Review: Oslo, National Theatre

“The Americans cannot stand it when others take the lead”

What does it take to get peace in the Middle East? Some determined Norwegians and a plate or two of tasty waffles apparently… At a leisurely three hours in length and set around the Oslo Peace Accords, JT Rogers’ Oslo might not on the face of it seem like theatrical gold but it won a Tony on Broadway and such was the confidence in this production that a West End run was booked in to follow its short engagement at the National before a ticket had even been sold.

And it is a confidence that has paid off handsomely. Bartlett Sher’s direction has an epic sweep to its depiction of world affairs but Rogers’ writing shines through its focus on the intimate detail, on the personal struggle, sacrifice and success of the individuals who managed to break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and work towards the unimaginable – a lasting peace. History has shown us the reality of that, something acknowledged in a coda here, but it is still thrilling to watch. Continue reading “Review: Oslo, National Theatre”

A whole load of Friday casting news

I want to be able to resist anything to do with Alan Ayckbourn but the cast and creatives for Chichester’s production of The Norman Conquests is making it very hard indeed. Wunderkind director Blanche McIntyre is at the helm of a company for the trilogy of plays that consists of Jonathan Broadbent, Trystan Gravelle, Sarah Hadland, John Hollingworth, Hattie Ladbury and Jemima Rooper. Best get booking then…

Continue reading “A whole load of Friday casting news”

TV Review: Apple Tree Yard

“Before I met you I was a civilised woman”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty, psychodrama Apple Tree Yard has proved itself most watercooler-worthy with its twisting plot, classy cast and yes, controversial moments making it a hit thriller for the BBC. The story revolves around Yvonne Carmichael – celebrated scientist, mother of two, wife to Gary – who, when a chance encounter at work leads to an unexpected quickie with a literal tall dark and handsome stranger, finds her entire world tipped upside down by the consequences that follow.

Written by Amanda Coe and directed by Jessica Hobbs, the first episode plays out as a rather marvellous exploration of a 40-something woman rediscovering her sexuality and having the kind of illicit affair that makes you write naff diary entries (as Yvonne does…). But by the end of the first hour, the drama takes the first of several hard turns as [spoiler alert] she is brutally raped by a colleague. The use of rape as a dramatic device is one which should always be interrogated but here, coming from the text as it does and its devastating impact detailed as painstakingly as it was in episode 2, it felt appropriately handled and never gratuitous. Continue reading “TV Review: Apple Tree Yard”

Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida

“Is it just road-making that’s put you in such a good mood?”

Richard Eyre’s revelatory take on Ibsen’s Ghosts was a deserving multiple Olivier winner last year so it is little surprise to see the Almeida asking him back for more, this time taking on one of his later plays Little Eyolf. And as with Ghosts, the play has been coaxed and condensed into interval-free intensity, the perfect frame for its arresting modernity.

And it is surprising, as though written in 1894, its portrayal of fraught sexual tension in a marriage is as direct and frank a exploration of female sexuality (and sexual desire) as any playwright has come up with since. In the cooling calm of Tim Hatley’s set, Rita Allmers is a wife and mother but finds those roles in conflict as she resents son Eyolf for distracting husband Alfred’s attentions away from her. Continue reading “Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida”

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. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”

69th Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Steven Boyer – Hand to God as Jason/Tyrone
Bradley Cooper – The Elephant Man as John Merrick
Ben Miles – Wolf Hall Parts One & Two as Thomas Cromwell
Bill Nighy – Skylight as Tom Sergeant
Alex Sharp – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as Christopher Boone

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Geneva Carr – Hand to God as Margery
Helen Mirren – The Audience as Queen Elizabeth II
Elisabeth Moss – The Heidi Chronicles as Heidi Holland
Carey Mulligan – Skylight as Kyra Hollis
Ruth Wilson – Constellations as Marianne

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Michael Cerveris – Fun Home as Bruce Bechdel
Robert Fairchild – An American in Paris as Jerry Mulligan
Brian d’Arcy James – Something Rotten! as Nick Bottom
Ken Watanabe – The King and I as The King of Siam
Tony Yazbeck – On the Town as Gabey Continue reading “69th Tony Award nominations”

Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre

“He needs to be on the side of the light”

Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the Booker Price twice when the literary behemoth that was Wolf Hall was followed up by the equally considerable Bring Up The Bodies. And whilst we wait for the third part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy – The Mirror and the Light – thoughts have turned quickly to adaptation. The BBC will be airing a six-part version by Peter Straughan in the future but the RSC have readied a theatrical interpretation of the novels by Mike Poulton which is now playing in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The shows can be seen separately, but are clearly designed to fit together (Wolf Hall has as close as the theatre gets to a cliffhanger ending!) and there are opportunities to see them on the same day.

At first glance, they may not seem the most likely choice for staging – set in the court of Henry VIII as he looks for ways of getting rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he might plant Anne Boleyn in her stead, these are all-too-familiar events. But Mantel’s magic was to tell the story through the eyes and mind of Thomas Cromwell, the wily commoner who worked his way up through the ranks to become one of the most influential man in the realm. Additionally, her magnificent present-tense prose brought Tudor England to life like never before, a rich attention to detail making this universe feel new-minted, as if anything could happen, not just what the history books say. Continue reading “Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre”