DVD Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The proof of our success is we’re victims of it”

The news of a sequel to the better-than-I-thought-it-would-be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was received with something of a heavy heart, the automatic assumption being that it wouldn’t, couldn’t, match the success of the first film. But dangnabbit if ain’t actually, possibly, slightly better. Managing the not inconsiderable feat of reuniting the vast majority of the ensemble with writer Ol Parker and director John Madden, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel navigates many of the pitfalls of sequels to produce a story that is at times, deeply moving.

It manages this by emphasising its strengths in its stunning array of acting talent and really capitalising on the universe it built up. Though there are a couple of new faces (Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig), the film focuses on a genuine continuation of story and character. We return to the Indian city of Jaipur where Dev Patel’s Sonny and Maggie Smith’s Muriel’s retirement home is going great guns and they’re looking for finance for a new location, dependent on the results from an anonymous inspection (which is where Gere and Greig come in, thankfully briefly). Continue reading “DVD Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Review: Things We Do For Love, Richmond Theatre

“Generally…I just look at them, generally”

And so once again I find myself drawn to the theatre to see an Alan Ayckbourn play despite the fact I know it is most likely to be a big mistake. The assembly of a good cast is something I’ve always found hard to resist – in this case it was the glorious Claire Price and Ed Bennett, plus the slightly left of the middle choice of Natalie Imbruglia, making her stage debut here. Plus there was the general assertion that the near-twenty year old Things We Do For Love is ostensibly one of his better plays, though on this evidence I don’t quite know why and thus I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression, this play left me far from satisfied.

Starting today at Richmond Theatre after a tour that has taken in many a UK city, Laurence Boswell’s Theatre Royal Bath production is certainly handsomely mounted in Giles Cadle’s perfectly designed set which reflects the demands of one of Ayckbourn’s rare forays into specifically end-on work. Set in the Fulham home of frustrated career woman Barbara which has been partitioned into three flats, we see the entirety of her middle floor home but only a couple of feet into those of her tenants – creepy handyman Gilbert below and old school friend, and new affiancéed, Nikki. Continue reading “Review: Things We Do For Love, Richmond Theatre”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Crucible

 “There’s some ill planet reigns”

Sheffield’s autumnal Shakespeares have become something of a yearly institution and a regular fixture in my theatregoing diary. This year sees The Winter’s Tale arrive at the Crucible with something of a less starry cast than in previous years (although Barbara Marten and Claire Price were both strong draws for us) and the return of director Paul Miller to the series, after his Hamlet back in 2010. Sad to say though, this was not for me – the atmosphere hampered by a sadly sparse matinée audience but the production also full of choices that just didn’t appeal.

Shakespeare’s late play relies on the careful balancing of two halves – Sicilia’s dark tragedy and Bohemia’s pastoral vibrancy, the pain of simmering jealousy against the freshness of new love. But though they must complement each other, they need to effectively stand alone as well and Miller struggles with his opening act. The sparseness of Simon Daw’s design places the focus strictly on the interactions of his actors, but his preferred method of placing them at some distance from each other on the large stage estranges them too much, both from each other and from the audience. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Crucible”

Review: Red Enters the Eye / Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear / Feather, Radio 4

“Come, I’ll make you some lamb cutlets”

A friend recommended Red Enters The Eye to me mainly because the too-long-absent-from-our-stages Siân Brooke was in it but she also knew it would be just my cup of tea, and she was right. Jane Rogers’ 2011 radio drama follows the story of Brooke’s idealistic Julie, a volunteer heading to a women’s refuge in Nigeria to teach sewing classes. From nervous beginnings as the strict manager Fran – Penny Downie donning an Aussie accent – outlines all the rules and regulations, Julie soon makes a huge success of the classes, revelling in their popularity, the way the women respond to her work and the potential opportunities that open up as they realise the marketability of these new-found skills.

