Film Review: The Favourite (2018)

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite offers up a thoroughly human approach to history and three cracking performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz

“Don’t shout at me, I am the Queen”

It may seem like casting directors have forgotten that there are other actresses available alongside Olivia Colman but when the work she produces is this irresistible, you can’t help but indulge them. But though she is being pushed as the lead of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, it is important to note that she eagerly shares that spotlight with both Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

Which is unique enough for Hollywood in general, never mind a mainstream historical film. But here, Lanthimos completely upends convention to produce something unique, compelling and utterly significant. The history of Queen Anne’s reign may be less of an unknown quantity to recent theatregoers although nothing there will have prepared anyone for the affecting and effective novelty of this approach.   Continue reading “Film Review: The Favourite (2018)”

TV Review: Fleabag

“I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist”

I left it a little while to watch Fleabag on television, for though Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ascension to the ranks of hugely buzzworthy writer has been pleasing to watch, I haven’t – dare I say it – always been the hugest fan of her work. For me, the effectiveness of her writing hasn’t always matched with the audacity of its frankness and so in her plays and TV shows like Crashing, I’ve admired the path she’s taking without hugely enjoying it.

Her breakthrough piece Fleabag equally didn’t hit my buttons in the way that it did for many others, thus my delay in getting round to watching it. And as is often the case with lowered expectations, it actually surprised me by being a very effective adaptation of the play. Its world has been expanded, both physically and personally, a whole cast of supporting characters now appear but crucially, there’s the thing I was missing most at the Soho – direct eye contact.

Fleabag rides on its confessional style and on screen, Waller-Bridge and director Harry Bradbeer nail it, direct asides giving us piecemeal insight into the trials and tribulations of this young woman struggling to make life in London work. Afraid of being a bad feminist and unafraid of her sexuality, desperately damaged by the death of her best friend and unable to connect with her family in a meaningful way, the piece is thoroughly enlivened and enriched by its treatment on screen. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag”

The 2015 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize
James McArdle
, for Platonov in Platonov (Chichester Festival Theatre)

Second prize
Elliot Barnes-Worrell, for Straker in Man and Superman (National Theatre)

Third prize
Freddie Fox
, for Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (Sheffield Crucible)

Commendations

Joel MacCormack, for Orestes in The Oresteia (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Ken Nwosu, for Silvius in As You Like It (National Theatre)
Jack Colgrave Hirst, for Clown in The Winter’s Tale (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company at the Garrick Theatre)
Joshua James, for Konstantin in The Seagull and Nikolai in Platonov (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Emily Barber, for Imogen in Cymbeline (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Jenny Rainsford, for Miss Prue in Love for Love (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Jessica Baglow, for Marina in Pericles (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Jessica Brown Findlay, for Elektra in Oresteia (Almeida Theatre and Trafalgar Studios)

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

Review: The Rivals, Arcola

“Through all the drama — whether damned or not —Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.”

The main beauty of Selina Cadell’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen The Rivals is her mastery of the Restoration form which sees no fourth wall separating players and punters. So on taking the stage, her actors acknowledge the audience in their own ways – awkward bows, tacit nods, arched eyebrows – and continue to address us throughout, an expositionary monologue here, an announcement of the scene’s location there, a gossipy aside everywhere. What really makes it work though is the warmth and wit with which the company fold us into its welcoming arms.

With a wicked glint in her eye and wryly pursed lips, an extravagantly dressed Gemma Jones ensures her Mrs Malaprop reaches the very pineapple of her comic potential and with no less captivating humour, Nicholas Le Prevost makes even the lewdest of Sir Anthony Absolute’s comments a hilarious part of his incorrigible charm. They have decided that her niece Lydia Languish and his son Captain Jack Absolute are an ideal match but young Lydia – an outrageous Jenny Rainsford who plays her on the edge of sanity to hugely entertaining effect – has her heart set on the romantic, and penniless, hero of her dreams. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Arcola”

DVD review: About Time

“Get ready for spooky time”

To criticise a film about time travel for not possessing the most stringent internal logic might seem perverse (though it has never stopped those who watch Doctor Who…); to criticise a Richard Curtis film for being utterly daft feels likewise misintentioned, his work is what it is. But there’s something really rather frustrating about his 2013 work About Time that is determined to have its cutesy cutesy pie and eat it, saccharine sweetness and all.

It is as much a father/son love story as it is a boy/girl romance in which Domhnall Gleeson’s nerdishly appealing Hugh-Grant-a-like Tim, is the son of an upper-class boho family – troubled-but-not-too-much sister (Lydia Wilson), check; slightly doolally uncle (Richard Cordery), check; perfect parents (Lindsay Duncan and Bill Nighy), check. And wouldn’t you know it, it turns out the men in this family have the power to travel back in time by closing their eyes and squeezing a fist. Continue reading “DVD review: About Time”

Review: Microcosm, Soho Theatre

“Two men just watching a bit of Cruise, nothing wrong with that…”

The most amusing part of James Perkins’ design for Matt Hartley’s Microcosm may be accidental or it could well be a nod to the sweltering heat that often builds up in the attic room of the Soho Theatre Upstairs. In the midst of moving flats on a hot summer’s day, one of the characters sets up a desktop fan, points it out towards the audience and switches it on – it may only offer comfort for a small group but in lieu of effective air-con, it is well played. 

The flat belongs to Alex, recently purchased with an inheritance from a grandmother and long-term girlfriend Clare is moving in too. It may only be a conversion but it marks a major step for him in becoming lord of his own manor but he soon comes to realise that along with property comes neighbours. Some are benign, if overbearingly creepy, as in the relentless attentions of married Philip from next door but others are more ominous, like the small gang hanging out down the road – the show opens with the chirpy tones of ‘On The Street Where You Live’ which soon gains a double meaning. Continue reading “Review: Microcosm, Soho Theatre”

Review: Little Black Book, Park

“Is it very hard to seduce a woman?”

Fanciful and French, Jean-Claude Carrière’s Little Black Book is a strange little thing indeed, abstract and random in its tracking of a putative relationship between a man notching up his 134th conquest in his book and a woman in search of a M Ferrand. Their romance starts unconventionally (she just walks into his apartment off the street), it continues unconventionally (they both swing from pillar to post on the whole affair) and it is played unconventionally, toying with the fourth wall in an intriguing way.

Kate Fahy’s production is wily and fitfully engaging, almost mischievous in its nature, as both him and her play about in a series of sketches about the frivolous nature of wooing and indeed of romance, their mutual silliness underscored by a deep sadness at the fragility of the heart and the ease with which good intentions can get confused. Over the space of a couple of days, they traverse the full gamut of emotions that most couples take a lifetime to get through, as complex as love itself. Continue reading “Review: Little Black Book, Park”

Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace

“Art can’t be made into a spectacle; you can’t put it in a box”

There’s something quite remarkable about the boldness with which Blanche McIntyre has reinterpreted Chekhov’s perennial classic The Seagull for Headlong. Gone is the stuffy country house to be replaced by Laura Hopkins’ expressionistic, open space and the formality of the Russian’s words has been supplanted by John Donnelly’s fresh new version which refocuses the play’s centre away from melodrama to something sharper, funnier, more powerful even. This is an interpretation that genuinely makes the play feel new. 

McIntyre introduces notes of meta-theatre to push home the exploration of the nature of art and artists that now sits at the heart of the play – the house lights come up as characters direct their soliloquies straight to the audience, the blank rear wall becomes the page of a notebook complete with significant changing scribbles, the stark simplicity of the set allowing for a deeper intellectual excavation of the issues of art and love and creativity and sex. And it is a compelling mixture, all pushing along the vital narrative and driving these familiar characters to their predestined fates with a fresh new verve.  Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace”

Review: No Quarter, Royal Court

“I would punch a baby for a cigarette”

During Dominic Cooke’s reign, the Royal Court has done an excellent job in nurturing a generation of new young female playwrights and Polly Stenham surely has to be considered as one of the breakout successes from this cohort, managing to maintain an air of great anticipation alongside a unhurried workrate. Her third play No Quarter, for the Royal Court as with That Face and Tusk Tusk, occupies similar territory as her earlier work, in the chronicling of dysfunction in families of the more privileged classes, but it could be said it is with diminishing returns.

24 year old music school dropout Robin has lost himself in a haze of drink and drugs but when he returns to the dilapidated manor house that is his family home, it is to the suffocatingly intense embrace of his dementia-stricken mother who wants his help to ease her way into death. But when he finds that the home he thought he would inherit has actually been sold from under him to developers, his self-destructive instincts kick in and the night of her wake sees him attract an assorted crowd for a wild party to end all parties, anything to avoid confronting the enduring malaise that weighs him down. Continue reading “Review: No Quarter, Royal Court”