DVD Review: As You Like It (2006)

“We are not all alone unhappy”

As the fifth of his big screen Shakespeare adaptations, there’s a slight sense of Kenneth Branagh chomping at the bit, determined to do things differently whether they work or not. Not content with mutating Love’s Labour’s Lost into a 1930s musical, he then turned his hand to a more beloved play in As You Like It and adopted another approach, relocating it – notionally at least – to the striking world of late 19th century Japan.

There, the characters are turned into merchants seeking a foothold in the newly opened up trading routes and the battle between Dukes Senior and Frederick is over control of the family business. But aside from the wrestling match being turned into a sumo contest, there’s disappointingly little real purchase in this new world. Once in the forest, it could be any old Arden and the opportunity to explore something differently culturally is abandoned.  Continue reading “DVD Review: As You Like It (2006)”

Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“Keith, KEITH, it’s just two fellas kissing”

There was a moment towards the end of this performance, as Ferdy Robert’s burly roadie of a Puck launched into his epilogue, that perfectly encapsulates just how brilliant Filter are and also what magical power theatre can weave over even the rowdiest teenagers. Roberts began “if we shadows have offended” and was interrupted by loud, almost nervous, laughter. He looked up, gently but unflinchingly at the young woman and her friend until they quietened down, and then continued, addressing them directly at first and then widening out to the auditorium as a whole, our entire attention rapt.

It’s no mean feat to keep a theatre full of schoolkids hooked in silence (I attended the final preview), especially when the nature of this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so raucous and riotous. It played the Lyric Hammersmith back in 2012 and if it doesn’t have quite the same multiple surprise element as before, it is still highly amusing second time round. Co-directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll have condensed the play right down with the company and reconstructed it in their own image, at once deeply respectful of Shakespeare yet also utterly anarchic in the way it is presented here. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”

Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo

“I sometimes think I’d rather be fancied than liked”

The Donmar Warehouse’s production of My Night With Reg opened last year under a cloud of some sadness as playwright Kevin Elyot passed away just as rehearsals were starting. As it transfers to the West End into the Apollo Theatre, it finds itself surrounded by a different kind of cloud, one of prurient controversy as TfL banned the publicity image for the show (two variations of which I have kindly provided for you here) forcing them to reissue a picture sans arsecheek. (That this Bulk Powders advert somehow passed muster seems baffling – I’d love to know the full reasoning behind both decisions.)

That it provided a sneaky bit of extra guerilla advertising can’t have hurt, as when a similar thing happened to the Globe’s recent production of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, and it is a play that thoroughly deserves it. I ranked it in my top 25 of last year (out of over 380 shows) and my original review can be read here. And thanks to the lovely people at Official Theatre and Seat Plan, I was glad to have the opportunity to spend another Night With Reg and get my heart gently but surely broken all over again. Continue reading “Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo”

fosterIAN awards 2014

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayGillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire Chris Nietvelt & Halina Reijn, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Linda Bassett, Visitors
Susannah Fielding, The Merchant of Venice (Almeida)
Denise Gough, Adler and Gibb
Imelda Staunton, Good People
Best Actor in a PlayCary Crankson, The Saints Jack Holden, Johnny Get Your Gun Jonathan Broadbent, My Night With Reg
Chris Connel, Wet House
Harry Melling, peddling
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayVanessa Kirby, A Streetcar Named DesirePhoebe Fox & Nicola Walker, A View From The Bridge Blythe Duff, The James Plays
Liz White, Electra
Lydia Wilson, King Charles III
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayJoe Caffrey, Wet House Hans Kesting, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Patrick Godfrey, Donkey Heart
Julian Ovenden, My Night With Reg
Hugh Skinner, Thérèse Raquin (Theatre Royal Bath)
Geoffrey Streatfeild, My Night With Reg
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Gypsy Gemma Arterton, Made in Dagenham Charlotte Baptie, Free As Air
Natalie Mendoza, Here Lies Love
Christina Modestou, In The Heights
Sophie Thompson, Guys and Dolls
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Mackay, In The Heights Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion Adrian der Gregorian, Made In Dagenham
Killian Donnelly, Memphis
Jon Robyns, The Last Five Years
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJenna Russell, Urinetown Lara Pulver, Gypsy Samantha Bond, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, In The Heights
Kiara Jay, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Zoe Rainey, The Return of the Soldier
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJason Pennycooke, Memphis Aaron Tveit, Assassins Damian Buhagiar, In The Heights
Tyrone Huntley, Memphis
Nadim Naaman, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Jonathan Slinger, Urinetown

2014 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

Cary Crankson, The Saints
An open air theatre in Southampton might seem an unlikely place to find one of the performances of the year, or perhaps not as it turned out. Crankson’s Southampton FC supporter made for a hugely appealing leading man, in a hugely appealing play from Luke Barnes that really deserves future life, and his ineffable likeability was a considerable achievement that fully deserves its mention here.

Honourable mention: Jack Holden, Johnny Get Your Gun
In a year full of tributes to the outbreak of the First World War, this and The Silver Tassie stand out most for me. And of these, this monologue is the one forever etched on my memory – knowing nothing about it beforehand served me well as it meant I felt every single one of Holden’s hammer-blows of punishing emotion and pragmatism in the face of tragedy. Amazing stuff.

Jonathan Broadbent, My Night With Reg
Chris Connel, Wet House
Harry Melling, peddling
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge

7-10
James Bolam, Bomber’s Moon; Ben Foster, A Streetcar Named Desire; Jamie Sives, The James Plays; Robin Soans, Visitors


Best Actor in a Musical

Sam Mackay, In The Heights
Spearheading this genuinely exciting piece of modern musical theatre is a genuinely exciting modern musical theatre performer. Londoner Mackay delivers Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Latin-inflected hip hop score as if he were a bona fide Washington Heights resident and if the rumours about a return for the show come true, then I really hope he returns with it.

Honourable mention: Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion
One of those performances, and shows, that is truly difficult to do justice to in simple words. Life-affirming, heartfelt, blisteringly honest and poignantly powerful – a one-man-show to convince anyone who say they don’t like one-men-shows.

Adrian der Gregorian, Made In Dagenham
Killian Donnelly, Memphis
Jon Robyns, The Last Five Years
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)

7-10
Mark Bautista, Here Lies Love; Alastair Brookshaw, De Profundis; Ben Lewis/Greg Barnett, Thérèse Raquin (Finborough/Park); Jamie Parker, Guys and Dolls

Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse

“If you get him pissed enough, he might let you blow him off behind the yucca”

There’s a definite tinge of sadness about Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg even before the play starts as the playwright died this summer aged 62, just as rehearsals for this Donmar Warehouse production – the play’s first major revival – were to start. It is also a deeply melancholy piece of work, elegantly capturing the yearning ache of unrequited love, the pain of remembering those who’ve been loved and lost, and the vast complexity that can arise from simply wanting to be loved.

The play could be pigeon-holed as a gay play, an AIDS play, an 80s period piece, but the beauty of Robert Hastie’s production is that it transcends all these labels, elevating Elyot’s writing to a minor-key classic. That the play focuses on a group of gay friends throughout the 80s living under the (never-mentioned) shadow of HIV/AIDS is never in doubt but the main theme, the driving force behind so much of what – the fear of ending up alone – is utterly, completely universal. Continue reading “Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“I’m going to do an abstract version”

With the best will in the world, it is hard not to carry opinions with you and this is particularly true in the theatre. In the name of attempting to be open-minded, I have continued to plug away at Ibsen in the hope that one day his work might click with me, but truth be told my heart sinks when productions of his work are mentioned. And despite their sterling reputation and rave reviews, Filter’s work has previously left me a little cold, moving the head rather than the heart, so as I filled in at the last minute for a reviewer who dropped out, there was a little reluctance as I waited for the curtain to rise on their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Filter are a company whose reinterpretations of classic texts, as well as the creation of new work, burst with creativity and great imagination as they explore the theatrical potential offered by a radical approach to sound. But for me, that hasn’t always been matched with a similiar attention to story-telling – so SilenceWater and Twelfth Night were not my favourite moments in a theatre. Suffice to say though that in this case, whilst purists may baulk at this treatment of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Filter succeeded in smashing my preconceptions and entertaining me most thoroughly indeed. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Chekhov in Hell, Soho Theatre

“I have just woken up”

What would happen if Russian playwright Anton Chekhov were to wake from a hundred-year-long coma to find himself slap bang in the middle of modern day London? What his keen observational eye make of this radically different society? That’s the question Dan Rebellato poses in his new comedy Chekhov in Hell which plays at the Soho Theatre after a premiere run at the Drum Theatre Plymouth late last year. Taking Hell to be our contemporary world, in particular the metropolitan excesses of London, Chekhov is exposed to a series of fashionistas, molecular gastronomists, lap-dancing clubs, Twitter, MTV Cribs, even people-trafficking gangsters in a set of interview-like situations, all the while the police are trying to track him down to reunite him with a long-distance relative.

At the centre of the play, Simon Scardifield (taking over from Simon Gregor and returning to acting after some translation work for the Royal Court with Our Private Life) was excellent as Chekhov, saying really quite little in terms of spoken dialogue but speaking volumes with his sympathetic performance, being so far removed from his time zone yet beginning to deal with his own issues by situating himself in his own comfort zone and lending a considerate listening ear to a vast swathe of this new society. Some of the funniest moments come with his struggle to comprehend the modern English of various sections of society, exposing the meaninglessness of much of what comes out of our mouths. Continue reading “Review: Chekhov in Hell, Soho Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre

“Hey, who governs here?”

This is another resuscitation of Filter’s Twelfth Night and its third residency at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Filter recently appeared in London and toured the UK with their version of Three Sisters, not one I was a fan of and the RSC’s most recent Twelfth Night which I really enjoyed, only left the Duke of York’s in February, but I had heard all sorts of good things about this, so I booked myself a ticket.

Things started brilliantly with a random jamming session and then the eventual arrival of the shipwrecked Viola, clutching handfuls of election leaflet, uttering the words at the top of the review, “who governs here”, it was a genuinely very funny moment and set the mood perfectly. The focus is clearly on the inventiveness with which Filter approach this well-known play. Filter are known for their sonic creativity and the stage is littered with instruments and amps, the cast in modern dress, it’s clear this is no traditional Shakespearean production. So many anarchic tricks are employed that it is hard not to love the heart of this show. There’s a deal of audience participation, yours truly was pulled onstage and had balls thrown at him and his Velcro helmet, others were invited to do tequila shots, we’re also invited to sing along and complete lines, a speech is delivered from a mobile phone held up to a microphone, information is provided by radio, there’s a four way battle of sound effects…it’s a whole load of carefully organised chaos and often great fun. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre”