Review: Kiss Me, Kate, London Coliseum

Opera North’s production does nothing to address the inherent problems of Kiss Me, Kate and thus feels like a relic of the past

“The overture is about to start,
You cross your fingers and hold your heart”

Revivals speak a lot to where an organisation sees itself. With its heady combination of Shakespearean drama and Cole Porter’s musical wit, Kiss Me, Kate has all the air of a sure bet about it and indeed, Jo Davies first mounted this production for Opera North in 2015, this revival of that revival being directed here by Ed Goggin as it opens here at the Coliseum.

But for all its familiarity, and that inherent bankability, it feels a problematic choice to stage. In a contemporary Britain, in a society switched onto #MeToo, even the sexual politics of something as notionally fatuous as Love Island are being newly parsed and much of what has long been considered acceptable, or tolerated due to ‘classic’ status, is rightly being reassessed.   Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, London Coliseum”

Review: Liolà, National Theatre

“This is a potato party” 

Expectations are a funny thing. Luigi Pirandello’s reputation as one of our foremost dramatists comes from his metaphysical musings on identity and self but his 1916 play Liolà comes from a very different place and so may leave you nonplussed if expecting something akin to Six Characters in Search of an Author. Instead, Tanya Ronder’s new version directed by Richard Eyre is a rollicking tale full of song and dance, set in a Sicilian village from which most of the men have migrated. The two that remain, Liolà and Simone, are surrounded by a veritable multitude of women with whom a number of complicated relationships are in place.

Ageing landowner Simone married the much younger Mita in order to provide him with the heir he desperately craves but five years of marriage have produced no children. By contrast, local lothario Liolà has knocked up at least three of the local girls and now has three children who are raised by his mother. But when he gets Simone’s young cousin Tuzza pregnant, she and her mother espy a scheme to play on Simone’s fears of childlessness and pass the child off as his own. But Mita and Liolà were childhood sweethearts and together they plot her own revenge.  Continue reading “Review: Liolà, National Theatre”

Review: The Captain of Köpenick, National Theatre

“Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made”

‘Released after fifteen years in prison, trapped in a bureaucratic maze, petty criminal Wilhelm Voigt wanders 1910 Berlin in desperate, hazardous pursuit of identity papers. Luck changes when he picks up an abandoned military uniform in a fancy-dress shop and finds the city ready to obey his every command. At the head of six soldiers, he marches to the Mayor’s office, cites corruption and confiscates the treasury with ease. But still what he craves is official recognition that he exists.’

It is probably cheating to use the official synopsis of a play wholesale like this but to be honest, I couldn’t care less after suffering the bloated self-satisfaction of The Captain of Köpenick at the National Theatre. An adaptation by Ron Hutchinson of a 1930s German satire by Carl Zuckmayer, it is a heavy-handed, ploddingly-laboured, fatally-misjudged confection which throws everything plus the kitchen sink into the Olivier but for shockingly low returns. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th April 

Review: All That Fall, Jermyn Street

“I’m left-handed on top of everything else!”

It is not surprising that the Jermyn Street Theatre’s production of All That Fall sold out in under three days: a rare Samuel Beckett play, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon, in a 70 seat theatre tucked away behind Piccadilly Circus. A radio play written in 1956, it has never before been staged despite luminaries such as Ingmar Bergman and Laurence Olivier applying for the rights, and so to maintain the integrity of the piece as it was originally intended, Nunn presents to us a staged reading of the play.

The actors sit to the sides of the stage, rising to take the floor as it is their turn to speak, scripts in hand and enacting any sound effects that accompany their arrival. For this is a piece of drama uniquely interested in the soundscape it is creating as a haunting picture of rural Ireland is evoked, laced through with a desolate humour, in which the spectre of death is never far away. Continue reading “Review: All That Fall, Jermyn Street”

Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse

“Just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean that he hasn’t feelings like the rest of us”

Instincts can be useful and they can also be really annoying, especially when you don’t follow them. After three weeks away from the theatre, most of which has been spent lying by a pool in the South-West of France, my first engagement back was at the Donmar Warehouse to see Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! As with most things at theatres such as these, I automatically book for everything as soon as it is released, sometimes it’s the only way to guarantee getting the cheap seats, and so there is rarely any sense of deciding whether I actually want to see something or not. And because it is then cheap, thus one can argue that it doesn’t really matter if I don’t like it – such excellent self-perpetuating logic is needed to ensure I keep getting up early to join the website-crashing scrum of first day booking.

But my tolerance has lessened somewhat as I’m slowly weaning myself off my addiction to theatre (at least to a more manageable position…) and after having unpacked my holiday things and checked the calendar as to when I was next booked in anywhere, my heart was not particularly singing with joy at the prospect of seeing this play. I allowed myself to be persuaded that I needed to “get back on the horse” and that I was just suffering from post-holiday blues – my companion reckoned I wouldn’t have been enthused about any play that didn’t involve me sitting in a hot tub – but in all honesty, my overall impression of Philadelphia… was one of overwhelming ‘meh’. Continue reading “Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Written on the Heart, Duchess Theatre

“I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”

In perhaps one of the more surprising transfer moves of recent months, the RSC have brought last year’s production of David Edgar’s new play Written on the Heart into the West End to take up residency in the Duchess Theatre. I say surprising because it is a good while since the show ran in Stratford and though it received relatively good notices, they hardly set the world alight. But to town it has come and to be honest with you although it is nice to see a wealth of plays occupying West End houses, I can’t see it lasting very long in the cut-throat theatrical ecology.  

Edgar’s play is an almightily verbose work about the creation of the King James Bible. We start with James I’s decision to commission an authorised English Bible nearing its end in 1610 in the midst of endless committees debating the translation of every word. We then move around in time to see William Tynedale reaping the grim consequences of creating his own version in the reign of Henry VIII and also dip into the reign of Elizabeth I during the decatholicisation of many churches, where a young clergyman sees Tyndale’s work for the first time. As we then return to 1610, we see that that young man, Lancelot Andrewes, is now spearheading the Authorised version and recognise the debt that he owes to Tyndale. Continue reading “Review: Written on the Heart, Duchess Theatre”

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”

DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)

“Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge”

It is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that any mention of Alexandra Gilbreath – recent winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Play fosterIAN to be sure – sends me all a quiver. So when someone told me about this production of The Winter’s Tale which features not only her as Hermione but also has Nancy Carroll lurking in the ensemble, I was most keen to watch it. Plus there’s the small matter of Antony Sher as Leontes, an actor whom I am always intrigued to see more of as I’ve have actually had little experience of him as a performer.

An RSC production from 1998, this was recorded at the Barbican and so as a straight filming of the stage show, it is free from the kind of directorial innovation that blighted (IMHO) the versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest also covered this weekend. Instead, we get the theatrical experience minus the live thrill but with the added bonus of close up work. And it is a great bonus here. Sher does so much acting with his eyes as a paranoiac Leontes, mentally damaged as suggested by a prologue and incapable of not seeing the dark shadows in the corner of the room. The way his suspicions are aroused by Polixenes’ attentiveness to his wife is brilliantly done as she is actually suffering from pregnancy pain but Leontes misses the crucial moments and all too easily lets the darkness consume him. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)”

DVD Review: The Rivals , Bristol Old Vic

“Female punctuation forbids me to say more”

Not a huge amount of travelling for me this weekend but I’ve still got a big pile of DVDs to work my way through and so this Sunday evening, I sat down to this filmed version, by Heritage Theatre, of RB Sheridan’s The Rivals from the 2004 Bristol Old Vic production. It’s a rather popular play, we’ve seen a wickedly anarchic and amusing Celia Imrie-starring version at the Southwark Playhouse and a more traditional but impeccably acted version from Peter Hall in London in the last couple of years, so I was intrigued to see what this Rachel Kavanaugh-directed interpretation brought to the table.

It is an unfussy, uncluttered production – Peter MacKintosh’s evocative design making great use of perspective – which feels incredibly inclusive, even through the medium of film. Kavanaugh has her actors including the audience as an extra participant in all conversations so it feels we are constantly being confided in and party to all the gossip. It also helps that it is very well filmed, the quality is sharp and clear, there’s little unnecessary camera trickery or shots panning out to the audience, instead it focuses on a simple but strong representation of the action on stage, with key close-ups in all the right places: probably one of the best filmed theatre DVDs I’ve watched in that respect. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Rivals , Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre

With Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw took the well-known story of Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl eventually sainted, who led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War and was repaid for her trouble by being declared a witch and burnt at the stake since she believed that she was being guided by the voice of God in her head, and created an all-too-human story filling in the gaps in the history with tales of conflicting institutions, personality clashes and a keen sense of humour of what her life must have been like.

The play is remarkably even-handed in that it presents all sides of the argument and never really comes down on the side of either Joan or her oppressors. There are no goodies and baddies here, just a girl who believes God is speaking to her and the machinery of Church and State who will do anything to ensure their power remains stable: Shaw’s message is that uncontrolled individualism threatens the established order and is rarely tolerated. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre”