Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange

Frankenstein gets taken around the block one more time at the Royal Exchange in Manchester – Sun readers need not apply

“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?”

It may have been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s magnum opus but let’s face it, no-one has ever needed an excuse to stage it before. A programme note for April De Angelis’ new version of Frankenstein for the Royal Exchange suggests there have been well over 50 adaptations and so there’s a job to make yours be the one to stand out.

Directed skillfully by Matthew Xia, De Angelis’ main superficial difference is to play up the storytelling device that frames the novel, using Captain Walton’s discovery of a bedraggled Victor Frankenstein on his expedition to the North Pole to be the mechanism through which scarcely believable events are described. And it’s a format that offers much potential – in emphasising the parallels (or differences) between the two, in exploring the role of an unreliable narrator, in making this version stand out. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10

Episodes, in order of preference
World Enough and Time
Extremis
The Doctor Falls
Thin Ice
Knock Knock
Oxygen
The Eaters of Light
Smile
The Pilot
Empress of Mars
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land

Top 5 guest spots
1 David Suchet’s Landlord was as perfectly written a character as befits one of our more superior actors
2 Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Kieran Bew and his astronaut in Oxygen was no exception
3 Nicholas Burns‘ malevolent Sutcliffe was a delightfully Dickensian villain 
4 Another theatrical delight of mine is Anthony Calf, impressive as the pseudo-Victorian Godsacre
5 Rebecca Benson’s young Pict impressively led The Eaters of Light from the front, a perfect vessel for Rona Munro’s vision

Saddest death
Michelle Gomez’s Missy has been a brilliant breath of fresh air and whilst her decision to follow Moffat and Capaldi out the door is understandable, it isn’t any less disappointing. And perhaps the timey-wimeyness of the circumstances around her passing mean that maybe this isn’t the last we see of her…

Most wasted guest actor
I don’t what I expected from the reliably excellent Samantha Spiro in Doctor Who but I didn’t get it from her part in The Doctor Falls.

Gay agenda rating
With Bill onboard, A+!

Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan

“Why do you silence me?”

A break from the old routine for the RSC here, with a play from the 13th century. Not only that, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s Snow in Midsummer is an adaptation of Yuan dynasty drama The Injustice Done to Dou E by Guan Hanqing, marking a key milestone in the venerable institution’s avowed change of policy after the The Orphan of Zhao debacle in 2012. Transplanting the narrative into contemporary China, Cowhig and director Justin Audibert smash the ancient and the modern together to startling effect.

Dou Yi (Katie Leung) was a young widow executed for murder in the industrial town of New Harmony, proclaiming her innocence all the while and cursing the community in her final moments. The play starts properly three years later with her curse having come to pass, drought has devastated the area and local factories are on the brink of closure, Dou Yi’s spirit restlessly haunting them all, determinedly awaiting exoneration. A newly arrived businesswoman (Wendy Kweh) scents a takeover but as her young daughter’s dreams take a disturbing turn, she can’t help but get sucked into this world. Continue reading “Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan”

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Laugh to scorn the power of men”

Who’d’ve thought 2013 would turn out to be the year of the impressive Malcolm? After Alexander Vlahos’ strongly defined interpretation of a fast-maturing young man for the MIF’s Macbeth in the summer, so now Philip Cumbus makes his own successful stab at the character for the Globe’s take on the Scottish Play, making him an unmistakeable stateman from the off even if he hides it well. The production is most notable for marking the directorial debut of that product-of-a-star-dancing Eve Best and a striking one it is too – whereas Lucy Bailey went all-out Dante back in 2010, Best treats it with a much lighter, even comedic, touch.

It’s a bold choice and one that is just so different that in the trickier moments, it was hard to tell whether I felt it was genuinely unsuccessful or rather that it was just so unexpected. Generally speaking, the vein of black comedy that was teased out was stronger than the broader strokes that often appear in Globe comedies, but the sound of so much laughter in the play did feel at odds with its increasingly darkening horizons, the creeping sense of horror never really materialises as the tonal balance of the production makes it hard for the actors to shift modes and carry the audience with them. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest – a new musical, Riverside Studios

“A handbag…?!”

 
Last year, Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios scored itself quite the sleeper hit of the festive shows with a hugely successful revival of Salad Days which was an absolute delight. This year, Carl Rosa Opera were booked in to bring their production of The Pirates of Penzance to try and recapture some of the same retro vibe but due to circumstances beyond their control, the show had to be cancelled. Stepping into the breach, as unlikely as it may sound, is a musical version of The Importance of Being Earnest starring no less than Gyles Brandreth as Lady Bracknell – something that promised to rather different to the Jane Asher-starring version that recently played at the Rose, Kingston.

Douglas Livingstone’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic retains much of the original, but re-sites the action into the 1920s. This offers a world of opportunity on the music and dance side, but also seems rather apt in terms of the increasing empowerment of women – though necessarily still limited – in dealing with their affairs. And the music from Adam McGuinness and Zia Moranne has a nice simplicity which never tries to do too much or make too much of an impact. For the songs really do serve an integral purpose here, taking advantage of our familiarity with the play to further build on and enrich these characters and scenarios to great effect. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest – a new musical, Riverside Studios”

Review: I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Feelings invade me and leave me in shock”

Part of the Blaze festival and renewing the co-producing relationship between Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Barbican, I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky is playing at the East London theatre for a full fortnight. Composed by John Adams and libretto by June Jordan, the title of the play is taken from a quote by a survivor of the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, a suburb of Los Angeles. The entirely sung-through musical play follows seven young Americans from different ethnicities and backgrounds, struggling to deal with the challenges urban life is throwing them, especially around race, sexuality and immigration.

Former gang leader Dewain is arrested for stealing two bottles of beer in a rush to meet his girlfriend, Consuelo, an illegal El Salvadorean immigrant, by rookie policeman Mike. The incident is caught on tape by Tiffany, an ambitious tv reporter and then used by Vietnamese-American lawyer Rick to plead for Dewain’s innocence. Consuelo is also being counselled on family planning issues by Leila, but she is having to deal with the attentions of local preacher David. Then, the earthquake hits and all the characters have to deal with the repercussions, emotional and physical, on their lives as priorities are significantly reassessed. Continue reading “Review: I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, Theatre Royal Stratford East”