Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

A starry Mary Queen of Scots proves an intriguing if a little frustrating film debut for Josie Rourke

“The world will decide for itself”

An intriguing, if a little frustrating one this. Josie Rourke is a titan in the world of theatre and Mary Queen of Scots marks her cinematic debut. But despite a classy pair of lead performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as diametrically opposed queens Mary and Elizabeth, an ensemble consisting of the cream of British acting talent, and the sweeping beauty of the Highlands to frame every other shot, the film never really quite sparks into life.

Beau Willimon’s screenplay, based on John Guy’s book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, dances around historical accuracy with its own determination, building in a climactic meeting between the two which although visually striking, dramatically brings precious little. Before then, the film is plotted as a strategic confrontation between two monarchs, two women, who are battling the worlds around them as much as each other. Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible

Robert Hastie’s production of Guys and Dolls brings all kind of Christmas cheer at the Crucible Theatre

“Call it dumb, call it clever
Ah, but you can get odds forever”

There’s a touch of the predictable about going for a classic like Guys and Dolls as your Christmas musical, but can you blame Sheffield Theatres when its a stone-cold classic like this. And even if I’ve seen it fair few times in recent years (Royal Exchange, West End, Chichester), its joyous spirit is one which is hard to resist.

And that spirit is in fine evidence in Robert Hastie’s exuberant production at the Crucible. In Kadiff Kirwan’s highly personable Sky Masterson and Alex Young’s pleasingly self-assured Sarah Brown, and Martin Marquez’s Nathan Detroit and Natalie Casey’s Miss Adelaide, it has a cracking central quartet who have no problem in whisking us away from our troubles, if only for a couple of hours. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible”

TV Review: Queers

Mark Gatiss’ Queers – a set of monologues has lost none of its power since premiering in 2017

“He knows me for what I am”

I couldn’t make the theatrical readings of Queers at the Old Vic, so I was glad that filmed versions of them were made (for airing on BBC4). Ricocheting around the decades of the twentieth century, this set of monologues marked 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21, and aimed to celebrate some of the most poignant, funny, tragic and riotous moments of British gay male experience.

Pulled together by Mark Gatiss, these 8 20-minute pieces are ostensibly set in the same bar but run the full gamut of emotion as we shift around in time. There’s exquisite moments of happiness in lives otherwise marked by despair. The fleeting touch from Gatiss’ The Man on the Platform so achingly described by Ben Whishaw, the heady night spent with an American soldier by Ian Gelder’s omi in Matthew Baldwin’s I Miss the War.

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TV Review: Fleabag Series 2

Flying against the wind with this I know, but the second series of Fleabag leaves me rather cold…

“I think you’ve played with my guinea pig long enough”

I’m not sure why I’ve never succumbed to the Fleabag love that has swept the nation. Whether onstage or on screen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s magnus opus has never quite done it for me but what do I know – the return of the show, to a West End theatre no less, sold out quickly and the column inches about this second series of the TV show have been mounting up.

And ever the contrarian, this follow-up hasn’t really tickled my fancy either. The one thing that I think it did brilliantly was in its use of the fourth wall, particularly how Andrew Scott’s hot vicar was able to see through it for the loneliness avoidance technique it was and for pure storytelling, I thought it worked very well in terms of humanising a character who has always been rather arch. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag Series 2”

Review: Queer Theatre – Wig Out, National

#2 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Here
Where one night can leave you legendary
Or a subsidiary”

The world has changed just a little in the decade or so since Tarell Alvin McCraney wrote Wig Out. McCraney is now an Oscar-winning writer after the phenomenal success of Moonlight (based on one of his unproduced plays) and RuPaul has dragged drag into the mainstream by its charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. So to see the play now is an entirely different prospect than its 2008 production at the Royal Court and an interesting example of how cultural touchstones shift.

Wig Out feels intimately connected to Paris Is Burning (if you’ve not seen it, to Netflix with you now) in its focus on ball culture in the black and Latino gay communities of New York and we get to see it fully turned out as the House of Light take on their rivals in the House of Diabolique. The ball scene is an unalloyed pleasure as outré performance follows outré performance (Craig Stein and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith took the honours for the night) and really make you want to see a fully fledged production.

