Review: Twelfth Night, National

“A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man”

There’s nowt so queer as folk, at least not in Simon Godwin’s version of Illyria here. A gender-swapped Malvolia longs after her mistress Olivia, hipster-fop Sir Andrew Aguecheek is entirely smitten by a flirtatious Toby Belch, Antonio follows up his snog with Sebastian by inviting him to a rendez-vous at local drag bar The Elephant. And that’s before we’ve even dealt with the sexual confusion that Shakespeare himself engineered in Twelfth Night, as shipwreck survivor Viola disguises herself as her presumed drowned twin brother and wreaks havoc on the libidos of Olivia and Orsino alike.

It’s a mark of the success of Godwin’s production that it wears this all so lightly. It’s a modern-dress version for a modern sensibility (if not for the audience member who gasped audibly at the first gay kiss) and one that is rooted in a real sense of playfulness, as an expertly cast ensemble just have a huge amount of fun with it. Phoebe Fox’s delicious Olivia, who gives new life to the phrase ‘dance like nobody’s watching’; Oliver Chris’ Chelsea playboy of an Orsino, in the throes of a mid-life crisis having just turned 40; Tim McMullan’s swaggeringly confident Sir Toby ever accompanied by Niky Wardley’s spirited Maria and the comic masterpiece that is Daniel Rigby’s Sir Andrew.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, National”

Review: After Electra, Tricycle

“How long was it supposed to go on – this mother thing?”

On the one hand, it’s rather flipping marvellous to see a play that places multiple older female characters at its heart, continuing the stirring efforts of Indhu Rubasingham’s artistic directorship at the Tricycle Theatre to continue to broaden the scope of the stories it tells, far beyond the white male dominance we often see on our stages. And its themes of individual expression versus maternal love fit neatly into an emerging trend that we’ve seen in contemporary plays I’ve really loved like Love Love Love and The Last of the Haussmans.

On the other hand, I’m not too sure that I really liked April De Angelis’ After Electra, a Theatre Royal Plymouth production directed here by Prince Caspian himself Samuel West. It has a sparky beginning as uncompromising artist Virgie decides to celebrate her 81st birthday with family and friends by declaring that she’s going to take her own life while she’s still compos mentis enough for it to be her decision. Notions of what longer life expectancy really means and how that impacts on familial relationships suggest something intriguing lurking in Michael Taylor’s handsomely appointed set. Continue reading “Review: After Electra, Tricycle”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

DVD Review: The Queen’s Sister

 “You will not menace the House of Windsor”

Lucy Cohu has the dubious pleasure of being one of the few women I would probably turn for,  she radiates an old-school glamour and sensuality that I find near-irresistable and I’ve loved the few stage performances of hers I have been able to catch (Speaking in Tongues, Broken Glass and A Delicate Balance). So I was quite happy to take in the Channel 4 television movie The Queen’s Sister, in which she took the lead role of Princess Margaret, in the name of the Jubilee Weekend 😉

It’s a semi-fictionalised account of her life by Craig Warner (although knowing so little of the reality, I couldn’t have told you what was real and what wasn’t) which focuses on her struggles against the establishment as she followed a life of largely wanton hedonism and leaving a trail of paramours behind her. Whether her previously married lover whom she was forbidden from wedding, the long-suffering husband prone to infidelity, the young pop singer who offers a faint hope of redemption, her relentless partying, fondness of always having a drink in her hand and general spoiltness consistently makes life difficult for herself.
Continue reading “DVD Review: The Queen’s Sister”

Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s

“Do you want to be part of the group, or do you want to be an individual?”

Telling the ‘origin story’ of the Beatles, how they paid their dues as a rock’n’roll covers band in Hamburg with their original line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe, Backbeat is actually less Beatles-centric than one might expect. The focus of the show, written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys from Softley’s 1994 film of the same name, is actually the relationship between original bassist and visual artist Stuart Sutcliffe and the two main figures in his life: best friend Lennon who teaches him guitar so that he can join the band on their trip and abandon art school, and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who falls passionately for him and recognises his true artistic potential.

It is this conflict that forms the backbone of the show – Sutcliffe struggling to balance his best friend and his lover, the band and his art – all underpinned by the knowledge that his cruel early death from a brain haemorrhage came just as the Beatles were about to hit the big time. And it is clear that these are the only really fully-fleshed characters in the show: Nick Blood’s achingly cool and handsome Sutcliffe strikes a magnetically seductive pose, connecting beautifully with Ruta Gedmintas’ coolly composed Astrid and sparking well with Andrew Knott’s bolshy, hero-worshipping Lennon. They make an intriguing threesome and in some ways it is a shame that the show doesn’t get to delve more deeply into these relationships, particularly between Sutcliffe and Lennon. Continue reading “Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s”