TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

Review: The Mentor, Vaudeville

“There is a misplaced apostrophe on page 57”
 
Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov studio has become quite the workhouse for churning out new European writing. Florian Zeller The Father has been the most notable and still they come with their transfers to the West End, the latest being German writer Daniel Kehlmann’s The Mentor, with Oscar winner F Murray Abraham in tow.
Read my 3 star review for Official Theatre here (at least one of those stars is for Abraham alone)

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 2nd September

 

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Hollywood and Broadway icon Stockard Channing will return to the London stage this summer, to star in a new production of Olivier Award winner Alexi Kaye Campbell’s acclaimed drama Apologia, directed by the multi-award winning Jamie Lloyd.

Opening at the Trafalgar Studios on 29th July, Apologia will see the Tony and Emmy Award winning actor performing in the West End for the first time in over a decade. Channing’s hugely popular film and TV credits include starring roles in The West Wing, The Good Wife, her Oscar® and Golden Globe nominated role in Six Degrees of Separation, and the iconic role of Rizzo in the film Grease. An acclaimed Broadway and West End star, Channing’s most recent performances on Broadway, It’s Only a Play and Other Desert Cities (a “peerless” performance -NY Times, for which she was nominated for her seventh Tony Award), have affirmed her position as a true theatrical legend.

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a compelling drama about the importance of family and the pressures commitment and principles exert on it. Apologia follows his critical success with The Pride and his acclaimed plays Sunset at The Villa Thalia at the National Theatre and The Faith Machine at the Royal Court Theatre.

Stockard Channing plays Kristin Miller, a firebrand liberal matriarch of a dynamic family, who is presiding over her birthday celebrations. An eminent art historian, Kristin’s almost evangelical dedication to her career and her political activism has resulted in her sons – Peter, a merchant banker, and Simon, a writer – harbouring deeply rooted and barely suppressed resentments towards her. The fissures in her relationship with them are brought to the fore by the recent publication of her memoir.

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

Review: Kafka’s Dick, Theatre Royal Bath

“Hey, you look really depressed”

I fly off on holiday in mere hours so the briefest of mentions for this Alan Bennett play. My second comedy in a day after a Chichester matinée and a thankfully traffic-free drive over to Bath, Kafka’s Dick is a remarkably prescient play (from 1986) which looks at our ever-increasing desire to know more about the private details of our public figures. Sydney and Linda, a regular Yorkshire couple (is there any other kind?!) have their lives disrupted when Franz Kafka, his friend and contemporary Max Brod and his father Hermann all turn up at their home.

That they’re all dead is one thing but more importantly, Elliot Levey’s Brod promised Daniel Weyman’s Kafka that he would destroy all his writings on his death but published them instead, garnering the writer unimaginable posthumous fame. And as it turns out, Sydney is something of a Kafka scholar who focused on the family dynamic of the Czech, so the arrival of Matthew Kelly as Hermann adds a surprising depth to the play, far beyond the initial comic stylings. Continue reading “Review: Kafka’s Dick, Theatre Royal Bath”

Review: The Conquest of the South Pole, Arcola

“I’d rather touch greasy chips than greasy chaps”

When it comes to European drama, I’ve tried my best with the slim pickings available to us here in London and I have quite often been pleasantly surprised: I Am The Wind and Big and Small being the examples that pop into the mind, as theatre that just operates on a completely different level to what I’m used to and given a treatment that somehow connected with me. But there have been shows that failed to break through the enigma – Black Battles with Dogs being the most recent example – and I’m sad to say that Manfred Karge’s The Conquest of the South Pole fell firmly into this category, leaving me completely nonplussed as to what it is that it is trying to say or do.

Stephen Unwin directed this show back in 1988 and for this, its first revival in London since then, he has returned to the piece for which he obviously has great affection to present in the main studio at the Arcola. But you know you’re in trouble when the most fascinating thing happening is three Hackney kids gate-crashing the theatre via an unlocked side-door and the subsequent silent efforts to get them to leave. Ultimately, I found this much more engrossing than the story of this group of unemployed young men who decide escape the grimness of their lives by re-enacting Amundsen’s voyage to the South Pole in a cramped attic using a washing line and some sheets to evoke the Antarctic tundra. Continue reading “Review: The Conquest of the South Pole, Arcola”

Review: Park Avenue Cat, Arts Theatre

“Is this what you call therapy?”

‘When does a twosome become a threesome?’ Twosome?! Reading the promotional blurb for Park Avenue Cat set alarm bells ringing before the show had even started at the Arts Theatre but I was determined to give this a go as it is starring Josefina Gabrielle. One of the happiest moments of my theatregoing year so far was in her arrival onstage in Me and My Girl as I had completely forgotten she was in the cast and she was just phenomenal, as indeed she had been in Sweet Charity and Hello, Dolly! : this marking the first time I’ve seen her in straight drama. Quite why she chose this, written by Los Angeles-based scribe Frank Strausser who apparently has fingers in films and books as well as theatre, we will never know as it is completely undeserving of her talents.

The show centres on Gabrielle’s character Lily, a forty-something art dealer who has summoned her boyfriend Philip to couples therapy as she is getting frustrated with the lack of progress in their relationship. When he predictably doesn’t turn up, her lover Dorian sneakily takes his place in the session, leaving the therapist struggling to deal with Lily’s emotional crises and the confusion wrought by Dorian’s appearance, especially as he is one of her exes as well. A later session, after catching glimpses of Lily with both her lovers, ramps up the farcical comedy as both men turn up for the session with her and the therapist forces Lily to confront just what it is that she wants. Continue reading “Review: Park Avenue Cat, Arts Theatre”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, Open Air Theatre

“For they say every why hath a wherefore”

The second play in this year’s season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. An early farce featuring two sets of identical twins separated at birth, they end up in the same town and several cases of mistaken identity then lead to a series of madcap capers and general confusion as everyone begins to question their relationships with others. This production is set in 1940s Casablanca and features amongst many, many other things, live swing music.

There’s so much going on and so many different tricks and whistles that it ultimately feels quite schizophrenic as a production. There are elements of ‘40s screwball comedy, jazz musicals and Carry On films amongst others, but they just didn’t feel well integrated. This was particularly obvious in Egeon’s scenes which were played straight and without fanfare and so felt tonally as if they were from a whole different play: scenes tend to stop and start as whatever new device is employed rather than flow from one to the other. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, Open Air Theatre”