TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution

“You’re a liar, aren’t you”

After the success of And Then There Were None last Christmas, it was most pleasing to see another Agatha Christie adaptation on the schedule for this year. And given how good The Witness for the Prosecution was, here’s hoping that the BBC can persuade Sarah Phelps to make this a new annual tradition as it is proving to be a most fruitful creative enterprise, completely reinvigorating a genre that has arguably gotten a little too cosy, stale even.

Originally a Christie short story from 1925, later adapted into a courtroom-based play in 1953 (a version of which I saw a few years ago), the story revolves around the murder of wealthy femme d’un certain âge Emily French. The prime suspect is Leonard Vole, her lover, who we discover is a married man and who just happens to have been made the sole beneficiary of French’s will. Vole’s court case relies on the testimony of his wife Romaine but naturally, things prove not to be quite that simple. Continue reading “TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution”

Review: Hamlet, Young Vic

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

The Young Vic continues to be allergic to the idea of people just using the main entrance into the auditorium to take their seats: people who have booked for Hamlet have been advised to turn up 30 minutes early in order to take in the ‘pre-show journey’. But whereas withGovernment Inspector and Beauty Queen of Leenane, it was just being guided a different way within the building, here we are guided out of the theatre and taken round the back entrance to wind our way through the corridors backstage past some rooms which have been dressed up with non-responsive cast members sitting around before reaching the seats, it adds very little to the experience (aside from getting us wet on the way there) and ultimately seems a pointless exercise. The most remarkable thing about this section was that the gym had a massive sign that talked about rules for ‘Excercise’: someone at the Young Vic needs to get their spell-checker switched on.

But to the play, labelled one of the theatrical events of the year as it features the return to the stage of Michael Sheen in what is Jerusalem director Ian Rickson’s Shakespearean debut. And as is often the case with such an oft-performed classic, an interpretation has been imposed upon the material to try and cast it in a different, and newly revelatory way. Once the seating area has been located, the uniformed orderlies, utilitarian grey carpet and circle of plastic chairs hint at what is to be revealed, as a ghostly prologue with Hamlet gazing on his father’s coffin before it is lowered into the ground, leads into the opening scene which takes place as if in a therapy session. For as it turns out, Elsinore is, I think, a mental asylum in the late 1970s and so the play takes on a new perspective on madness. I say new, I mean it borrows heavily from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Young Vic”

Review: And The Horse You Rode In On, Told By An Idiot at the Barbican Pit

“Enlightenment by demonstration”

Trotting into the depths of the Barbican Pit, And The Horse You Rode In On is the latest piece by innovative company Told by an Idiot. Conceived by Hayley Carmichael and Paul Hunter and created by the company, the show has the subtitle ‘a sequence of serious follies’, mixing together as it does five different narratives, weaving them together in an unlikely mishmash. These influences range from Hitchcock’s film Sabotage to a Dario Fo hostage story, from Are You Being Served to Bugs Bunny, taking in the Baader-Meinhof Gang and some of Günter Grass’ writing, this latter two pointing most directly (to my eyes at least) to what is being examined here, namely what drives people to commit extreme acts for their beliefs and the relative powerlessness we have to stop them.

Told by an Idiot have been working long enough to allay any suspicions about whether their approach works and it really does, but unlikely as it may seem, the strongest part of the work is the humour: this is deeply, belly-achingly, funny stuff, there was one point where I was near-helpless with laughter. I am loathe to give things away here and words could not do them justice anyway, but Are You Being Served played in German was hysterical, followed by a sequence of scenes that were acted by three actors but voiced-over by two off-stage and riotously funny with it. The story of the Italian circus troupe making a perilous journey across the Alps and then being taken hostage, singing cheerily all-the-while was another triumph with a conclusion which, though ridiculous, made perfect sense. Continue reading “Review: And The Horse You Rode In On, Told By An Idiot at the Barbican Pit”

Review: Sweet Nothings, Young Vic

“Stop moping, stop brooding…”

Sweet Nothings is David Harrower’s take on Arthur Schnitzler’s Liebelei (Tom Stoppard previously created a version called Dalliance in 1986) and is described as a sex tragedy on the Young Vic’s website. Well, there’s no sex but plenty of tragedy, though perhaps not in the way they intended.

Rather predictably, there’s pandemonium with the seating arrangements. They’re still unreserved as usual with the Young Vic, but it is set up in a horseshoe with benches that are reminiscent of a lecture theatre, but they’re extremely narrow so it is hard to pass people once they’ve sat down. And human nature being what it is, means people always fill these rows from the aisle inwards, meaning that it is a very arduous task to get everyone seated and there’s much huffing and puffing as people are asked to move along to allow everyone in the theatre. I know it is a thankless job, but the ushers need to much firmer with people from the outset, otherwise every evening will suffer a delayed start and much grumpiness. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Nothings, Young Vic”