Review: The Red Barn, National

“It’s as if I have lived my whole life with the handbrake on”

On booking for The Red Barn, you’re advised that “due to the tense nature of the play, there will be no re-admittance”. The play – written by David Hare from the 1968 novel La Main by Georges Simenon – is also described as a psychological thriller on the website. It all adds up to a certain degree of expectation about what kind of show it is one is going to see and even though this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, I’ve seen a few shows and know the danger of anticipation, it is often hard not to carry the weight of those expectations with you as you take your seat.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that Robert Icke’s production of The Red Barn was not the play I thought it would be. And that my initial slightly cool reaction was as much a response to that as it was to the material itself. Set in the depths of a Connecticut winter, two couples make their way home from a party and when one of the men doesn’t make it back, it is the consequences of that that makes up the meat of the play. Specifically, it’s how the other man of the group reacts, both right then and from then on, that Simenon and Hare and Icke probe into.
And with Mark Strong at the helm as this model of quiet desperation – a lawyer called Donald Dodd – it’s a subtly devastating portrayal of masculine inadequacy, quiet and measured in its approach and some tableaux even play out like still life paintings. Whether interacting with the unflinching pragmatism of his wife Ingrid or the strange allure of his friend’s widow Mona, played exceptionally by Hope Davis and Elizabeth Debicki respectively, deep emotional truths are stripped back layer by layer as we get closer to the ‘truth’ of what happened, not just on that fateful night but also leading up to it.
And perhaps cognisant of the potential for sterility, Icke’s major directorial innovation is to commission the most cinematic of set designs from Bunny Christie. Using sliding screens to force our perspective as if trapped in a viewfinder, and only revealing certain areas at certain times, we’re constantly reminded of the bigger picture and rarely we ever see it all. Tom GIbbons’ rumbling sound and Paule Constable’s haunting lighting amplify the artistic, and artful, feel, converting The Red Barn from your average piece of theatre into something altogether more subtly nuanced.
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 17th January

70th Tony nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Frank Langella, The Father 
Gabriel Byrne, Long Day’s Journey into Night 
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird 
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III 
Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey into Night 
Laurie Metcalf, Misery 
Lupita Nyong’o, Eclipsed 
Sophie Okonedo, The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Leslie Odom, Jr, Hamilton
Alex Brightman, School of Rock
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof 
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star 
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Reed Birney, The Humans 
Bill Camp, The Crucible 
David Furr, Noises Off 
Richard Goulding, King Charles III 
Michael Shannon, Long Day’s Journey into Night

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans 
Pascale Armand, Eclipsed 
Megan Hilty, Noises Off 
Andrea Martin, Dotty Otley
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along 
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple 
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster! 
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

DVD Review: Before I Go To Sleep

“You have problems remembering things”

I do like a psycho-thriller and Rowan Joffé’s adaptation of SJ Watson’s novel Before I Go To Sleep from 2014 offers up a good example of the genre (with a great poster campaign too), if a little formulaic by the end. Nicole Kidman’s Christine wakes up every morning not knowing who or where she is. The man next to her (an excellently confounding Colin Firth) says he is her husband Ben and explains that she had an accident ten years ago which left her brain-damaged and unable to remember things beyond the day she recalls them. 
Consultant neurologist Dr Nasch (the inscrutable Mark Strong) is helping her though, providing her with a video camera to record her thoughts and mark any progress, with him calling her every morning to remind her to watch the video, and piece by piece, she begins to uncover the truth not just about what happened to her in the past but also what is happening in the future. Joffé does well at showing the claustrophobia of Christine’s existence, unable to really discern between help and hindrance in those who say they are protecting her, and a real sense of menace is present throughout.

Kidman is powerfully effective as the disturbed Christine, unsure about anything and grasping onto the shards of memory that start to flash back to her so tightly she bleeds. Strong and Firth both manage to be enigmatic about their true intentions until the key moments and there’s an excellent cameo from a deeply compassionate Anne-Marie Duff as Christine’s friend Claire who has been off the scene for a while and holds the key to some crucial revelations. Ed Sheramur’s score sets the mood well and it all does well until the ending which for me, cops out a bit. Worth a watch though. 

2015 Laurence Olivier Awards winners

Best New Play 
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett – Almeida / Wyndham’s
Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The Nether by Jennifer Haley – Duke of York’s
Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton – Aldwych

Best New Musical
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter
Beautiful – Aldwych
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
Memphis – Shaftesbury

Best Revival 
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham’s
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse / Apollo
Skylight – Wyndham’s
The Crucible – Old Vic Continue reading “2015 Laurence Olivier Awards winners”

2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett – Almeida / Wyndham’s
Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The Nether by Jennifer Haley – Duke of York’s
Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton – Aldwych

Best New Musical
Beautiful – Aldwych
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
Memphis – Shaftesbury
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter

Best Revival 
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham’s
My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse / Apollo
Skylight – Wyndham’s
The Crucible – Old Vic Continue reading “2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Review: A View From The Bridge, Wyndhams

“Eddie Carbone. Eddie Carbone. Eddie Carbone.”
What more is there to say about a play that was my undoubted favourite production of 2014 (out of more than 380 lest you forget!) and which did more than I could have possibly imagined to finally introduce the spectacular creative force of Ivo van Hove to a wider audience. Not much as it turns out! The Young Vic’s extraordinarily successful A View From The Bridge has now transferred into the West End, setting up shop in the relative intimacy of the Wyndham’s and remains one of the most highly recommended shows that I could urge you to go and see. 
My original review is here and I stand by everything in it, van Hove’s recasting of Arthur Miller’s classic still burns with its unstoppable, slow-building tragic force and even in this larger space, maintains the same level of punishing emotion. I hadn’t intended to revisit in all honesty, having seen the original run twice but the announcement of onstage seating – to replicate something of the feel of Jan Versweyveld’s original staging – hooked me back in. When the pricing was finally announced, I balked but the simultaneous release of a new date, complete with tickets for the front row of the balcony (one of the best West End bargains for my money), meant I was helpless to resist. 
Third time around, I enjoyed seeing it from a new angle – straight on this time, and it really struck me how precisely van Hove positions his actors on the stage, no matter how involved in the scene they are. There’s always something being said about the inter-relationships between the characters as you notice who they’re facing, who they’re closest to, who they’ve turned their back on… And creatively, Versweyveld’s lighting and Tom Gibbons’ sound swell magnificently to fill the larger space, I really didn’t feel like we missed anything from our seat in the gods. 
So there you have it, you have no excuse not to go and see this rather spankingly fantastic piece of theatre now. And if all of that wasn’t enough for you, the quality of the understudies is epic with my Best Actor fosterIAN winner Cary Crankson lying in wait should Luke Norris be indisposed. 
Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 11th April

Critics’ Circle Awards 2014: the winners in full

 

Best New Play
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett

The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Gypsy

Best Actor
Mark Strong in A View from the Bridge

Best Actress
Helen McCrory in Medea

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Antony Sher in Henry IV Parts I & II

Best Director
Ivo van Hove for A View from the Bridge

Best Designer (awarded jointly)
Paul Barritt for Golem 1927 at Young Vic Theatre, London
and
Es Devlin for The Nether

Most Promising Playwright
Barney Norris for Visitors

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Patsy Ferran in Blithe Spirit and Treasure Island

 

2014 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

Cary Crankson, The Saints
An open air theatre in Southampton might seem an unlikely place to find one of the performances of the year, or perhaps not as it turned out. Crankson’s Southampton FC supporter made for a hugely appealing leading man, in a hugely appealing play from Luke Barnes that really deserves future life, and his ineffable likeability was a considerable achievement that fully deserves its mention here.

Honourable mention: Jack Holden, Johnny Get Your Gun
In a year full of tributes to the outbreak of the First World War, this and The Silver Tassie stand out most for me. And of these, this monologue is the one forever etched on my memory – knowing nothing about it beforehand served me well as it meant I felt every single one of Holden’s hammer-blows of punishing emotion and pragmatism in the face of tragedy. Amazing stuff.

Jonathan Broadbent, My Night With Reg
Chris Connel, Wet House
Harry Melling, peddling
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge

7-10
James Bolam, Bomber’s Moon; Ben Foster, A Streetcar Named Desire; Jamie Sives, The James Plays; Robin Soans, Visitors

Best Actor in a Musical

Sam Mackay, In The Heights
Spearheading this genuinely exciting piece of modern musical theatre is a genuinely exciting modern musical theatre performer. Londoner Mackay delivers Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Latin-inflected hip hop score as if he were a bona fide Washington Heights resident and if the rumours about a return for the show come true, then I really hope he returns with it.

Honourable mention: Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion
One of those performances, and shows, that is truly difficult to do justice to in simple words. Life-affirming, heartfelt, blisteringly honest and poignantly powerful – a one-man-show to convince anyone who say they don’t like one-men-shows.

Adrian der Gregorian, Made In Dagenham
Killian Donnelly, Memphis
Jon Robyns, The Last Five Years
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)

7-10
Mark Bautista, Here Lies Love; Alastair Brookshaw, De Profundis; Ben Lewis/Greg Barnett, Thérèse Raquin (Finborough/Park); Jamie Parker, Guys and Dolls

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

Continue reading “2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations”