Film Review: The Levelling (2016)

Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling is a haunting film debut, and a grim one too

“There’s nothing for you here anymore”

Eee, it’s grim to be a farmer in the UK right now, if we’re to believe what we see in the cinema. At least in Yorkshire, there’s the chance of some hot gay sex but in Somerset, things look decidedly worse with not even that relief as an option.

Writer/director Hope Dickson Leach finds something more desperate in the unforgiving land of the Somerset levels, as she explores the fracturing of a family farm in the aftermath of the death of the son and heir. Trainee vet Clover returns for the funeral of her brother but is shocked at what she discovers.

Continue reading “Film Review: The Levelling (2016)”

Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse

I like almost everything about The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre apart from the main performance…

“I am not going out of my mind, my mind is going out of me”

Mark Gatiss has been getting rave reviews for his performance in The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse but for me, there was just a little bit too much of
for my liking. There’s lots to love in Adam Penfold’s production, particularly in key supporting roles like Adrian Scarborough’s Dr Willis and Debra Gillett’s Queen Charlotte, and some of the smaller parts like Nadia Albina’s Fitzroy and Jack Holden’s Greville.

And I enjoyed that Penfold cast several of the ostensibly male parts with women, allowing the likes of Louise Jameson and Stephanie Jacob. Throw in a lusciously opulent design from Robert Jones and strikingly dramatic lighting from Richard Howell, and it’s a real theatrical treat, a real statement of intent from this nicely ambitious artistic director.  Continue reading “Review: The Madness of George III, Nottingham Playhouse”

Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

A beautifully sensitive film adaptation of Journey’s End that spares none of its horror

“Smells like liver without the smooth wet look”

In all of the art that has been created around the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it is a shame that this film adaptation of Journey’s End passed by without much fanfare last year. RC Sherriff’s play is a rightfully punishing and pummeling play and Simon Reade’s adaptation loses none of the ferocity and horror of the writing, while adding new layers of disturbing verisimilitude in its staging.

Set in the final months of the First World War in the trenches of northern France, Journey’s End follows C Company as they await orders with an increasing sense of dread. Newly arrived Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) has requested the posting as he naively wants to be reunited with former school colleague and family friend Captain Stanhope. But nothing can prepare him for life on the front line, nor the effects of war on his pal. Continue reading “Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)”

Review: Ink, Almeida

“I should warn you that nobody likes me”

Truth be told, I resisted seeing Ink for the longest time, mainly because I had zero desire to see a play about Rupert Murdoch. I feel the same way about Thatcher – I will never see The Iron Lady (sorry Meryl) or any other Maggie-based drama because I just damn well don’t want to. These firmly held convictions can of course be bypassed by sourcing me a free ticket (I stepped in for an otherwise occupied colleague) and so I was able to get the best of both worlds – onto a winner if it was good, and easily able to sneer (cos yes, I am that person) if it was bad.

And as with so much in life, the truth was somewhere inbetween. I could see how good Bertie Carvel’s performance as Murdoch was, naturally far more than a simple caricature, but I still felt uneasy whilst watching him – and the play in general – about what still felt like a tacit endorsement somehow, of an institution that I believe to be thoroughly reprehensible. Ink isn’t straightforwardly about The Sun though, Graham is far too canny a writer for that. His target is journalistic ethics as a whole, using Murdoch’s purchase of that paper in the 1960s as a tipping point for tabloid behaviour. Continue reading “Review: Ink, Almeida”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Nor doth this wood lack worlds of company”

Surtitled A Play For The Nation, Erica Whyman’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the RSC has fully embraced the communal spirit that the best theatre can summon and across its UK tour over the next few months, will undoubtedly prove a wonderful tribute for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. For at each stop across the land, different local amateur theatre companies will take on the part of the Rude Mechanicals and local primary schools will make up the numbers of Titania’s fairy train, getting their moment to shine in a repurposed final scene.

It’s a rather lovely way to share the warmth of this most loveliest of plays and in Whyman’s hands, it really does succeed. Key to its inclusiveness is the relocation to 1940s Britain and a design from Tom Piper that subtly evokes the Tower of London poppies installation on which he collaborated, the suggestion of a society pulling together permeating every aspect of the show, even Oberon’s fairies muck in as live musicians. And the social disruption of the time allows for an interesting reading of the text which, while emphasising English bumptiousness over sexuality, is witty throughout. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: She Stoops To Conquer, Theatre Royal Bath

“Pardon me madam. I was always willing to be amused. The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness.”

Restoration comedies fit the Theatre Royal Bath with the snugness of centuries-old comfort but even with Lindsay Posner updating She Stoops To Conquer to the 1920s, it’s hard not to feel that there’s something inherently dusty about this austere venue. Audiences in London have been spoiled for choice with witty reinventions of the genre – Jessica Swale’s brilliant revisionist work on shows like The Rivals and The Busy Body have enlivened the Southwark Playhouse and the National has had raucous takes on The Beaux’ Stratagem (still running) and this very Oliver Goldsmith play effervescently directed by Jamie Lloyd.

But Posner ‘s direction has a near-fatal lugubriousness in the first half which, already weighed down with a considerable amount of scene-setting and expositionary dialogue, makes for very hard going. Sad to say, things are just dull for too long and nowhere near light-heartedly entertaining enough to do justice to this cracking comedy. The tropes of mismatched love affairs, disguised paramours, mistaken identities and wonderfully ambitious women are all present and correct – London gents Marlow and Hastings mistaking the Hardcastles’ country pile for a country inn and have to go a country mile around the houses to undo the damage they inflict and ensure love wins the day. Continue reading “Review: She Stoops To Conquer, Theatre Royal Bath”

Review: Oppenheimer, Swan

“We could make a star on the surface of the Earth”

Michael Billington notes in his Guardian review that John Heffernan’s work in the title role in Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer will “elevate [him] to star-status” but to those of us in the know, he’s long been held in such lofty acclaim. From supporting roles in a wide range of interesting productions to taking the lead in Richard II and Edward II, he has steadily revealed himself as an actor of consummate skill and strength and I make no bones in asserting that he is truly the Dame Judi Dench of his generation.

And as ‘Oppie’, the leader of the Manhattan Project and as such the father of the atomic bomb, he really does live up to the billing. There’s such an easy personability about him that is a perfect introduction to a man who is a brilliant physicist, irresistible to women and surrounded by friends as they rail against 1930s fascism in Spain. But where the dexterity comes is in showing us how the weight of such increasingly terrible responsibility haunted and conflicted him in different ways – professionally, personally, philosophically, psychologically. Continue reading “Review: Oppenheimer, Swan”

fosterIAN awards 2014

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayGillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire Chris Nietvelt & Halina Reijn, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Linda Bassett, Visitors
Susannah Fielding, The Merchant of Venice (Almeida)
Denise Gough, Adler and Gibb
Imelda Staunton, Good People
Best Actor in a PlayCary Crankson, The Saints Jack Holden, Johnny Get Your Gun Jonathan Broadbent, My Night With Reg
Chris Connel, Wet House
Harry Melling, peddling
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayVanessa Kirby, A Streetcar Named DesirePhoebe Fox & Nicola Walker, A View From The Bridge Blythe Duff, The James Plays
Liz White, Electra
Lydia Wilson, King Charles III
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayJoe Caffrey, Wet House Hans Kesting, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Patrick Godfrey, Donkey Heart
Julian Ovenden, My Night With Reg
Hugh Skinner, Thérèse Raquin (Theatre Royal Bath)
Geoffrey Streatfeild, My Night With Reg
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Gypsy Gemma Arterton, Made in Dagenham Charlotte Baptie, Free As Air
Natalie Mendoza, Here Lies Love
Christina Modestou, In The Heights
Sophie Thompson, Guys and Dolls
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Mackay, In The Heights Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion Adrian der Gregorian, Made In Dagenham
Killian Donnelly, Memphis
Jon Robyns, The Last Five Years
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJenna Russell, Urinetown Lara Pulver, Gypsy Samantha Bond, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, In The Heights
Kiara Jay, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Zoe Rainey, The Return of the Soldier
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJason Pennycooke, Memphis Aaron Tveit, Assassins Damian Buhagiar, In The Heights
Tyrone Huntley, Memphis
Nadim Naaman, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Jonathan Slinger, Urinetown

2014 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical


Best Actor in a Play

Cary Crankson, The Saints
An open air theatre in Southampton might seem an unlikely place to find one of the performances of the year, or perhaps not as it turned out. Crankson’s Southampton FC supporter made for a hugely appealing leading man, in a hugely appealing play from Luke Barnes that really deserves future life, and his ineffable likeability was a considerable achievement that fully deserves its mention here.

Honourable mention: Jack Holden, Johnny Get Your Gun
In a year full of tributes to the outbreak of the First World War, this and The Silver Tassie stand out most for me. And of these, this monologue is the one forever etched on my memory – knowing nothing about it beforehand served me well as it meant I felt every single one of Holden’s hammer-blows of punishing emotion and pragmatism in the face of tragedy. Amazing stuff.

Jonathan Broadbent, My Night With Reg
Chris Connel, Wet House
Harry Melling, peddling
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge

7-10
James Bolam, Bomber’s Moon; Ben Foster, A Streetcar Named Desire; Jamie Sives, The James Plays; Robin Soans, Visitors


Best Actor in a Musical

Sam Mackay, In The Heights
Spearheading this genuinely exciting piece of modern musical theatre is a genuinely exciting modern musical theatre performer. Londoner Mackay delivers Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Latin-inflected hip hop score as if he were a bona fide Washington Heights resident and if the rumours about a return for the show come true, then I really hope he returns with it.

Honourable mention: Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion
One of those performances, and shows, that is truly difficult to do justice to in simple words. Life-affirming, heartfelt, blisteringly honest and poignantly powerful – a one-man-show to convince anyone who say they don’t like one-men-shows.

Adrian der Gregorian, Made In Dagenham
Killian Donnelly, Memphis
Jon Robyns, The Last Five Years
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)

7-10
Mark Bautista, Here Lies Love; Alastair Brookshaw, De Profundis; Ben Lewis/Greg Barnett, Thérèse Raquin (Finborough/Park); Jamie Parker, Guys and Dolls

Review: Johnny Got His Gun, Southwark Playhouse


 

“I’m the nearest thing to a dead man on this earth”
 

The centenary of the start of World War One has thrown up a raft of interesting programming in our nation’s theatres, looking at the devastating impact of that inconceivably destructive conflict and the decimating effect it had on an entire generation. At the same time, it has also seen a concerted movement from a self-serving Conservative government to try and recast this narrative as anti-patriotic and misrepresentative. I challenge any member of that administration to sit through Johnny Got His Gun and maintain such attitudes.

Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 novel has been adapted by Bradley Rand Smith into a simply sensational one man show that scorches its way through the Southwark Playhouse’s Little space with indignant fury and surely-warranted outrage. Colorado native Joe Bonham cheerily volunteered to serve for his country when the time came, leaving his family and his girl behind, but like so many of his fellow conscripts, was utterly unprepared for the visceral reality of war and the enormous personal cost it would demand from him. Continue reading “Review: Johnny Got His Gun, Southwark Playhouse”