The nominations for the 2017 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have been released and naturally I have thoughts. Initially, they are:
BEST ACTOR IN PARTNERSHIP WITH AMBASSADOR THEATRE GROUP
“How does this end Simon?”
In some ways, you can’t blame ’em for trying to replicate the extraordinary success of the first series of Doctor Foster, quality drama that fast became a rare appointment-to-view fixture with a rare return to weekly instalments. And given that writer Mike Bartlett is known for his prolific nature, that a second series quickly came into the offing was no great surprise.
But it can be hard to recapture the magic and though all of the key players have returned – most notably warring ex-couple Suranne Jones’ Gemma and Bertie Carvel’s Simon – this set of five episodes has really suffered from a lack of raison d’être. Waves of vicious revenge percolate throughout but with no discernible driving narrative beyond that, it proved far less engaging.
Not even the presence of a veritable treasure trove of theatrical luminaries – Victoria Hamilton, Adam James, Thusitha Jayasundera, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Siân Brooke to name but a few – could rescue the show from the dullness of retreading old ground and a wearying sense of not giving a shit about anyone here, particularly in the interminable longueurs of the final episode.
“I should warn you that nobody likes me”
Truth be told, I resisted seeing Ink
for the longest time, mainly because I had zero desire to see a play about Rupert Murdoch. I feel the same way about Thatcher – I will never see The Iron Lady (sorry Meryl) or any other Maggie-based drama because I just damn well don’t want to. These firmly held convictions can of course be bypassed by sourcing me a free ticket (I stepped in for an otherwise occupied colleague) and so I was able to get the best of both worlds – onto a winner if it was good, and easily able to sneer (cos yes, I am that person) if it was bad.
And as with so much in life, the truth was somewhere inbetween. I could see how good Bertie Carvel’s performance as Murdoch was, naturally far more than a simple caricature, but I still felt uneasy whilst watching him – and the play in general – about what still felt like a tacit endorsement somehow, of an institution that I believe to be thoroughly reprehensible. Ink isn’t straightforwardly about The Sun though, Graham is far too canny a writer for that. His target is journalistic ethics as a whole, using Murdoch’s purchase of that paper in the 1960s as a tipping point for tabloid behaviour.
Rupert Goold’s all-singing, all-dancing (quite literally) production is strongest in its first half as Richard Coyle’s editor Larry Lamb sets about transforming the rag into the red-top all right-thinking people loathe today. After the interval, you begin to notice the running time a little more, there’s a lot of history compressed in here, and a slightly odd move into thriller territory contrasted with a Page 3 debate that didn’t work for me. All in all, Ink
is a vividly effective play about the corrosive effects of ambition and how that concentrated power was able to shape the morality of large swathes of society.
Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes (with interval)
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.
Episodes, in order of preference
The Family of Blood
The Shakespeare Code
The Sound of Drums
Last of the Time Lords
The Runaway Bride
The Lazarus Experiment
Smith and Jones
Daleks in Manhattan
Evolution of the Daleks
Top 5 guest spots
1 Dean Lennox Kelly’s rugged and omnisexually flirtatious Shakespeare was hugely charismatic
2 Almost unbearably poignant, Jessica Hynes’ Joan Redfern’s love story with the human John Smith is magnificently done
3 A pre-Hollywood Carey Mulligan’s Sally Sparrow – the best companion that never was
4 Tom Ellis all stubbly is always a treat
5 Derek Jacobi’s Professor Yana – I still get chills thinking about the epic reveal at the end of Utopia
A tie between the Face of Boe’s heroic demise in Gridlock and Chipo Chung’s gently elegiac and courageous Chantho.
Most wasted guest actor
Bertie Carvel’s three seconds as The Lazarus Experiment’s Mysterious Man is egregious, as is most every choice for Miranda Raison’s New Yoik flapper.
Most important thing that is never mentioned again
I think most things in this series made sense or had their time and place, even the paradoxes, after all it’s just “a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey….stuff”.
Gay agenda rating
B – Shakespeare and the Doctor makes for the kind of fanfic that (some) people dream of.
“There is only one way of treating men, with the iron hand … yield one demand and they will take six”
The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays
is an interesting one, full of the sort of plays I wouldn’t ever have chosen to see and so using it as a guide to stretching my theatrical viewing has been illustrative. Which is a roundabout way of saying the latest play I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself that I went to see was John Galsworthy’s 1909 Strife
at the Minerva in Chichester, incidentally marking Bertie Carvel’s directorial debut.
Set around an industrial dispute at a Welsh tinplate works where a strike has been running for six months, Strife examines the stresses this places on all concerned. The workers, who don’t have the support of their union; the board, who have travelled from London to thrash out a compromise; and the firebrand leaders of each faction who might not be so different as all that, each equally stubborn in refusing to budge from their position.
Galsworthy does well as showing us the multiplicity of positions on each side – how the privations of strike life affects people in different ways, wearing some down quicker than others, and how business sense and principles are often difficult to hold at the same time. Strife
also has the added piquancy that comes with the ever-worsening decline of our contemporary industrial works from Wales to the North-East.
It is tempting to think that Carvel has taken inspiration from his turn in The Hairy Ape,
key impressionistic moments are strikingly delivered, not least a stunning opening, but there’s also quiet, simple beauty when needed, as in the fall of snow during a crucial debate. William Gaunt and Ian Hughes spar marvellously as the two leaders, feeding off each other, but the rest of the play pales a little by comparison, lacking a similar effectiveness to really engage us in the wider world of Strife
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 10th September
I do aim for a relatively professional standard on this blog but there comes a point in the year when you have to surrender to the pretty and once a year, we get a list of the leading men who have caught my attention one way or another.
And far be it from me to deny my readers as these posts habitually end up being among the most read – or looked at – of the year! Naughty 😉
So without further ado, here we go!
Shakespeare was surely never meant to be this sexy! So hot in As You Like It, they even put him on the poster
Oh wait, Shakespeare is this sexy. Even underwear models are getting in on the plot as in Cheek By Jowl’s Russian Measure for Measure
|(c) Johan Persson
|(c) Johan Persson
As revealing as theatre gets, both emotionally and physically, Song From Far Away saw Smits strip naked for a large swathe of the play which was nice. He was also adorbs in the Dutch Glass Menagerie.
A bit of rough never goes amiss and though Stanley Kowalski is most brutish, his appeal is often more than clear.
Carvel beefed up for The Hairy Ape to great effect but still looked strangely hot in a dress in Bakkhai, man is talented.
|(c) Manuel Harlan
Of course there’s no photos from Carmen Disruption that do justice to how hot Farthing’s rent boy was but rest assured, he did the job!
|(c) Tristam Kenton
I promise there was more than the promise of spandex that made me go to Lardo…
|(c) Gus Miller
|(c) Gus Miller
Somehow, I found myself walking in Memphis once again, wonder why…
Going right back to the beginning of the year here but Miller’s Iago in Frantic Assembly’s Othello made jealousy look hella sexy
Purely for those thighs in Xanadu
A bit of a cheat as he looked a bit of a mess in Les Liaisons Dangereuses but look what he looks like on telly and film!
NB: Photos have been credited where possible, but do let me know if there’re any issues.
Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King
Alex Hassell, Henry V
Best Actress In A Play Sponsored By The Umbrella Rooms:
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things
Lia Williams, Oresteia
Rosalie Craig, As You Like It
Harriet Walter, Death of a Salesman Continue reading “2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations”
“I’m stunned with wonder”
When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks
season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia
to the shattering Bakkhai
, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad
(which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website
So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home.
The Iliad took place on the day I came back from holiday so I was only able to watch the tail-end of it so I was determined to catch more of The Odyssey, intending to drop in and out of it all day (as technically I was at work…) but it was so seductively brilliant and relentlessly interesting that there was barely a moment I was able to tear my eyes away. From an impassioned Simon Russell Beale beginning at the fall of Troy to the glorious Lia Williams bringing us to the climax 10 years later, it was an absolute triumph.
Highlights from this treasure chest of wonders were many and varied – Ian McKellen giving forth from the Council Chamber of Islington Town Hall, Stanley Tucci orating on the choppy waters of the Thames, Miranda Richardson, Janet Suzman, Toby Jones… But The Odyssey really came into its own when certain actors had to deal memorably, and unbelievably professionally, with the vagaries of live performance combined with the unpredictability of a city that doesn’t stop for anyone, not even Juliet Stevenson.
Stevenson delivered her Cyclops-bashing segment from a capsule on the London Eye and tussled magnificently with the automated voice in there, reminding her to smile and take her belongings with her to which the text gave her the perfect riposte. And a medal should also be awarded to Stephen Fewell who came up against a jobsworth who wouldn’t let him on the boat he was due to take yet barely batted an eyelid. Andrew Scott and Anna Madeley also both stood out with fiercely committed recitations, bringing blistering life to the text. Another stunningly audacious theatrical treat from what has been a five-month-long highlight of the year.
“There was a motivation…”
This is a curious thing – a drama-documentary of legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie which utilises a double flashback structure to form a kind of biopic of her life, but one with an additional focus on her mysterious disappearance over several days after a particularly traumatic, though unexplained, experience. Anna Massey plays Christie late in life, at a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Mousetrap’s West End run, where she fields questions from journalists about her life, the answers to which are played out in flashback. Olivia Williams takes on the younger role who is meeting with a psychiatrist to try and explain her experiences, which are also replayed to us, through the delicate probing of her psyche.
It is all elegantly done in this BBC adaptation, written and directed by Richard Curson Smith, covering the key points of her life – a happy childhood devastated by the loss of her father, the freedom of becoming a volunteer nurse and then pharmacist during the Great War, the beginnings of her career as a writer – but with little real insight or inspiration in what it is saying. The scenes around her disappearance have more meat to them but again fail to really click as the build-up to the grand reveal of what caused it falls rather flat in the final analysis. The split narrative adds nothing and instead subtract substantially from the pace of the film, continually frustrating as we switch fruitlessly between the two.
There’s entertaining work in the cast. Mark Gatiss’ unexpectedly broad Yorkshire accent as a journalist who discovers the missing author is startlingly effective, Vicki Pepperdine gives a lovely turn as her housekeeper and scribe Carlo and there’s a neat doubling by Anthony O’Donnell as a Belgian patient who forms the inspiration for Hercule Poirot and a later appearance as the policeman in charge of investigating her disappearance. The best moment from the supporting roles comes as a wonderfully apt moment of retrospective synergy when Bertie Carvel’s Max Mallowan (who became her second husband) pokes his head through a door and bellows ‘Agatha’!
As the Agathas, Massey has enough of a twinkle in her eye to make her brief scenes fitfully engaging and Williams captures a stillness in the woman that speaks of deep unhappiness, but there’s never any sense that we’re getting to know who she really was. As the writing is slavishly based on her own records, there’s too little room to engineer genuinely engaging drama – sadly and as she doubtless would have been able to tell us, real life isn’t always as exciting as we want it to be and a little fiction can go a long way…
“I ain’t on oith and I ain’t in Heaven, get me? I’m in de middel tryin’ to seperate em, takin all de woist punches from bot’ of ’em”
Fans of Bertie Carvel have certainly been rewarded with his recent burst of activity – he starred in Bakkhai at the Almeida, had a major role in BBC drama Doctor Foster and now returns to the theatre to lead this revival of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape. The play is described as a classic expressionist masterpiece and whilst that might be overstating things ever so slightly, it does give a useful pointer to the heightened theatricality of the drama and of Richard Jones’ production. My 4 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.
Running time: 95 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 21st November