Review: Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Lie down madam and legs apart
Now brace yourself for this may smart”

Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne played a well-received run at the RSC the winter before last and it has now transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a summer season. It contains two excellent performances from Romola Garai as Sarah Churchill (stepping into the role created by Natasha McElhone) and Emma Cunniffe as the titular monarch and you can read my four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets right here.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Romola Garai will star as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough alongside Emma Cunniffe as the eponymous monarch in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Queen Anne. They will be joined by Jonathan Christie, Michael Fenton-Stevens, James Garnon, Richard Hope, Hywel Morgan, Beth Park and Carl Prekopp with further casting to be announced soon.

After originally opening at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2015, Queen Anne will transfer to Theatre Royal Haymarket for a thirteen week limited run from 30 June until 30 September. Written by Helen Edmundson (The Heresy of Love, RSC) and directed by Natalie Abrahami (Happy Days, Young Vic), this gripping play explores the life of one of England’s little-known sovereigns and her intimate friendship with her childhood confidante Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough.

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TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1

“A police presence is non-negotiable”

Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns for a most welcome second season after a quality Series 1 in mid-2015 added to the purple patch for police procedurals that we seem to be in. Abbott’s spin places us with the Manchester Metropolitan Police and in a world that is equally darkly comic and dramatic as the squad deal with the ramifications of the climax of that first series, as well as keeping an eye on the combustible gangland situation that looks set to involve our guys here.

And what guys – Joanna Scanlan’s almost impossibly charismatic DI Viv Deering as comically sharp as she is whip-smart, Elaine Cassidy’s pragmatic DC Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach’s serious-minded DS Joy Freer underneath her, with Sarah Solemani’s ice-cold DCI Christine Lickberg joining them, providing scarcely wanted oversight and some juicy looking tension. The casual female focus (of the series at large) and refreshing body positivity (of this episode in particular) are just marvellous to behold. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: The Rivals, Arcola

“Through all the drama — whether damned or not —Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.”

The main beauty of Selina Cadell’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen The Rivals is her mastery of the Restoration form which sees no fourth wall separating players and punters. So on taking the stage, her actors acknowledge the audience in their own ways – awkward bows, tacit nods, arched eyebrows – and continue to address us throughout, an expositionary monologue here, an announcement of the scene’s location there, a gossipy aside everywhere. What really makes it work though is the warmth and wit with which the company fold us into its welcoming arms.

With a wicked glint in her eye and wryly pursed lips, an extravagantly dressed Gemma Jones ensures her Mrs Malaprop reaches the very pineapple of her comic potential and with no less captivating humour, Nicholas Le Prevost makes even the lewdest of Sir Anthony Absolute’s comments a hilarious part of his incorrigible charm. They have decided that her niece Lydia Languish and his son Captain Jack Absolute are an ideal match but young Lydia – an outrageous Jenny Rainsford who plays her on the edge of sanity to hugely entertaining effect – has her heart set on the romantic, and penniless, hero of her dreams. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Arcola”

Review: The Saints, Nuffield Playing Field

“It’s quite clearly not just a game or we wouldn’t be this upset about it would we”
 
In lieu of anyone having written a play about Wigan Athletic (although maybe there is one to come from somewhere…), I had to make do with Luke Barnes’ The Saints for my theatrical footie fix, journeying down to Southampton on a beautiful summer’s day. The weather was key as the Nuffield have created a pop-up theatre in Guildhall Square for the Art at the Heart Festival and as you can see from the pics below, it takes the form of a mini football stadium, leaving the audience exposed to the elements on its terraces but fortunately a morning rain shower soon changed to blazing sun in time for the starting whistle and a really rather enjoyable piece of theatre.
 
Kenny Glynn is a lifelong Southampton FC supporter and that life has been one full of hardship and challenges, not least in supporting the Saints through thick and thin, and in a brilliantly conceived first half, we see exactly how that life has played out. We witness the early death of his father at Kenny’s first trip to the Dell, the development of his mother’s chronic illness which made him her live-in carer, the trials being a Sunday League footballer and not a very good one at that, and the woes of being a teenager in love with a girl who barely knows he exists. Alongside this runs a potted history of the club, Kenny unable to dissociate the key events of his life from what was happening on and off the field.

Matthew Dunster’s production is brilliantly energetic – a keen young company of eight multi-role effortlessly, stripping in and out of tracksuits and other costumes at the drop of a hat, and wheeling around the components of Anna Fleischle’s inventive design to keep the pace constantly high. And in Cary Crankson’s wonderful central performance as Kenny, there’s such an appealing likeability that it is impossible not to get swept up in the dramas of his life as he slowly learns that you need to play the cards life has dealt (guided in this respect by a canny guardian angel by the name of Matt Le Tissier, well, it’s God dressed up as him…) and making the FA Cup final isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

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Review: Dealer’s Choice, Royal and Derngate

“There’s nothing wrong with failure, as long as it’s on your own terms”

Combining theatre trips with work meetings has proven more difficult in recent months but I was glad to able to make it up to Northampton to see Patrick Marber’s Dealer’s Choice before it closed, not least for the chance to see Cary Crankson who has been one of the highlights of the Faction’s rep seasons for me. And as the tragi-comic Muggsy who can’t help but be gullible, he’s an endearing delight in what was a highly enjoyable production.

The play is a snapshot of British masculinity in crisis – restaurant owner Stephen runs a poker game every Sunday after closing in which his employees and son regularly participate, their varying addictions to gambling having shaped their lives and their relationships to a point where this could be said to be the highlight of their respective weeks. At this particular game though, slow-building pressures threaten to explode as debts are called in. Continue reading “Review: Dealer’s Choice, Royal and Derngate”

Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place. Continue reading “Radio review: Blood Wedding”

Review: Roots, Donmar Warehouse

“The whole stinkin’ commercial world insults us and we don’t care a damn”

Jessica Raine may have captured the nation’s heart as the star of BBC1’s Call The Midwife but those in the know have been watching her onstage for a goodly while, I first saw her back in 2009 in Punk Rock and have been captivated ever since. Roots sees her take the leading role of Beatie in the middle part of Arnold Wesker’s working class trilogy (Chicken Soup with Barley is the first and I’ve yet to see the third, I’m Talking About Jerusalem) and though very much a slow-burner, James Macdonald’s highly naturalistic production steadily builds into something magically affecting. 

It’s 1958 and Norfolk girl Beatie Bryant is back home for a visit, full of love and enthusiasm for both her new abode London and her new beau Ronnie (who is a character in Chicken Soup…). He’s a committed socialist and has filled her head with a brand new world of ideals and inspiration but as she tries to explain and elucidate her new-found truths to her extended family, in anticipation of a big dinner party where Ronnie will be unveiled, she discovers the difficulties in preaching to an audience unwilling to hear.  Continue reading “Review: Roots, Donmar Warehouse”