Review: A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville

“The world is made for men, not for women”

Does the world really need more Oscar Wilde? A whole season’s worth? One of the less inspiring decisions of the year was this takeover of the Vaudeville by the Classic Spring Theatre Company. Perhaps aware of this, Dominic Dromgoole has identified something the world really does need more of – Eve Best in our theatres (and later in the season, Kathy Burke directing). But is that enough to mitigate the resuscitation of this lesser-performed work.

Well almost. There’s no pretending that A Woman of No Importance is a particularly great play which has been languishing unfairly in the doldrums. But it does have the bonus of being a women-heavy play and one with an intriguingly strong thread of feminist thought to it. After a dalliance that resulted in a child, Mrs Arbuthnot’s social ruin is contrasted with Lord Illingworth’s consequence-free escape but 20 years down the line with their son all grown up, their paths cross again. Continue reading “Review: A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville”

Full cast of A Woman of No Importance announced

Despite having little interest in a season of Oscar Wilde plays, the predictably excellent cast for A Woman of No Importance means that my resistance will be utterly futile as the full cast joining the previously announced Eve Best from 6th October at the Vaudeville Theatre has now been announced.

Joining Best is Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron and William Gaunt, and now completing the cast is Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Crystal Clarke, Harry Lister-Smith, Sam Cox, William Mannering, Paul Rider and Phoebe Fildes.


Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the play is the first in his new company’s year-long season celebrating the work of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and it has also been announced that a series of talks will take place before certain performances of A Woman of No Importance. Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland will give the first pre-show talk on 14th October, offering an insight into Wilde’s life and work. On 19th October, Stephen Fry will reflect on his time plying Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film Wilde. On 11th November, Frank McGuinness will consider Wilde alongside Ibsen and Strindberg in ‘Wilde the European’, and on 7th December, Franny Moyle will explore “Wilde’s women.”


DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson

“But, to answer your question, Elizabeth, I ‘am’ going to eat a hot dog”

Directed by Roger Michell and written by Richard Nelson, Hyde Park in Hudson is a rather delightful little thing, a trifle of a film that nonetheless has an endearing emotional edge to it. Set on the eve of World War II, George VI and Queen Elizabeth become the first British monarchs to visit the US but rather than the pomp and circumstance of an official state visit, they’re taken to Franklin D Roosevelt’s country estate and introduced to the complex personal relationships he’s built around him.

Key among these is Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley, a distant cousin and childhood friend who has recently returned to his life and who narrates the film in Laura Linney’s delicate but determined tones. The Royals want to secure US support for the war they know is coming, the polio-ravaged FDR wants to be left alone to amuse himself with the collection of women he’s gathered around him and Daisy just wants to know where she is in the pecking order. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson”

DVD Review: The Heart of Me

“And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me”

For me, there’s a serious problem that lies at the heart of The Heart of Me and that is that the man at the apex of the love triangle that tears two sisters apart just isn’t worth it. Paul Bettany’s Rickie marries Olivia Williams’ Madeleine in the whirl of 1930s London but her repressed nature contrasts strongly with her much more bohemian sister Dinah, Helena Bonham-Carter in fine, liberated form, and an affair strikes up between the pair, the effects of which ricochet hard through all their lives. It’s very much a slow-burner and in the grand tradition of Merchant Ivory, it evokes so much of the early twentieth century British character that has proven endurably entertaining to watch on screen and stage.

It is a brave choice to make Rickie a complexly dark character, the way his frustrations spill out as he abuses marital privileges and his moral weakness in the face of tough decisions make him a rotter par excellence which Bettany pulls off well. Yet the spark of something there, to draw Dinah into betraying her sibling so, has to be pulsatingly powerful so as to ride roughshod over convention and I never really bought that, instead one is left with the pure selfishness of their action, as opposed to the purity of their love, and thus I had difficulties with much of this story thread. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Heart of Me”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”

DVD Review: Wimbledon

“Four million tennis players in the world, and I’m 119th. But what that really means is this – 118 guys out there are faster, stronger, better and younger.”

It seems most unlikely but I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2004 romcom Wimbledon or if I have, I’ve erased every trace of it from my mind. And as it is that time of year again in SW19, it seemed as good a time as any to load it up for a spot of viewing on a train journey this past weekend. Whilst it is no great shakes as a tennis film or really does much as a ‘com’, it has a sweet charm to it with no small thanks to a likeable Kirsten Dunst as a tennis brat of a heroine and the slightly odd decision to Hugh Grant-ify its leading man Paul Bettany, clearly the only option for a British romcom.

Bettany plays Peter Colt, a Henman-esque figure of a nearly-there British tennis number one whose recent poor form has seen him plummet in the rankings and consider retirement. A chance meeting with upcoming US player Lizzie Bradbury puts a fizz in his step and the swing back in his serve and his wildcard for Wimbledon suddenly looks like an unlikely opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory. With his barely supportive family on the sidelines and Jaime Lannister himself as a hitting partner who looks good in a sauna, it seems Centre Court is beckoning him for one last hurrah. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wimbledon”

TV Review: The Tractite Middoth

“Where others had a soul, he had a corkscrew”

Mark Gatiss seems to have had a golden touch of late at the BBC which makes one wonder if he was allowed to pursue this adaptation of MR James’ ghost story as something of a vanity project, free from a more discerning critical eye that might have asked why bother. The production values of The Tractite Middoth are beyond question and the acting of a good standard, but the overall is let down by a complete clunker of a story, a nonsensical series of contrivances and convolutions that flail around ridiculously.

Young librarian William Garrett is pulled into a bitter family feud over a hidden will when a stranger arrives at his premises looking for a particularly mysterious item and as he is sucked further deeper into the intrigue, supernatural influences make it an ever-more terrifying experience, for him. Because for us, it is just silliness piled on silliness, the quest set by a wicked uncle for the two relatives who would inherit his vast estate becomes pointless in the end, there’s convenient chance meetings which keep the narrative clunking on and scary noises aplenty to remind us this is a ghost story. Continue reading “TV Review: The Tractite Middoth”

Review: The Late Middle Classes, Donmar Warehouse

“We live in secret almost all the time”

I love Helen McCrory. Like really love her. I have an endless list of actresses whom I really like, but McCrory sits pretty on top of the heap, having found a place in my heart through a select number of roles in film, tv and onstage, almost all of which are indelibly etched on my mind, such is the power of her acting. So when she was announced as leading the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Simon Gray’s The Late Middle Classes, I giddily booked my tickets for this, the second preview. Written in 1999, the play actually opened in Watford but did not make the anticipated transfer into London, being bizarrely usurped by a shortlived play called Boyband so this marks the first time it has been seen in the capital.

Set in the 1950s, it follows a middle-class family, bored Celia, work-obsessed Charles and their son Holliday who is discovering about life through his music lessons with the neighbourly Mr Brownlow. It is actually told in flashback by the adult Holliday recollecting his childhood after an impromptu visit to his old music tutor and the challenges posed by the post-war environment in the UK. It is felt much more strongly by his parents whose privileged position in the class structure has been lost in the face of continuing rations and an almost pyrrhic sense of victory which has not resulted in any improvement in their lives. Continue reading “Review: The Late Middle Classes, Donmar Warehouse”