Review: The Hudsucker Proxy, Nuffield

“I wasn’t expecting all this hoopla…”

It’s not been the easiest of births for The Hudsucker Proxy – an incident in the dress rehearsal left two actors hospitalised, fortunately both have now been discharged and are recuperating at home, and the decision was made to forge ahead with the show, recasting where necessary. The show is certainly an interesting prospect – a co-production between Nuffield and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse in association with Complicite, and the first ever theatrical adaptation of a Coen Brothers film too – and its doors are now finally open in Southampton, ahead of a trip to Liverpool and then an international tour in the near future.

And you can see it succeeding. The show uncovers realms of theatrical influences in the Coen Brothers’ work but also adds in much of its own, to create a dizzying screwball comedy that is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It would be churlish to give too much away but there are some inspired moments of staging in Simon Dormandy and Toby Sedgwick’s staging, especially concerning the window of the 44th floor office in which much of the drama is set. The physical work here is explicit too, the company relying on their own bodies as much as Dick Bird’s magnificent art deco-inflected set design to create constantly imaginative sequences. Continue reading “Review: The Hudsucker Proxy, Nuffield”

Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle

“I think most of us are walking around in a sort of slumber really”

With a revival of The Pride just announced as the next production in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency, it seemed like a good time to visit Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest play Bracken Moor at the Tricycle. That said, I have to admit to not being the greatest fan of this ambitious mash-up of political/economic drama and ghost story which is co-produced by Shared Experience and directed by their own Polly Teale. In the midst of the 1930s financial crisis, Yorkshire landowner Harold and his wife Elizabeth are still shell-shocked by the ghastly death of their young son Edgar ten years since and only now are they acquiescing to an extended visit from their old friends Vanessa and Geoffrey. But as they retrace their old friendship, the presence of the visitors’ son Terence awakens something more sinister.

Terence was Edgar’s boyhood best friend and within a few nights, appears to become possessed by Edgar’s restless spirit. This provokes his parents to finally start to deal with their buttoned-up grief but in hugely different ways. Helen Schlesinger’s extraordinarily affecting Elizabeth clings to every possible shred of hope that she could actually be communicating with her lost son and the rawness of her grief is spell-binding. And the much more pragmatic Harold, Antony Byrne in classically old-school English mode, finds himself questioning the decisions he has to make about a dispute over pit closures, his capitalist certainties challenged by this brush with the unknown. Continue reading “Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle”

Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward

“We’ll press upon the enemy until he’s in a funk,
And show him its no easy thing resisting British spunk”

Just a quickie to cover this return trip to Privates on Parade, the opening show of Michael Grandage’s 5 show takeover of the Noël Coward Theatre, as I was able to attend the final performance of the run thanks to the day-seating efforts of a friend. I liked the show immensely when I saw it at the end of last year and whilst I could see that it might not be to everyone’s tastes, I was somewhat surprised at the charge of ‘dated’ that some people levelled at the play. Perhaps it’s a conversation that needs to be had with someone who actually felt that way but it feels erroneous to me, not least because it’s not even set (late 1940s) when it was written (1977).

The biggest change of course was due to the untimely and sudden death of Sophiya Haque who played the role of Sylvia. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the company to continue after such a tragedy and all credit to understudy Davina Perera who rose to the challenge of taking on the role full time mid-run and achieving a seamless transition. Otherwise, I enjoyed the show just as much as I did first time round and having a better sense of the play as a whole, I appreciated the emotional depths of the writing that much more, the comedy has a more astringent edge in the knowledge of what is to come. Continue reading “Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward”

Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre

“How many sorts of people there are”
 

Well what an unexpected thing Privates on Parade turned out to be. Not knowing anything about it in advance meant it was full of surprises: the ‘play with songs’ moniker shouldn’t disguise the fact that it is closer to a musical than a play, and it very much needs to be treated as the period piece that it is. On the face of it, its ribald campery and racial stereotyping could be something of an affront, a relic of an old-fashioned past with old-fashioned attitudes, but to merely dismiss it as dated and offensive is to miss the wider points of Peter Nichols’ 1977 play and the nuances of Michael Grandage’s production, first seen at the Donmar in 2001.(FYI: this was a preview performance.)

The play opens the Michael Grandage residency at the Noël Coward theatre, a season of five star-studded plays – Simon Russell Beale is the marquee name here – with a new pricing model aiming for greater affordability for drama in the West End. It’s set in the fictional Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUESA), a British army entertainment corps stationed there at the time of the Malayan Emergency in the aftermath of the Second World War, and follows this troupe of military entertainers as they tour their act through the hostile jungle of the Malayan peninsula. So against the near-oblivious flamboyance of the Marlene Dietrich covers, cabaret turns and jaunty full ensemble numbers, is a backdrop of long-simmering native discontent and explosive violence for which they are ill-prepared. Continue reading “Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

“For she is changed, as she had never been”

Despite featuring Samantha Spiro as Kate, the Globe’s production of The Taming of the Shrew held little attraction for me when it was announced, and even once it had started. Though, not considered a ‘problem play’ as far as Shakespeare’s canon is concerned, problems tend to arise when productions seek to make sense of its knotty gender politics from a contemporary perspective. Southwark Playhouse and the RSC have recently tried different updated versions but neither one really convinced me. After allowing myself to be persuaded to see it before it finished its run, Toby Frow comes the closest I have seen to making the play work, mainly by – against the above quote – simply leaving it alone.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an immense amount of work that has been done, but rather that this production just takes the play for what it is – a piece of sixteenth century fiction presented as such. And instead of the furrowed brow that often comes with trying to work how misogynistic or otherwise the play or the production is being, there’s a sense of joyous fun as high-octane slapstick, capering about and unbelievably destructive capabilities are the order of the day.  Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Radio Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Radio 3

“My ear is much enamoured of your note”

I’m nothing if not predictable, so despite having been distinctly underwhelmed by the Shakespeare on 3 productions and sworn off the Bard on radio, the replay of this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Radio 3 was irresistible to me as I just could not resist the spectacular cast assembled.

I’d been warned in advance that Lesley Sharp didn’t sound like herself in this as Titania and it’s true, but the precisely mannered intonation she adopts works really well here and made me long to see her back on stage. Toby Stephens was serviceable as Oberon but I did enjoy Freddie Fox’s impish Puck. And as the troublesome lovers, Joseph Timms and Ferdinand Kingsley, and Emerald O’Hanrahan and Anna Madeley were all nicely characterful. Continue reading “Radio Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Radio 3”

Review: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Southwark Playhouse

“Laugh, you bastard, laugh. Don’t cry – they’ve won then.”

In the world of up-and-coming directors, Blanche McIntyre has rightly been gaining a lot of plaudits for her work at the Finborough and beyond, but to my mind Jessica Swale is right up there with her. With her Red Handed Theatre Company, she’s been building up a diverse body of work, whether turning her hand to reinvigorating classics like The Rivals and The Belle’s Stratagem with a sparkling fresh modernity, or lending a clear-sighted intensity to modern plays such as Palace of the End, which genuinely has to rank as one of the best productions I have seen in recent years. Her latest production for the Southwark Playhouse fits into the second of these categories as it is a revival of Frank McGuinness’ 1992 hostage drama Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.

The set-up is simple, an intense three-hander which follows the experiences of an American and an Irishman being held hostage in Lebanon, and then later an Englishman, as they while away the hours and days trying to keep their spirits up yet dogged by the horrendous uncertainty of how close they are to death. Mainly they do this through humour and  flights of fancy of the imagination – re-enacting Virginia Wade playing at Wimbledon, picking their Desert Island Discs, introducing each other to their favourite drinks from the cocktail bar, impersonating rabbits, the Queen and telling some cracking jokes. But this enforced bonhomie can only distract them from the reality of the situation for so long and fractiousness frequently raises its head alongside the despair they’re all trying to hide. Continue reading “Review: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse

“Such is the breath of kings”

After nearly a decade as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage is bowing out to let Josie Rourke take up the reins and his final production for this theatre is Shakespeare’s Richard II, most notably starring Eddie Redmayne. As the audience enter the auditorium, Redmayne is already poised in high state on his throne, the air heavy with incense in Richard Kent’s gilded Gothic set but we soon see how this regality is but a superficial veneer on a deeply flawed character.

This Richard is a petulant, nervy presence – a little prone to over-gesturing, acting out too many of the lines for my liking “make pale our cheek” is the example that sticks in the mind – as he is more effective in the subtle characterisations, the intensity of his eyes that nervously twitch throughout. This capriciousness is aired most perfectly in the reluctant coronation scene but as a whole but it ends up being rather one-note and missing some complexity, therefore it means that this isn’t a Richard that engenders much sympathy. Only in his final scenes, bereft of crown, sceptre and trappings of state, does he really fly and give beautiful voice to the verse. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse”

The 2010 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Gwilym Lee, for Edgar in King Lear (Donmar Warehouse)

Second prize

Zawe Ashton, for Salome in Salome (Headlong Theatre)

Third prize

Vanessa Kirby, for Isabella in Women Beware Women (National Theatre), Rosalind in As You Like It (West Yorkshire Playhouse), and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Octagon Theatre)

Commendations

Pippa Bennett-Warner, for Cordelia in King Lear (Donmar Warehouse)
Natalie Dormer, for Mitzi in Sweet Nothings (Young Vic)
Susannah Fielding, for Petra in An Enemy of the People (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield)
Melody Grove, for Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest (Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh)
Cush Jumbo, for Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
Ferdinand Kingsley, for Rosencrantz in Hamlet (National Theatre)
James McArdle, for Malcolm in Macbeth (Shakespeare’s Globe), and Aleksey in A Month in the Country (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Jessica Raine, for Regina in Ghosts (Duchess Theatre)
Catrin Stewart, for Hilde in The Lady from the Sea (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
Joseph Timms, for John of Lancaster in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Charity Wakefield, for Lydio Languish in The Rivals (Southwark Playhouse)
Ashley Zhangazha, for the King of France in King Lear (Donmar Warehouse)

Review: Twelfth Night, National Theatre

“‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before”

To celebrate his 80th birthday, Sir Peter Hall returns to the National Theatre which he directed for 25 years, with a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Cottesloe. It features a rather starry cast including his daughter Rebecca Hall and Simon Callow and given how well done last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Kingston was, this has been an eagerly anticipated production for me for a fair few months. This is a review of a preview, the penultimate one as it opens on Tuesday, but still a preview nonetheless though I stand by my comments here.

This is just a production that is lacking, lacking in almost every department and there isn’t even a particular aspect that shines above the others that one could excuse weakness elsewhere for. It feels proficient rather than inspired and though performances may improve and the pacing can be tightened up, the whole approach to this production is unspectacular. Worse than that, it is often boring and the first half in particular is currently far too languid and dull as attested by a fair few walk-outs at the interval. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, National Theatre”