DVD Review: The Ghost

“Well don’t tell me you’re going to read it now”

Roman Polanski’s The Ghost, retitled The Ghost Writer in the rest of the world, may have been released in 2010 but remains as powerfully pertinent and indeed politically relevant as ever. Based on the Robert Harris novel of the same name, Ewan McGregor’s nameless protagonist is employed by former British PM Adam Lang, a slippery Pierce Brosnan, to finish his memoirs at the Martha’s Vineyard residence where he’s staying with his wife Ruth, an excellent Olivia Williams.

The task in hand is made more complicated though when Lang is indicted for potential war crimes in collusion with the US administration and the writer is forced to live in-house, where his tentative investigations into Lang’s career uncover conspiracy after conspiracy. The parallels with Tony Blair are clear but not overworked and Polanski’s delivery of a tense thriller with a strong narrative is superlatively done here. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ghost”

Review: Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The lady’s a wit”

As a director, Jessica Swale has proved herself one of the finest at reinvigorating Restoration comedies and as a writer, has demonstrated a clear interest in illuminating tales of historical women so it is only right that her latest play for the Globe combines these two worlds in a heady rush of delightfully comic theatre. Directed by Christopher Luscombe, Nell Gwynn brings to life an ultimate rags-to-riches tale of an East End orange-seller who became a long-time mistress to King Charles II, also finding the time to become the most famous actress of the era along the way, a vital and vibrant part of theatre history. 

The Globe proves itself to be an ideal venue for a show about the theatre and from the moment Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s wonderfully self-possessed Gwynn first calls out from the audience in amongst the groundlings, we’re just as smitten with her as Jay Taylor’s Charles Hart, the leading man du jour who sweeps her under his wing from where she blossoms into the leading performer of their company, ruffling a fair few feathers along the way, especially once she attracts royal attention and discovers matters of heart are also now matters of geopolitics in one of the play’s most striking and amusing scenes.  Continue reading “Review: Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The White Devil, Swan

“Sum up my faults, I pray”

It feels a bit of a shame that one of the centrepieces of the RSC’s Roaring Girls season is a play that doesn’t manage gender parity in its cast, even with some cross-gender casting. This may speak of the nature of Jacobean Theatre, for it is Webster’s The White Devil of which we speak here, but Maria Aberg’s reputation precedes her and so it was a little disappointing to see that the opportunity hasn’t been seized here – if not now, then when?
 

And though I’d heard such great things about this production, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed here. Part of lies in the play itself – I can’t deny that I just don’t really like it and though it is updated to the debauchery of the 1980s Rome club scene here, the messy chaos of the pursuit of naked self-interest that proves Aberg’s main focus dominates too much and often to the detriment of the storytelling. Continue reading “Review: The White Devil, Swan”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre

“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are”

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more notorious plays, The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a long and varied performance history as productions seek to try to present this difficult tale of female subservience in a way that is acceptable to audiences. It has proved trickier though in modern times to square the misogynistic circle and so directors often find themselves upping the innovative ante to unearth interpretations which will prove satisfyingly revelatory. What this often means in practice though is that a high concept is adopted which offers insight into part of the story whilst the rest is left straining to fit in. Lucy Bailey is the latest to try and tame the Shrew here for the RSC in a production which has played a season in Stratford and is now on a short tour of the UK, currently here in Richmond.

The angle that she chooses to focus on is the Induction, the framing device that sets the story in its context – this is all just a performance being put on by a rowdy bunch of friends to delude the drunken fool Christopher Sly. Sly – a bumptious revealing turn from Nick Holder – is kept on stage throughout most of the first half and in some ways, this almost convinces us that what we are watching is but a drunken fantasy. But he is gradually phased out of the show, and so the apparent importance of being reminded that this isn’t real is stripped away and the second half played largely straight as a story that suddenly is to be taken more seriously. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Dirty Dancing, Aldwych

Much of the trumpeting around the arrival of the stage adaptation of the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing has been around its sensational advance box office takings, apparently the biggest in West End history. The film obviously holds a strong cachet amongst the 30-somethings who flocked to the cinema first time round, but I only hope that they emerge from the Aldwych theatre less appalled and dumb-founded than I that this has made it to the West End.

For those who aren’t aware, Dirty Dancing is a coming-of-age story, following the 17 year old Baby Houseman who is spending a family holiday in 1963 at a Butlins-type resort in upstate New York. She discovers love in the staff quarters there, her eye being particularly caught by the muscle-bound dance teacher Johnny. Continue reading “Review: Dirty Dancing, Aldwych”