Film Review: The Favourite (2018)

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite offers up a thoroughly human approach to history and three cracking performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz

“Don’t shout at me, I am the Queen”

It may seem like casting directors have forgotten that there are other actresses available alongside Olivia Colman but when the work she produces is this irresistible, you can’t help but indulge them. But though she is being pushed as the lead of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, it is important to note that she eagerly shares that spotlight with both Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

Which is unique enough for Hollywood in general, never mind a mainstream historical film. But here, Lanthimos completely upends convention to produce something unique, compelling and utterly significant. The history of Queen Anne’s reign may be less of an unknown quantity to recent theatregoers although nothing there will have prepared anyone for the affecting and effective novelty of this approach.   Continue reading “Film Review: The Favourite (2018)”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Jodie Whittaker more than lives up to expectations as Doctor Who in Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth – plus Bradley Walsh may well make you cry

“Half an hour ago I was a white haired Scotsman”

“Change my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon”. From the mouth of the Sixth Doctor himself, the very nature of Doctor Who (both the programme and the Time Lord) has always been its infinite variety. So it’s about bloody time that we now have the first female in the role – the excellent Jodie Whittaker – as new show-runner Chris Chibnall makes his definitive mark on the BBC serial.

And on the evidence of this first episode (and, let’s face it, to anyone with common sense), the Doctor’s gender is of little consequence. The ability to act as if you have two hearts knows no bounds, who knew, and the hints of Whittaker’s Doctor that were allowed to peek through the regenerative funk suggest we’re in for something of a real treat with an effervescent sense of personality shining through. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

Re-review: Amadeus, National

“We were both ordinary men, he and I.”

Though Rufus Norris’ tenure hasn’t managed to nail a new writing hit in the Olivier, it has had considerable success in finding revivals to fill this voluminous space. Follies was a standout from last year, particularly in how Vicki Mortimer’s design swelled to magnificent heights and late in 2016, it was a glorious production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus that rose to the occasion. So it is no real surprise to see that show return to the schedule, indeed the surprise was that it might even have gotten better.

That this is Michael Longhurst’s debut in this theatre makes it all the more impressive and I wouldn’t be surprised if his name doesn’t soon become one of the ones bandied around the round of musical chairs that is London artistic directorships. And his decisions here remain as pinpoint accurate in nailing the psychological torment at the heart of this drama, from the toxicity of Salieri’s jealousy, Mozart’s own struggles in dealing with his genius, and how society also has its difficulties in its treatment of those it elevates. Continue reading “Re-review: Amadeus, National”

Review: Amadeus, National Theatre

“It would make angels mourn”

Perhaps fittingly, on an evening when beautiful tribute was paid to the late Howard Davies, whose invaluable contribution to the National Theatre (36 productions over 28 years) will sorely be missed, there’s a sense of the passing of the guard with director Michael Longhurst making his main stage debut in the South Bank venue. Longhurst has been establishing himself quite the reputation (Constellations and Linda at the Royal Court, Carmen Disruption at the Almeida, A Number at the Nuffield, an extraordinary Winter’s Tale earlier this year, and the brilliant The Blackest Black at the Hampstead, to name just a few) and his graduation here feels entirely earned.

He makes his bow with Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, a play that premiered at this very theatre in 1979 (another sad loss, as Shaffer passed away this summer) and with the enviable resources to hand here, mounts an excellent production. The play depicts a largely fictionalised version of the intertwined lives of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri and their rival careers, and the Southbank Sinfonia are on hand to provide live orchestral accompaniment. So that when The Marriage of Figaro is premiered, we get an excerpt; when people read the sheet music, we don’t have to imagine the notes of the page, we hear them out loud. Continue reading “Review: Amadeus, National Theatre”

Review: A Raisin in the Sun, Albany

“Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams – but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while”

When Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun became the first play written by a black woman to be performed on Broadway in 1959, some might have dared dream of a new age of diverse playwrights being represented there. But despite the play’s extraordinary success, the Great White Way remains an unfortunately apposite name – it should have a ‘male’ in there too – and the issues that Hansberry raises, both directly and indirectly, remain pertinent in contemporary America with the #OscarSoWhite furore and the ugliness and popularity of Donald Trump’s rhetoric just two of the most recent examples.

So it is a canny choice of revival for Sheffield-based Eclipse theatre company to tour the UK with, but it’s also a hugely satisfying dramatic one as well. Hansberry taps directly into the African-American experience, using her own family’s battles against segregation, to give us an alternative take on the American Dream, a family’s hopes and dreams refracted through the prisms of poverty, gender, race and above all, the growing sense that the way things are, ain’t necessarily how they gotta be. As one character says “Where are all going and why are we bothering?”, well let the Younger family show you. Continue reading “Review: A Raisin in the Sun, Albany”

Short Film Review #48

Eclipse Theatre’s 10by10 project was a series of short films “exploding the myth of a homogenised Black British culture”, all directed by Dawn Walton but written by and starring a wide range of some of our most exciting writers and performers. Filmed in 10 different cities across the UK, the hometowns of the playwrights in fact, and each shot in a single day, these make a fascinating insight into a wider cross-section of British society that perhaps is normally seen. Part 2 of 2.

 

 

 

Music in the Bones
Yusra Warsama’s Music in the Bones begins with Wunmi Mosaku’s Somaliwoman Amina running through a Manchester backstreet and quickly moves into flashback mode to tell us why. Mosaku has a beautifully modulated voice which is perfect for the narration here, aching with longing and loss and confusion and compassion. Beautiful.

Omar
Starring the impossibly handsome O-T Fagbenle as the titular character, Maurice Bessman’s Omar follows a guy who goes to Amsterdam for his stag weekend but before he’s even toked down on his first indulgence of the trip, a brutal attack and a case of serious mistaken identity shakes his world upside down and then some. Dawn Walton’s direction never quite hits the necessary ambivalent darkness to make this as disturbingly disorientating as it should be but the film does get there eventually, mainly through Fagbenle’s slow awakening to the direness of his situation.
Perfume
The delight that is Middlesborough’s shopping centre features heavily in Ishy Din’s Perfume as brothers Sham and Nad run a scam in order to make some cash in order to buy some ganja. Naturally, things aren’t quite what they seem (a running theme in these films)
A Blues for Nia
Representing Bristol, Chino Odimba’s A Blue for Nia sees Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s Nia stride with purpose through St Pauls with her 5 year old son, striding with a purpose of which she gradually informs us as she vents her spleen.
Babydoll
Susan Hunter Downer’s Babydoll takes place in Sheffield’s city centre as Everal A Walsh’s tramp hunts for treasure amongst the bins and is taken by surprise when he finds a suitcase that he can’t open that he just knows will contain something good. Just what that is, well you’ll have to watch!

Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“You shouldn’t harm nobody”

It is always good to hear that major UK theatres are co-producing shows, especially with the trans-Pennine co-operation between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Exchange on this production of Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I couldn’t help but wonder though how the show will make the leap from Leeds to Manchester, from the vast expanse of the Quarry to the intimacy of being in-the-round. Director James Brining has form though, this adaptation was first mounted at the Dundee Rep (and will undergo an additional transformation next year to fill the Wales Millennium Centre) and as a debut for this newly installed Artistic Director, it does feel like a canny choice.

He relocates Sondheim’s musical to the early Thatcher years, arguing her particular brand of socially transformative politics gave rise to as desperate a despondency as is familiar to us from Dickens. But what moving it out of its original Victorian context to something altogether more modern really achieves is to create an altered, and more chilling, sense of horror. It becomes a scarier psychodrama which is light on laughs and somehow more realistic as a serial killer thriller, although one does have to suspend a little disbelief when it comes to some of the finer points of transportation. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre

“Ain’t nobody born that infallible”

Reader, I ovated. It is a rare occasion indeed that I actually give a standing ovation, more often than not I think about it and don’t do it but just occasionally, one bears witness to something in a theatre that is just irresistibly, incandescently amazing that the only response is to get on one’s feet. For me, it was Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s simply extraordinary performance as Sister Margaret Alexander that beats powerfully at the heart of The Amen Corner, a revival of a 1965 American play by James Baldwin, that fills the Olivier Theatre with the glorious sound of the London Community Gospel Choir.

 Jean-Baptiste’s Sister Margaret is the fiercely passionate leader of her local church in Harlem and living underneath with her sister Odessa and 18 year old son David, she leads her congregation with an iron fist of religious fervour. But trouble is brewing with discontent rumbling in the group of church elders who are looking for an opportunity to oust their leader and when her long estranged husband Luke turns up unexpectedly, they seize the moment as it turns out that their glorious leader may not be as blemish-free as she would have them believe. Continue reading “Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre

“How ill agrees it with your gravity to counterfeit thus grossly with your slave”

Ephesus is London, Syracuse is somewhere in the West Indies (I think) and we’re in the modern day: Dominic Cooke’s production of The Comedy of Errors moves into the Olivier at the National Theatre for an epically long run of a thoroughly updated version of this play. One of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it’s a classic tale of mistaken identities as two sets of twins separated at birth by a shipwreck rocket around the same city causing absolute mayhem as wives, merchants and policemen get tangled in a confused mess over the course of a manic day. We took in a late preview of this show which opens officially on Tuesday 29th.

Though it is Lenny Henry’s face on the poster, this is Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry’s show. As Adriana and Luciana, here a pair of loaded Essex girls, they ooze buckets of attitude as they sit through manicures and massages whilst bemoaning their menfolk and spend the vast majority of the play in some seriously impressive towering heels, even managing to run round the stage in them several times. Blakely’s comic timing is nigh on perfect as she rages through Ephesus/London but also plays a depth to this woman, all too aware of her husband’s philandering and her final contemplative gaze at her husband is a mightily powerful moment. Terry is transformed with straightened blonde locks and a delightfully brash manner which milks every conceivable laugh from her lines: together they are just dynamite. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre”