Review: Strife, Minerva

“There is only one way of treating men, with the iron hand … yield one demand and they will take six”

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays is an interesting one, full of the sort of plays I wouldn’t ever have chosen to see and so using it as a guide to stretching my theatrical viewing has been illustrative. Which is a roundabout way of saying the latest play I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself that I went to see was John Galsworthy’s 1909 Strife at the Minerva in Chichester, incidentally marking Bertie Carvel’s directorial debut.

Set around an industrial dispute at a Welsh tinplate works where a strike has been running for six months, Strife examines the stresses this places on all concerned. The workers, who don’t have the support of their union; the board, who have travelled from London to thrash out a compromise; and the firebrand leaders of each faction who might not be so different as all that, each equally stubborn in refusing to budge from their position. Continue reading “Review: Strife, Minerva”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4

“All we can do is hang on”

Rather incredibly, given the number of crime dramas there are, Cuffs is actually the BBC’s first police procedural since 2007’s Holby Blue (according to Wikipedia at least), but a rather good one it is too. Creator Julie Gearey has set the show in Brighton and its environs, the territory of the South Sussex Police service, and the first four episodes (which entertained me on a train journey back from Amsterdam) started Cuffs off so strongly that I wanted to recommend it now whilst you can still catch them all on the iPlayer.

The opening episodes are jam-packed with incident, the first part alone crammed child abduction, stolen JCBs, stabbings and a racist released from prison to give a strong sense of the relentless pace of life in the force but the writing has been particularly strong in demonstrating the peculiar demands of modern policing. Traditional boundaries of respect have been torn down so we see the police punched, spat on, and kicked in the face and also having to deal with rubberneckers filming accident scenes on their phone, and members of the public chancing their arm with harassment claims. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4”

Short Film Review #50

Passenger from HMT Productions on Vimeo.
Aaaarrgghhh – proof positive as if it were ever needed that you shouldn’t ever talk to strangers on the tube. Ed Rigg’s Passenger follows a couple at the end of a long day as they catch the Victoria Line up to Walthamstow Central and make the fatal mistake of making eye contact with the guy sitting opposite after a mildly amusing episode. Sara Vickers and Mark Quartley do a great job at capturing the helpless awkwardness of the situation but Samuel Edward-Cook really excels as the ex-serviceman who won’t leave them alone, invading their headspace as well as their personal space as the encounter becomes more and more chilling. Great work.

Review: Ghosts, Rose Theatre Kingston

“In other words, you have no idea what you’re condemning”

London has long thrived on its paranormal industry – spooky tours, famous cemeteries, Jack the Ripper and his ilk and now in its theatres, a double helping of Ghosts, albeit of Ibsen’s variety. Richard Eyre will direct his own version for the Almeida which opens next week but sneaking ahead is Stephen Unwin’s adaptation, also self-directed, for the Rose Theatre, Kingston. A co-production with English Touring Theatre, it marks the twentieth anniversary of that company but perhaps more significantly, it will be Unwin’s final production at the Rose where he has served as Artistic Director for six years.

He has a clear affinity for the Norwegian playwright – Ghosts is the second translation Unwin has written and the seventh of his plays that he has directed and upping the authenticity ante, the look of the show has taken direct inspiration from the stage designs of Edvard Munch, who designed a production in Berlin in 1906 and which have never been seen since. And the result is an extremely classy piece of theatre, one which coils up the intensity of its acting for an incendiary final act but sometimes feels like it is taking an age to get there. Continue reading “Review: Ghosts, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Armstrong’s War, Finborough

“I wanted something to be true but it wasn’t”

In the rehab unit of St Vincent’s Hospital, 21 year old Canadian soldier Michael Armstrong is back home recovering from his war wounds after a IED blast in Afghanistan. But though his physical wounds are healing, there’s more than a hint of post traumatic stress disorder about the young man as he seems happiest hiding away under his bed and chatting with the imaginary presence of his friend and comrade Robbie. A half-forgotten decision to let a girl guide read to him to earn a Community Service merit badge rouses him out of his stupor as it turns out his particular helper wheelchair-bound Halley, is a fearsome whirlwind of good intentions and over the six weekly visits it takes her to get the award, the pair find themselves connected in ways they could never have imagined.

Colleen Murphy’s new play Armstrong’s War may be having a criminally short run at the Finborough before its official premiere in Canada later this year, but this production touched me like hardly any other play I’ve seen recently and left me confident it is one of the better pieces of theatre I have seen all year. The way in which this unlikely pair develop such an intense relationship is extraordinarily done over 90 short minutes, the depth of the emotion it provokes is devastatingly honest and true, the performances under Jennifer Bakst’s direction unflinchingly raw and exposed, all combining to create the kind of theatre that lingers long in the mind. Continue reading “Review: Armstrong’s War, Finborough”

Review: Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

“Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more”

What is it that makes a hit? Jamie Lloyd’s Macbeth, the first show in his Trafalgar Transformed residency at the Trafalgar Studios, has rapidly become one of the hottest tickets in town, selling out nearly all of its shows and inspiring epic levels of queuing for the dayseats.  And the audience it has drawn, at this show at least, felt significantly younger than one would usually see at a West End house. So something has clearly worked in the marketing of Shakespeare’s tragedy to make it the kind of success that they most likely hadn’t dared dream of. In light of that, it seems almost immaterial that I predominantly found it a disappointing production.  

It was a fascinating experience to see the reactions of fresher eyes to a play whose ubiquity, arguably, does not necessarily correlate with its quality. For all its noble brutality and visceral poetry, it can be something of a hard ask in its later stages, no more so than in Act 4 Scene 3 which is the stuff of theatrical nightmares, yet it remains popular. And in Lloyd’s production with its Kensington Gore-splattered imagining of a near-future dystopian Scotland (the consequence of independence…?) and frequent bold strokes especially in Soutra Gilmour’s design which cleverly opens out, it clearly connected with its teenage audience from their frequent audible reactions.

But for me, much of it underwhelmed. My major problem was with the clarity of the verse-speaking, not with the Scots accent before I’m labelled a Sassenach, but in the establishment of a speaking style that replaced subtlety and rhythm with speed and volume. Throw in the gas masks of the weird sisters and I was left extremely glad that it was a text I was familiar with. The overall impression is one which evokes a spiralling inevitability to the end but so much is lost on the journey as the richness of Shakespeare’s words is plundered.

James McAvoy (returning to a role he has acted on television before) brings an undeniable energy to Macbeth himself but in most effective in the rare moments where the BPM is reduced to allow something profound to grow out of this interpretation. He lacks any chemistry with Claire Foy’s Lady Macbeth though, her delivery being one which really rankled with me, which undermines one of the strongest motors of the plot and as with many modernisations, the removal of nobility from the set-up – this Macbeth always feels like a fighting terrorist – somehow lessens its impact. 

There’s good work from Forbes Masson as Banquo, Hugh Ross as Duncan and Allison Mackenzie’s Lady Macduff – I still remain unsure about Jamie Ballard’s Macduff but I think that’s as much to do with my own preconceptions about the character. And ultimately that’s what I was left thinking, about how much we carry expectation into productions of play that we’ve seen so many times. Whilst I’d rather they hadn’t laughed so much at the darker moments, it was pleasing to see theatre connect with a younger audience even as my jaded blogger’s pencil dismissed it as uninspired. It’s a good job I only have two more Macbeths (so far) in the calendar ahead… 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 27th April

2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations”