2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

An interesting set of nominations have been announced for the 2018 Laurence Olivier Awards. Perhaps predictably, the headline grabbers are Hamilton with their record 13 nominations, and The Ferryman which received 8. I’m pleased to see Follies and Angels in America represent a strong showing for the National with 10 and 6 respectively, and also lovely to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie close behind with 5. Beyond delighted for The Revlon Girl too, my play of the year.

Naturally, not everything can get nominated and for me, it was most disappointing to see Barber Shop Chronicles miss out on any recognition. And with Hamilton crowding out the musicals categories, there was sadly no room for The Grinning Man, Romantics Anonymous and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (although I’m unsure of the Menier’s eligibility with regards to SOLT). And I think Victoria Hamilton (Albion). Philip Quast (Follies) and Louis Maskell and Julian Bleach (The Grinning Man)  are entitled to be a bit miffed.

How do you feel about these nominations? And what do you think should have been nominated instead?

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Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread

It may be Daniel Day-Lewis’ apparent last hurrah but Phantom Thread is all about Lesley Manville’s world-conquering excellence.

“No one gives a tinker’s fucking curse about Mrs. Vaughn’s satisfaction!”

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and nominated for 6 Academy Awards, a lot of the attention around Phantom Thread has been around Daniel Day-Lewis’ announcement that this would be his last film role. But for me (and for any right-thinking folk), the pleasure comes from a scene-stealing supporting role for Lesley Manville which has garnered her one of those nods. (Not sure if she’ll be attending the ceremony though or giving her understudy a brief moment in the sun.)

And it is an unexpectedly engaging and surprising film. Day-Lewis plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock whose rule on the world of 1950s London couture is slowly slipping due to the arrival of the New Wave. His audacious arrogance, sorry artistic temperament, is brought into question when he meets Belgian waitress Alma but when a romance sparks up between the pair, the result is a far from conventional affair which leaves its gender dynamics entirely shooketh. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread”

Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s

“Who wants to see life as it is, if they can help it?”

Between scoring an Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread, returning to TV screens in superlative sitcom Mum and conquering one of the almighty stage roles written for a woman in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it is safe to say that Lesley Manville is having a ‘moment’ as a potential queen of all media, and a well-deserved one at that – she is the kind of rare talent that is genuinely due this kind of adulation.

Richard Eyre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play was first seen at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016 (have a gander at m’review here) and it transfers to the Wyndham’s pretty much intact – Manville and Jeremy Irons leading the cast once again as the troubled Mary and Joseph Tyrone, with Rory Keenan and Matthew Beard stepping in as their sons. The returning Jessica Regan rounds out the cast as housemaid Kathleen. Continue reading “Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s”

Round-up of news, treats and other interesting things

You go away for a week, hoping they’ll put any exciting news on hold but no, there were headlines aplenty…

Michelle Terry being revealed as Emma Rice’s successor as Artistic Director of the Globe. I think this is a brave and inspired choice, for Terry is a deeply intelligent actor (Tribes, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Cleansed) and a superb Shakespearean at that (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors).

Rice seemed to consider Shakespeare a puzzle that needed unlocking for (new) audiences but you were left wondering if there was a touch of square peg round hole syndrome in the way the plays were manhandled. It is tempting to think that Terry will be a smoother fit whilst maintaining a sense of adventurousness (she played Henry V after all) although this is, of course, pure conjecture. Still, exciting times ahead.

Bristol Old Vic’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, featuring a superlative performance from Lesley Manville alongside Jeremy Irons, has at long last announced its transfer into the West End. It was one of my highlights from last year and takes up residence in the Wyndham’s from 27th January until 8th April.

As with Alan Ayckbourn, my lack of desire to see Oscar Wilde plays on the stage is often tested by casting decisions that I find hard to resist. Adding Anne Reid to Eve Best in A Woman of No Importance is one of those decisions.

The Bush Theatre are having a busy time of it. Not only is Jon Gilchrsit stepping down as Executive Director, they’ve announced casting for two of their upcoming productions.

Ramona Tells Jim
Written by Sophie Wu
Directed by Mel Hillyard
Designed by Lucy Sierra
Cast includes: Ruby Bentall (Ramona), Joe Bannister (Jim) and Amy Lennox (Pocahontas).

A Bush Theatre and Sheffield Theatres co-production
Of Kith and Kin
Written by Chris Thompson
Directed by Robert Hastie
Designed by James Perkins
Cast includes: Joanna Bacon (Lydia and Carrie), Donna Berlin (Arabelle), James Lance (Daniel), Chetna Pandya (Priya) and Joshua Silver (Oliver).

Get a look here at the cast for The Unknown Island, a world premiere directed by the Gate’s new Artistic Director Ellen McDougall and adapted by Ellen and Clare Slater (Literary Manager, Donmar Warehouse) from Jose Saramago’s short story The Tale of The Unknown Island.

The Unknown Island is a play about getting stuck, about trying to escape, about shooting for the moon, about going further than the furthest thing. This is a play about finding something you didn’t think you needed.

The Gate welcomes back Jon Foster (Idomeneus, Trojan Women) and introduce Thalissa Teixera (Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe and Yerma, Young Vic), Hannah Ringham (co-founder of SHUNT) and Zubin Varla (War Horse, National Theatre and Twelfth Night, Donmar Warehouse).

And to round things off, the ever-lovely Amy Booth-Steel doing something lovely to the song ‘Despacito’ on a ukelele.

TV Review: Mum

“I feel as sad as the sisters of Lazarus”


A number of the reviews of the first episode of Mum (here’s mine) were cautiously optimistic but commented that Stefan Golaszewski’s writing wasn’t really funny enough for a sitcom, or up to his previous TV show Him and Her. I hope that people persisted with it though, for it emerged as a simply beautiful piece of television, closer to a drama in the end than an outright comedy, and all the more affecting and effective for it.

In some ways, it’s not that surprising that it wasn’t a canned laughter kind of show – an actor of the stature of Lesley Manville, with her nearly 40 years of collaboration with Mike Leigh, wouldn’t do that, would she (I guess My Family being the exception here…). Instead, what we got was a subtle meditation on how life continues after bereavement, working through the stages of grief and minutiae of life over the course of that tricky first year. Plus Manville ate a large crisp in one go, now you don’t get that kind of quality just anywhere!

Continue reading “TV Review: Mum”

TV Review: Mum, Episode 1

“Sorry if this isn’t the sort of thing to say at a funeral”

In terms of the Venn diagram of my favourite things, you really could not get more precise than putting Lesley Manville on screen and then following that up with a shot of Sam Swainsbury in his boxer shorts. No, I’m not recounting a dream, this is the actual opening sequence of the first episode of new BBC2 sitcom Mum, directed by Richard Laxton (who worked with Manville most recently in River) – safe to say I’m hooked.
Written by Stefan Golaszewski, probably best known for Him and Her, Mum looks set to be a gently observational comedy rather than a straight-up sitcom. This first episode focused on Manville’s Cathy preparing for the day of her husband’s funeral, dealing with the influx of visitors to her house including her son’s new girlfriend, her brother and his snobbish wife, her ageing in-laws and an old family friend.

And whilst yes, you might point out that it is hardly a laugh-a-minute show, you’d be sorely mistaking what Mum is trying to do here. Casting the likes of Manville and Dorothy Atkinson (the snob) with all their Mike Leigh experience and Peter Mullan too, another actor hardly known for his comic roles, the sense of humour here is subtle, worked out of recognisably human moments of gaucheness (Lisa McGrillis’ girlfriend unable to stop putting her foot in it) and ultimately, tenderness.

It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste and more’s the pity, as the evidence is already there for this being another of Manville’s excellent performances of real emotional depth and truthfulness, coming out of the seemingly casual conversational nature of this new comedy.

Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bristol Old Vic

“One day I found I could no longer call my soul my own”

There’s a lot of activity planned around the celebration of Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary but it is hard to imagine it being bettered than this stunning production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Eugene O’Neill’s emotionally gruelling autobiographical masterpiece of a play sees director Richard Eyre reunited with Lesley Manville whose last collaboration was the superlative Ghosts which was reason enough to visit Bristol, even before the small matter of Jeremy Irons being cast against her.
And so it turned out that, along with Rob Howell’s exceptional set design, is was Manville with the magic here. She plays Mary Tyrone, the matriarch of a family blighted both by the curse of addiction and an inability to talk about anything important. Her demon is morphine, her older son’s is alcohol and her younger son is seriously ill with tuberculosis but such is the rod of iron with which father James rules the roost, that these uncomfortable truths are rarely, if at all, confronted.

