The 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced

Proper award season is starting to kick into gear now with the reveal of the shortlist for the 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards and an uncharacteristically strong set of nominations that will surprise a fair few. I had little love for Sweet Charity so I’d’ve bumped its nod for something else but generally speaking, I’m loving the love for Dorfman shows and the Royal Court and I hate the reminder that there’s a couple of things I mistakenly decided not to see (Out of Water, …kylie jenner)

BEST ACTOR in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group
K. Todd Freeman Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Francis Guinan Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Tom Hiddleston Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre
Wendell Pierce Death of a Salesman, Young Vic & Piccadilly
Andrew Scott Present Laughter, Old Vic

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS in partnership with Christian Louboutin
Hayley Atwell Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s
Cecilia Noble Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman) & Faith, Hope and Charity, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Dame Maggie Smith A German Life, Bridge
Juliet Stevenson The Doctor, Almeida
Anjana Vasan A Doll’s House, Lyric Hammersmith Continue reading “The 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards – Shortlist announced”

Review: A German Life, Bridge Theatre

A German Life at the Bridge Theatre marks a titanic return to the London stage for Dame Maggie Smith

“I don’t know whether God exists, probably not, but what certainly does exist is evil. And there’s no justice”

Just a quickie for this, even though Dame Maggie Smith clearly deserves more respect for her return to the London stage after 12 years away. A German Life takes the form of a 100 minute monologue that takes the breath away, not only in the technical skill and stamina for someone over the age of 80 but in the size and sensitivity of the subject matter at hand,

Smith plays Brunhilde Pomsel, a regular German woman whose work as a secretary took her through many employers, one of whom just happened to be the Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. As she reflects back on her life, there’s an appalling compelling account of everyday life in the midst of the rise of such a virulently extreme ideology as Nazism. Continue reading “Review: A German Life, Bridge Theatre”

TV Review: Nothing Like a Dame

I finally get round to catching up with the glories of Nothing Like a Dame – Atkins, Dench, Plowright, Smith, nothin’ acts like these dames

“There’s this new girl…”

Peter Bradshaw wittily deemed Nothing Like a Dame ” an Avengers: Infinity War of theatrical anecdotery” and as the likes of Peggy, Sir John, and Larry are casually namedropped, you can’t help but disagree. But when the people around the table are Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith, it’s a wonder they’re not dropping more! Continue reading “TV Review: Nothing Like a Dame”

DVD Review: Gnomeo and Juliet

“The story you’re about to hear as been told before, a lot”

Oh my giddy aunt, I wasn’t expecting that! Kelly Asbury’s computer-animated reworking of Romeo and Juliet (backed financially by Disney) takes us to the world of Verona Drive where elderly neighbours Mrs Montague and Mr Capulet spend their days bickering and sniping at each other whilst tending their equally impressive back gardens. And when their backs are turned, their garden gnomes come to life and play out the same conflict in miniature. Such is the world of Gnomeo and Juliet.

It is very much a family film so therefore this is very much an adaptation of the Bard and for me, it’s a rather entertaining one, if you’re seriously missing Mercutio then you’re seriously missing the point. James McAvoy’s effervescent blue-hat Gnomeo and Emily Blunt’s spirited red-hat Juliet make a highly charming couple, who fall for each other despite the enmity between their clans as typified by fierce back-alley lawnmower racing. But when things go too far – in a sequence that I actually found quite shocking, and moving – it seems that tragedy is destined to haunt this pair no matter what form they take. Continue reading “DVD Review: Gnomeo and Juliet”

DVD Review: Richard III (1995)

“I am not made of stone”

The boldness of Shakespearean adaptation can be a car crash when it goes wrong but when it is right, as in this 1995 version of Richard III, it is utterly thrilling. From the crashing of a tank through walls and subsequent gory executions into the jaunty sway of 1930s music, Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s idiosyncratic reshaping of the story, first seen at the NT in 1992, is cannily and compellingly done. And because it has been done well, one is far more inclined to grant the liberties that have been taken with the text, because they’re reasoned and reasonable.

Relocated to a parallel version of 1930s Britain in which years of civil war has bred fascism, Richard of York’s rise to power has never seemed quite so chilling as it does here. An ingenious use of British landmarks put to different use cleverly disorients the audience but never so much that it seems too far beyond belief. So Battersea Power Station becomes a coastal military base, St Pancras is substituted for Westminster, and the visuals are just stunning throughout, culminating in a genuinely breath-taking rally.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Richard III (1995)”

DVD Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The proof of our success is we’re victims of it”

The news of a sequel to the better-than-I-thought-it-would-be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was received with something of a heavy heart, the automatic assumption being that it wouldn’t, couldn’t, match the success of the first film. But dangnabbit if ain’t actually, possibly, slightly better. Managing the not inconsiderable feat of reuniting the vast majority of the ensemble with writer Ol Parker and director John Madden, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel navigates many of the pitfalls of sequels to produce a story that is at times, deeply moving.

It manages this by emphasising its strengths in its stunning array of acting talent and really capitalising on the universe it built up. Though there are a couple of new faces (Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig), the film focuses on a genuine continuation of story and character. We return to the Indian city of Jaipur where Dev Patel’s Sonny and Maggie Smith’s Muriel’s retirement home is going great guns and they’re looking for finance for a new location, dependent on the results from an anonymous inspection (which is where Gere and Greig come in, thankfully briefly). Continue reading “DVD Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

DVD Review: My Old Lady

“I do not see the wonder of you”

It doesn’t feel too much to ask for a film starring Dames Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas to be worthy of their talent but in My Old Lady, there’s a definite sense of squandering in the air. Written and directed by the American Israel Horovitz, and adapted from his own play, the film makes good use of its Paris location, deep in the Marais, but elsewhere lacks any real sense of justification.

Kevin Kline plays New Yorker Mathias, a recovering alcoholic and failed playwright who journeys to the French capital on learning his father has left him an apartment there in his will. The valuation of 12 million euros pleases him but the discovery of a sitting tenant in the form of Smith’s 92-year-old Mathilde does not. For his father bought the place as a viager, an archaic French legal curiosity that allows the previous owner to remain there ‘til they die, receiving a monthly stipend in lieu of the price of the house. Continue reading “DVD Review: My Old Lady”

DVD Review: Ladies in Lavender

“He might like some of my bottled pears”

A world where the purchase of pilchards instead of coley is the height of excitement seems about right for Ladies in Lavender, the 2004 film written and directed by Charles Dance, from a short story by William J Locke. In a sleepy Cornish fishing village, sisters Janet and Ursula Widdington are living out their days in content co-habitation but the discovery of a shipwreck victim on the beach near their house rumples their quiet existence as they nurse the foreigner back to health.

It’s all very genteel and formally unexciting, the writing veers from soapy contrivances to unsatisfying denouements and it’s hard to get too excited about the film. Where Ladies in Lavender delivers in bucketloads is in casting Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as the sisters, allowing them to work wonders with the slightest of material. Smith’s forthright war widow and Dench’s more wistful spinster imbue their scenes with such aching grace, that you almost forgive the plotting.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Ladies in Lavender”

DVD Review: My House in Umbria

“There are, naturally, laughter lines”

As with Ladies in Lavender (which also starred Dame Maggie Smith), early 2000s film My House in Umbria has the distinct air of talcum powder about it, a fustiness that comes its uninspired and frankly tedious ‘niceness’. Richard Loncraine made this film for US cable channel HBO and so some of its overly manneredness could be forgiven as a sop to that market, but it doesn’t change how terribly dated it feels.

Based on a short story by William Trevor, Hugh Whitemore’s screenplay does little to inject any kind of life into the tale, happy instead to potter around lackadaisically. Smith plays Emily Delahunty, a writer of pulpy romance novels who has decamped to the Italian countryside with faithful pal Quinty (Timothy Spall). La bella vita is interrupted though when a bomb explodes on a train she’s on but after she escapes unscathed, she invites the rest of the survivors to recuperate at her villa.  Continue reading “DVD Review: My House in Umbria”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”