Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse

It continues to be grim up north. Especially if you’re gay – The York Realist comes to the Donmar Warehouse.

“It was very Yorkshire wasn’t it, not that I mind”

I’d decided not to bother with the Donmar Warehouse’s production of The York Realist and such is karma, I found myself offered a ticket on a night when I had nothing but laundry planned. And so off to Covent Garden for gay northerners I went.

I first saw the play in the first year of my blogging life, in a production at the now-defunct Riverside Studios, but I would be lying if I said I could remember too much about it (that’s why I blog, so I don’t have to remember!). By all accounts, I was well out of whack with those who declare it a modern classic… Continue reading “Review: The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse”

The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards winners in full

New play
Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward, Hope Mill
How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris, Royal Exchange
Narcissist in the Mirror by Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival – WINNER
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Home

Opera
Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM
La Cenerentola, Opera North, the Lowry
The Little Greats, Opera North, the Lowry
The Snow Maiden, Opera North, the Lowry – WINNER Continue reading “The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards winners in full”

The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

New play
Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward, Hope Mill
How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris, Royal Exchange
Narcissist in the Mirror by Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Home

Opera
Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM
La Cenerentola, Opera North, the Lowry
The Little Greats, Opera North, the Lowry
The Snow Maiden, Opera North, the Lowry

Actress
Karen Henthorn, Spring and Port Wine, Oldham Coliseum
Lisa Dwyer Hogg, People, Places and Things, Home
Nina Hoss, Returning to Reims, Manchester International Festival
Janet Suzman, Rose, Home Continue reading “The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)

“A man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’”

One of the main problems with the countless thinkpieces about the filming of live theatre is that they are almost always written by people who have ample opportunity to see the plays live. To talk about losing the innately unique quality of theatre unfolding before you is all too easy when you’re seeing shows pretty much every day of the week; when your own opportunities to see theatre, especially the bigger productions that tend to get filmed, are limited due to any kind of accessibility concern, it becomes a whole ‘nother ball
game.

Which is a slight digression from how I intended to start this, by saying that I wonder how much of a difference it makes if you’ve seen a production live and then on screen. I’ve not done the double, as it were, on many plays, I’ve tended just to use DVD as a way to catch up on things I missed and so was a little hesitant about whether to include Sarah Frankcom’s production of Hamlet for the Royal Exchange in this collection. But boy am I glad I did, for I enjoyed immensely, possibly even more than I did at the theatre. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)”

DVD Review: Cinderella

“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are”

Who knew what the world needed was a live-action version of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh. It oughtn’t be as good as it is but somehow the fusion of Disney magic and folktale wonder comes together most effectively, thoroughly traditional in its outlook yet somehow still feeling fresh. Chris Weitz’s screenplay is based on Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon but both he and Branagh take lots of inspiration from the Disney version of the story too and the resulting confection is really rather bibbity-bobbity-beguiling.

There’s a cleverness too about what it does in spinning new details like giving us a reason that her step-family don’t recognise her at the ball and weaving much humour into the magic spells that get her to said ball. Ella herself is well pitched by Lily James, not quite too perfect to be true but still hugely appealing. It’s no wonder Richard Madden’s Prince Charming tumbles instantly for her (and she for him, those breeches…those boots!) and their chemistry is palpable, one can see why Branagh has cast them as Juliet and Romeo in his upcoming theatre residency in London.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Cinderella”

Review: Lela & Co., Royal Court

“A story that becomes true in the telling”

As a director who has put live pigs on the stage (in last year’s I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole), a certain degree of expectation now comes from a Jude Christian production but I don’t think anyone could have expected the brilliantly punishing lengths to which she pushes Lela & Co. Royal Court debutant Cordelia Lynn’s play is already a masterly piece of theatrical writing – essentially a monologue but one that is interrupted and challenged by other voices, questioning the veracity of what is being told.

 
In the glitzy world of Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s set, caught somewhere between circus and chat show, Katie West’s Lela begins the telling of her life story. A torrent of words flow from her like champagne bubbles from a glass, the effervescence of her descriptions of the rural traditions of her extended family life, dominated by the totemic figure of her father as the only man in a house full of women. But hints of darkness peek through even at this seemingly innocuous time and as her life takes a desperately tragic turn for the worse, Lela’s life (and by extension our experience) becomes an unforgettable journey. Continue reading “Review: Lela & Co., Royal Court”

Review: Carmen Disruption, Almeida

“I saw everything.
But I didn’t really see a thing”

It is little surprise that the synopsis for Simon Stephens’ new play mentions it takes place in a fractured world, that is pretty much a given for his writing. What proved more surprising for me was how much I connected to Carmen Disruption, this idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Bizet’s opera resonating strongly throughout Lizzie Clachan’s brilliantly distressed design which conspires to lend the Almeida an unmistakeable air of faded grandeur. Just with the barely breathing body of a vanquished bull in the middle of the stage, natch.

This particular fractured world is a nameless European city in which Stephens interlaces five monologues, roughly analogous to the characters we know from Bizet but as if refracted through the shattered lens of an old pair of opera glasses. So Jack Farthing’s Carmen becomes a dangerously sexy rent boy, John Light takes Escamillo from the bull ring to the bear pit as an arrogant trader, this Don José fights through traffic rather than armies in Noma Dumezweni’s achingly moving cabbie, and Micaela’s tragedy remains intact in Katie West’s emotionally raw student. Continue reading “Review: Carmen Disruption, Almeida”

Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange

“What a piece of work is a man”
 

The political may be largely subsumed into the personal here but rarely has Hamlet felt so universal. Sarah Frankcom’s stated aim was to create “a Hamlet for now, a Hamlet for Manchester” and in the casting of the towering thespian might of Maxine Peake, it is not hard to feel that she has succeeded. Court scenes are played out around the dinner table, affairs of the state dealt with in business meetings, but all serve to intensify the pained intimacy of a family gone wrong, the suffering of people trapped in a dark world of pain at the heart of which lies this tortured sweet prince.

Dressed in a dark blue Chairman Mao suit (a neat nod to the politics of a determined contrarian) with hair cropped and shaved, Peake’s androgyne is a mesmeric figure from start to finish. The intelligence that sparkles from that voice, the openness that is commanded from that unflinching stare, it is nigh on impossible not to get swept away in the beauty of the performance. It remains at all times deeply humane too – this is a Hamlet who is really teetering on the brink as we see in the shaking hand that cannot pull the trigger, the vocal tremors throughout, the quivering lip at the news of Yorick. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange”

Review: Blindsided, Royal Exchange

“He puts his hand in your knickers and promises the world”

Lord this was grim. Hard-going, unlikeable and sterile – much of Simon Stephens’ writing has felt like this for me (as opposed to his adaptations) and so it can be something of a slog until one breaks through the revelatory moment that he often provides. But Blindsided never really got there, despite some excellent work from Julie Hesmondhalgh – making a bold move now that Hayley Cropper is coming a cropper – as the adult Cathy who has comes to terms with something shocking.

We first meet Cathy as a much younger woman though and see the seeds of what will happen coming from a tough upbringing in an unforgiving part of Stockport and her meeting with a darkly enigmatic man. But there’s something very artificial about the whole thing – there’s nothing discernible connecting the two versions of Cathy we meet – her rebirth is too much of a copout without any hint of redemptive quality in her – and the world(s) around her are poorly populated, the supporting character mere wisps. Continue reading “Review: Blindsided, Royal Exchange”

Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester

“Thou call’st thyself a hotter name than any is in hell”

One of the big ticket numbers in the Manchester International Festival this year has to be the return of Kenneth Branagh to Shakespeare, with him taking on the role of Macbeth in a production that was surrounded in secrecy and full of advisory warnings to the lucky few with tickets such as “don’t wear any dry-clean only outfits”, “you may not leave your seat once it has started” and possibly the toughest given its 2 hour interval-free running time, “no toilets in the venue”. That venue has now been revealed to be St Peter’s Church in Ancoats, a deconsecrated space used by the Hallé orchestra to rehearse in and whilst the toilets may be five minutes away at Murray’s Mill where tickets are collected from, any fears of emerging from the show drenched in mud and/or blood were left unfounded.

One can see straightaway though why the warnings have been made. The audience is placed in traverse either side of an earth-covered aisle and within moments of the start, a huge battle rages just inches from the audience with rain pouring, mud churning and sparks flying as swords clash. It’s an incredibly visceral start to a frequently breath-taking production – co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford – which successfully marries tradition with innovation, reinvigorating rather than reinventing Shakespeare’s timeless tale of the corrupting influence of power and ambition. Ashford’s eye for theatrical spectacle is combined with Branagh’s acute Shakespearean expertise and together, create something uniquely special. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester”