Review: Don’t Waste Your Bullets On The Dead, VAULT Festival

“We need stability, not creative parenting”

If there’s one thing theatre loves, it is plays about theatre itself. You can find the likes of Red Velvet and Nell Gwynn in the West End right now but in the more vibrant land of the VAULT Festival, Freddie Machin is presenting his own contemporary take on the issue in Don’t Waste Your Bullets On The Dead. Feisty and fresh, it feels like ideal festival fare, bulging at the seams with exuberant imagination.

Theatre director Ellen Billington has been struggling to find work and her personal life is suffering too with lovemaking with her partner strictly regimented to ovulation cycles. When a chance encounter with an old colleague and a playwriting competition results in a swift commission and temporary escape to a backwater Massachusetts town, she thinks all she needs to do is let inspiration do its work but life, and art, are rarely that simple. Continue reading “Review: Don’t Waste Your Bullets On The Dead, VAULT Festival”

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

Review: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre

“There’s no more to be said
For when we are dead
We may understand it all”

Commemorating the start of the First World War has turned into something of a full-time business for the nation’s theatres but in reviving the rarely-seen 1927 Sean O’Casey anti-war piece The Silver Tassie, the National Theatre has hit on something special. The play is structurally extraordinary in the difference of its four acts – a vaudevillian take on an Irish household transforms memorably into the visceral horror of a battlefield haunted by music hall songs, after the interval a hospital-set comedy eventually turns into stark realism, as the shattering effects of war on society are laid bare. Howard Davies’ epic production forges through blood and noise to find a most painful truth.

The cumulative effect may challenge some and is certainly disorientating at times but it also has a form of progression that feels natural, like feeling a way through what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Opening in the Dublin tenement home of the Heegans, the play riffs on Irish stereotypes through the clownish figures of Sylvester and Simon and the neighbourhood archetypes they teasingly mock but soon allows young gun Harry Heegan to take centre stage, boasting the trophy – the Silver Tassie – he and his teammates have won playing soccer, just before they head off to join the British war effort.  Continue reading “Review: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court

“We have to be remembered”

This rehearsed reading of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance was held at the Royal Court in memory of its playwright John Arden who passed away in March of this year. I decided to attend as he’s not a writer I’m familiar with and the little reading I about him that I did in advance seemed to suggest that he’s possibly due a Rattigan-like revival. Though now apparently considered a highly significant British playwright, his work hasn’t really been in fashion in recent decades and his was a career marked with frequent clashes with the theatrical establishment which has possibly led to his oeuvre being a little neglected.

The journey of the play Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance itself seems archetypal in this respect. It was received badly by both critics and audiences on its opening in 1959 but is now considered to be his best play and a modern classic. The process of exactly how something like this happens is something I’m very interested in discovering more about, (a short programme note explains the Royal Court themselves published a leaflet for audiences asking ‘What kind of theatre do you want?’ to get to the bottom of the issue) but on the evidence of this play, it is a little hard to see why it was not a success. Continue reading “Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court”

Review: King Lear, Almeida

“This is the excellent foppery of the world” 

Considered one of the defining roles for actors, there never seems to be a lack of King Lears on our stages and in 2012, it is Jonathan Pryce’s turn to wear the crown in this Michael Attenborough production for the Almeida. Such is the potential for great quality at this North London theatre that when they get everything right, there’s a beautiful marriage between the epic and the intimate (as advertised) and this is largely what we get here.

Pryce’s Lear is a father first and foremost, and losing some of the distance that accompanies an overly regal bearing results in a rather effective focus on the emotions of the man rather than the monarch. Thus the rage, the tenderness, the regret, the pain that he feels – elucidated with some masterful re-readings of the text – is always accessible and persuasive. The look in his eye during ‘I know thee well enough…’ cuts to the very core; his bantering relationship with his Fool borne of a genuine connection between the pair, Trevor Fox’s native Geordie accent a perfect fit to the riddle-me-dees and sharp observations and really demanding full attention. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Almeida”