Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield

“I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it”

The first of what will be three productions of The Glass Menagerie in a month for me is Samuel Hodges’ directorial debut for Southampton’s Nuffield, where he happens to be Artistic Director and CEO. And taking a detailed look at Tennessee Williams’ original script for his most affecting of memory plays, he’s come up with a strikingly original vision for his production, an overtly theatrical rumination on the nature of storytelling and its challenges, particularly when the narrative is so intimately linked to one’s own experiences, as in the strongly autobiographical elements here.

So Danny Lee Wynter’s Tom, our notable narrator, begins the play at a mixing desk in the middle of the auditorium from where he declares he has “tricks in his pocket” and to where he periodically returns to comment on and further conduct and control the telling of his story. At times he grabs a microphone and climbs to the lip of the stage, reciting his lines as his presence is mimed by the others in the scene, at times he’s fully present in the play. And later, he’s a ghostly figure hugging the wall of the theatre – watching on ashamed, appalled, agonised as his actions wreak unintended havoc on his beloved emotionally fragile sister. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic

“He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age”

There was certainly a raised eyebrow or 3 when it was announced that the leads in Mark Rylance’s take on Much Ado About Nothing for the Old Vic would be Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. Neither have previously taken on the roles of the warring Beatrice and Benedick and having worked together recently on Driving Miss Daisy (which others liked even if I didn’t), their’s is a pairing with history. But undoubted quality aside, it is a brave move to cast so daringly and with a production that relocates Shakespeare’s play to England in 1944. 

Does it work? Making the Aragonese soldiers into a company of GIs has a visual impact that works well and turning Sigh No More into a bluesy harmonica-driven ditty is inspired. But putting Shakespeare’s language into the mouths of American soldiers doesn’t always work “my Lord…” and without wanting to open too far the can of worms that is the subject of race, I’m not so sure the lack of comment on a 1940s inter-racial marriage, never mind the issues of honour flung about later, really flies. Messina as the home front is neat though, making the Watch a Dad’s Army-style collection of ragbags and kids (including one called Beryl, maybe?). 

Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic”

DVD Review: Capturing Mary

“Is that the back of Evelyn Waugh’s head?”

Whether you care for his work or no, the body of work that Stephen Poliakoff has accumulated is most impressive as he consistently gathers top-calibre casts to deliver his often obtuse musings on human nature. And in what for me is a dreamily fantastic bit of casting, in Capturing Mary he has Maggie Smith and Ruth Wilson playing the older and younger versions of the same woman. That woman is Mary, who in the present day visits a hugely significant house and when the caretaker there takes pity on her, she regales him of tales of just why it was so important.

It turns out that she was a journalist and something of a socialite in the 1950s and so attended many a high society soirée in this venue and at one of those parties, she met Greville White, the man who would irrevocably change her life and not for the better. With his purpose unclear, he revealed a wealth of dark and dirty secrets about the rich and famous and important and influential people in the same house as them, secrets which involve some most distasteful revelations indeed. Greville saw this as an opportunity for Mary to join him in cahoots on the fringes of this powerful upper class world but she decided to demur.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Capturing Mary”

DVD Review: Luther Series 1

“You don’t need to be thinking about Alice Morgan right now”

By the time that the television series Luther started on BBC1, I was already keen on Ruth Wilson as an actress but the first episode of the first series – which now ranks as one of my all-time favourite pieces of television ever – confirmed her as one of the most exciting people we have working in this country. The show is a high-quality detective drama featuring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a member of the Serious Crime Unit, whose unconventional and often controversial methods frequently sets him at odds with his colleagues and his estranged wife who end up paying the price for his uncompromising genius. 

Entirely written and created by Neil Cross, there’s a most pleasing continuous feel to the six-part series which combines a ‘story of the week’ format featuring some extremely gory and plain icky crimes with larger story arcs which build to the shockingly climactic finish of Episode 6. Ruth Wilson stars as research scientist Alice Morgan, who is involved in the former in Episode One but soon turns into the latter as a wonderfully twisted kind of relationship builds between her and Luther. It is hard to say much more without revealing too much for those who haven’t seen it – shame on you if you haven’t, go and watch it now! – but the way in which Wilson slowly subverts our expectations in that first hour is nothing short of superlative, the gradual reveal completely compelling, the way she says the word ‘kooky’ deserves an award category of its own.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 1”

Review: The Forbidden, Radio 4

“Candyman…candyman…”

Just a quickie for this as I hadn’t intended to blog it but it has lingered long in the memory to merit a recommendation. Clive Barker’s 1985 novella formed the inspiration for the 1992 horror film Candyman but Duncan MacMillan’s modernised adaptation of The Forbidden for Radio 4 takes it back to its British roots, finding the modern-day creepiness inherent in rundown council estates populated by riot-happy hordes. Helen’s sleep is frequently disturbed by a recurring nightmare that takes her back to a basement in her old home and a mysterious unidentified presence always alongside her. As she moves into a new place which is in the same area with her ever-patient husband Trevor, she sets about trying to get to the bottom of her dreams but is unprepared for the truth that is buried deep in her subconscious.

