August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aka the Sheridan Smith show
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

TV Review: Harlots Series 1

The best TV show you haven’t heard about? Harlots just might be it!

“When the time comes, I hope your quim splits”

I suppose that it is good that we have so many more options for good television to be made these days. The flipside to that is that it can be harder to keep track of it all. Harlots is fricking fantastic, a hugely enjoyable and high quality drama but airing on ITV Encore (and Hulu in the US),  it has languished in the doldrums of the unfairly unheralded.

A glance at the castlist shows you how much of a waste this is. Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville at the head, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hugh Skinner and Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting, Fenella Woolgar, Danny Sapani and Kate Fleetwood popping up now and again too. This is luxury stuff and yet criminally few know about it. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 1”

Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre

Robert Icke adapts Ibsen to create a vividly powerful The Wild Duck at the Almeida – stunning work

Henrik Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck in 1884

The Wild Duck may be a nineteenth century play but this is most definitely at twenty-first century adaptation, Robert Icke continuing his astonishing strike-rate of Almeida successes with yet another. This time it is Ibsen under the microscope but a mark of Icke’s seemingly endless invention is that his approach here repeats little of what he’s done before.

So a scalpel-sharp play about truth and lies becomes refracted through the truth and lies in Ibsen’s own life, the parallels between his own illegitimate issue and Hedwig’s situation brought into the light. The first half sees this done through meta-theatrical interjections, house lights up and actors commenting on the action as much as acting itself.  Continue reading “Review: The Wild Duck, Almeida Theatre”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Everything in extremity”

It’s something of a shame that the shadow of Emma Rice’s torrid experience as AD of the Globe looms large over her second (and final) season there. The opening production in the ‘Summer of Love’ is Daniel Kramer’s Romeo and Juliet and following Rice’s lead, it is bold and brash, full of light and sound, and the kind of ferocious energy that you can easily imagine raising the hackles once again of those influential precious few.

And as such, it’s a production that encapsulates the wide-ranging issues of such a radical approach. With its YMCA dance routines and clown make-up, dinosaur costumes and middle-aged lovers, Kramer clearly has no problem in roughing up Shakespeare. And it’s no secret that the Bard can take it, one of the smartest innovations here is to run scenes in parallel – the marriage is intercut with the deaths that doom it, action and reaction played out simultaneously. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe”

TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1

“Some people say that heroes are born and some that they’re made” 

As Da Vinci’s Demons draws to a close and Game of Thrones fans have to wait until the end of April for Season 6 to start, ITV step into the big-budget historical fantasy genre with their 12-part serialisation of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. Created by James Dormer, Tim Haines and Katie Newman, Beowulf is based on the epic Old English poem set in the Dark Ages in Northumbria but spins its own fantasy world out of the source material, something that looks promising on the evidence of this first episode. 

With any new series, there’s a certain amount of setting up to be done in the first episode and Dormer’s writing does well to weave plenty of exposition into the story without weighing it down too much. After seeing his father killed by a fearsome beast which he then slaughters, the young Beowulf is adopted by the local thane Hrothgar. This is shown in a brief prologue as as the show starts proper, we’ve skipped a couple of decades ahead where Beowulf, long estranged from his family, returns to the frontier town of Herot to mourn Hrothgar’s passing.  Continue reading “TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1”

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

 

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

Continue reading “Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’”

Short Film Review #56

 

Almost unbearably sad, Hope Dickson Leach’s Morning Echo captures the suffocating resentment that can build up in families when caring for a loved one who’s terminally ill. Here, Franny Moffat didn’t think she’d live for another Christmas so her family held a Christmas Day for her in October. Fast forward to 25th December and she’s still alive but her family are crumbling around her under the strain and it is agonisingly compelling to watch. Kerry Fox and Peter Sullivan are just fantastic as the embittered parents and an assortment of other children play out their dysfunction in a range of disarming ways. Even as they’re all eventually brought together in the end for Franny, the melancholy note on which it finishes has lingered long in the mind. Hauntingly good.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #56”

Short Film Review #50

Passenger from HMT Productions on Vimeo.
Aaaarrgghhh – proof positive as if it were ever needed that you shouldn’t ever talk to strangers on the tube. Ed Rigg’s Passenger follows a couple at the end of a long day as they catch the Victoria Line up to Walthamstow Central and make the fatal mistake of making eye contact with the guy sitting opposite after a mildly amusing episode. Sara Vickers and Mark Quartley do a great job at capturing the helpless awkwardness of the situation but Samuel Edward-Cook really excels as the ex-serviceman who won’t leave them alone, invading their headspace as well as their personal space as the encounter becomes more and more chilling. Great work.

DVD Review: Anonymous

“Let me offer you a different story”

Any film that contains someone being dragged to the theatre saying “there won’t be puppets will there?” is bound to be a winner with me. And if that film has also courted controversy then my interest is bound to be piqued. But the publicity campaign against Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous was so vociferous that it disappeared from cinemas before I got the chance to see it and so I had to wait for it to emerge on DVD. Why so controversial? Emmerich’s (better known for loud blockbusters like Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow) film is based on the premise that the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was in fact the true author of the works normally attributed to Shakespeare. Thus a great outcry was launched, by the people and scholars for whom this is the biggest deal, and the film largely scuppered.

Which ultimately is a shame, as I found it to be rather an enjoyable film and somewhat perversely, the authorship question is just one of many strands of story in what turns out to be a historical political thriller, mainly based around the succession to the throne as Elizabeth I’s reign has produced no (legitimate) heirs. That one of the key players in her court just happens to be a playwright on the sly, who is forced to use a surrogate by the name of William to get his plays staged, is taken as a given here and it makes for an entertaining ‘what if’ scenario. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anonymous”

DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby

“You must bear up against sorrow my dear”

Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby manages the not-unimpressive feat of condensing Dickens’ weighty novel into a two hour film, and whilst much must have been jettisoned (I’ve never read the book so I couldn’t tell you what) it still hangs together as a cohesive story with much to recommend it. McGrath also directs and remains very much faithful to the spirit of Dickens with a straightforward aesthetic that takes a few artistic liberties but whose heart is very much in the right place.

After the death of Nickleby senior, Nickleby junior is thrust into the role of head of the family but with the dastardly deeds of their unscrupulous Uncle Ralph, Nicholas has to work extremely hard and keep his wits about him in order to protect his friends and family from the misfortune around them. Those misfortunes are many and varied but entertainingly portrayed here as there’s a good deal of humour and pathos mixed in with the grimness. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby”