Review: Parents’ Evening, Jermyn Street

A two-hander full of game-playing – Parents’ Evening is an intriguing new play at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“This isn’t a game”

Bathsheba Doran’s Parents’ Evening starts off in the aftermath of a fraught game of Cluedo, quality family degenerating into chaos because a father can’t lose gracefully to his daughter. Or perhaps it’s the daughter who needs to learn to dial back on the crowing. Either way, mum’s home now and she’s smoothed over the waters and there needs to be an even keel because tonight is that all-too-familiar spot check for kids – parents’ evening.

But though it is their 10-year-old who is nominally under the microscope, a shock revelation from a teacher shatters the uneasy peace. And the playing field turns into something akin to high-stakes Jenga as the couple start to tear each other apart in a risky blame game, each upping the ante in a desperate attempt to diagnose the suspected malaise. It is a deceptively slight play, one which lures you in and then is unafraid to change the rules. Continue reading “Review: Parents’ Evening, Jermyn Street”

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: He Knew He Was Right

What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”

So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.

And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”

DVD Review: Charlotte Gray

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“Is it possible for a person to commit a crime without knowing it”

My abiding memory of seeing Charlotte Gray at the cinema was the much, much belated realisation that I had indeed previously read the book by Sebastian Faulks, it finally clicking about 10 minutes from the end as I realised I knew who she was going to see at the top of the stairs! I did enjoy the film though, even if it didn’t go down particularly well with the rest of the world, for it hits many of my buttons – I love Cate Blanchett, I love wartime stories that focus on women and I love France.

I also love Helen McCrory and she makes a brief, but enormously impactful cameo in this film which was a joy to return to and appreciate, me not being aware of who she was first time round, along with its other various treats. Charlotte Gray is set mainly in Vichy France during World War II where our eponymous heroine, a shy Scottish woman has joined the French Resistance as a covert operative. Her motivations are mixed though as she is determined to find the man for whom she has fallen hard, an RAF pilot, but as the war continues and Charlotte becomes accustomed to life undercover, her priorities begin to change as she learns much more about herself than she ever anticipated, thanks to the attentions of her handsome contact Julien, Billy Crudup, and his father, Michael Gambon in excellent form as Levade and the two Jewish orphans that they are harbouring and to whom she becomes housekeeper. Continue reading “DVD Review: Charlotte Gray”