Review: Top Girls, National Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s superb Top Girls receives a luxurious but clear-sighted production from Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre

“They’re waiting for me to turn into the little woman”

Written by a woman and directed by a woman, the opening night of an all-female play couldn’t have been better timed for the National Theatre. But while this doesn’t negate the concerns raised in the too-male-heavy partial season announcement from last week, it does frame them – and the questions it provokes – in a larger context. After all, Lyndsey Turner’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is the first not to use double-casting, which means it boasts a company of 18 women – more of this please.

It helps that they are performing such a bravura piece of writing. Churchill’s 1982 play is a shrewd and startling affair which has lost none of its impact here as it gives women their voices in ways which haven’t always (and in some ways still don’t) been encouraged. From historical characters (both real and imagined) to contemporary families (it may be set in the 80s but there’s nothing dated about what is happening here), we are dared to listen. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, National Theatre”

TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

Review: Speech and Debate, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Please don’t riff”

An opportunity to see this play in dress rehearsal was snaffled away from me at the last minute so stubbornly, I’d opted not to see it. But the offer of a friend’s spare ticket and the good notices that Patsy Ferran’s performance seemed to be universally receiving eventually got me along to the Trafalgar Studios’ smaller space.

Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate dates from 2006 (his most recent play The Humans took the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play) and though this is the UK premiere, the drama is also getting a film adaptation which arrives later this month. It’s a curiously American thing – in the same way that spelling bees have been celebrated, Karam extols the virtues of the titular debating society.  Continue reading “Review: Speech and Debate, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Red Velvet, Garrick

“…now begrimed and black as mine own face”

For all the excitement of Kenneth Branagh’s announcement of his year long residency at the Garrick, the programme was lacking a certain diversity. So it’s pleasing to see that the Tricycle Theatre’s production of Red Velvet has been slotted in for a month, featuring a barnstorming lead performance from Adrian Lester and a fascinating insight into a piece of sorely neglected theatrical history.

My four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be found here.

 

DVD Review: Last Chance Harvey

“Cantankerous I’ve never been”

Joel Hopkins’ The Love Punch was a film that worked far better than one might have expected, a lovely surprise in the cinema back in 2014, so I’ve been looking forward to catching up with his earlier 2008 movie Last Chance Harvey. And once again I was caught unawares, even as I knew that I would probably like it, I had no idea I would love it so completely.

Dustin Hoffman’s Harvey is a washed-up US jingle-writer, finding himself on the fringes of his daughter’s London wedding in place of a beloved stepfather; Emma Thompson’s Kate has found life has passed her by, still single and struggling with an overbearing mother. That the two will end up together somehow is never in doubt but the joy of Hopkins’ film is in making the journey so beautifully, emotionally real. Continue reading “DVD Review: Last Chance Harvey”

Re-review: The Distance, Orange Tree

“I’ve just had a text from Lewisham council”

I hadn’t intended to revisit Deborah Bruce’s The Distance but a quick re-read of my review from its original production at the Orange Tree last year reminded me how much I enjoyed it (even beyond the thrill of seeing Helen Baxendale on stage for the first time). This new co-production between the Richmond venue and Sheffield Theatres sees director Charlotte Gwinner remount the show with a largely new cast but still a keen sense for the darkly comic edge of the writing.

It remains as freshly sharp in its views on modern parenthood as ever, pointing up the hypocrisy of a society that blithely looks on by if a man leaves his family but is aghast should a mother do the same. And as a shell-shocked Bea returns alone from her adoptive Australia to the bosom of her best friends Kate and Alex , both parents themselves, back in Blighty, everyone’s preconceptions, personalities and peccadilloes are challenged. Continue reading “Re-review: The Distance, Orange Tree”

DVD Review: These Foolish Things

“You always do the decent thing”

Noel Langley might be best known for being one of the screenwriters for The Wizard of Oz but his work as an author and playwright stretched over several decades and in 2006, an adaptation of his novel There’s A Porpoise Close Behind Us was released with the title These Foolish Things, both adapted and directed by Julia Taylor-Stanley. It’s a perfectly passable 1930s romp, set in the world of the theatre as the dark shadows of war gather (but not too closely) and a struggling young playwright goes about trying to get his play and his girlfriend on the London stage. What is oddly notable about it is the heavyweight Hollywood legends that have somehow gotten roped into the whole shebang – Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Terence Stamp…none of whom are in a major role.

