Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

Review: Don Quixote, Swan

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan”

Film Review: Suffragette

“You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable”

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette offers a rather striking perspective on the women’s suffrage movement, inventing a working class character and following her political awakening at a key moment in the fight for women’s rights. Carey Mulligan’s Maud Watts is a dutiful wife and mother, working long, thankless hours at a Bethnal Green laundry whose chance encounter with a riotous group of suffragettes slowly rouses something within her.

This is where Morgan and Gavron’s approach pays dividends, in seeing the movement through working class eyes away from the privilege and relative freedom of the leaders. Even on a shop-floor full of much-put-upon women, suffragette is spat as a dirty word and in the close-knit neighbourhoods too, the leap that Maud has to make to merely stand up for what she believes is right is that much more difficult, more life-changingly dramatic and Mulligan is truly superb in tracing this transformation. Continue reading “Film Review: Suffragette”

Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange

“Love is just a better way to hurt each other”

Ellen McDougall’s debut production for the Royal Exchange is actually a trans-Pennine affair as once Anna Karenina wraps up in Manchester, the show will be heading over the hills (stopping at a Betty’s Tea Room en route as must surely be done) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, along with Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone with which it plays in rep. It is always pleasing to see this kind of regional collaboration actually coming to fruition as it does provide reassurances that the arts are finding the best ways to work through these financially straitened times.

It helps of course when the work is of this quality. Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel is very much unafraid to cut and reconfigure the story into something overtly theatrical as characters break out of the narrative to introduce themselves and provide short cuts through the author’s tangled web of nineteenth century Russian aristocracy. Clifford, and McDougall, also pull in the focus so that the counterpoint of Anna’s fast-burning passion with the dashing Vronsky and Levin’s hard-fought love for Katy becomes the beating heart of the matter. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange”

Review: Eternal Love, Cambridge Arts Theatre

“If you marry me you’ll never be a candidate for the Vatican”

Originally seen at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2006 and 2007 as In Extremis, Howard Brenton’s newly retitled Eternal Love marks the 21st birthday year of English Touring Theatre and the first instalment in a three-year-long project to tour quality drama across the country. On a personal note, it also saw my first ever visit to Cambridge (too brief for my liking, I look forward to a return) and the Cambridge Arts Theatre (very friendly, I like the fact I found the bar before I found the box office!).

The retitling offers a further clue to its subject matter in a subtitle The Story of Abelard and Heloise but in some ways, this feels a little bit of a misnomer. For though the enduring love story between the medieval theologian Peter Abelard and his fearsomely intelligent student Heloise is a central part of the play, Brenton also focuses on the key philosophical debate of the time, as intense rival Bernard of Clairvaux declares his determination to defeat this heretical foe and maintain the doctrine of absolute faith. Continue reading “Review: Eternal Love, Cambridge Arts Theatre”

Review: The Vortex, Rose Kingston

“He’s always taciturn after a matinée”

I’m unwilling to write it off just yet, but I really do have problems with the Rose Kingston as a theatrical space. Its very design seems inimical to fostering the sense of emotional connection that marks truly great productions and very few directors I have seen work there have been able to substantially address this. As the AD of the place, Stephen Unwin has tried more than most but in a play like The Vortex, which unusually for Noël Coward coils ever tighter into the most intense of two-handers in its final act, it proves a serious issue.

Coward’s 1924 debut work caused shockwaves with its portrayal of casual marital infidelity and cocaine addiction and though it may have lost some of that power now, it still has the power to move. Nicky Lancaster is a disaffected young music student who returns from a sojourn in Paris with a fiancée, a drug habit and an uncertain amount of sexual confusion. He is shocked on his arrival though, to find his mother Florence engaged in a heady affair with a much younger Guards Officer and determined to live her life free from societal pressure or marital responsibilities. Over the course of a weekend, their lives and the secrets they both possess clash to devastating effect. 


Though the production never really moved me as I thought it might, it did have flashes of inspiration. There are several gorgeous touches like having Nicky play Someone To Watch Over Me as a desperate plea to his self-involved mother and making Rebecca Johnson’s über-honest Helen – unexpectedly the production’s highlight – not just Florence’s confidante but someone who would be more than just a friend. And it is moments like these that sit beautifully alongside the strong performances of the leads.

  

The divine Kerry Fox – an actress whose CV is admirably if frustratingly sparse – makes Florence a fearsomely determined figure, less flighty society hostess and more a woman utterly convinced of her infallibility, which makes the stripping back of her certainties all the more effective. And David Dawson nails the quicksilver changes of mood of Nicky, one moment the epitome of Coward-esque charm, the next lost in the haunting depths of his despair.


But where the show ought to ratchet up the intensity, the atmosphere is broken by the insertion of two regular-sized intervals which undo so much of the good work that has been done. And the other members of the company often just seem marooned on the platform of the stage, raised and removed from the audience and so not always able to bridge that gap to draw us into their world. Solid rather than superlative, the lead performances make it worth a visit. 


Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with 2 intervals)

Booking until 2nd March

Re-review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“They see you as a hussy who planned to get your claws into the King from the moment you came to Court”

Another revisit to a play in a month that has seen a fair few and once again, it was to a play I hadn’t intended to see for a second time. This time it was Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn which premiered at the Globe last summer and which seriously impressed as a piece of new writing which managed to bring a potentially very dry historical subject to vibrant life, both enlightening and amusing audiences in equal measure and earning its star, the luminous Miranda Raison, a Best Actress fosterIAN nomination. When it was first announced that it was returning as part of the 2011 Globe Season, the lacking of accompanying casting news led me (and others) to suspect that she would not be returning with the production and so I was quite happy not to bother seeing it again. Sod’s law dictated that Raison did indeed return though and so my resistance was quickly work down and a visit made to the penultimate performance of the run.

My review from last year can be read here and little has changed in that I really did love it just as much second time round. I’d forgotten just how witty it was from start to finish and just how well-written the whole thing is, but particularly the role of Anne. It really is a superb part, shedding a brand new light on a historical figure of whom so much has already been said, but Brenton makes a convincing case for her as a truly unique figure, dazzling with intelligence but also possessed of reckless abandon in the pursuit of her goals. And Miranda Raison breathes such delightful life into her portrayal, brimming with self-confidence and a self-assurance that allows her to dominate Henry VIII for years whilst his divorce with ‘the Aragon cow’ is sorted out yet makes her entirely likeable. Continue reading “Re-review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Make the coming hour o’erflow with joy and pleasure drown the brim”

 All’s Well That Ends Well occupies an enigmatic place in the Shakespearean canon, grouped as one of the ‘problem plays’ since it does not fit neatly into one category or another – an enigmatically dark comedy full of ambiguity and curious ethics which means it is not one of the more regularly performed plays, indeed this is the first production to grace the stage of the Globe.

Helena is in love with the arrogant Bertram, son of her guardian the Countess of Rousillon, despite him being well out of her league as she is but a commoner. But when she utilises the skills left to her by her deceased physician father to cure to the King of France of a painful fistula and he gratefully offers a reward of her choosing, she seizes the opportunity to have the king allow her to marry the man of her choosing. Bertram does not take too kindly to being coerced thus and reluctantly submits to the betrothal but declares he will never be a true husband until two seemingly impossible conditions are met and leaves France for Italy to become a soldier, hoping to never see Helena again but she is one determined young lady. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would lose my life rather than my honesty”

Anne Boleyn marks the first new play in this year’s programme at Shakespeare’s Globe. Written by Howard Brenton, it features Miranda Raison in the title role, continuing a character that she also plays in Shakespeare’s own Henry VIII, also playing in rep. This is a review of the first preview, so please bear that in mind whilst reading my thoughts below.
 
The play covers the life of Anne Boleyn from her time in court as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, through her developing relationship with Henry VIII and the ideals of Protestant reform, ideas that ultimately caused her downfall but also sowed the seeds for the huge upheaval that culminated in the Civil War. What Brenton has done though, is to couple this story with the story of James I trying to establish control over a sceptical kingdom and varied religious groupings, centring around his commission of a new translation of the Bible. James is haunted, literally, by Anne’s ghost and her legacy and the two combine to great effect. Continue reading “Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe

“You that thus far have come to pity me, hear what I say, and then go home and lose me”

Not having seen Henry VIII before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the second play in the Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe (this was the second preview) and as delightfully coloured cod-pieces and a mightily impressive heaving bosom (bosoms?) emerged in the course of the first act, I suspected we could be in for a right rollicking good time. This play takes place in the middle of Henry’s reign and follows the rise and fall of four important people in his life, the Duke of Buckingham, his first wife Katherine of Aragon, the Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer. It mixes up elements of history, tragedy and romance and wraps it all up in the opulent pageantry of the era but it also allows us to see behind the scenes, the gossiping, the politicking and those moments when the mask slips and we see glimpses of the real people behind the public personae.

It is full of stately pomp and circumstance and the set-pieces are visually stunning: Anne Bullen’s procession through the theatre at her coronation, Princess Elizabeth’s christening, even Katherine of Aragon’s trial, all are sumptuously mounted and there are some truly moving moments, especially at the moment of downfall of each of the above-mentioned players. But in truth, Henry VIII plays as a series of episodes rather than a long play and there’s surprisingly little interaction between many of the key characters. This could be to do with the much-debated true authorship of the play, it has been suggested that it was a collaboration between Shakespeare and another playwright John Fletcher, though my knowledge on this is limited to reading the programme notes so I couldn’t possibly come down on one side or the other. Either way, there is much unevenness in this play and as a result it is only fitfully engaging. Continue reading “Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe”