DVD Review: Hawking

“Galileo was wrong, St Albans is actually the very centre of the universe”

One of those random coincidences (of sorts) sees likely Academy Award rivals Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne going up against other this year with Redmayne taking on a role – Stephen Hawking – that Cumberbatch has already played. Peter Moffat’s Hawking aired on the BBC back in 2004 and I have to say I remember it quite vividly, though I don’t imagine anyone could have predicted the career that was to come for its star!

This biopic focuses on Hawking’s early years at Cambridge University as he battled his newly diagnosed motor neurone disease, he was initially given two years to live – and set about the research that would lead to him to discovering the origins of the universe. Having detested physics at school, I can’t pretend that much (any) of the science really sank in but it doesn’t matter as director Philip Martin focuses on the illuminating glow and inspiration it gave to Hawking himself and in Cumbersnatch’s hands, it is a joy to watch. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hawking”

Review: The Seagull, Southwark Playhouse

“I always wanted to be a writer”

With an iPod blaring out tunes from the likes of Cat Power and Animal Collective, characters wearing battered Converse and slim-fit trousers and a wannabe writer bashing away at a laptop, it is clear that Anya Reiss’ adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull is aiming to demonstrate the timelessness of the Russian playwright. But this reinterpretation, directed by Russell Bolam, strips away too much without establishing a strong enough sense of its own identity.

Elements of the play sparkle under Reiss’ touch, in unexpected places. Emily Dobbs’ vivid Masha is a cracking portrayal of the disillusioned young adulthood that is the by-product of rural isolation, as she longs for the moody passion of Joseph Drake’s immature would-be playwright Konstantin yet finds herself resigned to the duller safety net of Ben Moor’s well-observed schoolteacher Medvedenko. And there’s a neat touch too in the Act 2 opening sequence that speaks so much about how deeply she can feel. Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“They see you as a hussy who planned to get your claws into the King from the moment you came to Court”

Another revisit to a play in a month that has seen a fair few and once again, it was to a play I hadn’t intended to see for a second time. This time it was Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn which premiered at the Globe last summer and which seriously impressed as a piece of new writing which managed to bring a potentially very dry historical subject to vibrant life, both enlightening and amusing audiences in equal measure and earning its star, the luminous Miranda Raison, a Best Actress fosterIAN nomination. When it was first announced that it was returning as part of the 2011 Globe Season, the lacking of accompanying casting news led me (and others) to suspect that she would not be returning with the production and so I was quite happy not to bother seeing it again. Sod’s law dictated that Raison did indeed return though and so my resistance was quickly work down and a visit made to the penultimate performance of the run.

My review from last year can be read here and little has changed in that I really did love it just as much second time round. I’d forgotten just how witty it was from start to finish and just how well-written the whole thing is, but particularly the role of Anne. It really is a superb part, shedding a brand new light on a historical figure of whom so much has already been said, but Brenton makes a convincing case for her as a truly unique figure, dazzling with intelligence but also possessed of reckless abandon in the pursuit of her goals. And Miranda Raison breathes such delightful life into her portrayal, brimming with self-confidence and a self-assurance that allows her to dominate Henry VIII for years whilst his divorce with ‘the Aragon cow’ is sorted out yet makes her entirely likeable. Continue reading “Re-review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would lose my life rather than my honesty”

Anne Boleyn marks the first new play in this year’s programme at Shakespeare’s Globe. Written by Howard Brenton, it features Miranda Raison in the title role, continuing a character that she also plays in Shakespeare’s own Henry VIII, also playing in rep. This is a review of the first preview, so please bear that in mind whilst reading my thoughts below.
 
The play covers the life of Anne Boleyn from her time in court as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, through her developing relationship with Henry VIII and the ideals of Protestant reform, ideas that ultimately caused her downfall but also sowed the seeds for the huge upheaval that culminated in the Civil War. What Brenton has done though, is to couple this story with the story of James I trying to establish control over a sceptical kingdom and varied religious groupings, centring around his commission of a new translation of the Bible. James is haunted, literally, by Anne’s ghost and her legacy and the two combine to great effect. Continue reading “Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe

“You that thus far have come to pity me, hear what I say, and then go home and lose me”

Not having seen Henry VIII before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the second play in the Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe (this was the second preview) and as delightfully coloured cod-pieces and a mightily impressive heaving bosom (bosoms?) emerged in the course of the first act, I suspected we could be in for a right rollicking good time. This play takes place in the middle of Henry’s reign and follows the rise and fall of four important people in his life, the Duke of Buckingham, his first wife Katherine of Aragon, the Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer. It mixes up elements of history, tragedy and romance and wraps it all up in the opulent pageantry of the era but it also allows us to see behind the scenes, the gossiping, the politicking and those moments when the mask slips and we see glimpses of the real people behind the public personae.

It is full of stately pomp and circumstance and the set-pieces are visually stunning: Anne Bullen’s procession through the theatre at her coronation, Princess Elizabeth’s christening, even Katherine of Aragon’s trial, all are sumptuously mounted and there are some truly moving moments, especially at the moment of downfall of each of the above-mentioned players. But in truth, Henry VIII plays as a series of episodes rather than a long play and there’s surprisingly little interaction between many of the key characters. This could be to do with the much-debated true authorship of the play, it has been suggested that it was a collaboration between Shakespeare and another playwright John Fletcher, though my knowledge on this is limited to reading the programme notes so I couldn’t possibly come down on one side or the other. Either way, there is much unevenness in this play and as a result it is only fitfully engaging. Continue reading “Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: And Then There Were None, Gielgud

There has been something a little snobbish about the reaction to And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s first appearance on the West End (the ever-long-running The Mousetrap notwithstanding) for quite some time. For all people’s talk that it is ‘just another Agatha Christie’, it is somewhat undermined by this above fact that her work is largely never revived in London and as for the dismissive assertions that it is just perfect for Middle England, I find that a horrendous attitude. There’s room enough for all kinds of theatre in London, and for people to like some or all of those kinds as they see fit: the idea that because something might be popular, it loses any artistic value is a perilous one and shockingly naïve given the economic realities of mounting West End shows.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, this is a new version of this show by Kevin Elyot who, according to my companion, has actually done very little updating or modernising in the end, instead relying on Christie’s intelligently intricate plotting and a very solid cast, to deliver the twists and shocks of this murder mystery set on an island. Opening with ten strangers sat around a dinner table, invited by a mysterious man Mr U N Owen, who are then picked off one by one according to the words of the nursery rhyme from which the title is taken.

But it is no ordinary whodunit as it emerges that these are no ordinary everyday citizens and what is happening here is more about the exacting of justice on those who have avoided it. Thus there’s a double set of revelations as we discover who these people really are, followed up by their demise, and the atmosphere is suitably taut as a drum in the glorious Art Deco decorated set and there’s plenty of shocks and thrills, not least from the ever-present storm, to keep the audience constantly jumping out of their seats.

Everyone in the cast was great: the women edged it for me with Tara Fitzgerald giving good jolly-hockey-sticks as a games teacher and Gemma Jones’ utterly chilling righteous Miss Brent as the standout performances of the night, though Anthony Howell, Sam Crane and Richard Clothier kept up the men’s side well. I don’t want to say too much more as I’ll get dangerously close to giving important things away! Yes, there’s elements of Christie’s work that will always feel familiar due to its ubiquity on our television screens, but it does not take much to realise that there is a greater depth and nuance to her work here that ought to begin to change the mind of the most hardened sceptic.