Review: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Despite the sharpness and cleverness of the writing which at times is bitingly funny, does Venus in Furs go far enough to not be part of the #MeToo problem itself?

“It’s a serious novel. It’s a central text of world literature.
‘Basically it’s S&M porn'”

What a charged moment for Venus in Fur to open into. As the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein revelations continues to reverberate around social media and perhaps even society at large, a play about the sexual dynamic between an actress and and a director and the erotic power play that emerges out of her audition feels…challenging. Intriguingly written, thought-provokingly staged and superbly acted, it nevertheless left something niggling at me.

David Ives’ play was extremely well received off- and on-Broadway at the beginning of this decade and it has a tricksy cleverness to its meta-textual construction and surfeit of theatrical in-jokes. A brash young playwright has spent a long day auditioning for his adaptation of Venus in Furs, an 1869 novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who literally put the masochism in S&M. Arriving late and swearing like a trooper, Vanda pleads for the chance to be heard but as an eventual audition becomes a read-through, little is as it seems. Continue reading “Review: Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Over in Canary Wharf, The Space Theatre might not necessarily be one that is on the radar of many London theatregoers but the announcement of their summer season ought to tempt the theatrically curious out East as it is full of goodies, not least a revival of Mike Bartlett’s excellent Contractions.

Find a selection of some of productions that have caught my eye below

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

Continue reading “2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre

“I suppose his…fortune had some bearing”

The choice to adapt Jane Austen’s endlessly popular novel Pride and Prejudice for the stage, as Simon Reade as done for this version at Regents Park’s Open Air Theatre, may well be one universally acknowledged as a good business decision. And whilst it may naturally lose some of the linguistic acuity that characterises the best of Austen’s work and provide a stately and solid, rather than superlative, piece of theatre, Deborah Bruce’s production has an undeniable elegance and a rather irresistible charm that many may find hard to resist.

There are few surprises in Reade’s adaptation apart from the skill with which he has compressed and filleted the story, so that it keeps an entirely recognisable shape, populated by all the well-loved characters doing what they do best, over the 2 and three quarter hour running time. Daughters of a country gentleman who hasn’t quite kept up his responsibilities to them and a mother all-too-keen to sort them our, the five Bennett sisters find themselves in need of securing their position in society in the only way they can, through marriage.  Continue reading “Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”

Review: Three Farces, Orange Tree Theatre

“But that’s the cupboard in which Aunt Dinah keeps her preserves and pickles…”

I have always something of an uneasy relationship with farce: it has never been a form of theatre that I’ve much enjoyed though I have tried repeatedly, A Flea In Her Ear, Once Bitten also at the Orange Tree, and most recently One Man Two Guvnors which has won over many new fans if not myself, something about the determination of audiences to laugh loud and long right from the start turns me off and it is often the case that that divide from those around you is extremely difficult to overcome through the play’s duration. But I am one to suffer nobly for my art and so the journey was made once more to the Orange Tree is Richmond to see not one, not two, but Three Farces by John Maddison Morton.

Director Henry Bell and editor Colin Chambers have pulled together 3 short pieces by Morton, a Victorian playwright who has largely fallen from favour and received little attention despite being well acclaimed by Kenneth Tynan, representing different facets of his writing (he wrote over 125 plays) which borrowed from the strong French tradition of farce but also incorporated an English sensibility which works extremely well and made this a more enjoyable evening at the theatre than I had anticipated. Much of this is due to the wonderfully warm staging which eases us in with a great opening introductory sequence (which quite frankly all theatres should employ) led by Daniel Cheyne’s impish and ukulele-bearing Master of Ceremonies and the frequent acknowledgement of the audience that reminds us of its origins as theatre for the masses in a time of great social change. Continue reading “Review: Three Farces, Orange Tree Theatre”