DVD Review: Cinderella

“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are”

Who knew what the world needed was a live-action version of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh. It oughtn’t be as good as it is but somehow the fusion of Disney magic and folktale wonder comes together most effectively, thoroughly traditional in its outlook yet somehow still feeling fresh. Chris Weitz’s screenplay is based on Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon but both he and Branagh take lots of inspiration from the Disney version of the story too and the resulting confection is really rather bibbity-bobbity-beguiling.

There’s a cleverness too about what it does in spinning new details like giving us a reason that her step-family don’t recognise her at the ball and weaving much humour into the magic spells that get her to said ball. Ella herself is well pitched by Lily James, not quite too perfect to be true but still hugely appealing. It’s no wonder Richard Madden’s Prince Charming tumbles instantly for her (and she for him, those breeches…those boots!) and their chemistry is palpable, one can see why Branagh has cast them as Juliet and Romeo in his upcoming theatre residency in London.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Cinderella”

DVD: Cape Wrath / Meadowlands

“The consequences of doing the right thing…”

Cape Wrath, or Meadowlands as it was retitled for the US market, was a 2007 TV drama which aired on Channel 4, following the fortunes of a family who have to enter a witness protection programme in an idyllic new neighbourhood but increasingly find that they may just have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Lucy Cohu stars as the matriarch of the family, Evelyn Brogan, who with her twin children have been uprooted due to some unspecified incident that involved her husband, David Morrissey’s Danny and over the eight episodes of the show, it proves a good showcase for her talents.

Created and largely written by Robert Murphy, the story unwinds as a psychological thriller as the Brogans struggle to come to terms with their new way of life and find many a mystery which keeps their paranoia levels justifiably high. Morrissey’s Danny is the main investigator of the strange goings-on around him as his testy relationships with Nina Sosanya’s Samantha, the bureaucrat who runs the programme, Ralph Brown’s magnificently moustached policeman and Tom Hardy’s lascivious handyman with an eye on his daughter instantly put him on guard as he soon clocks that something suspicious is going on in their new home. Continue reading “DVD: Cape Wrath / Meadowlands”

Review: The Busy Body, Southwark Playhouse

“I’m not showing you my monkey” 

Miranda loves Sir George Airey but wants to make him work for her hand whilst fending off her lecherous guardian Sir Francis Gripe, whose son Charles is in love with Isabinda whose marvellously named mother Lady Jealous Traffic is determined to marry her off to a Spanish merchant. There’s also a monkey, or is there? Such is the set-up for The Busy Body, a 1709 period comedy by Susanna Centlivre which was one of the most popular plays of its day but has remained unproduced for over 100 years. Continuing their close relationship with the Southwark Playhouse, Red Handed Theatre have alternated emotionally devastating dramas (Palace of the End, Someone To Watch Over Me) with sparklingly refreshed Restoration comedies (The Rivals, The Belle’s Stratagem) to great effect and director Jessica Swale’s adroit adaptation looks set to continue that exceptionally strong run.

What really makes it work though is the immense attention to detail. It is a comedy for sure, but one which is played true and so delivery remains deadpan throughout, no matter how random the plot turns – Michael Lindall’s Spanish dress and raised eyebrow as the disguised Charles the best example here, though Alexandra Guelff’s (Miranda) determined protection of her monkey comes a close second. And comic flourishes abound at every turn – Ella Smith’s Isabinda in particular is fearsomely, inventively funny in every single scene she is in and Henry Shields doubles to brilliant effect as Charles’ man Whisper and Lady Jealous’ butler – and the fourth wall is well and truly smashed (shy wallflower types might want to avoid the front row!) Directly addressing the audience is nothing new but the conviction and skill with which it is essayed here, both when being played for laughs and cleverly also in the more tenderly emotional moments, means that every beat seeks to involve and include us all. Continue reading “Review: The Busy Body, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Why did you make me?”

Perhaps one of the less-successful decisions I have made this year was to revisit Frankenstein at the National Theatre. There was a number of reasons: the opportunity to see Jonny Lee Miller take on the role of the Creature and directly compare and contrast him with Benedict Cumberbatch; it was the final performance of the run; it was actually the third time I had a pair of tickets to see the windy Miller – I’d passed on the other tickets to more receptive friends but given one last chance, I ended up biting the bullet in the spirit of perhaps finding something new in the production.

For I did see it much earlier in the run, you can read the review here, and I found it a most problematic play. And my opinion of it still holds firm after a second viewing, I find it simply astounding how forgiving the official reviews were of this show. For sure, the production values are at times sensational and a welcome shot in the arm for National Theatre stagings which will hopefully inspire more creativity in future productions. But the play itself is so terribly weak that to close one’s eyes to its many problems feels like an absolute crime and try as I might, I could not ignore them and try to focus on having a ‘good time’ as my companion attempted to admonish me. Continue reading “Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”

Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Please do not be inconsistent, I find it infuriating”

Perhaps the first big theatre ‘event’ of the year is the National Theatre’s Frankenstein which has taken the step of cross-casting its two main parts, so on different nights one can see Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller playing the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. The play is a new work by Nick Dear although based on Mary Shelley’s famous novel and features the National Theatre directorial debut of Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director of films like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. The programme of who is playing whom has now been published, although the run is currently sold out, but the previews remained unallocated so it was a lucky dip as to who we would get when we went to see it: just to clarify, this is a review of a preview performance from Tuesday 8th February which I have kept in mind whilst blogging about this show.

