Review: N89, Matchstick Piehouse

In what may turn out to be my last visit to a theatre for the foreseeable future, N89 at the Matchstick Piehouse proved a frank and funny look at (South East) London life – long may it continue 

“On the bus, everyone knows how to act”

It takes a hell of a lot to get me on the top deck of a nightbus, an instinctive self-preservation tending to kick in from the lairiness often within, but Mark Daniels’ N89 suggests that I might be missing out on a real slice of life up there, along with the potential for some unexpected connections. 

Right from the off, Daniels nails the emotional balancing act of using public transport – the annoyance of someone right sitting next to you when there’s other free seats, the horror of being fallen asleep on or even worse, spoken to. But when Kim plants herself next to Danny on the long schlep from Trafalgar Square to Erith, a different kind of journey emerges for them. Continue reading “Review: N89, Matchstick Piehouse”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville

Sexed-up rather than subtle, I can’t help but be won over by this fresh take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre

“I hope you have not been leading a double life…that would be hypocrisy”

I find it increasingly hard to get too excited about the prospect of Oscar Wilde these days, hence having been a rare visitor indeed to Classic Spring’s year-long residency at the Vaudeville. My problem is that, as with Noël Coward’s work, there’s an insistence on the specificity of its staging which means it is far too easy to feel like you’ve seen it all before, silk pyjamas, bustles, handbags, the lot. So the notion that Michael Fentiman’s The Importance of Being Earnest has ruffled a few feathers by daring to do something different, plus the kind of casting that I could never resist, meant that I had to see for myself.

And ultimately, there’s something laughable in the idea that there’s only the one way to do Wilde. It’s more that ‘certain people’ prefer it done the way they’ve always seen it done, which is all well and good (if soul-destroying) but to bemoan a lost art because someone is finally ringing the changes? Shove a cucumber sandwich in it mate. What’s even funnier is that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference really, it’s not as if this production is set in space, or it’s being mimed, or it’s been directed in a…European way. It has just had a good shaking down, the dust blown off the manuscript, the cobwebs swept from the velvet curtains, and an enjoyable freshness thus brought to proceedings which are sexed-up rather than subtle. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville”

Film Review: Crooked House (2017)

“The murderer is never the one you initially suspect”

A real treat here for fans of Agatha Christie as Crooked House is one of the few novels of hers that has yet to be adapted for the screen. With a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price and Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the latter of whom also directs, a curious release strategy sees it materialise on Channel 5 in the UK despite it being blessed with the kind of castings and high production values that you’d’ve thought would be destined for the cinema.
 

The story begins as so many of them do, with a murder. This time it is wealthy 80-some tycoon Aristide Leonides who kicks the bucket and the finger of suspicion doesn’t know where to point as it could any one of the disillusioned family members who also lived in the sumptuous family pile. His grand-daughter secures the services of a private investigator to look into the case discreetly and thus the mystery begins.

Continue reading “Film Review: Crooked House (2017)”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, RSC at East WinterGarden

“Tell me where is fancy bred”

This was actually the first time I’ve been to the cinema to see some theatre, this being a rare example of the production in question being one that I hadn’t seen. Polly Findlay’s production of The Merchant of Venice for the RSC suffered a little by following a most striking one at the Globe and the reviews said as much. But with a little distance, the comparison was much less fresh in my mind and the novelty of this screening – cabaret tables, a bar, interval food from Wagamama – made it a rather fun experience.

Findlay adjusts the balance of her interpretation so that Antonio becomes its centre as well as its titular character, his presence dominates the stage at the beginning and end, his relationship with Jacob Fortune-Lloyd’s Bassanio so often merely homoerotic made explicitly homosexual. In the midst of Johannes Schütz’s anonymous golden-hued set, their passion is made manifest from the beginning and becomes a driver throughout, marriage to Portia and the commitments it entails take second place. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, RSC at East WinterGarden”