Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

TV Review: The Split, BBC1 (Episode 1)

All hail the return of Nicola Walker to our TV screens in new Abi Morgan drama The Split

“Divorce shouldn’t be easy”

Just a quickie to cover the first episode of this new legal drama which looks extremely promising, not least because of a swooningly wonderful cast. The aforementioned Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Fiona Button as sisters, the ever-marvellous Deborah Findlay as their fearsome mother, people like Stephen Tompkinson and Meera Syal as clients, hunky Dutchmen like Barry Atsma looming on the sidelines, and the likes Rudi Dharmalingam and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith also on the fringes. 

Photograph: Mark Johnson/BBC/Sister Pictures

2017 Oscars – pre-ceremony thoughts

“For whatever reason, he spared a hamster”

When you see as much theatre as I do, it can be difficult to keep up to date with cinematic releases – if I have a night off, I rarely want to spend it in a dark room… – but I have tried my best this year to see at least some of the Oscar-nominated films, so that I can chip in once they’ve been distributed in a way that will doubtless cause some controversy or other.

Continue reading “2017 Oscars – pre-ceremony thoughts”

Re-review: Escaped Alone, Royal Court

Image result for escaped alone royal court

“I’m walking down the street and there’s a door in the fence open and inside there are three women I’ve seen before”

There’s something delicious about seeing the Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone return to the Royal Court before heading out to New York and then a UK tour. It’s also testament to James MacDonald’s production that the quartet of actors who originated their parts have all returned – Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson, marvels every one.

I ranked the play as the fourth best thing that I saw last year and though I don’t always like to go back to things I enjoyed (in case it sullies the memory), I wanted to treat myself to this again. And I’m glad I did, for the layered complexity of Churchill’s writing allows for re-appreciation and indeed re-interpretation. My original review holds true but given the way the world has lurched closer to apocalypse (literally so, apparently), the play’s contrast between Doomsday and the domestic feels ever more poignant and pertinent.

Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 11th February, then touring 15 – 26 Feb BAM, New York; 7 – 11 March The Lowry, Salford; 14- 18 March Cambridge Arts Theatre; 22 – 26 March Bristol Old Vic

 

Review: The Children, Royal Court

“At our time of life, we simply cannot deal with this shit”

It’s interesting to see the things that make ruffles in the theatrical establishment and those which pass by without comment. Vicky Featherstone’s reign at the Royal Court has not been without its uneven moments but the fact that The Children will be followed on the main stage by the return of Escaped Alone is indicative both of the daring nature of her programming in forefronting stories about older people, and also its success.

Lucy Kirkwood’s new play further ups the ante in making her protagonists sexual beings, her trio of retired scientists are battling not only the fallout from nuclear disaster but from the collision of their emotional lives. Nearly 40 years ago, Hazel and Rose were rivals for Robin and the play opens with the two women seeing each other for the first time since then. It’s a stilted, strange encounter, further complicated by Robin’s arrival.  Continue reading “Review: The Children, Royal Court”

DVD Review: Suite Française (2015)

 “Be careful… with your life”

Irène Némirovsky’s novel Suite Française has one of those origin stories you’d scarcely believe if you read it in a novel itself. In 1942, Ukrainian-Jewish Némirovsky was deported from the France where she had lived more than half her life, having written two parts of an intended sequence of five novels in the previous couple of years. She spent time at Pithiviers and then Auschwitz where she was murdered, leaving notebooks with family members who could not bring themselves to look at them until they were to be donated to a museum whereupon they were amazed to find complete novels as opposed to mere scribblings – thus Suite Française was published in 2004 to considerable acclaim. 

And where such stories go, film must follow and so a movie adaptation made its way to cinemas in 2015, directed by Saul Dibb and co-written with Matt Charman. Suite Française follows life in a village outside of Paris in the first few months of occupation in 1940 and as with several of the films I’ve watched recently, concerns itself with the lack of moral clarity at that time, refusing to depict the world in black and white with choices made easy with hindsight, but rather investigating the realities of living through such a time of crisis and the lengths to which people will go to to survive. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suite Française (2015)”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Next week sees the 9th Gay Art Festival GFEST start, an eclectic showcase of art, films, and performance work by LGBTQI artists from London, UK and beyond. There’s all sorts to choose from – full details here – with this year’s theme being OUT [in the Margins] and some of the things piquing my interest are European films Jonathan and Brothers of the Night, at Rich Mix and Arthouse Crouch End respectively, and trans documentary The Pearl on at Rich Mix on 15th November. You might be interested in their performance night at the RADA Studio on the 19th November too, a 2 hour double bill of LGBTQI music and dance narratives. Visit their website at www.gaywisefestival.org.uk.
 

One of the more exciting pieces of casting news was the announcement that the original cast of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone – the glorious Deborah Findlay, Linda Bassett, Kika Markham, and June Watson, will be reuniting for the show’s revival early next year. Escaped Alone (my review here) will play a short run in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs 25 January – 11 February 2017, skip over the Atlantic for a wee run at BAM Harvey Theater, New York starting on 15 February and then returns to the UK to go on a national tour 7 March – 26 March to The Lowry, Salford Quays; Cambridge Arts Theatre and Bristol Old Vic.

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

Review: Escaped Alone, Royal Court

“I have to believe them
It has to be someone I believe
I have to believe they’re not just saying it
I have to believe they know…”

After the divisive triptych of Here We Go, we now get a second brand new play from Caryl Churchill in the form of Escaped Alone. And rather brilliantly for a venue now unafraid to shake the rafters about received notions about women in theatre (and society) under Vicky Featherstone’s leadership (cf this interview, outgoing play Linda), it stars four women of great experience, their combined acting on stage and screen adding up to over 170 years – a fact that shouldn’t be remarkable in itself but sadly, still is. 

Trying to come up with a précis of ‘what happens’ is difficult at the best of times with Churchill’s plays and Escaped Alone is no different. Suffice to say, Sally (Deborah Findlay), Lena (Kika Markham), and Vi (June Watson) play three friends enjoying a cup of tea in Miriam Buether’s highly naturalistic back garden set when neighbour Mrs Jarrett (Linda Bassett) pops along to join them. What follows is a sharing of stories, personal and political, private revelations and public address.  Continue reading “Review: Escaped Alone, Royal Court”