Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)

“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar”

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.
 
And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole.

Continue reading “CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)”

Review: White Christmas, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“As a child I went wild when a band played

How I ran to the man when his hand swayed”

How else would you start December but with two theatrical productions of White Christmas in quick succession… But where London has a more predictable, traditional take on the hoary old classic with the well-established touring production faithfully replicated, Leeds has a reimagined and reinvigorated version which makes it altogether a more intriguing proposition in the hands of esteemed director Nikolai Foster (whose forthcoming artistic directorship of the Curve in Leicester looks to be most promising indeed) (PS he’s no relation).

I left the Dominion Theatre in London quite well inclined to the show as it does tick all the boxes, perhaps in a somewhat perfunctory manner but with dollops of old-school charm. But freed from those constrictions, Foster is able to give us a fresh new take which is retro rather than old-fashioned, taking its cues from 50s Americana in Matthew Wright’s glorious revolving design. And with arrangements refreshed with a real musical intimacy and integrity by orchestrator Jason Carr and choreography revitalised by Nick Winston, this is a creative team firing on all cylinders. Continue reading “Review: White Christmas, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Macbeth, Crucible

“I go, and it is done”

They appear to be creatures of habit up in Sheffield. Just as big musicals pop up at Christmas, a high profile Shakespeare forms the centrepiece of their autumn schedules and powerless to resist once again, I made my way to the Crucible, this time for Macbeth. Last year’s Othello was an extraordinary success – John Simm’s Hamlet the year before somewhat less to my tastes – and the casting news of Geoffrey Streatfeild and Claudie Blakley whetted my appetite for what lay ahead in Daniel Evans’ production.

But part of the problem in investing too much expectation in anticipated performances means that one can end up blinded to the more general merits of a production through the haze of disappointment. And so it was here as the central casting just doesn’t seem to work. I have no problem at all with atypical interpretations of characters, such subversions often lead the way to sensational new insight, but I simply couldn’t get a handle on what was trying to be done here. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Crucible”

Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse

“They must be her winter knickers…”

Perhaps better known as a novelist (A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture have both been Booker-nominated), Sebastian Barry’s 1995 play The Only True History of Lizzie Finn receives its UK premiere here at the Southwark Playhouse in a production by award-winning director Blanche McIntyre. Having carved a niche for herself as the most celebrated dancer in Weston-Super-Mare, Lizzie Finn finds herself swept off her feet by an Irish soldier returning from the Boer War. Despite their completely different backgrounds, they return to their homeland anticipating married bliss but at a time when changes in the land laws are causing huge societal changes in Ireland, life is far from easy.    

The play is not without its challenges. Made up of sequences of short scenes, sometimes just a few lines long, the rhythm of the production is something that takes getting used to: James Perkins’ design of wide steps, whilst effectively evoking the seafront, doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to the format. But in the rather impressionistic approach by McIntyre, moments of visual grace emerge from these scenes, like embers spiralling out of the fire, flashing brightly and disappearing into the dark. I particularly loved the doubling of actors at the Castlemaine’s dinner party to create a witty echoing of an earlier scene.   Continue reading “Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hours”

Very occasionally I see a play which saps the life of my desire to write about all the shows that I see. Good ones are great, bad ones are fine as they often provoke much thought and opinion, but some are just so crushingly dull that they simply inspire nothing. Trevor Nunn’s production of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Haymarket was such a play and what is worse, I already knew that that would be my response to it due to the feedback from people who had already gone. Fortunately, I was gifted the ticket for services rendered so there was no financial cost but things can tax you severely in other ways.

Mainly it is due to the extreme lack of pace, the play is stretched out laboriously over more than three hours for no discernible reason than to fill time, there’s no reason contained within the interpretation that justifies this lack of speed and it becomes painfully obvious that we’re in for the long haul from the outset with precious few sparks of life animating events onstage. As Prospero, Ralph Fiennes was actually better than I was anticipating, the sole beneficiary of my lowered expectations, with a vocal performance that was colourful and commanding. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said ‘no’”

Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead makes the leap from Chichester to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to continue the Trevor Nunn season there. For its premise, it takes these two minor characters from Hamlet and inverts the perspective of the show so that we see the events of Shakespeare’s play but from their utterly bewildered eyes. As they try to make sense of their lives and what is happening to them and around them, scenes from Hamlet play out and matters of destiny, mortality and the meaning of existence perused and debated.

Tim Curry was forced to withdraw from the Chichester run during rehearsals – Chris Andrew Mellon continuing to act up in his stead – but Nunn’s canniest casting is in reuniting original History Boys Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker in the title roles. The pair exchange huge amounts of great banter, insistently rhythmic at times but differentiated too, as Barnett’s quavering Rosencrantz edges closer to panic whilst feeling his way around the uncertainty that dominates their existence and Parker’s Guildenstern maintains a stiffer resolve. Continue reading “Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Theatre Royal Haymarket”