Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.
“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”
I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.
Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”
“Why, saw you anything more wonderful?”
Robert Hastie’s opening salvo as the new Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres might not immediately quicken the pulse as we’ve hardly been lacking for productions of Julius Caesar. But it is soon apparent that this is a canny director at work, making his mark on the Crucible Theatre and how its space is used, on our notions of how Shakespeare is traditionally interpreted, establishing what looks like exciting times ahead for Sheffield.
With designer Ben Stones, Hastie opens out the stage into a space of transformative and unpredictable power – the modern political arena is evoked with its UN-style chambers and mod-cons but it is just as much the powder-keg of changeable public opinion. And the way in which the two intersect, feed into each other, thus feels as informed by hatemongering Sun or Daily Mail headline-grabbing antics as it does by the words of a sixteenth century writer. Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Crucible”
Full casting has been announced for Robert Hastie’s upcoming production of Julius Caesar at Sheffield Crucible, his first at the helm, and it looks like an absolute doozie. Not only has he brought back former artistic director Samuel West and tempted definitive-fave-of-this-blog Elliot Cowan back to the stage, Hastie is continuing his commitment to gender parity by recruiting a company of eight men and eight women and sharing out the roles how he damn well wants.
So the show features Samuel West in the role of Brutus, alongside Jonathan Hyde as Julius Caesar. Zoe Waites will play Cassius, Elliot Cowan will play Mark Antony and Chipo Chung will star as Portia/Octavius. The cast is completed by Lisa Caruccio Came (Calpurnia), Pandora Colin (Casca), Robert Goodale (Lepidus), Alison Halstead (Metellus), Mark Holgate (Cinna), Arthur Hughes (Lucius), Robinah Kironde (Popilus, Clitus), Lily Nichol (Soothsayer), Royce Pierreson (Ligarius, Dardanius), Abigail Thaw (Trebonius) and Paul Tinto (Artemidorus, Pindarus).
In case you’ve forgotten, Hastie directed Michelle Terry in the title role in last year’s Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and Sheffield is clearly very lucky to have him leading one of the country’s leading theatrical institutions. Julius Caesar runs at Sheffield Crucible from 23 May to 10 June, with previews from 17 May, and I’ll definitely be making my way northwards for this.
“People who like quotations love meaningless generalisations”
There’s a strange disconnect at the heart of Travels with my Aunt which means it never really ignites the comic potential it possesses. Giles Havergal’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1969 novel sees four actors cover a multitude of characters and a globe-trotting range of locations in a free-wheeling narrative which commences with retired bank manager Henry Pulling being reunited with his long-lost Aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral. But the adventures that follow have a dated feel to them with a distinctly not-quite-post-colonial flavour and the presentational style also has a measured quality which only intermittently embraces the carefree spirit of the story.
There’s fun to be had though, as Henry falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole opened by his aunt and they ricochet from the depths of suburbia to Turkey, Paraguay and more and he gradually becomes more accustomed to the new excitements of his life, which had previously been limited to growing dahlias in his back garden. The actors share the roles as well as sharing them out so Greene’s richly evocative writing is constantly changing mouthpiece as all of them take turns in playing Henry, as well as the colourful cast of characters that pop up along the journey.
David Bamber just about wins on points as the most compelling version of Henry but also brings a lightness to a range of female characters and Gregory Gudgeon demonstrates huge variety and versatility covering a multitude of tiny parts, the postman being one of the wryly funniest. But in among the turns are slightly more questionable decisions. Jonathan Hyde’s Aunt Augusta is undoubtedly amusing but his style of female impersonation feels something of an anachronism in this day and age and Iain Mitchell has to tread a slightly dubious line as her Sierra Leonean manservant and lover Wordsworth.
Christopher Luscombe’s revival certainly oozes quality, not least in Colin Falconer’s richly detailed set design with its railway destination board which effectively locates the fast-moving action, and the experienced cast who display their skills with panache despite initially looking like a row of blandly grey motor traders insurance salesmen. But it rarely makes an effective case for this being a play worthy of such attention. It is old-fashioned due to its very nature but the problem is it feels old-fashioned too – its antiquated attitudes, the construction that loses its comic spark at the expense of predictable twists, an overall atmosphere of dated quaintness albeit strongly performed.
Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 29th June
“There’s a war on, things will have to be different”
There was so much activity celebrating the centenary of Terence Rattigan’s birth last year that it is hardly surprising that I missed some of it, but I can’t believe I let this radio adaptation of Flare Path pass me by. Trevor Nunn’s revival at the Theatre Royal Haymarket was a genuine highlight of last year, a true revelation from this long-neglected playwright whose belated reassessment has been proved over and again by a suite of excellent productions over the last few years. And so a radio version, starring none other than my beloved Ruth Wilson alongside other such favourites like Rupert Penry-Jones, Rory Kinnear and Monica Dolan, was guaranteed to grab my attention, if only second time around.
My love for Ruth Wilson aside, her casting is inspired here as haughty actress Pat, especially with Monica Dolan as the contrastingly open Doris. Where Sienna Miller caught the aloofness of Pat but didn’t always pair that with the emotional depth necessary to express the conflict of the central love triangle, Wilson gets to the heart of the woman and makes us care much more about her dilemma, her mellifluous voice cracking as she is confronted with feelings and situations that shake her certainties. And against Sheridan Smith’s superlative performance as Doris, Monica Dolan does a brilliant job with a subtly different take on the character, a more roundedly intelligent, slightly less dippy interpretation, but no less moving as she anxiously waits for news of her missing husband. Continue reading “Radio Review: Flare Path / Rock and Doris and Elizabeth”
“No emotions. Not in public.”
Despite winning 4 Oscars in 2011, early treatments of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech envisioned it as a play, and it was at a reading at the Pleasance theatre that film director Tom Hooper’s mother spotted its potential and the rest as they say is history. So, it never actually made it into a theatre but striking while the iron is hot, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre have mounted this premiere production of the show, starring Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde, which will undertake a short tour of the country in the coming months.
Seidler drew on his own experience, as a boy with a stammer who was inspired by the success of King George VI in overcoming his own stammer, to pursue telling this story but was only granted permission to access much of the primary research material after the death of the Queen Mother, who did not want the film made in her lifetime. So we follow Bertie, the second son, as he struggles to deal with his stammer at a time when the public profile of the Royal Family was increasing exponentially with the advent of radio. His meeting with unconventional Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue sets him on the difficult journey of trying to conquer his deep-seated issues, all the while dealing with the unfolding scandal of his older brother’s affair with Wallis Simpson and the constitutional crisis it incurs. Oh, and war is approaching too. Continue reading “Review: The King’s Speech, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford”
“Who is it that can tell me who I am”
Transferring stage productions onto film is something fraught with difficulties as the magic of live performance never really survives the change of medium, so something else, something slightly different has to be striven for. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear for the RSC – originated in Stratford in 2007 then toured the world before a West End season in rep with The Seagull – which stars Ian McKellen in the title role is not a filmed performance on stage, but nor is it a reconceived enhanced film version. Instead, it was filmed rather simply at Pinewood Studios, at the end of the tour, so it has the feel of a piece of theatre rather than of film, with the added bonus of being able to see the acting up close.
And what a bonus it is. McKellen is simply outstanding here. Jacobi’s Lear for the Donmar was my first ever and I couldn’t imagine it ever being bettered, Greg Hicks’ recent RSC one was just different, but this is such an incredibly visceral performance, full of anger and rage and bewilderment that is highly affecting even on screen – what it must have been like live I can’t imagine, but the camera captures every single nervy tic and nuanced touch that must have been missed in some of the larger theatres. And facing up against him is Frances Barber as Goneril in what must be one of the performances of her lifetime. She is just astounding, all kinds of manipulative, Machiavellian evil as she plots her way through the play, but almost justifiably so as the fierce tragedy carved on her face as her father curses her indicates the troubled history between father and daughter. This is the type of performance that makes you wish the sisters were featured much more in the play. Monica Dolan’s Regan is also tremendously strong, a more nervous, unhinged energy that plays out maliciously as she caresses the text languorously and Romola Garai’s Cordelia is beautifully spoken and extremely moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear”
“The English vice is that we don’t own up to our emotions…we think they demean us”
Rattigan’s Nijinsky is something of a companion piece to the production of The Deep Blue Sea with which this is playing in rep at the Chichester Festival Theatre and sharing much of its cast. Looking to make their own unique tribute in the centenary year of Rattigan’s death, new pieces have been commissioned to play alongside his plays and here, Nicholas Wright has embroidered a story around the mystery of Rattigan’s 1974 unproduced and unpublished screenplay about ballet dancer Nijinsky and his passionate affair with Ballets Russes impresario Diaghilev.
Having been able to examine images of the original work, Wright has incorporated scenes into his own play, so we get to see Rattigan’s version of the tumultuous love affair between the older Diaghilev and his protégé, the man often cited as one of the greatest dancers ever, and the strain it was placed under due to Nijinsky’s mental fragility, something exacerbated (or even caused by?) falling into marriage with a woman. These scenes are interspersed with a modern-day (1974) narrative with an ailing Rattigan sequestered in his suite at Claridges and having to deal with Nijinsky’s widow, Romola, who is virulently objecting to his version of the events of her earlier life. Continue reading “Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre”