Review: Winter Hill, Octagon

“Heroism is danger and risk, and frankly, until now, it’s been male”

Plays set in places I knew well as a child unexpectedly looks like it might be one of the theatrical memes of the year – Years of Sunlight explored the history of the neighbouring town where I learned to swim and now we have Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new drama Winter Hill, named for the West Pennine peak that was the location of many a childhood walk. 

Wertenbaker’s play is set on the Winter Hill of the near future, as opposed to the not-so-near past, where a chunk of the land has been sold to developers who are constructing a luxury skyscraper hotel there, set to completely alter the way that the hill dominates the landscape and the town of Bolton below it. As a local women’s reading group sneaks onto the building site to have their meetings, hidden agendas bubble to the surface to make matters a little more serious than whether they’ve got enough wine to get through the evening. Continue reading “Review: Winter Hill, Octagon”

Review: Tamburlaine, Arcola

“I mean to be a terror to the world”

I’m fully on board with Yellow Earth Theatre’s objectives of identifying and investing in British East Asian emerging and established actors, writers and directors, so it does pain me a little that their production of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine didn’t quite do it for me. Director Ng Choon Ping has spun a highly theatrical adaptation out of one of the earliest plays to be considered a public success, but its inventive ambition works against its dramatic effectiveness.

In Moi Tran’s spare design, a company of six cover more than twenty roles in this compression of the saga of the Central Asian emperor Timur on whose life it is based. And with the design being so minimal, the constant multi-roling becomes dizzying, projected captions not quite doing enough. Additionally, given that five of the six are women, there’s a layer of gender fluidity which is thought-provoking in this extremely masculine world but ultimately under-explored. Continue reading “Review: Tamburlaine, Arcola”

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

Short Film Review #11

The latest set of short films that have crossed my path.

I haven’t covered any animated films before, but the voice cast for Cooked was just too irresistible, featuring as it does Katherine Parkinson, Stephen Mangan and David Morrissey. And I’m glad I did as this tale of an everyday love triangle between a walrus, a lobster and a seal by German animators Jens & Anna is just adorable. My limited experience in the field makes the comparison with Aardman’s work a little lazy but it really does have some of the same fresh and quirky sense of humour about it and visually it looks really impressive, using a variety of techniques to create something that feels nicely different. At barely six minutes long, you should definitely give this a watch. Continue reading “Short Film Review #11”

Review: Playhouse Creatures, Theatre on the Fly

“One can go a long way in the theatre with an open mouth”

The pop-up space created on the grounds of Chichester Festival Theatre to help celebrate its 50th anniversary is a curious thing, Named Theatre on the Fly and constructed solely from recycled material, its rough edges and unreserved bench seating speaks of its temporary nature but the introduction of a fully operational fly tower, whose machinery is laid bare for all to see, has a certain elegance about it. And it forms the ideal backdrop for April De Angelis’ play Playhouse Creatures which is set in, and backstage at, a seventeenth century theatre.

Specifically, it takes place during the Restoration. Puritanism has ended and the theatres reopened and for the first time, women are allowed on the stage. But as we follow a group of pioneering actresses in a working company, we see the struggles, compromises and stark realities they are faced with, in this exceedingly hard-hitting environment which they bear variously with grace, bawdiness, calculated drive and an ultimate equanimity that this is a tough world for a woman. Continue reading “Review: Playhouse Creatures, Theatre on the Fly”

Review: The Changeling, Southwark Playhouse

“Thou art all deformed”

The programme for the Southwark Playhouse’s latest main house production, The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, starts off with an honest explanation of the difficulties in staging such a dialogue-heavy work so full of asides and freely admits it is taking a risk in the approach they have adopted, which is to use voiceovers. Such candour is perhaps bravely admirable but in this case, it is a risk that does not pay off as The Production Works’ reimagining of the classic sadly falls short in a number of areas.

Beatrice-Joanna is engaged to Alonzo, hotly in love with Alsemero and stalked by her disfigured servant De Flores and such is the strength of her burning desire and the desire she provokes in others that in order to pursue the second she engages the third to get rid of the first. This production focuses on this twisted love triangle and completely does away with the comic subplot, thus bringing in the show at an interval-less 90 minutes but making the tone of the play unremittingly dark. Continue reading “Review: The Changeling, Southwark Playhouse”