Film Review: Crooked House (2017)

“The murderer is never the one you initially suspect”

 

A real treat here for fans of Agatha Christie as Crooked House is one of the few novels of hers that has yet to be adapted for the screen. With a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price and Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the latter of whom also directs, a curious release strategy sees it materialise on Channel 5 in the UK despite it being blessed with the kind of castings and high production values that you’d’ve thought would be destined for the cinema.

The story begins as so many of them do, with a murder. This time it is wealthy 80-some tycoon Aristide Leonides who kicks the bucket and the finger of suspicion doesn’t know where to point as it could any one of the disillusioned family members who also lived in the sumptuous family pile. His grand-daughter secures the services of a private investigator to look into the case discreetly and thus the mystery begins.

Is it Glenn Close’s mole-murdering Lady Edith, the sister of Leonides first wife? Christina Hendricks’ much younger second wife Brenda who stands to inherit everything? His hapless elder son or his hapless younger son or maybe one of their wives, a pair of crackingly vibrant performances from Gillian Anderson and Amanda Abbington respectively. And what secrets do Jenny Galloway’s nanny or Honor Kneafley’s 12 year old Josephine have up their sleeve?

Pleasingly, Max Irons’ investigator isn’t a Poirot or Marple-like savant and so the focus is allowed to rest on the unfurling of characters with murky motivations and a real sense of unease that percolates through the whole story. Sebastian Winterø’s cinematography plays into this with constantly interesting angles and Simon Bowles’ luscious production design is extraordinarily detailed in the way different rooms reflect their inhabitants.

Last but by no means least, there’s no denying the thrill that comes from a genuine shock of an ending that is brilliantly brutal, both in its reveal and its finality. Its darkness is possibly one of the reasons Crooked House hasn’t been filmed before but I love the fact that it is also one of Christie’s two favourites of her novels (the other being Ordeal By Innocence which was scheduled to be this year’s BBC/Sarah Phelps adaptation but which remains in limbo due to allegations made against one of its cast members).

 

 

 

Review: Saint George and the Dragon, National Theatre

“You hunt them where they live”

There’s something interesting about a community that can simultaneously urge the need to talk constructively about failure and also gloat endlessly about the its possibility. Where the National Theatre is concerned, the stakes feel considerably heightened and following a summer that contained the divisive Salomé and Common, sadly you could almost feel the knives being sharpened in advance for Saint George and the Dragon.
Two contrasting viewpoints from two contrasting people, to be sure, but you wonder how open-minded people are being, particularly when the start to this press night was delayed by 30 minutes or so adding fuel to certain people’s fire. But all this dancing around is doing, is delaying the inevitable, in that I found Rory Mullarkey’s new play really quite tough-going and had it not been for an effortful performance from John Heffernan keeping it afloat from the front, it would have been worse.

The Olivier is an unforgiving space and seems to provoke a certain kind of writing that longs to be suitably epic. But whether it is the writers being over-awed or the commissioning process not being rigorous enough, the new writing being showcased here isn’t quite hitting the mark. Mullarkey uses the legendary figure of St George to explore English life and its people, how it and they have changed from medieval history to current Brexited times.
This he does by splitting his play into three but populating them with the same people. So Heffernan’s George is first seen as a weary knight who saves the woman he loves from a dragonish baron, inspiring the villagers as he frees them all. He’s called away and upon his return, it is now the Industrial Revolution and the dragon has returned in the form of an invasive capitalism. Heroics are performed once again but on the next return to the modern day, the dragon has seeped into the bones of society itself.
There’s plenty of good ideas in here but none of them really come to fruition in the way that is needed in Lyndsey Turner’s production. The pace sags too often during an overlong running time and there’s nowhere near enough humour. And for all the delicious bit of design from Rae Smith (the first dragon battle is entertainingly done), the amusing notion of how the cross of St George came about and Julian Bleach giving his ripest of villains as the mutating dragon, it’s a play that needs the patience of a saint.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
Booking until 2nd December

Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon

A village. A dragon. A damsel in distress.
Into the story walks George: wandering knight, freedom fighter, enemy of tyrants the world over. One epic battle later and a nation is born. As the village grows into a town, and the town into a city, the myth of Saint George, which once brought a people together, threatens to divide them. Rory Mullarkey creates a new folk tale for an uneasy nation.
John Heffernan plays Saint George; the cast also includes Suzanne Ahmet, Jason Barnett, Julian Bleach, Luke Brady, Paul Brennen, Joe Caffrey, Paul Cawley, Richard Goulding, Gawn Grainger, Tamzin Griffin, Stephanie Jacob, Olwen May, Victoria Moseley, Conor Neaves, Amaka Okafor, Sharita Oomeer, Jeff Rawle, Kirsty Rider and Grace Saif.
Directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire), with design by Rae Smith, choreography by Lynne Page, lighting design by Bruno Poet, music by Grant Olding, sound design by Christopher Shutt and fight direction by Bret Yount.
Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.
Saint George and the Dragon is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Plays Award

New season at the NT: June 2017 to January 2018

Lots of exciting news in the National’s new season announcement, taking us up to January 2018, rather putting the lie to the cries of “crisis” that pop up far too easily when a less-than-well-received show (or two) takes up residency there.

Highlights for me include the perfection of this production pic:

The return of Barber Shop Chronicles:
Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton appearing in a thing together (this may or may not be their feet:
And of course the Ivo van Hove/Lee Hall/Bryan Cranston amazefest that will be Network (which will have some onstage seating!):

Olivier Theatre

Follies
Book by James Goldman
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Previews from 22 August
Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, the production is directed by Dominic Cooke (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

Saint George and the Dragon
A new play by Rory Mullarkey
Previews from 4 October
John Heffernan plays Saint George; the cast also includes Paul Brennen, Richard Goulding, Tamzin Griffin, Conor Neaves, Amaka Okafor, Daniel Ryan and Grace Saif. Directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire). Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.

Amadeus
by Peter Shaffer
Previews from 11 January
Following a sell-out run last year, Amadeus returns to the Olivier in 2018. Michael Longhurst’s acclaimed production of Peter Shaffer’s iconic play features live orchestral accompaniment by Southbank Sinfonia. Adam Gillen and Lucian Msamati reprise the roles of Mozart and Salieri. Further casting to be announced.

Lyttelton Theatre

Queer Theatre: LGBT+ Stories and Social Change
in partnership with Pride in London
To mark 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, the NT looks at how theatre has charted the LGBT+ experience. Events include a debate on LGBT+ rights, talks on Queer Stages, Trans Culture and Drag as an Art Form, and film screenings of Paris was a Woman, Bette Bourne: It Goes with the Shoes and Tangerine. The series features rehearsed readings in the Lyttelton Theatre with full casting to be announced. Post show talks will follow each of the readings.
Neaptide by Sarah Daniels, directed by Sarah Frankcom | Thu 6 July, 7.30pm
Wig Out! written and directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney | Fri 7 July, 7.30pm
Certain Young Men written and directed by Peter Gill | Sat 8 July, 7.30pm
Bent by Martin Sherman, directed by Stephen Daldry | Sun 9 July, 2.30pm
The Drag by Mae West, directed by Polly Stenham | Mon 10 July, 7.30pm

Oslo
a new play by J.T. Rogers
The Lincoln Center Theater production
Previews from 5 September
Bartlett Sher’s Tony Award-winning production of this new play by J.T. Rogers comes to the National Theatre following a sell-out run in New York. It then transfers to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End from 30 September. Cast to be announced.

Jane Eyre
based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë
devised by the original company
a co-production with Bristol Old Vic
Previews from 26 September
Following a critically-acclaimed season at the National Theatre and a 21 city UK tour, Jane Eyre returns this September. This innovative reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece is a collaboration between the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic and is directed by Sally Cookson.

Network
adapted by Lee Hall
based on the Paddy Chayefsky film
Previews from 4 November
The iconic film by Paddy Chayefsky won four Academy Awards in 1976. Now, Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour) and director Ivo van Hove (Hedda Gabler) bring his masterwork to the stage for the first time, with Bryan Cranston making his UK stage debut in the role of Howard Beale.

