Film Review: Vita and Virginia (2018)

Written by Eileen Atkins, Vita and Virginia doesn’t quite capture the intensity of this iconic love affair

“When was the moment of your greatest disillusionment?
‘The first time I saw a penis'”

I didn’t know that Eileen Atkins had written a play about Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf but given that it dates back to 1992 and hasn’t been much – if at all – revived, I could perhaps be forgiven. It is that play Vita and Virginia that she has adapted for the screen with Chanya Button, who also directs, and something of its theatrical nature remains.

Based on their copious letters to each others, Vita and Virginia is perhaps inevitably wordy and this isn’t always a great thing in a film. Set as it is in 1920s bohemian London, you might expect the vibe of a decadent whirl and for a while at least, thanks in large part to Isobel Waller-Bridge’s effectively anachronistic score, this is a most seductive party. Continue reading “Film Review: Vita and Virginia (2018)”

Review: The Red Barn, National

“It’s as if I have lived my whole life with the handbrake on”

On booking for The Red Barn, you’re advised that “due to the tense nature of the play, there will be no re-admittance”. The play – written by David Hare from the 1968 novel La Main by Georges Simenon – is also described as a psychological thriller on the website. It all adds up to a certain degree of expectation about what kind of show it is one is going to see and even though this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, I’ve seen a few shows and know the danger of anticipation, it is often hard not to carry the weight of those expectations with you as you take your seat.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Robert Icke’s production of The Red Barn was not the play I thought it would be. And that my initial slightly cool reaction was as much a response to that as it was to the material itself. Set in the depths of a Connecticut winter, two couples make their way home from a party and when one of the men doesn’t make it back, it is the consequences of that that makes up the meat of the play. Specifically, it’s how the other man of the group reacts, both right then and from then on, that Simenon and Hare and Icke probe into. Continue reading “Review: The Red Barn, National”

DVD Review: Macbeth (2015)

“I feel now the future in the instant”

For one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Macbeth is not one that often appears on film screens but Justin Kurzel’s adaptation set that right in 2015 in blistering style. An utterly cinematic version that on paper should raise many a theatre fan’s hackles, its brooding sense of epic danger releases the film into a new dimension, one which may well irk a purist or three but on its own merits, is most darkly compelling.

Kurzel opts for a medieval Scottish setting, a land somewhere between the mythical and the mundane, using some striking Caledonian vistas for location work. The reality of life is shown by the Macbeths’ castle being little more than a collection of mud huts but sweeping shots of mountains and moorsides from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw pull us away into the ether and the red tinges of crimson flame and scarlet blood paint almost expressionistic frames that are just beautiful to behold. Continue reading “DVD Review: Macbeth (2015)”

Review: The Maids, Trafalgar Studios

“You don’t know what I am capable of” 

Relocated to a contemporary USA and with two women of colour playing the servants, Jamie Lloyd’s version of Jean Genet’s The Maids becomes just as much about race as it does about class and incredibly powerfully so. The ‘otherness’, the ‘difference’ of which sisters Solange and Claire speak as they twist themselves into increasingly sadomasochistic games thus plays at an additional level and at the point when their socialite employer Madam casually, cruelly, asks Claire “which one are you, you both look the same to me”, it lands with an absolute gut-punch. 

Loosely based on the real-life story of sisters Léa and Christine Papin who murdered their employer’s wife and daughter in 1933, years of servitude have similarly done for Uzo Aduba’s Solange and Zawe Ashton’s Claire. Whilst their mistress is out, they play vicious divertissements of dress-up in her couture gowns, roleplaying both her and each other in scenarios that end in violent death. And as eventually becomes apparent in the vibrant and salty language of Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton’s translation, what we’re actually witnessing is less a game than a rehearsal for the real thing.  Continue reading “Review: The Maids, Trafalgar Studios”