Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear. Continue reading “Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead

“What does one do with the pickled walnut?”

 The Hampstead’s failure to engage properly with issues of female creative representation on its main stage (out of seven shows for 2017, only one was written by a woman and none were directed by women) has meant it has dropped off my must-see list of theatres. But on reading the synopsis of Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude – adapted by Nicholas Wright, directed by Jonathan Kent, designed, lit and sounded out by men too natch – with its lead female protagonist, I was persuaded to revisit my stance.

And in some ways, I’m glad I did. For that leading character, Miss Roach, is played by the ever-marvellous Fenella Woolgar and she’s partnered by Lucy Cohu, another favourite actress, and there are moments in this gently played Second World War-set story that shimmer with effectiveness. Bombed out of her home by the Blitz, Miss Roach (“I do have a first name, but I don’t encourage people to use it”) finds herself swept up in a different type of conflict at the Henley-on-Thames boarding house where she now resides. Continue reading “Review: The Slaves of Solitude, Hampstead”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 
South London based site-specific theatre company Baseless Fabric are presenting David Mamet’s rarely performed short plays Reunion and Dark Pony in libraries across South London as part of National Libraries Week 2017. The plays are two of David Mamet’s earliest work, first produced in the US in 1976 and 1977 respectively and both feature David Schaal and Siu-see Hung in their casts.
 
Both of the plays explore father and daughter relationships and the audience will be immersed in the worlds of these plays in the unique and atmospheric library environments during National Libraries Week 2017 to raise awareness of exciting events happening in local libraries and bring theatre to people in their local library space. Artistic Director Joanna Turner directs with Set & Costume Designer Bex Kemp, creating a site-responsive design in each library space.
 
Performance Locations:
Mon 9th Oct 7.30pm – Durning Library, SE11 4HF (nearest station: Kennington)
Tue 10th Oct 7.30pm – John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Wed 11th Oct 7.30pm – John Harvard Library, SE1 1JA (nearest station: Borough)
Thu 12th Oct 7.30pm – Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Fri 13th Oct 7.30pm – Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, SW19 4BG (nearest station: Wimbledon)
Sat 14th Oct 3pm – Earlsfield Library, SW18 3NY (nearest station: Earlsfield)
Sat 14th Oct 7.30pm – Battersea Library, SW11 1JB (nearest station: Clapham Junction)
Sun 15th Oct 6pm – Clapham Library, SW4 7DB (nearest station: Clapham Common)
Tickets: £9/£7

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

Review: An Inspector Calls, Playhouse

“You haven’t finished asking questions – have you?”

More than a little debt owed to the Guardian’s Pass Notes as much as any exam paper I ever sat….

Show information
Booking until 4th February
Photo: Mark Douet

Mock GSCE Paper, for Clowns
English
Thursday 10th November
Time allowed – 1 hour 50 minutes (no interval)

Question 1 – Have you seen An Inspector Calls before?
Yes, seven years ago. It was my first time and you can read my review here, along with my embryonic writing style
Question 2 – Hasn’t everyone seen this play by now?
Since opening at the National in 1992, it has had 3 West End runs and 6 major national tours, not to mention a Tony-winning trip to Broadway too. So yes, they probably have. But JB Priestley’s play remains a stalwart on English GCSE syllabus and so there’s always fresh eyes coming anew to the drama. (Fun fact – Diana Payne-Myers (Edna) has been in two of those West End runs and two of the UK tours, plus one in Australia too. I reckon it’s because she knows her lines so well.)
Question 3 – Can you tell the production is nearly 25 years old?
If we’re being completely honest, the iconic house of Ian MacNeil’s set design is beginning to look a little creaky and in these days of jaw-dropping effects from Wild to Harry Potter, its once-climactic moment sputters by comparison. But it’s a mark of Stephen Daldry’s direction that the play itself doesn’t feel at all fusty – its heightened theatricality remains startling with all its inventiveness and meta- moments.
Question 4 – Isn’t Stephen Daldry busy with The Crown?
Series 2 is already in production, but he has got an associate director onboard with him here – Julian Webber – I’m reckoning he’s been busy here.
Question 5 – Is it any good though?
 A play can’t linger around stages for so long without being any cop (ahem Thriller…) but An Inspector Calls really has earned the right to carry the label ‘classic thriller’ and delivers consistently throughout its interval-free running time. Plotting that still twists and turns satisfyingly, music (Stephen Warbeck) sound (Sebastian Frost) and light (Rick Fisher) that enhances the mood perfectly, and a set of performances that crackle with barely-repressed emotion.
Question 6 – Did the butler do it?
 He might have done, though that might be a different play. (I had actually forgotten how this played out, misremembering it halfway through didn’t help either!)
Question 7 i – Please use a gif to demonstrate how freaking fierce Barbara Marten is as Sybil Birling
Question 7 ii – And another
Question 7 iii – And one more
Question 8 – How many people does it take to do the costumes for this play?
More than you’d think. 8 people are named, including the 2 people who do alterations, which is nice as you don’t often see them mentioned in programmes.
Question 9 – What mark did you get for your English Lit GSCE?
An A. Though we were the first year to have A*s, so naturally I was disappointed. (Yes, I was ‘that’ boy at high school).
Question 10 – Can you shoehorn in a late reference to the US election and Donald Trump somehow, for relevance?
Into a (kind of) review about a play that preaches compassion, that highlights the disparity between the younger and older generations, that determinedly stands up for the rights of the poor against the bullish arrogance of the upper classes? I doubt it.
 
See, I told you!

 

 

 

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Review: Les Blancs, National

“Do you think the rape of a continent dissolves in cigarette smoke?”

To think that just a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t ever seen a play by Lorraine Hansberry and now I’ve seen two – the extraordinary A Raisin in the Sun which has now completed its UK tour and this new production of Les Blancs at the National. The sad reality is that there isn’t much more to see now, pancreatic cancer taking her life at just 34, but what a startling legacy this writer left of theatre that delves uncompromisingly into issues of race and identity, that remains as pertinent today as it did the mid-twentieth century when she was writing.

Hansberry didn’t get to complete Les Blancs before her death and so this final text was adapted by her sometime husband and collaborator Robert Nemiroff and it is directed here by Yaël Farber, making her National Theatre debut after her highly acclaimed 2014 The Crucible for the Old Vic. And people who saw that production will instantly recognise Farber’s modus operandi as this show opens in a highly atmospheric manner – a group of matriarchs, led by musical director Joyce Moholoagae, chanting and singing in Xhosa to leave us in no doubt what continent we’re on. Continue reading “Review: Les Blancs, National”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre

“The state of monarch and the state of lunacy share a frontier”

Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III is perhaps better known under its film moniker of The Madness of King George which featured a superlative performance from Nigel Hawthorne who originated the role on stage which was then later immortalised on film and criminally overlooked for an Oscar: a certain Mr Hanks winning instead for Forrest Gump. This Theatre Royal Bath production, starring David Haig as the eponymous monarch, is touring the country for the next couple of months, marking a rare outing for the play.

The year is 1788 and fresh from defeat in the American War of Independence, George III is increasingly afflicted by a mysterious ailment as he slides into mental decline. He is then subjected to the vagaries of 18th century medical practices which were only slowly making advances towards a more modern understanding of the body and mind and whilst undergoing treatment, power struggles rage between opportunistic politicians on both side and more crucially, his fiercely ambitious son and heir who has his eyes on an early assumption of power. Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre”