Film Review: The Children Act (2017)

The neglect of Stanley Tucci aside, The Children Act does a decent job of bringing Ian McEwan’s novel to the screen, with Emma Thompson on fine form

“I think it’s my choice
‘I’m afraid the law doesn’t agree'”

The first half of The Children Act is astounding. Family court judge Fiona Maye is utterly devoted to her career, deciding carefully but firmly on the most delicate of ruilngs. But the case of Adam Henry gives her cause, a 17 year old cancer victim whose Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are leading him to refuse the blood transfusion that could save his life.

As Maye, Emma Thompson makes you feel every inch of the emotional stoicism she has developed in order to rise through the judicial ranks so. There’s admiration sure but also a touch of apprehension – the brittleness with which she interacts with her devoted clerk (Jason Watkins) and the casual callousness with which she takes her long-suffering husband (Stanley Tucci) for granted. Continue reading “Film Review: The Children Act (2017)”

Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre

A characterful slice of seedy Soho life,  Absolute Hell is anything but at the National Theatre

“You won’t call the police, I’ll call the police”

We’ve all got a history, a bit of a chequered past and Rodney Ackland’s play Absolute Hell is no exception. Premiered in 1952 under the title The Pink Room, it received an enormous critical drubbing which led to a 40 year near-silence from the playwright. But as time passes, trends shift and plays eventually get rewritten, a new version of the drama emerged in the late 1980s to considerably more success.

It is that version that is being revived here by Joe Hill-Gibbins with the kind of luxury casting that National Theatres are made for. And with the world of this slice-of-life play being made up of a vast ensemble of characters, it’s a great fit. Absolute Hell is set in a Soho members club in the period between the end of WWII and the Labour general election win and follows its patrons as they retreat from the social (and physical) upheaval of wartime into a fug of drink, drugs and debauchery. Continue reading “Review: Absolute Hell, National Theatre”

News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season

It looks like Josie Rourke is getting a little demob happy at the Donmar, as her penultimate season as artistic director sees a fresh twist on gender swapping that feels like a genuine first. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden will star in a new production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in which they will alternate the roles of Isabella and Angelo, midway through the show. Heaven knows how it will work but Lord knows I can’t wait to find out.

Brian Friel’s Aristocrats, directed by Lyndsey Turner, is also added to the slate, and this will be Turner’s fourth staging of a Friel play after Faith Healer, Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Fathers and Sons. The cast includes Elaine Cassidy, Daniel Dawson, David Ganley, Emmet Kirwan, Aisling Loftus, Ciaran McIntyre and Eileen Walsh. Continue reading “News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season”

Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida

“Is it just road-making that’s put you in such a good mood?”

Richard Eyre’s revelatory take on Ibsen’s Ghosts was a deserving multiple Olivier winner last year so it is little surprise to see the Almeida asking him back for more, this time taking on one of his later plays Little Eyolf. And as with Ghosts, the play has been coaxed and condensed into interval-free intensity, the perfect frame for its arresting modernity.

And it is surprising, as though written in 1894, its portrayal of fraught sexual tension in a marriage is as direct and frank a exploration of female sexuality (and sexual desire) as any playwright has come up with since. In the cooling calm of Tim Hatley’s set, Rita Allmers is a wife and mother but finds those roles in conflict as she resents son Eyolf for distracting husband Alfred’s attentions away from her. Continue reading “Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida”

Review: Image of an Unknown Young Woman, Gate

“Is there a cause that I’d die for?”

Taking aim at anyone who tweeted #JesuisCharlie (and plenty more besides), Elinor Cook’s Image of an Unknown Young Woman continues the Gate Theatre’s long-running investigations into how the modern world sees and deals with revolution. The nation torn apart by civil war here is unspecified, just A N Other country with a repressive regime but when footage of a young woman in a yellow dress being shot by police at a demo gets uploaded to the internet, the video quickly goes viral, inciting a new social media phenomenon, and is adopted as the latest cause du jour by all and sundry.

Twitterstorms flare up about the correct level of anguish to show, sales of yellow dresses on ASOS increase, aid charities start pumping the wealthy for donations and the BBC send over a news crew. But as well as exploring how we, a Western audience (quite literally) respond, Cook also delves into the effects on the people still there like the young couple who uploaded the clip and the woman searching for her mother who may have gotten swept up in the mob. Ricocheting between the emotionally explosive and the physically threatening, between ‘us’ and ‘them’, unsettling truths come to light. Continue reading “Review: Image of an Unknown Young Woman, Gate”

Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian

“I believe in being open to all cultures”

There’s something a little perversely ironic about Tim Price’s PPE being one of the more effective microplays (SHORT FILMS!) of the Royal Court and Guardian collaboration given how it is a wordless piece. Directed by Hamish Pirie with movement choreographed by the excellent Ann Yee, it plays off the trademark physical gestures that politicians have become known for using as an emollient to the relentlessly grim messages that they’ve had to deliver in recent years. David Annen, Cyril Nri and Eileen Walsh do a cracking job as leaders of different parties and just through physical expression, manage to hypnotise and hoodwink a whole host of supernumeraries standing in for the too-willing electorate. It’s not a world entirely without hope but it’s a powerful indictment of how much of contemporary politics is stagecraft that we just lap up.

Chloë Moss’ Devil In The Detail focuses on the world of fashion, something that director Christopher Haydon laughingly admits to knowing little of but as a multi-million pound enterprise, there’s much more to it than just knowing which handbag is currently de rigueur. Moss picks up on the way that fashion can be used to bolster a person’s mood and self-belief – as Pippa Bennett-Warner and Vanessa Kirby’s characters get ready for award shows in the atelier of a hot designer – but also how the world of fashionistas can wield it as a vicious weapon as Lucy Ellinson’s killer stylist (such lipstick, so colour, many wow!) corrects the assumptions they’ve made, casually dishing out humiliation and obsequiousness which shatters the mood that playing dress-up had cultivated between the pair. Continue reading “Review: Off the Page – Microplays 4-6 from the Royal Court and the Guardian”

Review: Teh Internet is Serious Business, Royal Court

“Confused people may need some help”
I’m pretty sure that somebody has already reached this blog before by googling “sexy Peter Pan takes a load in the face” – such is the way that these search algorithms work (don’t talk to me about how my search results were skewed by seeing a play called Reclining N*de With Black St*ckings) – so there’s at least one person who will be inordinately excited by the anarchic spirit that rules the first half of Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, directed with some astonishing brio by Hamish Pirie.
A fictionalised story, albeit inspired by events that happened to the members of hacker groups like Lulzsec and Anonymous, the show’s real strength comes from the playfully imaginative ways in which the online world is represented. There’s not a screen or a graphic to be found anywhere; instead, the company take on multiple roles, playing websites, online avatars and memes as well as giving us glimpses of the IRL personae involved too, the real people in front of the computer screens.

Chloe Lamford’s design facilitates this brilliantly – trapdoors allow websites to pop-up, sidedoors open up like windows to let coding be explained through the medium of interpretative dance, and a brightly coloured ball pool serves as that strange end of the internet from whence so much random crap expounds. It’s a dizzying array for which a glossary is usefully provided with the castsheet and if some of the detail will be lost on many of us, the roller-coaster exuberance of the theatrical language is significant recompense.
Ultimately, too much is forced in here though, meaning the flabbiness of the running time is scarcely justified. And perversely, as the play moves from the freewheeling fun of hacking into any and every site they want (Scientology, Westboro Baptist Church, and the CIA are amongst their victims) to more of a thriller as the authorities start to close in on the group, one can’t help but long for a little more examining depth.

The casualness with which the hackers equally treat the personal data of regular people with their more prominent targets hints at the abdication of responsibility that the anonymity of the internet can engender, the impact of online activity on real life activity (leading to one of the show’s best gags about McFlurrys and Egypt) is only just touched on (and would have partnered nicely with the Royal Court’s last main stage show The Nether). Even a final shocking betrayal doesn’t quite possess the power it ought to wield.

