Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope Theatre

“My work gets a bit poofy when I get nervous”

One of my favourite things to experience in the theatre is that sweet spot of just being happy to spend time with the characters presented to you. Much of that is down to the writing but a good deal of it also comes from how the production interprets it and so I’m delighted to report that I happily spent a couple of hours with the ladies of the Hope Theatre’s Steel Magnolias, and could easily spend a couple more, with my cup of ice tea, my fan with a pastel-coloured parrot on it (available to buy at the box office) and much love in my heart.

Robert Harling’s 1987 play found fame in the film version that was released a couple of years later but works exceptionally well here as a study in multi-generational female friendship. Over the course of 4 scenes in 3 years, we experience the trials and tribulations of the patrons of a Louisana beauty salon but despite the drama – and what tear-jerking drama it is – the beauty of Steel Magnolias comes in the everyday relationships and interplay of these women, their fallings-out and friendships, their sharing of recipes and gossip alike, the minutiae of life writ large. Continue reading “Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope Theatre”

Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union

“You won’t get that out a book on prison procedure
When those suits get caught on the hook, that’s when they need ya”

Bad Girls ran for eight years on ITV, covering the whole gamut of women’s prison storylines from the sublime to the senseless, and now the women of HMP Larkhall live on in Bad Girls the Musical, written by original creators Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus with music and lyrics by Kath Gotts. Taking many of the characters and fashioning its own story from a range of plotlines across the lifetime of the show, Will Keith’s production for the Union makes for an effective translation from screen to stage.

Perhaps naturally, given the size of the 17-strong company and the number of introductions that thus need to be made (even for those familiar with the TV show), the main thrust of the story takes a little time to come into focus. The corrupt practices of prison officer Jim Fenner, fond of doling out privileges in return for sexual favours, eventually crystallises the motives of the diverse cast of inmates but there’s also the slow burning relationship between lifer Nikki and reformist governor Helen that adds to a book which may seem slight but is ultimately dramatically satisfying.  Continue reading “Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union”

Short Film Review #34

Korriró

The Icelandic Vesturport company are well known here for their theatre work – I’ve seen their collaborations on Faust and The Heart of Robin Hood – but they are also film producers, both long and short. The first of their shorts that I caught was Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s Korriró as it starred two actors I’ve previously seen – Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir and Gísli Örn Garðarsson. Filippusdóttir plays a homeless woman who happens on an open garage door into a luxury home which offers a brief respite from the drudgery of her life. It is beautifully shot and uncompromisingly direct – confronting us all with our attitudes towards the homeless and those from whom we avert our gaze.


The Last Temptation of William Shaw

Described as a promotional trailer for the upcoming feature ‘My Power Animal is the Pigeon” (of which I can find no trace), The Last Temptation of William Shaw has the double whammy benefit of a shirtless Daniel Ings and an animated Ings too. A mixture of live action and animation from Alois Di Leo and Mat Rawlins, it’s only brief but intriguingly effective – I wonder if there’s any future life in the Pigeon. 

Gone to the Dogs

Liz Tuccillo’s Gone to the Dogs captures perfectly the most annoying aspects of the anthropomorphisation of having a dog, which seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in our culture, whilst also managing to remind us of its sheer inconsequentiality. When a latecomer to a dinner party brings along her pooch as a plus one and brings him to the table, the scene is set for some serious debate about how far we’re willing to go for our animals and it is all engagingly good. Great stuff, and the presence of the ever-excellent Martha Plimpton makes it even better. 

Bloom

On paper, I ought to have really liked Bloom – a gentle rom-com in the making with shades of Little Shop of Horrors, but it never really quite manages to hit the mark. Amanda Root’s shy Helen is more than a little surprised when her tidy flat is taken over by marauding greenery and though she has never previously said a word to her neighbour, Richard Hope’s green-fingered Richard, it soon emerges he is her only hope. Emma Scott Robinson’s script doesn’t establish the characters well enough to make us care though and so it passes by amiably enough but never compelling. 

