Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Wilton’s Music Hall

“If they choose to, the company may dump any man”

The historic walls of Wilton’s Music Hall – the last surviving grand music hall in the world – may be old but they are far from old-fashioned. After their major refurb, the shift into becoming a producing venue has seen them adopt a varied multi-disciplinary programme of comedy and music as well as theatre (look out for the Tobacco Factory’s highly-rated Othello coming soon).

Sadly, their current revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – the first major one in this country since its 1963 premiere – falls on the side of the fatally old-fashioned. Director Benji Sperring’s sure touch has seen him work wonders with shows like The Toxic Avenger but here, an inconsistency of tone and performance level means that it sits awkwardly on this august stage. Continue reading “Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

“This is not life”

Released last year, Victor Frankenstein has the ignominy of being something of a flop, a little surprising when you consider it is loaded with Brit talent like James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe and was directed by Sherlock alum Paul McGuigan. But as many have learned, not least Dr Frankenstein himself, reanimating old things doesn’t always go smoothly. 

Writer Max Landis’ new spin on Mary Shelley’s classic is that the story is told from (the non-canonical) Igor’s perspective, reframing the ‘hunchback assistant’ as something much more nuanced and offering a fresh set of eyes on their scientific endeavours. Here, McAvoy’s Victor is a manic medical student who rescues Radcliffe’s Igor from an undignified life as a circus freak and quite literally gives him a new lease of life as his collaborator.  Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)”

Winners of the 2014 What’s on Stage Awards

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Helen Mirren – The Audience at the Gielgud (49.5%)
Anne-Marie Duff – Strange Interlude at the NT Lyttelton (16.8%)
Hayley Atwell – The Pride at Trafalgar Studios (12.4%)
Suranne Jones – Beautiful Thing at the Arts (15.0%)
Tanya Moodie – Fences at the Duchess (6.3%)

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Radcliffe – The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward (37.4%)
Ben Whishaw – Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward and Mojo at the Harold Pinter (19.9%)
James McAvoy – Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios (22.1%)
Lenny Henry – Fences at the Duchess (6.3%)
Rory Kinnear – Othello at the NT Olivier (14.2%) Continue reading “Winners of the 2014 What’s on Stage Awards”

DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

 “Even letters don’t want to be sent here”

The term black comedy is often used in reference to Russian works and in the case of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, it is well–earned. A short TV series from 2012 produced by Sky and based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s collection of short stories entitled A Country Doctor’s Notebook, it follows the experiences of a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Moscow and landed with an isolated post deep in the Russian countryside where even the nearest shop is half a day away by coach.

It frames these growing pains of a doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) learning how to deal with the practical, as opposed to the theoretical study at which he excelled, with scenes from 20 years or so in the future, when the doctor (now played by Jon Hamm) has been exposed as a morphine addict and has found his old diary. Hamm’s Doctor then dips in and out of the earlier scenes, interacting solely with his younger self and trying to offer a way through his crises of inexperience. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook”

2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Helen Mirren – The Audience at the Gielgud 
Anne-Marie Duff – Strange Interlude at the NT Lyttelton 
Hayley Atwell – The Pride at Trafalgar Studios
Suranne Jones – Beautiful Thing at the Arts 
Tanya Moodie – Fences at the Duchess 

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Radcliffe – The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward 
Ben Whishaw – Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward and Mojo at the Harold Pinter 
James McAvoy – Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios 
Lenny Henry – Fences at the Duchess 
Rory Kinnear – Othello at the NT Olivier  Continue reading “2014 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noël Coward

“If you’re going to talk about sheep deformities, hand me the bottle”

Third up for the Michael Grandage Company is ‘the Daniel Radcliffe one’, the first major revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. But though it is being sold on the strength of its star, it is much more of an ensemble piece than first impressions would allow, as a picture of 1930s rural Irish life in all its brusque humour, unstinting relentlessness and occasional vicious kicks is built up. A break from the old routine is offered when a Hollywood film crew arrives on the neighbouring island of Inishmore and no-one is more excited about the opportunity than Cripple Billy, a young orphan lad blighted by physical disability from birth and who spots an opportunity to escape the blunt cruelty of the daily taunts.

Still in previews, Grandage’s production doesn’t quite seem to have decided how it wants to straddle the line between stereotypical olde Oirish sentimentality and McDonagh’s more brutal sensibilities which might be familiar to those that have seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Part of the problem lies in a vein of comedy that feels somewhat uninspired so it does, relying on the repeated utterances, without malice mind, of words and phrases that ought to jar in our more politically correct times. But this is essentially one gag extended throughout much of the show and it soon wears thin – the over-emphasis on how kookily different  things were back then and over there just isn’t enough to hang a play on, especially when Grandage is playing it as safe as this.

And I also felt that Radcliffe has a way to go before he’s ready to play the part of Cripple Billy. His manifestation of Billy’s affliction is clearly sensitively researched but lacks the raw physicality that should accompany one so bruised by life and one longs for him to submerge entirely into the depths of the character to create something more convincing in his portrayal of someone struggling on the cusp of becoming a young man and establishing some kind of physical and emotional independence – something that could well come as the run progresses. So the focus turns instead to the bustling busybodies of Inishmaan who are mostly very well acted but not a one of them feels like a real person.

Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna hem and haw vividly as Billy’s adopted aunties who point out the shortcomings of the world as they run their shop; Pat Shortt and June Watson pair up effectively as the village gossip and his ailing mother who he keeps topped up with whiskey; and Sarah Greene has an untamed quality as the wild egg-cracking Helen who Billy dreams of kissing one day. But there’s rarely a sense of genuine emotional life behind any of these people, keeping them perilously close to caricature – though possibly as much McDonagh’s fault as Grandage’s – and keeping the audience at arm’s length from the whole affair.

Consequently I really didn’t enjoy this that much – it certainly didn’t move me and I barely laughed. For a tenner though, one can’t complain too much and there did seem to be those in the audience who enjoyed themselves more than us (the reaction throughout was increasingly muted though, I have to say) but this was altogether too polite for my liking.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 31st August

DVD Review: The Woman in Black

“So many…so many children”

For his first major post-Harry Potter film outing, Daniel Radcliffe went for this adaptation of Susan Hill’s bestseller The Woman In Black, directed by James Watkins. An Edwardian ghost story, widowed father Arthur Kipps’ is tasked with closing up the account of Eel Marsh House, an isolated manor in the fens, but on his arrival he finds the locals unwilling to help, strange goings-on all around him and a haunted house to shake even the most resolute of sceptics.

Skewed angles nod back to Hitchcock, the psychological horror suggests more recent exponents like Amenábar and del Toro, James Watkins is clearly skilled in the art of making people jump but what really works successfully here is the genuine sense of creepiness that imbues much of the film. This is of course most effective in the earlier two-thirds of the film when we’re still hunting for explanations – the long wordless scenes and non-explicit moments of threats have a genuinely disturbing quality – and has there ever been a more unsettling collection of wind-up figures in the world, particularly that rabbit toy.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Woman in Black”