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: Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King’s Cross

“As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free”

I must confess I hate it when critics roll their reviews of separate shows of a larger ‘event’ into one overarching piece – if you have to buy separate tickets to see the shows, then reviewers should write reviews for each one. Of course, it’s never quite as simple as that, it’s nice to have the space to talk about the whole as well as the constituent parts, but it should be noted that the Shakespeare Trilogy has been just as enjoyable, if not more so, in its individual segments as it was on the epic (and awkwardly timed) trilogy day. 

I have seen all three of the shows before, and reviewed them – Julius Caesar, Henry IV, The Tempest – so that’s my excuse for this composite piece. And for all that Phyllida Lloyd was uber-keen on having the official press response to the trilogy, I have to admit I didn’t see too much artistic merit in running them together. The only real common thread that emerges is Harriet Walter’s epic performance(s) as Hannah, the lifer who is the only character to recur in the prison setting that is used for all three shows. Continue reading “Review: Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King’s Cross”

Review: The Tempest, Donmar at King’s Cross

“She did confine thee”

A slightly odd one this, the Donmar’s all-female adaptation of The Tempest opened at the King’s Cross Theatre late last month, but from what I can tell won’t be officially reviewed until 22nd November. The reasoning being that it is part of their Shakespeare Trilogy (productions of Julius Caesar from 28th October and Henry IV from 17th November are being remounted) and on select days, audiences can see all three back-to-back. And that is how director Phyllida Lloyd wants them to be critically reviewed, as an over-arching trilogy, which is all fine and good but tickets are either £90 or £120 for those days and I ain’t here for that (that said, if you’re 25 and under, 25% of the tickets are being made free due to this great scheme). So the majority of people seeing The Tempest will only see The Tempest and that’s why I’m writing this review now.

For this enterprise, the Donmar has decamped to the King’s Cross Theatre and a well-designed temporary space there (sightlines from the back row – F – are fine and dandy) with the audience seated on all four sides of the theatre. The sense of blank newness is perfectly suited to the institutional setting – Lloyd has returned to the prison set-up that has previously served so well – and retained several members of the ensemble including crucially, the glorious Harriet Walter, who has thrived on the opportunity to expand her already superlative Shakespearean experience. So from Brutus to Henry IV, she now ascends to take on the role of Prospero. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Donmar at King’s Cross”

‘Sharon Rooney and the Henrys’ release their cover of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’

“Right now I’m too young to know
How in the future it will affect me when you go”

One of the most striking moments in Phyllida Lloyd’s recent production of Henry IV for the Donmar Warehouse was Sharon Rooney’s extraordinary take on Lady Percy, skewering previous notions of the character to make her a vibrant and passionate equal to her husband. And as she bade him farewell, a lament struck up to the tune of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’, capping off a performance provoked as much thought about Shakespearean gender roles as did the overall all-female casting.
It’s a really lovely tune in its own right but this rendition did feel like something special so it was great hear that it has been recorded under the name of Sharon Rooney and the Henrys and it is now available to download from iTunes here. Profits will benefit organisations that the company have been working closely with like Clean Break Theatre Company and Justice for Women, as well as the Donmar’s outreach work to help women and girls find their voices, exemplified by the company performing Henry IV at the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets next week.
It’s a cracking tune enlivened by Rooney’s Glaswegian accent, it’s for a cracking set of causes and remember, you don’t want to be the lonely one sitting on your own and sad… Here’s the link again.

Review: Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse

“What manner of man is he?”

Every time Harriet Walter speaks as the eponymous character, she utterly justifies (not that it needs any justification, mind) the all-female casting of the Donmar Warehouse’s Henry IV, such is the achingly rich poetry that she brings to the verse. Coming in second in what is being loosely termed a ‘prison trilogy’ after a cracking take on Julius Caesar back in 2012, the production reunites director Phyllida Lloyd with Walter and some others from that company to impose their institutional stamp on another of Shakespeare’s works (and yes, it does mean those chairs are back in the stalls!).

Here, the scope of Henry IV Part I and II has been telescoped down to just two hours and in reality, could well be called Henry IV Part I+ as it focuses mainly on a raucously rendered take on that play and throws in excerpts from Act IV Scene V and Act V Scene V from its sequel to round off the stories of Henry IV, Prince Hal and the bounteous Falstaff. It’s an audacious approach but one that really pays off, suggesting that maybe Shakespeare could have done with an editor after all – others may disagree but there’s little that’s really lost in jettisoning a whole heap of supporting characters and their scenes in this instance. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Men Should Weep, National Theatre

“It’s only rich folk can keep theirselves tae theirselves. Folk like us huv tae depend on their neighbours when they’re needin help”

Men Should Weep is a play by Ena Lamont Stewart, voted as one of the top 100 English language plays of the twentieth century but has been very rarely performed. A programme note suggests that it was O H Mavor’s dismissal of her talent that prevented her from developing further as a playwright and stifling her reputation and it was crushingly sad to find out that the real appreciation of her work as a classic and its placing in said poll came too late for her as her memory had gone by then and she passed away in 2006. So this is an important revival in that sense, spearheaded by Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre Josie Rourke’s directorial debut at the National, but in its look at the everyday life of people in poverty, it rings with an ominous political resonance given the news in yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review and the effect it will have on the poorest in our society. This was the third preview, so all the usual caveats apply.

Set in the 1930s, the impoverished years of the Great Depression, in the crowded working-class slums of the Gorbals in the East End of Glasgow, it follows one family’s struggle for survival in a tough world. Working mother of seven Maggie is the lynchpin of this family but has to deal with an unemployed husband who won’t demean himself to do any domestic work, the return of a troublesome son and his wife to an already over-crowded home, one child with TB, another longing to fly to family coop and a gaggle of over-bearing friends and neighbours. Continue reading “Review: Men Should Weep, National Theatre”