Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican

Despite a cast including Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack, this proves another disappointment of a Macbeth as the RSC start their Autumn residency at the Barbican

“Better health attend his majesty”

Its enduring popularity on school curricula means we will probably never be free of it but in a year when both the National Theatre and the RSC have swung and missed with modern takes on Macbeth, surely it is time to give it a rest. Rufus Norris’s post-apocalyptic production felt unmoored and lacklustre in the unforgiving Olivier and now taking up residency at the Barbican, Polly Findlay’s interpretation for the RSC similarly lacks clarity and intent.

There’s plenty of ambition here and it is tempting to see the influence of a certain Dutch auteur (barefeet actors, clocks counting down to deaths…). But the over-riding aspect of Findlay’s direction is its headlong speed as it hurtles through a cut-down version of the text. Too much has been sacrificed here in the name of accessibility with precious little time given to allow emotional beats to play out, for motivations to be understood, the hurly-burly rules. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican”

TV Review: King Lear, BBC Two

A contemporary adaptation of King Lear does little to prove its worth on BBC Two

“Some villain hath done me wrong”

A belated visit to this Bank Holiday TV offering and one I should probably have left alone. I’m not the biggest fan of King Lear, nor of Anthony Hopkins if I’m honest. But the notion of a contemporary adaptation and a deluxe level of supporting casting was enough of a draw for me to give it a try.

A co-production between the BBC and Amazon, this Lear has been adapted and directed by Richard Eyre. Trimmed down to a scant couple of hours and located in a contemporary England, it clearly has its eye on new audiences as much as your Shakespearean buff, and I’d be intrigued to know how the former reacted. Continue reading “TV Review: King Lear, BBC Two”

Full cast for the RSC’s upcoming Macbeth revealed

The full cast for the RSC’s upcoming production of Macbeth has been announced.

Christopher Eccleston, making his debut at Stratford-upon-Avon,  as Macbeth and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth had already been announced and will be joined by:

  • David Acton (Duncan)
  • Raphael Sowole (Banquo)
  • Edward Bennett (Macduff)
  • Bally Gill (Ross)
  • Luke Newberry (Malcolm)
  • Tim Samuels (Lennox)
  • Mariam Haque (Lady MacDuff)
  • Donna Banya (Donalbain/Gentlewoman)
  • Stevie Basaula (Bloody Captain/Second Murderer),
  • Katy Brittain (Doctor)
  • Raif Clarke (Boy)
  • Paul Dodds (Chamberlain 1)
  • Michael Hodgson Porter)
  • John Macaulay (Chamberlain/Lord)
  • Tom Padley (First Murderer)
  • Josh Finan (Company)
  • Afolabi Alli (Company)

The production will be directed by Polly Findlay and runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 20 March to 18 September with previews from 13 March.

 

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1

“Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”

To mark Series 10 of Doctor Who starting on BBC1 next week, I’ve been counting down the weeks with a rewatch of all 9 of the previous series of new Who. And now we’re within touching distance, I’m counting down the days talking about each one. For once though, I’m going to keep these posts (relatively) short and sweet, following the below format.

With just the one series to judge him on, and that series being the very first when everyone was still finding their feet, Christopher Eccleston’s Nine often gets a bit of a raw deal. And some of his zany moments are undoubtedly really quite awkward to watch but for me, they’re easily outweighed by the emotional weight of his more serious work, especially when hinting at the considerable darkness of the events of his recent past that had left him so haunted. A solid re-entry back into the televisual world. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 1

“It’s not a new hotel we need, it’s a bigger morgue”

The publicity for Season 2 of Fortitude, just starting now on Sky Atlantic, reminded me that I had the first series still lying around unwatched and that now would be as good a time as any to get stuck in. Created and written by Simon Donald, it manages the not-inconsiderable feat of being an effective cross-genre show, so much so that it flicks from one to another from scene to scene. It begins life as a murder mystery set in the isolated town of Fortitude in Arctic Norway, the quality of its cast meaning that it can afford to knock off Christopher Eccleston’s scientist within the first couple of episodes.

As it is a community of about 700 in extreme conditions, it also plays out as a small town comedy of the blackest kind, as the quote up top demonstrates, bringing in soap opera-ish twists which also darken as well, pretty much into horror show territory. But where Fortitude is most unexpected is in its ventures into sci-fi, as the strange happenings in the township begin to defy any kind of rational explanation. It’s a disconcerting move but once the paradigm is established, I kinda liked the randomness it brought to the show, especially since I had no idea that that was where we were heading. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 1”

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”

My top 10 favourite Doctor Who guest star appearances

With the new series of Doctor Who almost upon us, I thought I’d look back on some of my favourite guest spots on the show since it has come back on air, as it has become quite the magnet for actors to get on their CV. Have a look at my top 10, well 11, here and let me know who you think should have been on there instead.

Suranne Jones (The Doctor’s Wife)
This is probably my all-time favourite moment out of all of the new Doctor Who episodes. Neil Gaiman’s conceit was brilliantly simple, to bring the TARDIS to life, but Jones’ performance elevates it to something extraordinary, I get goosebumps just thinking about it and this scene, from near the end, is just perfection. As Matt Smith’s lip starts to wobble, we see the Doctor at his most affectingly human.


Continue reading “My top 10 favourite Doctor Who guest star appearances”

DVD Review: Song for Marion

“I am a bit scared”

I wanted very much to like Song for Marion, the Paul Andrew Williams film retitled Unfinished Song for the North American market (was that purely because the Diane Warren-penned Céline Dion song that unexpectedly plays over the end credits has that title?), but its generic tear-jerking qualities which seem to borrow from any number of recent heart-warming Brit-flicks fall flat in the face of its good intentions. Vanessa Redgrave plays Marion, terminally ill but determined to live what life remains to the full by singing in a local choir called the OAPz. Her husband Arthur is diametrically opposed though, Terence Stamp characterising excellently his emotional repression and unspoken grief at the way in which life has turned out and only grudgingly prepared to build the bridges he needs to carry on life without his wife in the way she wants him to.

Stamp and Redgrave pair beautifully as this mis-matched couple – his gruffly taciturn nature keeping a constant edge in the saccharine morass, her instinctive vivacity tempered by a wonderful sense of the ordinary – and their family dynamic, along with divorced son (Christopher Eccleston) and granddaughter, is well-drawn, most affecting as they come to terms with the speed of her demise. But the focus of the film settles on the music group led by Gemma Arterton’s relentlessly perky Elizabeth and it is here that Williams comes undone when dealing with his older company. Elizabeth has her choir singing rap and rock songs like Salt’n’Pepa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ and Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ but there’s never any emotional connection to the material. It’s just there for the shock value and so there’s an uncomfortable feeling that we’re closer to laughing at than with the choir.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Song for Marion”

TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”