Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner finally directs a play by a woman but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of novel Alys, Always is a disappointment for me at the Bridge Theatre

“I’m going to bake a cake”

In well over 30 years of being a director, it seems scarcely credible that it is only now that Nicholas Hytner is turning his hand to directing a play written by a woman. For all of his considerable contributions to the British theatre ecology, it is a startling and sobering statistic that demonstrates the scale of the problem faced by those who would (rightfully) change the status quo.

The play in question here is Alys, Always, written by Lucinda Coxon from Harriet Lane’s 2012 novel. And it proves a serviceable psychological thriller of sorts that sits a little too cosily in the middle class-baiting madeleine-scented air of the Bridge Theatre. It is glossy and magazine-spread chic, undoubtedly shinily cast (Joanne Froggatt, Robert Glenister) but rarely essential. Continue reading “Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Guards at the Taj, Bush

“Was it fucked up? Yes, it was. But I don’t have to feel terrible about it”

Opening up the newly-refurbished Bush Theatre is Rajiv Joseph’s 2015 play Guards at the Taj. Allocated seating and dynamic pricing have been introduced, accessibility addressed and terraces built, we’ve come a long way from the intimate room above a pub that was its original home. And it’s a fascinating piece of writing to go with, an unexpected move perhaps but enjoyable nonetheless.

Inspired by the legend, for which there is no factual basis, that seventeenth century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered that the hands of all the craftsmen who were involved in the construction of the Taj Mahal should be cut off. He commissioned the mausoleum for his favourite wife and the mythos behind the story is that he wanted to ensure that they could never build anything of equal beauty. Continue reading “Review: Guards at the Taj, Bush”

Short Film Review #48

Eclipse Theatre’s 10by10 project was a series of short films “exploding the myth of a homogenised Black British culture”, all directed by Dawn Walton but written by and starring a wide range of some of our most exciting writers and performers. Filmed in 10 different cities across the UK, the hometowns of the playwrights in fact, and each shot in a single day, these make a fascinating insight into a wider cross-section of British society that perhaps is normally seen. Part 2 of 2.

 

 

 

Music in the Bones
Yusra Warsama’s Music in the Bones begins with Wunmi Mosaku’s Somaliwoman Amina running through a Manchester backstreet and quickly moves into flashback mode to tell us why. Mosaku has a beautifully modulated voice which is perfect for the narration here, aching with longing and loss and confusion and compassion. Beautiful.

Omar
Starring the impossibly handsome O-T Fagbenle as the titular character, Maurice Bessman’s Omar follows a guy who goes to Amsterdam for his stag weekend but before he’s even toked down on his first indulgence of the trip, a brutal attack and a case of serious mistaken identity shakes his world upside down and then some. Dawn Walton’s direction never quite hits the necessary ambivalent darkness to make this as disturbingly disorientating as it should be but the film does get there eventually, mainly through Fagbenle’s slow awakening to the direness of his situation.
Perfume
The delight that is Middlesborough’s shopping centre features heavily in Ishy Din’s Perfume as brothers Sham and Nad run a scam in order to make some cash in order to buy some ganja. Naturally, things aren’t quite what they seem (a running theme in these films)
A Blues for Nia
Representing Bristol, Chino Odimba’s A Blue for Nia sees Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s Nia stride with purpose through St Pauls with her 5 year old son, striding with a purpose of which she gradually informs us as she vents her spleen.
Babydoll
Susan Hunter Downer’s Babydoll takes place in Sheffield’s city centre as Everal A Walsh’s tramp hunts for treasure amongst the bins and is taken by surprise when he finds a suitcase that he can’t open that he just knows will contain something good. Just what that is, well you’ll have to watch!

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: The Djinns of Eidgah, Royal Court

“Gar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast”

Interesting art can transcend basic notions of comprehension, cutting deep to a visceral place of goosebumps and adrenalin rushes that crosses linguistic barriers, just listening to this recital of a piece of Sufi poetry moves me in an unexpectedly extraordinary way even after repeated listens. The above quote of another piece also by poet Amir Khusro (If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here) which prefaces Abhishek Majumdar’s complex Kashmir-set play The Djinns of Eidgah which provoked a similar reaction in me upstairs at the Royal Court.

Not that the play isn’t in English, but rather its reach is ambitiously grand and encompasses subjects that I would be a fool to profess any substantial knowledge of. Through the trials of young Kashmiri orphans Ashrafi and Bilal, Majumdar’s writing explores the state of being ‘inbetween’ – whether in the brutal, and ongoing, realities of being torn between India and Pakistan; or in the fable-like hinterland between life and death, explored through the Central Asian oral history tradition of dastaan and the legends of Amir Hamza. Reality and fantasy are intermingled, politics and people dissected, both head and heart engaged to create a melancholic minor masterpiece.  Continue reading “Review: The Djinns of Eidgah, Royal Court”

Review: Disgraced, Bush

“You haven’t read the Quran, but you’ve read a couple of sanctimonious British bullies and you think you know something about Islam?”

Credit where credit is due (but be warned, this bit of praise will involve a spoiler), Nadia Fall’s production of Disgraced at the Bush Theatre contains one of the most brutally effective and well-staged pieces of stage violence I have ever seen and fight director Kate Waters ought to be commended for it. Too often we mock poorly executed scuffles without really taking into account how tricky it can be to make it convincing and here, it is so well done that the image seared itself into my brain, working its way into a dream I had that night! 

But to the play at hand – Ayad Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Disgraced and a quick scan of its key scene might suggest he played to his audience just a little. A lapsed Muslim lawyer and his white artist wife have friends over dinner, a black female law colleague whose partner is a Jewish art dealer and over fennel and anchovy salad, they explosively debate religion, politics and cultural stereotypes. But the play is more than just Pulitzer-bait, digging into just how deeply faith and upbringing shape our identities and how we carry them through life no matter how one might try to reinvent oneself. Continue reading “Review: Disgraced, Bush”

Review: Blood and Gifts, National Theatre

“Russian soldiers being shot with Chinese bullets, sometimes the world is so beautiful”

JT Rogers’ Blood and Gifts started off life as one of the short plays that constituted The Great Game, the Tricycle’s hugely ambitious cycle of works about Afghanistan. He withdrew it from the recent re-run of that set of shows to work it up into a full length play which now premieres at the Lyttelton in the National Theatre. It has apparently had a few teething problems resulting in the first preview being cancelled, so this is a review what became the second preview.

The play starts off in 1981 in Pakistan, in the offices of the Intelligence Services there and up in the mountainous borders with Afghanistan, as James Warnock a CIA agent is sent to the region to try and stop the Soviets in their aggression. In order to do so, Warnock needs to negotiate with the Pakistani Intelligence Services, the KGB and MI6 presence there and most trickily, with the slippery Afghan warlords whose loyalties are easily bought but just as easily lost. We then track events for the next 10 years as the war continues, relationships develop over money and arms, watching appeals at the US senate for Stinger missiles, then finally moving to Afghan foothills for a blistering climax when some serious truths are finally revealed. Continue reading “Review: Blood and Gifts, National Theatre”