Review: Twilight Song, Park

 “It’s hard isn’t it”

Completed shortly before his death in 2014, Kevin Elyot’s Twilight Song now belatedly receives its premiere courtesy of the Park Theatre. The play doesn’t emerge as one of his strongest though, the shadow of the excellent My Night With Reg lingers long over the scant 75 minutes here and you’re left wondering just how completed the play was – would it have benefitted from another turn or two in the development mangle after its initial run.

Twilight Song finds itself split between the present day and the 1960s, looking at the relationship between homosexualist Barry, his mother Isabella and his wider family. From his boyhood when decriminalisation was just around the corner but still too late for a closeted uncle, to his present day where sexual liberation hasn’t prevented him from frustrated singledom, we see how individual happiness doesn’t necessarily follow societal change no matter your sexuality or generation. Continue reading “Review: Twilight Song, Park”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

In his first season as artistic director of Theatre N16, Scott Ellis presents a slew of new writing.
 
Olympilads by Andrew Maddock, produced by Lonesome Schoolboy and directed by Niall Phillips, reunites the team that presented He(art) at Theatre N16 earlier this year. Theatre N16 executive director (and former artistic director) Jamie Eastlake will present his new show Deadline Day by John Hickman and Steve Robertson: a bitter sweet tale about football, greed and the North-South divide.
 
Ten emerging artists debut a selection of original and varied works exploring feminism today in Maiden Speech: A festival of fresh feminist voices. Theatre N16 will also produce a new play by Sarah Milton, directed by Scott Ellis.

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

Review: Springtime for Henry (and Barbara), Wilton’s Music Hall

“Nobody but nobody thought that putting the life of Henry Moore into a musical was a good idea” 

It’s a real shame that Springtime for Henry (and Barbara) only ran for three performances over two nights as I’d’ve recommended it to all and sundry, not least for capturing the spirit of exactly what Wilton’s Music Hall should be used for. A highly idiosyncratic piece, described as “a fictitious lost musical reconstructed in fragments”, it’s the continuation of a multi-phase project by artist Mel Brimfield and musician Gwyneth Herbert, interrogating the relationship between sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

This it does imaginatively in a number of ways: a mockumentary format (calling to mind nothing so much as the genius behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques) detailing decades of attempts to put this show on the stage, complete with abortive scores from Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber and a high cast turnover; repurposed archive footage; a chat show section interviewing the ‘director’; and an impressively wide-ranging set of musical numbers, referencing a equally wide set of influences. The cumulative effect was very much of a variety show and that just felt perfect in the atmospheric surroundings of this oldest surviving music hall in the world. Continue reading “Review: Springtime for Henry (and Barbara), Wilton’s Music Hall”

Review: Twelfth Night, ETT at Richmond Theatre

“For women are as roses…”

It is seriously impressive how sparklingly fresh Jonathan Mumby has managed to make Twelfth Night in his production for English Touring Theatre which I caught at Richmond Theatre this week. The familiarity, even overfamiliarity, which many have with Shakespeare’s work means it can often be hard to get too excited about yet another production but Mumby’s work here has all the hallmarks of a successful and subtle reinvigoration.

Colin Richmond’s artfully distressed design and an original suite of songs from Grant Olding locate this version of Illyria in the folky fancies of Brian Protheroe’s Feste, a move which pays dividends in extending its oft-melancholy mood to all and sundry. So Hugh Ross’ Malvolio is more tragi than comic, a deep sadness apparent under the prickly exterior. Milo Twomey’s Aguecheek is a rueful soul indeed and Doña Croll’s Maria has a marvellous pragmatism.

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DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

DVD Review: First Night

“It’s not about reality, it’s about style…feeling…”

For my birthday, the present of a DVD that contained Julian Ovenden whipping his shirt off in its opening moments and Nigel Lindsay putting the moves on Oliver Dimsdale promised much indeed but having watched it, I’m not so sure that First Night quite lives up to it. A 2010 British rom-com set in a Glyndebourne-like world of country-house opera, it flirts with catastrophe early on with the practically inexplicable decision to cast Sarah Brightman as a conductor whose wooden movements suggests not a musical bone in her body and whose leaden delivery of her lines is often cringe-worthy. But it slowly pulls itself together and in featuring more of the rest of the (much better) cast, it becomes a passable farcical romp which mildly entertains.

Richard E Grant plays Alex, a rich industrialist and frustrated opera singer (yes, another one…), who decides to mount a production of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte at his stately home to prove he is no stuffed shirt. Brightman plays the conductor he has his flirtatious eye on but the company of up and coming singers whom he recruits to sing for their supper seem more interested in getting their ends away as their antics become increasingly highly-sexed with a series of storylines designed to reflect those in the opera they are performing. Christopher Menaul and Jeremy Sams don’t quite get to such sophisticated heights with their script or plotting but the camp extravagance of the performances just about swings it around. Continue reading “DVD Review: First Night”

Short Film Review #10

A new set of short films for your delectation.

Laura Degnan’s film Blind Eye is chiefly so effective because it taps into one of those fears that is so current and real and the reason why most sensible people avoid the top decks of buses that populated by roving youths. Anchored by a compelling performance from Liz White as the mother torn between doing the right thing and protective self-interest for herself and her daughter, Degnan explores the ‘what would you do’ scenario with visual interest and a little imagination. And if it gets a little heavy-handed towards its ending, then it worth remembering that it’s an issue where we’d all need a little prodding to decide where we’d ultimately come down. 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #10”

Review: Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

“Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more”

What is it that makes a hit? Jamie Lloyd’s Macbeth, the first show in his Trafalgar Transformed residency at the Trafalgar Studios, has rapidly become one of the hottest tickets in town, selling out nearly all of its shows and inspiring epic levels of queuing for the dayseats.  And the audience it has drawn, at this show at least, felt significantly younger than one would usually see at a West End house. So something has clearly worked in the marketing of Shakespeare’s tragedy to make it the kind of success that they most likely hadn’t dared dream of. In light of that, it seems almost immaterial that I predominantly found it a disappointing production.  