But the energy that courses through the cast and company, and indeed the Royal Court as a whole, is genuinely thrilling. Across the company of 15, Eileen Walsh, Sargon Yelda and Ferdinand Kingsley all stand out in their multi-rolling, whilst Kevin Guthrie and Hamza Jeetooa both impress as the story’s main leads, teenage misfits both, who mask their IRL difficulties with extraordinary online personalities. There’s lots of fun to be had here but underneath it all, the daring, fruitful shaking up of a venerable institution is serious business indeed.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: not currently available
Booking until 25th October

Review: Liolà, National Theatre

“This is a potato party” 

Expectations are a funny thing. Luigi Pirandello’s reputation as one of our foremost dramatists comes from his metaphysical musings on identity and self but his 1916 play Liolà comes from a very different place and so may leave you nonplussed if expecting something akin to Six Characters in Search of an Author. Instead, Tanya Ronder’s new version directed by Richard Eyre is a rollicking tale full of song and dance, set in a Sicilian village from which most of the men have migrated. The two that remain, Liolà and Simone, are surrounded by a veritable multitude of women with whom a number of complicated relationships are in place.

Ageing landowner Simone married the much younger Mita in order to provide him with the heir he desperately craves but five years of marriage have produced no children. By contrast, local lothario Liolà has knocked up at least three of the local girls and now has three children who are raised by his mother. But when he gets Simone’s young cousin Tuzza pregnant, she and her mother espy a scheme to play on Simone’s fears of childlessness and pass the child off as his own. But Mita and Liolà were childhood sweethearts and together they plot her own revenge.  Continue reading “Review: Liolà, National Theatre”

Review: Misterman, National Theatre

“Do you know what I’d do if I didn’t have my senses?”

There’s something to be said for a set design that can take your breath away at a theatre that one has visited many, many times, and Jamie Vartan has achieved it here with his cavernous transformation of the Lyttelton’s stage for Enda Walsh’s Misterman. It’s an effect to take in for yourselves as the safety curtain descends, so I won’t ‘spoil’ it, but it really is excellently done. And given that Walsh has written a one-man show, for friend and previous collaborator Cillian Murphy, it is a brave move but one that largely pays off as Murphy produces a performance that more than fills the space.

Thomas Magill is a disturbed young man from the small Irish town of Inishfree who is seeking sanctuary in an isolated warehouse for reasons unknown. Hyped up on vast amounts of Fanta and Jammie Dodgers that literally fall from the sky, he’s a would-be preacher who sees angels, a tortured soul who can’t deal with real life, a storyteller who takes us through the assorted characters of the local villagers whose morality, or lack thereof, he is determined to correct, as it emerges he’s telling us about the events of a particular single day. Continue reading “Review: Misterman, National Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, Young Vic

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

The Young Vic continues to be allergic to the idea of people just using the main entrance into the auditorium to take their seats: people who have booked for Hamlet have been advised to turn up 30 minutes early in order to take in the ‘pre-show journey’. But whereas withGovernment Inspector and Beauty Queen of Leenane, it was just being guided a different way within the building, here we are guided out of the theatre and taken round the back entrance to wind our way through the corridors backstage past some rooms which have been dressed up with non-responsive cast members sitting around before reaching the seats, it adds very little to the experience (aside from getting us wet on the way there) and ultimately seems a pointless exercise. The most remarkable thing about this section was that the gym had a massive sign that talked about rules for ‘Excercise’: someone at the Young Vic needs to get their spell-checker switched on.

But to the play, labelled one of the theatrical events of the year as it features the return to the stage of Michael Sheen in what is Jerusalem director Ian Rickson’s Shakespearean debut. And as is often the case with such an oft-performed classic, an interpretation has been imposed upon the material to try and cast it in a different, and newly revelatory way. Once the seating area has been located, the uniformed orderlies, utilitarian grey carpet and circle of plastic chairs hint at what is to be revealed, as a ghostly prologue with Hamlet gazing on his father’s coffin before it is lowered into the ground, leads into the opening scene which takes place as if in a therapy session. For as it turns out, Elsinore is, I think, a mental asylum in the late 1970s and so the play takes on a new perspective on madness. I say new, I mean it borrows heavily from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Young Vic”