Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

“This is not life”

Released last year, Victor Frankenstein has the ignominy of being something of a flop, a little surprising when you consider it is loaded with Brit talent like James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe and was directed by Sherlock alum Paul McGuigan. But as many have learned, not least Dr Frankenstein himself, reanimating old things doesn’t always go smoothly. 

Writer Max Landis’ new spin on Mary Shelley’s classic is that the story is told from (the non-canonical) Igor’s perspective, reframing the ‘hunchback assistant’ as something much more nuanced and offering a fresh set of eyes on their scientific endeavours. Here, McAvoy’s Victor is a manic medical student who rescues Radcliffe’s Igor from an undignified life as a circus freak and quite literally gives him a new lease of life as his collaborator.  Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)”

Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida

“Is it just road-making that’s put you in such a good mood?”

Richard Eyre’s revelatory take on Ibsen’s Ghosts was a deserving multiple Olivier winner last year so it is little surprise to see the Almeida asking him back for more, this time taking on one of his later plays Little Eyolf. And as with Ghosts, the play has been coaxed and condensed into interval-free intensity, the perfect frame for its arresting modernity.

And it is surprising, as though written in 1894, its portrayal of fraught sexual tension in a marriage is as direct and frank a exploration of female sexuality (and sexual desire) as any playwright has come up with since. In the cooling calm of Tim Hatley’s set, Rita Allmers is a wife and mother but finds those roles in conflict as she resents son Eyolf for distracting husband Alfred’s attentions away from her. Continue reading “Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida”

Review: If Only, Minerva

“By the way, David Cameron has met a black man in Plymouth”

A cheeky trip to Chichester meant that I was able to catch David Edgar’s latest play If Only in its final week and whilst it was fun to see a piece of such hyper-contemporary political theatre (Edgar was writing the second act right until the play opened to keep it up-to-date), the real joy was seeing three exciting actors – Martin Hutson, Jamie Glover and Charlotte Lucas – in the spotlight as the main characters. The play starts in the midst of the 2010 election with the result as yet unknown, and the second act takes a jump four years into the future to examine the impact of coalition politics on the nation.

The first half is excellent. Trapped in a Spanish airport by the Icelandic ash cloud, three young politicos are forced into a road trip adventure to make it back in time for the election result. Martin Hutson is a Labour special advisor, Charlotte Lucas is a Lib Dem staffer and Jamie Glover is a Tory MP licking his wounds after the expenses scandal and there’s huge fun as they thrash out the various permutations of a hung parliament and what that would mean for politics in the UK. It’s wordy but funny, Edgar disguises strategising with a little comedy and comes up a plausible, Thick-of-It-style version of what could well have happened involving camels (funnier and cleverer than it sounds).

After the interval, Edgar skips forward to a UK in the grip of the rise of UKIP and a Tory party responding by stealing its position and policies on the far right. The same three characters are reunited and fret about the way in which politics has become dominated by single-issue pressure groups and face a particular dilemma which asks them if it worth sacrificing personal decency for political expediency. It’s less effective and the introduction of a young woman (who connects both halves) played by Eve Posonby struck me as inessential, a way of bringing in a more youthful voice looking to the future that was never really needed. Good production though. 

  

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 25th July

Review: Longing, Hampstead Theatre

“Is there no room for love in your philosophy of life?”

One of the reasons Fawlty Towers remains so highly respected is because it managed that rare feat of going out on a high after making just 12 episodes. And though the reasons for the relatively limited dramatic output of Anton Chekhov may be more to do with his untimely demise, the ethos seems to me to remain similar – the handful of plays that he left behind should be celebrated as such. But he was also a prolific writer of short stories and spotting an opportunity to enrich the canon, novelist William Boyd has fashioned a new play – Longing – from two of them, directed by Nina Raine (her of the astounding Tribes) at the Hampstead Theatre.   

Boyd has used one of Chekhov’s longest stories My Life and “taken its core and impacted it on” one of his most obscure A Visit to Friends and what results is a story of distinctly Chekhovian flavour but one calls to mind numerous of his other plays rather equalling them in their depth and richness. Kolia is invited the summer estate of some old friends but what he thinks will be a relaxing break turns into something much more complex as long-buried emotions come up against current dramas in typically tragicomic fashion. And there’s much to recognise: an ageing woman laments the summer estate she is no longer in possession of, another dares to dream of the love she has sacrificed for a working life, somebody longs to get back to Moscow…these are all highly familiar themes and though they are skilfully woven together by Boyd, there is rarely a sense of dramatic impetus compelling this particular story to be told or ultimately justifying the exercise at large. Continue reading “Review: Longing, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Boys, Soho Theatre

“You want to believe someone will catch you whatever happens, but they won’t”

In a hot Edinburgh summer with the binmen on strike and riot police on a knife edge, four young men approach a major milestone. For two of them, it is graduation from university; for the others, it is the end of being able to piggyback on their flatmates’ hedonistic student lifestyle; for all of them, it is the unavoidable realisation that they have to face up to the future, however unfriendly it may seem. This is the central premise behind Ella Hickson’s newest play Boys, a HighTide/Nuffield/Headlong co-production now playing at the Soho Theatre, which I suppose will strike fear into the hearts of many about to graduate from university themselves.

In the somewhat blinkered world of Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam, the focus remains squarely on partying until the last possible moment with alcohol, drugs and sex and stories of the same to be found in great abundance. But beneath  the bravado lies fear, different kinds of fear for each boy and these slowly play out as the reality of the situation finally begins to hit them and the import of the big questions facing them, as the entry into adulthood lies straight ahead, weighs heavily in the air. Continue reading “Review: Boys, Soho Theatre”

Review: The Children’s Hour, Comedy Theatre

“You ought not to say things like that about people, Mary”

After her (somewhat surprisingly) Olivier-nominated turn in The Misanthrope, Keira Knightley has returned to the same West End stage at the Comedy Theatre to further stretch her dramatic wings in a production of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour which also features the London stage debut of Ellen Burstyn, plus Carol Kane, Elizabeth Moss and a host of UK actresses in a rare play full of meaty parts for women. I hadn’t originally intended to see this show, the inflated ticket prices proving a step too far for a desperately uncomfortable theatre, especially in the (now no longer) cheap seats, but the offer from a kind soul to do the queuing for the £15 day seats meant that we ended up on the front row (A2&3) on a rainy Wednesday afternoon to be quite pleasantly surprised.

Set in 1930s New England at a small boarding school run by Karen and Martha, two women who after years of hard work and building up the school, are finally secure enough to begin looking at other things in life, in the case of Karen, marrying her patient fiancé. The only cloud on the horizon is problem child Mary, a massively disruptive influence and constant troublemaker who after yet another punishment is doled out to her, decides to run away to her grandmother’s house. But when an argument between Martha and her dippy aunt turns particularly rancorous with accusations of unnatural feelings towards Karen and is overheard by some of the other schoolgirls who pass on the tidbit to Mary, the malevolent child accuses her teachers of being secret lovers. It’s a charge which the grandmother takes deadly seriously, encouraging all the parents to withdraw their children and thereby threatening the very livelihood of the two women as they battle to clear their name. Continue reading “Review: The Children’s Hour, Comedy Theatre”