Review: Bodies, Royal Court

“As soon as we have our little girl, everything will make sense. As soon as you hold her in your arms, it will all make sense.”

Between this and Yerma, theatreland would have us firmly believe that to be a childless woman in her 30s, or rather a woman wanting a child, is to be on the precipice of madness. I have liked, nay loved, much of Vivienne Franzmann’s work (Mogadishu, The Witness, Pests) but with Bodies, her sure touch in delving into the trickier aspects of human nature doesn’t quite feel as insightful.

Clem has tried several times to carry a child to term but sadly miscarried on every occasion and so, with husband Josh, has turned to surrogacy. Finding the right, white Russian egg donor and the perfect Indian surrogate womb does not come cheap and as Franzmann explores, it is a cost that is as much moral and emotional as it is financial – the ethics of this ‘business’ murky indeed. Continue reading “Review: Bodies, Royal Court”

Review: Imogen, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Is there no way for men to be, but women must be half-workers?”

Whichever way you cut it, I still find that Cymbeline is a tough play to love and it’s not for a lack of trying on my part. I struggled with it at the Sam Wanamaker earlier this year and I’ll be trying out the RSC’s version once it hits the Barbican later this month. As for now, it’s Matthew Dunster’s turn to have a go at the play, this time outside at the Globe and in keeping with the new regime, the play has been “renamed and reclaimed” as Imogen, as befits the part of Cymbeline’s daughter who has in fact twice as many lines.

Even with Maddy Hill (an unexpectedly moving Titania, among others, in Go People’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in the title role and a wonderfully diverse ensemble incorporating a signing deaf actor among others, Imogen remained difficult. For all the contemporary gangland setting (Jonathan McGuinness’ king is now a drug lord), Imogen’s o’er-hasty marriage to the feckless Posthumus (a good Ira Mandela Siobhan) and subsequent devotion to him even as he proves himself to be a righteous cock doesn’t quite fly. That said, the energy in the show is one that proves largely irresistible as sexy shenanigans, modern sounds, and kick-ass choreo combine to memorable effect. Continue reading “Review: Imogen, Shakespeare’s Globe”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: Four minutes twelve seconds, Hampstead Downstairs

“Big Ian has named his son Ian too?”

Fresh from the news that a Hampstead Downstairs show will make its West End bow in the New Year (the excellent Di and Viv and Rose) after being the first to make the in-house transfer to the main theatre, the Autumn season in this officially critic-free space (I paid for my ticket, £5 early bird deal ftw) opens with James Fritz’s Four minutes twelve seconds. His first full-length play delves into the murky world of revenge porn, where an explosion in smartphone usage plus the abdication of responsibility enabled by the freedom of the internet has resulted in one of the more pernicious innovations of modern times.

At 17 years old and about to sit the exams that will hopefully send him off to a good university, Jack seems to have it made but when he comes home from school one day with his shirt covered in blood, all that is set to change. Initially trying to pass it off as a nosebleed, then a set-to with some kids from the rough school over the way, we soon find out who is responsible and why they’ve done this – a video of Jack and his girlfriend Cara getting jiggy with it has appeared online, only she’s not his girlfriend any more and so it looks like Jack has been trying to get even with her. Continue reading “Review: Four minutes twelve seconds, Hampstead Downstairs”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

Review: The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, Royal Court

“It is fair to say at that stage Gorge’s judgement became…clouded”

Already reeling from the news that the play was running at 3 hours long despite the 8pm start time, the further blow of a half-hour long opening scene that recalled nothing so much as the central section of the divisive In The Republic of Happiness meant that Dennis Kelly’s The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas had it all to do to win me over. The play marks the official ‘regular’ debut of new AD Vicky Featherstone after Open Court, the wide-ranging writers’ festival that occupied the Royal Court over the summer and rather than being a bold statement of intent of a new and different era, it’s an arguably gentler transition for a theatre already accustomed to the adventurous tail end of Dominic Cooke’s reign cf: Republic, Narrative, The Low Road. The fiddling with the start times does look here to stay though – in this season, the majority of shows upstairs are starting at 7.30pm, and downstairs at 8pm.

