Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Though I look old…I am strong and lusty”

From the minute Michelle Terry’s Rosalind launches into an actual tizzy at the sight of Orlando’s ripped body (an inordinately but irresistibly muscular Simon Harrison), the warmly joyous spirit of Blanche McIntyre’s As You Like It is never in doubt. The contrasting textures of Shakespeare’s elegant yet complex comedy are well balanced, its musical elements pushed to the forefront with a folkish score from Johnny Flynn but above all, there’s a sense of intelligent fun that delights in taking its time to reveal itself.

Terry has been establishing herself as one of our leading Shakespeareans and this energetic and impulsive take on Rosalind is an absolute privilege to watch. Constantly on the edge of her emotions, she skips from the giddy heights of love at first sight to the crushing pain of banishment in the blink of an eye. And as she explores the nature of love and the heart, her heart in particular, her deftly comedic manner whilst disguised as Ganymede is just glorious, her continual delight at what she is discovering a constant joy.  Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Short Film Review #51


The Young Vic continue their always-exciting set of short films that accompany and act as responses to their main house programming with Mayday, inspired by Happy Days from earlier in the year and starring its extraordinary lead Juliet Stevenson. Here she plays May, a women left paralysed after an accident and when freak weather occurrences leave her trapped in her bed, the Beckettian waiting begins. Written by Nancy Harris and also starring Tanya Moodie and David Beames in supporting roles, it’s a clever take on the familiar story and very much plays into notions of metropolitan loneliness. Continue reading “Short Film Review #51”

Review: The Nether, Royal Court

“Just because it is virtual doesn’t mean it isn’t real”

There are times when an age guidance notice can seem like mollycoddling, but there are others when they are truly justified. The UK premiere of Jennifer Haley’s play The Nether by Headlong and the Royal Court is most certainly one of the latter cases, recommended for over 18s only as one of the more disturbing plays we are likely to see this year. The play is one of the more devastatingly effective looks at how the internet has shaped the way we live our lives and how society is struggling to keep up with, and govern, this fast-changing world. Writing now, a few days after seeing it, it still haunts my mind – a combination of Jeremy Herrin’s stunningly mounted production and a searingly brutal play.

Haley’s ‘Nether’ is her futuristic version of the internet where virtual reality has been fully integrated, so people are able to create their own realms like webpages. The playwright pushes that to the extreme in ‘The Hideaway’, a world created by Stanley Townsend’s Sims for him and other like-minded souls to act out their paedophiliac tendencies without actually committing any crime as it currently stands. Young detective Morris, Amanda Hale, has hauled Sims in for questioning though as she wants the details of the whole thing so she can shut it down, arguing that even online realms need to be policed, that all our interactions lead to our deeper understanding of the rules of the world. Continue reading “Review: The Nether, Royal Court”

Review: Happy Days, Young Vic

“Perhaps some day the earth will yield and let me go, the pull is so great, yes, crack all round me and let me out”

The second show of the month with this title for me, but a completely different kettle of fish (although one can imagine the screams of existential angst that lie beneath the Fonz’s immaculately pristine quiff). I have no qualms in admitting that Samuel Beckett’s inimitable charms have long eluded me, I’ve never had that light-bulb moment in a theatre with one of his plays and being endlessly told that his work is amazing always has the reverse effect on me.

But I’m always up for the challenge, especially when it means the chance to see Juliet Stevenson on the stage again, and so Natalie Abrahami’s production of Happy Days for the Young Vic made it onto the calendar. I read the play at university but have never seen it onstage so I can’t compare it to any others, although given the strictness with which the Beckett estate guard the performance rights, I wonder how different they can actually be.      Continue reading “Review: Happy Days, Young Vic”

Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace

“Art can’t be made into a spectacle; you can’t put it in a box”

There’s something quite remarkable about the boldness with which Blanche McIntyre has reinterpreted Chekhov’s perennial classic The Seagull for Headlong. Gone is the stuffy country house to be replaced by Laura Hopkins’ expressionistic, open space and the formality of the Russian’s words has been supplanted by John Donnelly’s fresh new version which refocuses the play’s centre away from melodrama to something sharper, funnier, more powerful even. This is an interpretation that genuinely makes the play feel new. 

McIntyre introduces notes of meta-theatre to push home the exploration of the nature of art and artists that now sits at the heart of the play – the house lights come up as characters direct their soliloquies straight to the audience, the blank rear wall becomes the page of a notebook complete with significant changing scribbles, the stark simplicity of the set allowing for a deeper intellectual excavation of the issues of art and love and creativity and sex. And it is a compelling mixture, all pushing along the vital narrative and driving these familiar characters to their predestined fates with a fresh new verve.  Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace”

Review: Chariots of Fire, Gielgud

“100 metres can feel like a marathon”
For the longest time, I was sure that I didn’t want to see Chariots of Fire, not least because the hoarding for this Hampstead Theatre transfer into the Gielgud finds it necessary to call it Chariots of Fire on stage, as if it could be anything else in a theatre. But Mike Bartlett, who adapted the film, is a writer I like and a change of cast meant Gabriel Vick, an actor whose charms I, erm, appreciate, was able to tempt me there on the final day of the (curtailed) run. The most arresting aspect of Edward Hall’s production is Miriam Buether’s design which snakes a running track around the front stalls and puts audience members on the stage – it makes for constant visual interest and not just for the men in shorts.
As a story set around the Olympics (Paris 1924), when the production was first announced it felt like a bit of a cash-in to the upcoming Games (London 2012) and sure enough, a West End transfer was announced even before it began. And to be honest, I’m not sure that it really stood up as a piece of effective theatre when separated from all the 2012 buzz. I’ve never seen the film so I wonder if this had an impact, but essentially the thrill of having athletically performed athletic races aside, it was rather dull.

The rivalry between two British runners – religious Scot Eric Liddell, played with fervent defiance by Jack Lowden and James McArdle’s first-generation Lithuanian immigrant Harold Abrahams – never really takes off dramatically as it is largely implicit, rather than actualised (the pair are rarely together). The whirl of supporting characters get so little stage time that very few of the fine actors onstage get the opportunity to make an impact and I wasn’t a fan of the way in which the action sequences were blended, or otherwise, with the dramatic scenes, too often the transitions felt painfully obvious. 
Using the famous music, written by Vangelis, also didn’t really work for me. It’s a no-brainer in the end and the oohs and aahs of recognition from the audience around me clearly showed that it was the big money note they’d been waiting for but it felt so unsubtle, so bolted onto the production that it just didn’t connect with the whole. So I should have listened to my instincts in the first place! 

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 5th January

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

“For she is changed, as she had never been”

Despite featuring Samantha Spiro as Kate, the Globe’s production of The Taming of the Shrew held little attraction for me when it was announced, and even once it had started. Though, not considered a ‘problem play’ as far as Shakespeare’s canon is concerned, problems tend to arise when productions seek to make sense of its knotty gender politics from a contemporary perspective. Southwark Playhouse and the RSC have recently tried different updated versions but neither one really convinced me. After allowing myself to be persuaded to see it before it finished its run, Toby Frow comes the closest I have seen to making the play work, mainly by – against the above quote – simply leaving it alone.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an immense amount of work that has been done, but rather that this production just takes the play for what it is – a piece of sixteenth century fiction presented as such. And instead of the furrowed brow that often comes with trying to work how misogynistic or otherwise the play or the production is being, there’s a sense of joyous fun as high-octane slapstick, capering about and unbelievably destructive capabilities are the order of the day.  Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I

“Then would I have his Harry, and he mine”

The Hollow Crown continues with Henry IV Part I, directed by Richard Eyre who also does the ensuing Part II (but not Henry V, though the productions are cross-cast). But where Rupert Goold’s Richard II embraced the form to create something more cinematic (although not to everyone’s tastes), this is an altogether more traditional affair and not necessarily the better for it. 

What Eyre brings out is the father-son relationships. Tom Hiddleston’s carousing Prince Hal, partnered extremely well by David Dawson’s Poins in what was an excellent performance I thought, is movingly forced towards maturity on the battlefield, as King Henry, Jeremy Irons in impassive form and making the presence of what is admittedly quite a secondary character really stand out, laments the fecklessness of his heir. This is contrasted of course by the gumption of young Hotspur, Joe Armstrong oozing rugged charisma and forming the highlight of the whole thing for me, and in a lovely piece of casting, his real father, Alun Armstrong has been cast as his onscreen father which added poignancy to their moments.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I”

Review: The Golden Dragon, Arcola

“Please, not the red spanner!”

First things first, Studio 1 at the Arcola is flexible! I have frequently bemoaned the new main room at the Arcola’s new premises for its awkward seating arrangement that provided a restrictive playing space which unfortunately seemed to fly in the face of the playfulness of the old theatre. But for the first time Studio 1 has been reconfigured, into an end-on setting in this case, which hopefully means that the Arcola will continue to explore the new possibilities of their new home. The show that it is currently housing is the ATC production of The Golden Dragon, fresh from a successful run at the Traverse in Edinburgh and subsequently touring the UK.

It is a German play by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated here by David Tushingham, which defies any easy definition, the website blurb says deconstructed soap opera, I’m thinking more fantastical yet modern fairy tale. Five actors play a whole host of characters and indeed animals, frequently switching gender, ethnicity and age in the smoothest of multiple transitions as the storytelling weaves gently around the heart, only revealing just how powerful and moving it is until its closing scenes by when we’re fully enchanted and in the tight grip of this ensemble. Continue reading “Review: The Golden Dragon, Arcola”

Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre

“I’m sick of this rigmarole”

Danton’s Death, the 1835 play about the French Revolution by Georg Büchner, marks an impressive brace of debuts: Toby Stephens making his first bow on the stage here in the title role and Michael Grandage, Artistic Director of the Donmar, making his directorial debut here on the South Bank. Setting up in the Olivier theatre for the summer, it is part of the Travelex season so there’s been plenty of £10 seats available. This was the first preview that I saw, I acknowledge this freely but stand by everything I say here.

The story is set in 1794, a period between the first and the second terrors during the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety has been set up in the name of the revolutionary new order and is summarily executing people whether the accusations against them are true or not. Its creator, Georges Danton, has come to regret his part in the genesis of something responsible for the killings of so many people and has been shocked at the way in which the revolution has been increasingly radicalised. His former friend and colleague Robespierre is at the head of this new faction leading the way and when Danton makes a stand for what he sees as too much, the stage is set for an almighty power struggle between the two political rivals. Continue reading “Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre”