DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street

“I don’t care what they do in St Helens but in Salford, no-one puts soap next to bacon”

Despite being relevant to my interests on a number of levels (David Dawson, I’m northern, and the rest of that cast!), The Road to Coronation Street managed to slip by me when it was first broadcast on BBC4 in 2010. Though a long term fixture on ITV (this drama celebrated the 50th anniversary of the soap opera), it was the BBC that took up the reins of creating this origin story for the show, a journey that partly reflects that of its writer Daran Little, who worked on Coronation Street for many years as an archivist but is now a screenwriter for Eastenders, long its traditional rival. But oddities aside, it was a frenetic, energetic romp that I found highly engaging and found it to be over far too soon with its scant 75 minutes-long running time.

The programme tells the true life story of how Tony Warren, a young screenwriter struggling to make his name in the business at Granada Studios, who hit on the idea of creating a television programme that related directly to its audience by presenting a version of everyday working class life on a terraced street in Manchester. We see the genesis of Warren’s idea, conceived from so many details of his own upbringing; his fight to convince his Canadian-born boss to take a chance on it; their battle to persuade the Bernsteins, the studio owners, to put it on the air; and once agreed, the trials of casting it perfectly so that it met both the exacting standards of Warren’s ideal and the new realities of acting on television.   Continue reading “DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street”

Review: The Vortex, Rose Kingston

“He’s always taciturn after a matinée”

I’m unwilling to write it off just yet, but I really do have problems with the Rose Kingston as a theatrical space. Its very design seems inimical to fostering the sense of emotional connection that marks truly great productions and very few directors I have seen work there have been able to substantially address this. As the AD of the place, Stephen Unwin has tried more than most but in a play like The Vortex, which unusually for Noël Coward coils ever tighter into the most intense of two-handers in its final act, it proves a serious issue.

Coward’s 1924 debut work caused shockwaves with its portrayal of casual marital infidelity and cocaine addiction and though it may have lost some of that power now, it still has the power to move. Nicky Lancaster is a disaffected young music student who returns from a sojourn in Paris with a fiancée, a drug habit and an uncertain amount of sexual confusion. He is shocked on his arrival though, to find his mother Florence engaged in a heady affair with a much younger Guards Officer and determined to live her life free from societal pressure or marital responsibilities. Over the course of a weekend, their lives and the secrets they both possess clash to devastating effect. 


Though the production never really moved me as I thought it might, it did have flashes of inspiration. There are several gorgeous touches like having Nicky play Someone To Watch Over Me as a desperate plea to his self-involved mother and making Rebecca Johnson’s über-honest Helen – unexpectedly the production’s highlight – not just Florence’s confidante but someone who would be more than just a friend. And it is moments like these that sit beautifully alongside the strong performances of the leads.

  

The divine Kerry Fox – an actress whose CV is admirably if frustratingly sparse – makes Florence a fearsomely determined figure, less flighty society hostess and more a woman utterly convinced of her infallibility, which makes the stripping back of her certainties all the more effective. And David Dawson nails the quicksilver changes of mood of Nicky, one moment the epitome of Coward-esque charm, the next lost in the haunting depths of his despair.


But where the show ought to ratchet up the intensity, the atmosphere is broken by the insertion of two regular-sized intervals which undo so much of the good work that has been done. And the other members of the company often just seem marooned on the platform of the stage, raised and removed from the audience and so not always able to bridge that gap to draw us into their world. Solid rather than superlative, the lead performances make it worth a visit. 


Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with 2 intervals)

Booking until 2nd March

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II

“I’ll tickle your catastrophe”

I was mildly disappointed by the second instalment of The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I and so it was pretty much a given that I’d feel more or less the same about Henry IV Part II and so it came to pass. In some ways, little changed: Walters and Russell Beale continued to be themselves, Heffernan continued to be neglected as a simple serving boy, the women continued to get a raw deal of it only this time Niamh Cusack got in on the action with a mere handful of lines as Lady Northumberland (and admittedly Maxine Peake rightly got a bit more screentime as Doll Tearsheet), Hiddleston and Irons continued to be epically good and it all felt a bit too theatrical for my liking.

