Review: The White Devil, Swan

“Sum up my faults, I pray”

It feels a bit of a shame that one of the centrepieces of the RSC’s Roaring Girls season is a play that doesn’t manage gender parity in its cast, even with some cross-gender casting. This may speak of the nature of Jacobean Theatre, for it is Webster’s The White Devil of which we speak here, but Maria Aberg’s reputation precedes her and so it was a little disappointing to see that the opportunity hasn’t been seized here – if not now, then when?
 

And though I’d heard such great things about this production, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed here. Part of lies in the play itself – I can’t deny that I just don’t really like it and though it is updated to the debauchery of the 1980s Rome club scene here, the messy chaos of the pursuit of naked self-interest that proves Aberg’s main focus dominates too much and often to the detriment of the storytelling. Continue reading “Review: The White Devil, Swan”

TV Review: The Thirteenth Tale

Do you believe in ghosts”

The BBC having decided that we needed to be scared this Christmas put on this ghost story, adapted from a novel by Diane Setterfield. In many ways, The Thirteenth Tale ticks the boxes of the stereotypes of the genre – ginger people, creepy twin girls, a haunted house, a spooky housekeeper not telling the new governess everything, a disembodied girl’s voice singing nursery rhymes. But putting a twist in, it also adds Vanessa Redgrave in a ginger wig and Olivia Colman with her serious face on to make a melodramatic but somewhat unsatisfying piece of television.

Redgrave plays Vida Winter, a dying novelist whose most famous work was called Thirteen Tales despite only containing twelve, and whose biographical details have long been surrounded by obfuscation and contradictions. As the wolf comes baying at the door, as she describes her end-stage pancreatic cancer, she summons biographer Margaret Lea to her home to finally tell the truth about her life. But Vida’s choice was no accident and as Margaret peels through the impenetrable layers of the thirteenth tale, she is forced to face up to her own stories. Continue reading “TV Review: The Thirteenth Tale”

TV Review: Luther, Series 3

 “You assert this fabulous moral conscience John, this adherence to unwritten law”

Despite finding Ruth Wilson’s performance as Alice Morgan one of the greatest things on TV, it was with a slightly heavy heart that I heard she would be returning to Luther for its third series. The way in which she was crowbarred into the second was no great success and I feared that familiarity might breed yet more contempt, but my faith in writer/creator Neil Cross was strong enough to see me through, along with the news that favourite-in-these-parts Elliot Cowan would be part of the guest cast. 

The 4 part series essentially took the form of two 2-parters – the first making literal the horror trope of there being something under the bed and the second exploring vigilante justice, along with a series-long story which saw Internal Affairs turn the heat on Luther himself, trying to get to the bottom of just why so many of the people around him ended up dead. This latter strand didn’t really work for me, rehashing Dermot Crowley’s Schenk’s original role in the show, and adding a note of false jeopardy that never felt like it was going to go anywhere substantive. Continue reading “TV Review: Luther, Series 3”

TV Review: The Town

“Apparently once death seems possible, the idea catches on”

One of the things about winding down the theatregoing at Christmas is being able to catch up on some of the television that I rarely have time to watch normally, and doing so at my parents’ house is particularly ace because of their awesome telly. First up for me was The Town, an ITV three-parter written by one of the hottest playwrights in the country Mike Bartlett. Upping the ante was a cast that included Julia McKenzie, Andrew Scott, Douglas Hodge and also Phil Davis and Siobhan Redmond.

I have long been a fan of Redmond so I was pleased to see the opening moments of the show devoted to her as her character went about the rituals at the end of her day including saying goodnight to her husband as played by Phil Davis. I was then gutted as this proved to be a great case of misdirection as they were both then found dead the next morning by their teenage daughter Jodie, never to be seen again. As their son Mark returns to bury them in this provincial town he left 10 years ago to move to London, the show then deals with the difficulties in returning to a less than lamented hometown, combined with the growing sense that the deaths – recorded as a joint suicide – are less clear-cut than the police would seem to think. Continue reading “TV Review: The Town”

Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican

“Tis not, I know, my lust, but tis my fate that leads me on”

A quick glance at my Top 25 Plays of 2011 on the right sidebar will show you that Cheek by Jowl’s The Tempest was one of the absolute highlights of my theatregoing year and so by rights, I ought to have been highly excited for the company’s return to the Barbican with ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore. But it was the Russian sister company that took on Shakespeare last year and my only other experience with CbJ’s English work was a rather painfully dull take on Macbeth, also at the Barbican, which meant I was a little equivocal about this prospect. Great word-of-mouth persuaded me to take the risk though, booking for late in the run, and it was well-founded as it turned out to be a highly inventive, energetic and deeply sexy evening at the theatre.

It was my first experience of the Jacobean tragedy, a cautionary tale about the problems of wanting to bonk your sister, which has been thoroughly revitalised in this modern-dress version which pulses along with the punchy soundtrack that starts the show along with a rather fun full-cast dance routine. Giovanni comes back from university, full of incestuous thoughts about his sister Annabella who is being pursued by a number of suitors. But as it turns out, she only has eyes for her brother too and though she ends up betrothed to Soranzo, watched by the vengeful Hippolita, the ramifications of their love have a deadly impact as religion, culture, corruption and morality collide. Continue reading “Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican”