Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

DVD Review: The Infidel (2010)

“Solly Shimshillewitz? Why didn’t they just call you “Jewie-jew-jew-jew-jew” and be done with it?”

Not having seen the film of The Infidel before catching the musical adaptation at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, I quickly rectified that with a cheeky online rental on my new iPhone 6+ (plug!). Written by David Baddiel and directed by Josh Appignanesi, it was a moderate success in 2010 although watching it now, I was struck by how comparatively muted the humour was and impressed that Baddiel and co saw musical theatre as the best way to translate the story for the stage as it isn’t immediately obvious.

Omid Djalili takes on the role of Mahmud, the British Muslim whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he is in fact adopted and is Jewish by birth to boot, and impresses in the everyman part of the role, emphasising the story’s point about how we all wear our beliefs differently but no less strongly. He’s a little more restrained than I was expecting though and Archie Panjabi, good as she is, feels miscast as his wife, their relationship improbably imbalanced and so lacking the deep-seated connection that ought to be holding them together even during the most strained times. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Infidel (2010)”

Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4

“No decent woman will be able to say suffrage without blushing for another generation”

Part of a series of radio dramas looking at contemporary responses to the increasing emancipation of women at the turn of the twentieth century, Votes for Women is a 1907 suffragette play by Elizabeth Robins, one of the most forthright actresses of the time who allegedly pulled a gun on George Bernard Shaw when he made a pass at her. Her play looks at women who were equally bold at a time when the movement for women’s suffrage was beginning to stagnate, paralysed by the filibustering efforts of the men in Parliament. Where some were content to continue the same path and attempt to win them over, others were adamant that direct action was the only course of action and Robins neatly explores this schism in the movement.

In Marion Nancarrow’s production, Zoë Tapper plays Vida Levering, one of the activists determined to take things further whose zeal sweeps up those around her, including the youthful heiress Jean Dunbarton, voiced by the delicately effervescent Charity Wakefield, who is newly engaged to Sam West’s Tory MP Geoffrey Stoner, who in turn has his own connection to Vida. This tangled relationship provides the melodramatic meat for the final third of the play and if not quite brilliant, it is certainly engaging. Robins is much more successful at the dramatisation of the crusading spirit and enthusiasm of the time. Continue reading “Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4”

Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4

“What would this devastated world be without us?”

Radio 4 recently put together a season of work entitled Dangerous Visions, inspired by JG Ballard’s dystopian take on the near future and featuring adaptations of two of his works – Concrete Island and The Drowned World – alongside the responses of five contemporary writers on a similar theme. My favourite of the pieces that I managed to listen to was Graham White’s adaptation of The Drowned World, a moody exploration of a world wracked by solar flares which have caused the flooding of some of the major cities of the world. Not only that, the ecological crisis has brought with it a new evolutionary shift, but one which is regressive as humanity is forced to change in order to survive, even if it means reverting to a more primitive state of being.

Not having read the book, I can’t comment on the adaptation but it felt like a slickly told story, motoring through its central premise of the world going backwards, in all senses. We see this primarily through the eyes of lovers Beatrice and Kerans, the ever-excellent Hattie Morahan and James D’Arcy both in glorious vocal form, as their passion becomes increasingly primal. But also through the experiences of the people around them as Kerans is part of a scientific expedition to explore one last time before the newly watery world is abandoned. And there we see human behaviour degenerating, especially in the shape of Tim McInnerny’s pirate-like Strangman, out for selfish gain no matter the consequences. A powerfully evocative reading of the story makes this a recommended listen. Continue reading “Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4”

Review: The Physicists, Donmar Warehouse

“Questions? Observations? Misgivings?”

Forming the final entry in her debut season as Donmar AD, The Physicists continues Josie Rourke’s realignment of the Donmar’s artistic policy. And as with Making Noise Quietly, it is into previously unknown areas for me as this play was written in 1962 by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt (although Rourke commissioned a new version here from Jack Thorne), someone I’ve never previously heard of. Wikipedia informs me he was a proponent of epic theatre but what it translates to here is a tragi-comedy with a farcical first half, which darkens to a more serious second which reflects its Cold War origins.

It starts off like the punchline to a joke: three nuclear physicists are in a mental asylum. Herbert Georg Beutler, who believes he is Sir Isaac Newton, Ernst Heinrich Ernesti who is convinced he is Albert Einstein and Johann Wilhelm Möbius who has regular visitations from King Solomon. It emerges that the first two have murdered their nurses and that Möbius seems set to follow suit, but as the reasons for their actions slowly become apparent, it is clear that something greater is at stake here. Continue reading “Review: The Physicists, Donmar Warehouse”