Review: Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

“We have just elected our first African-American President
‘Let’s see what happens in the long run…'”

It is tempting to think that this revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 2009 play Apologia was mooted simply so that the above line could get the laughs it richly deserves for its prescience. As it is, Jamie Lloyd has fashioned it into the vehicle that has tempted Stockard Channing back into the West End for the first time in 25 years or so (although she did make it to the Almeida in for Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing). 

Perhaps the word should be refashioned, as the play has been subtly adapted to make its central character an American (I find myself entirely intrigued about the process of this happening – rewrites over accents) but what a character she is. Kristin Miller is celebrating both the publication of a memoir about her career as an eminent art historian and her birthday but gathering folk around the dinner table proves far from a game of happy families. Continue reading “Review: Apologia, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Thérèse Raquin, Theatre Royal Bath

 
“I am yours. Do what you want with me”

It is clearly the moment for Thérèse Raquin– a stage adaptation in Bath (and touring to Malvern and Cambridge), the Finborough’s musical version transferring to the Park Theatre, and a film of the story also hitting our cinemas recently. Émile Zola’s 1867 novel heralded a new world of naturalism in literature in its focus on mood rather than character and has remained an enduring classic, hence this confluence of versions now and a cheeky trip to the penultimate show of the run at the gorgeous Theatre Royal Bath.

Reflecting Zola’s intent, Jonathan Munby’s direction is highly theatrical and brings a powerful lyricism to the stage, bringing in Ann Yee to provide a fluid movement style that is near-balletic and which captures the yearning spirit perfectly – in a world where so much is unsaid, body language becomes ever more eloquent. And Helen Edmundson’s version emphasises Thérèse’s elemental connection to the water and the fevered eroticism that takes her over, unutterably disrupting her world as sex, murder and self-destruction come a-knocking to liven up her dull life forcibly married to her cousin in the Parisian backstreets. Continue reading “Review: Thérèse Raquin, Theatre Royal Bath”

DVD Review: Northanger Abbey (2007)

“What could be a more innocent or harmless pastime than reading”

Another of Austen’s novels that I haven’t quite gotten round to reading, Northanger Abbey was thus a brand new beast to me and so something of a queer little thing. Its mixture of naïve girlishness and gothic fantasy is winsomely portrayed by Felicity Jones as the ingenuish Catherine Morland and the ever-so-handsome JJ Field as Henry Tilney, but I found it very hard to get into the story or really care for it.

It’s always nice to see Sylvestra Le Touzel, here a friend of the family who introduces the book-obsessed Catherine into Bath society with her husband, the equally kindly Desmond Barrit, and Carey Mulligan is surprisingly fresh as the spirited Isabella. But the use of Geraldine James’ voice as a narrator in the form of Jane Austen herself sits a little oddly and altogether, this was one of my least favourite films in this whole exercise.

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Hang the trifle, woman”

I think I only made it Stratford once last year, partly a consequence of so much of the RSC’s work playing in London as part of one festival or another, but once the casting was announced for The Merry Wives of Windsor, I knew I would be making the trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre once again. This production of Shakespeare’s comedy of middle-class trials and tribulations is in modern dress but the reference point is closer to the British sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s and as with many of those television shows, it has its high points and its low points.

Alexandra Gilbreath and Sylvestra Le Touzel were thankfully the production’s highlight as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively. I’ve long been a devotee of Gilbreath and she remains an utter joy to watch on the stage. Superficially she’s something of an Essex wife here but we soon see the playful intelligence that lies behind the animal print and there’s much to enjoy as she deploys her flirtatious verve and feminine wiles – her final costume nearly converted me I tell you. And the contrast against Le Touzel is well worked: though a doughtier figure born of country life, they make believable firm friends and there’s a lovely constancy to the emotiveness with which she speaks, she touches the heart just as effectively as she tickles the ribs. Continue reading “Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC 1996)

“Thou art translated”

Perhaps at the time, this 1996 RSC adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Adrian Noble was revolutionary in the way it reconceives the action of Shakespeare’s play, but to today’s eyes or at least mine in particular, it now feels rather hokey and dated. I suspect as well that something may have been lost in the translation from stage to screen as too often, the abiding vibe of this production was closer to a cheap music video.

It didn’t help that I disliked the opening conceit, and one that was carried through the whole show, of this being a figment of a young boy’s imagination, inspired by a book he’s reading. I could have lived with it had it just been at the beginning but the boy is a constant presence, we’re forever following his movements as we shift from scene to scene, but he has no real role in the show, no interaction with the characters and so it just becomes this clumsy device that continually rears its head. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC 1996)”

Re-Review: The Habit of Art, National Theatre

“I don’t prey on boys…”

Given how much theatre I like to get to see, it is very rare that I go to see plays for a second time, much less those with which I wasn’t wholly enamoured first time round, but circumstances conspired to get me back to the Lyttleton with an old friend from far away to see Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art. The show has returned with a new cast for a brief residency here before a nationwide tour, taking in 9 cities in the UK.

You can read my thoughts on the original production here but I’ll quickly recap here for you. Through an imagined meeting between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten, Bennett’s canvas covers a huge range of issues, the nature of creativity and what to do when the inspiration stops, following these two artists dealing with their homosexuality and growing old in their own ways. It also looks at the ethics of biography, the role of the National Theatre and the generation of all kinds of arts, so weighty stuff! When it works it is brilliant, but it must be said there are also times when it doesn’t quite click. Continue reading “Re-Review: The Habit of Art, National Theatre”