Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Jermyn Street Theatre

Shakespeare via Fleetwood Mac, Patti Smith and Judy Collins? All’s Well That Ends Well works well at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together”

Finally managed to get to the Jermyn Street Theatre to see All’s Well That Ends Well, a co-production with Guildford Shakespeare Company, after director Tom Littler spoke so passionately about it to me. And I’m glad I did too, as it is a rather wonderfully inventive and musical interpretation of the play that makes it sing in a new way, albeit with a careworn air of Joni Mitchell.

Pushed into a (near-)contemporary setting and presented almost as a memory play by Hannah Morrish’s Helena, handing out keepsakes as props. The plot isn’t one of Shakespeare’s strongest, as Helena tries to inveigle her way into the affections of the higher-born Count Bertram, but suggesting it as a recollection of the folly of (younger) love, I bought this take on it. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Jermyn Street Theatre”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

 
Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).
 

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)”

The 2013 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Jack Lowden, for Oswald in Ghosts (Almeida Theatre)

Second prize

Jessie Buckley, for Miranda in The Tempest (Shakespeare’s Globe) and Princess Katharine in Henry V (Noël Coward Theatre)

Third prize

Graham Butler, for Henry VI in Henry VI, Parts I, II & III (Shakespeare’s Globe)

Commendations

Fisayo Akinade, for Adam, Silvius, and William in As You Like It (Transport Theatre on tour)
Elliot Barnes-Worrell, for the Groom in Richard II (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Nari Blair-Mangat, for Caithness in Macbeth (Manchester International Festival)
Gavin Fowler, for Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Noël Coward Theatre) and Florizel in The Winter’s Tale (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Kim Hardy, for Konstantin in The Seagull (The White Bear)
Brian Markey, for Hugh in Mixed Marriage (Lyric Theatre, Belfast)
Charlene McKenna, for Regina in Ghosts (Almeida Theatre)
Rose Reynolds, for Lavinia in Titus Andronicus (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Gemma Soul, for Rose in The Recruiting Officer (Salisbury Playhouse)
Luke Thompson, for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Olivia Vinall, for Desdemona in Othello (National Theatre)

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre

It seems to be that yet we sleep, we dream”

The Michael Grandage Company move onto their fourth show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first of two Shakespeares that will finish the season. And given the emphasis of the star wattage that formed the backbone of its publicity, it’s an interesting choice of play due to its ensemble nature and lack of any real star parts. So we get Sheridan Smith in the dual role of Hippolyta and Titania and David Walliams as Nick Bottom the weaver, alongside a company of others many of whom have appeared in previous MGC shows.

Grandage’s main conceit is to locate the play in 1960s England, making the magical forest into a festival-like world of hippies and free love, allowing an unambiguous focus on sex as the driving force of the play. It’s more like an Athena model version of sex than the untrammeled passion of the real thing though – the four lovers parade about the forest in various states of underwear-clad undress, Titania’s seductive ways lure Bottom into an off-stage bower, the hints of amour between the Rude Mechanicals left tantalisingly unexplored. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre

“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are”

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more notorious plays, The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a long and varied performance history as productions seek to try to present this difficult tale of female subservience in a way that is acceptable to audiences. It has proved trickier though in modern times to square the misogynistic circle and so directors often find themselves upping the innovative ante to unearth interpretations which will prove satisfyingly revelatory. What this often means in practice though is that a high concept is adopted which offers insight into part of the story whilst the rest is left straining to fit in. Lucy Bailey is the latest to try and tame the Shrew here for the RSC in a production which has played a season in Stratford and is now on a short tour of the UK, currently here in Richmond.

The angle that she chooses to focus on is the Induction, the framing device that sets the story in its context – this is all just a performance being put on by a rowdy bunch of friends to delude the drunken fool Christopher Sly. Sly – a bumptious revealing turn from Nick Holder – is kept on stage throughout most of the first half and in some ways, this almost convinces us that what we are watching is but a drunken fantasy. But he is gradually phased out of the show, and so the apparent importance of being reminded that this isn’t real is stripped away and the second half played largely straight as a story that suddenly is to be taken more seriously. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre”

Review: The Syndicate, Minerva

One is constantly learning when going to/reading /writing about theatre, there’s just so much of it to take in! Unknown to me, Eduardo Di Filippo is apparently a giant of Italian theatre but even this, The Syndicate – a version of Il Sindico Del Rione Sanità by Mike Poulton – is receiving its British premiere here, indicating that my ignorance is perhaps a little forgivable. Playing at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, it boasts a healthy cast of 20 headed by Sir Ian McKellen, on a break from filming The Hobbit.

McKellen plays Antonio Barracano, a man smuggled to New York by the local Godfather after murdering a man in his native Naples. After many years accumulating wealth and reputation by working for the mob there, he returns to his hometown as a man of standing amongst the criminal classes who look to him to dispense his own individual brand of justice and one particular case, intervene in a vicious dispute between a son and his father, the son’s murderous urges reminding Don Antonio of his own youthful indiscretion. Continue reading “Review: The Syndicate, Minerva”