A Sunny Morning

Charlie Cox is one of those actors I wish I could see more of, he doesn’t work anywhere near enough for my liking (plus I haven’t gotten round to starting Boardwalk Empire yet) so I was glad to be able to spot him in a couple of shorts. Joseph Proctor’s A Sunny Morning is a simple two hander also starring Sophia Myles as a couple enter the aftermath of an argument with her having decided on something big. Clues are there – a copy of Hedda Gabler is on the nightstand next to her wedding ring – but as she and her husband chat, will her resolve falter? Cox is delightfully handsome as ever in his ruffled way but the film really belongs to Myles and her hugely expressive face, full of subtleties and emotion captured beautifully in Trevor Speed’s cinematography.

Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,St Leonard’s Church

There’s a concept, Cunningham, called “playing the card you are  dealt” – one can either accept that concept, or, one can slowly lose their mind, heart and soul.”

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot premiered in the UK back in 2008 at the Almeida with a colourful and sharp production from Headlong. Producer/director and latterly actor Antony Law’s revival down the road in St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch has removed the colour for an altogether more severe aesthetic and, although there are two sets of cushions on the pews, it is a severity that punishes your posterior as much as anything. The setting of the church has a sombre beauty and occasional acoustic challenges aside, offers a grandeur to this courtroom-set drama with its Alice-in-Wonderland-style oversized judge’s platform but Law rarely exploits the potential of this unique venue and the production suffers a little for it.

Set in Purgatory, the point where souls await their ultimate destination of either heaven or hell, Guirgis puts Judas in the dock and in something of a show trial, a vastly eclectic range of witnesses are called not just to explore the reasons behind his betrayal of Jesus but a wider examination of what it means to be good or to be responsible. So contemporaries like Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas the Elder are interrogated for their culpability whilst luminaries such as Sigmund Freud and Mother Teresa find themselves under the spotlight as their reputations are questioned too. It’s a heady mixture of intellectual argument and showboating pizazz, difficult to pull off and only intermittently successful here.

The gravitas of the more serious side never really rings true, led by a performance from Laurence Bouvard as defence attorney Fabiana Aziza Cunningham which is a little too one note and devoid of the subtleties necessary to pull us into her argument. She is not helped by the blank canvas that Priyank Morjaria conveys as Judas, so passive a figure even in flashback that it is hard to credit all the fuss being made over him. This air of faux-sincerity creeps in elsewhere too – Peter Marinker’s Caiaphas a stand-out exception along with the genuine humility of Tom Greaves’ Jesus – and it is in these moments that one really feels the somewhat indulgent length of the piece, especially in the coda.    

Where this production does succeed is in the flashier, funnier side of things with a series of vivid portrayals that grip the attention. Michael Aguilo’s sycophantic prosecuting lawyer smarms and creeps marvellously, Shereen Russell’s Saint Monica wisecracks and flirts viciously, Kathy Trevelyan’s Mother Teresa almost heretically amusing. And proving that the devil always gets the best parts, Jeremiah O’Connor shines as a sharp-suited Satan, all suave swagger until provoked into unleashing a devastatingly well-played tirade that is the show’s highlight. One is tempted to return a hung jury for this uneven production of an uneven show but in the end, the highs probably outweigh the lows.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval) 

Booking until 19th May

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Mary Rose, Riverside Studios

“I like your spirit…”

Ghost stories are notoriously to get right on stage: the scarcity of genuinely chilling writing is often over-compensated for by productions stuffed with cheap scare tactics and thus it is a genre that I have tended to avoid. But the prospect of a classic ghost story written in 1920 by JM Barrie (with whom I share a birthday) tempted me sufficiently to book for Mary Rose at the Riverside Studios.

And on the surface, it is a conventional ghost story. We open in a creepy and creaky drawing room where a soldier returning to his childhood home from the First World War battlefields find it abandoned and laden with stories of ghosts that haunt its corridors and rooms. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover the tale of the Morland family whose daughter, the titular Mary Rose, disappears on a holiday to a remote Hebridean island only to reemerge some three weeks later as if nothing had happened. Her childlike demeanour persists into married young motherhood, but the lure of the island remains strong and on a return trip, she disappears once more, this time not returning for more than 20 years. Continue reading “Review: Mary Rose, Riverside Studios”