Review: The Jungle, Playhouse

Immersive theatre done right in a completely reconfigured Playhouse, The Jungle is thought-provoking beyond belief

“No one wants to stay here”

Following on from an enormously successful run at the Young Vic last year, The Jungle has made the move to the Playhouse Theatre in one of the unlikeliest but most significant West End transfers in recent history. Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy’s play was born out of their experiences in setting up the Good Chance theatre in the Calais refugee camp that gives it its name and accompanied by an extraordinary (re)design of the space by Miriam Buether, becomes a genuinely unforgettable theatrical experience.

Buether’s design recreates the Afghan restaurant that was part of the camp where audiences can sit at the table (which becomes a thrust stage) surrounded by the heady scent of warming spices and baking bread. It’s a useful reminder that even in the midst of a crisis state, life has to continue and food is an enduring common bond. And this anti-doom-and-gloom approach is symptomatic of The Jungle. No tragedy porn here, but rather a portrait of flawed humanity – people doing good, people screwing up, people just trying their damnedest in face of a shameful international emergency. Continue reading “Review: The Jungle, Playhouse”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3

“I’m a decent bloke really”

On the ninth day of Christmas,Black Mirror gave to me…a skin-crawlingly dark episode

Even now, at the point where I’m trying to second-guess every episode of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker is always two, three, four steps ahead of us. With co-writer William Bridges, Shut Up and Dance manages the trick of repeating the key theme of a previous instalment but twisting it just enough so that you never suspect and that the self-referencing doesn’t feel too cheeky a move. 
 

Alex Lawther’s Kenny is a regular teenager, enjoying jerking off to porn on his laptop and getting enraged when his sister borrows said laptop without asking. When he gets it back with a virus on it, he attempts to clean his system but in doing so, unwittingly lets in a hacker who has secretly recorded Kenny’s exertions on his webcam and is threatening to release the vid unless he does exactly as he’s told. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3”

DVD Review: X+Y

“When somebody says they love you, it means they see something in you they think is worth something…it adds value to you” 

Clearly Nick Payne was onto something. In his play Constellations, the infinite possibilities of the relationship between characters Marianne and Dave – as originally played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall – are explored and wouldn’t you know it, fate conspired to bring them together again (Hawkins and Spall that is) in UK film X+Y, and this time with a different twist on the illness. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to seeing X+Y (or A Brilliant Young Mind as the US would have it) at the cinema last year, which is madness considering how tailor-made for me this film is, but ultimately I’m quite glad I got to watch it in the privacy of my own home as there was a fair amount of ugly crying by the end!

Which in itself isn’t that surprising as it was written by talented playwright James Graham (The Man, This House) in a beautifully, unashamedly warm-hearted manner. Inspired by documentary Beautiful Young Minds, it follows Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a teenager somewhere on the autistic spectrum who is something of a mathematical genius. Encouraged by his maths tutor Humphreys (Spall), himself a former prodigy and suffering from his own condition, and the tireless patience of his widowed mother (Hawkins), he’s selected to represent the UK at the International Mathematical Olympiad but to do so means facing up to some major challenges. Continue reading “DVD Review: X+Y”

Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan. Continue reading “Film Review: The Imitation Game”

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”

Re-review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre

“I may have been a brilliant scholar, but I was woefully ignorant of the facts of life.”

Given that last year was the first time I had made the trip to Chichester and took in the vast majority of their 2011 Festival, it is perhaps a little ironic that of the five plays I saw there, a third one has now opened in London. But I have no problems revisiting quality theatre and the double bill ofSouth Downs and The Browning Version is certainly that. As part of the Rattigan centenary celebrations at CFT, David Hare was invited to write a response to The Browning Version and the two public school-set plays were mounted together in the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre to great effect. It has now transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre (surely forever destined to be known as ‘formerly the Comedy…’) where I caught the last preview with my Aunty Jean who was down for the night.

And it was a great decision. I enjoyed Jeremy Herrin’s South Downs again, but to my mind it is The Browning Version, directed by Angus Jackson, that has become richer, deeper and thus even more heartbreaking and by any rights, ought to become one of the hottest tickets in town. My original review of the plays can be read here and the cast has transferred almost in its entirety (I think just one boy has been replaced for the West End run) so I won’t say too much more here aside from a few further reflections. Particularly, I don’t think I gave enough credit to Alex Lawther’s Blakemore and Liam Morton’s Taplow first time round, who both made their professional debut at the Minerva and who both produce empathetically balanced schoolboys with nuanced mixes of eagerness, thoughtlessness and naïveté, boyhood crushes and unaffected good-naturedness. Continue reading “Re-review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva

“You’re 14 and you know what effeminate means, this does not bode well for you Blakemore.”

There have been quite a few revivals of Terence Rattigan shows in theatres across the country to mark his centenary year but leading them all has been Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer season which has paid tribute to the dramatist by both putting on productions of his plays and commissioning new works that have been inspired by his writings. This double bill incorporates both of those by pairing Rattigan’s one-acter The Browning Version with David Hare’s South Downs, newly written as a response to the former.

Both plays take place inside public schools, dealing with issues of insecurity and identity in such institutions and the loneliness that can strike whether through failing to fit in or losing oneself so thoroughly in dry academia. South Downs takes the pupils as a starting point, John Blakemore being a precocious 14 year old on a scholarship who doesn’t fit in with his upper-class contemporaries and whose budding intellectualism and refusal to abide by convention rattles his teachers: a nicely irascible Andrew Woodall and a kindly Nicholas Farrell. Continue reading “Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva”