Film Review: Anna Karenina

 

”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”

Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.

Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations.  Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”

Re-review: London Road, National Theatre

Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”

Technically speaking this is a re-re-review of London Road, which has made a belated transfer from the Cottesloe to the considerably larger Olivier at the National Theatre, as it is the third time that I’ve seen it. I saw it when it first opened and was blown away by its inventiveness and genuine originality as a piece of musical theatre, and then made a return trip when the show extended its initial run, a visit which coincided with the summer riots here in the UK last year, a time which magnified one of the key messages of the show, of the importance of community. The decision to remount this award-winning and critically acclaimed show, even after a considerable gap of nearly a year, may have seemed like a no-brainer but for those who were able to catch it in the Cottesloe like me, I suspect there may be a little disappointment as something of the magic has been lost in the move.

A strong element to this could well be my own snobbery. As the ticket purchasing was up to someone for once, I ended up in the circle – for the first time in years! – and whilst it wasn’t as bad as I had first feared, the distance does make it a completely different theatrical experience. And ‘experience’ is the right word, for this is such a unique show in its hybrid of verbatim theatre, which replicates the speech patterns and intonations of interviewees, and freestyling atonal music, which forms an additional structure and texture as it layers, repeats and counterpoints the speech into something strangely hypnotic and beautiful. Continue reading “Re-review: London Road, National Theatre”

Album Review: London Road cast recording

“Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”

Capitalising on the unexpected runaway success of London Road, the National Theatre have now released a cast recording of the verbatim musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork. I revisited the show last week – review can be read here – and so it was quite nice to be able to get this more permanent reminder. It is such an unconventional suite of music but as with anything, repeated exposure brings about a kind of familiarity and so the musical vocabulary used here has now been assimilated, its complexity less bamboozling now and a greater appreciation easier to reach.

The show looks at the sense of community that is built up amongst the residents of London Road in Ipswich as the impact of the murder of 5 prostitutes flows out around them: the road had been where the prostitutes touted for business and it eventually turned out that the murderer, Steve Wright, had recently moved into a house on their street. But the play avoids sensationalism and focusing on the murders and murderer by centring on this group of residents and how they felt as the murders were happening and then their lives turned upside down by the revelation that Wright was living in their midst and the media furore that surrounded the ensuing trial. Continue reading “Album Review: London Road cast recording”

Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)

 

“If you make your house look nice, if you feel good about where you live, you’ll en- you’ll enjoy life a whole lot better”

I hadn’t intended to revisit London Road at the National Theatre even as it scored a much-deserved extension to its run: I adored its daring invention and its deep empathy for its protagonists when I first caught the show at the Cottesloe, but when a ticket on the ultra-bargainous row T popped up on the website (seriously, this is one of the best theatre tips you will get) I just couldn’t resist returning. And it was well worth it. It is such a unique show with surprising levels that it was a real pleasure to take it in a second time, from a different seat too, to soak in some of the details that had passed me by first time round and gain a slightly different perspective on it too.

My original review can be read here and it is interesting looking back at what stood out for me about it on first viewing and how much my opinion was reinforced second time around. Kate Fleetwood and Clare Burt broke my heart all over again with their portrayals, but I really did notice how good everyone is in the show, Rosalie Craig too but particularly the men whom I previously neglected a bit, Hal Fowler struggling to get a word in edgeways, Paul Thornley’s handsome normality, Duncan Wisbey’s blokiness. And having heard the music once, it was interesting to see how much familiarity there was given how untraditional the score is, the repetition of key phrases having earwormed their way into my brain, combined with some just beautiful harmonisation: London Road in bloom is probably the prime example of the quirkiness and emotional power of the music and highly effective in demonstrating early on the potential of this verbatim musical artform.

Continue reading “Re-review: London Road, National (and thinking about riots)”

Review: London Road, National Theatre

“It’s given us a common cause…”

London Road, with book and lyrics by Alecky Blythe and music and lyrics by Adam Cork, is a show emerged out of an experimental workshop at the National Theatre, pairing unlikely collaborators to create new pieces of musical theatre. What they focused on was a series of interviews Blythe carried out with the residents of London Road, Ipswich, at the time when police were hunting for a serial killer after five women were found murdered. Why she chose that street was because it was where the murderer lived but her focus was not on him or the victims, but rather the people on the periphery, how the whole thing had affected the other inhabitants and as she revisited them months later, what their response as a community was. The show plays in the Cottesloe and this was a preview performance.

Alecky Blythe is an exponent of verbatim theatre, particularly a technique created by Anna Deavere Smith, whereby she interviews her subjects and then creates theatre by reproducing their words and vocal inflections faithfully, right down to the ums and aahs and you knows, in the performance. Working in the musical form has necessitated a slight departure from the pure verbatim form but also allows for the injection of a little dramatic license in adding emphases and repetition to what could be termed the key phrases of the chorus. Adam Cork’s music fits into the same idea of trying to replicate the speech patterns and feelings and remaining as true to the material as possible, rather than composing a musically coherent score per se, he’s created a series of responses to the text. Continue reading “Review: London Road, National Theatre”