Re-review: Amadeus, National

“We were both ordinary men, he and I.”

Though Rufus Norris’ tenure hasn’t managed to nail a new writing hit in the Olivier, it has had considerable success in finding revivals to fill this voluminous space. Follies was a standout from last year, particularly in how Vicki Mortimer’s design swelled to magnificent heights and late in 2016, it was a glorious production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus that rose to the occasion. So it is no real surprise to see that show return to the schedule, indeed the surprise was that it might even have gotten better.

That this is Michael Longhurst’s debut in this theatre makes it all the more impressive and I wouldn’t be surprised if his name doesn’t soon become one of the ones bandied around the round of musical chairs that is London artistic directorships. And his decisions here remain as pinpoint accurate in nailing the psychological torment at the heart of this drama, from the toxicity of Salieri’s jealousy, Mozart’s own struggles in dealing with his genius, and how society also has its difficulties in its treatment of those it elevates. Continue reading “Re-review: Amadeus, National”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: 1984, Headlong at Richmond Theatre

 

 
“You may as well say goodbye”

For a novel written in 1949, it is remarkable how much of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 has seeped into our consciousness. Not just in the phrases we have adopted – Big Brother, thought crime, Room 101, double speak – but also in the world it depicts, of constant surveillance, of the all-controlling state, of the erosion of individual liberties. From Wikileaks to Edward Snowden, David Miranda’s detention even to Paul Dacre’s indignation, the consequences of going up against the establishment, in whatever form, are never far from the headlines and it is clear that Headlong’s audacious re-interpretation of 1984 is an apposite choice.

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation takes an unusual starting point – the epilogue-like Appendix which offers a whole new level of complication to the narrative of the novel – and uses it to present a dual layer of storytelling. Winston Smith’s trials at the hands of Big Brother as he rebels against the totalitarian state for whom he works are contextualised by a futuristic scenario in which a book group are reading about the trials of Winston Smith. We slide between the two timeframes – as Winston thinks a thought, the book group discuss it – each inextricably linked with the other as we watch this single man, this tiny act of rebellion, being obliterated. Continue reading “Review: 1984, Headlong at Richmond Theatre”

Short Film Review #15

 

The danger of ripping the piss out of something is that you often leave yourself open to the same charge. And so whilst Brian Crano’s 2008 film Official Selection sets about parodying many of the tropes of contemporary (and possibly pretentious) short film making, it takes a lengthy 10 minutes to do what it basically achieves in half the time.

It is undoubtedly amusing: watching Rebecca Hall deliver po-faced dialogue and simultaneously share an apple with a native American, Amanda Seyfried rubbing apple slices everywhere, Stephen Campbell Moore as a random astronaut and Dominic Cooper doing smell-the-fart acting, amongst many others, is lots of fun. And it is comical because much of it is true, so many of the arty shots here are highly recognisable as ways in which people have tried, and largely failed, to make their films more interesting. It’s worth the watch, but had it been half the length it might well have been twice as funny. Continue reading “Short Film Review #15”

Review: The Busy Body, Southwark Playhouse

“I’m not showing you my monkey” 

Miranda loves Sir George Airey but wants to make him work for her hand whilst fending off her lecherous guardian Sir Francis Gripe, whose son Charles is in love with Isabinda whose marvellously named mother Lady Jealous Traffic is determined to marry her off to a Spanish merchant. There’s also a monkey, or is there? Such is the set-up for The Busy Body, a 1709 period comedy by Susanna Centlivre which was one of the most popular plays of its day but has remained unproduced for over 100 years. Continuing their close relationship with the Southwark Playhouse, Red Handed Theatre have alternated emotionally devastating dramas (Palace of the End, Someone To Watch Over Me) with sparklingly refreshed Restoration comedies (The Rivals, The Belle’s Stratagem) to great effect and director Jessica Swale’s adroit adaptation looks set to continue that exceptionally strong run.

What really makes it work though is the immense attention to detail. It is a comedy for sure, but one which is played true and so delivery remains deadpan throughout, no matter how random the plot turns – Michael Lindall’s Spanish dress and raised eyebrow as the disguised Charles the best example here, though Alexandra Guelff’s (Miranda) determined protection of her monkey comes a close second. And comic flourishes abound at every turn – Ella Smith’s Isabinda in particular is fearsomely, inventively funny in every single scene she is in and Henry Shields doubles to brilliant effect as Charles’ man Whisper and Lady Jealous’ butler – and the fourth wall is well and truly smashed (shy wallflower types might want to avoid the front row!) Directly addressing the audience is nothing new but the conviction and skill with which it is essayed here, both when being played for laughs and cleverly also in the more tenderly emotional moments, means that every beat seeks to involve and include us all. Continue reading “Review: The Busy Body, Southwark Playhouse”