Lockdown film review: Emma. (2020)

Autumn de Wilder offers an Emma. with a contemporary sensibility but not much sense

“Mother, you MUST sample the tart!”

You don’t see Jane Austen much at the theatre. Her situation notwithstanding, over the years I think I’ve only seen a single Pride and Prejudice and a vibrant Persuasion (plus countless Austentatious inventions), adaptations of her work just don’t seem to pop up in theatres with much regularity at all. I wonder why that is for there’s certainly no lack of them on our screens.

I wasn’t much of a fan of the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring film but loved both the TV versions I’ve seen with Kate Beckinsdale and particularly with Romola Garai. This latest iteration of Emma., directed by Autumn de Wilde and adapted by Eleanor Catton, only hit cinemas recently but due to coronavirus restrictions, found its way pleasingly quickly onto on-demand services. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Emma. (2020)”

July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

All hail Mamma Mia! As we tentatively await the sequel, I revisit a film I can’t ever imagine not loving

“I won’t be muscled out by an ejaculation”

With Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just about to hit cinemas, I thought I’d revisit the original Mamma Mia! film to remind myself of its pleasures, Pierce Brosnan’s singing and all. Released in 2008, it managed that trick of defying a lukewarm critical reception to garnering huge popularity, something repeated by The Greatest Showman (it’s almost as if film critics can’t quite imagine audiences wanting to see a harmlessly fun musical…). 

And that’s what this is in the end, lots of fun and silly with it. Based on the iconic jukebox musical of the same name, it’s a whole load of ABBA songs strung together on a gossamer-light plot of romantic comedy gold. Where it succeeds, as with the musical, is in taking the job at hand most seriously, whilst never taking itself too seriously at all. Songs are in the right places, serving as motors in the narrative, and there’s an integrity to the whole thing, even when its daft as a brush.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)”

Review: Glasgow Girls, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Our story is mostly about photocopying”

Many a theatrical production lays claim to being unique but few can genuinely live up to that billing. Cora Bissett’s Glasgow Girls – playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East after an initial run at the Citizens in Glasgow – really is like nothing else you’ve seen before, a true-life story about a group of teenagers who fought for the rights of the children of asylum seekers in their city set to an eclectic score that incorporates electronic grime, Balkan music, reggae-dub, folk/rock and much more besides. 

The show is based in Drumchapel, an archetypally grim Glaswegian estate of high-rises, where in 2005, a group of seven schoolgirls were awarded the “Best Public Campaign” at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards. As an area where many asylum seeker families had been located while waiting for their claims to be processed, a wait of several years in some cases, groups of friends clustered together from varying nationalities and when one from this particular group – a Kosovo Roma girl called Agnesa – was snatched in a dawn raid and detained for deportation, their resulting campaign to have her released and returned gathered such momentum that elements of the immigration system were changed as a direct result. 


And it is this remarkable journey that Bissett and book writer David Greig have alighted on. It’s a hugely significant thing that they achieved on a political level, but of just as much importance was the personal development in these young women as the enthusiastic political activism that took root in them spread to the community at large, building the kind of social conscience that ought to be the mark of any civilised society. And as revealed in the post-show discussion, this impact has been lasting as the real life women are now about to graduate to a range of socially aware professions (and indeed one declined to be involved in this show, hence the six rather than seven main characters). But though nominally a weighty subject, there’s a deftness of touch to the material, a strong vein of comedy to counterbalance the seriousness and of course as a musical of varying forms, it has the widest selection of songs at its disposal.

It seems only right that the score about such a multi-cultural group should embrace such diversity and the show admirably bucks convention at every turn. Bissett’s Celtic-tinged tunes rub shoulders with Sumati Bhardwaj’s reggae, more mainstream songs from the Kielty Brothers and the punchily strident urban oeuvre of Patricia Panther, who also stars in the show as a number of characters, often baddies. The constant shifts in style are something of an acquired taste but the energetic verve with which they are delivered is most persuasive. Amiera Darwish, Stephanie McGregor, Roanna Davidson and Amaka Okafor all impress as the girls who have made Glasgow their adoptive home and they’re matched beautifully by Joanne McGuinness and Dawn Sievewright as the Scots who form the rest of the group – Okafor and particularly Sievewright shining through a strong company. 

The show’s main weakness, insofar as it has one, comes from the singularity of its focus. There is undoubtedly much joy from seeing the story through the exuberant eyes of its teenage protagonists, feeling the deepest lows just as keenly as the joyous highs, but there’s no other perspective on offer. The police are an amorphous body of riot-shielded menace; First Minister Jack McConnell’s ineffectual trip to the policymakers of Westminster dismissed as weak-willed; asylum is such a complex, multi-layered issue that it feels wrong not to acknowledge that, but Bissett and Greig should be commended for teasing out a simplicity in the narrative that is as strong-minded as the girls themselves.

The sprawling teenage enthusiasm of much of the productions may not be to everyone’s taste initially, but it really does have a seductive quality that is worth investigating and sticking with. And it fires strongly on all cylinders: MD Hilary Brooks presides over a classy band; Merle Hensel’s set of high-rise concrete looks dramatic, especially in the well-lit deportation scenes;  and as a variety of adults in the story, Callum Cuthbertson and Myra McFadyen are huge value for money, McFadyen’s Noreen pretty much stealing the show as a fourth-wall breaking deadpan granny. Insightful and inspirational, Glasgow Girls really is a unique piece of British musical theatre. A little flawed perhaps but fearless with it and make no mistake, this is the best example of girl power on the London stage at the moment.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval) 

Programme cost: £1.75
Booking until 2nd March

DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)

“Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge”

It is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that any mention of Alexandra Gilbreath – recent winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Play fosterIAN to be sure – sends me all a quiver. So when someone told me about this production of The Winter’s Tale which features not only her as Hermione but also has Nancy Carroll lurking in the ensemble, I was most keen to watch it. Plus there’s the small matter of Antony Sher as Leontes, an actor whom I am always intrigued to see more of as I’ve have actually had little experience of him as a performer.

An RSC production from 1998, this was recorded at the Barbican and so as a straight filming of the stage show, it is free from the kind of directorial innovation that blighted (IMHO) the versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest also covered this weekend. Instead, we get the theatrical experience minus the live thrill but with the added bonus of close up work. And it is a great bonus here. Sher does so much acting with his eyes as a paranoiac Leontes, mentally damaged as suggested by a prologue and incapable of not seeing the dark shadows in the corner of the room. The way his suspicions are aroused by Polixenes’ attentiveness to his wife is brilliantly done as she is actually suffering from pregnancy pain but Leontes misses the crucial moments and all too easily lets the darkness consume him. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)”