But her untempered enthusiasm fails to take into account the gravity of the situation in which these women have found themselves, so that they were forced to seek refuge. Rogers carefully threads in a necessarily weighty level of detail about the various threats that women face in this part of the world, explaining also how the volatile socio-religious situation has a huge part to play in Nigeria. But it is never heavy-handed and instead emerges as a sensitive and thoughtful piece of drama which I’d heartily recommend. Brooke is excellent as the breathlessly naïve volunteer, Downie grimly pragmatic as Fran and there’s also great work from Adjoa Andoh as her partner and Demi Oyediran as Sarah, one of the women in the refuge.


Written by Alistair McGowan, Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear also sees him taking on the lead role of French composer Eric Satie. Probably best known for his Gymnopedies, Satie was actually one more innovative than one might have given him credit for, pushing creative boundaries and challenging the establishment. But he was an eccentric figure with it and McGowan has focused on the three most pivotal people in his life and how they were able to see through his peculiarities and peccadilloes to the man within, even if only for a brief while.

It’s an engaging, if somewhat slight, piece of writing, but one which is full of genuine affection and respect for its subject. From the seemingly ridiculous quirks – at one point, he will only eat purely white food – comes the beginnings of an artistic movement, from hopeless infatuation with a singer comes a fruitful creative partnership. McGowan bubbles gently as the composer and swirling around him Nathaniel Parker’s friendly rival Debussy, Imogen Stubbs’ Suzanne and Charlotte Page’s Paulette are all charming as the significant trio.

And last up was Rachel Joyce’s Feather, recommended to me as Claire Price formed part of the voice cast. A delicately beautiful tale narrated by Maisie Cowell’s Fern, it’s an acutely observed child’s-eye view of the separation of a couple and the tug of war that ensures over their daughter. It’s a disarmingly effective technique of probing human behaviour as each parent starts to bring a new partner into their life whilst sussing out what is going on with their ex, all the while Fern finds herself in the middle, collecting enough feathers so that she can make the biggest wish in her life.


She believes in magic you see, and that feathers can grant you wishes, but Joyce’s drama is rooted entirely in the messiness of real life, the pain of broken homes and broken relationships and the difficulties in starting over again. It’s beautifully acted by Cowell, heart-breakingly so at times, and Claire Price and Jot Davies as the warring exes, trying not to manipulate their daughter ‘too’ much are both strong, along with Shaun Dooley as the kindly Finn, who offers hope to both mother and child. 

Review: Fifty Words, Arcola

“This, so there’s no ambiguity, is foreplay”

The thin line between love and hate in married couples is a well-explored one dramatically but whilst Michael Weller’s Fifty Words may not cover any huge amount of new ground in revisiting this territory, this Theatre Royal Bath and Arcola Theatre co-production is blessed with two excoriatingly intense and bruisingly emotional performances from Claire Price and Richard Clothier. Between them, they perfectly capture the vicissitudes and complexities of a long-term relationship and the strains that accompany the successes.

Janine and Adam are relishing a rare opportunity to spend the evening together when their 9-year-old son Greg goes on his first sleepover. Adam’s got champagne in the fridge and a Chinese takeaway decanted into their best new serving dishes in anticipation of some long overdue sexy time but Janine’s got one eye on a presentation for a new work client the next day and so starts a downwards-spiralling rollercoaster as this couple decide to rip each other apart as opposed to ripping each other’s clothes off (although as we see, the two are not mutually exclusive), laying bare the dire state of their marriage. Continue reading “Review: Fifty Words, Arcola”

Review: Company, Sheffield Crucible

“You ever wish you didn’t get married?”

This trip up to Sheffield to see Company at the Crucible was my last booking for the year (though it ain’t over til the 31st…). Though it seemed like a bit of a faff, involving non-essential travel the day before I’m going to my parents for Christmas and coming at the end of a long, long year, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would be making the effort once the supporting cast around Daniel Evans had been announced. It really is luxury casting from top to toe – Samantha Spiro, Francesca Annis, Ian Gelder, Claire Price amongst others – and though I have recently suffered something of a Sondheim burnout, I got on the train with excitement.

And how glad I am that I made the effort. There have been times over the last twelve months when my enthusiasm for theatre has waned a little, but it is productions that give me goosebumps and bring tears to my eyes that remind me why I love this medium so, and this show gave me both sensations in plentiful measure. Jonathan Munby’s production puts Artistic Director Daniel Evans in the centre of the show as Bobby, the man in the midst of a middle-life, marriage-centric crisis as all his couples friends gather round at his apartment to celebrate his 35th birthday. We then see vignettes from each of their lives, showing that married life isn’t perhaps all it cracks up to be which leaves the directionless Bobby and his coterie of female admirers more confused than ever about what he wants and what he thinks he wants. Continue reading “Review: Company, Sheffield Crucible”

Review: The Pride – Studio, Sheffield

Directed by Richard Wilson and starring Artistic Director Daniel Evans, the regional premiere of Alexei Kaye Campbell’s The Pride takes place in the small Studio at Sheffield. The play looks at love and relationships in both modern day-ish 2008 and in 1958, contrasting the two eras to see how attitudes to gay identity and also sexual freedom of all kinds have changed, and how the experiences of an older generation have influenced the decisions we make now. This is done with a trio of characters: Philip, Oliver and Sylvia and a structure that constantly jumps back and forth between the two times and not always in chronological order, so that the two stories become one overarching narrative about the necessity of knowing and loving yourself before you can truly love others.

Dramatically speaking, the 1958 strand is the more intriguing: layers of Rattigan-esque repression make these scenes crackle with the unspoken. Sylvia and Philip are rather unhappily unmarried and when she introduces her colleague Oliver, it becomes clear to us why as the sexual chemistry sparks between them. As Philip struggles to come to terms with his repressed feelings and Sylvia comes to a growing awareness of why he is acting like he is, this story is pursued to its heartbreaking end with all three actors giving stunning performances. Jay Simpson also does sterling work in a number of small roles across both time periods. Continue reading “Review: The Pride – Studio, Sheffield”

Review: The Power Of Yes, National

“The people who have to pay the price are never the ones who benefit”

Commissioned by the National Theatre to respond to the recent financial crisis, David Hare’s latest work arrives at the Lyttleton in an attempt to try and cast some light on the global meltdown and how it was allowed to happen. The Power Of Yes is subtitled ‘A dramatist seeks to understand the financial crisis’ and is the result of a series of interviews carried out with key players from a range of institutions.

Anthony Calf plays the playwright himself in a quirky set-up as we are instantly informed that this is less of a play and more of a story-telling exercise, and guided by a Financial Times journalist played by the lovely Jemima Rooper, starts to ask the necessary questions to get down to the roots of the crisis and try to apportion culpability. The rate at which these questions are asked, and answered by a sometimes bewildering array of characters, leaves you breathless, but Hare has a knack for anchoring the flow of information to tangible markers. So when one feels in danger of getting lost in the financial jargon, we are hooked right back in with the kind of statistics that bring home the true scale of sums that were involved. Continue reading “Review: The Power Of Yes, National”

Review: Don Carlos, Gielgud Theatre

Taking up residency on Shaftesbury Avenue, this production of Don Carlos directed by Michael Grandage was originated at the Crucible in Sheffield last year and received rave reviews. It is one of Schiller’s less performed works apparently, but I have to admit this was the first time I had seen any his plays (or indeed heard of him, eek!) so a new experience for me.

Don Carlos is passionately in love with Elizabeth, the French Princess to whom he was once betrothed. Carlos’ tyrannical father, King Philip II of Spain, decides to marry Elizabeth himself. The young prince’s hatred for his cold and distant parent knows no bounds. He enlists his oldest friend the Marquis of Posa to act as go-between. But Posa decides to convert Carlos and Elizabeth’s youthful passion into a full scale rebellion against King Philip’s oppressive and bloody regime. Continue reading “Review: Don Carlos, Gielgud Theatre”