Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

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: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre.  Continue reading “Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre”

Review: A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer, National

“Fingers crossed
Make a wish
What gruesome game of chance is this?
Cross your chest
Count 1 in 3
And pray it doesn’t grow in me”

A musical about cancer? As unlikely as it might seem, A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer isn’t even the first one that I’ve seen. That dubious honour goes to Happy Ending, one of the most misjudged shows I saw last year, but fortunately this Complicite and National Theatre co-production in association with HOME Manchester rejoices in a much stronger pedigree, a collaboration between performance artist Bryony Kimmings (book and lyrics), Brian Lobel (book) and Tom Parkinson (music).

A Pacifist’s Guide… posits itself as “an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of ordinary life and death” and this it does by collating varying stories of people diagnosed with cancer into a single hospital waiting room, watched over by Emma, a single mother waiting for some tests or suspected bone cancer to be conducted on her baby son. And over the course of a long night, we hear their tales of living with the disease, the trials of having to deal with other people’s reactions to it, the wells of emotion it taps into. Continue reading “Review: A Pacifist’s Guide To The War On Cancer, National”

Short Film Review #55

 

I have a thing about spiral staircases and though the one at the heart of The Last Ten is squared off, it is still freaky as shit. A genuinely disturbing film that is ingeniously conceived and shot by David Higgs with some fantastic cinematography from Nicole Heiniger, it’s all about the perspective as a single camera looking down the middle of a stairwell captures the story of a man returning home to find…well, that would be giving it away. Hitchcock-inspired brilliance, just don’t watch it on your own, or in the dark.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #55”

Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre

“Everybody else works little fiddles, because that’s what the system is designed for”

Who knows what hold Alan Ayckbourn has over the theatrical establishment but by heavens, it is a strong one. As prolific a playwright as they come, the appetite for his plays is seemingly insatiable with what must be a constant stream of productions – I imagine one would be hard-pressed to find a week where there isn’t at least one of his plays being performed somewhere in the country. But his charms have never really worked on me, it is with a heavy heart that I hear there’s a new Ayckbourn somewhere with a cast I can’t resist (although I did only see one of his plays last year) and this time round, it is all Nigel Lindsay’s fault.

A Small Family Business is a 1987 play that was hailed as a searching examination of how Thatcherite values eroded societal links through the experience of one man realising that the family furniture business he has inherited is rife with corruption. But in 2014 it feels a little neutered, what once might have appeared daring has been nullified by a quarter century of rapacious capitalism and so what is left is the well-trodden farcical shenanigans that Ayckbourn loves so much, accompanied by an attempt at a darker side that sits very awkwardly indeed with the dated comedy. Continue reading “Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre”

DVD Review: The Queen

“Duty first, self second”

I hadn’t watched the film of The Queen since seeing it at the cinema back when it was released in 2006 and I have to say I quite enjoyed watching it again. Watching it at a time when admiration for the monarch is rather high given the celebration of her 50 years of service, it is a little hard to credit the way in which public opinion swung so viciously against her and the Royal Family in the aftermath of the death of Diana Princess of Wales and the hugely unexpected outpouring of public grief. Peter Morgan depicts a fictional account of the events that followed, though with so much still fresh in the mind, and documentary footage included in Stephen Frear’s film, there’s a sometimes uneasy mix of truth and fiction.

Central to the film is of course Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn as the monarch, completely caught unawares by the shift in public mood and unable to seek refuge in the comfort of age-old protocol as the hands-on government of Tony Blair demands a different way of reacting than she has ever been used to before. Mirren is undoubtedly excellent, steering clear of outright impersonation and finding a vein of dry wit which makes the quieter moments of the film some of the best. She is aided by Michael Sheen returning to the role of Tony Blair, which he really has now made his own, as the PM who seizes the moment to lead the country and is determined to take the monarchy with him, kicking and screaming into a new era. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Queen”

Review: The Master and Margarita, Complicite at the Barbican

“It’s just words, it’s just another story”

As I left the Barbican after seeing Complicite’s take on The Master and Margarita, I thought to myself that was simply extraordinary but I have no idea why and tweeted something to that effect. I couldn’t really explain it in any kind of meaningful way and in some ways even if I could, it still wouldn’t do it justice. Adapted from the novel written in secret by Mikhail Bulgakov during Stalin’s repressive regime that has long been considered an unstageable piece of literature, it therefore seems an apt choice for Simon McBurney and the highly imaginative and ambitious Complicite company to take on as their latest challenge.

Visually, it is a completely stunning piece of work with some of the best incorporation of projections I’ve ever seen. Their scale is massive, filling the expanse of the back wall of the Barbican’s main stage, yet there’s an intimacy to them as well as the actors interact with them in clever ways and they continually draw the audience in. McBurney wisely keeps much of the rest of the staging on a minimalist level, utilising an almost balletic physicality of considerable grace and beauty. And the production needs this pared-back simplicity as the story it is telling is a complex, multi-layered one. Continue reading “Review: The Master and Margarita, Complicite at the Barbican”

Review: Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Globe

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

The 2011 season at the Globe theatre has eased open in a rather low-key manner with the reading of the King James Bible and this touring production of Hamlet, directed by Dominic Dromgoole, taking a short residency before the first main show, All’s Well That Ends Well, opens on 27th April. This is an extremely pacy, much funnier than usual interpretation of the play which has taken a magpie approach in co-opting lines from the First Quarto into the text which adds to the rough-edged feel which is being aimed for here (I think) and firmly establishing its identity as a unique production, different to any that might have come recently.

Ultimately though, this was something of an underwhelming production. A cast of eight actors, plus two stage managers, whip through the tale of political intrigues and tragic vengeance with high energy and skill but little cumulative effect. Set up against a raft of recent star-heavy versions – Tennant, Law, Simm, Kinnear and their attendant top-notch ensembles (plus the upcoming Sheen) this has a lot to live up to in recent memory of these other Hamlets. But in its presentation of the story, it also crucially puts itself up against the huge wit and innovation of the recent work of companies like Propeller’s touring double bill and Cheek By Jowl’s Tempest that really does just leave this production standing. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Get Santa, Royal Court

“All I want for Christmas is to meet my real Dad”

A bit of a random choice for January, but when an offer of £5 tickets for Get Santa! came into the inbox, I couldn’t resist a sneaky trip to the Royal Court, plus I’m still on leave for a week so technically I’m still on my Christmas holiday. Aimed at the 7-11 age range, this non-traditional Christmas show comes from the pen of Anthony Neilson with music by Nick Powell, offering a distinct alternative to pantomime which is recognisably suffused with the spirit of the Royal Court as much as it is with Christmas.

Holly Finnegan has the same Christmas wish every year, to meet her father for the first time, but frustrated with his lack of response, she hatches a plot to, well, get Santa and have him fulfil her demands. For though she is a relatively normal, if stroppy, 10 year old, her stepfather is a dog and her mother and grandmother are a bit batty, but not even she could forsee the wacky turn of events. For she manages to trap Santa’s son Bumblehole instead of the man himself and when the spirit of her father manifests itself in a malevolent Russian teddy bear who hoodwinks her, an absurd groundhog day situation emerges as Holly begins to realise that getting everything you want is not always as good as it sounds. Continue reading “Review: Get Santa, Royal Court”