12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:3

“Sorry I go a bit weird and wonky sometimes”

On the third day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…three cheating lovers

The Entire History of You
is the final part of the first series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and finds itself somewhere in the middle of the preceding two episodes in terms of its sci-fi/reality interface. Here, future technology has advanced so that people have ‘grains’ implanted that record memories and allow them to played back whenever but the story it is used to tell is an all-too-familiar one of human jealousy.

Toby Keggell’s Liam is an unhappy lawyer whose miserable state of mind after a difficult work appraisal leads him to suspect his wife, Jodie Whittaker’s Ffion, of having an affair with a former lover called Jonas, a suave Tom Cullen. It played out eerily effectively, especially in the look on people’s faces when ‘recalling’ but never really took flight into as superlative a piece of television as episodes one or two. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:3”

DVD Review: Last Chance Harvey

“Cantankerous I’ve never been”

Joel Hopkins’ The Love Punch was a film that worked far better than one might have expected, a lovely surprise in the cinema back in 2014, so I’ve been looking forward to catching up with his earlier 2008 movie Last Chance Harvey. And once again I was caught unawares, even as I knew that I would probably like it, I had no idea I would love it so completely.

Dustin Hoffman’s Harvey is a washed-up US jingle-writer, finding himself on the fringes of his daughter’s London wedding in place of a beloved stepfather; Emma Thompson’s Kate has found life has passed her by, still single and struggling with an overbearing mother. That the two will end up together somehow is never in doubt but the joy of Hopkins’ film is in making the journey so beautifully, emotionally real. Continue reading “DVD Review: Last Chance Harvey”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I will not hear thee speak; I’ll have my bond”

Following the exceptional Rupert Goold/RSC adaptation which played the Almeida over Christmas, it seemed a brave decision for the Globe to also lead their 2015 season with The Merchant of Venice but Jonathan Munby’s production proves to be just as revelatory, albeit in a completely different way. With Jonathan Pryce making his debut here at this venue, accompanied by his daughter Phoebe no less, it is no surprise that his beautifully realised Shylock is at the heart of the show here but it is also good to see Jessica (played by Pryce junior, natch) also take her turn in the spotlight.

In some ways, this echoes the Al Pacino version, showing us how Jessica is cruelly caught in the middle – torn between duty to her father and her Jewish faith, and the delight that a genuine love match with Ben Lamb’s Christian Lorenzo brings to her life. This conflict is fiercely felt – she argues ferociously in Yiddish with her father but there’s no doubting the haunting anguish of the production’s end, her Hebrew lament powerfully affecting as Shylock faces yet another disgrace as we’re reminded that – even if she has shunned him – it is still a familial bond being sundered here. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Other Desert Cities, Old Vic

“Families get terrorised by their weakest members” 

In a rare sighting of new writing at the corner of The Cut, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities was a considerable success on Broadway after it premiered in 2011 and it now makes its way over the ocean to the Old Vic. Lindsay Posner’s production also sees the theatre transformed back into the round (it last reconfigured for The Norman Conquests which I missed and Dancing at Lughnasa which I did not) for a full season of plays of which this is the first – Clarence Darrow, The Crucible and Electra are to follow. 

First up though is this warped family reunion, five members of a wealthy family gather on Christmas Eve in the soulless Palm Springs showhome inhabited by Polly and Lyman Wyeth. Republicans both, they reside in relative exile, hiding from family secrets that have been swept under an expensive rug. But the arrival of their daughter Brooke, dealing with serious depression, triggers a reawakening as she’s written a memoir about the very thing they want to forget. Continue reading “Review: Other Desert Cities, Old Vic”

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: The Dance of Death, Donmar at Trafalgar Studios 2

“I knew you’d pull that sausage out of the sack”

The Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 continues to showcase the work of new directors and now sees Titas Halder taking on the 1900 Strindberg play The Dance of Death, in a new version by Conor McPherson. Edgar and Alice are fast approaching their 25th wedding anniversary but their marriage has grown toxic. On the isolated Swedish island where they reside, life in a cloistered military garrison has turned them in on each other – the 15 years younger Alice bemoans the acting career she left behind, Edgar’s health is failing dramatically and yet they still persist in clashing their embittered selves right up against each other.

Richard Kent’s set design works very well at making the already intimate Trafalgar Studios 2 space even more claustrophobic and visibly demonstrates the decay of the physical environment of this couple, right alongside their mutual emotional neglect. But where the psychodrama of this story frequently calls to mind Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it never really mines similar tragicomic depths. Halder’s production of McPherson’s new version has a keen eye for the desperate comedy of the situation but consequently leaves it a little unbalanced. Continue reading “Review: The Dance of Death, Donmar at Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Hedda Gabler, Old Vic

“They may say what they like, for aught that I care”

There’s something rather pleasing about watching the upwards trajectory of an actor in front of our very eyes, the sense that we are witness to a genuine star in the making. From Little Shop of Horrors to Legally Blonde to Flare Path, Sheridan Smith has worked up a list of much-lauded theatrical credits, in the face of much scepticism it has to be said, which sits next to a television career which has also deepened and broadened in the types of roles that she is taking on. It was still a little bit of a surprise though to find that she would be taking on the title role in the Old Vic’s production of Hedda Gabler, Ibsen’s complex character oft being considered one of the juiciest roles for an actress to take on. 

Anna Mackmin directs a new version of the text by Brian Friel whose main focus seems to have been to imbue the play with a much stronger vein of humour. It is a decision of which I was not particularly fond as it diminishes much of the impact of the first half of the play. Being encouraged to laugh so much at the characters by whom Hedda finds herself surrounded in what is meant to be her newly-wedded bliss means that there’s too much of a disconnect when the more serious business post-interval kicks in. Adrian Scarborough’s husband is the biggest victim here, we’re never really invited to see him as a real man beyond his wife’s distaste and though his grand moment plays well to his comic strengths, it feels entirely incongruous.  Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, Old Vic”

Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre

“I’m interested in what people want”

There’s not really much more to be said about All My Sons that I didn’t cover in my original review of the play. Howard Davies’ production of Arthur Miller’s classic was a deserved huge success in the West End in 2010 and Digital Theatre captured it on film over two nights in September and so one now has the opportunity to rent it online, or download it to watch via their video player.

The fact that the play takes place on the single set lends itself to being captured quite easily on film, there’s little theatrical shenanigans employed here to distract from the fireworks of the acting, that is the real focus of this show. David Suchet’s oily geniality and Zoë Wanamaker’s blind forthrightedness are simply exceptional together as the Kellers play host to family and neighbours and are ultimately left helpless as long-buried truths from the past worm their way to the surface with devastating consequences. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre”

Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre

“I’m his father and he’s my son, and if there’s anything bigger than that I’ll put a bullet in my head!”

Featuring two heavyweights of British acting talent, David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker, the new production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue has already attracted comments which have somehow made it onto big banners up at the theatre along the lines of “as close to a summer blockbuster as the West End can get”. Given that the first preview was just last night, this does seem a little previous, but having attended said first preview, I can honestly say never a truer word was said: this tale of guilt, denial and responsibility is just sensational!

Set in late 1940s smalltown America, All My Sons looks at what happens when capitalist greed runs amok hand in hand with a lack of moral responsibility. Joe Keller is a businessman whose factory was responsible for sending faulty aircraft parts to the American forces, resulting in the deaths of several servicemen in the Second World War. He escaped prison, but his business partner did not, and with his wife Kate and son Chris, has continued to be a successful man, the American Dream personified. However, when the business partner’s daughter Ann arrives for a visit, it becomes apparent that this dream is perilously close to being shattered. It turns out Anne was engaged to the Kellers’ other son Larry who disappeared in combat a few years ago but now has a budding romance with Chris. Kate is dead set against this as she is adamant that Larry is still alive, a delusion tolerated by the other men in the house, but it is the pursuit of the truth behind the force of her denial that finally unlocks the Pandora’s box of terrible secrets. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre”