Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud

 “The years roll by and nothing changes”

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

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Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

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TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

Review: Splendour, Donmar Warehouse

“If there’s a seam, tell her it’s usually where the anus was.”

An early play from Abi Morgan, Splendour premiered at Edinburgh in 2000 but is only now receiving its London debut at the Donmar Warehouse as part of a season of works by living playwrights. Directed by Robert Hastie who works such wonders on the all-male My Night With Reg, it also marks a nice rebalance with its all-female cast delivering four sensational performances as Morgan replays a single scene four times to allow us into the mind of each of the characters.

They’re in an unidentified dictatorship – perhaps redolent of somewhere in Eastern Europe, perhaps not – and as we come to realise, it is in its final days. And in the presidential palace, beautifully realised by Peter McKintosh, the president’s wife and her best friend are waiting increasingly apprehensively with a photojournalist and her interpreter. As time restarts and replays, Morgan expertly layers up a gripping story whilst exploring the fascinating inner lives of these women. Continue reading “Review: Splendour, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre

“Cure guaranteed”

George Bernard Shaw’s 1906 medical ethics drama The Doctor’s Dilemma had a lot to live up to as the last time I was in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre was for the superlative The Last of the Haussmans, one of my favourite plays of the year so far, but though it didn’t quite scale those heights for me, it did emerge as a most satisfying night at the theatre. Shaw’s play centres on the newly ennobled Sir Colenso Ridgeon, a doctor who has discovered a new cure for tuberculosis but only has limited space on his trial. When the beautiful Jennifer Dubedat pleads for the inclusion of her talented artist husband, he is torn as his penniless colleague Dr Blenkinsop is also suffering from the disease and so Ridgeon and his colleagues gather to assess and discuss who is the worthier candidate for treatment.

Peter McKintosh’s set design is an effective triumph and ingenious to the extent that it garnered a round of applause at one point (although it will be slightly less surprising to those that saw this play). It possesses the requisite austere grandeur in all its incarnations of artists’ garrets, Richmond eateries, Bond Street art galleries and Harley Street salons into which Nadia Fall places her talented cast. Genevieve O’Reilly brings a stunning self-possessed statuesque dignity to Jennifer, almost too reserved until the devastating turbulence of the final act reveals all she has been concealing, Tom Burke dances across the stage with a quicksilver lightness as the manipulative Dubedat whose artistic talent has to be weighed against his problematic morals and Aden Gillett (who should always wear a full beard, always) is magnificent as Sir Colenso, pondering the titular dilemma with an aptly detached manner as befits his finely aristocratic bearing. Continue reading “Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre”

DVD Review: The Young Victoria

“Do you ever feel like a chess piece being moved around in a game against your will”

Much as my favourite genre of theatres is old-school musicals, my favourite type of film is a lavish costume drama, especially and since I’m nicely ensconced at my parents’ house with their flash new television, I’m going to blog a few of them. First up is The Young Victoria, the 2009 film detailing the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria and the beginnings of her grand romance with Albert. I have a serious girl crush on Emily Blunt, she was the highlight of The Devil Wears Prada for me but I really fell in love with her whilst watching the bloopers from the film, she has the kind of irresistible laugh I could listen to all day but I do think she is becoming a really interesting actor (who someone should get on the stage!).

Written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and including producers like Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson – a major force behind getting it made apparently – the film starts off with Victoria as heir presumptive to her uncle King William IV and trying to fend off the avaricious advances of her mother the Duchess of Kent and the hugely ambitious comptroller of her household Sir John Conroy. Matters are complicated by her other uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, who wants to use his family connections to build a British/Belgian alliance, but his decision to use his nephew to seduce his way into her affections has unexpected repercussions for everyone, as the nephew is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Young Victoria”

Review: 13, National Theatre

“Over the last year, it feels like it’s all falling apart…in this country…across the world…”

Mike Bartlett can probably lay claim to being one of the most interesting new British playwrights to emerge this century, steadily building his oeuvre of plays that pick at modern life and expose its shortcomings… And as his profile increases, so too have the stature of the commissions, moving from the Royal Court – where I saw his Cock  – to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre with last year’s Earthquakes in London and now graduating to the Olivier – the youngest writer in 10 years to be staged there – with his latest new play 13.

What is it all ‘about’ I hear you say. Well if that question is foremost in your mind then it is likely that you may be disappointed with 13, as it eschews a conventional sense of narrative for the creation of apocalyptic foreboding in a contemporary London that feels all too realistic. For it is a piece of writing that feels incredibly pertinent, full of up-to-the-minute references to public disorder, social media, student riots and the Arab Spring, concerning a society wracked with disturbing dreams and a crippling uncertainty. What Bartlett alights on is the importance of belief, not necessarily in God but having some conviction that things will be ok if we trust our instincts, and the succour that is gained from collecting as a group behind such beliefs. Continue reading “Review: 13, National Theatre”

Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre

“Words and thoughts are just as important as deeds”

Though Ibsen is reputed to have described Emperor and Galilean as his ‘major work’ which took nine years to complete, it has never previously been staged in English and little is known about it given how often his other works are revived. This may well be because it was not actually written for the stage but to be read, consequently the original epic spreads over ten acts and is allegedly over eight hours long. Never one to shirk a challenge though, the National Theatre commissioned a new adaptation by Ben Power which condenses it down to about 3 hours 20 minutes yet still employs over 50 performers to bring this version of Ibsen’s epic to life. This was a preview performance on Monday 13th June.

The play spans 351 to 363AD, following the life of Julian, nephew of the Roman emperor, an intelligent erudite man even from his teenage days which were spent exploring his faith and studying the Bible with his friends. But chafing against the constraints of the imperial household which isn’t altogether sympathetic to his existence, he escapes to a carefree existence in Athens where he is seduced by the exotic lure of the worship of the ancient pagan Gods. His eventual rise to Holy Roman Emperor thus saw him try to abolish Christianity as the state religion and replace it Paganism, returning back to the values of old, but conflating his own personal struggle with faith with the trials of ruling a fading empire is an awful lot for one man to take on. Continue reading “Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre”