Film Review: Mr Jones (2019)

Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Mr Jones delves deep into a shocking, and underexplored, piece of modern history and asks how we can so easily decide to look the other way

“What’s being done now will transform mankind”

It is remarkable how even now, epochal moments in history in which millions died can remain so unknown in the West. To my shame, I’d never heard of the Holodomor, and I’d wager not many in the UK could tell you what it was –  a man-made famine in the early 1930s, a genocide against the Ukrainian people perpetrated by the Soviet government.

Agnieszka Holland’s film Mr Jones tackles this Western-blindness by exploring the story of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist/political adviser (how the lines are ever-blurred…) who risked his life to uncover the story and reveal it to the world, only to find that geo-political realities meant that no-one is really listening (nothing ever really changes does it?!). Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Jones (2019)”

Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange

“Love is just a better way to hurt each other”

Ellen McDougall’s debut production for the Royal Exchange is actually a trans-Pennine affair as once Anna Karenina wraps up in Manchester, the show will be heading over the hills (stopping at a Betty’s Tea Room en route as must surely be done) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, along with Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone with which it plays in rep. It is always pleasing to see this kind of regional collaboration actually coming to fruition as it does provide reassurances that the arts are finding the best ways to work through these financially straitened times.

It helps of course when the work is of this quality. Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel is very much unafraid to cut and reconfigure the story into something overtly theatrical as characters break out of the narrative to introduce themselves and provide short cuts through the author’s tangled web of nineteenth century Russian aristocracy. Clifford, and McDougall, also pull in the focus so that the counterpoint of Anna’s fast-burning passion with the dashing Vronsky and Levin’s hard-fought love for Katy becomes the beating heart of the matter. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange”

Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire / The Colour of Milk, Radio 3/4

“I know what you think, but I cannot turn away”

For reasons not entirely clear, Mark Ravenhill is curating a season of three classic plays that he likes for Radio 3, the first of which was Carol Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. It’s an interesting choice as it is a fairly challenging piece of historical drama and as I observed when I saw Polly Findlay’s production for the Arcola back in 2010, it is a highly theatrical one as the company of actors rattle through a large number of short scenes and an equally considerable cast of characters. Consequently, I don’t think it suited the medium of radio as the differentiation between them all didn’t really come across.

And being such a cerebral play, focusing on the tumultuous period in English history during the Civil War when huge social and political change was in the offing and tracing its impact on all levels of society, it needs a deal of clarity for it to be most effective and for me, the announcement of scene titles wasn’t enough. Which was a shame as the cast that Ravenhill gathered for this was brilliant – Amanda Drew and Monica Dolan, Justin Salinger and Paul Rhys, the kind of company I would pay extremely good money to see. You can’t win them all. Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire / The Colour of Milk, Radio 3/4”

Barely-a-Review: Richard III, Radio 3


So wise, so young, they say, do never live long

I picked on this radio adaptation of Richard III to be my companion on a particularly long journey over the weekend since it came in at nearly three hours of running time, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be as dull and unengaging as it was and consequently I struggled to get to the end of it. Quite why this should be I’m not entirely sure, it is competently spoken throughout – Douglas Henshall taking on the title role – but it never gripped me, it never seemed to transcend the medium to come alive and sound real rather than an academic exercise and so it left me most disappointed indeed.  

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Radio 4

“How am I going to get back to Kansas?”

Following on from the less than sucessful adaptation of Goldfinger that left me cold, I was a little trepidatious about listening to this production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, especially as it soon came to light that it also featured narration – one of the things I disliked most about the Bond play – but it actually proved to be much more engaging and thoughtful, and ultimately considerably more entertaining. Linda Marshall Griffiths’ dramatisation has taken a fresh new look at the story, returning to L Frank Baum’s source novel and thereby casting off much of the baggage that might have come otherwise from just being a straight run of the film.

What we get then, is a highly atmospheric story, partly told by Amelia Clarkson’s excellent Dorothy as part of an inner monologue, which feels darker and more compelling that one might have expected. It is all largely recognisable, but it felt so much fresher here and interesting too. Emma Fielding was great value for money as all of the female characters, and Kevin Eldon, Burn Gorman and Zubin Varla all did well as the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Lion respectively. And Clarkson captured the right note of youthful gumption to make Dorothy a thoroughly likeable heroine. Continue reading “Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Radio 4”

Review: The Lady From The Sea, Royal Exchange

“What is it you long for?”

The second part of my double bill at Manchester’s Royal Exchange was the production in the main theatre Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea. Presented here in a new version by David Eldridge, using a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund, it marks the third time Eldridge has delved into the Nordic playwright’s work, this time working his stuff on one of his lesser-performed works. Just as a quick aside, I can highly recommend the blueberry cheesecake muffin from the bar at the theatre, it was a little piece of heaven!!

Set in a small fjordside Norwegian town, living a passive half life between sea and mountains, Ellida broods over her past love, despite having settled into a comfortable marriage of convenience with Doctor Wangel. Her reluctance to play the role of doting wife and stepmother results in Wangel bending over backwards to try and please her by inviting a man from her past to stay and cheer her up yet a web of misunderstandings and frustrations, that stretches all the way throughout this household, as the pull between domesticity and emotional freedom is explored. Continue reading “Review: The Lady From The Sea, Royal Exchange”