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.

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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.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #4

“Come now, what masques”

With 37 films to work through and no need to do them all in one weekend as the Complete Walk was originally designed, I’m rather enjoying working my merry way through them at my own pace. First, second and third sets of film can be found here. 

Given how many Dreams I’ve seen this year, it’s a little surprising that A Midsummer Night’s Dream can still surprise me but such is the enduring beauty of the play. Nikki Amuka-Bird and David Caves take on Hippolyta and Theseus in the stately surrounding of Wilton House in the English countryside in Wiltshire, done with a romance here by Rebecca Gatward that is rarely seen these days. The flip to the brilliantly feisty pairing of John Light and Michelle Terry’s Oberon and Titania (from the 2013 Globe version which ranks as myall-time favourite) is vibrant, but it’s gorgeous to go back to the further developing of an unexpected tenderness between two characters who rarely receive it. A snippet of Pearce Quigley‘s Bottom is a bonus but it is Caves and Amuka-Bird who are the bees knees here.

Going to the ruins of Juliet’s Tomb itself (‘twas a room in a monastery) in Verona, and constantly switching with a second location (perhaps said room in a modern setting), Dromgoole’s Romeo and Juliet becomes extraordinarily powerful. Jessie Buckley’s final speech is just heartbreaking, really quite hauntingly affecting. Luke Thompson’s Romeo doesn’t quite hit the same heights but it’s still a beautiful encapsulation of the play.

Re-uniting father and daughter Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce from Jonathan Munby’s achingly moving production at the Globe in 2015, this rendering of The Merchant of Venice has the special opportunity of carrying its main actor from the staged to the filmed version, also by Munby. The swaggering demands of Dominic Mafham’s Antonio give way to the quiet confrontation between Shylock and a soon-to-depart Jessica, given real piquancy by being filmed in The Jewish Ghetto in Venice. Munby then goes for the greatest hits of the play, fitting in the ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ and then Portia’s ‘quality of mercy’, but it is the subtle interplay between father and daughter in the Venetian half-light that sticks in the mind.

Review: Linda, Royal Court

“What does getting older mean for a woman?”

There was a point in this performance of Linda where Noma Dumezweni’s eponymous character made an actual risotto, and a bowl of pasta and a sauce for her fussy daughter, all whilst performing script in hand and still somehow ruling the stage of the Royal Court. She was on-book because she was a very last minute replacement for Kim Cattrall (who withdrew on medical advice with just two rehearsals left) but even in this short space of time, there’s a magisterial sense of character brimming from this finest of actors (who’s also preparing for her directorial debut early next year in the upstairs theatre!)

And demonstrating just how capable she is fits in perfectly with Skinner’s larger themes – Linda Wilde is a 55 year old determined not to slip quietly into the background as society suggests, and expects, older women should (apart from Helen Mirren that is…). A marketing guru at a top beauty firm, married to the pleasant Neil and mother to two daughters Alice and Bridget, she’s been spinning the various plates of her life successfully for some time now but the centre of gravity in her world has shifted imperceptibly, forcing a reckoning all around. Continue reading “Review: Linda, Royal Court”

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

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Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I will not hear thee speak; I’ll have my bond”

Following the exceptional Rupert Goold/RSC adaptation which played the Almeida over Christmas, it seemed a brave decision for the Globe to also lead their 2015 season with The Merchant of Venice but Jonathan Munby’s production proves to be just as revelatory, albeit in a completely different way. With Jonathan Pryce making his debut here at this venue, accompanied by his daughter Phoebe no less, it is no surprise that his beautifully realised Shylock is at the heart of the show here but it is also good to see Jessica (played by Pryce junior, natch) also take her turn in the spotlight.

In some ways, this echoes the Al Pacino version, showing us how Jessica is cruelly caught in the middle – torn between duty to her father and her Jewish faith, and the delight that a genuine love match with Ben Lamb’s Christian Lorenzo brings to her life. This conflict is fiercely felt – she argues ferociously in Yiddish with her father but there’s no doubting the haunting anguish of the production’s end, her Hebrew lament powerfully affecting as Shylock faces yet another disgrace as we’re reminded that – even if she has shunned him – it is still a familial bond being sundered here. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Short Film Review #59

Toilets from Gabriel Bisset-Smith on Vimeo.
Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s Toilets is a great twist on your average rom-com, focusing on the people that just pop into your life every now and again but leaving such lasting impressions that one always wonders what if… For George, it is the American Fee who is his recurring theme, always appearing when he’s in the middle of something with his almost-out lesbian friend Link, and these fleeting moments are brilliantly conceived. Centring these encounters around conveniences is a neat way of linking them and the common threads of sex, drugs and dance music add an entertaining edge to this almost-love story.

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Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

DVD Review: The Queen’s Sister

 “You will not menace the House of Windsor”

Lucy Cohu has the dubious pleasure of being one of the few women I would probably turn for,  she radiates an old-school glamour and sensuality that I find near-irresistable and I’ve loved the few stage performances of hers I have been able to catch (Speaking in Tongues, Broken Glass and A Delicate Balance). So I was quite happy to take in the Channel 4 television movie The Queen’s Sister, in which she took the lead role of Princess Margaret, in the name of the Jubilee Weekend 😉

It’s a semi-fictionalised account of her life by Craig Warner (although knowing so little of the reality, I couldn’t have told you what was real and what wasn’t) which focuses on her struggles against the establishment as she followed a life of largely wanton hedonism and leaving a trail of paramours behind her. Whether her previously married lover whom she was forbidden from wedding, the long-suffering husband prone to infidelity, the young pop singer who offers a faint hope of redemption, her relentless partying, fondness of always having a drink in her hand and general spoiltness consistently makes life difficult for herself.
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Review: Ethan Frome, Radio 4

“He felt like he was in another world”

And so my delving into the world of radio drama continues with this adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novella Ethan Frome. Serialised on Radio 4’s Woman Hour as was Possession, this didn’t appear to get the omnibus treatment so I had to listen to it in 15 minute chunks, but by leaving it until it had finished, I was able to listen to them all in one night. To be honest, I find the idea of listening to a part a day quite odd especially as they’re only 15 minutes long, but then the whole world of listening to the radio is alien to me and it obviously works well for them 😉

Ethan Frome is perhaps not as well known as Wharton’s other works such as The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, but actually contains the most autobiographical detail as it took large inspiration from her own sexless marriage and ensuing passionate affair with a younger man. (The story of which is covered in the accompanying Saturday play The Jinx Element which I’ll be listening to next.) And Lin Coghlan’s dramatisation plays on this by making Edith Wharton, voiced here by the incomparable Fenella Woolgar, the narrator of the story. Continue reading “Review: Ethan Frome, Radio 4”