Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre”

TV Review: Shakespeare Lives – The Works

 
“Make me acquainted with your cause of grief”

The Works is a short film written and directed by Elliot Barnes-Worrell that rather ingeniously explores life for a group of young people on a Peckham estate using only the words of Shakespeare. Barnes-Worrell has worked his way through the Complete Works and woven together his own story by splicing diverse characters and speeches into one powerfully effective whole.

So when tension erupts into a fight between rival factions (“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”), a nearby do-gooder called Portia intervenes to break them up (“The quality of mercy is not strained…”), breaking off from a chat with her girlfriend Celia (you always knew that, right?!) and so on and so forth. Barnes-Worrell is endlessly inventive in the way he cherry-picks the source material but it isn’t always immediately clear who is who in the power structures on this estate. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Lives – The Works”

Review: Fathers and Sons, Donmar Warehouse

“I share no-one’s ideas, I have my own”

Another day, another tale of people languishing in the dying embers of Imperial Russia, but Fathers and Sons – Brian Friel’s 1987 adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 novel – has something special about it, which makes it truly stand out from the crowd. Much of this has to do with Lyndsey Turner’s sterling production for the Donmar, her gift for marshalling large ensembles to the absolute best of their abilities coming to the fore once again and smoothing over any potential weaknesses in the play itself.

Pace sometimes flags, with narrative description dominating a little too much in the second act and too many characters for them to all to really register. But such caveats pale in the face of performances like these – Joshua James’ would-be revolutionary Arkady and Anthony Calf as his hapless father, Seth Numrich’s more radical Bazarov and his own father played beautifully by Karl Johnson, Susan Engel’s vividly drawn Princess, Tim McMullan’s hilarious fop of an uncle, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 26th July

Review: Carthage, Finborough

“With my hand on my heart, I don’t know”

Brutally effective, unerringly inquisitive, indisputably compelling. January may only just have finished but it is not hard to imagine that we won’t be talking about Chris Thompson’s Carthage when it comes to totting up the best new plays of the year come December. A debut piece of writing, Thompson has 12 years experience as a social worker and it is that which he has channelled into this play, which takes an unblinking look at the ruthless realities of the care system and whether it might indeed do as much damage as good. 

The story centres on the case of Tommy Anderson – a young lad born in jail and fifteen years later, found dead in jail after officers tried to restrain him during a violent episode. Fragmented scenes skitter around this period trying to find the answers about who to blame and so Tommy’s mother, his social worker and his prison guard become the focus of the play – their actions (or inactions) exposed, their behaviours examined, their responsibilities explored. Continue reading “Review: Carthage, Finborough”