Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory

Penelope Wilton almost, almost, makes it worth seeing a David Hare play with The Bay at Nice at the Menier Chocolate Factory

“I know what life is and what it cannot be”

Oh, British theatre and your ongoing obsession with David Hare. I’ve never really got it, never had that experience with one of his plays that made me go ‘oh that’s what they’re talking about’. Indeed, I only really booked for The Bay at Nice for the opportunity to see the Great British wonder that is Penelope Wilton in the intimacy of the Menier Chocolate Factory.

And such is her exceptional talent, that she almost makes this an unmissable event. Her Valentina Nrovka is a strikingly captivating presence, a former pupil of Matisse called to authenticate a painting that might be one of his. Having left post-war Paris for revolutionary Russia, her artistic career has taken a back seat and motherhood has not proved anywhere near as fulfilling. Continue reading “Review: The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory”

TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

Review: R and D, Hampstead Downstairs

“What on earth is a soul?”

As the development of artificial intelligence advances ever closer to Skynet territory, so too does the complexity of the ethical questions around it. And it is these moral tensions that Simon Vinnicombe’s new play R and D focuses on – as science creates robots seem ever more human, capable even of independent thought, where do we draw the line? Or is it already too late, is Judgement Day already written in the future history books?

R and D begins innocuously, as these things always do. Scientist David offers to cheer his widowed writer brother Lewis up by offering him a £3 million job (as you do), merely spending time with a woman called April and reporting on their relationship. Trick is, she’s one of the most sophisticated robots ever constructed and through her interactions with the emotionally compromised Lewis, the bounds of technological progress are messily, murkily exceeded. Continue reading “Review: R and D, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: If Only, Minerva

“By the way, David Cameron has met a black man in Plymouth”

A cheeky trip to Chichester meant that I was able to catch David Edgar’s latest play If Only in its final week and whilst it was fun to see a piece of such hyper-contemporary political theatre (Edgar was writing the second act right until the play opened to keep it up-to-date), the real joy was seeing three exciting actors – Martin Hutson, Jamie Glover and Charlotte Lucas – in the spotlight as the main characters. The play starts in the midst of the 2010 election with the result as yet unknown, and the second act takes a jump four years into the future to examine the impact of coalition politics on the nation.

The first half is excellent. Trapped in a Spanish airport by the Icelandic ash cloud, three young politicos are forced into a road trip adventure to make it back in time for the election result. Martin Hutson is a Labour special advisor, Charlotte Lucas is a Lib Dem staffer and Jamie Glover is a Tory MP licking his wounds after the expenses scandal and there’s huge fun as they thrash out the various permutations of a hung parliament and what that would mean for politics in the UK. It’s wordy but funny, Edgar disguises strategising with a little comedy and comes up a plausible, Thick-of-It-style version of what could well have happened involving camels (funnier and cleverer than it sounds).

After the interval, Edgar skips forward to a UK in the grip of the rise of UKIP and a Tory party responding by stealing its position and policies on the far right. The same three characters are reunited and fret about the way in which politics has become dominated by single-issue pressure groups and face a particular dilemma which asks them if it worth sacrificing personal decency for political expediency. It’s less effective and the introduction of a young woman (who connects both halves) played by Eve Posonby struck me as inessential, a way of bringing in a more youthful voice looking to the future that was never really needed. Good production though. 

  

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 25th July

DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal

“Do you think that homosexuality between 2 consenting males should be a criminal act”

A Very British Sex Scandal was a docu-drama that aired in 2007 on Channel 4. I watched it at the time and it has stuck with me ever since, a devastatingly powerful piece of film-making and a pertinent reminder of the struggles and battles that others fought in order for gay people to live in a more equal society today. Written and directed by Patrick Reams, it centres on the mid-1950s trial of several well-known men arrested for gross indecency and buggery which proved to be a landmark moment in solidifying public opinion against such legislation, stemming the virulently anti-homosexual political establishment and eventually leading to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in Britain.

The film is a combination of dramatisations of key moments and events from the story interspersed with a set of interviews with gay men who were alive at the time. The mix is a good one: initially it is a roughly even mixture of the two, full of scene-setting shots in the drama but also providing much context of the realities of being a practising homosexual man in this era. These contributions are often eye-openingly frank and disturbingly brutal, it’s hard to think that it really wasn’t so long ago but this was just what life was like.  Continue reading “DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal”

Review: The Heart of Robin Hood, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“A forest is owned by no man”

I don’t have any memory of booking The Heart of Robin Hood at all! But sometime late in November I did indeed book it and failed to put it in my calendar – I may well have been drunk, I most definitely was tired! – and it was only The Trainline sending me a reminder about the train journey that alerted me to what I should be indeed be doing this Thursday afternoon.

The most impressive thing about the production, that is evident from the off, is Börkur Jonsson’s set design which has to rank as one of the most inventive uses of a thrust stage ever. A huge branch of a tree is suspended above a wide green swathe of astroturf which slopes from on high at the back of the stage, down into the auditorium. Thus the forest of Sherwood is evoked, with platforms and sections peeling back to suggest the castle of the nobles. It really is an ingenious piece of staging, endlessly delightful in the constant little reveals and surprises it came up with and even in the sheer fun of seeing people slide down into view from the top. Continue reading “Review: The Heart of Robin Hood, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

DVD Review: The Rivals , Bristol Old Vic

“Female punctuation forbids me to say more”

Not a huge amount of travelling for me this weekend but I’ve still got a big pile of DVDs to work my way through and so this Sunday evening, I sat down to this filmed version, by Heritage Theatre, of RB Sheridan’s The Rivals from the 2004 Bristol Old Vic production. It’s a rather popular play, we’ve seen a wickedly anarchic and amusing Celia Imrie-starring version at the Southwark Playhouse and a more traditional but impeccably acted version from Peter Hall in London in the last couple of years, so I was intrigued to see what this Rachel Kavanaugh-directed interpretation brought to the table.

It is an unfussy, uncluttered production – Peter MacKintosh’s evocative design making great use of perspective – which feels incredibly inclusive, even through the medium of film. Kavanaugh has her actors including the audience as an extra participant in all conversations so it feels we are constantly being confided in and party to all the gossip. It also helps that it is very well filmed, the quality is sharp and clear, there’s little unnecessary camera trickery or shots panning out to the audience, instead it focuses on a simple but strong representation of the action on stage, with key close-ups in all the right places: probably one of the best filmed theatre DVDs I’ve watched in that respect. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Rivals , Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Butley, Duchess Theatre

“You’re having a terrible day…but you’re only making it worse”

The best laid plans oft gang aft and having pretty much decided not to bother with the Simon Gray play Butley, opening now at the Duchess Theatre, as I have been trying (and admittedly failing) to try and cut down on the amount of theatre I’m seeing, sure enough an offer I could not refuse popped up (courtesy of @bargaintheatre – a chap well worth a follow on Twitter for his ferreting around for some great deals) and so 10 English pounds for the best available seats in the stalls were spent for this first London review, the play having done a week in Brighton already.

Ben Butley is an academic stuck in an English department in a university at some point in the 1970s and having a frankly horrific first day of term. His wife wants a divorce, he is struggling to write his book on TS Eliot whilst his colleague has got a publishing deal, his students expecting their tutorials are impinging on his time but most significantly of all, his protégé Joseph, with whom he shares his office, his flat and frustratingly vague hints of further intimacy, is seeking his independence both professionally and domestically, about to move in with his lover Reg. In response to this turn of events, he turns up the irascibility and petulance as he flails against a world moving on without him, masking his fear of failure through some thoroughly obnoxious behaviour and a scathing line in rapier-sharp wit. Continue reading “Review: Butley, Duchess Theatre”

Review: Antony & Cleopatra, Liverpool Playhouse

“The triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool”

After playing the role herself in 1974 for the RSC, Janet Suzman returns to Antony and Cleopatra but this time as its director and has pulled off one of the canniest casting coups of the year in persuading Kim Cattrall to return to the city of her birth to head up the cast alongside Jeffery Kissoon at the Liverpool Playhouse. The ultimate tale of the trouble caused when the personal and the political are so inextricably entwined as Cleopatra and Mark Antony tumble into a passionate affair regardless of the fact that their infatuation threatens to destroy the world around them.

 Feisty yet graceful, powerful yet passionate, Cattrall’s portrayal is simply superb. A highly intelligent woman, one can see the calculations behind her eyes as she weighs up each decision that will affect her so hugely but she also plays the comedy well and her touching vulnerability when seized by thoughts of love is beautiful: the recollection of their salad days is exceptional. Kissoon’s Antony is clearly a relic of a passing age, moody and tinged with madness from the outset. His battles come from his uncertainty at his place in this world as much as they do from his doomed affair and so he is a more shambolic leader. Continue reading “Review: Antony & Cleopatra, Liverpool Playhouse”