Pinocchio
by Dennis Kelly
With songs and score from the Walt Disney film by Leigh Harline, Ned Washington and Paul J Smith
adapted by Martin Lowe
Previews from 1 December
For the first time on stage, featuring unforgettable music and songs from the Walt Disney film including ‘I’ve Got No Strings’, ‘Give a Little Whistle’ and ‘When You Wish upon a Star’ in dazzling new arrangements, Pinocchio comes to life as never before. This spectacular new production brings together the director of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the writer of Matilda the Musical.

Half-price tickets for under-18s are available for all performances (excluding £15 tickets). Additional family tickets for the run will be released in a ballot closer to the performance dates.

Cast includes Joe Idris-Roberts (Pinocchio), Audrey Brisson (Jiminy Cricket), Annette McLaughlin (Blue Lady), David Langham (The Fox), David Kirkbride (Coachman), Dawn Sievewright (Lampy), Chris Jarman (Stromboli) together with Stuart Angell, Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge, Stephanie Bron, James Charlton, Rebecca Jayne-Davies, Sarah Kameela Impey, Anabel Kutay, Michael Lin, Jack North, Clemmie Sveaas, Michael Taibi,Scarlet Wilderink and Jack Wolfe.

Dorfman Theatre

Mosquitoes
by Lucy Kirkwood
Previews from 18 July, continuing in repertoire until 28 September
Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood will have its world premiere in the Dorfman Theatre in July. Rufus Norris will direct this new play about families and particle physics with Olivia Williams in the role of Alice and Olivia Colman as her sister Jenny. Cast also includes: Amanda Boxer, Cait Davis, Vanessa Emme, Yoli Fuller, Paul Hilton, Joseph Quinn and Sofia Stuart.

The Majority
a new play by Rob Drummond
Previews from 11 August
Following the acclaimed run of Bullet Catch in The Shed, Rob Drummond returns to the National with a new one-man show about democracy, directed by David Overend. Originally co-commissioned with The Arches, Glasgow.

Beginning
a new play by David Eldridge
Polly Findlay directs this new play by David Eldridge (Market Boy, Under the Blue Sky, In Basildon). Tender and funny, it’s an intimate look at the first fragile moments of risking your heart and taking a chance. Justine Mitchell plays Laura, Sam Troughton plays Danny.

Barber Shop Chronicles
by Inua Ellams
a co-production with Fuel and West Yorkshire Playhouse
Opens in November
Following a sell-out run at the Dorfman this summer, Inua Ellams’ play about stories from barber shops across the globe returns to the National Theatre in November. Tickets go on sale on the National Theatre website from 1pm on Monday 19 June. Casting for November to be confirmed in due course.

National Theatre Live

Saloméa radical retelling of the Biblical story of one young woman’s political awakening. Written and directed by Yaël Farber.
Broadcast live from the NT on Thursday 22 June.

Angels in America
Marianne Elliott’s new production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America will be broadcast live from the NT in two parts. Part 1: Millennium Approaches on Thursday 20 July and Part 2: Perestroika on Thursday 27 July.

Yerma
Billie Piper plays Yerma as a woman driven to the unthinkable by her desperate desire to have a child. Simon Stone creates a radical production of Lorcha’s achingly powerful masterpiece. Broadcast live from the Young Vic on Thursday 31 August (international screenings from 21 September).

Young Marx
Rory Kinnear plays Marx and Oliver Chris, Engels, in this new comedy about Marx’s time as a 32-year-old revolutionary in 1850 London. Written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman and directed by Nicholas Hytner. Broadcast live from The Bridge Theatre on 7 December.

Julius Caesar
Ben Whishaw and Michelle Fairley play Brutus and Cassius, leaders of the coup, David Calder plays Caesar and David Morrissey is Mark Antony, who brings Rome back under control after the conspirators’ defeat in this production of Shakespeare’s classic. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Broadcast live from The Bridge Theatre on 22 March 2018.

News (and photos): National Theatre gala (plus actors in suits!)