I did like that we got more Dominc Rowan in this one, though his hair still caused me consternation, Iain Glen and Pip Carter were great additions to the cast as Warwick and Gower respectively – Glen was particularly sonorous when speaking – and everyone has got to love a scene that looks like it could have been set in a gay sauna 😉 And though they lacked a certain something, the rural scenes with David Bamber and Tim McMullan as Shallow and Silence, were largely well-played. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II”

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: Schiller’s Luise Miller, Donmar Warehouse

“The stuff of seduction is also the stuff of politics: lies and promises”

Schiller’s Luise Miller is Michael Grandage’s penultimate outing as director at the Donmar Warehouse before Josie Rourke takes on the reins of Artistic Director. A bustling German 18th Century tale of romance, class struggles, tragedy and court politics, the play, Kabale und Liebe (previous translations have been called Intrigue and Love, and Love and Politics) has been given a new treatment here by Mike Poulton, who if Wikipedia is anything to go by (bearing in mind this is my first experience with the play), has reworked quite a bit of the latter part of the play, bringing to mind Dennis Kelly’s liberal approach to The Prince of Homburg at this same venue.

Noble-born Ferdinand, son of the one of the most powerful statesmen in the country, is in love with Luise Miller, the middle-class daughter of a middle-class musician and willing to sacrifice all for love. But the political scheming and power games that govern the world they live in means that their destiny is out of their hands, no matter how honourable their intentions, they are at the mercy of those more powerful who will stoop to nothing to ensure they survive. Continue reading “Review: Schiller’s Luise Miller, Donmar Warehouse”

Not-a-Review: The Harvest, Royal Court

“Apple-picking is really cool”

The Royal Court’s International Playwrights Season turns its gaze to Eastern Europe now, with main show the Latvian Remembrance Day opening this week and two rehearsed readings accompanying it from other former Soviet countries. The first was from Belarus, The Harvest by Pavel Pryazhko and translated here by Sasha Dugdale, a deceptively simple but wickedly funny comedy about four young people picking apples in an orchard.

I’ve enjoyed the previous readings I’ve been to so I would most likely have booked for this one anyway, but as soon as I discovered that the much-lauded (on this blog at least!) John Heffernan was taking part, it was a no-brainer. But it was also pleasing to see the rest of the cast being interesting names too: David Dawson (an alumnus of Posh from downstairs here), and Laura Elphinstone and Emily Taaffe, both of whom I’ve seen and liked but in fairly serious roles, so it was a great pleasure to see everyone breaking loose and playing with the daftness in the comedy of Pryazhko’s writing and all doing really well. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: The Harvest, Royal Court”

Review: Posh, Royal Court

“And these people think we’re twats? Are we going to just sit here and take it…”

Posh, a new black comedy by Laura Wade at the Royal Court, follows a group of young toffs, calling themselves the Riot Club, as they meet up to get thoroughly drunk or “chateaued” and trash the private dining room of the Oxfordshire gastropub where they are spending the evening. It is apparently inspired by Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club which has given us such scions of society as David Cameron and Boris Johnson though I can’t see either of them making the trip to see this as it does rather skewer their antics (that said, the vast majority of the audience had a much closer affinity to the title than I would have imagined, and on cheap Monday prices too, shame on them!)

The writing is beautifully delicious in places, I loved the quip about reading languages in Newcastle (you’d have to, up there!), the scene with the prostitute with a mind of her own is wonderfully awkward and so much of the dialogue has clearly been finely crafted, reflecting the intelligence, no matter how odious they get, of many of these chaps. Wade also captures the righteous indignation of those who feel their birthrights have been slowly eroded but yet insist on the maintenance of the system of privileges that accompanies membership of the upper classes. Continue reading “Review: Posh, Royal Court”

2010 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Rachel Weisz – A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse 
Alison Steadman – Enjoy at the Gielgud 
Fiona Shaw – Mother Courage & Her Children at the NT Olivier
Helen Mirren – Phedre at the NT Lyttelton 
Juliet Stevenson – Duet for One at the Almeida & Vaudeville
Lesley Sharp – The Rise & Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville 

THE CAPITAL BREAKS BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jude Law – Hamlet, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s 
David Harewood – The Mountaintop at Theatre 503 & Trafalgar Studios 1 
Dominic West – Life Is a Dream at the Donmar Warehouse 
Ken Stott – A View from the Bridge at the Duke of York’s 
Mark Rylance – Jerusalem at the Royal Court Downstairs
Samuel West – Enron at the Royal Court Downstairs  Continue reading “2010 What’s On Stage Award nominations”