Oscar Week Film Review: Get Out

The film about race that we needed. And still need. Get Out ftw.

“All I know is sometimes, when there’s too many white people, I get nervous, you know?”

The little film that could. A directorial debut from Jordan Peele, filmed for $4.5 million which has now grossed over $250 million and nabbed four Academy Award nominations to boot. Not only that, it’s a horror film too. But what underpins Get Out’s success if the fact talks about race in today’s American in a way we rarely see in our cinemas.

Puncturing the self-satisfied smugness around liberal whiteness, Peele takes a scalpel to the notion the USA is anywhere near being post-racial. Matter-of-factly portraying an interracial relationship (a political act in and of itself), Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris and Alison Williams’ Rose take the step of meeting her parents but nothing is as it seems. At all. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Get Out”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010

“Because your song is ending, sir…It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then… He will knock four times.”

Cos he’s special, David Tennant got to spread his farewell over 4 specials from Christmas 2008 to New Year 2010, and as this also marked Russell T Davies’ departure from the show, the stories start off grand and rise to operatic scales of drama by the time we hit the megalithic The End of Time. That finale works well in its quieter moments but does suffer a little from an overabundance of plot and whatnot. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are good value for money romps but it is The Waters of Mars and all its attendant darkness that stands out most, teasing all the complex arrogance of a God-figure gone wrong. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2

“Everything’s just a bit wider apart”

On the second day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…two lovelorn kids

Fifteen Million Merits takes place in a fiercely satirical version of our entertainment culture, where appearing on reality TV is king and everyone else is trapped in a factory-like environment where they must cycle for hours on end to generate all the electricity needed. Forced to watch inane crap on the screens that constantly surround them, their activities are frequently interrupted by adverts, just like on the Channel 4 player!

Daniel Kaluuya’s Bing has inherited 15 million merits from his brother on his passing and decides to use them to enter Jessica Brown Findlay’s Abi into Hot Shots, the X Factor-like show with a scarily vacuous Julia Davis and a sinister Cowell-a-like Rupert Everett. This is the only route out of their slave-like existence but sure enough, nothing is as simple as it seems and as ever, you have to be careful what you wish for. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2”

Review: Blue/Orange, Young Vic

“They see what they want to see, not what they really see”

I seem to be surrounded by people who saw and loved the original production of Blue/Orange, with its extremely tasty cast of Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and who love to tell me about it! It was however before my time (here in London at least) and so my first, and only, previous experience of the show was with Tiata Fahdozi’s all-female version at the old Arcola, with a less starry but no less interesting cast of Helen Schlesinger, Esther Hall and Ayesha Antoine.

I mention this because it is interesting to me the ways in which people’s journeys with plays are shaped by these interactions, especially when they have been lauded as modern classics. Of the eight, only two are going back to this new production at the Young Vic (it doesn’t seem to be inspiring repeat visits), and the one who has been already didn’t like it. And critics’ responses thus far stretch from Aleks Sierz reconfirming its status as a contemporary classic to Matt Trueman declaring that it hasn’t aged well. Continue reading “Review: Blue/Orange, Young Vic”

DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)

“We can get him online”

After watching The Nether at the Royal Court, a chat with a colleague about other plays that effectively depict the internet threw up Enda Walsh’s Chatroom which played at the National Theatre a few years back (and featured both Doctor Who (Matt Smith) and Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) in its cast. It was slightly before my time of insane theatre-going so I was glad to see that I could catch a film version, adapted by Walsh himself and directed by Japanese maestro Hideo Nakata.

The story concerns five teenagers in various states of unhappiness who find succour in online chatrooms. Disillusioned model Eva, anti-depressant taker Jim, unhappy daughter Emily and inappropriately flirtatious Mo are swept up by highly-functioning sociopath and self-harmer William in a room he’s created called Chelsea Teens! At first they just talk smack about those they don’t like but William soon manipulates them into acting on their feelings, with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Chatroom (2010)”

Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4

“The only thing is to grin and bear it”

Timing is everything and the anti-war message of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play For Services Rendered failed to gain any purchase on contemporary audiences, making it something of a failure. But listening to Lu Kemp’s adaptation for Radio 4, it strikes as an extraordinarily prescient piece of work, more so given the eventual declaration and devastation of the Second World War, and it surely due for a substantial theatrical revival. As it is, this version will more than do for now as its tale of how the impact of the First World War lingered perniciously on in the lives of the nation is embodied in the trials of the Ardsley family and their friends.

Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley have four children and though superficially their lives in the Kent countryside are going well, there’s much trauma and difficulty just beneath the surface. Only son Sydney was blinded in the war and sister Eva has devoted herself entirely to his care, much to the expense of her own situation and youngest daughter Lois also finds herself unmarried due to the lack of prospects. Ethel is the one that did manage to secure herself a husband but the upheaval of wartime blinded her to his eminent lack of suitability and now in peacetime, she is left to repent at leisure. With so much bubbling away as the social order decays, it isn’t long before changes start to force themselves upon this group. Continue reading “Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4”

Review: A Season in the Congo, Young Vic

“This is our Africa”

The curse of theatre addiction is that even when I know I don’t want to see something, I quite often end up going anyway, especially when it has been well recommended by friends and colleagues. So it was with the Young Vic’s A Season in the Congo, particularly galling as someone very kind indeed offered to queue for dayseats… Joe Wright’s theatrical debut as a director came earlier this year with Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar, a production I wasn’t much enamoured with, but he kicks into another gear altogether with this 1966 play by Aimé Césaire about the life and death of Patrice Lumumba, one of the men who led the Democratic Republic of Congo to independence.

It’s a vastly collaborative work, pulling together wide-ranging artistic elements into a hugely theatrical experience which is hugely ambitious and was clearly well-received, though I found it to be distracting and distancing. Choreographer (and co-director) Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui intersperses numerous dance sequences, musician Kabongo Tshisensa makes a Brechtian troubadour-like figure who passes comment throughout on the action in tribal dialect, puppets and masks are used to represent the white characters and colonial powers whose influences are very much in decline. They’re undoubtedly impressively done yet for me, all over-used, reducing their impact and padding out an already healthy run-time unnecessarily. Continue reading “Review: A Season in the Congo, Young Vic”

Review: Trelawny of the Wells, Donmar Warehouse

“Reserve your tears for the bedroom Madam, this is whist!”

With just a handful of films under his belt, Joe Wright has made quite the name for himself as a director of some theatrical flair – perhaps nodding to childhood time spent at the Little Angel Theatre that his parents founded – but it is only now that he has made his directorial debut in the theatre with Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar Warehouse. Whether by design or by accident, it marks the third notable recent outing for the otherwise neglected Victorian playwright after the Rose’s The Second Mrs Tanqueray and the National’s The Magistrate but it cleaves closer to the gently farcical nature of the latter than the melodrama of the former. The text here has been ornamented by Patrick Marber, though more learned writers than I will be able to tell you by how much.

The play focuses on Rose Trelawny, a star of the melodramas that filled the Victorian stage, who opts to give up her career in the theatre when she decides to marry her paramour, the aristocrat Arthur Gower. But when the social chasm between her and his family drives them apart, drastic measures on both sides are necessary to try and restore their relationship. But for a play about the theatre, it had little of the breathless joy and theatricality that I had assumed Wright would bring into play and not all of that can be ascribed to the fact that this was a preview. Continue reading “Review: Trelawny of the Wells, Donmar Warehouse”

Critics’ Circle Awards 2010: the winners in full


Best New Play
Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris 
 
The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Matilda, A Musical
 
Best Actor

David Suchet in All My Sons  

Best Actress
Jenny Jules in Ruined

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Derek Jacobi in King Lear 

Best Director
Michael Grandage for King Lear

Best Designer
Bunny Christie for The White Guard

Most Promising Playwright
Anya Reiss for Spur of the Moment

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Daniel Kaluuya in Sucker Punch