Oscar Week Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves just a little too problematic, despite Frances McDormand’s excellent work

“All this anger, man, it just begets greater anger”

The backlash against Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri doesn’t seem to have got in the way of its award-winning chances. But upon watching it for myself and enjoying it for the most part, equally I couldn’t escape the sense of how problematic it is in the way in tackles – or rather doesn’t tackle – class and race in the rural US.

For every statement from Martin McDonagh about the ‘deliberately messy and difficult’ nature of his film, there’s a refusal to explore the real ramifications of the behaviour contained therein, particularly the racist criminality of cop Dixon who is never really called to account for what he does. And in today’s world, in today’s America, that really isn’t good enough. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Critics’ Circle Awards 2015: the winners in full

Best New Play
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh

The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Bend It Like Beckham

Best Actor
Kenneth Cranham in The Father

Best Actress
Denise Gough in People, Places and Things

The Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Judi Dench in The Winter’s Tale

Best Director
Robert Icke for Oresteia

Best Designer
Anna Fleischle for Hangmen

Most Promising Playwright
James Fritz for Four minutes twelve seconds

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
David Moorst in Violence and Son

 

 

The 2015 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Actor
Kenneth Cranham, The Father, Ustinov Bath, Tricycle Theatre & Wyndham’s Theatre
Ralph Fiennes, Man And Superman, National Theatre’s Lyttelton
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios
Simon Russell Beale, Temple, Donmar Warehouse

Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things, National Theatre’s Dorfman
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 , Noël Coward Theatre
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare’s Globe
Lia Williams, Oresteia, Almeida Theatre & Trafalgar Studios Continue reading “The 2015 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: Hangmen, Royal Court

“Don’t worry. I may have my quirks but I’m not an animal. Or am I? One for the courts to discuss.”

The term ‘dark comedy’ is much abused but there really is no better descriptor for Hangmen, Martin McDonagh’s long-awaited return to theatrical writing. Set (mostly) within the tobacco-stained walls of a proper boozer in Oldham in the 1960s on the day that Britain has abolished the death penalty, landlord Harry’s (the excellent David Morrissey) past comes back to haunt him in a big way. For he was the last hangman in the country, as evinced by a cracking prologue (that isn’t for the squeamish) that sees him and his assistant Syd go about their business.

The arrival of enigmatic Londoner Mooney (Johnny Flynn never better) is the catalyst for the plot, as Harry’s disaffected daughter becomes easy prey to his professed affections and disappears with him, round about the same time Syd reappears in Harry’s life to say something rum is going on with a serial killer who has a Southern accent. But the real joy is in the motley crew of grizzled regulars who gather in the pub and the cracking dialogue McDonagh gives them as they dance around the morbid curiosity that has called them to this pub rather than any others.  Continue reading “Review: Hangmen, Royal Court”

Review: The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noël Coward

“If you’re going to talk about sheep deformities, hand me the bottle”

Third up for the Michael Grandage Company is ‘the Daniel Radcliffe one’, the first major revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. But though it is being sold on the strength of its star, it is much more of an ensemble piece than first impressions would allow, as a picture of 1930s rural Irish life in all its brusque humour, unstinting relentlessness and occasional vicious kicks is built up. A break from the old routine is offered when a Hollywood film crew arrives on the neighbouring island of Inishmore and no-one is more excited about the opportunity than Cripple Billy, a young orphan lad blighted by physical disability from birth and who spots an opportunity to escape the blunt cruelty of the daily taunts.

Still in previews, Grandage’s production doesn’t quite seem to have decided how it wants to straddle the line between stereotypical olde Oirish sentimentality and McDonagh’s more brutal sensibilities which might be familiar to those that have seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Part of the problem lies in a vein of comedy that feels somewhat uninspired so it does, relying on the repeated utterances, without malice mind, of words and phrases that ought to jar in our more politically correct times. But this is essentially one gag extended throughout much of the show and it soon wears thin – the over-emphasis on how kookily different  things were back then and over there just isn’t enough to hang a play on, especially when Grandage is playing it as safe as this.

And I also felt that Radcliffe has a way to go before he’s ready to play the part of Cripple Billy. His manifestation of Billy’s affliction is clearly sensitively researched but lacks the raw physicality that should accompany one so bruised by life and one longs for him to submerge entirely into the depths of the character to create something more convincing in his portrayal of someone struggling on the cusp of becoming a young man and establishing some kind of physical and emotional independence – something that could well come as the run progresses. So the focus turns instead to the bustling busybodies of Inishmaan who are mostly very well acted but not a one of them feels like a real person.

Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna hem and haw vividly as Billy’s adopted aunties who point out the shortcomings of the world as they run their shop; Pat Shortt and June Watson pair up effectively as the village gossip and his ailing mother who he keeps topped up with whiskey; and Sarah Greene has an untamed quality as the wild egg-cracking Helen who Billy dreams of kissing one day. But there’s rarely a sense of genuine emotional life behind any of these people, keeping them perilously close to caricature – though possibly as much McDonagh’s fault as Grandage’s – and keeping the audience at arm’s length from the whole affair.

Consequently I really didn’t enjoy this that much – it certainly didn’t move me and I barely laughed. For a tenner though, one can’t complain too much and there did seem to be those in the audience who enjoyed themselves more than us (the reaction throughout was increasingly muted though, I have to say) but this was altogether too polite for my liking.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 31st August

Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Young Vic

“My world doesn’t revolve around your taste in biscuits”

In 2010 I set myself the challenge/allowed myself the luxury of seeing every single show that I wanted, and I can pretty much say that I achieved that. But as the end of year lists started to appear, one play kept popping up that made me think I perhaps ought to have overridden my instincts not to bother with it and taken it in: that play was The Beauty Queen of Leenane and the Young Vic have kindly decided to bring it back, with a three-quarters different cast to be sure, so that I could be dragged along to see it and find out if it was worth it after all. We attended the final preview that took place on 25th July.

Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play is set in deepest rural Ireland, in the mountain of Connemara where the scheming Mag Folan lives with the embittered Maureen, her 40 year old daughter and skivvy. Locked in a twisted familial bond, every single act whether making a cup of Complan or switching on the radio becomes a fierce battle of wills, but when a glimmer of escape for Maureen appears via the arrival of the handsome Pato on the scene, behaviour on all sides in pushed to the shocking extreme. Continue reading “Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Young Vic”