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More gay news: casting for Queers

Following yesterday’s Pride-fest, The Old Vic today announced casting for Queers, a series of eight monologues curated by Mark Gatiss. Staged on 28 and 31 July at The Old Vic, they mark 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 began the decriminalisation process for homosexuality between men. Queers celebrates some of the most poignant, funny, tragic and riotous moments of British gay male history over the last century. Continue reading “More gay news: casting for Queers”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:1

“If we drill down into the numbers, you’ve got a solid popularity arc here”

On the seventh day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…a Hollywood makeover courtesy of Netflix

In what could be seen as a rather ironic move, Black Mirror found itself the subject of a bidding war, the result of which was its third series of 12 episodes, later split into 2 series of 6, was commissioned by Netflix and shown exclusively there, Channel 4 losing out and protesting about such behaviour until they did the exact same thing to the BBC with the Great British Bake-Off that is… 

There’s no defined order to the six episodes, that’s the nature of an anthology series, but there’s no mistaking the order Netflix want you to watch them in, leading with Nosedive, the episode featuring a Hollywood star in Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by Joe Wright, it also deviates a little from standard practice by having a teleplay written by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones from an idea by Charlie Brooker, rather than Brooker himself like the majority of the other episodes. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:1”

Review: Teddy Ferrara, Donmar Warehouse

“The piece is supposed to be a complete picture of who Teddy was, right?”

You can almost feel the checklist of issues ready to be ticked off as we go through Christopher Shinn’s gay student play Teddy Ferrara and its dramatis personae – the president of the Queer Students group, the campaigning journalist, the faux-liberal authority figure, the one in the wheelchair, the transgender one, the hot, maybe closeted straight guy… And sure enough, each issue gets its moment in the spotlight, the show being faithfully representational to the last.

But issues alone do not a good play make. And though Dominic Cooke’s production for the Donmar looks good and is powerfully acted, it never truly engages the emotions, it never converts those issues into believably human stories. Which is particularly pertinent as the main inspiration for Shinn was the real-life case of Taylor Clementi, a student who took his own life after his college roommate broadcast webcam footage of him kissing another man. Continue reading “Review: Teddy Ferrara, Donmar Warehouse”

TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4

“This after all has been a very careful election” 

A fascinating experiment from James Graham and Josie Rourke, The Vote was a “play for theatre and television” which after two weeks of performances at the Donmar Warehouse – for which you had to enter a ballot for tickets – aired live on More4 at the very moment that it was set, the night of the UK general election. I wasn’t one of the lucky few in the ballot and am rarely inclined to dayseat (though I know several people who managed it) so I’ve only just got around to catching up with it on All4 (formerly 4OD) where it is on for another couple of weeks.

I’m glad I did get to see it as it is very funny and pulled together an extraordinary cast, the vast majority of whom spend mere moments onstage. Graham’s play focuses on the trials and tribulations of a South London polling station in the 90 minutes before voting closes and though there’s a farcical plot that holds the play together in the larger sense, the real joy comes in the microstories of the various voters who come in to exercise their democratic right as best they see fit. Drunks losing their polling cards, giddy lesbians brandishing selfie sticks, teenagers asking Siri who to vote for, all amusing slices of life are represented by a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much as the audience. Continue reading “TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4”

Review: City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse

“One Joe who swore, he’s single
Got me sorta crocked, the beast
I woke up only slightly shocked

That I’d defrocked a priest”

I quite often have problems with plays and musicals that are thusly described – “one of the acknowledged greats of twentieth century musical theatre” – especially when I’ve not heard a note of it. I’ve always preferred finding my own route into liking something and so such labels rarely help, the note of hyperbole indeed a little off-putting. So the buzz around Josie Rourke’s production of the Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart and David Zippel musical City of Angels proved something of a double-edged sword for me.

This was actually my second viewing of the show – I decided to leave writing up a trip to a late preview whilst suffering from a bad cold as I wasn’t sure how constructive I could be whilst feeling so rough. But even on second viewing, the show struck as a peculiar beast indeed. A dip into the world of film noir with a play-within-a-play structure, City of Angels has quite a cold heart and a clinical feel to it as a novelist tries to make it big in Hollywood with his story of a hard-boiled detective working on a big case. Continue reading “Review: City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse”