Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

“I know your moustache…”

What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble. Continue reading “Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)”

News: RADA President Kenneth Branagh to direct Tom Hiddleston in Hamlet

Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier Award-winning theatre company will join forces with RADA for a co-production of Hamlet, to support the transformation of RADA’s Chenies Street site in London, further developing the Academy as a world-leader in dramatic arts training.

 The production will feature RADA alumnus Tom Hiddleston in the title role and will play a strictly limited three week run at RADA’s 160-seat Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre from 1-23 September 2017.

All funds raised will support the RADA Attenborough Campaign, which aims to raise £20million, enabling the regeneration of the Academy’s Chenies Street premises. Continue reading “News: RADA President Kenneth Branagh to direct Tom Hiddleston in Hamlet”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Garrick

“More inconstant than the wind…”
 

KenBran’s residency at the Garrick continues with an all-star Romeo and Juliet, reuniting Richard Madden and Lily James from his Cinderella, and there’s finally a bit of interesting casting with Derek Jacobi as Mercutio. That said, it’s somewhat typical that this season’s one headline concession to diversity has been to put an old white man in a young white man’s part. Here’s my 3 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th August

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick

“I do feel it gone, But know not how it went”

Perhaps one of the biggest lures of the newly established Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and its year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre is the return of Dame Judi Dench to the stage, playing Paulina in their opening production of The Winter’s Tale. One of the pre-eminent Shakespeareans of this or any age, the run largely sold out in advance proving the astute business sense but with Branagh and Rob Ashford co-directing this oft-described problem play, does it make artistic sense?

And I’m not 100% sure that it does, this doesn’t feel like a production that one will remember as a classic of our time. It is undoubtedly a difficult play to mount, the chilly stateliness of the first act’s Sicilia contrasting strongly with the permissive post-interval (and 16 years hence) Bohemia and with a rambling plot full of statuesque tragicomedy, it’s a hard one to love. Branagh and Ashford keep things more or less traditional, and of course excellently spoken, but rarely soul-stirringly good. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Hang the trifle, woman”

I think I only made it Stratford once last year, partly a consequence of so much of the RSC’s work playing in London as part of one festival or another, but once the casting was announced for The Merry Wives of Windsor, I knew I would be making the trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre once again. This production of Shakespeare’s comedy of middle-class trials and tribulations is in modern dress but the reference point is closer to the British sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s and as with many of those television shows, it has its high points and its low points.

Alexandra Gilbreath and Sylvestra Le Touzel were thankfully the production’s highlight as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively. I’ve long been a devotee of Gilbreath and she remains an utter joy to watch on the stage. Superficially she’s something of an Essex wife here but we soon see the playful intelligence that lies behind the animal print and there’s much to enjoy as she deploys her flirtatious verve and feminine wiles – her final costume nearly converted me I tell you. And the contrast against Le Touzel is well worked: though a doughtier figure born of country life, they make believable firm friends and there’s a lovely constancy to the emotiveness with which she speaks, she touches the heart just as effectively as she tickles the ribs. Continue reading “Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“A man may see how this world goes with no eyes”

 
A double bill of Shakespeare is something that not even I would undertake lightly but as an opportunity to visit the newly opened Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was something I couldn’t resist: King Lear in the afternoon for the first time and a revisit of Romeo & Juliet in the evening. Typically, the old maxim about not booking shows to see particular actors came and bit me on the posterior with a depressing predictability, as the main reason for seeing this King Lear was in order to see Kathryn Hunter’s Fool, but as she unexpectedly withdrew from the ensemble at the beginning of the year, the role is now being covered by Sophie Russell.
 
This was only my second ever Lear, Derek Jacobi’s at the Donmar being the first and whilst I enjoyed seeing that with fresh eyes and not knowing the story, it was nice to watch this one with a little more comprehension of exactly what was going on! Though I was still a little perplexed by the mix of time periods covered in the costumes, the courtiers in classical garb but the outside world seemed to be inspired by the First World War, a mixture that was a little too haphazard for my liking. But overall, it did actually combine to quite epic effect, led by Greg Hicks’ powerful turn as Lear. I got more of a sense of a man going mad from Hicks, as opposed to the fragility, even possible onset of senility, of Jacobi’s interpretation, with his viciousness towards Goneril being particularly shocking in a way I didn’t remember so much. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”

Never mind ‘the Scottish play’, it appears that it’s the role of Mark Antony that has some kind of a curse attached to it. Last year saw the Dutch Hans Kesting break a leg before The Roman Tragedies arrived at the Barbican (he delivered a barnstorming performance from his wheelchair), and now Darrell D’Silva is having to perform with his left arm in a sling after suffering severe injuries to his hand after a prop firearm malfunctioned during the technical rehearsal. He has now rejoined the cast after surgery, but press night has been postponed to try and make up some rehearsal time. So my first trip to the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC in Stratford which should have been to one of the final previews actually ended up being earlier in the run than planned.

This is a modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra, featuring guns and suits to tell this great tragic love story of two powerful individuals brought together yet unable to escape their circumstances. Rome is ruled by a triumvirate (what a great word!) after Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet all is not well. Mark Antony has had his head and heart captivated by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is spending more of his time there than in Rome. Taking advantage of this is the ambitious Octavius Caesar who turns on the third triumvir Lepidus, setting the scene for an almighty showdown between the two rivals. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”