Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre

Don’t you love farce? Well turns out I rather did like Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac at the Richmond Theatre

“But will the audience come?”

I do love a comedy that unexpectedly makes me laugh a lot. It is a genre, particularly when it leans towards farce, that can be a tricky one to get right and there’s nothing worse than being the only one stony-faced in a theatre full of people roaring their heads off (qv me at One Man Two Guvnors, or most Feydeau plays). But sometimes it works, sometimes there’s a Noises Off in there, and treading a similar-ish path is Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac as it tracks the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a theatre company whilst playwright Edmond Rostand struggles to write Cyrano de Bergerac for them.

And I have to say that I chortled merrily through Roxana Silbert’s production, which has popped around the country after a run at Birmingham Rep. It is thoroughly silly, doesn’t take itself seriously for a single moment, and is consequently most enjoyable if just a touch overlong. Freddie Fox’s Rostand is a struggling writer whose last show was a flop and with the bills mounting, is blocked. His artistic juices are only stimulated when his pal Léo commissions him to write a suite of love letters to seduce a new would-be paramour on his behalf and the spark of a new play ignites as life imitates art imitates life and opening night fast approaches. Continue reading “Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre”

Album Review: Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)

“A lot of people have lost faith in America”

I quite like the film version of Chicago but was surprised by the extent to which I had internalised its soundtrack upon listening to this London Cast Recording from 1997. Part of that lies in the fact that it is good few years since I’ve seen it onstage but there’s no excuse really, for a theatre nut like me. And sure enough, surrendering to the thrill of Ruthie Henshall and Ute Lemper here was a genuine pleasure and a great way to revisit Kander & Ebb’s score.

Henshall’s Roxie and Lemper’s Velma are surely among the best that these characters have ever been sung. The unrelenting stunt casting that kept the show a West End presence perhaps devalued the music a bit but in these hands, with these voices, you come to really appreciate the emotional complexity and proper darkness of these women and what they’re forced to do in order to keep their head above water and then some. Continue reading “Album Review: Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)”

Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Manchester’s Royal Exchange have announced the details for their production of Twelfth Night which arrives this spring. It is directed by the award-winning Jo Davies who makes her Royal Exchange debut with Shakespeare’s whirlwind comedy. Faith Omole, Kevin Harvey and Mina Anwar return to the Exchange as Viola, Orsino and Maria, Kate Kennedy takes on the role of Olivia and Anthony Calf is Malvolio. 
 
And in its own spin on the gender, identity and love issues at the heart of the play, award-winning Manchester-based transgender artist and activist Kate O’Donnell makes her Royal Exchange debut in the role of Feste, the wise observer in this foolish, lovesick kingdom. Live music from the critically acclaimed folk musician Kate Young and lap-tap guitarist Joe Gravil adds to the complexity of this intricate comedy which probes gender-politics and ideas of belonging. The play runs from 13 April – 20 May.
 
The cast is completed by Aaron Anthony, Simon Armstrong, Harry Attwell, Daniel Francis-Swaby, Tarek Merchant and Jill Myers. The creative team includes Designer Leslie Travers, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Sound Designer Pete Malkin and Composer Alex Baranowski.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)

“For your love I pray you, wrong me not”

Any filmed adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is up against it for me as I adore the Al Pacino version from 2004 which makes so much sense of so many of the difficulties of the play. This Trevor Nunn production was a big success for the National Theatre, transferring from the then-Cottesloe to the Olivier, winning all sorts of awards and then filmed for the US’s Masterpiece Theatre.

And as is often the case with these stage-to-screen adaptations, it’s a little flat and disappointing, little concession made to the change in medium and so the abiding feeling is that one is left wishing one could have seen it onstage. Which is a shame, as Henry Goodman makes an excellent Shylock, viciously vengeful but clearly victimised too in this adroit resituating of the play to the 1930s. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)”

DVD Review: Mary Reilly (1996)

“I always knew you’d be the death of us.”

Even the look on Julia Roberts’ face is warning you away, ‘don’t watch Mary Reilly, it isn’t that good a film at all and my fringe is terrible’. Not only her fringe, her Irish accent is atrocious and inconsistent and the whole premise of the film – a retelling of the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde story from Valerie Martin’s novel – rests on people not being able to recognise John Malkovich in a wig and coloured contacts. 

It could have been so much more promising. Director Stephen Frears reunited several of his Dangerous Liaisons colleagues – screenwriter Christopher Hampton, actors Malkovich and Glenn Close, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and several others – but the slow, dour nature of the film is horrifically exacerbated by Roberts and Malkovich’s performances in all their miscast, malformed unglory. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mary Reilly (1996)”

TV Review: London Spy

 “People lie Danny, they lie very well” 

Well this was a disappointment wasn’t it, there’s no two ways about it. Tom Rob Smith’s London Spy started its five episode run most promisingly with its forthrightly modern gay love story – between emotionally reclusive Secret Service operative Alex and Danny, a shift worker and regular on the hard-partying Vauxhall gay clubbing scene. Edward Holcroft and Ben Whishaw made a powerfully effective couple, negotiating their differences beautifully and believably so that by the time Alex went missing, the substance of the emerging conspiracy theories actually meant something.

But as the plot wound vaguely into labyrinthine dead ends and red herrings, it became increasingly hard to get a handle not just on what was happening but what Smith was trying to say. And directed in would-be sepulchral (but actually just frustratingly dark) gloom by Jakob Verbruggen, the joys of recognising bits of my local Vauxhall soon wore off as you realised that such a stunning supporting cast as Adrian Lester, Clarke Peters and Harriet Walter were indeed being criminally underused or landed with heinous dialogue and what started off irresistibly disintegrated into implausibility. Continue reading “TV Review: London Spy”

Album Review: City of Angels (Original London Cast Recording 1993)

“I’m one of a long line of good girls”

I was no real fan of the Donmar’s recent production of City of Angels, Josie Rourke’s direction ending up rather po-faced with all its noirish elements played deadly seriously, hardly the introduction one wants to a musical that many had acclaimed highly to me. But turning to the 1993 Original London Cast Recording of Cy Coleman, David Zippel and Larry Gelbart’s show, their quite different take on the material made me reappraise the show completely.
 

One might not be able to tell exactly how Michael Blakemore’s direction played out from listening to this CD but the sprightliness of Billy Byers’ orchestrations and the lighter touch of Richard Balcombe’s musical direction makes the whole thing seem like a much more fun affair. City of Angels is a pastiche after all, or an homage for the more earnestly minded amongst us, and played with a more warm-hearted and less self-conscious approach, it connected much more with me. Continue reading “Album Review: City of Angels (Original London Cast Recording 1993)”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

 
Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).
 

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)”