Review: Henry the Fifth, Unicorn

“This is a story about a king”

The Unicorn’s A Winter’s Tale, written by Ignace Cornelissen from Shakespeare, was something unexpectedly brilliant last year, and powerfully moving – unsure of what to expect, I didn’t think that I’d be crying for a good while after at what was ostensibly a children’s show. So you’d think I’d be pre-warned going into Henry the Fifth, likewise an adaptation of, or more accurately a response to, Henry V, but once again, I found myself weeping, most likely scaring the children around me and even now, I’m unable to look at a balloon without welling up.

Cornelissen, translated by Purni Morell, re-envisages the war at the heart of the play as a playground struggle and in Ellen MacDougall’s lucid production, we see that the actions of those concerned are as impactful whether on a school field or a battlefield. The power games of climbing to the top and grabbing it all apply equally in both scenarios but more tellingly, the effect that they have on the people around them can be absolutely devastating. It is such a simple technique but one which is spellbindingly effective. Continue reading “Review: Henry the Fifth, Unicorn”

Radio Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen + Gracey and Me

“Is this the way to Macclesfield?”

Books like Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series were huge favourites of mine when I was a wee laddie, so I quite most intrigued to hear that a radio adaptation had been made of the former for Radio 4. Peter Thomson’s dramatization condenses the novel down to a highly atmospheric hour as this children’s fantasy tale winds its way around the ancient mysteries hidden on Alderley Edge. The story starts with Colin and Susan, young siblings who are sent to stay with old family friends in Cheshire whilst their parents are away, and who soon find themselves sucked into a mystical battle between the forces of good and evil who are all hunting for the Weirdstone which has gone missing and which looks strangely like the jewel at the heart of Susan’s favourite bracelet. 

Thomson has the tale narrated by an older version of Colin, a technique I’m not normally a fan of but one which works extremely well here, especially as he is played by Robert Powell whose sonorous tones are soothingly ideal for the purpose. And Jane Morgan’s production is inspired in its use of music (by Mia Soteriou) and special effects (by Wilfredo Acosta) to quickly establish the necessary atmosphere of ancient mystery and peril. She’s cast her play astutely too: Trevor Cooper’s booming guardian Gowther is brilliant, Philip Voss’ voice epitomises weary wisdom and Monica Dolan is a perfect choice for the wicked Selina Place. And with Hugo Docking and Fern Deacon full of youthful energy and wonder as Colin and Susan, it’s a rather wonderful hour of radio entertainment. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen + Gracey and Me”

Review: War Horse, New London Theatre

“Will you just shut up about your blimmin’ horse”

Those of you that know me, or have read a few reviews on here, will know that I have something of an aversion to puppets, specifically puppetry that tries to be realistic in its portrayal – Avenue Q’s fluffy monsters are fine in that respect – but something about the mimicry of ‘real life’ has never been something I have enjoyed watching and indeed freaks me out a little bit. Throw into the mix horses, an animal of which I am not keen, and it is perhaps unsurprising that I have never been to see War Horse. Nor had I ever intended to, but I made the mistake of saying that the only way I would go was if someone bought me a ticket for my birthday…and lo, guess what happened…

Adapted by Nick Stafford from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book, War Horse has been one of the biggest theatrical success stories of recent years: originally playing at the National Theatre in 2007, then returning for a revival the next year and then transferring into the West End in March 2009 where it has become one of the best selling shows in town, a genuine fixture at the tucked-away New London Theatre where its success shows no signs of abating, especially in the reflected glow of its award-winning sister production on Broadway. Quite why this is, I have to say still eludes me having seen the show, I couldn’t tell you what the magic ingredient is in here that has led to its enduring achievements aside from offering one of the most overly sentimental theatrical experiences possible. Continue reading “Review: War Horse, New London Theatre”

Review: Heldenplatz, Arcola

“There are more Nazis in Vienna now than in ’38”

Continuing the mini German-language season at the Arcola, Heldenplatz is an uncompromising difficult play which has had a troubled existence, especially in playwright Thomas Bernhard’s native Austria. Named for the square in Vienna where Adolf Hitler declared the Anschluβ that annexed Austria to Nazi Germany and marked the beginning of the territorial aggrandisement that led to World War II, this is an excoriating look at the Austrian national character and just how prevalent right-wing sensibilities were in 1938 and persist even in the modern day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this outraged many Austrians who felt Bernhard was sullying the reputation of their nation, confronting as it does some uncomfortable truths.

The play is set in 1988 and the Schuster family and household are reeling from the death of its patriarch. As they prepare for the funeral, and then join for one final meal in his apartment afterwards, these Jewish intellectuals who fled the country once, they have found that little has changed for them: pervasive hatred and anti-Semitic prejudice still abound and they struggle to find their place in a society shorn of illusion. Continue reading “Review: Heldenplatz, Arcola”