Re-review: Summer and Smoke, Duke of York’s

The Almeida’s Summer and Smoke transfers into the West End at the Duke of York’s Theatre to great success. And Patsy Ferran is a star.

“Reaching up to something beyond attainment…”

The Almeida’s Summer and Smoke was a huge hit in the spring so it was little surprise to hear a West End transfer was on the cards (especially compared to, say, The Twilight Zone…). And it has transplanted to the Duke of York’s in fine shape, Tom Scutt’s set losing none of its invitingly curved intimacy as it replicates the bare bricks of the N1 venue.

And Rebecca Frecknall’s production has lost none of its charge, mainly through retaining the electric chemistry between its leads – an exceptional Patsy Ferran as Alma and Matthew Needham as John. The complex emotional connection between their characters is the heart of the play and the stark simplicity of the staging reflects that from the outset. Continue reading “Re-review: Summer and Smoke, Duke of York’s”

Review: Summer and Smoke, Almeida

A rarely performed Tennessee Williams emerges as a real gift in the form of Rebecca Frecknall’s Summer and Smoke at the Almeida

“I’m more afraid of your soul than you’re afraid of my body”

When ‘director’s theatre’ looks and feels like this, it’s hard to believe that anyone would take against it. Director Rebecca Frecknall, aided by designer Tom Scutt, throws out the rulebook when it comes to Tennessee Williams, and comes up with something beautiful, something that genuinely feels like Williams for a contemporary age.

It helps that Summer and Smoke is relatively unheralded among his vast canon. And that the Almeida under Rupert Goold is as close as you’ll come to a director’s theatre. But the key is Frecknall’s vision of a world unmoored from the turn-of-the-century Mississippi setting and relocated to somewhere altogether more elemental.  Continue reading “Review: Summer and Smoke, Almeida”

Oscar Week Film Review: Darkest Hour

No amount of prosthetics can stop this from being my…Darkest Hour

“The deadly danger here is this romantic fantasy of fighting to the end”

Eesh. The world already has too many Churchill films, never mind the fact that two big ones were released in the same year (Brian Cox’s Churchill was the lower profile one here). And for me, there’s nothing here in Joe Wright’s direction or Anthony McCarten’s writing that merits the retread over much-covered ground.

That is not the prevailing opinion obviously, as the film’s seven Oscar nominations testify, but it is what it is. No amount of latex makes Gary Oldman’s performance palatable (and isn’t it odd that he’s getting such acclaim for a role in which he is unrecognisable), and it is a crime in the ways in which the likes of Patsy Ferran and Faye Marsay are under-utilised, nay wasted. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Darkest Hour”

Full casting for Almeida’s Summer and Smoke

Starting off the new brightly, the full cast of the Almeida’s production of Summer and Smoke has been announced.

Joining Patsy Ferran in the revival of Tennessee Williams’ play will be:

  • Seb Carrington (Archie Kramer)
  • Nancy Crane (Mrs Winemiller/Mrs Bassett)
  • Eric MacLennan (Papa Gonzales/Vernon)
  • Forbes Masson (Rev Winemiller/Dr Buchanan)
  • Matthew Needham (John Buchanan)
  • Tok Stephen (Roger Doremus/Dusty), and
  • Anjana Vasan (Rosemary/Rosa Gonzales/Nellie).

Rebecca Frecknall directs, with Tom Scutt on design duties and Lee Curran on the lights . Summer and Smoke opens at the Almeida on 7th March for a month-long run.

Film Review: Anna Karenina

 

”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”

Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.

Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations.  Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”

Not-a-review: Government Inspector, Young Vic

“Compared to the important things in life, everything in life is dust and vanity, ashes and delusion”

David Harrower’s version of Gogol’s Russian comedy for the Young Vic is titled simply Government Inspector, losing the definitive article as did the Arcola’s Seagull, marking an odd potential trend for 2011. The inept Mayor of a small Russian town is driven into a frenzy with news of an impending visit from a government inspector but when a conman is mistaken for this visitor, the hypocrisy and corruption that the town’s bigwigs are desperate to hide is exposed.

I can’t fairly pass judgement on anything I saw as I didn’t make it to the end. For the first time in about three years, I left at the interval: something I have resisted doing since starting to write reviews properly, although often against my better judgement. And in a week when an article elsewhere about not overdoing it at the theatre mentioned me by name, there was something ironic in the fact that I even arrived to this show since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it and several people had warned that they knew I would hate it: my default position is currently seeing as much as is humanly possible whilst (barely) holding down a job in order to expand the breadth of my theatrical experience rather than making considered decisions about what I’m inclined to like. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Government Inspector, Young Vic”

Review: Henry V, Southwark Playhouse

“I am glad thou canst speak speak no better english, for if thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king”
 

Ooh, this whingeing thing is hard to shake… After my exploits at the Adelphi on Monday, I had to take a couple of days downtime from the theatre to recover and reassess the world in the light of love having actually died a death right in front of me. To try and restore my customary mood, a trip was made to Henry V at the Southwark Playhouse. A company of seven actors act out the radically edited play, covering several characters each, using, and I quote “striking physical imagery, innovative movement sequences and direct contact with the audience” to “reimagine [this as] a life-sized board game. What could possibly go wrong?

One is given a pass along with your ticket which allocates one to either the English or the French army: this governs where one sits in the theatre and there’s a little playing along too, as we’re exhorted to rise when the King first arrives and it’s all jolly fun initially. The floor is covered with a large scale map of England and France, and the seating is arranged around all four sides, creating the stage, or game-board in the middle. This is where Shakespeare’s play of fast-maturing Henry V’s attempts to conquer France, culminating in the famous battle of Agincourt, is told by our players in a really quite bizarre fashion. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Young Vic

“Jumping Jehosaphat, well if it ain’t the damndest thing I ever did see.”

Running right through to January, the Young Vic has set a lot into Annie Get Your Gun, their longest running production to date. Starring Jane Horrocks as the sharp-shooting Annie Oakley, this musical contains some incredibly well-known songs, and so would seem like a fairly safe bet.

First off, the look of the whole show really is quite arresting, and not in a good way. It instantly evokes ‘school show’ as it really does look cheap and shabby, and the lack of depth in the stage is highlighted every time there’s more than 4 people on stage as they are having to carefully negotiate their way around each other and the props without tumbling off. And on top of that, the design is really quite unsuited to the venue. Such a wide, shallow stage means that people sat towards either edge of the auditorium have severe difficulties in seeing the action when it moves to the other side. And the use of a cutaway above the stage means the front few rows miss the final scene (and the one shirtless moment!). Given that it is unreserved seating, it does seem quite unreasonable to expect people to fork out £30 and then have their view restricted. Continue reading “Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Young Vic”