Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston

The reliance on an all-white cast to tell Hogarth’s Progress is another mis-step from a Rose Theatre Kingston who should know better

“We’ve all had our share of bad reviews”

The oft-misquoted George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and taking a glance at Nick Dear’s Hogarth’s Progress, you can’t help but feel it is most apposite for the folks at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Once again, they’re tackling a slice of English history in a multi-play format and once again, they’re doing it with a lily-white cast – diversity be damned! 

It’s a bit exhausting to go over the same arguments but they still hold true. The notion of historical verisimilitude holds no water, not least because Dear has talked about employing dramatic licence with history itself, but because once again we’re not talking about German actresses being employed to play Queen Caroline (it is Susannah Harker, with an accent). We’re talking about directors not trusting that audiences will accept actors of colour in such roles, but also not doing enough to challenge such audience-held perceptions. Continue reading “Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston”

TV Review: The Split / The Good Fight

If female-fronted lawyer shows are your bag (and why wouldn’t they be!), the twin joys of The Split and The Good Fight have marvellous to behold

“Kill all the lawyers”

If I’m completely honest, Abi Morgan’s The Split did leave me a tad disappointed as it veered away from its legal beginnings to something considerably more soapy over its six episodes. The personal lives of the Defoe clan well and truly took over at the expense of any of the cases they were looking after and even if that family includes Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Deborah Findlay, it’s still a bit of a shame that it ended up so schlocky. Continue reading “TV Review: The Split / The Good Fight”

Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503

“They kicked us out
And knocked our house down
And shipped us here to the arse end of nowhere”

I learned to swim in Skelmersdale, known as Skem to anyone who has ever been there. A couple of miles from the village where I was born, the drive to the Nye Bevan Swimming Pool was always a fascinating one visually due to the whims of the 1960s town planners who designated the place a ‘new town’ – sheets of grey concrete dominated the architecture and the roads were full of roundabouts after roundabouts, barely a traffic light to be seen among the network of subways. It was also a strange feeling though, as it was crossing the invisible borderline from Woollyback territory (your more typical Lancastrian accent) into the land of the Scousers (the inimitable sound of Merseyside).

I bring you this insight into the early years of Clowns because Years of Sunlight, a new play by Michael McLean, is set in Skem and whilst it had an undeniable nostalgic charge (I’m almost certainly the only reviewer there who got excited at the sight of the ‘Connie’, or Concourse shopping centre in a video clip), the play also had the unexpected result of making me think of the place in a new light. This particular ‘new town’ was designed to rehouse the overspill population from the poorer parts of Liverpool but the forced creation of new communities is rarely so simple as that, and it is this impact that McLean explores here, by following the thread of a 30 year friendship. Continue reading “Review: Years of Sunlight, Theatre503”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

“Come, sit on me”

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow’s rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing.

The Winter’s Tale

And another, with Michelle Terry directing an almost painfully raw performance from Mariah Gale in Apothecaries Hall, her wounded Hermione breathtakingly good, especially with the strong contrast of the vibrant Yoruba production from the Globe II Globe festival.



As You Like It

A curiously low-key take here as Bryan Dick’s Touchstone and Marty Cruickshank’s Corin wander Belgium’s Ardennes Forest with a good deal more time devoted to the clips, in this case from Thea Sharrock’s interpretation of the play from 2009, with a stellar Naomi Frederick and Laura Rogers riding roughshod over Jack Laskey.

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: Seminar, Hampstead Theatre

“Am I trying to construct a living breathing cosmos with language or am I just scratching on the wall of a cave?”

Was there ever so suggestive an image as Roger Allam tossing paper into the air? Certainly not within a subset of my Twitter followers for a week or so when the publicity for Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar was released, marking the opening of the autumn season at the newly refurbished Hampstead Theatre (box office is on the left as you go in btw). Though sadly without beard, the prospect of seeing this most beloved of actors is always welcome, especially in as unfamiliar a milieu as modern American drama.

Four aspiring young novelists sign up to a writing group in New York which is led by the revered Leonard, once a celebrated novelist but now an editor and war chronicler, and through a series of classes, we see him ripping his new students to shreds in order to remake them into writers that might, just might, survive in the modern publishing world. Not everyone responds quite so well to this unorthodox approach however and their reactions and interactions mutate accordingly. Continue reading “Review: Seminar, Hampstead Theatre”

DVD Review: North Square

“Do the thing you have to to get your client off”

Helen McCrory first came to my attention as one of the lead characters in legal ensemble show North Square. Broadcast on Channel 4 in 2000, it featured a cracking ensemble that also included Rupert Penry-Jones, Dominic Rowan and Phil Davis, yet it only had the one series which I don’t think you can get on DVD but it is available to watch on Channel 4’s 4 On Demand service.

Written by Peter Moffat, North Square is a drama set in a criminal chambers in Leeds and centres on a group of young, irreverent barristers all determined to make their mark by using unorthodox methods and unconventional approaches to counter the dusty practices of a legal profession they want to lead into the twenty-first century. They are led by their chief clerk, the highly manipulative Peter McLeish played brilliantly by Phil Davis, who is determined to make a success of this enterprise and has no scruples about negotiating with the criminal families that rule Leeds in order to maximise business opportunities even as it poses a moral quandary for some of the lawyers. Continue reading “DVD Review: North Square”