Review: Deposit, Hampstead Downstairs

“Friends are uniting, to help each other’s dreams come true”

Keeping it brief for Matt Hartley’s Deposit as it closes this week. The Hampstead Theatre Downstairs was conceived as “an experimental” space where plays could be put on free from critical scrutiny and whilst that hasn’t necessarily been the way things have turned out (the programming has positioned it more as a companion to the Royal Court Upstairs rather than anywhere more adventurous), it has been a reliable destination for some pretty good theatre.

And in a rare case of the incubator effect coming into fruition, two plays which have previously played here have been brought back and deemed ready for the press (which also means their £5 preview tickets disappearing). First up is Deposit, a contemporary fable directed by Lisa Spirling about the challenges of trying to buy property in London where two couples test their friendship to the limit by renting a one-bedroom flat and sharing it to help them save that all-important lump sum. Continue reading “Review: Deposit, Hampstead Downstairs”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

Review: Edward II, National Theatre

“I will have Gaveston, and you shall know what danger ’tis to stand against your king”

Now this is what I want my National Theatre to be like – creative, bold, fresh, fearless. There’s no pretending that Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Marlowe’s Edward II is flawless perfection, its modern ambition sprawls over the Olivier’s vast stage and up onto the walls as screens either side relay live video footage, but the energy at hand from both cast and creatives is wonderfully galvanising and points defiantly towards the possibilities of the future when Nicholas Hytner finally stands down in a couple of years. Traditionalists may balk, especially in some of the more challenging sections of the first half but for this institution to thrive, it has to be allowed to experiment and expand its remit and that ought to be supported by all. 

Under the cruel yoke of his father, Edward suffered his lover Gaveston to be exiled but on ascending to the throne to become Edward II, he restores him to England and lavishes him with jewels and titles. But their overt hedonism riles up the powerful barons of the realm as they take up the cause of his neglected queen Isabella in an audacious power-grab, setting up the kind of conflict that leaves no-one unscathed. John Heffernan ascends to his first major London lead role with all of the subtlety and aching depth that has long made him a favourite around these parts. His Edward is a capricious fidget, pathetically desperate to please Kyle Soller’s cockily assured Gaveston and their headlong lustful passion is one that you believe he would fight tooth and nail for, yet he also possesses an innate grace under pressure – his abdication speech is profoundly moving, the desperation of his exile near-impossible to watch. Continue reading “Review: Edward II, National Theatre”

DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear

“Who is it that can tell me who I am”

Transferring stage productions onto film is something fraught with difficulties as the magic of live performance never really survives the change of medium, so something else, something slightly different has to be striven for. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear for the RSC – originated in Stratford in 2007 then toured the world before a West End season in rep with The Seagull – which stars Ian McKellen in the title role is not a filmed performance on stage, but nor is it a reconceived enhanced film version. Instead, it was filmed rather simply at Pinewood Studios, at the end of the tour, so it has the feel of a piece of theatre rather than of film, with the added bonus of being able to see the acting up close.

And what a bonus it is. McKellen is simply outstanding here. Jacobi’s Lear for the Donmar was my first ever and I couldn’t imagine it ever being bettered, Greg Hicks’ recent RSC one was just different, but this is such an incredibly visceral performance, full of anger and rage and bewilderment that is highly affecting even on screen – what it must have been like live I can’t imagine, but the camera captures every single nervy tic and nuanced touch that must have been missed in some of the larger theatres. And facing up against him is Frances Barber as Goneril in what must be one of the performances of her lifetime. She is just astounding, all kinds of manipulative, Machiavellian evil as she plots her way through the play, but almost justifiably so as the fierce tragedy carved on her face as her father curses her indicates the troubled history between father and daughter. This is the type of performance that makes you wish the sisters were featured much more in the play. Monica Dolan’s Regan is also tremendously strong, a more nervous, unhinged energy that plays out maliciously as she caresses the text languorously and Romola Garai’s Cordelia is beautifully spoken and extremely moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear”

Review: Earthquakes in London, Richmond Theatre

“These aren’t the results we were expecting”

Of all the new plays that I saw last year, it would have taken me a long time to arrive at Earthquakes in London as being the one which would receive a national tour. Not because it wasn’t good, in fact I really enjoyed Mike Bartlett’s slightly flawed epic ambition, but because the National Theatre production was intrinsically linked to the way in which Headlong utterly transformed the Cottesloe auditorium with Miriam Beuther’s design with its serpentine catwalk, trapdoors, bar stools and cutaway stages. But never ones to shirk a challenge, Goold and Headlong, along with touring director Caroline Steinbeis, have remounted the show into a tour-able format which I caught at Richmond Theatre.

My original review can be read here and it was actually quite nice to be able to revisit the show a year later in the context of his other 2010 work Love Love Love and especially in a week when I had also caught Bartlett’s latest epic work 13. Knowing what to expect makes a world of difference: I didn’t feel the length of the show – 2 hours 55 minutes here – whereas people new to it all commented on it; one was able to take in more of the detailed work of the company alongside the razzmatazz which was sometimes a little distracting; and even the final sequence, something that I wasn’t hugely keen on last time, made more sense this time round and felt like the necessary balancing of tone to keep the play from being too despondent. The central conceit of the intertwining stories of the three sisters remained strong and the jumps around time were also effective, possibly more so for knowing exactly what was going on in them from the off! The scale of the storytelling is occasionally unwieldy in reaching to be epic , but I don’t think any other writer in the UK is stretching themselves this much and whilst it may not all come off, I thoroughly admire the scope of his ambition. Continue reading “Review: Earthquakes in London, Richmond Theatre”