And as with much of this kind of theatre, it provokes a Marmitean reaction. Many laughed heartily all night long and lapped it up, I was left cold by its strained theatricality and languorous verbosity. This interview with The Observer reveals that the play was originally written for a theatre in Germany and in retrospect, that makes sense. The story of Gorge stretches over the whole 80 years of his lifetime but is played out in just a handful of lengthy scenes, key encounters that shape his existence as he comes of age in a time of rampart capitalism and is offered the Mephistophelian opportunity to have it all and more. Three grasping golden rules govern his ethos, maxims such as “whenever you want something – take it” but as greedily huge success comes his way, the cocoon of well-designed lies upon which it is built starts to crumble. Continue reading “Review: The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, Royal Court”

Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Do not torment me, prithee”

Last up in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, in the What country friends is this? season was The Tempest. In some ways I wish I’d seen this closer to The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (which I saw on consecutive days in June) as the thrill of watching an ensemble across multiple plays is magnified much more that way. As it was, my enthusiasm for The Tempest – never one of my favourite Shakespeares and now totally ruined by the fact that I’ve now seen what will probably the best version ever –  had waned slightly as I returned to the Roundhouse.

The reality was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I might have hoped. David Farr’s production (I wish they’d gotten in a third director to really mix things up) has its moments of  inspiration and interest, but these are scattered throughout rather than invigorating the whole show and so my abiding feeling was of unevenness. For the great visual impact of Prospero having the islanders dress in identikit suits, little is done to enliven the immense amount of speechifying that the character does, Jonathan Slinger’s performance having a strangely unnerving impact more than anything. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art”

What country friends is this? indeed. A nifty line switch and a striking coup-de-théâtre gets the RSC’s Twelfth Night off to a wonderful start as Emily Taaffe’s sodden, anguished Viola emerges from the shipwreck she believes has taken her brother’s life and left her washed up in Illyria. Disguising herself as Cesario, a man, she joins the retinue of the Duke Orsino but finds herself swept up in the love games between him and the grieving countess Olivia, whose eye is taken by the new arrival on the scene. Part of the company’s Shakespeare’s Shipwreck Trilogy, the Roundhouse plays host to the repertory season for just under a month before returning to Stratford-upon-Avon for the rest of the month. 
 
David Farr’s production transfers the majority of the action in Olivia’s household to a Greek hotel (which she presumably owns) which proves a mostly effective and ingenious relocation. Malvolio becomes the hotel manager, Feste the old school variety turn, a reception desk stands in for the box-tree and the swimming pool and revolving doors provide constant amusement. Jon Bausor’s beautifully designed set is actually a triumph, an artfully exploded hotel suite on the sweeping expanse of timber atop a water tank, complete with working lift shaft which comes into its own in the scenes of Malvolio’s torment. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I will go lose myself and wander up and down to view the city”

The endless whirl of festivals continues apace with the return of the RSC to its adopted London home at the Roundhouse. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which in turn is part of the London 2012 Festival, the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy brings together one company and two directors over three plays which are bound together through their similarities, entitled What Country Friends Is This?. First up is Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi’s take on The Comedy of Errors, a fresh and frenetic romp through the play which, whilst it may lack some poetry, has been invested with a great energy.

Ruled over by a maniacal gun-toting Duke, it is instantly clear that this Ephesus is a dangerous place in which the threat of death is ever-present and a genuine reality. Onto a grim looking quayside, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are deposited as illegal immigrants in the elusive search for their twin brothers from whom they were separated in a shipwreck. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve alighted in the right place but almost immediately they are mistaken for their Ephesan brothers and brings into motion a hectic tale of misunderstandings and madcap capers. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Pocket Dream, Propeller at the Underbelly Festival

“Why are you wearing a tutu?”

As part of the Underbelly Festival on the South Bank, Edward Hall’s all-male company Propeller have revisited and shrunk their production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream down into a 1 hour, family-friendly version called Pocket Dream. A company of six bring the customary Propeller rough-and-tumble physicality to the production which is matched by the approach to the text, which has been adapted and condensed by Roger Warren but remains utterly recognisable. Everything has been trimmed down, save the Rude Mechanicals’ play which is mostly all there, only Theseus and Hippolyta have been given the axe and even they make a delightful surprise appearance at the end of the show.

The men were all identically and androgynously dressed in white and a toy box placed centre-stage from which all the accoutrements to create the various characters were produced: pyjamas tops and nightdresses for the lovers, feathery, glittery cloaks, tutus and collars for the fairies and workmen outfits for the Mechanicals. Just two umpires’ chairs on the circular playing space were needed for them to create their magic. And magic it was, with frequently laugh-out-loud funny sections mixed in with poetic moments, demonstrating a deep understanding of how to make Shakespeare really sing and connect with an audience. Their anarchic spirit was still in evidence too with a few moments of meta-theatre sprinkled in too, the above-mentioned quote being the best, blink-and-miss-it instance of that. Continue reading “Review: Pocket Dream, Propeller at the Underbelly Festival”