Review: Not Talking, Arcola

This ‘new’ Mike Bartlett’ play is well-acted at the Arcola Theatre but Not Talking can’t quite hide its origins in radio

“If I don’t want to tell anyone, it’s up to me, right?”

A treat here in the premiere of Mike Bartlett’s first-ever play, never seen before in a theatre. But something of a qualified treat, because 2005’s Not Talking was written as a radio play and as sumptuously cast as James Hiller’s production for the Arcola and Defibrillator is (with Kika Markham and David Horovitch), it’s a drama that never really escapes these origins.

The play is constructed as two pairs of two intertwining but distinct monologues – separated by time on the one side, kept apart by emotional distance on the other. Reflecting back on their lives, James and Lucy have the benefit, such as it is, of experience; at the beginning of their potential story, Mark and Amanda find their lives no less blighted by momentous events. Continue reading “Review: Not Talking, Arcola”

Review: All My Sons, Rose Kingston

“That’s why there’s a God; otherwise anything can happen”

Arthur Miller’s titanic All My Sons has been well served in recent years – the late Howard Davies reviving his National Theatre production to stunning effect in 2010 and Michael Buffong illuminating it anew for Talawa Theatre in 2013 – so any new production has big boots to fill. And though seasoned director Michael Rudman comes with quite the track record (including a Tony for his work on Death of a Salesman in 1984), this production doesn’t quite howl with the anguish it could.

Part of the problem lies in Michael Taylor’s design which, whilst superficially impressive, works against the idiosyncratic space of the Rose Kingston and Rudman’s pacing negates far too much of the inherent tension in Miller’s depiction of the souring of the American Dream. So much comes from its slow-burning intensity that it is hard to believe that so many key moments get fudged, their drama fudged into melodrama or in some cases, just missing the beat entirely. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Rose Kingston”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

“Come, sit on me”

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow’s rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing.

The Winter’s Tale

And another, with Michelle Terry directing an almost painfully raw performance from Mariah Gale in Apothecaries Hall, her wounded Hermione breathtakingly good, especially with the strong contrast of the vibrant Yoruba production from the Globe II Globe festival.



As You Like It

A curiously low-key take here as Bryan Dick’s Touchstone and Marty Cruickshank’s Corin wander Belgium’s Ardennes Forest with a good deal more time devoted to the clips, in this case from Thea Sharrock’s interpretation of the play from 2009, with a stellar Naomi Frederick and Laura Rogers riding roughshod over Jack Laskey.

DVD Review: 102 Dalmatians

“Can you tell us how Cruella De Vil became plain Ella”

Cos you gotta have a sequel right? I really enjoyed revisiting 101 Dalmatians but remembered very little at all about the sequel that came 4 years later, even whether I’d actually seen it or not to be honest. 102 Dalmatians takes place three years after the original, Cruella De Vil having served her time in prison and undergone therapy to cure her of her tendency to have the fur off anyone’s back.

It just so happens that her parole officer Chloe loves dalmatians and is the owner of Dipstick, one of the original puppies, who has a family of his own with Dottie. So when Cruella’s treatment is reversed by the sound of Big Ben, because…you know…that’s how therapy works, she and her faithful manservant Alonzo are well-placed to recommence her fur coat-loving ways, this time aided and abetted by fashion designer Jean-Pierre LePelt.  Continue reading “DVD Review: 102 Dalmatians”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I did not think I should live till I were married”

In a brief programme note, Gregory Doran declares he’s “sticking his neck out” to suggest that Much Ado About Nothing may also have been known as Love’s Labour’s Won during Shakespeare’s lifetime and thus makes a novel yet inspired partnership with Love’s Labour’s Lost in an RSC double bill. Whether true or not is by and by in the end (though Shakespearean scholars will doubtless disagree) as Christopher Luscombe’s cross-cast productions combine to great effect as well as standing proud in their own right in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Where Love’s Labour’s Lost was set just before the outbreak of the Great War, Love’s Labour’s Won picks up English society as peace has finally been achieved and the Christmas of 1918 might at last be a merry one and from the outset, it feels like a more fitting interpretation. Beatrice’s independence of mind having been nurtured by the freedom of being able to work; Don John arriving as a soul-weary, battle-scarred PTSD sufferer; the rush of Claudio, Benedick, even Pedro to thoughts of marriage an emotional response to an unimaginably traumatic conflict – there’s a pleasing fit to it all. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way: we this way”

Always a fan of a project, the RSC have paired up Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – which they posit may have been once known as Love’s Labour’s Won – relocated the plays to an England either side of the First World War and let Christopher Luscombe loose at them with a single company, led by Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry. The RSC have hit on a cracker in uniting this pair, reuniting them in fact as they are RADA chums of old, with the wry looks and crackling tension between Berowne and Rosalind clear from the off.

A truly excellent comic actor, Bennett has the wonderful gift of always seeming on the verge of corpsing and for Berowne, it really works. The last to be co-opted into the King of Navarre’s aesthetic scheme of abstinence for him and three buddies, the first to point fingers when incriminating love poems start to appear once ladies arrive on the scene, Bennett shows us that this is a man well aware of the daftness of the enterprise he’s gotten swept up in. But he’s also an actor of much depth as he conveys the genuine sense of surprise that accompanies his own unexpected tumble head over heels and the crushing heartbreak of the play’s end. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Serious Money, Radio 3

“We will make a profit at the right time in the right place, with an smile on our very acceptable face”‘

Just a quickie for this Caryl Churchill adaptation. This most linguistically adept of playwrights is a natural fit for the radio, the focus able to settle on the unique way in which she is able to utilise the written word and in Serious Money, it is her use of rhyming couplets that gains real prominence in this medium. But it is her subject matter that really stands out and makes one wonder why a revival hasn’t been mounted recently. Set just after the Big Bang of 1986, Churchill explores the impact of deregulation on the financial markets, how it gave rise to a culture of dodgy high-stakes insider trading and in this case, set the scene for some particularly rapacious Third World exploitation.

Emma Harding’s adaptation gives brilliant life to this jargon-filled, profanity-fuelled world and whilst it may initially seem like a dizzying whirl of barely definable characters, a method to the madness becomes clear, one’s ear becomes accustomed to the poetic, yet shallow, language they speak, their mouths full of empty promises and worthless proclamations as they pursue the greedy mantra of the 1980s. There’s a murder too, but that hardly seems a major point in the end, we don’t even find out who did it but it matters not a jot. Continue reading “Review: Serious Money, Radio 3”

Short Film Review #17

Mockingbird

Sometimes, just sometimes, one of these films comes from nowhere to just punch in the guts with its downright amazingness yet simultaneously leaving unable to really articulate just why it is so. Joe Tunmer’s Mockingbird is such a film – achingly beautiful, gorgeously shot and infinitely moving. William Houston is extraordinary, Eliza Darby refreshingly appealing and there’s bonus Olivia Williams – what more do you want?!

Farrington

A 7 minute clip from Aneil Karia, Farrington is one of the funnier short films I’ve had the pleasure to watch recently. Robert Bathurst plays an investment banker named Henry who opts to take a wee career break to take part in a reality TV show where he will have 12 days to try and learn a whole new craft and convince a panel at the end that he is indeed a master of said skill. The joy comes from what that thing is and I won’t spoil it here, save to say it is refreshingly un-PC and leads to some cracking lines from the team of ‘experts’ set up to help, including Prasanna Puwanarajah and James Garnon. Definitely recommended.

Rover’s Return

The central idea of Rover’s Return – rich person pays someone to babysit their dearest love, who turns out to be a pet – and something goes horribly wrong – is not a new one – I’ve seen at least two other short films execute something similar. It’s clearly not a bad idea and who knows who had it first but coming in now for me, this version felt a little uninspired. Indira Varma is the high-flyer who is heading to Paris for a nookie-filled break and Andrea Lowe her junior colleague who is looking after the mutt in her absence. She’s inexperienced with dogs and predictably things go pear-shaped – it’s all a bit predictable and lacks any particularly unique facet to hook the attention, either in Oliver Ledwith’s direction or Patrick Ledwith’s script. 

The Honeymoon Suite

Possessed of an utterly gorgeous rasping voice, Alexis Zegerman is one of those actors I could listen to all day, but for her short film debut, The Honeymoon Suite, she opted to remain behind the camera. Lola Zidi-Rénier and Tim Key take on the role of a newly-wed Jewish couple who barely know each other, pushed together in some kind of arranged marriage and as they tumble into their hotel room after the ceremony, they get their first moment of quiet together, but it is the worst kind of awkward silence that fills the room. As they painfully tease out detail after detail about each other that seems to make them increasingly ill-suited together, they eventually find a tiny glimmer of hope that things might not be so bad after all. It is well done and nicely understated by all involved.

Veils

Another film funded by the Jewish Film Council is Dan Susman’s Veils, an insightful look into the Jewish/Palestinian conflict through the eyes of impending marriage for a Jewish girl and a Palestinian man in modern-day North London. As each prepare themselves on the wedding day, we see how the intransigent attitudes of some of their extended families are so strongly held that not even the joy of nuptial bliss can sway them, the difficulties of reconciliation laid bare in front of us as grandfather rejects grandson, family friends finding the most obscure of excuses not to attend. It is well-shot and cleverly structured too in the way that it teases the expectations. 

Review: Hysteria, Richmond Theatre

“This is a complete farce”

Terry Johnson’s 1993 play Hysteria garnered all sorts of awards for its original run at the Royal Court and this revival, from the Theatre Royal Bath, features Antony Sher in its leading role, so it is clearly a play that is held in some considerable regard. Set in the leafy Hampstead refuge where Sigmund Freud has sequestered himself as he battles cancer, his seclusion is interrupted by a series of visitors. Jessica, a mysterious young woman arrives, determined to have some of his time and seeking attention by stripping off her clothes, the subsequent arrivals of his elderly doctor Yahuda and then Salvador Dalí – Johnson was inspired by a real life meeting between the pair – leads to much slapstick comedy as Freud tries to hide the naked Jessica. But the real reasons for their visits are more serious and the play evolves into something much more complex. 

Structurally though, it poses challenges as the mix of high-concept verbosity and low-rent humour is not always a comfortable one. Jessica’s presence, which sparks off the chain of farcical shenanigans – which, if you find the sight of a man in his underpants generally hilarious, you might like –subsequently becomes the vehicle for the playwright’s delving into the much more cerebral. The ethics of psychotherapy are interrogated as Freud’s own case histories come under the microscope, matters of Jewish identity explored as the Blitz rains down outside and the spectre of the Holocaust looms ever large, but the farce still remains, an uneasy bedfellow in the superstructure of the play. The comedy never advances the action, in fact the reverse is true: the play essentially stops to let these scenes play out, resulting in a first half which is close to 90 minutes. They never feel like a fully incorporated part of the writing. Continue reading “Review: Hysteria, Richmond Theatre”