It was a fascinating experience to see the reactions of fresher eyes to a play whose ubiquity, arguably, does not necessarily correlate with its quality. For all its noble brutality and visceral poetry, it can be something of a hard ask in its later stages, no more so than in Act 4 Scene 3 which is the stuff of theatrical nightmares, yet it remains popular. And in Lloyd’s production with its Kensington Gore-splattered imagining of a near-future dystopian Scotland (the consequence of independence…?) and frequent bold strokes especially in Soutra Gilmour’s design which cleverly opens out, it clearly connected with its teenage audience from their frequent audible reactions.

But for me, much of it underwhelmed. My major problem was with the clarity of the verse-speaking, not with the Scots accent before I’m labelled a Sassenach, but in the establishment of a speaking style that replaced subtlety and rhythm with speed and volume. Throw in the gas masks of the weird sisters and I was left extremely glad that it was a text I was familiar with. The overall impression is one which evokes a spiralling inevitability to the end but so much is lost on the journey as the richness of Shakespeare’s words is plundered.

James McAvoy (returning to a role he has acted on television before) brings an undeniable energy to Macbeth himself but in most effective in the rare moments where the BPM is reduced to allow something profound to grow out of this interpretation. He lacks any chemistry with Claire Foy’s Lady Macbeth though, her delivery being one which really rankled with me, which undermines one of the strongest motors of the plot and as with many modernisations, the removal of nobility from the set-up – this Macbeth always feels like a fighting terrorist – somehow lessens its impact. 

There’s good work from Forbes Masson as Banquo, Hugh Ross as Duncan and Allison Mackenzie’s Lady Macduff – I still remain unsure about Jamie Ballard’s Macduff but I think that’s as much to do with my own preconceptions about the character. And ultimately that’s what I was left thinking, about how much we carry expectation into productions of play that we’ve seen so many times. Whilst I’d rather they hadn’t laughed so much at the darker moments, it was pleasing to see theatre connect with a younger audience even as my jaded blogger’s pencil dismissed it as uninspired. It’s a good job I only have two more Macbeths (so far) in the calendar ahead… 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 27th April

fosterIAN awards 2012

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayKate O’Flynn, LungsLaurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into NightHattie Morahan, A Doll’s House
Helen McCrory, Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations
Best Actor in a PlayLuke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeRafe Spall, ConstellationsBilly Carter, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
David Suchet, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Hugh Ross, A Life
Dominic Rowan, A Doll’s House
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayNiamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeLaura Howard, Lost in YonkersRuth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Open Air)
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPaul Chahidi, Twelfth Night (Globe)Charles Edwards, This HouseRobin Soans, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
Rory Kinnear, Last of the Haussmans
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur
Best Actress in a MusicalCarly Bawden, My Fair LadyJanie Dee, Hello, Dolly!Caroline O’Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along
Best Actor in a MusicalSimon Russell Beale, Privates on ParadeMark Umbers, Merrily We Roll AlongRichard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalClare Foster, Merrily We Roll AlongBonnie Langford, 9 to 5Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter’s Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll AlongAlistair Brookshaw, A Winter’s Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland

2012 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical


Best Actor in a Play

Luke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I imagine Treadaway will be appearing in many award list, both of bloggers and more official awarding bodies, but sometimes the hype is just correct. It’s all the more impressive given that the condition from which his protagonist suffers is never actually named, yet in his hands it doesn’t matter a single jot as the play becomes about a journey through someone else’s eyes, a uniquely different take on life and one which is a genuine pleasure to discover and watch. See it when it transfers.

Honourable mention: Rafe Spall, Constellations

Although my abiding memory of the play is weeping like a buffoon at the end, a close second is the proposal scene(s) in which Spall played and replayed a pre-prepared speech with varying degrees of success as far as the character was concerned, but always superbly affecting to watch and so very easy to connect with.  

Billy Carter, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
David Suchet, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Hugh Ross, A Life
Dominic Rowan, A Doll’s House

7-10

Henry Goodman, Arturo Ui; Dominic West, The River; John Hodgkinson, A Walk-on Part; Iain Glen, Uncle Vanya

 

Best Actor in a Musical

Simon Russell Beale, Privates on Parade

I’ve already taken a bit of stick for this as we’re in ‘play with songs’ territory but to my mind, Privates… is closer to a musical than a play, some of the songs are actually narrative-driven and it’s my blog so my rules. In any case, this was the first time that I came close to actually seeing why people rate Russell Beale so much with a performance that felt essentially so very true in every single aspect.

Honourable mention: Mark Umbers, Merrily We Roll Along

An ineffably charming onstage presence, Umbers was perfectly cast as the central figure whose journey from appealing dreamer to jaded sell-out is the heart of the show and told in reverse, it provided the ideal showcase for his considerable acting skill alongside a powerful voice.

Richard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady

7-10

Michael Xavier, Wonderful Town; Pete Gallagher, A Winter’s Tale; Stephen Ashfield, Boy Meets Boy; Craig Fletcher, Boy Meets Boy