Instead it proves to be something of a Brit flick. Floppily handsome David Leon plays playwright Robin who offers Diana a place in his lodgings as she moves to London to follow in her actress mother’s footsteps but finds herself overwhelmed by the demands of the theatre world. As she steadies herself, she finds both allies – Julia McKenzie’s compassionate landlady, Andrew Lincoln’s helpful Christopher – and enemies – her own nefarious cousin Garstin, Leo Bill in full-on sneering mode, and Mark Umbers’ sexually voracious and unfussy Douglas. With Huston’s glamorous patron of the arts Lottie Osgood in the middle of them all, the play edges ever closer to production, but at no small cost to everyone concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: These Foolish Things”

Review: If Only, Minerva

“By the way, David Cameron has met a black man in Plymouth”

A cheeky trip to Chichester meant that I was able to catch David Edgar’s latest play If Only in its final week and whilst it was fun to see a piece of such hyper-contemporary political theatre (Edgar was writing the second act right until the play opened to keep it up-to-date), the real joy was seeing three exciting actors – Martin Hutson, Jamie Glover and Charlotte Lucas – in the spotlight as the main characters. The play starts in the midst of the 2010 election with the result as yet unknown, and the second act takes a jump four years into the future to examine the impact of coalition politics on the nation.

The first half is excellent. Trapped in a Spanish airport by the Icelandic ash cloud, three young politicos are forced into a road trip adventure to make it back in time for the election result. Martin Hutson is a Labour special advisor, Charlotte Lucas is a Lib Dem staffer and Jamie Glover is a Tory MP licking his wounds after the expenses scandal and there’s huge fun as they thrash out the various permutations of a hung parliament and what that would mean for politics in the UK. It’s wordy but funny, Edgar disguises strategising with a little comedy and comes up a plausible, Thick-of-It-style version of what could well have happened involving camels (funnier and cleverer than it sounds).

After the interval, Edgar skips forward to a UK in the grip of the rise of UKIP and a Tory party responding by stealing its position and policies on the far right. The same three characters are reunited and fret about the way in which politics has become dominated by single-issue pressure groups and face a particular dilemma which asks them if it worth sacrificing personal decency for political expediency. It’s less effective and the introduction of a young woman (who connects both halves) played by Eve Posonby struck me as inessential, a way of bringing in a more youthful voice looking to the future that was never really needed. Good production though. 

  

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 25th July

Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle

 

“It’s like being at a crosswords”

Indhu Rubasingham keeps it in the family with her opening salvo as Artistic Director at the Tricycle as Lolita Chakrabarti’s first play Red Velvet features her husband Adrian Lester in the main role. But her tale of the experiences of Ira Aldridge, a nineteenth-century African-American actor who caused shockwaves with his performances, offers an intriguing preview of sorts as Lester will be taking on the role of Othello for the National Theatre next year.

For Aldridge was a Shakespearean actor of some renown who toured Europe with many productions and the opening of the play sees him preparing to take on the role of King Lear in a Polish theatre. He’s being interviewed by a journalist about the key moment in his career though, a disastrous attempt to take on the role of Othello which was received with horrific racism (a man blacking up to take on the role was infinitely more preferable) and distaste from nearly all around. Continue reading “Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle”

Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s

“We’ve got some of the best sperm in the country in this room”

The Royal Court have adopted the Duke of York’s theatre for the next few months and will be feeding it with a steady stream of its recent successes. Jumpy and Constellations are yet to come, but the season starts off, a little oddly perhaps, with a remounting of Laura Wade’s Posh which first played in Sloane Square two years ago. Then, we were in the run-up to a general election in which Cameron, Osborne et al were the prospective new boys; now of course, they are in power, albeit in a far-from-cosy coalition and Laura Wade has updated her play to reflect the changes in the political and indeed the economic circumstances in this country and beyond.

In some ways, this feels like a fresh lick of paint which brings Posh bang up to date but in others, it also felt like a somewhat unnecessary updating as it focuses the attention on the play being absolutely ‘of the moment’ when it is better than that, its over-riding message is one that withstands the period details around it (surely it won’t be rewritten every time it is produced…or is this just part of the natural evolution of a new play, in which case this is the first time I think I’ve experienced it). That message is a rather pernicious one about the enduring influence of the old boys’ network in the corridors of power and the way in which our ‘finer’ educational institutions inculcate this sense of entitlement and the abdication of any real sense of responsibility. Continue reading “Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s”