DVD Review: What You Will

“It’s brilliant not to be me”

On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.

This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company – the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally. Continue reading “DVD Review: What You Will”

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”

Review: The Red Shoes, Battersea Arts Centre

“Have you seen her shoes?!”

The Red Shoes, one of Kneehigh’s most famous shows, has returned to Battersea Arts Centre where it started 10 years ago for a final run in the UK as part of the 30th birthday celebrations of this venue. It retells a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale of a young girl who longs for a pair of gorgeous red shoes yet when her desire is fulfilled, their addictiveness drives her beyond all reason and beyond the help of society as she cannot stop dancing until they, and her feet, are removed. It does this through a music hall frame though, so the performers arrive in ghostly make-up and men’s underwear and vie to be picked for roles in the storytelling by narrator and MC Lady Lydia, a Noel Fielding-like character who also provides. There’s also interludes with magic tricks which play up the cabaret feel, although I was not a fan of them to be honest.

There’s a real inventiveness and playfulness to proceedings as the physically dextrous performers rush around transforming themselves into any number of characters which are beautifully defined, providing musical and dance support at the drop of a hat, and allowing Patrycja Kujawska as the girl with the shoes to sustain the mood of wonder transmuted into horror as the consequences of untrammelled desire are revealed. Her wide-eyed openness was a pleasure to watch but I also enjoyed Rόbert Lučkay and Dave Mynne in the ensemble and Giles King’s charismatic turn as the MC conducting from his perch above the stage. There’s a soundtrack of darkly rhythmic classical music initially highly atmospheric though becoming a little relentless towards the end, which is supported by 2 musicians at either side of the stage with a range of instruments, including trombones. Continue reading “Review: The Red Shoes, Battersea Arts Centre”

Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre

Based on a well respected (although I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it) film, A Matter of Life and Death sees Cornish theatre company Kneehigh take the cavernous Olivier theatre by storm with a highly inventive and physical reinterpretation of this story. Peter, a World War II pilot is shot down whilst on a mission but doesn’t die because the angel sent to collect him gets lost in the fog. Instead, he meets and falls in love with June, the radio operator who tried to help him down. Peter is then forced to plead his case in the court of Heaven to see how his future will play out.

As the romantic leads, both Tristan Sturrock as Peter and Lyndsey Marshal as June seemed a little overwhelmed by the production, not really able to give us much of a sense of the relationship between the two and too often required to do something gymnastic or wacky instead of focusing on the emotion of the moment. In the more light-hearted characters, like Douglas Hodge’s Frank and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s gymnastic Conductor, there’s more freedom and opportunity for fun, but by and large this wasn’t a production about strong acting. Continue reading “Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre”