Review: Play of Thrones, Union

“Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile”

Director and adaptor Phil Willmott has made something of a point of mixing things up when it comes to Shakespeare at the Union. He’s revived the rarely seen King John, unearthed the controversial Double Falsehood, cast a female Lear and there’s no exception with Play of Thrones. Taking George R R Martin’s inspiration of The Wars of the Roses as a starting point, Willmott has fashioned a free adaptation of the three Henry VI plays, using Part Three as the spine for a story of epic sweep of warring kings, bloody betrayals and fierce ambition that wouldn’t be out of place in Westeros.

So we see the Houses of Lancaster and York tussle again for England’s crown as the kingdom is fatally destabilised by the death of Henry V and the accession of his infant son, Henry VI. The rival dynasties scheme away making politically advantageous marriages, starting surreptitious strategic affairs, setting up any number of brutal murders, even invoking otherworldly spirits to ensure that they win the game. So far so Song of Ice and Fire and there is fun to be had in spotting familiar character traits – Ygritte’s warrior spirit, Cersei’s cold manipulations, Joffrey’s immature obnoxiousness, Tyrion’s tactical nous.

Continue reading “Review: Play of Thrones, Union”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: Once Upon A Christmas, Covent Garden

“Christmas may be cancelled!”

Billed as “a theatrical adventure in Covent Garden”, the details of which we’re urged to keep secret so that future participants can experience it unspoiled, Once Upon A Christmas is Look Left Look Right’s contribution to this year’s festive fare, and what an appetising treat it makes. An interactive experience for pairs (although it can be experienced solo as well), the adventure begins at a nondescript address, tucked amongst the shops and bars of this bustling part of London, but it soon becomes clear that there’s more than meets the eye here.

For this is the elf-run headquarters of Pantoland who have been forced to walk amongst humankind in order to avert the biggest crisis of them all – the cancellation of Christmas itself. This has been caused by the shocking break-up of Cinderella and Prince Charming and the only people that can -help – well, you’ve guessed it, it’s you and your friend. And so begins a helter-skelter journey of one-on-one encounters through the nooks and crannies of Covent Garden – some considerably more salubrious than others – accompanied by some extremely familiar faces, although they might not always act exactly as you might expect.

It is a hugely charming enterprise and its fast-flowing nature – as you’re gently moved on from pillar to post to pumpkin – means that it is akin to tumbling into a winter Wonderland. A cast of eighteen excellently facilitate the journey constructed by writers Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Katie Lyons and they offer an amusingly modern take on fairytale life – a bit of vicious gossip and tweeting here, some heartbroken necking of shots there, a wickedly amusing barrow-boy monk giving excellent banter. The show envelops you in its tinsel-clad embrace from the off and though the happy ending might never really seem in doubt, why on earth would you want it to be?


Those in search of earth-shattering drama or life-changing experience might need to recalibrate their expectations for a warm-hearted daftness in what is in store here and Once Upon A Christmas is all the stronger for it. Director Mimi Poskitt has marshalled her resources excellently, there’s some genuinely striking moments of acting alongside some excellent people management – Brandy Butter definitely wins the prize here – and that it all takes place in plain sight in so public an arena lends a marvellous sense of complicity to the whole affair, weaving it seamlessly into the fabric of the long-established entertainment in the square. Great fun.
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 15th December


Originally written for The Public Reviews

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II

“I’ll tickle your catastrophe”

I was mildly disappointed by the second instalment of The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I and so it was pretty much a given that I’d feel more or less the same about Henry IV Part II and so it came to pass. In some ways, little changed: Walters and Russell Beale continued to be themselves, Heffernan continued to be neglected as a simple serving boy, the women continued to get a raw deal of it only this time Niamh Cusack got in on the action with a mere handful of lines as Lady Northumberland (and admittedly Maxine Peake rightly got a bit more screentime as Doll Tearsheet), Hiddleston and Irons continued to be epically good and it all felt a bit too theatrical for my liking.

I did like that we got more Dominc Rowan in this one, though his hair still caused me consternation, Iain Glen and Pip Carter were great additions to the cast as Warwick and Gower respectively – Glen was particularly sonorous when speaking – and everyone has got to love a scene that looks like it could have been set in a gay sauna đŸ˜‰ And though they lacked a certain something, the rural scenes with David Bamber and Tim McMullan as Shallow and Silence, were largely well-played. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II”