2017 Oscars – pre-ceremony thoughts

“For whatever reason, he spared a hamster”

When you see as much theatre as I do, it can be difficult to keep up to date with cinematic releases – if I have a night off, I rarely want to spend it in a dark room… – but I have tried my best this year to see at least some of the Oscar-nominated films, so that I can chip in once they’ve been distributed in a way that will doubtless cause some controversy or other.

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DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”

I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.

Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

DVD Review: Small Island

“This island is too small if you have big dreams”

Andrea Levy’s 2004 novel Small Island was inescapable at the time, it seemed like everyone I knew had read and loved it but though it went on to win prizes, I wasn’t as big a fan of most of it. That said, I did love much of this television adaptation in 2009 which came just after Ruth Wilson’s superlative turn in the Donmar’s A Streetcar Named Desire as I began to realise how special an actress she really was. The story focuses on the experiences of two women – Queenie Bligh and Hortense Roberts – as the economic and social impact of World War Two ripples out through London and Jamaica.

Naomie Harris’ Hortense is a young Jamaican woman with heady dreams of becoming a teacher in what she sees as the idyllic land of England yet is devastated to find the gloominess of reality, alleviated only once she meets a man called Gilbert; and Ruth Wilson’s Queenie is a working class Yorkshirewoman who moves to London to escape the family farm but with little real prospects. When her job falls through, she accepts the marriage proposal of the attentive Bernard Bligh – Benedict Cumberbatch in full-on English mode – to avoid having to move back but when he leaves for WWII, huge changes are set in motion for all concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: Small Island”

Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Why did you make me?”

Perhaps one of the less-successful decisions I have made this year was to revisit Frankenstein at the National Theatre. There was a number of reasons: the opportunity to see Jonny Lee Miller take on the role of the Creature and directly compare and contrast him with Benedict Cumberbatch; it was the final performance of the run; it was actually the third time I had a pair of tickets to see the windy Miller – I’d passed on the other tickets to more receptive friends but given one last chance, I ended up biting the bullet in the spirit of perhaps finding something new in the production.

For I did see it much earlier in the run, you can read the review here, and I found it a most problematic play. And my opinion of it still holds firm after a second viewing, I find it simply astounding how forgiving the official reviews were of this show. For sure, the production values are at times sensational and a welcome shot in the arm for National Theatre stagings which will hopefully inspire more creativity in future productions. But the play itself is so terribly weak that to close one’s eyes to its many problems feels like an absolute crime and try as I might, I could not ignore them and try to focus on having a ‘good time’ as my companion attempted to admonish me. Continue reading “Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”

Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Please do not be inconsistent, I find it infuriating”

Perhaps the first big theatre ‘event’ of the year is the National Theatre’s Frankenstein which has taken the step of cross-casting its two main parts, so on different nights one can see Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller playing the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. The play is a new work by Nick Dear although based on Mary Shelley’s famous novel and features the National Theatre directorial debut of Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director of films like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. The programme of who is playing whom has now been published, although the run is currently sold out, but the previews remained unallocated so it was a lucky dip as to who we would get when we went to see it: just to clarify, this is a review of a preview performance from Tuesday 8th February which I have kept in mind whilst blogging about this show.

There’s a highly atmospheric entrance into the Olivier, with a bell tolling and a strange looking pod revolving slowly around the stage. As the lights darkened to a womb-like red, a figure began to emerge from this pod and eventually a completely naked Benedict Cumberbatch broke free to be birthed into this cruel chamber. It is hard to see how this opening 15 or so minutes will be bettered this year, as a physical performance it is truly outstanding as he slowly becomes accustomed to the world through squinting eyes, stuttering sounds and a stumbling gait, controlled through a stunning light feature that hangs above the stage, protruding into the audience that flashes blindingly, radiating an intense heat too, as a highly effective warning device. It is a remarkably open sequence too, not just because he is in the nude, but because he is so free in his movements and the way in which he shows the fast-burgeoning intelligence of the Creature, in his reaction to his first dawn or the rain for instance: he really sets the marker for the rest of the play in creating this empathetic character who one can’t help but root for (the odd murder excepted of course). Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”