New cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child announced

(c) Manuel Harlan

The new cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been announced, showing one of the perils of its enormous sell-out success, that the cast playing when you book might not necessarily be the cast you get when you eventually get into the Palace Theatre. The received wisdom is that you shouldn’t be aggrieved at not seeing a particular performer but such a wholesale cast change in such a beloved and prize-garlanded company, I think people are allowed to feel disappointed, even if momentarily. Continue reading “New cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child announced”

Review: What’s In A Name?, Birmingham REP

“I’m a forty-year-old bachelor, who wears orange, likes Michael Bublé, and lived in San Francisco for a year”

Its rather lazy, and stereotypical, approach to laughing at the gays aside, there’s a quite a lot to enjoy here in the Birmingham REP’s production of the award-winning French play What’s In A Name?. Written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière, Le Prénom has been widely translated and produced, as well as receiving a film adaptation, but this version translated by Jeremy Sams for Just for Laughs Theatricals, marks the play’s British premiere.

Set in the Peckham apartment of Peter and Elizabeth (of course I went to Birmingham to see a play set 10 minutes from my flat!), the sharp comedy revolves around that staple of many a dramatist – the awkward dinner party. The hosts have invited her brother and his best friend Vincent and his heavily pregnant wife Anna, plus their ‘confirmed bachelor’ friend Carl, and over a Moroccan buffet and bottles of Chateau Margaux 1985, all manner of uncomfortable truths are revealed. Continue reading “Review: What’s In A Name?, Birmingham REP”

Review Five Finger Exercise, Print Room

“She got all dressed up and went to a sexy club in Ipswich”

In the characterful, if chilly, auditorium of former cinema The Coronet, actor Jamie Glover has returned to the world of directing with this little-seen debut play from Peter Shaffer (he of Equus and Amadeus). Set in the 1950s, Five Finger Exercise follows the Harrington family as they retire to their Suffolk country cottage to try and ease their dysfunctional ways but the employment of a young German tutor shatters what uneasy peace existed as his interactions with each cause mayhem and meltdown.

In some ways it is quintessentially English, hints of Coward-like playfulness and Rattiganesque repression but as a programme note points out, Shaffer’s time in the US as a young man is just as much in evidence with the ferocity of the emotion that spills out here. Strapping and handsome Walter thinks he found the ideal family unit in which to seek refuge from his Nazi officer father but one by one, he releases something in each Harrington that simply won’t go back. Continue reading “Review Five Finger Exercise, Print Room”

Review: The Rehearsal, Minerva

“Life has a way of sorting things out and leaving them in some sort of order”

Chichester Festival Theatre has a long-standing tradition of staging works by the French writer Jean Anouilh, which is continued by this production of his 1950 play The Rehearsal, but it is not terribly difficult to see why he has fallen out of favour with the vast majority of British theatres. Jeremy Sams, directing his own translation here, has pulled together a lusciously talented cast and a sumptuous set and costume design by William Dudley for the Minerva, but it is all sadly just window-dressing, albeit of a very high quality.

The play is set in 1950s France, in a chateau inhabited by the fabulously wealthy and the fatuously bored. To pass the time, they’re putting on a show – Marivaux’s The Double Inconstancy to be precise – but art is bleeding into life and vice versa. The feckless Count, the instigator of the whole affair, pressgangs their young governess into joining their company and soon finds his head turned by her fresh charms. This is to the consternation of his wife the Countess, who seeks solace in the arms of her own lover, and also of his official mistress Hortensia who sees her shakier position undermined.  Continue reading “Review: The Rehearsal, Minerva”

DVD Review: Emma (2009)

“He would know me but there’s no reason I would know a farmer”

Of all the versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, I can’t really believe that I will ever see one as well done as this 2009 BBC adaptation by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. Everything about it works for me, from the clever casting choices to the subtle redefinition of some characters, the (now) luxurious running time to the production values which mark it as something of a dying breed in terms of BBC period dramas.

I love its inventive prologue contrasting the early lives of Emma, Frank and Jane, how tragedy touched them all but their positions in life meant their journeys took wildly different paths. Romola Garai makes an immensely appealing heroine, her beautiful wide eyes so open and honest yet quickly able to take on a harder glint as her more self-obsessed side takes over, and she works so brilliantly with her cast-mates to give us full-fleshed, believable relationships.

There’s genuine affection with Michael Gambon’s fretful father, a tangible sisterly bond with Jodhi May’s former governess, a vivid friendship with Louise Dylan’s hapless Harriet and that real sense of antipathy that comes from two beautiful girls not quite able to make each other out with the arrival of Laura Pyper’s mysterious Jane Fairfax. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s excellent Mr Knightley, a hugely handsomely dashing figure who shares immense chemistry with Garai. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (2009)”

Review: Miss Julie / Black Comedy, Minerva

 Miss Julie is in complete denial about the whole thing”
 
Something of a random double-bill – August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (adapted here by Rebecca Lenkiwicz) and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy have previously been put together here at Chichester and so once again, they’re programmed as an engagement in the Minerva, partly cross-cast in a production by actor-increasingly-turned-director Jamie Glover. Each show has its merits but putting them together didn’t really add anything to the experience for me. 
 
Lenkiewicz’s version is solid rather than inspirational – the play has been adapted so many times now, it feels almost more surprising not to remove it from its original context. And consequently there’s no escaping the more misogynistic edges of the writing without the filter of another time. The glorious Rosalie Craig is excellent though as the titular, brittle aristocrat who can’t resist visits downstairs to bit of rough Jean, her father’s valet who is engaged to a kitchen maid.

Continue reading “Review: Miss Julie / Black Comedy, Minerva”

2014 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Leanne Best for The Match Box at The Tricycle 
Lucy Ellinson for Grounded at The Gate
Vicki Lee Taylor for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever at The Union
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag at Soho

Best Male
Joe Armstrong for The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
James Cooney for Bottleneck at Soho
Michael Pennington for Dances of Death at The Gate
Jamie Samuel for Jumpers for Goalposts at The Bush

Best New Play
Bottleneck by Luke Barnes at Soho
Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells at The Bush
The Match Box by Frank McGuinness at The Tricycle Continue reading “2014 Offie Award Finalists”

TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

“No-one knows how long it is going to last. No-one’s irreplaceable.”

Originally broadcast around the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss’ docudrama about the creation of the long-running sci-fi TV programme was repeated over Christmas and so I couldn’t resist watching it over again. The programme itself ends up being a little constrained by its format at times like these, the expectations of a ‘special’ sky-high when the strength of the show (for me) is in its richness over the length of a series. And so the anniversary ‘special’ (and indeed the regeneration episode in the Christmas ‘special’) operate almost as stand-alones which aren’t always as successful as a storyline built up over numerous episodes.

And in the case of the anniversary, this was exacerbated by the sheer quality of Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time which told the story of the birth of the series, from its genesis at the BBC, through the young guns who drove it to transmission and the tale of William Hartnell, the actor who took on the unknown role and started one of the enduring successes of the televisual era. It was full of details and grace notes that would have delighted the fanbase but more importantly, it also worked for the uninitiated as a powerful piece of drama with huge emotional impact (its finale was more moving than anything given to the real Doctor Who). Continue reading “TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time”

Review: The Dumb Waiter, Print Room

“Scampi!”

The charms of Harold Pinter have long eluded me and so the idea of a £20 50-minute show in a theatre far away from mine on a TFL-challenged weekend did not fill me with the hugest amount of excitement. But the promise of a nice dinner afterwards got me there and whilst I can’t say that The Dumb Waiter provided any Damascene conversion, it was definitely better than I thought it was going to be.

Two hit men sit waiting in a basement – it is Pinter after all – expecting someone to get in touch with their next job and whilst they wait, they fill the time with banal discussions and squabbles over such minutiae as football matches from their past, the local news and the correct wording of a particular saying. The banter bounces back and forth and as the time comes ever closer to the order being received, the mood darkens into something much more menacing.

Jamie Glover’s production has a strong sense of the farcical nature of these two men’s existence, obsessed with the superficial as they avoid the unspoken weight of the reality of their employment. And as the dumb waiter in the room cranks into service, the sets of instructions that they receive leave them, and us, baffled. I don’t think it was just me whose mind kept wandering off though as the obliqueness proved to be less than riveting.


But as the finale kicks in and something close to a purpose comes to light, it does suddenly become really quite engaging and the ending cleverly leaves so much poised and a thousand questions dangling tantalisingly in the air. Clive Wood and Joe Armstrong’s performances are strongest with the comedic aspect of the production and both prove enjoyable, but such expensive brevity means I’d be hard-pressed to recommend you make much of an effort to go see it.


Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 23rd November

DVD Review: These Foolish Things

“You always do the decent thing”

Noel Langley might be best known for being one of the screenwriters for The Wizard of Oz but his work as an author and playwright stretched over several decades and in 2006, an adaptation of his novel There’s A Porpoise Close Behind Us was released with the title These Foolish Things, both adapted and directed by Julia Taylor-Stanley. It’s a perfectly passable 1930s romp, set in the world of the theatre as the dark shadows of war gather (but not too closely) and a struggling young playwright goes about trying to get his play and his girlfriend on the London stage. What is oddly notable about it is the heavyweight Hollywood legends that have somehow gotten roped into the whole shebang – Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Terence Stamp…none of whom are in a major role.

Instead it proves to be something of a Brit flick. Floppily handsome David Leon plays playwright Robin who offers Diana a place in his lodgings as she moves to London to follow in her actress mother’s footsteps but finds herself overwhelmed by the demands of the theatre world. As she steadies herself, she finds both allies – Julia McKenzie’s compassionate landlady, Andrew Lincoln’s helpful Christopher – and enemies – her own nefarious cousin Garstin, Leo Bill in full-on sneering mode, and Mark Umbers’ sexually voracious and unfussy Douglas. With Huston’s glamorous patron of the arts Lottie Osgood in the middle of them all, the play edges ever closer to production, but at no small cost to everyone concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: These Foolish Things”