10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

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”

Review: Donkey Heart, Old Red Lion

“This has been going on for years…we never put it right, it just repeats.”

Mere mortals don’t stand a chance without a dynasty behind them… Moses Raine’s father is noted poet Craig and his sister is playwright and director Nina (who looked into my very soul with the peerless Tribes) and not only that, his mother, who has her own literary career, is the niece of Boris Pasternak who wrote Doctor Zhivago. And it is to the Russian connection that Moses has turned to write his new play Donkey Heart, directed by Nina, which opens at the Old Red Lion with one of the best casts you could hope to see in any intimate theatre, never mind one perched atop an Islington pub.

Casting director Emily Jones definitely deserves mention for gathering such an illustrious company on the fringe – such experience as Wendy Nottingham and Patrick Godfrey, the younger talents of Emily Bruni and James Musgrave and emerging with one of the performances of the year so far, Lisa Diveney, She plays Sasha, the 20-something daughter of a Moscow family, three generations of which are compressed into a small apartment, along with a British visitor Thomas, her brother’s mouthy girlfriend and her father’s PA whose been stung by her landlord. Continue reading “Review: Donkey Heart, Old Red Lion”

Revew: Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios

“Do we have to deal with this tonight?”

When it was first announced that Yes Prime Minister would be returning to the London stage, the question ‘who hasn’t seen it yet?!’ was not unreasonably raised. (The answer, of course, was me, presumably amongst others.) Since opening in Chichester in 2010, it has played the West End twice and toured the UK twice but in shaky economic times, exacerbated by the unknown quantity of how the Olympics will actually affect audiences, the Trafalgar Studios have plumped for a return for this safe banker, which is currently booking til the 12th January 2013.

And safe it is. An update of the classic TV programme by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, the pair crafted a contemporaneous version of their story which captures the main themes of ministerial ineptitude and the enduring survival and influence of the Civil Service. PM Jim Hacker is sequestered at Chequers in the midst of a conference and surrounded by gloomy news. When a chink of light appears in the form of a lucrative oil deal, hopes are raised but the offer comes with an enormous string attached and Hacker and his team are forced to balance ethics and morals with the potential deal of a lifetime. Continue reading “Revew: Yes Prime Minister, Trafalgar Studios”

DVD Review: Personal Affairs

“It’s always going to be someone else’s lipstick”

A completely random discovery, via an excellent bundle of birthday presents, was this BBC3 series from 2009, Personal Affairs. In its easy mixture of comedy and drama of 4 City PAs trying to discover what happened to one of their friends who has disappeared, it was rather enjoyable if hardly ground-breaking over its six episodes. But where it was huge amounts of fun was in the sheer number of theatrical spots it contained which made it a highly entertaining watch for me.

Whether it was Annabel Scholey as Scouse X-Factor wannabe Midge or Ruth Negga’s strident temp Sid amongst the leads, Al Weaver as a plotting boyfriend or a gorgeously bearded Kieran Bew (correctly assessed as the main attraction for me!)  as a potential love interest and Mark Benton and Emily Bruni amongst the bosses, the regular cast held much delight. Combined with a supporting guest cast which featured the likes of Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Mark Bonnar and Annette Badland, the acting was predictably of a high quality which ensured it was always extremely watchable. Continue reading “DVD Review: Personal Affairs”

DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)

“Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge”

It is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that any mention of Alexandra Gilbreath – recent winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Play fosterIAN to be sure – sends me all a quiver. So when someone told me about this production of The Winter’s Tale which features not only her as Hermione but also has Nancy Carroll lurking in the ensemble, I was most keen to watch it. Plus there’s the small matter of Antony Sher as Leontes, an actor whom I am always intrigued to see more of as I’ve have actually had little experience of him as a performer.

An RSC production from 1998, this was recorded at the Barbican and so as a straight filming of the stage show, it is free from the kind of directorial innovation that blighted (IMHO) the versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest also covered this weekend. Instead, we get the theatrical experience minus the live thrill but with the added bonus of close up work. And it is a great bonus here. Sher does so much acting with his eyes as a paranoiac Leontes, mentally damaged as suggested by a prologue and incapable of not seeing the dark shadows in the corner of the room. The way his suspicions are aroused by Polixenes’ attentiveness to his wife is brilliantly done as she is actually suffering from pregnancy pain but Leontes misses the crucial moments and all too easily lets the darkness consume him. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)”

DVD Review: Tamara Drewe

“You’re just a sex object, no-one would have you”

I did a lot of travelling this weekend so I got to catch up on a fair bit of DVD watching on the train: some were directly theatre-related and others not, but the cast of Tamara Drewe was so thesp-heavy I couldn’t resist jotting down a few thoughts about this film. Any film that opens with a shirtless Luke Evans and having his role as a sex object acknowledged within the first 15 minutes is surely onto a good thing and combined with Roger Allam’s deliciously fruity turn of phrase, the film made a bright start which endeared me greatly.

The film, directed by Stephen Frears, has a screenplay by Moira Buffini derived from Posy Simmond’s graphic novel-style drawings and is set in the sleepy village of Ewedown where everyone knows each other’s business and can’t help but poke their nose in. When Tamara, an appealing turn from Gemma Arterton, returns after her mother’s death to sell up the old family house, she thinks that she’ll be heading straight back to her adopted London lifestyle, but a new affair with rock star Ben, Dominic Cooper in fine form, keeps her a little longer and allowing old feelings and passions to stir in several men of the village, making life most complicated for all. Continue reading “DVD Review: Tamara Drewe”

Review: Broken Glass, Tricycle

“If you’re alive, you’re afraid…but how you deal with fear, that’s what counts”

Broken Glass is one of Arthur Miller’s later works and so has often suffered by association from the weaker tail-end of Miller’s output, but this production at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, cast to the hilt, certainly makes the case for this play. Set in Brooklyn in 1938, Sylvia has lost the use of her legs after being traumatised by images in the newspaper from Kristallnacht and the news filtering through about the ever-growing extent of anti-Semitic activity in Europe under the Nazis. Her doctor diagnoses a hysterical paralysis but as he begins to investigate her life, he discovers that the problems may lie closer to home, in the truth behind her relationship with her fastidious husband, Phillip.

The Holocaust connections are actually secondary to the real storytelling here which is entirely about the Gellburgs’ marriage. And it is this point which has informed director Iqbal Khan’s interpretation: although ostensibly set in a specific time and place, the emotion involved is timeless and so rather than being a period piece, this production takes a metaphysical, ruminative approach. To ensure the contemplative mood, the interludes between the scenes are filled with Laura Moody’s expressive cello-playing, beautifully composed short solos from Grant Olding which are explosive with emotion and counterpoint the repression evident on stage. Continue reading “Review: Broken Glass, Tricycle”