DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

Review: Three Sisters, Southwark Playhouse

 

“Everyone’s here from the UK but it’s always the Cotswolds or Scotland or something so nice to have an actual…we’re moving back there you see” 

What is it that draws writers to adaptation? Anya Reiss’ extraordinary debut of two cracking plays for the Royal Court has been followed by versions of 2 Chekhovs and Wedekind’s Spring Awakening for Headlong which is currently touring. The first Chekhov saw The Seagull transplanted to a modern day Isle of Man for the Southwark Playhouse and now for the same theatre, she has tackled Three Sisters which is located “near a British Embassy, overseas, now”.

Which is all very well but in a play that is predicated on the desire to return home, there appears to be no earthly reason why any of the Prozorova sisters – the modern women that they are here – can’t just book the next flight to the London they left just over a decade ago. Instead they languish in the non-specific country suggested to be somewhere we might have recently invaded, where their father served as a diplomat until his death, stuck because he sold their old family home. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Southwark Playhouse”

Short Film Review #15

 

The danger of ripping the piss out of something is that you often leave yourself open to the same charge. And so whilst Brian Crano’s 2008 film Official Selection sets about parodying many of the tropes of contemporary (and possibly pretentious) short film making, it takes a lengthy 10 minutes to do what it basically achieves in half the time.

It is undoubtedly amusing: watching Rebecca Hall deliver po-faced dialogue and simultaneously share an apple with a native American, Amanda Seyfried rubbing apple slices everywhere, Stephen Campbell Moore as a random astronaut and Dominic Cooper doing smell-the-fart acting, amongst many others, is lots of fun. And it is comical because much of it is true, so many of the arty shots here are highly recognisable as ways in which people have tried, and largely failed, to make their films more interesting. It’s worth the watch, but had it been half the length it might well have been twice as funny. Continue reading “Short Film Review #15”

Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

Review: The American Plan, St James Theatre

“If ever there were such a one, I am she”

Perhaps with an eye to the crowded marketplace that is London theatreland and trying to find a niche for itself, the St James Theatre has taken to transferring in productions, providing a mid-sized space for shows like Finborough transfer London Wall, Northern Broadsides’ Rutherford and Son and now The American Plan, fresh from the Theatre Royal Bath. Some of the risk may be mitigated this way but the choice of play remains equally important and with Richard Greenberg’s 1990 work, I’m not so sure they’ve hit on a great success.

David Grindley first directed this play in New York in 2009 and clearly enamoured of it, has returned to the show and assembled an excellent cast to do so, not least Diana Quick, Doña Croll and Emily Taaffe. And he undoubtedly encourages some marvellous performances from them and the men of the cast, Luke Allen-Gale and Mark Edel-Hunt, but it just never struck me as a play that was worth reviving – it’s heavy-handed, tonally confused and ultimately for me, just not engaging enough.  Continue reading “Review: The American Plan, St James Theatre”

Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Do not torment me, prithee”

Last up in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, in the What country friends is this? season was The Tempest. In some ways I wish I’d seen this closer to The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (which I saw on consecutive days in June) as the thrill of watching an ensemble across multiple plays is magnified much more that way. As it was, my enthusiasm for The Tempest – never one of my favourite Shakespeares and now totally ruined by the fact that I’ve now seen what will probably the best version ever –  had waned slightly as I returned to the Roundhouse.

The reality was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I might have hoped. David Farr’s production (I wish they’d gotten in a third director to really mix things up) has its moments of  inspiration and interest, but these are scattered throughout rather than invigorating the whole show and so my abiding feeling was of unevenness. For the great visual impact of Prospero having the islanders dress in identikit suits, little is done to enliven the immense amount of speechifying that the character does, Jonathan Slinger’s performance having a strangely unnerving impact more than anything. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art”

What country friends is this? indeed. A nifty line switch and a striking coup-de-théâtre gets the RSC’s Twelfth Night off to a wonderful start as Emily Taaffe’s sodden, anguished Viola emerges from the shipwreck she believes has taken her brother’s life and left her washed up in Illyria. Disguising herself as Cesario, a man, she joins the retinue of the Duke Orsino but finds herself swept up in the love games between him and the grieving countess Olivia, whose eye is taken by the new arrival on the scene. Part of the company’s Shakespeare’s Shipwreck Trilogy, the Roundhouse plays host to the repertory season for just under a month before returning to Stratford-upon-Avon for the rest of the month. 
 
David Farr’s production transfers the majority of the action in Olivia’s household to a Greek hotel (which she presumably owns) which proves a mostly effective and ingenious relocation. Malvolio becomes the hotel manager, Feste the old school variety turn, a reception desk stands in for the box-tree and the swimming pool and revolving doors provide constant amusement. Jon Bausor’s beautifully designed set is actually a triumph, an artfully exploded hotel suite on the sweeping expanse of timber atop a water tank, complete with working lift shaft which comes into its own in the scenes of Malvolio’s torment. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I will go lose myself and wander up and down to view the city”

The endless whirl of festivals continues apace with the return of the RSC to its adopted London home at the Roundhouse. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which in turn is part of the London 2012 Festival, the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy brings together one company and two directors over three plays which are bound together through their similarities, entitled What Country Friends Is This?. First up is Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi’s take on The Comedy of Errors, a fresh and frenetic romp through the play which, whilst it may lack some poetry, has been invested with a great energy.

Ruled over by a maniacal gun-toting Duke, it is instantly clear that this Ephesus is a dangerous place in which the threat of death is ever-present and a genuine reality. Onto a grim looking quayside, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are deposited as illegal immigrants in the elusive search for their twin brothers from whom they were separated in a shipwreck. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve alighted in the right place but almost immediately they are mistaken for their Ephesan brothers and brings into motion a hectic tale of misunderstandings and madcap capers. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: The Veil, National Theatre

“What is it about this place that is a conduit for desperate souls”

Conor McPherson’s The Veil is his first original play for 5 years and set in 1822, marks his first foray into period writing although as it is set in a haunted country house in rural Ireland, he isn’t venturing too far from familiar territory. Rae Smith’s one room set, although it is a lavish recreation of the faded grandeur of a crumbling country pile, has great attention to detail with a great staircase going off the left and up to the gods and a large tree out the back of the conservatory and in it, we see the trials of the Lambroke family. Lady Madeleine’s estate is heavily indebted after the death of her husband and an impending economic crisis and so her 17 year old daughter Hannah is being married off to an English marquis. Hannah is a troubled young woman though, who hears voices and when her chaperone Berkeley proposes a séance before heading back to England with his philosopher friend Audelle, the personal demons and family secrets thus revealed threaten devastating effects.

I was someone else’s plus one for the evening for once and wasn’t actually aware it was the first preview until we arrived at the National in good company (though I did know it was early in the run) and so all the usual caveats apply. And they will apply because I didn’t like it all, though as ever, people rarely seem to have complaints when it is a positive review about a preview… McPherson directs his own play in the Lyttelton and I tend to be a little wary when I hear that playwrights are directing their own work, especially with new plays, as I always innately feel that they would benefit from external influences. Whether that is true or not I don’t know, but what I do know is that The Veil was painfully sluggish and not because of the mechanics of working through a first performance but mainly because of the writing and its construction. Continue reading “Review: The Veil, National Theatre”

Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre

“Everything that people say is so much fluff and nothing”

The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov’s final play and although the Old Vic saw Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project tackling it a few years back with a version by Tom Stoppard, it was last seen at the National Theatre a decade ago with Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. This production though sees director Howard Davies reuniting with Andrew Upton with whom he worked on Philistines and The White Guard as they continue to explore 20th century Russian theatre writing and also with leading lady Zoë Wanamaker after their wildly successful collaboration on last year’s All My Sons.

Telling of the terminal decline of the Russian ruling classes at the beginning of the twentieth century, Chekhov’s play is presented in a new version by Andrew Upton which provides a straightforward directness to the text, which is at time effective but also intermittently problematic. For me, it was just too modern for its own good, laced through with random words, colloquialisms and phrases that kept jolting me out of the period setting with some really strange choices, the Nina Simone song lyric being a particularly jarring example. When Upton imposes less on the writing, beautiful and powerful moments arise, it would just be nice if they were allowed to flow better. Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre”