DVD Review: Henry V (1989)

”Customs curtsy to great kings”

It is instructive to watch performances from Kenneth Branagh such as these, to counteract the ones he is currently giving as part of his company’s year-long residency at the Garrick. They have their fans to be sure but for me, there’s something much more powerful about the subtlety on display as a younger actor as opposed to the broader, louder turns he’s given thus far. Sacrilegious as it may be to admit it, I have no real love for Henry V as a play but there is no denying this excellent piece of film-making, directed by Branagh in his debut in the chair.

Taking a grittier, more ‘realistic’ take on this history pays dividends, not least in minimising the slapstick for which I care little but also emphasising an emotional truthfulness that doesn’t always come across on stage. Only the stoniest of hearts could remain unmoved by Judi Dench’s achingly poignant farewell to Falstaff, or be swept up in the playful flirtiness between the King and Emma Thompson’s Princess Katherine, or be chilled by the declaration at Harfleur, Branagh showing us the young monarch taking the brutal responsibility of a warrior.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Henry V (1989)”

Review: Charley’s Aunt, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I am not an ordinary woman”

Between balancing requests for reviews and selecting what other plays I want to actually see, it is a rare occasion that I actually attend the theatre as someone else’s guest for a show of their own choosing. But in order to see an old university friend and Dominic Tighe (only one of these was actually sat next to me though), my Sunday afternoon was spent at the Menier Chocolate Factory to see the Victorian farce Charley’s Aunt.

It is little secret that I am no great fan of a farce, though I have been trying my best to being open to having my mind changed, but this isn’t the one to force a reappraisal of the genre. It is what it is, a cross-dressing, slapstick-filled riot of an occasion – revived here by Ian Talbot – which sets its stall out from the very beginning with a character mugging for laughs. Continue reading “Review: Charley’s Aunt, Menier Chocolate Factory”

DVD Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

“The old Ernest is dead, long live the new Ernest”

I remember rather enjoying this 2002 film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest at the time, though I hadn’t seen it on stage before then I don’t think and so on re-watching it now, I can’t say I am as inclined to be as forgiving about it. Oliver Parker’s film seems so determined to put his own stamp on Wilde’s sparkling humour, assumably to make it relevant to modern audiences, that he somewhat loses sight of what makes Wilde’s work such the joy that it is.

The tight three-act structure of the play is completely exploded with chase sequences, hot air balloon rides, money collectors, infuriating fantasy sequences and trips to tattoo parlours sending the film sprawling over too many locations. Clearly the opportunities offered by film mean the constraints of theatre are no longer applicable, but in not a single case do any of these innovations actually work with the story. They simply dull the sharp blade of Wilde’s wit, indeed Julian Fellowes’ screenplay excises whole chunks of it, and it is most certainly not a fair swap. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Importance of Being Earnest”

Review: An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville

“Now that the House of Commons is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm “
 

Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, a tale of morality, blackmail and political corruption, arrives at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand for a winter residency, featuring the husband and wife team of Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond alongside the luminary talents of Elliot Cowan and Rachael Stirling in the lead roles.

On the surface, Wilde’s play is the saga of a rising political star, Sir Robert Chiltern, whose career is threatened by the villainous Mrs Cleveley who is possession of the knowledge of the past indiscretion which led to him securing a small fortune and the undying respect of his virtuous wife. Mrs Cleveley wants his support on a new scheme and is willing to blackmail him to get her way, but when his wife Gertrude finds out the truth, her perfect ‘ideal husband’ is besmirched, she declares she can no longer love him and it is left to their dear friend Lord Arthur Goring. But on closer examination, it is becomes a passionate plea for true love to be willing to forgive everything, something given extra poignancy when one considers that Wilde’s affair with Lord Alfred Douglas would become public and wreck his life within the very year this play was first produced. Continue reading “Review: An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud

Marking Dame Judi Dench’s return to the RSC after many years away, this production of All’s Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare lesser performed plays, transferred to London from the Swan in Stratford. It is called a problem play as it is neither fully comedy nor tragedy but a curious mixture of fairytale-like wonder, cold realism and gritty humour. Helena loves the arrogant Bertram, son of the Countess of Rousillon, but the only way she can gain him as a husband is as a reward for curing the King of France of a terrible ailment. He reacts badly to being forced into marriage with someone of lowly birth and so runs away to Italy to join the wars but not before fixing two fiendishly difficult conditions to their marriage, things he believes Helena will never be able to achieve but he does not count on her tenacity.

Even in a relatively minor part, which the Countess is it has to be said, Dench is a mesmerising performer, she manages so much with such economy of performance, the simplest gesture or twitch of the face speaks volumes and as the matriarch of the piece, she oozes a compassion and wisdom that makes a firm bedrock for the production. Gary Waldhorn as the King of France does well though as the most senior male character, rising from his sickbed to become an inspirational leader. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud”