News: Michelle Collins fundraises #ForTheLoveOfArts

A new series of monologues, curated and produced by Michelle Collins alongside the Equity Benevolent Fund, has been released online for charity. Entitled “#FortheLoveofArts”, the scheme sees acting talent come together to raise funds for beleaguered artists and individuals during the ongoing pandemic.

Appearing in the series are Lesley Manville, Ian McKellen, Adjoa Andoh, Miriam-Teak Lee, Derek Jacobi, Layton Williams, Sue Johnston, Jason Watkins, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Pearl Mackie and more. Some of the monologues are brand new works penned especially for the series.

The monologues can be viewed on the Equity Benevolent Fund’s YouTube channel.

Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios

A strongly cast production of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg proves a fitting tribute to Peter Nichols at the Trafalgar Studios

“I tend to raise my voice when I’m helping people”

Just a quickie as we’re nearly at the end of the run for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, revived at the Trafalgar Studios by Simon Evans. This production might be sold on the star wattage of its leads Toby Stephens and Claire Skinner but for me, its real power comes in the casting of Storme Toolis as the titular Joe Egg, the first disabled actor to be cast in the role. 

Its significant because the character of Joe is disabled herself, requiring constant supervision, the realities of which are starting to show on the marriage between Bri and Sheila. Evans embraces an arch vaudevillean style to let this fighting couple let us know what they’re thinking, to give us insight into the coping mechanisms necessary to give their daughter the best life she can have. Continue reading “Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Nightfall, Bridge Theatre

The Bridge Theatre proves the wrong fit for the grief-stricken intimacy of Barney Norris’ Nightfall

You need to take what you can get or you’ll be f**ked”

Barney Norris’ previous plays have been well suited to the places in which they’ve found themselves, the studios of the Arcola and the Bush. And as a brand new space with a flexibility built into its auditorium, the Bridge Theatre has been playing with different styles for each of its opening three productions. But as the theatre moves to end-on to promenade  to thrust, it doesn’t find the best match in Nightfall, directed here by Laurie Sansom. 

Part of the problem lies in the innate intimacy of Norris’ writing. He has absolutely nailed his oeuvre of excavating the beauty in ordinary lives, often beset by grief, often in rural England, and it is to these themes he returns here again. A family in deepest Hampshire are still coming to terms with the death of its patriarch, what that means for the struggling farm on which they depend and fighting to determine what the future might hold for each of them.

Continue reading “Review: Nightfall, Bridge Theatre”

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”

Review: Rabbit Hole, Hampstead

“People want things to make sense”

Anchored by a barnstorming central turn from Imelda Staunton (as if there were any other kind), David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People was a huge success for the Hampstead Theatre, so they’ve returned to this American playwright with his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole. The suburban comforts of Becca and Howie Corbett’s family life are wrecked when their four-year-old Danny is killed in a road accident outside their home. Tragedy swallows them whole and grief tears them apart, the divergence in their individual journeys threatening what’s left of their family. 

The 2006 Broadway run got multiple Tony nominations and won for lead Cynthia Nixon and in 2011, the superb film adaptation garnered an Academy Award nomination for Nicole Kidman, so the stakes could be considered high for Outnumbered star Claire Skinner here. Edward Hall’s production never quite launches into the stratosphere though; whereas Good People depicted an authentic-feeling US working class life, Rabbit Hole’s middle class milieu doesn’t convince, too stagily British for its own good. Continue reading “Review: Rabbit Hole, Hampstead”

Review: The Father, Wyndham’s

“How long are you going to keep on getting on our tits for?”

It’s hard, trying to wean yourself off an addiction to theatre. You make decisions about what to see, or more accurately what not to see, and then have to stick by them. But then the damn plays get West End transfers and so the resolve has to be reinstated and redoubled, the increasing glowing recommendations from friends ignored. So it will come as no surprise that in the case of Florian Zeller’s The Father, first seen in London at the Tricycle and then moved to the Wyndham’s, I cracked.

I should state that my primary reasons for not going were not about the quality of this Theatre Royal Bath production, but rather that I’d been warned it would make me cry a lot and I don’t much like being distraught in theatres (or cinemas for that matter, I had to wait for Amour to come out on DVD before daring to watch it and rightly so). And as a portrayal of, or a theatrical assumption of, the experience of a dementia-riddled mind, it is certainly most affecting. Continue reading “Review: The Father, Wyndham’s”

DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (2008)

“I think we all have to find our own ways to be happy”

Who else but Andrew Davies did this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility for the BBC and to be sure, it is another cracker. I vividly remember loving this immensely when it aired and then being ridiculously excited as I was able to tick the actors off one by one as I saw them on the stage. From Hattie Morahan to Charity Wakefield, Dominic Cooper to Dan Stevens, Claire Skinner to the marvellous Linda Bassett, it is a wonderful cast and over the three hours of this version directed by John Alexander, they give great life to the tale of the Dashwood women as they are forced to downsize yet still find themselves suitable husbands.

Led by the widowed Mrs Dashwood (a wounded yet pragmatic Janet McTeer), eldest daughter Elinor (a magnificent performance of beautiful restraint from Hattie Morahan) and impetuous middle child Marianne (a deliciously spunky Charity Wakefield) have to dance their way through the minefield of male attention, conscious of the fact that their reduced situation may have limited them somewhat but hyper-aware of the importance in following their passion. Davies’ writing plays up the real difficulties for women stuck in a world where men make the rules and this more serious vein really works. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (2008)”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre

“I’d be surprised if part of the audience didn’t feel alienated”

A dissection of “what it means to be a woman today”, Blurred Lines is a devised piece currently occupying the Shed, created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell and the result of improvisation and experimentation with the cast of eight women. The show utilises text (effectively), poetry (interestingly) and songs (less than successfully) woven together into a patchwork piece of theatre. Naturally, the end result is somewhat uneven and it was hard not to feel that the almost scattershot approach mutes the overall impact of the work as the attention flashes from moment to moment. 

For me, the strongest sequences were the ones bookending the show, which comes in at a snappy 70 minutes straight through. A roll call of the stereotypical depictions of women in the cultural sphere speaks with the unassailable truth that has undoubtedly dogged the careers of everyone here, reinforcing the narrative about the paucity of decent roles for women. And a blistering final segment challenges a patriarchal actor/director relationship, asking searing questions about what we all may have been conditioned to find acceptable.  Continue reading “Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre”

Not-a-Review: Rough Cuts – Searched, Royal Court

“He opened his laptop and didn’t like what he saw”

The second part of the Royal Court’s 2013 Rough Cuts mini-season based around the internet, was a work-in-progress from EV Crowe named Searched. I hadn’t initially intended to see this play as Crowe really provoked my ire with her last play Hero, it still annoys me to think of it now, but once the cast was announced I knew I would be powerless to resist. And whilst I might have preferred a little more cooling off time and a slightly more appropriate environment, I find it is always good to test one’s preconceptions and so I was willing to give a second chance to the young playwright.

Since this was a work-in-progress, workshopped by Crowe, the company and director Carrie Cracknell over the last 10 days, I won’t say too much about it, save to mention that it really is a pleasure to be able to see such great actors up close and personal in such an early stage of a project, even with script in hand there’s a genuine openness to the performances, a freshness to the acting which is great to see.  Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Rough Cuts – Searched, Royal Court”