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

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)

“For your love I pray you, wrong me not”

Any filmed adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is up against it for me as I adore the Al Pacino version from 2004 which makes so much sense of so many of the difficulties of the play. This Trevor Nunn production was a big success for the National Theatre, transferring from the then-Cottesloe to the Olivier, winning all sorts of awards and then filmed for the US’s Masterpiece Theatre.

And as is often the case with these stage-to-screen adaptations, it’s a little flat and disappointing, little concession made to the change in medium and so the abiding feeling is that one is left wishing one could have seen it onstage. Which is a shame, as Henry Goodman makes an excellent Shylock, viciously vengeful but clearly victimised too in this adroit resituating of the play to the 1930s. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Nor doth this wood lack worlds of company”

Surtitled A Play For The Nation, Erica Whyman’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the RSC has fully embraced the communal spirit that the best theatre can summon and across its UK tour over the next few months, will undoubtedly prove a wonderful tribute for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. For at each stop across the land, different local amateur theatre companies will take on the part of the Rude Mechanicals and local primary schools will make up the numbers of Titania’s fairy train, getting their moment to shine in a repurposed final scene.

It’s a rather lovely way to share the warmth of this most loveliest of plays and in Whyman’s hands, it really does succeed. Key to its inclusiveness is the relocation to 1940s Britain and a design from Tom Piper that subtly evokes the Tower of London poppies installation on which he collaborated, the suggestion of a society pulling together permeating every aspect of the show, even Oberon’s fairies muck in as live musicians. And the social disruption of the time allows for an interesting reading of the text which, while emphasising English bumptiousness over sexuality, is witty throughout. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)

 “I’ll show my noble stuff by being bright and cheerful!”

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Both in terms of writing, Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide (with its multiple literary contributors from Voltaire’s novella) dates back to 1956 and an entirely different age, and in terms of production too, Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre liked its big, grand musicals and this 1999 adaptation – co-directed by Nunn and John Caird – was lavishly done with its lush orchestrations fortunately recorded for posterity.

My only previous experience of Candide is with the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production in 2013 so I can’t really comment on the different versions of the show (although having done a little reading, I realise that this is something people have strong opinions about!). Instead, I’m listening to it with pretty much fresh ears, revelling in Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations and Mark W Dorrell’s musical direction which sound utterly gorgeous, especially with a cast of this calibre. Continue reading “CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)”

Review: Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre

“How we be friends? When I ain’t never been through your front door”

The Theatre Royal Bath hit on another winner with this production of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel and so it has transferred over to the Park Theatre to let Londoners who don’t travel have a slice of the action. The play was inspired by Nottage finding faded photographs of her great-grandparents and then spinning an affectionate fantasia on the lives of African-American people at the turn of the twentieth century.

She imagines the life of Esther, an unmarried black seamstress in her mid-thirties in 1905 New York, who is a true exponent of her craft. People come from far and wide for the exquisite lingerie that she creates and her clients include women of all classes and colour and so she has managed to save up quite the nest egg. Her plans for the future include running her own salon but when a romantic correspondence is struck up with the Barbadian George, she dares to dream of more. Continue reading “Review: Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre”

Review: King Lear, Minerva

“I am even the natural fool of fortune”

 
Poly over at The Other Bridge Project asks the question “can you have too many King Lears” and though she’s adamant that you can’t, I have to say my heart sinks a little every time a new production is announced, whether here in Chichester with Frank Langella or Simon Russell Beale’s forthcoming turn for the National Theatre early next year. But the enduring reputation of Shakespeare’s late classic attracts the kind of casts that are irresistible to a theatrical junkie like me and so I find myself a glutton for punishment going back again time after time.

And though I’d love to say that Angus Jackson’s production, running just a short while in the Minerva before transferring to New York, was worth the effort, it didn’t really do it for me. It is a hugely Lear-centric version of the play, placing Langella’s titanic monarch even more at the heart of the play than usual, and recalibrating the journey he takes as madness seizes him after a bit of a rum do with his three daughters. It’s a striking move, and one which showcases Langella well, but it does come at the expense of the richness of the ensemble.

Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Minerva”

Review: Sunset Baby, Gate Theatre

“Life goes by with a bunch of confusion and impossible moments that nobody can explain”

Forming the final part of the Gate Theatre’s RESIST! season, Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby is a fierce ball of familial recriminations, fatherly regret and flawed characters. Kenyatta Shakur, along with his wife Ashanti X, was a figurehead of the Black Revolutionary movement and not even fatherhood could mellow him as he continued the struggle and served time inside for his trouble. His wife died from her drug addictions and all that is left is Nina, his daughter, whose feelings of estrangement burn brighter than ever, even when he begins the process of trying to reconcile with her.

Michelle Asante’s Nina is a bolshy, self-assured presence, adamant in her unshakeable view of the world that she constantly rails against. With her boyfriend Damon, they deal drugs and run robbery scams together, and she does not take kindly to the reappearance of Ben Onwukwe’s Kenyatta in her life, especially once she figures out what she thinks is his ulterior motive. Ashanti left a stash of love letters from her husband to Nina in her will and having had their considerable value assessed, she’s unwilling to let them go without securing the right price. Continue reading “Review: Sunset Baby, Gate Theatre”

Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre

“I’m sick of this rigmarole”

Danton’s Death, the 1835 play about the French Revolution by Georg Büchner, marks an impressive brace of debuts: Toby Stephens making his first bow on the stage here in the title role and Michael Grandage, Artistic Director of the Donmar, making his directorial debut here on the South Bank. Setting up in the Olivier theatre for the summer, it is part of the Travelex season so there’s been plenty of £10 seats available. This was the first preview that I saw, I acknowledge this freely but stand by everything I say here.

The story is set in 1794, a period between the first and the second terrors during the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety has been set up in the name of the revolutionary new order and is summarily executing people whether the accusations against them are true or not. Its creator, Georges Danton, has come to regret his part in the genesis of something responsible for the killings of so many people and has been shocked at the way in which the revolution has been increasingly radicalised. His former friend and colleague Robespierre is at the head of this new faction leading the way and when Danton makes a stand for what he sees as too much, the stage is set for an almighty power struggle between the two political rivals. Continue reading “Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre”

Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre

Women Beware Women is a cautionary tale of the consequences of the pursuit of wealth, power and lust in the 16th Century Florentine court written by Thomas Middleton. It takes up residence at the National Theatre, in the Olivier, as part of its Travelex season, so lots of £10 tickets should become available when the new season opens for booking to the general public on 30th April.

The plot goes a little something like this: Bianca, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian family, elopes to Florence with a poor merchant’s clerk Leantio. While he’s away on business the Duke of Florence sees Bianca and is determined to seduce her. Bianca leaves her husband when the Duke offers her a life of luxury. In a separate plot line, Isabella is faced with going into a loveless marriage with a rich yet stupid ward. She’s appalled when her uncle Hippolito confesses his love for her. But her aunt Livia, Hippolito’s sister, cunningly persuades Isabella that she isn’t related by blood, so she’s tricked into an incestuous relationship with her uncle. That’s clear, right? Continue reading “Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre”