Lockdown film review: Emma. (2020)

Autumn de Wilder offers an Emma. with a contemporary sensibility but not much sense

“Mother, you MUST sample the tart!”

You don’t see Jane Austen much at the theatre. Her situation notwithstanding, over the years I think I’ve only seen a single Pride and Prejudice and a vibrant Persuasion (plus countless Austentatious inventions), adaptations of her work just don’t seem to pop up in theatres with much regularity at all. I wonder why that is for there’s certainly no lack of them on our screens.

I wasn’t much of a fan of the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring film but loved both the TV versions I’ve seen with Kate Beckinsdale and particularly with Romola Garai. This latest iteration of Emma., directed by Autumn de Wilde and adapted by Eleanor Catton, only hit cinemas recently but due to coronavirus restrictions, found its way pleasingly quickly onto on-demand services. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Emma. (2020)”

TV Review: Fleabag Series 2

Flying against the wind with this I know, but the second series of Fleabag leaves me rather cold…

“I think you’ve played with my guinea pig long enough”

I’m not sure why I’ve never succumbed to the Fleabag love that has swept the nation. Whether onstage or on screen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s magnus opus has never quite done it for me but what do I know – the return of the show, to a West End theatre no less, sold out quickly and the column inches about this second series of the TV show have been mounting up.

And ever the contrarian, this follow-up hasn’t really tickled my fancy either. The one thing that I think it did brilliantly was in its use of the fourth wall, particularly how Andrew Scott’s hot vicar was able to see through it for the loneliness avoidance technique it was and for pure storytelling, I thought it worked very well in terms of humanising a character who has always been rather arch. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag Series 2”

Review: Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre

“He thinks too much – such men are dangerous”

Though it is billed as ‘a promenade staging’ and the website refers to ‘mob tickets’ and ‘immersive ticket holders’, make no mistake that if you’re in the pit for Julius Caesar, you’re standing. For two hours. There’s a bit of movement, as in five paces that way or this when a new bit of the set has to wheeled into place but don’t be distracted into thinking there’s anything more on offer here than can be gotten further along the South Bank at the Globe (apart from a roof of course, which allows them to charge five times the price, or three times if you book your tickets via TodayTix).

And as with being a groundling, there are decided pros and cons to experiencing theatre this way. The first half of Shakespeare’s political thriller works extremely well under this modern-dress treatment from Nicholas Hytner. As you enter the Bridge’s auditorium, reconceived into the round here, the pit is filled with a rock gig, vendors sell beer and baseball caps, a febrile energy fills the space which carries through to the arrival of David Calder’s populist Caesar with his red cap and puerile slogan ‘Do this!’ (Contemporary allusions are clear but later on you may find the mind gets weirdly drawn to Murdoch more than Trump…).

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Full cast of the Bridge Theatre’s Julius Caesar announced

The full cast for the Bridge Theatre’s second production – a promenade version of Julius Caesar – has been announced and obviously the news that Adjoa Andoh will be playing Casca is the bee’s knees.

The company is: Adjoa Andoh (Casca), David Calder (Caesar), Leaphia Darko (ensemble), Rosie Ede (Marullus/ Artemidorus), Michelle Fairley (Cassius), Leila Farzad (Decius Brutus), Fred Fergus (Lucius/Cinna the Poet), Zachary Hart (ensemble), Wendy Kweh (Calpurnia), David Morrissey (Mark Antony), Mark Penfold (Caius Ligarius), Abraham Popoola (Trebonius), Sid Sagar (Flavius/Popilius Lena), Nick Sampson (Cinna), Hannah Stokely (Metellus Cimber), Ben Whishaw (Brutus) and Kit Young (Octavius).

DVD Review: NOW – in the Wings on a World Stage

“We’re not doing in fucking tights, with whatever those fucking old jock-strap things are called that they wear”

NOW – in the Wings on a World Stage is a behind-the-scenes look at the final instalment of the Bridge Project, a transatlantic theatrical enterprise that saw a partnership between the Old Vic, London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York and Neal Street Production. Over each of its three years, a single Anglo-American company was brought together to perform classic plays, culminating in a production of Richard III that toured the world for over 200 years.

Led by Kevin Spacey’s Tricky Dicky (very much Frank Underwood in the making) and director Sam Mendes in their first collaboration since the Oscar winning American Beauty, NOW… is still very much a company piece, giving us a glimpse into life on the road not just for the actors but also for all the creatives, it’s fascinating to see the challenges that faced the associate director Bruce Guthrie and his stage management team as this substantial production moved from city to city. Continue reading “DVD Review: NOW – in the Wings on a World Stage”

DVD Review: The Falling

“What’s a man I’ve never met got to do with all of this?”

Having cast an eye over the reviews for Carol Morley’s The Falling, I was interested to see how well it has been received by real cinephiles, their writing suffused with cinematic references to the likes of Lucrecia Martel and Lucile Hadžihalilović, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wicker Man. I was interested because the film really turned me off, despite containing many things that I love – not least a cast with Monica Dolan and Maxine Peake and a score by Tracey Thorn, late of Everything But The Girl.

Set in 1969, The Falling concerns an outbreak of what we now call mass psychogenic illness, aka hysterical fainting at an English girls’ school. At the heart of it are best friends Lydia and Abbie, the latter’s exploration of her sexuality (namely by sleeping with the former’s brother) sparking an intensification of feeling which leads to tragedy. And as a result, an epidemic of fainting spells sweeps the school, affecting even staff, unleashing its own torrent of private truths about Lydia’s family circumstances. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Falling”

Review: The Rivals, Arcola

“Through all the drama — whether damned or not —Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.”

The main beauty of Selina Cadell’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen The Rivals is her mastery of the Restoration form which sees no fourth wall separating players and punters. So on taking the stage, her actors acknowledge the audience in their own ways – awkward bows, tacit nods, arched eyebrows – and continue to address us throughout, an expositionary monologue here, an announcement of the scene’s location there, a gossipy aside everywhere. What really makes it work though is the warmth and wit with which the company fold us into its welcoming arms.

With a wicked glint in her eye and wryly pursed lips, an extravagantly dressed Gemma Jones ensures her Mrs Malaprop reaches the very pineapple of her comic potential and with no less captivating humour, Nicholas Le Prevost makes even the lewdest of Sir Anthony Absolute’s comments a hilarious part of his incorrigible charm. They have decided that her niece Lydia Languish and his son Captain Jack Absolute are an ideal match but young Lydia – an outrageous Jenny Rainsford who plays her on the edge of sanity to hugely entertaining effect – has her heart set on the romantic, and penniless, hero of her dreams. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Arcola”

(P)review: King Lear, National Theatre

“We cry that we are come to this great stage of fools” 

One of the hottest tickets of the New Year is undoubtedly Sam Mendes and Simon Russell Beale tackling King Lear for the National Theatre, a show which has now started previews in the Olivier. I saw it tonight but as press night is a week away next Thursday, I’m opting to preview the show rather than reviewing it per se, offering tasters and teasers about what to expect whilst trying my best to avoid spoilers.First up, you can read an interview here with Simon Russell Beale about how he got his hair did. I assume more features and things are due this weekend as this was the only one I could find about this production. The show currently comes in at a shade under 3 hours 30 minutes and though my initial reaction was along the lines of

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DVD Review: The Duchess

“As they say, the Duke of Devonshire is the only man in england not in love with his wife”

Another of the films that I revisited in my period drama splurge over Christmas was The Duchess. This Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes vehicle did fairly well in 2008 and I quite enjoyed it at the cinema, though I remember being a little tired of the marketing shtick that overplayed the title character’s familial connection with the late sainted Diana, Princess of Wales and rather unnecessarily sought to draw huge parallels between the two. The film is about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who delighted and scandalised late eighteenth century society with her extravagance, forward fashion sense and a soft spot for gambling. Her marriage to the Duke though was far from happy though and as her public persona rises and rises and she becomes beloved of most everyone, behind closed doors infidelities and terrible betrayals push the Duchess to extreme measures.

I did enjoy watching this again for the most part and it is strongly acted, but for a film that covers at least ten years, it is surprisingly slow moving. Knightley in particular is excellent as Georgiana (I’ve never understood why she is such a polarising figure), a woman ahead of her time in many ways with her intellect and political nous having no official outlet in the society of its time and also challenged by being unable to contain her passion for Dominic Cooper’s Charles Gray (great casting choice!). Her portrayal deepens as the film progresses too, she becomes a convincing mother and pained victim faced with a harrowing choice as Fiennes’ passive-aggressive Duke finally rouses into action. He is superbly controlled throughout, almost terrifying with his impassive domination of all around him and the best scenes of the film, in my opinion, are the masterful shots at the long dinner table with husband and wife at either end and his mistress in the middle – beautifully, excruciatingly done. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Duchess”

Review: Richard III, Old Vic

“I thank God for my humility”

Something of a rarity for me in visiting the final show of a run, here the final iteration of the three year transatlantic Bridge Project this time taking in just the single show, Richard III. The reason I left it so late was mainly because I hadn’t got a huge amount of will to actually go and see it, Propeller’s anarchic and inventive interpretation being so fresh in my mind especially after revisiting it just as this production opened at the Old Vic, and though my Aunty Jean was most keen to see it, by the time I got round to it, it had predictably sold out. Sod’s law dictates that tickets for a couple of shows in the final week emerged last minute but she couldn’t make it, but I snapped up a £15 bargain in the dress circle to go and see what all the fuss was about.

The big selling point of Sam Mendes’ production was clearly Kevin Spacey in the title role and Spacey rises to the challenge to provide the grandest of performances. So much so that I was initially rather turned off by the overemphatic nature of his opening scenes, it felt akin to being hit by a sledgehammer of acting and left me wondering where on earth he was going to go from this grandstanding. Fortunately, he did calm down a bit to allow the depth of his portrayal to emerge: a malevolent spirit but not one born evil, but twisted that way by life and still able to keep a black humour about him, Spacey excelling with a sardonic rapidfire delivery. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Old Vic”