Review: Good Canary, Rose Kingston

“I can’t handle another book right now”

Quite the coup for the Rose Kingston this, not just in John Malkovich’s London debut as a director but in the English language premiere of Zach Helm’s 2006 play Good Canary. The two go hand in hand though, Malkovich having previously helmed its opening run in France (as Le Bon Canari) and then its subsequent production in Mexico (El Buen Canario), a clear affinity for the material bringing him back time and again.

The play is a hard-hitting, at times searing, examination of mental illness and how they intersect both with the creative process and the reality of being a woman in the contemporary USA. On top of the world after great notices for his first novel, Harry Lloyd’s Jack is mulling over a big bucks offer for the next but his wife Annie, Freya Mavor, is self-medicating her mental health with a hefty speed addiction and neither are clear what impact such a change might have on their lives. Continue reading “Review: Good Canary, Rose Kingston”

Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan. Continue reading “Film Review: The Imitation Game”

Review: Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre

“How we be friends? When I ain’t never been through your front door”

The Theatre Royal Bath hit on another winner with this production of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel and so it has transferred over to the Park Theatre to let Londoners who don’t travel have a slice of the action. The play was inspired by Nottage finding faded photographs of her great-grandparents and then spinning an affectionate fantasia on the lives of African-American people at the turn of the twentieth century.

She imagines the life of Esther, an unmarried black seamstress in her mid-thirties in 1905 New York, who is a true exponent of her craft. People come from far and wide for the exquisite lingerie that she creates and her clients include women of all classes and colour and so she has managed to save up quite the nest egg. Her plans for the future include running her own salon but when a romantic correspondence is struck up with the Barbadian George, she dares to dream of more. Continue reading “Review: Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre”

Short Film Review #44


WONDER from johnnydaukes on Vimeo.
A real work of art this. Johnny Daukes’ Wonder has much of the multi-stranded, deeply emotional feel of one of my favourite films Lantana and is just beautifully made. Set in London with the odd excursion to the picturesque Dorset coast, a set of disparate lives are shown to us – a couple about to separate, another one tired of their long relationship, a family grieving, a jealous lover wanting to trust his boyfriend. Daukes spares us too much dialogue and focuses instead on gorgeous shots and an evocative, self-penned score, making this a deserved success.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #44”

DVD Review: Diana

“He doesn’t treat me like a princess”

There was a frisson of excitement in putting on the DVD of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana in the knowledge that we were about to watch something that many had declared ‘so bad it is good’, but even I couldn’t have expected just how true that sentiment would turn out in what has to be one of the most hilariously misjudged films of recent years. One now understands a little better why multi-Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, who takes on the eponymous role, had difficulties on the press tour for the film (though not necessarily why she took on the part in the first place).

Written by Stephen Jeffreys and based on an unofficial biography by Kate Snells, it follows the late Princess of Wales in the last two years of her life and claims that an affair with British-Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan blossomed into the real love of her life. But rather than try to tell a story with fleshed-out characters, the film is wedded to a misguided sense of loyalty to Diana, using actual newspaper headlines and speeches as hooks, presumably as a way of trying to stay true to her legacy but falling back on cheesy montages and execrable dialogue for the vast majority of the time as any two-bit biopic has to. Continue reading “DVD Review: Diana”

Review: Chicken Soup with Barley, Royal Court

“If you don’t care, you’ll die”

A playwright who hasn’t received much attention in years of late, Arnold Wesker finds two of his plays about to receive major revivals in London: Chicken Soup with Barley here at the Royal Court, where it first played in 1958 and The Kitchen will open later this year at the National Theatre. Chicken Soup… follows the disintegration of an East End Jewish family over a twenty year period but simultaneously the collapse of the Communist ideals that they and their friends espouse, starting with the Cable Street Riots in 1936 and revisiting them just after the war has finished and again in 1956 and the beginnings of the Hungarian Revolution.

At the heart of the play and barely off the stage, Samantha Spiro is never less than sparkling as Sarah, at once the Jewish mother forever making cups of tea and sandwiches for her brood as they rally round her, singing songs, making speeches and dreaming of a bright future, and also this political stalwart fiercely committed to her Socialist ideals even as others peel away from her magnetic influence and the ideal world they dreamed of crumbles away. It is her life that epitomises the Socialist dream and her passionate defence of the way she has lived her life, although coming too late in the play, is a stunning moment which ends the play powerfully. As her feckless husband, Danny Webb gives an equally affecting performance of a man who feels he has failed at life and is constantly reminded of the fact by his nagging wife and then later his children: he way he retreats into himself as illness then kicks in is often just too hard to watch. Continue reading “Review: Chicken Soup with Barley, Royal Court”

Review: Miss Nightingale – the musical, King’s Head

“Maybe we should be less Berlin, we need to be more English”

Currently playing in the late night slot at the King’s Head Theatre is new musical Miss Nightingale. It is the baby of Matthew Bugg who wrote the music and lyrics as well as the book and also serves as director here. Set in wartime London 1942, it weaves together the stories of three people, a nurse who longs to become a cabaret star, her Polish-Jewish songwriter and the owner of the club who could make everything happen. But whilst the show has fun charting the sensational rise to fame of the titular Miss Nightingale, it also looks at the experience of homosexual men during wartime, at a time when the relative permissiveness of the 20s and 30s gave way to a dangerous paranoia as songwriter George starts a furtively hidden affair with the aristocratic club owner Sir Frank Connor.

The two strands are woven together throughout in a way which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Bugg has had a great time composing a set of songs for Miss Nightingale which could have come straight out of Cabaret or Chicago and they are delivered with a nice saucy twinkle by Amber Topaz who rises above the limited scope offered by the set most effectively. The more ‘regular’ songs are less memorable it has to be said, though he has also constructed a nice set of trio songs where all three voices are allowed to intertwine and harmonise in an engaging way. Continue reading “Review: Miss Nightingale – the musical, King’s Head”

Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre

“I’m sick of this rigmarole”

Danton’s Death, the 1835 play about the French Revolution by Georg Büchner, marks an impressive brace of debuts: Toby Stephens making his first bow on the stage here in the title role and Michael Grandage, Artistic Director of the Donmar, making his directorial debut here on the South Bank. Setting up in the Olivier theatre for the summer, it is part of the Travelex season so there’s been plenty of £10 seats available. This was the first preview that I saw, I acknowledge this freely but stand by everything I say here.

The story is set in 1794, a period between the first and the second terrors during the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety has been set up in the name of the revolutionary new order and is summarily executing people whether the accusations against them are true or not. Its creator, Georges Danton, has come to regret his part in the genesis of something responsible for the killings of so many people and has been shocked at the way in which the revolution has been increasingly radicalised. His former friend and colleague Robespierre is at the head of this new faction leading the way and when Danton makes a stand for what he sees as too much, the stage is set for an almighty power struggle between the two political rivals. Continue reading “Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre”

Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic

“Every person is a new door, opening up into new worlds”

John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation receives its first revival in 18 years with this David Grindley directed production at the Old Vic. Based on a true story of a conman finagling his way into the lives of wealthy Manhattan socialites by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier, we see the lives of two New York art dealers, Ouisa and Fran Kittredge turned upside down after they take an injured Paul into their home and he wreaks havoc on their lives and those of them around them as he challenges their comfortable existences. It is kept in its original 1980s setting, presumably as the issues around financial greed are as pertinent today, even if those around race and homosexuality are less so.

Onstage narration seems to be the flavour of the month and it is a tricky thing to get right: Innocence fails, Midsummer gets it right, here is somewhere in the middle. There’s a mixture of Ouisa and Fran, and indeed other characters, narrating the events and the action being played out, and I’m not sure the balance is wholly there: it is just so much more entertaining when the actors are engaging with each other and I was frequently left wanting to see more of that. Continue reading “Review: Six Degrees of Separation, Old Vic”