective director but the less is more ethos espoused here is singularly superb.

So too with the political overtones of his adaptation, everywhere you look contemporary resonances can be found but they’re never overplayed. The 52% are hauled over the coals when “a majority does not prove a thing is right”; the dangers of riding roughshod, Trump-like, over the tenets of “international laws” are explored; the doublespeak (or rather non-speak) of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ finds a chilling partner in Elizabeth’s determination to shift the responsibility of the death warrant onto her man Davison, surely no accident that his modern-day equivalent is called David Davis… Continue reading “Mary Stuart – heads you win”

Mary Stuart – tails you lose

“You seem to know our miseries alright”

A coin toss is naturally a game of chance and so the odds of getting the same side twice in a row are just as high as getting heads and then tails (or maybe not, but I’m not researching probability theory on Wikipedia to pretend that I know). What I’m trying to say is that I went back a week later and I got Williams as Elizabeth and Stevenson as Mary again and so my plans of having two different reviews went kaput!

Here’s the review I did write.

 

Review: Here We Go, National Theatre

“Are those the pearly gates?” 

Almost like buses, you wait for a new Caryl Churchill play and two come along – Escaped Alone will play at the Royal Court in the New Year but up first is Here We Go at the National, directed by Dominic Cooke. Described as “a short play about death”, it clocks in at 45 minutes but depending on how you fare with it, it may seem like longer… 

Churchill has split her musings on mortality into a triptych of distinct but related scenarios. The first scene sees the playwright deploy her characteristic linguistic playfulness on a group of mourners at a funeral, their fragmented chit-chat skirting around the larger issues, their individual asides to the audience riffing beautifully on the coda to Six Feet Under’s magisterial finale (of all things).  Continue reading “Review: Here We Go, National Theatre”

Review: As You Like It, National Theatre

“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad”

For regular theatregoers, it can sometimes feel a bit hard to get excited about the umpteenth production of a play, so much so that I almost didn’t see the winning combination of the much-loved Blanche McIntyre and Michelle Terry until the very end of their run at the Globe this summer. So the news that Polly Findlay was also tackling As You Like It for the National was tempered a little (though it is the first time in 30 years it has played there) but as Rosalind was announced (Rosalie Craig poached from the cast of wonder.land to replace an indisposed Andrea Riseborough), the excitement began to build and the inevitable ticket was purchased and boy am I glad that I did. 

For the transformation of the set into the Forest of Arden is a moment of genuinely breath-taking theatre, Lizzie Clachan pulling the rug from under us and her design to create a most singular vision. And it is one in which enchantment slowly grows with sylvan sound effects created by company members onstage and a choir singing Orlando Gough’s contemporary and complex score (akin if alike to the one he composed for Bakkhai). There’s a lovely conceit in which Alan Williams’ Corins, nominally a shepherd but here more like a forest deity, summons the music every time love is needed to cast its spell, enhancing the magical feel. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, National Theatre”

Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre

“There’s an end of outward preaching now. An end of perfection. There may be a time.”

Between this and Rules for Living, that’s two consecutive openings at the National Theatre that have been written and directed by women. Coincidence that it comes at a moment of regime change, who knows? Those more inclined to actual research might possibly tell you it’s more common you’d think but I doubt it. In any case, it’s pleasing to see Caryl Churchill getting a major production of one of her lesser-performed works at the hands of the talented Lyndsey Turner, who will soon be turning her hand to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

And it is an ambitious mark she has made here with Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, exploding the original six-strong casting of the show to a company of nearly twenty actors, supported by a community company of forty-odd supernumeraries. She needs the bodies too, to fit around an audacious design feat from Es Devlin which is best experienced with fresh eyes if possible, so no spoilers here. It is an inspired choice though, that both sets the scene perfectly for this world of political debate but also deconstructs meaningfully as the full scope of that debate becomes increasingly clear.  Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre”