A cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati make Hugo Blick’s complex Black Earth Rising watchable if not quite essential
“That is why I made a deal like that”
A tricky one this. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Hugo Blick drama (qv The Shadow Line, The Honorable Woman), weighty complex dramas with amazing casts tackling inscrutable global conspiracies. And Black Earth Rising is no different, as it puts the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath under the microscope, examining Western colonial and capitalist attitudes towards Africa along with the role of the Iinternational Criminal Court.
And with a cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, Harriet Walter, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati to name just a few, it is naturally eminently watchable. Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her barrister mother Eve (Walter). Eve adopted Kate from Rwanda years back but her decision to take on a case prosecuting a Tutsi general who, after helping end the genocide, went on to commit war crimes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, outrages Kate who is also Tutsi.
Continue reading “TV Review: Black Earth Rising”
News, news everywhere – Joe Orton’s Loot has had its initial casting revealed in the shape of Calvin Demba and Sam Frenchum pictured up top, and the glorious Sinéad Matthews.
Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”
“Please don’t cry, dry your eyes, wipe away your tears”
Despite naming it my show of the year in 2011 (or maybe because of that), I’ve not been back to see Matilda the Musical since it opened at the Cambridge Theatre four years ago. I had such the perfect emotional journey with the show that I just didn’t want to alter that experience by going back and risking it being something of a disappointment, especially with such impossibly high standards to live up to from that amazing original cast and Bertie Carvel’s iconic Mrs Trunchbull.
Four years is long enough though I think, and when the opportunity to revisit the show presented itself, I accepted the offer with just a little trepidation. Those nerves were quickly dispelled, even as soon as entering the theatre to witness the infectious enthusiasm of an audience of all ages, and the reassuring sight of Rob Howell’s design with its multi-coloured letters strewn across the set. And as Laurie Perkins’ orchestra launched into the familiar strains of ‘Miracle’, my heart leapt and I wondered how I had left it this long. Continue reading “Re-review: Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre”
“We could get the girls round for a game of kerplunk”
I’m a big fan of crime fiction but somehow Martina Cole has passed me by: none of my book-sharing buddies ever press her work into my hands, the TV adaptations didn’t grab me and the previous two Cole stage adaptations failed to tempt me to Theatre Royal Stratford East. But TRSE are clearly happy with how they went and it seems to be turning into an annual event there, so this year one can take in a version of her first novel, Dangerous Lady.
Cole seems to occupy similar ground, if not subject matter, to the Jilly Coopers and Jackie Collins of the world, the story has an epic sweep over several decades but an intimate focus in the struggles and self-empowerment of a ballsy lady. Here it is Maura Ryan, born into a family of gangsters but determined to do the right thing by avoiding the family business. An ill-advised liaison with a cop ends up in pregnancy but he swiftly departs and the subsequent back alley abortion leaves her broken-hearted, infertile and hardened to the world. She then joins her brothers and together they come to conquer gangland, but at considerable sacrifice. Continue reading “Review: Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East”
“What in this world is real and not seeming?”
Featuring a new ensemble of RADA graduates alongside some more experienced hands, Southwark Playhouse’s latest main house show is a UK première of The Illusion. Adapted (though most freely I am told) by Tony Kushner from the 1636 L’Illusion Comique by Pierre Cornielle, who was a contemporary (or thereabouts) of Molière and Racine, the play is constructed as a potentially deft piece of meta-theatre, passing comment on the extraordinary capacity that the theatre to create its own universe and the illusionary nature of the very same. Kushner weaves his own idiosyncratic verbosity around this tale, though the result is something of a curious mix.
Matters begin with the arrival of Pridamant at the grotto – Sarah Jane Prentice’s design and Howard Hudson’s lighting playing to the strengths of the railway arches – of noted magician Alcandre. He’s there to find out where Clindor, his estranged son is and Alcandre obliges, providing snippets of the last 15 years of his son’s life as he deals with a number of romantic entanglements and social adventures. But it is made clear that the scenes are all visions, the uncertainty of what we’re witnessing enhanced by the constant changing of the character’s names and we are joined with Pridamant in the journey of discovery to his son’s real fate. Continue reading “Review: The Illusion, Southwark Playhouse”
“Let me offer you a different story”
Any film that contains someone being dragged to the theatre saying “there won’t be puppets will there?” is bound to be a winner with me. And if that film has also courted controversy then my interest is bound to be piqued. But the publicity campaign against Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous was so vociferous that it disappeared from cinemas before I got the chance to see it and so I had to wait for it to emerge on DVD. Why so controversial? Emmerich’s (better known for loud blockbusters like Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow) film is based on the premise that the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was in fact the true author of the works normally attributed to Shakespeare. Thus a great outcry was launched, by the people and scholars for whom this is the biggest deal, and the film largely scuppered.
Which ultimately is a shame, as I found it to be rather an enjoyable film and somewhat perversely, the authorship question is just one of many strands of story in what turns out to be a historical political thriller, mainly based around the succession to the throne as Elizabeth I’s reign has produced no (legitimate) heirs. That one of the key players in her court just happens to be a playwright on the sly, who is forced to use a surrogate by the name of William to get his plays staged, is taken as a given here and it makes for an entertaining ‘what if’ scenario. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anonymous”
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
The Young Vic continues to be allergic to the idea of people just using the main entrance into the auditorium to take their seats: people who have booked for Hamlet have been advised to turn up 30 minutes early in order to take in the ‘pre-show journey’. But whereas withGovernment Inspector and Beauty Queen of Leenane, it was just being guided a different way within the building, here we are guided out of the theatre and taken round the back entrance to wind our way through the corridors backstage past some rooms which have been dressed up with non-responsive cast members sitting around before reaching the seats, it adds very little to the experience (aside from getting us wet on the way there) and ultimately seems a pointless exercise. The most remarkable thing about this section was that the gym had a massive sign that talked about rules for ‘Excercise’: someone at the Young Vic needs to get their spell-checker switched on.
But to the play, labelled one of the theatrical events of the year as it features the return to the stage of Michael Sheen in what is Jerusalem director Ian Rickson’s Shakespearean debut. And as is often the case with such an oft-performed classic, an interpretation has been imposed upon the material to try and cast it in a different, and newly revelatory way. Once the seating area has been located, the uniformed orderlies, utilitarian grey carpet and circle of plastic chairs hint at what is to be revealed, as a ghostly prologue with Hamlet gazing on his father’s coffin before it is lowered into the ground, leads into the opening scene which takes place as if in a therapy session. For as it turns out, Elsinore is, I think, a mental asylum in the late 1970s and so the play takes on a new perspective on madness. I say new, I mean it borrows heavily from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Young Vic”
“Were it not better…that I did suit me all points like a man”
As You Like It is one of those Shakespeare plays that seems to pop up most regularly at the moment, so much so that its mere mention makes my heart sink a little. I quite like the play but it is not one of my favourites and so had been intending to give the many productions appearing all over the show a miss this year. The best intentions etc etc no willpower blah blah meant that I couldn’t resist popping into the Royal Exchange to take in this modern-dress version.
Chief of my reasons was the casting of Cush Jumbo as Rosalind: she was a highlight in the Pygmalion I saw at the same venue last year and I suspect she is an actress destined for big things. She is excellent here, at her best when disguised as a street-smart Ganymede, peppering her lines with hip-hop slang and becoming terrifyingly convincing as an awkward teenage boy. A terrific performance and definitely one to watch. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Royal Exchange”
“‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before”
To celebrate his 80th birthday, Sir Peter Hall returns to the National Theatre which he directed for 25 years, with a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Cottesloe. It features a rather starry cast including his daughter Rebecca Hall and Simon Callow and given how well done last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Kingston was, this has been an eagerly anticipated production for me for a fair few months. This is a review of a preview, the penultimate one as it opens on Tuesday, but still a preview nonetheless though I stand by my comments here.
This is just a production that is lacking, lacking in almost every department and there isn’t even a particular aspect that shines above the others that one could excuse weakness elsewhere for. It feels proficient rather than inspired and though performances may improve and the pacing can be tightened up, the whole approach to this production is unspectacular. Worse than that, it is often boring and the first half in particular is currently far too languid and dull as attested by a fair few walk-outs at the interval. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, National Theatre”