Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse

“We’re a dying breed”

Obviously, the choice to stage David Mamet’s ode to toxic masculinity Glengarry Glen Ross was made long before the hashtag #MeToo shattered the blinkers of anyone unaware of what men have been getting away with. But it feels indicative of a theatrical culture that has reflected and reinforced a societal imbalance – all-male plays, written by men, directed by men, lauded by prize ceremonies and thus easy targets (and safer bets) for revivals, a self-perpetuating loop that doesn’t seem to even be coming close to stopping. 

And why should it, one might argue. Sam Yates’ production is astutely cast and tightly wound as it visits the world of Chicago real estate. Firstly through a set of short duologues in a Chinese restaurant in which we variously meet a set of salesmen and discover their place in the pecking order. And then after the interval, they’re all brought together in their office (an impressive almighty set change from Chiara Stephenson) which has been broken into and where all the frustrations and feelings they’ve been bottling up now come tumbling free.  Continue reading “Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse”

Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National

“It took three surgeries to give me back my eyelid”

There’s a moment to catch the breath in the opening scene of Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies The Bone as Kate Fleetwood’s Jess removes the virtual reality helmet she’s been wearing to reveal substantial scarring across half her face (excellent prosthetic work from the creative team). Jess is a veteran of three tours of Afghanistan, the last cut short by a close encounter with an IED that ravaged her body, whose recovery process after fourteen months in a hospital bed is not necessarily being aided by a return home to the depressed Florida town where she grew up.

What is proving effective is a pioneering form of virtual reality-based therapy (based on real life) that is designed to help Jess manage the constant pain that her injuries cause. In a custom computer-generated world, she is liberated, if only momentarily from excruciating skin grafts and flashbacks and an understandable heaviness of spirit that claws its way back to the surface as soon as the helmet comes off. For in the real world, the end of NASA’s shuttle programme has left Titusville a shadow of the place it once was, making it even harder to reconnect with the sister and ex-lover she finds there. Continue reading “Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National”

TV Review: Lightfields

“I feel like I’ve been running my whole life from this”

Cohu’s biggest TV show of recent times is probably Lightfields, conceived as a follow-up to the rather successful Marchlands of a couple of years ago, and occupying very similar ground of supernatural phenomena haunting the same property through different time periods. A remote farmhouse in Suffolk is the setting, the building named Lightfields, and as a young woman dies in mysterious circumstances in a wartorn 1944, the repercussions are felt by a mother and daughter who stay there for the summer in 1975 and also by the family who are running it as a bed and breakfast in 2012. The ghosts of the past weigh heavily on all concerned as in all three eras, the search for the truth as to what happened puts several people in danger.

I really enjoyed Marchlands so I was a little sceptical to hear that a sequel of sorts had been planned one which seemed to repeat the same format. And though it was mostly enjoyable to watch, I did find it to be not quite on the same level as its predecessor. For a start, it had far too many characters in the 1944 slot alone, I couldn’t get a bearing on who was who even when they were right in front of me, never mind when older versions of them appeared in the later time periods – I felt like I needed to write down a list of everyone as it always felt overly cluttered, with too many story strands feeding into both the 1944 and 2012 slots and leaving the overall feel of the programme as rather confused. Continue reading “TV Review: Lightfields”

DVD Review: Easy Virtue

“Dancing with you is like trying to move a piano”

Last up this weekend was the 2008 film of Easy Virtue and though the saying goes last but not least, it’s not really the case here. Adapted by Stephan Elliott and Sheridan Jobbins, their version of the story is practically a rewriting so different is it from the original, but the efforts have largely been in vain as it makes for a lumpen and turgid watch with a distinct waste of the not inconsiderable talent on show. A part of this comes from my own preferences – Jessica Biel is an actress to whom I have never warmed and I love Kristin Scott Thomas far too much to see her reduced to such one-note caricatures – but a larger part comes from the fatally misguided direction which tries far too hard to make this what it is not.

The story flirts between the romantic comedy of an out-of-place American widow newly married into the English aristocracy and battling against the stuffiness of his family, and the more socially astute depiction of the trials faced by the upper classes in the interwar period. But it achieves neither particularly well. There’s nowhere near enough of Coward’s customary bon mots and razor-sharp wit to make it recognisable as anywhere close to his best work and the insistence on maintaining the faux stylings of its chirpy jazz-lite score means that nothing deep is allowed to achieve any resonance. That score may have (disposable) versions of Coward and Cole Porter classics but it also contains horrendous jazzy reinterpretations of songs like ‘Car Wash’, ‘Sex Bomb’, and ‘When The Going Gets Tough’…need I say any more. Continue reading “DVD Review: Easy Virtue”

DVD Review: Dead Babies

“The jokes, the drugs, it all gets so tedious”

If you use Lovefilm, then you might have experienced that moment when you open the packet and you have no earthly clue as to what the film is that they have sent you. Compiling the list of films that you want to watch starts when you first open your account, which in my case was a good couple of years ago and the thought processes that go behind adding things, as you browse through various categories and names, remain a mystery as all sorts of random things end up on there. So I was genuinely intrigued by the prospect of Dead Babies and decided to pop in the DVD without googling it to if it would become clear to me.

And sure enough it soon did and in the most delightful of ways as two of my favourite actresses, Alexandra Gilbreath and Olivia Williams, popped up in the opening scenes. And based on a novel by Martin Amis, my hopes were fairly high. But good Lord they were soon dashed with what was really quite a terrible film. Set in a country house over a long weekend where a group of self-involved old college friends invite some American pals over in anticipation of some hard-core experimental drug taking, but William Marsh’s directorial debut revels far too much in depicting scenes of hedonistic debauchery at the expense of anything else. Continue reading “DVD Review: Dead Babies”

DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice

“If you tickle us, do we not laugh”

I remember loving this 2004 film of The Merchant of Venice hugely when it came out at the cinema, not least for the dreamy Joseph Fiennes but also for the fact that it seemed to make sense of a play which I’d never seen on stage yet always heard how problematic it apparently was. Having not seen it since then, I was quite happy to pick it up as a fab bargain along with some other goodies in a charity shop and in rewatching it, I was reminded of how pleasingly strong a piece of work it is.

The relationship between Antonio and Bassanio is thoroughly played up, from the off Jeremy Irons’ Antonio gazes wistfully and openly out the window at the arriving Bassanio and their relationship is given significant heft by Joseph Fiennes’ highly flirtatious manner. His request for yet more money is accompanied by a knowing trip to recline on the bed between them, his eyes inviting Antonio to join him and whilst the connection between them is never made explicit – the one kiss doesn’t count – it feels extremely real and makes Antonio’s willingness to sacrifice himself all the more believable. And Fiennes’ attractiveness to all and sundry is played on later with Al Weaver’s Stephano getting breathlessly excited about Bassanio’s arrival at his mistress’s home. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice”