Review: Red, Wyndham’s

There’s two Alfreds for the price of one in this polished revival of Red, the first of two shows in Michael Grandage’s mini-season at the Wyndham’s Theatre

“There is only one thing I fear in life my friend”

I was a fan of Red when it first played London back in 2010 and so was pleased by the news that Michael Grandage would be reviving that Donmar Warehouse production for a belated turn in the West End at the Wyndham’s. Take a read of my four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Red is booking at the Wyndham’s until 28th July

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

“Why would the devil be interested in you?”

And so the penny drops, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful comes to an end after 3 highly atmospheric seasons of gothic drama, anchored by a sensational performance from Eva Green that ought to have been way more recognised that it was. It’s taken me a little while to get round to watching the series after writing about the first episode so apologies for that, but sometimes, life (and summer holidays) just get in the way. Beware, spoilers will abound.

In some ways, the ending of Season 2 acted as a finale that really worked, the key characters left shell-shocked by what had befallen them and scattered across the globe, as manifested in a gloriously down-beat last half-hour of Episode 10. And so the main challenge of Season 3 was to find a way to reconnect their stories in a way that was at least thematically interesting, if not necessarily the most dramatically satisfying. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3”

DVD Review: Coriolanus (2011)

“What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war?”

Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave will be starring together in the Almeida’s Richard III later this year but it’s not their first time doing Shakespeare together – Redgrave played an excellent Volumnia to Fiennes’ Coriolanus in this 2011 film adaptation which was directed by Fiennes himself. Scripted by John Logan in a trimmed and taut two hours, it’s a fiercely contemporary retelling that draws heavily on modern conflicts such as the Balkans and the Arab Spring.

The brutal sense of savage civil war is apparent from the shocking outset, there’s a real sense of the nervy tension on the streets of this version of Rome as warrior Caius Martius defends it from the invading Volscian army, simultaneously barely holding off a riot from within as the public rise up against an out-of-touch ruling class. But persuaded to run for office and unable to conceal his contempt for the mob, he is exiled and Rome’s biggest hero becomes its most unpredictable enemy. Continue reading “DVD Review: Coriolanus (2011)”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2

“We are bound on a wheel on pain”

The first series of Penny Dreadful may not have been perfect but I really rather liked it and was glad to hear a second season had been commissioned. And when I discovered the triple whammy of Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale being promoted to series regulars, Billie Piper’s distracting Oirish brogue being excised and Patti LuPone appearing as a guest star, I was in heaven. Saving up the 10 episodes to binge-watch on holiday also worked well for me, ain’t technology grand!

Having established its world of gothic Victoriana, John Logan’s writing picks up some of the strands of the first series’ finale – the consequences of sometime-werewolf Ethan’s bloodbath being chased up by a tenacious policeman and Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation inspiring an unlikely love triangle. But it succeeds most by re-introducing McCrory’s Evelyn Poole as a series-long villain as the head of a witches coven and maker of some of the creepiest puppet dolls you have ever seen – it’s no secret I love her but this really is a career highlight for this most superb of actresses. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2”

Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre

“And when you become a woman of a certain age

You’ll find it’s difficult to trust a man” 

The signs for The Last Ship were not good even before I boarded – Sting stepping into a key role to shore up ticket sales over Christmas – and just days after I saw it, the producers decided to cut their losses and it posted closing notices for the end of the month. Indeed, this review comes too late to even persuade a last few people to visit as Saturday saw the final performance. And whilst I’d love to be able to say that it is a huge loss to the Broadway stage, to me it really didn’t feel like the complete package.

First things first – Sting’s score is genuinely excellent, binding together influences like Celtic folk and sea shanties to the more standard driving anthems and heartfelt balladry that one might expect from a big musical. Real emotion and a strong sense of character come flooding out of songs like ‘Autumn Winds’, the title song and ‘If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor’ and it is little surprise that the soundtrack made a strong concept album when released in 2013. Continue reading “Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

 
Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).
 

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)”

Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward

“We’re practically our own children’s book department”

Second up for the Michael Grandage season at the Noël Coward Theatre is the only new play out of the programme of five – John Logan’s Peter and Alice. Logan’s stock is riding high both as a screenwriter – a 3-time Academy Award nominee and most recently responsible for Skyfall – and a playwright – his last play Red was well-received on both sides of the Atlantic – and the premise of this play, a meeting between the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland and the man who gave his name to Peter Pan, is one that certainly showed promise. But after attending this preview performance, it is not abundantly clear that this promise has been fulfilled.

The play sparks off of the real life meeting between Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, aged 35 and 80 respectively, and imagines a conversation in which they share stories of being so closely involved with 2 key figures of children’s literature. Llewelyn Davies was one of the brood of brothers with whom JM Barrie became very close and wrote Peter Pan for, and Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland after first recounting the story to Liddell Hargreaves on a family boat trip. Thus their places in literary history were sealed and Logan explores not just how their lives consequently rolled out but also touches on their relationships with the writers and the characters they inspired. Continue reading “Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward”

DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

“Eminently practical and yet appropriate as always”

I’ve been experimenting with a few DVD reviews over the past weeks –theatrical ones, charity shop bargain ones and I’ve been longing to revisit film versions of several shows that I’ve seen recently. In some cases, I knew the show before seeing the film, but in others, my first contact was on celluloid (or whatever it is they use these days) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was one of these. I actually saw it at the BFI when it was first released, with a Q+A with Tim Burton at the end of it (which was rather cringe-worthy with every question starting with ‘I love your films…’, ‘I love your work…’, ; ‘I love your socks…’). I came out of the film having rather loved it but it was only this autumn that I finally got round to seeing it on the stage at Chichester in a sensational production which has finally announced its transfer to the Adelphi from March next year.

As to be expected, it is an overtly Burton-esque piece of work with its desaturated palette allowing the red of the blood to pop even more than usual and the focus being on psychologically disturbed character. Frequent collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter take on the lead roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett and though neither of their voices are particularly strong, especially when up against Sondheim’s challenging score, Burton manages to make that much less of an issue than one might have thought. There’s a brooding intensity to the whole affair, a sense of drained weariness which subsequently finds strength in the vocal frailties. Alan Rickman makes a perfect Judge Turpin, his sonorous malevolence a highlight of the film especially in the ‘Pretty Women’ duet; Timothy Spall’s Turpin makes a strong impact too as does Sacha Baron Cohen’s would-be manipulator Signor Pirelli. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Review: Decade, Headlong at St Katharine Dock

“I get that it was…well, it is…a big deal for some people”

The tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre has and will receive a vast range of coverage through all sorts of media, but perhaps one of the most anticipated is Headlong’s new piece of site-specific  theatre, Decade. 19 writers, playwrights mostly and Simon Schama, have all contributed their own responses to the events of the 11th September, their brief purely to be a scene set in the last 10 years, and they have been woven together by director Rupert Goold and housed in a warehouse on St Katharine Docks. I hadn’t intended to see this show so soon, wanting to let the experimental stuff settle before making my visit, but I was forced to reshuffle my diary and in order to fit it in before October and still get one of the cheaper tickets, this was my only opportunity.

After passing through a security checkpoint where you are questioned and ticketed (I was mildly disappointed there was no full body search from my guard, Tobias Menzies), we’re then guided through to take our seats in a replica of the dining room of the Windows On The World restaurant, formerly on the top floors of the North Tower. It’s a quirky entrance that sets the anticipation levels high even if the whole process did take a little time to fully accomplish. Seating is around dinner tables with a large raised stage in the middle of the room and is unallocated though ‘waiters’ do take you a table once summoned by the Maître D’. (My top tip would be to try and get on the long bank of seats on the side opposite the bar as close to the middle as you can. Just before the lights went down, I was advised by our Maître D’, in this case it was the delectable Charlotte Randle, that I might want to move from my original seat to this new place as there’s a certain amount which happens on a balcony level but all on one side, and it would have been rather difficult to see from there. So thank you Charlotte!) Continue reading “Review: Decade, Headlong at St Katharine Dock”

Review: Red, Donmar Warehouse

“One day the black will swallow the red”

Red, at the Donmar Warehouse, is a new play by John Logan about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) and his fictional new apprentice (Eddie Redmayne) and is spread over a couple of years so that we get a chance to see how their relationship progresses from that of master and pupil to something more as we come a crucial point in Rothko’s career: his acceptance of a massive commercial commission for the Four Seasons restaurant.

Alfred Molina is mesmerising as the darkly intense painter, his unpredictable eruptions are convincingly protrayed, his flawed confidence in himself unshakeable and he is evenly matched by Eddie Redmayne whose portrayal of the intimidated apprentice with his own personal demons. We see him growing into someone unafraid to challenge his master, unwilling to let Rothko off the hook and hence matches Molina’s energy with a wiry burgeoning intellect. Swiftly directed, it’s over in just over an hour and a half and I never once got bored, the lighting is also an excellent contributing factor to this, helping the canvases to pulsate as Rothko desired and constantly drawing the eye in, shedding a whole new light (pardon the pun) on his work for me. Continue reading “Review: Red, Donmar Warehouse”