It is a deeply moving play and in such assured hands as it is here, it is a most affecting production. Aching with deep-seated disappointments that come from as much love as rage, their confrontations ultimately as affectionate as angry, their inability to prevent the past from shaping their present becomes a fateful crutch over the passage of a long summer’s day. Irons makes James a cantankerous patriarchal figure raging against the very stasis he imposes on his household and Manville’s glorious Mary responds by sinking into the deepest denial, her final ‘triumph’ of revealing her secret one of the most heartbreaking things you will ever see.
There’s sterling support from Hadley Fraser and Billy Howle as the sons, trapped in a perpetual adolescence by the overbearing parental presence in their lives but reacting in different ways, unable to look forward to a future that seems so uncertain. And Howell’s set is simply gorgeous – encapsulating all the claustrophobia of their domestic prison but morphing into an abstract version of the world beyond through its glass walls and in the shimmering hues of Peter Mumford’s astutely textured lighting. With extraordinary productions such as these, you can imagine Bristol Old Vic continuing for another 250 years, at least!

Running time: 3 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Hugo Glendinning
Booking until 23rd April

DVD Review: Romeo & Juliet (2013)

“For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” 
It takes a special sort of person to substantively rewrite the dialogue of Romeo and Juliet yet Julian Fellowes still took it on himself to declare Shakespeare’s writing as too impenetrable for da kidz and so replaced it with his own cod-Elizabethan script. It’s a baffling decision – the sheer wrongheadedness aside – as since the narrative of the play remains the same, and the story remains set in vaguely age-appropriate times, nothing intelligent has been done with the adaptation to mark it out as a worthy enterprise.
It’s not helped by a fatally miscast Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet, underpowered in her delivery of the text and mismatched with Douglas Booth’s Romeo, there is precisely zero chemistry between these “star cross’d lovers”. There’s always something a bit tricky about how to play the ages of these two (Juliet is meant to be 13…) but as long as they’re cast well together, it works. Here though, they are not, there’s never any danger of believing that they’ve tumbled hard and fast in love (Steinfeld being 15 would make that illegal of course!) and director Carlo Carlei is clearly at fault along with his casting directors. 
For there are moments that work here, flashes of inspiration that almost make it worthwhile to give this a watch. The experienced hands of Lesley Manville’s Nurse and Paul Giamatti’s Friar Laurence offer up interesting readings of these crucial characters and how their actions influence the plot so dramatically, plus Damien Lewis is good as a characterful Capulet. And it looks beautiful, costumes are top notch and David Tattersall’s cinematography is lush and richly painted, making strong use of fair Verona itself. 
But too often, one is left questioning the decisions made. Why is Mercutio’s hair so bad? Why is Benvolio so much younger than his friends? Why has Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech been cut but Tybalt gets a post-masked ball scene with Juliet? Why is the balcony scene so devoid of personality (and thus overladen with saccharine music)? Why is Rosaline?! It is just altogether too puzzling. The success of Downton Abbey has clearly raised Fellowes’ stock but somebody needs to say no to him and he really needs to listen.

20 shows to look forward to in 2016

2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond.

1 Escaped Alone, Royal Court

The promise of a new Caryl Churchill play alone was good enough for me, never mind the amazing casting of Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson. The reaction to the divisive Here We Go adds a little extra spice too, how will the critical establishment cope with a work about older women?!

Scott Rylander

2 Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse

Reuniting the crack team who have delivered so many musicals at this theatre, the tale of the Bouvier Beale women should provide intriguing material for stars Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell.

3 The Rolling Stone, Orange Tree

Seen in Manchester and Leeds last year, Chris Urch’s new play sees a welcome return for visionary director Ellen McDougall.

4 Clickbait, Theatre503

Is there another theatre as strong as the 503 in responding to contemporary issues with genuinely thought-provoking work as opposed to click-baiting scandal. A new perspective of women in porn is next under the spotlight.

5 Wit, Royal Exchange

Julie Hesmondhalgh’s post-Corrie career has seen her make some cracking choices and emerge as a most thoughtful actor – Margaret Edson’s Wit will only further her reputation.

6 The Faction’s Richard III, New Diorama

Sad news as this rep company bring their six year tenure at the New Diorama to a close but upping their ensemble to 21 and increasing its diversity should ensure they go out with a bang.

7 The Long Road South, King’s Head

With a cast that includes Imogen Stubbs and Michael Brandon, the intimacy of the King’s Head should be well suited to the intensity of Paul Minx’s play.

8 Nell Gwynn, Apollo

It’s a shame Gugu Mbatha-Raw couldn’t transfer with Jessica Swale’s show from its spectacular run at the Globe but it will be interesting to see how Gemma Arterton adapts to the title role.

9 Phaedra(s), Barbican

Isabelle Huppert. ISABELLE HUPPERT!

10 The Maids, Trafalgar Studios

Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton, with Laura Carmichael? One of the most exciting casts to hit the West End in ages.

11 Mrs Henderson Presents, Noël Coward

I loved this in Bath and was glad news of a transfer soon followed, even if new movie-based musicals can get treated harshly in the West End. This should run and tun though.

12 My Mother Said I Never Should, St James

“The most performed play by a female playwright” but the first revival in London for 25 years from the creative team behind Land of Our Fathers (which will be touring).

13 Talawa’s King Lear, Royal Exchange/Birmingham Rep

Marking Talawa Theatre’s 30th anniversary year, Don Warrington takes on this most mountainous of Shakespearean roles for director Michael Buffong.

14 Filter’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

It’ll be four years since I saw this at the same theatre and I can’t wait to get to revisit its lovable anarchic spirit.

15 Hamlet, RSC

Stratford-upon-Avon isn’t always the first place you look for innovative casting but Simon Godwin’s choice to have Paapa Essiedu as the Prince of Denmark along with Tanya Moodie and Cyril Nri in the cast should make this a production to look out for.

16 Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bristol Old Vic

Getting Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons onstage is one hell of a way to celebrate your 250th birthday and guaranteed to get me there.

17 Headlong’s Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Headlong always offer up interesting work and so it’ll be intriguing to see what Jeremy Herrin makes of Frank McGuinness’ 1985 play.

18 Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Kings of War, Barbican

Ironically, there were more British journalists and critics at the performance I saw in Amsterdam than you’d see at any fringe venue, all of us too impatient to wait a year to see this iconic company at work.

19 Yerma, Young Vic

With two productions late last year (The Wild Duck and Medea), Simon Stone’s directorial innovation saw him shoot up my list of must-see people. Now he takes on Lorca.

20 The Flick, National Theatre

Details are still frustrating thin on the ground for this highly acclaimed play but keep your ears to the ground as tickets are likely to fly off the shelves.

Honourable mentions

Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard

Tim Minchin’s musical of Groundhog Day at the Old Vic
Helen George in the newly announced After Miss Julie
Nick Payne’s latest for the Donmar, Elegy 

and Ivo van Hove directing The Crucible in New York City….

TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her.

As the series progresses, we see more of the people that haunt River’s psyche- manifests rather than ghosts per se – and though the overarching narrative of the series is the increasingly tangled case of Stevie’s murder, the focus is on this marvelously complex and challenging character and the in-depth study of his mental health issues. And with as subtle and nuanced an actor as Skarsgård at the helm, these issues are sensitively and searingly examined to extraordinary effect. 

Trying to support him in both personal and professional capacities are Lesley Manville’s DCI Read and Georgina Rich’s police psychologist Rosa, both with their own complications in their private lives but both offering relief of sorts to River. The scenes where Skarsgård and Manville chat away as friends rather than colleagues are brilliantly done, Manville’s drunk acting is a masterclass, as are the silent communications when things go south during a dinner party (superb writing and direction in this case too).

Walker shines in the enigmatic role of Stevie too, acting almost as a conscience for River as he uncovers more secrets about her in death than he ever imagined possible in life, and she revels in the freedom of this carefree elusiveness, her spirited gorgeousness brightening everything in a world of increasing gloom. And as matters of immigration fraud, judicial corruption and dark family secrets build to a head, her levity is needed, especially in the crushing final episode, and the way in which it is eventually introduced should melt even the hardest of hearts.

There’s also great work from Adeel Akhtar as River’s new partner DS Ira King, finding ways in which to work with such an intransigent new colleague who is forever talking to himself; Eddie Marsan as the Lambeth Poisoner who regularly pops in to chat to River; Sorcha Cusack, Turlough Convery and Jim Norton as Stevie’s Irish family, closing ranks in the face of uncomfortable truths; and brief but memorable contributions from Lydia Leonard as Ira’s furious wife and Shannon Tarbet as a moving victim.

Powerfully written by Morgan, creatively directed by Richard Laxton, Tim Fywell and Jessica Hobbs (each making London an integral part of the show too – loved the cheeky snippet of The Comedy of Errors at the Globe) and compellingly acted by a first-rate cast, I loved River from its audacious start to its punishing, uplifting finish. So much more than just another hard-bitten male-focused detective show and one of the more intelligent portrayals of mental health issues you’ll see this year, you’ll also never hear Tina Charles’ ‘I Love To Love’ the same way again. Hugely recommended.

River is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 30th November, and will be available internationally on Netflix from 18th November.