Review: I’m Not Running, National Theatre

Not even the excellent Siân Brooke can do much to save David Hare’s new play I’m Not Running at the National Theatre for me

“Jesus says don’t get too fond of anything because one day you’re going to lose it”

I’m Not Running is David Hare’s 17th new play to be presented at the National Theatre but for a playwright known for espousing the state of the nation in his work, there’s a frustrating vagueness that leaves him feeling just a little out of touch. Perhaps real-life events overtook him but for a play about contemporary left-wing politics in the UK, there’s little here that rings with profound resonance.

Rather, there’s a story about a woman, a doctor, swept up into the world of politics when her heading of a campaign to save a local hospital from closure springboards her into winning a seat as a single-issue MP. And it’s not long before she’s ostensibly lured by the prospect of becoming the Labour Party’s first female leader, an issue complicated by the presence of an old boyfriend high in the party ranks. Continue reading “Review: I’m Not Running, National Theatre”

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”

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King
Alex Hassell, Henry V

Best Actress In A Play Sponsored By The Umbrella Rooms:
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things
Lia Williams, Oresteia
Rosalie Craig, As You Like It
Harriet Walter, Death of a Salesman Continue reading “2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

DVD Review: Cold Mountain

“This war, this awful war, will have changed us both beyond all reckoning”

You gotta love Hollywood – who else to lead a film about the American Civil War than a Brit and an Australian directed by another Brit. But such is Cold Mountain – Jude Law and Nicole Kidman starring for director Anthony Minghella – a surprisingly enjoyable watch for someone who doesn’t really like war films nor has that much interest in this period of US history. It tells the story of a wounded deserter (Law) from the Confederate army close to the end of the war, who is on his long-winded way to return to the love of his life (Kidman).

The road-trip element of the film allows for some beautiful episodes to emerge as Law’s Inman treks across the country – Eileen Atkins’ gruff goatwoman with her healing compassion, Natalie Portman’s distraught young widowed mother, Cillian Murphy’s conflicted Yankee soldier, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s perverted man of God, Giovanni Ribisi’s opportunistic hustler. Through them we see how the conflict is reshaping the nation and the lengths to which people are forced to go in order to get by in war-torn society, not least Inman himself.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Cold Mountain”

Album Review: The Kissing Dance or She Stoops To Conquer (2008 Cast)

“The sage shall play the knave tonight,
The maid shall misbehave tonight”

Howard Goodall’s fruitful relationship with the National Youth Music Theatre has long been a mutually beneficial one and it was they who premiered The Kissing-Dance, his musical adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops To Conquer back in 1998. What is truly remarkable is just who happened to be in that year-group – Sheridan Smith, Gina Beck, Simon Thomas, Alex Hassell, Michael Jibson…the list goes on. And 10 years on, they gathered once again to record Howard Goodall’s score.

The show received its professional premiere at the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2011 and in a neat twist, saw Gina Beck reprise the very same role of the headstrong Kate Hardcastle and Ian Virgo also return to the cast but graduating from scallywag Tony Lumpkin to impecunious but irresistible Charles Marlow. And having that familiarity with the score meant it was a delight to go back and delve into its melodic wonderment once again. It is recognisably Goodall to be sure but with a distinct pastoral bent to it which has a pleasingly differentiating effect. Continue reading “Album Review: The Kissing Dance or She Stoops To Conquer (2008 Cast)”

Review: Death of a Salesman, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Certain men just don’t get started ‘til later in life”

To criticise an RSC production of being traditional seems a little bit beside the point, especially under this artistic directorship, but that’s how I felt on leaving this production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It is undoubtedly impressive but it rarely feel inspired, it just doesn’t do enough to convince that the sobriquet “greatest American play of the 20th century” (as Doran labels it in the programme) is well-deserved, especially in the light of such revelatory work being done on one of Miller’s other plays even as we speak.

Antony Sher’s Willy Loman, the American Dreamer who never quite gets there, has been done in by life. Business as a travelling salesman has dried up, his older son has severely disappointed him and ghosts of the past plague his mind so virulently that they seem real. Miller weaves in scenes of the Lomans’ past most ingeniously into Willy’s current day affairs but though Sher gives us all of the abrasiveness of a frustrated would-be patriarch, his performance lacks the psychological intensity to really pull you into his thought processes.  Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

DVD Review: Anonymous

“Let me offer you a different story”

Any film that contains someone being dragged to the theatre saying “there won’t be puppets will there?” is bound to be a winner with me. And if that film has also courted controversy then my interest is bound to be piqued. But the publicity campaign against Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous was so vociferous that it disappeared from cinemas before I got the chance to see it and so I had to wait for it to emerge on DVD. Why so controversial? Emmerich’s (better known for loud blockbusters like Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow) film is based on the premise that the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was in fact the true author of the works normally attributed to Shakespeare. Thus a great outcry was launched, by the people and scholars for whom this is the biggest deal, and the film largely scuppered.

Which ultimately is a shame, as I found it to be rather an enjoyable film and somewhat perversely, the authorship question is just one of many strands of story in what turns out to be a historical political thriller, mainly based around the succession to the throne as Elizabeth I’s reign has produced no (legitimate) heirs. That one of the key players in her court just happens to be a playwright on the sly, who is forced to use a surrogate by the name of William to get his plays staged, is taken as a given here and it makes for an entertaining ‘what if’ scenario. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anonymous”

Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Globe

This visit to the Globe came in Mark Rylance’s last season as artistic director and was to a rather experimental production of The Tempest. Exiled from his rightful place as Duke of Milan, Prospero is set adrift at sea with his young daughter Miranda. They eventually reach a remote island where they create a new life for themselves with the magical creatures that populate it. But fate strikes 12 years later as his enemies are shipwrecked on the same island, old scores are settled and new love is found.
Did I enjoy it? I honestly don’t know how I felt about it. Even now, a couple of days later, it still bemuses me more than anything. It was just so confusing. I know the play fairly well but got frequently lost as to what was going on, even my Aunty Jean who’s an English teacher and has taught the play for many years found it most difficult to keep track of who was talking to who and at this point one has to wonder for whom is this production being put on? It felt a bit too much like a vanity project than an essential piece of drama-telling.

It was a herculean feat by the three actors to be sure, and there were moments of beauty: Rylance’s mastery of Shakespeare’s verse means he was a highly affecting Prospero, Edward Hogg brings more humour to Miranda than I’ve seen before which was a nice touch and Alex Hassell’s sheer physicality as Caliban was just excellent. And they each covered their other ‘main’ character well: Rylance’s Stephano gave hilarious drunken comedy, Hogg’s ethereal Ariel had a wonderful connection to his Miranda, really helping to make sense of where the production was coming from in terms of everything being inside Prospero’s head, and Hassell’s Ferdinand is a masculine delight. But drilling down further led to brains hurting with the minor roles with Rylance having a conversation with himself at one point as two characters and Hogg having to shift completely to play drunken as Trinculo.

The staging didn’t really help matters either with the few props being used so effectively once or twice and then overused, seemingly simply because they were there. The chess pieces and the hanging rope did both have their moments but became tiresome by the end. The dancers in modern dress (well 80s inspired tbh) didn’t work for me, only really making sense when explicitly referenced as the spirits being called forth. As ‘invisible’ Fates, they were much less successfully integrated into the feel of the piece. And the six singers from on high, although sounding wonderful, even exquisite in places, added another layer of confusion, both visually with their costuming (Ancient Greek) and in terms of their role within the production. Ultimately, they are just distractions, intermittently entertaining, but distractions nonetheless in an already confusing experience.

And so ultimately it come across as something as a disappointment in the final analysis. No matter how well versed you are in this play or well-spoken this production is, it is too concept-driven and too experimental to come off as a truly successful adaptation and sadly for us, it didn’t really deliver as a piece of entertainment either.