2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations

The nominations for the 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards have been announced and I have a thought or two #justiceforAnneHathaway

As a publicly nominated affair, the What’s On Stage Awards always throw up an interesting set of nominations, as fanbases engage alongside theatregoers to produce an idiosyncratic reflection on the year. This year though, the nominees for the nine creative categories (Choreography, Costume Design, Direction, Graphic Design, Lighting Design, Musical Direction, Set Design, Sound Design and Video Design) have been decided by an independent panel of industry experts appointed, which has resulted in some pleasing inclusions for the likes of Equus and Small Island

Acting-wise, the focus does land a little heavily on the more famous names (plus ça change) and that Supporting Actress in a Musical category is super-crowded (the Dear Evan Hansen mothers would have been a shoo-in for me there). My only real point of issue comes with the categorisation for the & Juliet players – are you really going to nominate Oliver Tompsett as a lead and then put Cassidy Janson in the supporting category? Did you not see the show, or get any of its message at all?!

Voting for the winners is open now and closes on 27th January 2020, with the winners being revealed at a ceremony on 1st March 2020.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Edwardian Hotels

Tom Hiddleston – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Andrew Scott – Present Laughter – The Old Vic
Matt Smith – Lungs – The Old Vic
Wendell Pierce – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Laurie Kynaston – The Son – Kiln Theatre / Duke of York’s Theatre

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre

Claire Foy – Lungs – The Old Vic
Zawe Ashton – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Hayley Atwell – Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s Theatre
Sharon D Clarke – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Juliet Stevenson – The Doctor – Almeida Theatre Continue reading “2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

“Drink…and let the games begin”

You gotta love an origin story, even for the dark lord himself, as everyone’s misunderstood, no-one’s that bad really. Or so Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless would have us believe in Dracula Untold, a 2014 Gary Shore film that ultimately did fairly good business. Here, Luke Evans’ Vlad is a good lad who only got the nickname ‘The Impaler’ because he was kidnapped by the Ottoman Empire as a boy and trained into their most deadly assassin. 

But he’s escaped now and has a wife and kid so all is good. Or is it? When a Turkish helmet (not a euphemism) is found in a river, Vlad realises that his childhood friend Mehmet, now Mehmet II, played by Dominic Cooper in a huge amount of fake tan (because you know, Hollywood couldn’t possibly try and turn a Turkish actor into a star) is up to no good. So he follows the stream to a cave where Charles Dance is hiding. Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)”

Film Review: The Theory of Everything

“One simple, elegant equation to explain everything”

Alongside The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything offers a double whammy of Oscar-baiting, British-biopicing filmic goodness – Benedict Cumberwhatsit’s Alan Turing and Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking seem dead certs for Academy Award nominations alongside their respective films – and for my money, it is the latter has the edge on the Cumbersnatch-starring film as something slightly less Hollywoodised and thus more interesting. That’s not to say that James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything is all rough edges – it is based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir of her marriage after all and both she and Hawking have ‘blessed’ the film – but it is a complex love story that doesn’t shy away from too much challenge.

The focus of the film is in fact the relationship and marriage between physicist Stephen and Jane Wilde, his contemporary at Cambridge University where she studied literature, and the severe pressure that it came under after his diagnosis with motor neurone disease and then his increasing fame as his discoveries broke exciting fresh ground. Redmayne’s physical performance as Hawking is undoubtedly astounding as his condition worsens but there’s something deeper there too that comes across later on, in the merest flicker of the lips and glints in the eye that come before the synthesised voicebox kicks in, an enigmatic level of emotion that we never get to truly discover and that is entirely beguiling.

Continue reading “Film Review: The Theory of Everything”

Short film review #38

Deafblind

 

DeafBlind Trailer from Ewan Bailey on Vimeo.
There’s clearly nothing Maxine Peake can’t do (quite what she makes of Hamlet later in the year is a definite treat in store) but her performance in Ewan Bailey’s DeafBlind is something eerily spectacular. She plays Maggie, a deaf blind woman thoroughly isolated by her condition and also, as it turns out, by the attentions of a stalker who has taken up residence in her home completely unbeknownst to her. He seeks to control her existence and there’s a stunningly uneasy sequence as she slowly comes to suspect someone is there and reacts in an unexpected way… Peake is predictably excellent but James Young’s uber-creepy Ben is inscrutably brilliant too.
 

Continue reading “Short film review #38”

Short Film Review #37

Method Actor from Justin Stokes on Vimeo.

A monologue by the silken-voiced John Shrapnel is something to look forward to no matter the format, and Justin Stokes’ short film Method Actor is a brilliant vehicle for it. Mere minutes long, it courses through the imagination of an ageing actor as he dispenses bitterly-won advice on how he has gotten where he has, Glenn Smith’s script cleverly weaving its way into unexpected places and DP John Lynch creating a gorgeously lush world for him to inhabit. Continue reading “Short Film Review #37”

Short Film Review #34

Korriró

The Icelandic Vesturport company are well known here for their theatre work – I’ve seen their collaborations on Faust and The Heart of Robin Hood – but they are also film producers, both long and short. The first of their shorts that I caught was Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s Korriró as it starred two actors I’ve previously seen – Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir and Gísli Örn Garðarsson. Filippusdóttir plays a homeless woman who happens on an open garage door into a luxury home which offers a brief respite from the drudgery of her life. It is beautifully shot and uncompromisingly direct – confronting us all with our attitudes towards the homeless and those from whom we avert our gaze.


The Last Temptation of William Shaw

Described as a promotional trailer for the upcoming feature ‘My Power Animal is the Pigeon” (of which I can find no trace), The Last Temptation of William Shaw has the double whammy benefit of a shirtless Daniel Ings and an animated Ings too. A mixture of live action and animation from Alois Di Leo and Mat Rawlins, it’s only brief but intriguingly effective – I wonder if there’s any future life in the Pigeon. 

Gone to the Dogs

Liz Tuccillo’s Gone to the Dogs captures perfectly the most annoying aspects of the anthropomorphisation of having a dog, which seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in our culture, whilst also managing to remind us of its sheer inconsequentiality. When a latecomer to a dinner party brings along her pooch as a plus one and brings him to the table, the scene is set for some serious debate about how far we’re willing to go for our animals and it is all engagingly good. Great stuff, and the presence of the ever-excellent Martha Plimpton makes it even better. 

Bloom

On paper, I ought to have really liked Bloom – a gentle rom-com in the making with shades of Little Shop of Horrors, but it never really quite manages to hit the mark. Amanda Root’s shy Helen is more than a little surprised when her tidy flat is taken over by marauding greenery and though she has never previously said a word to her neighbour, Richard Hope’s green-fingered Richard, it soon emerges he is her only hope. Emma Scott Robinson’s script doesn’t establish the characters well enough to make us care though and so it passes by amiably enough but never compelling. 

A Sunny Morning

Charlie Cox is one of those actors I wish I could see more of, he doesn’t work anywhere near enough for my liking (plus I haven’t gotten round to starting Boardwalk Empire yet) so I was glad to be able to spot him in a couple of shorts. Joseph Proctor’s A Sunny Morning is a simple two hander also starring Sophia Myles as a couple enter the aftermath of an argument with her having decided on something big. Clues are there – a copy of Hedda Gabler is on the nightstand next to her wedding ring – but as she and her husband chat, will her resolve falter? Cox is delightfully handsome as ever in his ruffled way but the film really belongs to Myles and her hugely expressive face, full of subtleties and emotion captured beautifully in Trevor Speed’s cinematography.

Short Film Review: #5

The Reward
THE REWARD from Sentinel Productions on Vimeo.
Written by Joel Horwood, The Reward definitely ranks as top amongst this bunch of shorts.  Gorgeously filmed by Lucy Patrick Ward, its opening shots set up its two main characters perfectly: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s numbed woman having just lost her father, and Anatol Yusef’s gym instructor working out the pain of the loss of his beloved dog on his hapless aerobics class. When fate throws the pair together, their meeting seems charged with almost unmanageable emotion, but what Horwood conjures is a moment of powerful but truthful cathartic release that is just beautiful. Waller-Bridge is fantastic (I want to see her in more modern roles on the stage soon) and Yusef also convinces in suggesting his pain lies more than just in the loss of a pet. Watch it now!

Harry, Henry and the Prostitute

Fans of Charlie Cox’s hairy chest (and there are many of you, I know what search terms lead people here!) will be particularly pleased with this film, in which two flatmates hire a prostitute for the night, but end up in a spot of bother with her pimp when it turns out they haven’t got the money to pay her. Harry Ter Haar has written a nerdish but convincing connection of banterish friendship which is played extremely well by Charlie Cox and Ben Rees-Evans which makes it a pleasure to watch even though the story itself is perhaps a little undistinguished. Theo Davies’ production has a nice sense of humour though, which not even a random appearance from Fearne Cotton can undo, 


Little Larry

A cutely observed short which is up for the Virgin Media Shorts competition at the moment. Barely two minutes long, Andrew Lee Potts’ film speaks to the child inside all of us, the part that can never quite believe we’re actually an adult, and with some sharp editing, pulls together an impressively sweeping vista which wraps up to a lovely sweet ending.

Mourning Rules

Also up for the Virgin Media Shorts, is Mourning Rules, a rather witty, dark, comedic tale of a professional mourner demonstrating the tricks of her trade to her sister. Written by Dan Castella, Olivia Poulet and Monserrat Lombard, and starring the middle name, it is dizzyingly manic and I loved the way it finished on an unapologetic loopy note.

Out There
Written by Mike Walden and directed by Edward McGown, Out There puts a dark spin on a family’s move to rural France. Graham and Caroline’s relationship is already strained and suffers even more so as his tutoring of an attractive young local girl provides an outlet for his wandering hands. She in turn looks to the friendly neighbour Jean-Luc but the rules for women are different to those for men in Graham’s mind with severe consequences. It’s not quite as compelling as it could be though McGown generates a strong sense of atmosphere and teases out strong performances from his leads – Lucy Russell’s frustrated wife who understandably jumps at Tom Mison’s bearded French-accented woodsman and Jamie Foreman, a malevolent bulldog in human form.

Domestics
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Last up is Rob Curry’s Domestics, a two-hander about a couple’s very stormy relationship which is tipped over the edge with the purchase of the wrong flavour of ice-cream. It’s not particularly unique or flashy, but there’s something quite neat about the way it shifts between perspectives, testing the viewer to challenge what we are seeing – is it memory, wish-fulfilment, the future? Maimie McCoy and John Lightbody gamely battle out the conflict as they each push each other as far as they can go, and beyond.

DVD Review: Casanova

“Be the flame, not the moth”

Taking in Lasse Hallström’s 2005 film version of Casanova was quite an odd experience in the end, a rather overwhelming sadness at Heath Ledger’s passing struck me from the off, in a manner that hadn’t hit me before, even whilst watching his final performances in The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus much closer to his untimely death in 2008. But I was resolved to watch as many films with Helen McCrory in as possible and so I continued with it.

She plays Casanova’s mother and so her appearance was limited to an opening sequence which set the scene for the film, her leaving him with his grandmother as a young boy and then disappearing from his life. [SPOILER ALERT] She then reappears in the finale in the nick of time to save Casanova’s bacon and is involved in the swashbuckling, sword-brandishing showdown as all those trying to catch up with the lusty lothario chase him through the streets of Venice. It’s a small role, and one that sadly allows little opportunity for McCrory to really make her mark, one would be hard-pressed to really remember her in this particular film, but sometimes that is just the way it goes. Continue reading “DVD Review: Casanova”

DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice

“If you tickle us, do we not laugh”

I remember loving this 2004 film of The Merchant of Venice hugely when it came out at the cinema, not least for the dreamy Joseph Fiennes but also for the fact that it seemed to make sense of a play which I’d never seen on stage yet always heard how problematic it apparently was. Having not seen it since then, I was quite happy to pick it up as a fab bargain along with some other goodies in a charity shop and in rewatching it, I was reminded of how pleasingly strong a piece of work it is.

The relationship between Antonio and Bassanio is thoroughly played up, from the off Jeremy Irons’ Antonio gazes wistfully and openly out the window at the arriving Bassanio and their relationship is given significant heft by Joseph Fiennes’ highly flirtatious manner. His request for yet more money is accompanied by a knowing trip to recline on the bed between them, his eyes inviting Antonio to join him and whilst the connection between them is never made explicit – the one kiss doesn’t count – it feels extremely real and makes Antonio’s willingness to sacrifice himself all the more believable. And Fiennes’ attractiveness to all and sundry is played on later with Al Weaver’s Stephano getting breathlessly excited about Bassanio’s arrival at his mistress’s home. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice”