Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn’t followed Ink into the West End I’m not sure.
A second three-way tie? Hey, it’s my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing ‘Send in the Clowns’ for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker’s uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn’t begin with J…, Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there’s any justice, should continue the Hope Mill’s admirable record of London transfers.
Beautiful yet undeniably brutal, Anatomy of a Suicide has all the shimmering disquiet of a half-remembered dream, a blurred imagining of people, places and things that coalesce into something deeply profound. Constructed by playwright Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell, it revels in a hugely exciting formal inventiveness (even the playtext is stunning to look at) but is also filled with a repressed emotionality that is often bruising to watch.
The play contains three narrative strands, set in different times, which are performed simultaneously on the same stage. Across the decades from the 1970s to the 2030s, the lives of Carol, Anna and Bonnie play out with strange echoes and motifs recurring until we realise how interconnected they are. Anna is Carol’s daughter, Bonnie is Anna’s and it is more than blood that they share, Birch suggests a shared legacy of severe depression.
It’s an uncomfortable (depressing, even) premise but one which pays rich dividends as it provokes in us something primal, something elemental about the truths and conventions we cling onto. The thought that motherhood isn’t always considered a blessing but a trial, the idea that we can easily outrun familial legacies, the notion that what is so, so good for ourselves isn’t necessarily so great for another. As words and actions trickle down through the ages, reverberating back again, shaping and reshaping these lives, something vastly moving occurs.
Hattie Morahan, Kate O’Flynn and Adelle Leonce are simply stunning as the three generations of women at the heart of this story, each meticulously detailed in their performance and painstakingly accurate in the different ways in which mental illness has hollowed them out. And the way in which the intergenerational echoes pop up is unbearably moving, the precision of Mitchell’s direction in complete service of fully fleshed-out storytelling producing something astonishing, especially in the agonising poignancy of one of the final tableaux. An absolute triumph.
I’ve already written of my excitement for the forthcomingPersuasion and the announcement of the cast hasn’t lessened the thrill at all. Lara Rossi takes on the role of Austen’s heroine Anne alongside Samuel Edward-Cook as Captain Wentworth. The cast is completed by Geraldine Alexander, Antony Bunsee, Helen Cripps, Cassie Layton, Caroline Moroney, Dorian Simpson and Arthur Wilson.
Directing them is Jeff James, “one of the UK’s most original young theatre makers”, who has adapted and is directing this bold retelling of Jane Austen’s final masterpiece at the Royal Exchange Theatre. Designed by Alex Lowde this contemporary production of Austen’s beautifully crafted novel discards the bonnets and trappings of formal life for a startlingly modern vision of Austen. Developed in collaboration with dramaturg James Yeatman and with sound design from the award-winning Ben and Max Ringham, Persuasion runs from 25 May to 24 June 2017.
Gershwyn Eustache Jnr., Paul Hilton, Peter Hobday, Adelle Leonce, Sarah Malin, Jodie McNee, Hattie Morahan, Kate O’Flynn and Dickon Tyrrell have been cast in Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide directed by Katie Mitchell. It runs in the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs 3 June 2017 – 8 July 2017, with set design by Alex Eales, costume design by Sarah Blenkinsop, lighting by James Farncombe, music by Paul Clark and sound by Melanie Wilson
“My mother always said to Live Big.
Live as much as I could.”
Three generations of women.
For each, the chaos of what has come before brings with it a painful legacy.
“I have Stayed. I have Stayed – I have Stayed for as long as I possibly can.”
To hear Writer Alice Birch and director Katie Mitchell discuss Anatomy of a Suicide (and reveal HUGE production spoilers!) see below
Anatomy of a Suicide is part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme, supported by Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.
Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis.
For though some effort has been made to make this Belle a more modern girl (it is her rather than her father who is the inventor in the family), Watson’s interpretation lacks the vibrancy to make her character really sing. And not being a singer by any stretch, she’s not able to sufficiently build on the characterisation through the music – ‘Belle’ is an altogether pleasant number but it could do with being more vivacious, especially when the green-screen hits and a blankness appears in Watson’s eyes.
Dan Stevens’ Beast isn’t allowed to be sufficiently violent or ugly to be a real antagonist but even if he really is beautiful on the inside, there’s no way to spin their relationship – which begins as captor/captive – in a convincingly positive light. He sounds lovely in ‘Evermore’ though. It’s all part of the problem of trying to make what was an animated world of imagination and possibility into something needlessly photo-realistic.
Lumière the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the pendulum clock (Ian McKellen), and Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) are all amusingly done but in their CGI rendering, draw attention to their artificiality rather than their magic, which seems to me to miss the point. They do get a lovely moment in one of Alan Menken’s new songs – Days in the Sun – and musically as a whole, the film does sound great.
And in the only two performances that seem to be having any fun, Luke Evans and Josh Gad stand out as Gaston and his manservant Le Fou (such hoohah about a blink-and-miss-it ‘gay’ moment). Maybe that’s the key, just to disengage the brain and try to have fun with this. Though why you’d want to when you can just as easily pop on the animated flick is beyond me. And try as she might, Emma Thompson is no Angela Lansbury. (Listen to the soundtrack instead).
The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast will be arriving in cinemas on 17th March but should you be so inclined, you can listen to the film’s soundtrack here on YouTube, other digital platforms or buy the album from wherever it is that records are sold near you. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s music and lyrics will be intensely familiar to fans of the original Disney film but after director Bill Condon decided not to include any of the songs that were written for the musical with Tim Rice, Menken composed a number of new songs for this film which ought to pique the interest of any right-thinking musicals fan.
None of the old-school classic feel of the music has been lost in this recording, which was a great relief to me, and its new twists on these old songs are certainly interesting. I really enjoyed Josh Gad and Luke Evans’ freshly comic take on ‘Gaston’ and though Emma Watson is no out-and-out singer, she gives a sweetly decent account of herself. Emma Thompson has perhaps a trickier job in tackling the iconic legacy of Angela Lansbury’s Mrs Potts, her accent choice is somewhat distracting but once you’re accustomed to it, the lushness of the orchestrations make the title track spine-tingling and ‘Be My Guest’ is immense fun as Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Ian McKellen chip in too.
Of the new songs, ‘Days in the Sun’ is my favourite, a tender lullaby that grows into a wistful lament for the lives of the staff as were. Menken intertwines gorgeous vocal lines and gives Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano the opportunity to unfurl majestically (she also gets a shine to shine in the aria inserted into the overture). ‘How Does A Moment Last Forever’ is an exquisite instant Disney classic, sung first by Kevin Kline and then by Watson in her standout musical moment. And Dan Stevens emerges as a surprisingly strong singer in the Beast’s song ‘Evermore’ which lyrically suggests an intriguing emotional reconfiguration of the film’s romantic dynamic.
And of course, no Disney soundtrack is complete without mainstream popstars tackling at least some of the songs and here, the new Beauty and the Beast outdoes itself. Céline Dion is famous singing the original pop version of the title track with Peabo Bryson but here she is brought back to sing How Does A Moment Last Forever and it is simply the perfect match. Employing the kind of restraint that brings out the real beauty in her voice, she simply soars here, no more so than in the passage of vocalise (from about 1.38) where she wordlessly echoes the piano motif and angels descend from heaven (or something…I’m a fan, I can’t help it!).
It’s a gorgeous subtlety that is sadly lacking on the remake of the title track by Ariana Grande and John Legend which indulges her in pointless adlibs before the first line has even been sung. The arrangement sounds horrendously cheap and they feel mismatched tbqh, much as I do like his soulful commitment. John Groban gives us his version of ‘Evermore’ with no surprises to round out the standard edition, where the deluxe set offers demos of the five new pieces and Menken’s score on a second disc for the complete experience. It might be a little soon to call this a classic addition to the Disney canon but I wouldn’t bet against it!
The National Theatre last night hosted its biennial fundraising gala, Up Next, raising over a million pounds to support access to the arts for children and young people across the country. I think they forgot to invite me though… 😜
Performances commissioned especially for the event included a new piece by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, alongside performances by Sir Lenny Henry, Anne-Marie Duff and hundreds of talented young people from across London.
The Up Next Gala was held to raise vital funds for the NT’s Learning Department, ensuring that young people from across the country have the chance to access the arts, develop new skills and experience live theatre performances. NT Learning works with schools, young people, families, community groups and adult learners from all corners of the UK and in 2015-16 engaged with more than 181,000 participants. The nationwide youth theatre festival Connections has helped to launch the careers of many of the UK’s brightest and best actors, from Andrew Garfield to John Boyega.
Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, who hosted the gala evening said:
‘Every child has the right to a creative education and the opportunity to fully participate in the arts. Theatre gives us the chance to stand in other people’s shoes, to tell compelling stories and to be able to see the world from different perspectives. It’s our responsibility as one of the leading arts institutions to help fertilise the creativity of this country, giving more children the chance to experience and take part in theatre, and to enable them to fulfil their potential as human beings and as members of society. We thank everyone who helped raise vital funds at the 2017 Up Next Gala and look forward to working with children and young people from across the country, thanks to the overwhelming support we received this evening.’
The event was generously support of the Pigott family and the Wall Street Journal, and in-kind support from Berry Bros. & Rudd, Floris Van Den Hoed, Nyetimber, Umbrella World and Voss Water.
Now let’s have a look how some of our top actors scrub up in their finest on the red carpet… (all photos courtesy of Cameron Slater)
The Lion King gets a new ex-rugby playing Kiwi Simba.
The latest short film in the Young Vic’s series is Astoria, supporting their newly announced strand of work around refugees.
Anthony Neilson’s new play Unreachable at the Royal Court is going to be trailed by a series of shorts, hopefully making the most of the interesting casting of Matt Smith.
An audio play rather than a film but I’m sneaking this in anyway, a prologue of sorts to the Gate’s The Iphigenia Quartet, written by Clare Slater and read by the endlessly sonorous voice of Hattie Morahan. You’ll be careful about putting together the guest list for the next party you hold after this.