The National Theatre last night hosted its biennial fundraising gala, Up Next, raising over a million pounds to support access to the arts for children and young people across the country. I think they forgot to invite me though… 😜

Performances commissioned especially for the event included a new piece by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, alongside performances by Sir Lenny Henry, Anne-Marie Duff and hundreds of talented young people from across London.
The Up Next Gala was held to raise vital funds for the NT’s Learning Department, ensuring that young people from across the country have the chance to access the arts, develop new skills and experience live theatre performances. NT Learning works with schools, young people, families, community groups and adult learners from all corners of the UK and in 2015-16 engaged with more than 181,000 participants. The nationwide youth theatre festival Connections has helped to launch the careers of many of the UK’s brightest and best actors, from Andrew Garfield to John Boyega.
Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, who hosted the gala evening said:

‘Every child has the right to a creative education and the opportunity to fully participate in the arts. Theatre gives us the chance to stand in other people’s shoes, to tell compelling stories and to be able to see the world from different perspectives.
It’s our responsibility as one of the leading arts institutions to help fertilise the creativity of this country, giving more children the chance to experience and take part in theatre, and to enable them to fulfil their potential as human beings and as members of society. We thank everyone who helped raise vital funds at the 2017 Up Next Gala and look forward to working with children and young people from across the country, thanks to the overwhelming support we received this evening.’

The event was generously support of the Pigott family and the Wall Street Journal, and in-kind support from Berry Bros. & Rudd, Floris Van Den Hoed, Nyetimber, Umbrella World and Voss Water.
Now let’s have a look how some of our top actors scrub up in their finest on the red carpet… (all photos courtesy of Cameron Slater)

Oliver Chris and Lois Chimimba

Oliver Chris and Lois Chimimba
Adrian Lester
Jonathan Bailey
Billie Piper
Elliot Cowan

Denise Gough

Hal Fowler and Kim Wilde. KIM WILDE!

Hattie Morahan and Blake Ritson
John Heffernan

James Graham

Jessica Raine
Indhu Rubasingham and Dominic Cooke

Jim Carter

Kate Fleetwood

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Lenny Henry

Lily James

Lucian Msamati

Miles Jupp

Monica Dolan

Nathan Lane

Olivia Colman

Pandora Colin and Rory Kinnear

Penelope Wilton

Rosalie Craig

Rufus Norris

Simon Callow

Tamsin Greig

Tim McMullan

Not-a-review: Four Weddings in a Funeral reading, Hampstead

“Fuck-a-doodle-doo”
It is slightly terrifying to think that it is 23 years since Four Weddings and a Funeral was released – the world will insist on reminding me I’m getting older… And though I don’t think I’ve actually seen it in about 20 years, the prospect of a reading of the film as part of the Hampstead Theatre Festival had quite the allure. Mainly because of John Heffernan and Jemima Rooper in the cast if we’re being honest, and they were worth it, but I’m low on time so I’m leaving it at that.

 

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.
And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices.
My main criticism of Ripper Street last time round was its lack of established female characters and so this foregrounding of Myanna Buring’s stonkingly good Susan, accompanied by the introduction of Louise Brealey’s Dr Frayn (and to a lesser extent, Lydia Wilson’s Mimi – a new love interest for Jackson) went a long way to redressing this imbalance. And as Susan’s story unfurled across the length of the series, I remained impressed at how the writing remained nuanced, keeping an unpredictable energy right up until the tense finale in all its revelatory glory.
Matthew Macfadyen also responded well to the more personal material – his world rocked by a properly jaw-dropping discovery early on and the way in which the ramifications of that play out, not just on himself but on Jerome Flynn’s re-energised Drake was another continuing highlight. And the quality of these stories more than made up for the shift away from examining the social and economic issues of the time in quite so much detail as previously, though the introduction of the new science of fingerprinting was cleverly woven in.
That said, the standout episode for me came in Live Free, Live True, taking inspiration from the film Albert Nobbs to fashion its own deeply moving story of the lengths some women were forced to take in this unforgiving world. Haydn Gwynne delivers an astonishing performance, supported by a sensitive Emily Taaffe, demonstrating Ripper Street’s ability to switch between the bigger and the smaller picture and its commitment to creating powerfully moving television, thankfully rescued by Amazon. Recommeded.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #7

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Gemma Arterton and Michelle Terry (almost) in the same play, how my heart doth beat. Sam Yates’ Love’s Labour’s Lost combines Arterton and David Dawson dashing delightfully through the corridors of the Royal Palace of Olite of Navarre, Spain as Berowne and Rosaline, whilst drawing in elements from the gorgeous 2009 production at the Globe – one of my favourite clips from the whole Complete Walk.
Measure for Measure

Queer as Folk hits Austria (I suppose I’m showing my age, the more contemporary reference would be Game of Thrones) as Aidan Gillen takes on Measure for Measure at Vienna’s Burg Liechtenstein. Last year’s production at the Globe gets a look in too and reminds me that I think it was much maligned for trying a more comic take on the play for once. 

The Two Gentleman of Verona

A slightly different take from Christopher Haydon here as he has location footage – filmed at the Scaligero di Torri, Verona with Meera Syal and Tamara Lawrance – but opts to explore the play’s dramatic links to the rest of the canon. So we get clips of 10 of Shakespeare’s other plays and are shown how devices and plots are reused time and time again. 

Othello

Possibly one of my most favourite potential productions in the making here, as James Dacre takes David Harewood and John Heffernan to Othello’s Tower in Famagusta, Cyprus where they nail it. Please make this happen somehow.
Timon of Athens

Timon of Athens sees Dromgoole go for the similar star wattage of Dominic West in Coriolanus, opting to focus on Simon Russell Beale wandering through atmospheric parts of Athens with no other actors or productions to distract. And it works wonders again, even if I’m not sure I need to see the play again in a hurry. 

The 2015 fosterIAN awards

Round-up of the 2015 fosterIANs

Best Actress in a Play

Lia Williams, Oresteia

Best Actress in a Musical
Natalie Dew, Bend It Like Beckham

Best Actor in a Play
John Heffernan, Oppenheimer


Best Actor in a Musical
Giles Terera, Pure Imagination

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Daisy Haggard, You For Me For You

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Emma Williams, Mrs Henderson Presents

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
John Simm, The Homecoming

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Emmanuel Kojo, Show Boat

And my top 10 plays of the year:

1 Eclipsed
2 Oresteia
3 Lela & Co.
4 Little Shop of Horrors
5 hang
6 Radiant Vermin
7 Plastic Figurines
8 Hangmen
9 Kinky Boots
10 The Effect

2015 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

John Heffernan, Oppenheimer
Many are the ways in which I love Heffernan but the increasingly regularity with which he is scoring leading roles in interesting plays has to be chief among them, as for the many friends who have followed his career for a while now. And as the father of the atomic bomb here, he did not disappoint, bringing his customary diligence and intelligence to bear with the many conflicts of this fascinating character. 

Honourable mention: David Morrissey, Hangmen
The perfect exemplar for Martin McDonagh’s portrait of mixed-up masculinity in ’60s Oldham, Morrissey’s former-hangman-turned-pub-landlord was at the same time a blistering paean to the past and a scorching reminder to let go thereof.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Everyman
Jamie Samuel, Plastic Figurines
Eelco Smits, Glazen Speelgoed
Angus Wright, Oresteia

7-10
Ron Cook, The Homecoming; Jason Hughes, Violence and Son; Cal MacAninch, My Eyes Went Dark; Henry Pettigrew, The Effect


Best Actor in a Musical

Giles Terera, Pure Imagination
These awards are about the moments that live strongest in my mind and for me, Terera sweeping me (and the rest of the audience, I suppose!) up into a world of pure imagination and candy bars is right there at the top. Rumours of him heading up a Sammy Davis Jnr musical abound but on this evidence, he should be aiming for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory itself.

Honourable mention: Matt Henry, Kinky Boots
Derided in some parts as reality show stunt casting when first announced, Henry silenced the doubters and then some with an astonishingly assured performance as Lola, the drag queen taking most of Northampton – and herself – on quite the journey.

Ian Bartholomew, Mrs Henderson Presents
Killian Donnelly, Kinky Boots
Scott Garnham, Grand Hotel
Alex Gaumond, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

7-10
Dean John-Wilson, Songs For A New World; Alan McHale, The Clockmaker’s Daughter; Haydn Oakley, The Smallest Show on Earth; Simon Paisley Day, The Lorax