Review: The Greatest Wealth, Old Vic

Paying tribute to the NHS in its 70th year, the specially-commissioned monologues of The Greatest Wealth made for a great night at the Old Vic

“It’s a wonderful idea
It’s a marvellous idea
It’s such a very good idea”

It’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be here but for the NHS – it changed my life as a young boy, it saved my life as a teenager who didn’t look both ways. A story I imagine which finds resonance with so very many of us in the UK but as this venerable institution marks its 70th birthday, it finds itself under siege more than ever. So what better time to reflect on what has been, what is and what yet might be for our National Health Service.

Curated by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Adrian Lester, The Greatest Wealth took the form of a series of specially-commissioned world-premiere monologues, each responding to a particular decade of the NHS’s existence. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has become an integral part of the social and economic fabric of the nation, it proved a varied and thoughtful evening.

Continue reading “Review: The Greatest Wealth, Old Vic”

Review: King Lear, Minerva

“He hath always but slightly, known himself”

As I wrote when the full cast was first announced, “the world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting”. And now that the time has come to trek over to Chichester Festival Theatre to catch Ian McKellen revisiting a role he has already been most renowned for playing, you’re left in awe once again at the luxuries casting director Anne McNulty has brought to bear in Jonathan Munby’s modern-dress and modern-spirited production.

Chief among them is Sinéad Cusack’s Kent. It’s a casting decision that deserves the emphasis for Chichester has long been a venue where female representation has struggled across the board and though it is still early days yet for Daniel Evans’ tenure here, any steps are welcome. Tamara Lawrance as Cordelia is another example and a powerful contrast too. Where Cusack brings all her experience to bear as a superbly nuanced Kent (whose disguising gains real resonance), Lawrance brings a freshness of spirit to her most compassionate reading of Lear’s youngest daughter.

Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Minerva”

Casting for Chichester’s King Lear announced

“Reason not the need”

The world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting (all credit to casting director Anne McNulty here). Jonathan Munby’s production had already announced Ian McKellen as part of the ensemble (teasing an interesting casting breakdown that didn’t actually come to anything) but that’s a small niggle in what is otherwise some excellent news.

  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Dervla Kirwan, Kirsty Bushell and Tamara Lawrance as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
  • Jonathan Bailey and Damien Molony as Edgar and Edmund
  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Michael Matus (Oswald), Dominic Mafham (Albany) and Patrick Robinson (Cornwall) in there as well
  • Danny Webb as Gloucester
  • Did I mention Sinéad Cusack as Kent?
  • I can take or leave Phil Daniels as the Fool but he may well surprise.

Tickets are all sold out so you might want to monitor regularly for returns or hope for the transfer which one suspects is already in the making.

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010

“Because your song is ending, sir…It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then… He will knock four times.”

Cos he’s special, David Tennant got to spread his farewell over 4 specials from Christmas 2008 to New Year 2010, and as this also marked Russell T Davies’ departure from the show, the stories start off grand and rise to operatic scales of drama by the time we hit the megalithic The End of Time. That finale works well in its quieter moments but does suffer a little from an overabundance of plot and whatnot. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are good value for money romps but it is The Waters of Mars and all its attendant darkness that stands out most, teasing all the complex arrogance of a God-figure gone wrong. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010”

Review: the first half of Mr Foote’s Other Leg, Hampstead

“Once more unto the breeches”

Such is the power of Simon Russell Beale that Mr Foote’s Other Leg sold out its run at the Hampstead Theatre before it had even opened and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of a West End transfer before too long, given the very good reviews I suspect it will get. So I’m setting out my stall now and saying that whilst it is good, I don’t think it is that good – indeed my companion for the evening found it sufficiently insufferable to demand we leave at the interval.

Beale plays Samuel Foote, an Oscar Wilde or Stephen Fry-like figure in Georgian London whose stock has risen in society to make him quite famous. But as things go up, so too must they come down and Ian Kelly’s play, based on his own biography of Foote, finds a connection with the modern obsession with celebrities and how their downfall is often celebrated as much as their success. From backstage at theatres to the heights of the Royal Society and indeed royal society, Foote soon finds out what happens when the shoe is on the other foot. Continue reading “Review: the first half of Mr Foote’s Other Leg, Hampstead”

Re-review: The Weir, Wyndham’s

“Such a small thing. But a huge thing”

The Donmar’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir was an undoubted success last year and so the news of a West End transfer into the Wyndham’s was hardly too surprising. Josie Rourke has kept her cast of five intact for this stunningly effective piece of drama which has been grandly hailed as one of the all-time great modern classics. Who knows whether that much is true, but a return visit did confirm it as one of the most highly-rated plays I saw last year (review here).

What I was interested to see was how it stood up to a second viewing. Many of the critics this time round approached the revival having seen the original run back in 1997 and so viewing it from that prism clearly had an effect on how they received it (more four stars than five), but I have to say I adored being able to revisit the play. Able to breathe much more this time as the suspense was much less, I was able to take in the wash of beautiful language that ebbs and flows through this rural Irish pub.

Having seen it at the Donmar, one might miss the thrilling intimacy of that studio space, but Tom Scutt’s design rises to the occasion of the larger West End house – filling the stage effectively yet still drawing the audience in so that we too might be sat on a bar stool, tearing up beer mats and telling a tale or two to pass the time by and impress the newcomer. And I’ve not much more to say than you really should go and see it if you haven’t done so already. A pitch-perfect cast in a pitch-perfect production.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Helen Warner
Booking until 19th April

 

DVD Review: The Flint Street Nativity

 “Who put Jesus in with the iguana?”

Much more fun than traditional takes on the Nativity is Tim Firth’s The Flint Street Nativity (which I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing until now) which is utterly charming and heart-warmingly British in the best possible way. Firth’s conceit is to have adults playing children, hardly the most original of ideas, but as the pupils of this infant class put on a chaotic performance of the Christmas story complete with onstage squabbles and backstage power struggles, we see how the turbulence of their home lives is played out in their interactions with their schoolmates.

It is beautifully done, and sensitively played throughout. It never stops being funny – particularly as Dervla Kirwan’s determined Jaye plots and schemes to usurp Josie Lawrence’s Debbie Bennett as Mary – as playground rituals dominate proceedings. There’s the endless procession of ever-changing best friends, the relentless goading of the one who always says “dares ya” to the more susceptible kids, the terror of the boy with the stammer, the terrifying rough kid, the bossy know-it-all, the teacher whose patience wears ever thinner with each crisis. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Flint Street Nativity”

Review: The Weir, Donmar Warehouse

“And the barman asked if I was alright”

It is interesting how the experience of one play can shape attitudes towards a playwright and for me, it was 2011’s The Veil which completely turned me off Conor McPherson to the point where I really wasn’t keen to be seeing any more of his plays. It’s not even as if The Veil was that bad but it was hard work and that thought has lingered strongly, to the point where I really wasn’t too keen on seeing the Donmar’s revival of the The Weir, especially since the venue has been far from a must-see place in recent times. But an irresistible opportunity to see it was dangled in front of me and I took it, and as is so often the case with low expectations, I had an absolutely cracking evening in the theatre.

Josie Rourke’s production is just sensational. Creatively, Tom Scutt’s design is perfectly, realistically detailed right down to the packets of bacon fries on the wall (though I always preferred the scampi ones myself) and Neil Austin’s lighting subtly graduates throughout the show to take us through the light and shade of the changing moods. And the casting is pitch-perfect, bringing together five Irish actors at the top of their game and combining to hauntingly fantastic effect in the rural bar room in which the play is set. Continue reading “Review: The Weir, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Minerva

“I could have been a Dostoevsky”

Opening the season for Chichester’s 2012 Festival, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary no less, is Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Roger Allam stars in Jeremy Herrin’s production in the Minerva studio, which utilises a translation by Michael Frayn but given that it is barely a week since I saw and adored The Print Room’s production of the same play, the bar was raised really quite high for this one. But setting productions up against each other achieves little and though my preferences ended up in West London rather than West Sussex, one can appreciate that perhaps they are attuned to different audiences.

Chekhov’s tale of a man who has spent most of his working life as the steward of his late sister’s Russian country estate but is thrown into inconsolable desolation at the realisation that he may well have wasted his life in servitude. The gloomy atmosphere pervades to encompass all the residents of the house and matters are exacerbated with the arrival of ex-brother-in-law Serebryakov, with his glamorous, much younger wife Yelena. His plans and her presence rouses the beginnings of some response but lifetimes of inaction and repression prove hard to shake off for all concerned. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Minerva”