And Polly Thomas’ production is superbly effective at generating the spine-chilling atmosphere that moves from the paranoid wonderings of a stressed woman to something altogether more sinister, aided immeasurably by John Coxon’s (of Spiritualised) original score and the choice to record on location which brings the right level of authenticity. Nadine Marshall strikes the right notes as Helen, blindly unaware of the danger she is in as she determinedly explores the mysteries of her past and the threat she poses to her current happiness as she neglects those around her, Michael Begley’s Trevor in particular. Fenella Woolgar is great as two supporting roles as is Danny Lee Wynter’s Archie and all in all, it was a cracking piece of radio drama – just don’t listen to it last thing at night!

Review: St John’s Night, Jermyn Street

“Don’t forget about the goblin in the attic”

Written early in his career in 1852, Ibsen’s play St John’s Eve (or St John’s Night as it has been retitled here in this translation by James McFarlane) was so poorly received that it was brushed under the carpet somewhat and not even included in his collected works. Following on from last year’s successful version of another neglected Ibsen piece Little Eyolf, director Anthony Biggs returns to the Jermyn Street Theatre to see if lightning can strike twice by giving St John’s Night its UK premiere. This may have been a preview but for me, I’m not so sure that it did succeed, instead reminding us why some plays are left to collect dust.

This is very much an example of the playwright-in-progress , being unlike any other Ibsen play that I know, as it is a fairy-tale comedy, taking influence from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream but putting a decidedly Nordic spin on it. The play is set on a Norwegian farm whose ownership is unclear after the death of Mr Berg. Berg’s second wife lives in one house and is trying to secure the inheritance for her daughter by finding a good marriage and she invites her chosen victim Birk, with two of his friends, to join in their midsummer revels. Berg’s ageing father and naïve daughter live in another, older house on the estate which happens to have a resident goblin upstairs and when the young people decide to take their party up to a mystical hill, the goblin – a Puck-like figure – spikes their drink with a potion that unlocks all sorts of hidden memories. Continue reading “Review: St John’s Night, Jermyn Street”

Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Thank the Lord you ain’t in there with them”

The first play ever to be written for the Globe by a woman, Nell Leyshon’s Bedlam is the final play to open in this year’s set of offerings. A slice of life of those both in and around the Bethlem mental hospital in London, or Bedlam as it is better known. The plot as such centres around Dr Carew’s corrupt running of the asylum, concerned more with women and profit than observing the Hippocratic oath and actually caring for his patients. But the arrival of new patients and a much more socially aware doctor loosens his grip and soon everything begins to change.

It is huge amount of fun and Jessica Swale’s direction has a very keen sense of the possibilities of playing in the Globe, especially with the yardlings. Soutra Gilmour’s design has the stage in a circle with a ramp going up one side, but if you’re in the yard, be prepared for all sorts of interaction, both on the floor and on the stage and a range of bodily fluids and liquids to come flying at you from the sides and indeed above! And it is so wonderfully musical, taking advantage of the rich archive to pull out a number of songs like ‘A Maid In Bedlam’ and ‘Oyster Nan’, covering ballads to bawdy drinking songs, and it all really works. Continue reading “Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry IV Part 2, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Presume not that I am the thing I was”
 

As we approach the mid-point in the Globe’s calendar for the Kings and Rogues season, Henry IV Part 2 is the latest play to open on Bankside, booking right through until October. Following directly on from the events of Henry IV Part 1, it follows the same characters as the increasingly frail King worries about whether his son Prince Hal is ready to assume the kingship, having fallen back into his wayward ways, Falstaff and his motley crew continue to live life to the full but the shadow of their mortality loom long on the horizon and though rebellion has been quashed, there are still murmurings of discontent.

This is indeed a more reflective play and nowhere is this better personified than in Jamie Parker’s Hal. He looks and sounds older, more mature, having grown into the role of a statesman able to forgive those that crossed him in the past and become the son his father has long sought after by outgrowing the feckless compatriots of his younger days as shown in the crushing final scene. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part 2, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Herein will I imitate the sun, who doth permit the base contagious clouds”

You gotta love the English weather: the two outdoor performances I’ve attended this week have been mostly rained on and the two small theatre pub things have been on ridiculously hot evenings turning them into saunas, you just can’t win sometimes! Fortunately, I was seated for this matinee of Henry IV Part One so I was sheltered from the occasionally heavy showers, not so the yardlings though…

It’s all huge amounts of fun: it starts with a mummers masque and ends with an exuberant jig and is full of music and singing throughout which captured the varying moods of this coming of age story perfectly. Prince Hal, son of Henry IV, is struggling to find himself both personally and politically, amid the pressures from three different groups of people: the politically astute King and his courtiers, the witty and shrewd Falstaff and assorted drinking buddies and the rebel camp headed up by the forthright and charismatic Hotspur, each challenging him a different way. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare’s Globe”