DVD Review: Macbeth (2001)

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”

Gregory Doran’s production of Macbeth for the RSC played at the Swan in 1999 before transferring to the Roundhouse and then touring internationally with its stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter. And given its success, the show was filmed for television at the London venue, using the subterranean tunnels there as well as the stage to make the most of the location.

It’s a highly atmospheric, contemporary take on the play that may lack a little specificity but soars on the strengths of its leads. Sher makes an unexpectedly convincing soldier, on the brink of madness from the outset and Walter makes possibly the best Lady Macbeth I’ve ever seen, from her quivering anticipation whilst bathing to the chilling eroticism with which she controls her husband, it’s an extraordinary performance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Macbeth (2001)”

Review: Goodbye Barcelona, Arcola

“We’ll fight the repercussions with weapons from the Russians”

Inspired by a collection of interviews with British International Brigadiers, the men and women who travelled to Spain to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, Goodbye Barcelona is a new musical that has taken up residence in the Arcola Theatre’s main studio. Spread over two years, it follows Jewish mother and son, Rebecca and Sammy, both left breathless by the Cable Street Riots in the East End of London and leaving Sammy inspired to go and join the fight for democracy against General Franco’s army-led coup. But once he’s gone, his mother decides to follow him and so volunteers as a nurse, hoping to track him down.

But Judith Johnson’s book is not content with this alone as the story and builds in not one but two romances, as mother and son both succumb to Iberian inamoratas. So the historical context of this unique civil war with people fighting to defend ideologies rather than national identities has to do battle with a pair of love stories and as a result, the material sometimes feels stretched too thinly in trying to do them all justice. The narrative strands swirl around but we move between them too quickly and too often, meaning that characters don’t have enough time to develop and the fascinating insights that have been teased out from the research left largely unexplored. Continue reading “Review: Goodbye Barcelona, Arcola”

Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Why did you make me?”

Perhaps one of the less-successful decisions I have made this year was to revisit Frankenstein at the National Theatre. There was a number of reasons: the opportunity to see Jonny Lee Miller take on the role of the Creature and directly compare and contrast him with Benedict Cumberbatch; it was the final performance of the run; it was actually the third time I had a pair of tickets to see the windy Miller – I’d passed on the other tickets to more receptive friends but given one last chance, I ended up biting the bullet in the spirit of perhaps finding something new in the production.

For I did see it much earlier in the run, you can read the review here, and I found it a most problematic play. And my opinion of it still holds firm after a second viewing, I find it simply astounding how forgiving the official reviews were of this show. For sure, the production values are at times sensational and a welcome shot in the arm for National Theatre stagings which will hopefully inspire more creativity in future productions. But the play itself is so terribly weak that to close one’s eyes to its many problems feels like an absolute crime and try as I might, I could not ignore them and try to focus on having a ‘good time’ as my companion attempted to admonish me. Continue reading “Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”

Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Please do not be inconsistent, I find it infuriating”

Perhaps the first big theatre ‘event’ of the year is the National Theatre’s Frankenstein which has taken the step of cross-casting its two main parts, so on different nights one can see Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller playing the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. The play is a new work by Nick Dear although based on Mary Shelley’s famous novel and features the National Theatre directorial debut of Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director of films like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. The programme of who is playing whom has now been published, although the run is currently sold out, but the previews remained unallocated so it was a lucky dip as to who we would get when we went to see it: just to clarify, this is a review of a preview performance from Tuesday 8th February which I have kept in mind whilst blogging about this show.

There’s a highly atmospheric entrance into the Olivier, with a bell tolling and a strange looking pod revolving slowly around the stage. As the lights darkened to a womb-like red, a figure began to emerge from this pod and eventually a completely naked Benedict Cumberbatch broke free to be birthed into this cruel chamber. It is hard to see how this opening 15 or so minutes will be bettered this year, as a physical performance it is truly outstanding as he slowly becomes accustomed to the world through squinting eyes, stuttering sounds and a stumbling gait, controlled through a stunning light feature that hangs above the stage, protruding into the audience that flashes blindingly, radiating an intense heat too, as a highly effective warning device. It is a remarkably open sequence too, not just because he is in the nude, but because he is so free in his movements and the way in which he shows the fast-burgeoning intelligence of the Creature, in his reaction to his first dawn or the rain for instance: he really sets the marker for the rest of the play in creating this empathetic character who one can’t help but root for (the odd murder excepted of course). Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”