Film news: trailer for Making Noise Quietly released

Ahead of the film’s release on 19th July, a new trailer has been released for Making Noise Quietly

“Not with those muddy boots on”

Since his decade at the helm of Shakespeare’s Globe, Dominic Dromgoole has turned his hand to Oscar Wilde seasons with his new theatre company Classic Spring and has also set up the film company Open Palm Films – no resting on his laurels here. Not only that, but he’s also now making his directorial feature film debut with an adaptation of Robert Holman’s Making Noise Quietly. Continue reading “Film news: trailer for Making Noise Quietly released”

Review: Rutherford and Son, National Theatre

A superb cast including Roger Allam elevates a fine production of Rutherford and Son at the National Theatre

“There’s not a scrap of love in the whole house”

It’s grim up north. I can say this as an absent son of t’other side of the Watford Gap. But in Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son,  it really is tough-going. Roger Allam’s mightily bearded Rutherford is a ferociously brutal industrialist from the north-east of England who is fierce at home as in the glassworks he runs but down a generation, there’s a growing tendency towards not putting up with such levels of grimness. 

One of his sons bogged off to London and has come back with a working class wife and child, the other wants to find God in Blackpool and his daughter has pretty much been the downtrodden whipping boy for 30-odd years. But it is the beginning of the twentieth century and change is afoot – political and personal, societal and sexual and writ large in the generational struggle here, it can be powerfully affecting. Continue reading “Review: Rutherford and Son, National Theatre”

TV Review: Mrs Wilson

Ruth Wilson excels in the intriguing Mrs Wilson, a drama that couldn’t possibly be true…

“You know all you need to know”

Mrs Wilson begins with ‘the following is inspired by real events’ but the truth is even more than that, as main protagonist Alison Wilson is played by Ruth Wilson, who just happens to be her granddaughter. For the story is taken from the extraordinary revelations of her own family history and adapted into a three-part serial here, which is marvellously tense and beautifully filmed.

We begin on an ordinary day in the early 60s as Alison nips home from her job to make a lunch of cold cuts for her novelist husband Alec. He doesn’t make it down to the table though as he’s kicked the bucket and instantly, hints of mystery abound as she hides his wallet and makes a surreptitious phone call. What she doesn’t expect is the knock on the door a few days later from a woman who claim to be his wife. Continue reading “TV Review: Mrs Wilson”

Review: An Inspector Calls, Playhouse

“You haven’t finished asking questions – have you?”

More than a little debt owed to the Guardian’s Pass Notes as much as any exam paper I ever sat….

Show information
Booking until 4th February
Photo: Mark Douet

Mock GSCE Paper, for Clowns
English
Thursday 10th November
Time allowed – 1 hour 50 minutes (no interval)

Question 1 – Have you seen An Inspector Calls before?
Yes, seven years ago. It was my first time and you can read my review here, along with my embryonic writing style
Question 2 – Hasn’t everyone seen this play by now?
Since opening at the National in 1992, it has had 3 West End runs and 6 major national tours, not to mention a Tony-winning trip to Broadway too. So yes, they probably have. But JB Priestley’s play remains a stalwart on English GCSE syllabus and so there’s always fresh eyes coming anew to the drama. (Fun fact – Diana Payne-Myers (Edna) has been in two of those West End runs and two of the UK tours, plus one in Australia too. I reckon it’s because she knows her lines so well.)
Question 3 – Can you tell the production is nearly 25 years old?
If we’re being completely honest, the iconic house of Ian MacNeil’s set design is beginning to look a little creaky and in these days of jaw-dropping effects from Wild to Harry Potter, its once-climactic moment sputters by comparison. But it’s a mark of Stephen Daldry’s direction that the play itself doesn’t feel at all fusty – its heightened theatricality remains startling with all its inventiveness and meta- moments.
Question 4 – Isn’t Stephen Daldry busy with The Crown?
Series 2 is already in production, but he has got an associate director onboard with him here – Julian Webber – I’m reckoning he’s been busy here.
Question 5 – Is it any good though?
 A play can’t linger around stages for so long without being any cop (ahem Thriller…) but An Inspector Calls really has earned the right to carry the label ‘classic thriller’ and delivers consistently throughout its interval-free running time. Plotting that still twists and turns satisfyingly, music (Stephen Warbeck) sound (Sebastian Frost) and light (Rick Fisher) that enhances the mood perfectly, and a set of performances that crackle with barely-repressed emotion.
Question 6 – Did the butler do it?
 He might have done, though that might be a different play. (I had actually forgotten how this played out, misremembering it halfway through didn’t help either!)
Question 7 i – Please use a gif to demonstrate how freaking fierce Barbara Marten is as Sybil Birling
Question 7 ii – And another
Question 7 iii – And one more
Question 8 – How many people does it take to do the costumes for this play?
More than you’d think. 8 people are named, including the 2 people who do alterations, which is nice as you don’t often see them mentioned in programmes.
Question 9 – What mark did you get for your English Lit GSCE?
An A. Though we were the first year to have A*s, so naturally I was disappointed. (Yes, I was ‘that’ boy at high school).
Question 10 – Can you shoehorn in a late reference to the US election and Donald Trump somehow, for relevance?
Into a (kind of) review about a play that preaches compassion, that highlights the disparity between the younger and older generations, that determinedly stands up for the rights of the poor against the bullish arrogance of the upper classes? I doubt it.
 
See, I told you!

 

 

 

DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)

“A man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’”

One of the main problems with the countless thinkpieces about the filming of live theatre is that they are almost always written by people who have ample opportunity to see the plays live. To talk about losing the innately unique quality of theatre unfolding before you is all too easy when you’re seeing shows pretty much every day of the week; when your own opportunities to see theatre, especially the bigger productions that tend to get filmed, are limited due to any kind of accessibility concern, it becomes a whole ‘nother ball
game.

Which is a slight digression from how I intended to start this, by saying that I wonder how much of a difference it makes if you’ve seen a production live and then on screen. I’ve not done the double, as it were, on many plays, I’ve tended just to use DVD as a way to catch up on things I missed and so was a little hesitant about whether to include Sarah Frankcom’s production of Hamlet for the Royal Exchange in this collection. But boy am I glad I did, for I enjoyed immensely, possibly even more than I did at the theatre. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)”

Re-review: People, Places and Things, Wyndham’s

“I want to live vividly”

There’s something rather apposite about the rush to label Denise Gough’s performance in People, Places and Things as the greatest since Mark Rylance’s in Jerusalem, as as heretical as it may be to say it, I was no real fan of the latter. And whilst there is a huge amount to admire in Gough’s epic efforts in a behemoth of a role, my reaction to the play on seeing it a second time was magnify what I felt were its flaws, leaving me bemused at the number of 5 star notices and hyperbole-filled writing.

My original review can be found here and in its new home at the Wyndham’s, I felt much the same. Duncan Macmillan’s writing lapses towards the painfully poetic far too often when trying to engage with the realities of addiction and it still feels baggy, the group scenes linger past their welcome and the repetitiveness goes too far, a fair bit could be cut and nothing lost. But what do I do know? It fascinates me endlessly when I end up outside the zeitgeist this way and interestingly for me, no-one else’s reviews have convinced me of what I’m apparently missing. Still, I’d recommend you go along to make up your mind and to see what should be, by any rights, the ascendance of Denise Gough to a well-deserved star status. 

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th June

Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre

“You can’t do karaoke unless you’re part of the group”

Oh expectation, you fickle thing – so easily built up and yet so easily dashed. Headlong’s last visit to the National Theatre saw Lucy Prebble’s The Effect brought to powerfully moving life and recently revived so devastatingly effectively in Sheffield, it was still fresh in my mind. So perhaps foolishly, Duncan MacMillan’s People, Places and Things had a lot to live up in my mind but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re a theatre addict – you just have admit that you’re powerless over theatre and that your life has become unmanageable.

Entering a 12-step program is all well and good but how to identify the exact nature of the wrongs, defects of character and shortcomings that help on the way to recovery? How to make amends to the people who have been harmed? Here’s where this tortured analogy will die a death as I can’t make it work, and it is turning out a little harsh against this production. That said, I really wasn’t a fan despite some sterling work from Denise Gough and spotted at least three people making a run for it before we broke for the interval.  Continue reading “Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre”

Review: King John, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Mad world! mad kings! mad composition!”

One of the terms most overused by reviewers and publicity writers alike is “timely revival” and this production of King John is no different, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta as it has processed on a mini-candelit-tour of Temple Church and Holy Sepulchre Church Northampton ahead of this run at the Globe. But Shakespeare dropped the ball here with this play, it is no surprise in the watching that it is one of his lesser-performed works and though James Dacre’s production has its bright spots, it can’t cover all of its inherent weaknesses.

Dacre heavily plays up the religious aspects of the play and whilst you can see the logic for the sacred venues and the atmosphere that the candlelight would have created, it’s less easy to see how it works as well at a sunny matinée in the open air on Bankside. Jonathan Fensom’s design imposes a red cross of a stage into the space and fills it with monks, but religion is only part of the story of John’s travails and weighting the emphasis so heavily here doesn’t seem to make a huge deal of dramatic sense (though I freely admit to not knowing the play at all well). Continue reading “Review: King John, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange

“What a piece of work is a man”
 

The political may be largely subsumed into the personal here but rarely has Hamlet felt so universal. Sarah Frankcom’s stated aim was to create “a Hamlet for now, a Hamlet for Manchester” and in the casting of the towering thespian might of Maxine Peake, it is not hard to feel that she has succeeded. Court scenes are played out around the dinner table, affairs of the state dealt with in business meetings, but all serve to intensify the pained intimacy of a family gone wrong, the suffering of people trapped in a dark world of pain at the heart of which lies this tortured sweet prince.

Dressed in a dark blue Chairman Mao suit (a neat nod to the politics of a determined contrarian) with hair cropped and shaved, Peake’s androgyne is a mesmeric figure from start to finish. The intelligence that sparkles from that voice, the openness that is commanded from that unflinching stare, it is nigh on impossible not to get swept away in the beauty of the performance. It remains at all times deeply humane too – this is a Hamlet who is really teetering on the brink as we see in the shaking hand that cannot pull the trigger, the vocal tremors throughout, the quivering lip at the news of Yorick. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Crucible

 “There’s some ill planet reigns”

Sheffield’s autumnal Shakespeares have become something of a yearly institution and a regular fixture in my theatregoing diary. This year sees The Winter’s Tale arrive at the Crucible with something of a less starry cast than in previous years (although Barbara Marten and Claire Price were both strong draws for us) and the return of director Paul Miller to the series, after his Hamlet back in 2010. Sad to say though, this was not for me – the atmosphere hampered by a sadly sparse matinée audience but the production also full of choices that just didn’t appeal.

Shakespeare’s late play relies on the careful balancing of two halves – Sicilia’s dark tragedy and Bohemia’s pastoral vibrancy, the pain of simmering jealousy against the freshness of new love. But though they must complement each other, they need to effectively stand alone as well and Miller struggles with his opening act. The sparseness of Simon Daw’s design places the focus strictly on the interactions of his actors, but his preferred method of placing them at some distance from each other on the large stage estranges them too much, both from each other and from the audience. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Crucible”