Review: The Deep Blue Sea, National

“My God, how I hate getting tangled up in other people’s emotions.”

For such a enduringly magnificent play and a lead part considered “one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama”, it’s then a little surprising (and sad) that it has been a good while since we’ve seen a major production of The Deep Blue Sea, especially given the number of Hamlets and Lears we continually get. 2011 saw Maxine Peake and Amanda Root take on Hester in Leeds and Chichester respectively but now, Helen McCrory stakes her claim as one of the finest living British actors in playing the part at the National Theatre. 

The production sees her reunite with director Carrie Cracknell after their striking Medea, and their collaboration similarly heightens the blistering emotion of the drama. Terence Rattigan’s story of shattered lives in a shattered post-WWII society drew heavily on his own tumultuous romantic life, homosexual subtext thus coded into the tale of a woman unable to maintain the veneer of respectability to a judge she does not love, instead opting to plunge into the instability of an affair with a troubled former RAF pilot. Continue reading “Review: The Deep Blue Sea, National”

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”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)

“I will not allow a woman’s nature to be more unconstant than a man’s”

This was actually my first interaction with Persuasion, the novel has languished on my bookshelf for years and I’ve never seen an adaptation before, so it was an interesting experience to take the story in for the first time with this ITV adaptation starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Simon Burke’s adaptation condenses Austen’s work right down to 90 minutes, which means a lot may well have been lost, but it also made a great introduction for a novice.

After an engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth eight years ago which crumbled in the face of her family’s disapproval, Anne Elliot finds herself on the shelf at 27. When her father and sister’s lavish lifestyle requires a downsizing of their household, life seems set to change for good as their beloved Kellynch Hall has to be let out to tenants. But the world is a small place and the connections that emerge between her sister’s household where she goes to stay and the new tenants, the Crofts, ensure that the past is not so easily left behind. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)”

Fed up with football? World Cup theatre offers

“Football crazy, football mad”

The World Cup kicks off on Thursday 12th June in São Paolo and will run for a goodly month as 64 games are played throughout Brazil (I’m tipping Bosnia and Colombia to do well, and Rooney to get sent off in his first game). Television and work schedules will be all askew as people try and wrestle with the time difference so the people at Theatre People have teamed up with a starting squad of West End stars to highlight a month of offers and discounts to wide range of shows which offer an alternative to sitting in and watching men in shorts on telly.  Continue reading “Fed up with football? World Cup theatre offers”

Re-review: Handbagged, Vaudeville

 “One had to laugh”

Definitely something of a luxury revisit this one, my third time seeing it. But as Moira Buffini’s Handbagged has grown from a sketch as part of the Tricycle’s 2010 Women, Power and Politics season through to an Olivier-winning full length play which has now transferred into the West End, the chance to see its third incarnation was one I couldn’t resist. Not just seeing it on a larger stage, the one change to the cast from last year’s Tricycle production was what sold it to me. 

Lucy Robinson may not be the most recognisable name out there but she played the first Lady Macbeth I ever saw on stage (at the Bolton Octagon) and she also starred in the most amazing schlocky late-night soap called Revelations back in the 90s which I was obsessed with at the time. She replaces Clare Holman as the younger version of the Queen (Liz) who locks horns regularly with Fenella Woolgar’s awesomely impressive Thatcher (Mags), in a hugely entertaining manner.  Continue reading “Re-review: Handbagged, Vaudeville”

Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre

“I’d be surprised if part of the audience didn’t feel alienated”

A dissection of “what it means to be a woman today”, Blurred Lines is a devised piece currently occupying the Shed, created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell and the result of improvisation and experimentation with the cast of eight women. The show utilises text (effectively), poetry (interestingly) and songs (less than successfully) woven together into a patchwork piece of theatre. Naturally, the end result is somewhat uneven and it was hard not to feel that the almost scattershot approach mutes the overall impact of the work as the attention flashes from moment to moment. 

For me, the strongest sequences were the ones bookending the show, which comes in at a snappy 70 minutes straight through. A roll call of the stereotypical depictions of women in the cultural sphere speaks with the unassailable truth that has undoubtedly dogged the careers of everyone here, reinforcing the narrative about the paucity of decent roles for women. And a blistering final segment challenges a patriarchal actor/director relationship, asking searing questions about what we all may have been conditioned to find acceptable.  Continue reading “Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre”

Review: Handbagged, Tricycle

“We are both Britain”

Moira Buffini’s Handbagged started life as a short play as part of the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics season back in 2010 and now, in a fully fleshed out version, it returns to Kilburn to imagine the relationship that might have existed between two of the most significant British women of the last century – the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. But much has happened in the meantime, not least Peter Morgan having a huge success with a play that also depicted the relationship between monarch and Prime Minister(s) and the small matter of the death of the UK’s first female head of government.

Perhaps conscious of the impossibility of trying to envisage what was really said between the pair,  Buffini opts instead for a meta-theatrical fantasia and huge fun it is. Older incarnations of the women (Q and T) interact with their younger selves (Liz and Mags), each giving us their own take on Thatcher’s reign through the weekly meetings held with the Queen, whilst two actors play any number of supporting characters – Reagans Ronald and Nancy, Rupert Murdoch, Neil Kinnock, a simple palace footman, the list goes on… As one of them recounts an event, the others pass comment, challenge memories, offer explanatory excuses, even break entirely out of character sometimes.

Continue reading “Review: Handbagged, Tricycle”

DVD Review: All or Nothing

“Love, it’s like a dripping tap”

First up was 2002’s All or Nothing, though it was a little of an inauspicious beginning, as I’m not sure how much I actually liked this film in the end. Set on a modern-day London council estate, it circles the fortunes of three working-class families and their everyday lives, so far so Leigh, but it doesn’t really develop into anything that gripped me. There are several outstandingly strong elements in here, but they never really coalesce into an effective whole but rather remain too separate and thus end up losing some impact.

The focus settles on one of the families: Phil, Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has long lost ambition for life and is reduced to scraping pennies from his family in order to pay his retainer for the taxi firm; Penny, Lesley Manville, works the checkout at a supermarket and is struggling to remember what it is she ever loved about Phil. Alison Garland plays their daughter Rachel who works as a cleaner in an old people’s home and is being semi-stalked by Sam Kelly’s much older colleague and James Corden is their unemployed and belligerent son. There’s a whole lot of misery, which is then alleviated by tragedy, which ultimately suggests that life might hold something more. Continue reading “DVD Review: All or Nothing”