Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)

Any film with Patti LuPone has to be a winner, even if Last Christmas only features her for 90 seconds or so. Nowhere near as bad as they’d have you believe…

“Before we eat lesbian pudding…”

There’s always a measure of slight disappointment when something doesn’t live up to its billing. To look at most of its press coverage, you’d think Last Christmas was ZOMG WORST FILM IN THE WORLD™ (a title it might have held at least for the four weeks before Cats came out…). But the reality, as per usual, is something much more mundane – it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of festive fluff, hardly ground-breaking but then what rom-com is?

Obviously I’m biased since the great Patti LuPone makes a random cameo early on, but I found the whole thing to be quite watchable. Its guest cast is a winner from start to finish – Michelle Yeoh! David Mumeni’s inexplicably rebuffed pub guy, Anna Calder-Marshall’s spiky homeless woman, Lydia Leonard and Jade Anouka as a lesbian couple, Amit Shah’s bumbling estate agent…and that joy of trying to work out which bit of London is being used at any given time. Continue reading “Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)”

Re-review: ear for eye, Royal Court

I go back to debbie tucker green’s ear for eye because sometimes, you just have to

“Change don’t give-a-fuck
change gone do its thing with or without you.”

Not too much to add about ear for eye that I didn’t already say in my original review but it was a play that I kept thinking about, reading and re-reading, and decided that I needed to see again to really get that confrontational power that it possesses. A bit disappointed to see a few people making a dash for it, clearly too much of a challenge for them but you have to laud debbie tucker green for creating the kind of structurally ingenious and politically urgent work that provokes such some emotion.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
eye for ear is booking at the Royal Court until 24th November

 

Review: ear for eye, Royal Court

ear for eye, debbie tucker green’s new play for the Royal Court is ferocious and uncompromising and challenging and quite often breath-taking

“This is harder for us than it is for you”

debbie tucker green’s new play play ear for eye is ferocious and uncompromising and challenging and quite often breath-taking. Tackling the current state of racism in both the UK and the US, a triptych of wildly diverse parts bind together green’s innate linguistic power with an acutely pointed experiential style and a determination to really make you listen.

Played at two hours without an interval, green thus presents us with what it is to be black today. The first is a tangle of overlapping voices, mothers advising sons how to deal with contact with the police, victim of harassment, activists looking to galvanise the struggle. Scenes are repeated in different voices, viscerally contrasting those experiences (particularly when the hand gestures scene is replayed with BSL).

Then we switch to a tightly wound duologue (Lashana Lynch and Demetri Goritsas, both excellent) as a black student talks, discusses, argues with a white professor about the violence meted out by white men in school shooting and bombings etc. She’s adamant it is indicative of systemic, structural racism, he’s sure they’re all lone wolves, but the power dynamics here are astonishing as we’re swept right into the maelstrom of mansplaining mendacity as he battles to exert his authority.

Finally, the third section is a filmed segment, white people reciting the horrific detail of some of the Jim Crow laws, seemingly the basis for segregation in the US. And lest we British get too complacent, it is followed by extracts from UK slave codes, tracing the historic links of these pernicious rules, literally codified into society and seemingly impossible to shake off. It is hard to take and that is pretty much green’s point (and why there’s no interval to slope off shamefully). 

green directs with laser-like precision, Vicki Manderson’s movement creating beautiful tableaux as the sixteen-strong ensemble endlessly switch and reconfigure. And Merle Hansel’s monolithic set frames this opening sequence with real visual flair, under Paule Constable’s elegant lighting choices. ear for eye is as challenging as theatre gets, as art gets, but make no mistake as to how vital it is. (And what a year Kayla Meikle is having!)

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
eye for ear is booking at the Royal Court until 24th November

Review: A Raisin in the Sun, Albany

“Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams – but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while”

When Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun became the first play written by a black woman to be performed on Broadway in 1959, some might have dared dream of a new age of diverse playwrights being represented there. But despite the play’s extraordinary success, the Great White Way remains an unfortunately apposite name – it should have a ‘male’ in there too – and the issues that Hansberry raises, both directly and indirectly, remain pertinent in contemporary America with the #OscarSoWhite furore and the ugliness and popularity of Donald Trump’s rhetoric just two of the most recent examples.

So it is a canny choice of revival for Sheffield-based Eclipse theatre company to tour the UK with, but it’s also a hugely satisfying dramatic one as well. Hansberry taps directly into the African-American experience, using her own family’s battles against segregation, to give us an alternative take on the American Dream, a family’s hopes and dreams refracted through the prisms of poverty, gender, race and above all, the growing sense that the way things are, ain’t necessarily how they gotta be. As one character says “Where are all going and why are we bothering?”, well let the Younger family show you. Continue reading “Review: A Raisin in the Sun, Albany”

Review: A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes, Tricycle

“A thick, golden-brown, brickhouse goddess of voluptuous lusciousness”

Marcus Gardley’s The House That Will Not Stand was something of a triumph for the Tricycle last year so it is little surprise that Indhu Rubasingham has returned to the playwright for a new production there, A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes. An adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe, it shifts the action from seventeenth century Paris to modern-day Atlanta and the world of mega-churches but maintains the air of hypocrisy around its lead character, here renamed Tardimus Toof.

Toof’s church is in a parlous financial position and having long sold himself as having healing powers, turns to fried chicken tycoon Archibald Organdy to lay his hands and fleece his pockets. His lascivious eye, which has wandered over many a female parishioner as he “undresses sin”, turns to Organdy’s mistress Peaches – a never-better Adjoa Andoh – even with Sharon D Clarke’s imperious wife a considerable presence both in church and at home. Continue reading “Review: A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes, Tricycle”

Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre

“Ain’t nobody born that infallible”

Reader, I ovated. It is a rare occasion indeed that I actually give a standing ovation, more often than not I think about it and don’t do it but just occasionally, one bears witness to something in a theatre that is just irresistibly, incandescently amazing that the only response is to get on one’s feet. For me, it was Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s simply extraordinary performance as Sister Margaret Alexander that beats powerfully at the heart of The Amen Corner, a revival of a 1965 American play by James Baldwin, that fills the Olivier Theatre with the glorious sound of the London Community Gospel Choir.

 Jean-Baptiste’s Sister Margaret is the fiercely passionate leader of her local church in Harlem and living underneath with her sister Odessa and 18 year old son David, she leads her congregation with an iron fist of religious fervour. But trouble is brewing with discontent rumbling in the group of church elders who are looking for an opportunity to oust their leader and when her long estranged husband Luke turns up unexpectedly, they seize the moment as it turns out that their glorious leader may not be as blemish-free as she would have them believe. Continue reading “Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre”