Ben Elton and Kenneth Branagh latter-day Shakespeare biography All Is True is at once precious and poignant
“You spent so long putting words into other people’s mouths, you think it only matters what is said”
A most curious one this, continuing our creative obsession with filling in the biographical gaps in the life of William Shakespeare (cf Shakespeare in Love; Anonymous; Dedication; Will). All Is True is written by Ben Elton, who has (comic) form in the shape of Upstart Crow, the TV show soon to make its own theatrical bow and has as its director, producer and star, one Kenneth Branagh.
In some ways, it is a beautiful film. Branagh eschews a lot of artifical lighting and flickers of candlelight illuminates several interior scenes to gorgeous effect. He also takes pains to find interesting angles for his shots and the opening image of his silhouetted figure against the burning Globe is stunning. And being able to call on the likes of Sir Ian McKellen (the Earl of Southampton) and Dame Judi Dench (Anne Hathaway) to toss off some Shakespeare recital is of course an unalloyed pleasure. Continue reading “Film Review: All Is True (2018)”
Such a brilliant British gay film – I finally get around to watching God’s Own Country
“My country is dead. You can’t throw a rock in most towns without hitting an old lady crying for her children who have gone.”
Of course its taken me months to get round to watching God’s Own Country and of course I loved it utterly and completely. It’s grim up north and there’s nowt so queer as folk, not least Johnny Saxby, single-handedly holding his family’s failing farm together after his father’s stroke. He numbs the pain with blackout drinking sessions in the pub and rough casual sex with any guy who is up for it, but it’s no life, something has to change.
That change comes in the form of Gheorghe, a Romanian farm labourer brought in for the lambing season. His moody dark looks, lovely chunky knit and sheep’s cheese-making ways don’t quite melt Johnny’s heart so much as grip it, yank its pants down and roll in the mud with it. Theirs is a viscerally physical connection, reflecting the hard labour on this unforgiving Yorkshire countryside, and slowly, Gheorghe begins to shift Johnny’s views on the world. Continue reading “Film Review: God’s Own Country (2017)”
“I know your moustache…”
What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.
But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble. Continue reading “Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)”
“The world is made for men, not for women”
Does the world really need more Oscar Wilde? A whole season’s worth? One of the less inspiring decisions of the year was this takeover of the Vaudeville by the Classic Spring Theatre Company. Perhaps aware of this, Dominic Dromgoole has identified something the world really does need more of – Eve Best in our theatres (and later in the season, Kathy Burke directing). But is that enough to mitigate the resuscitation of this lesser-performed work.
Well almost. There’s no pretending that A Woman of No Importance is a particularly great play which has been languishing unfairly in the doldrums. But it does have the bonus of being a women-heavy play and one with an intriguingly strong thread of feminist thought to it. After a dalliance that resulted in a child, Mrs Arbuthnot’s social ruin is contrasted with Lord Illingworth’s consequence-free escape but 20 years down the line with their son all grown up, their paths cross again. Continue reading “Review: A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville”
Despite having little interest in a season of Oscar Wilde plays, the predictably excellent cast for A Woman of No Importance means that my resistance will be utterly futile as the full cast joining the previously announced Eve Best from 6th October at the Vaudeville Theatre has now been announced.
Joining Best is Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron and William Gaunt, and now completing the cast is Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Crystal Clarke, Harry Lister-Smith, Sam Cox, William Mannering, Paul Rider and Phoebe Fildes.
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the play is the first in his new company’s year-long season celebrating the work of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and it has also been announced that a series of talks will take place before certain performances of A Woman of No Importance. Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland will give the first pre-show talk on 14th October, offering an insight into Wilde’s life and work. On 19th October, Stephen Fry will reflect on his time plying Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film Wilde. On 11th November, Frank McGuinness will consider Wilde alongside Ibsen and Strindberg in ‘Wilde the European’, and on 7th December, Franny Moyle will explore “Wilde’s women.”
“Is it not strange…”
The Faction weren’t kidding when they said they were breaking out of the rep model that has characterised their output for the last few years. Earlier this summer saw them take Vassa Zheleznova to the Southwark Playhouse and now they’re appearing at the reFASHIONed Theatre. What’s that I hear you cry, why it’s a pop-up space on the lower ground floor of Selfridges just past the luggage where a newly commissioned version of Much Ado About Nothing is paying its own tribute to Shakespeare400.
Director Mark Leipacher and co-director Rachel Valentine Smith have slimmed the play down to a neat 90 minutes, without too much damage (unless you’re a big fan of the Watch) and with a nod to the sleekly contemporary surroundings of the reFASHIONed space, introduced digital cameos to supplement their 9-strong cast. So Simon Callow and Rufus Hound pop up on CCTV footage as Dogberry and Verges, and Meera Syal appears regularly onscreen as a reporter for Messina News, filling us in on the breaking news whether on TV or on Twitter-streams. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre”
“Thou call’st thyself a hotter name than any is in hell”
One of the big ticket numbers in the Manchester International Festival this year has to be the return of Kenneth Branagh to Shakespeare, with him taking on the role of Macbeth in a production that was surrounded in secrecy and full of advisory warnings to the lucky few with tickets such as “don’t wear any dry-clean only outfits”, “you may not leave your seat once it has started” and possibly the toughest given its 2 hour interval-free running time, “no toilets in the venue”. That venue has now been revealed to be St Peter’s Church in Ancoats, a deconsecrated space used by the Hallé orchestra to rehearse in and whilst the toilets may be five minutes away at Murray’s Mill where tickets are collected from, any fears of emerging from the show drenched in mud and/or blood were left unfounded.
One can see straightaway though why the warnings have been made. The audience is placed in traverse either side of an earth-covered aisle and within moments of the start, a huge battle rages just inches from the audience with rain pouring, mud churning and sparks flying as swords clash. It’s an incredibly visceral start to a frequently breath-taking production – co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford – which successfully marries tradition with innovation, reinvigorating rather than reinventing Shakespeare’s timeless tale of the corrupting influence of power and ambition. Ashford’s eye for theatrical spectacle is combined with Branagh’s acute Shakespearean expertise and together, create something uniquely special. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester”
“We’ve got some of the best sperm in the country in this room”
The Royal Court have adopted the Duke of York’s theatre for the next few months and will be feeding it with a steady stream of its recent successes. Jumpy and Constellations are yet to come, but the season starts off, a little oddly perhaps, with a remounting of Laura Wade’s Posh which first played in Sloane Square two years ago. Then, we were in the run-up to a general election in which Cameron, Osborne et al were the prospective new boys; now of course, they are in power, albeit in a far-from-cosy coalition and Laura Wade has updated her play to reflect the changes in the political and indeed the economic circumstances in this country and beyond.
In some ways, this feels like a fresh lick of paint which brings Posh bang up to date but in others, it also felt like a somewhat unnecessary updating as it focuses the attention on the play being absolutely ‘of the moment’ when it is better than that, its over-riding message is one that withstands the period details around it (surely it won’t be rewritten every time it is produced…or is this just part of the natural evolution of a new play, in which case this is the first time I think I’ve experienced it). That message is a rather pernicious one about the enduring influence of the old boys’ network in the corridors of power and the way in which our ‘finer’ educational institutions inculcate this sense of entitlement and the abdication of any real sense of responsibility. Continue reading “Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s”
“For some must watch, while some must sleep”
So part two of the Hamlet week saw me making my first ever visit to Sheffield to the Crucible Theatre where director Paul Miller has reunited with frequent collaborator John Simm in tackling Shakespeare’s epic. I have resisted making any comparisons with the two productions in this review and tried my best to approach the writing of this review as if I had not seen the other.
This Hamlet is very much back to basics, very few props and frippery onstage, so that quite often what we are seeing is simply just a group of actors acting. And whilst on the one hand that was nice to see, on the other, it did mean that there was a whole lot of just standing around and the limited emotional palette with which they had to work meant that too often the connections just weren’t there between the characters, Ophelia and Laertes might as well have been strangers for example. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Crucible”