There’s a highly atmospheric entrance into the Olivier, with a bell tolling and a strange looking pod revolving slowly around the stage. As the lights darkened to a womb-like red, a figure began to emerge from this pod and eventually a completely naked Benedict Cumberbatch broke free to be birthed into this cruel chamber. It is hard to see how this opening 15 or so minutes will be bettered this year, as a physical performance it is truly outstanding as he slowly becomes accustomed to the world through squinting eyes, stuttering sounds and a stumbling gait, controlled through a stunning light feature that hangs above the stage, protruding into the audience that flashes blindingly, radiating an intense heat too, as a highly effective warning device. It is a remarkably open sequence too, not just because he is in the nude, but because he is so free in his movements and the way in which he shows the fast-burgeoning intelligence of the Creature, in his reaction to his first dawn or the rain for instance: he really sets the marker for the rest of the play in creating this empathetic character who one can’t help but root for (the odd murder excepted of course). Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”

Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Thank the Lord you ain’t in there with them”

The first play ever to be written for the Globe by a woman, Nell Leyshon’s Bedlam is the final play to open in this year’s set of offerings. A slice of life of those both in and around the Bethlem mental hospital in London, or Bedlam as it is better known. The plot as such centres around Dr Carew’s corrupt running of the asylum, concerned more with women and profit than observing the Hippocratic oath and actually caring for his patients. But the arrival of new patients and a much more socially aware doctor loosens his grip and soon everything begins to change.

It is huge amount of fun and Jessica Swale’s direction has a very keen sense of the possibilities of playing in the Globe, especially with the yardlings. Soutra Gilmour’s design has the stage in a circle with a ramp going up one side, but if you’re in the yard, be prepared for all sorts of interaction, both on the floor and on the stage and a range of bodily fluids and liquids to come flying at you from the sides and indeed above! And it is so wonderfully musical, taking advantage of the rich archive to pull out a number of songs like ‘A Maid In Bedlam’ and ‘Oyster Nan’, covering ballads to bawdy drinking songs, and it all really works. Continue reading “Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse

“If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!”

Taking up residence at the Southwark Playhouse is this new production of Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, mixing music and dance with a very high calibre cast to create a fresh new look at this well-known comedy. Set in eighteenth century Bath, it follows the efforts of the meddlesome Mrs Malaprop to marry off her niece Lydia Languish, who has romantic designs of her own, but with an array of suitors, some of whom are not all who they seem, the scene is set for a plethora of romantic capers.
I loved the opening: the cast trickle onto the stage and chat away to the audience as if we’re all here for a ball, then up strikes the music and there’s a wickedly subversive choice of songs for an opening dance number which set the tone for this mischievous little production. There’s a real convivial atmosphere throughout, with plenty of fourth-wall-breaking going on (be warned if you’re on the front row!) and the cast play up to the intimacy of the venue with a strong conversational style.

It’s led by a trio of high-profile female performances. The stunningly beautiful Charity Wakefield as a playful Lydia is spritely good fun and charmingly engaging and Ella Smith as Julia does well with the lightest of touches on some very wordy scenes and showing off a melodious voice and some flute-playing thrown in for good measure. But it is Celia Imrie as Mrs Malaprop who is the star of the show: this being my first viewing of The Rivals, I can hardly imagine anyone else doing better in the role, it seems tailor-made for her. She endows her with such warmth and humour that one tended to find oneself laughing with and not really at her, and it is genuinely distressing to see her discover the truth about who has written the letters mocking her. Imrie seizes every opportunity to display her comic chops too, the incredible misjudged verbosity is always well-delivered, the constant shooing away of the recorder-playing heralds was a nice touch and her seductive swaying is just a sight to behold. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse”

2009 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Katy Stephens – The Histories, RSC at the Roundhouse 
Deanna Dunagan – August: Osage County at the NT Lyttelton 
Lesley Sharp – Harper Regan at NT Cottesloe
Lindsay Duncan – That Face at the Duke of York’s 
Margaret Tyzack – The Chalk Garden at the Donmar Warehouse 
Penelope Wilton – The Chalk Garden at the Donmar Warehouse 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Kenneth Branagh – Ivanov, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s 
Adam Godley – Rain Man at the Apollo 
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Othello at the Donmar Warehouse
Eddie Redmayne – Now or Later at the Royal Court Downstairs 
Ian McDiarmid – Six Characters in Search of an Author at the Gielgud 
Kevin Spacey & Jeff Goldblum – Speed the Plow at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2009 What’s On Stage Award nominations”