DVD Review: Othello (1995)

“But yet the pity of it”

Oliver Parker’s directorial career has taken in glossy takes on Wilde in An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest as well as the St Trinian’s films and the recent Dad’s Army remake. But it all started in 1995 with this adaptation, and the word is used advisedly, of Othello. As with many cinematic Shakespearean ventures, it plays fast and loose with the text, cutting large amounts of it and then adding supplementary scenes because the director wants to impose a vision.

The publicity campaign for the film played down its classical roots, focusing instead on the interracial politics of its love story – a hot button topic for the US then, as it is still is now. And well it might, for Parker’s screenplay makes a crucial mistake in rupturing the natural rhythms of the speech, well above and beyond the trimming down which in and of itself, is never a bad thing. Instead, this version feels reductive and rebarbative as it mangles its way through the play. Continue reading “DVD Review: Othello (1995)”

DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)

“What means your lordship?”

Having just seen a corking production of Hamlet at the RSC, I wasn’t expecting to like Franco Zefferelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, not least because Mel Gibson couldn’t possibly be a good Hamlet could he but I have to hold my hands up, I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting. Granted, from low expectations that might not always mean a huge amount but it was good enough for me, Glenn Close’s Gertrude an impressive Shakespearean debut amongst a quality cast combining youth and experience.

It’s full of interesting choices, not all of them 100% successful but intelligently considered nonetheless in creating a cinematic version of this theatrical behemoth that stands out on its own merits. So Ian Holm’s Polonius becomes a dour-minded, almost cruel figure that is very much at odds with how I’ve ever seen the character played, Hamlet and his mother Gertrude are shown to be locked in an Oedipal relationship (I like to think this is a nod to the fact that Close is just 9 years older than Gibson though I doubt it – I don’t think I’ve seen this interpretation onstage recently though), Helena Bonham Carter’s Ophelia a strikingly self-possessed figure from the start.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)”

69th Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Steven Boyer – Hand to God as Jason/Tyrone
Bradley Cooper – The Elephant Man as John Merrick
Ben Miles – Wolf Hall Parts One & Two as Thomas Cromwell
Bill Nighy – Skylight as Tom Sergeant
Alex Sharp – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as Christopher Boone

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Geneva Carr – Hand to God as Margery
Helen Mirren – The Audience as Queen Elizabeth II
Elisabeth Moss – The Heidi Chronicles as Heidi Holland
Carey Mulligan – Skylight as Kyra Hollis
Ruth Wilson – Constellations as Marianne

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Michael Cerveris – Fun Home as Bruce Bechdel
Robert Fairchild – An American in Paris as Jerry Mulligan
Brian d’Arcy James – Something Rotten! as Nick Bottom
Ken Watanabe – The King and I as The King of Siam
Tony Yazbeck – On the Town as Gabey Continue reading “69th Tony Award nominations”

2015 Laurence Olivier Awards winners

Best New Play 
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett – Almeida / Wyndham’s
Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The Nether by Jennifer Haley – Duke of York’s
Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton – Aldwych

Best New Musical
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter
Beautiful – Aldwych
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
Memphis – Shaftesbury

Best Revival 
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham’s
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse / Apollo
Skylight – Wyndham’s
The Crucible – Old Vic Continue reading “2015 Laurence Olivier Awards winners”

2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett – Almeida / Wyndham’s
Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The Nether by Jennifer Haley – Duke of York’s
Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton – Aldwych

Best New Musical
Beautiful – Aldwych
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
Memphis – Shaftesbury
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter

Best Revival 
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham’s
My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse / Apollo
Skylight – Wyndham’s
The Crucible – Old Vic Continue reading “2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

Continue reading “2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre

“He needs to be on the side of the light”

Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the Booker Price twice when the literary behemoth that was Wolf Hall was followed up by the equally considerable Bring Up The Bodies. And whilst we wait for the third part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy – The Mirror and the Light – thoughts have turned quickly to adaptation. The BBC will be airing a six-part version by Peter Straughan in the future but the RSC have readied a theatrical interpretation of the novels by Mike Poulton which is now playing in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The shows can be seen separately, but are clearly designed to fit together (Wolf Hall has as close as the theatre gets to a cliffhanger ending!) and there are opportunities to see them on the same day.

At first glance, they may not seem the most likely choice for staging – set in the court of Henry VIII as he looks for ways of getting rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he might plant Anne Boleyn in her stead, these are all-too-familiar events. But Mantel’s magic was to tell the story through the eyes and mind of Thomas Cromwell, the wily commoner who worked his way up through the ranks to become one of the most influential man in the realm. Additionally, her magnificent present-tense prose brought Tudor England to life like never before, a rich attention to detail making this universe feel new-minted, as if anything could happen, not just what the history books say. Continue reading “Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre”

Review: Red Enters the Eye / Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear / Feather, Radio 4

“Come, I’ll make you some lamb cutlets”

A friend recommended Red Enters The Eye to me mainly because the too-long-absent-from-our-stages Siân Brooke was in it but she also knew it would be just my cup of tea, and she was right. Jane Rogers’ 2011 radio drama follows the story of Brooke’s idealistic Julie, a volunteer heading to a women’s refuge in Nigeria to teach sewing classes. From nervous beginnings as the strict manager Fran – Penny Downie donning an Aussie accent – outlines all the rules and regulations, Julie soon makes a huge success of the classes, revelling in their popularity, the way the women respond to her work and the potential opportunities that open up as they realise the marketability of these new-found skills.

But her untempered enthusiasm fails to take into account the gravity of the situation in which these women have found themselves, so that they were forced to seek refuge. Rogers carefully threads in a necessarily weighty level of detail about the various threats that women face in this part of the world, explaining also how the volatile socio-religious situation has a huge part to play in Nigeria. But it is never heavy-handed and instead emerges as a sensitive and thoughtful piece of drama which I’d heartily recommend. Brooke is excellent as the breathlessly naïve volunteer, Downie grimly pragmatic as Fran and there’s also great work from Adjoa Andoh as her partner and Demi Oyediran as Sarah, one of the women in the refuge.


Written by Alistair McGowan, Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear also sees him taking on the lead role of French composer Eric Satie. Probably best known for his Gymnopedies, Satie was actually one more innovative than one might have given him credit for, pushing creative boundaries and challenging the establishment. But he was an eccentric figure with it and McGowan has focused on the three most pivotal people in his life and how they were able to see through his peculiarities and peccadilloes to the man within, even if only for a brief while.

It’s an engaging, if somewhat slight, piece of writing, but one which is full of genuine affection and respect for its subject. From the seemingly ridiculous quirks – at one point, he will only eat purely white food – comes the beginnings of an artistic movement, from hopeless infatuation with a singer comes a fruitful creative partnership. McGowan bubbles gently as the composer and swirling around him Nathaniel Parker’s friendly rival Debussy, Imogen Stubbs’ Suzanne and Charlotte Page’s Paulette are all charming as the significant trio.

And last up was Rachel Joyce’s Feather, recommended to me as Claire Price formed part of the voice cast. A delicately beautiful tale narrated by Maisie Cowell’s Fern, it’s an acutely observed child’s-eye view of the separation of a couple and the tug of war that ensures over their daughter. It’s a disarmingly effective technique of probing human behaviour as each parent starts to bring a new partner into their life whilst sussing out what is going on with their ex, all the while Fern finds herself in the middle, collecting enough feathers so that she can make the biggest wish in her life.


She believes in magic you see, and that feathers can grant you wishes, but Joyce’s drama is rooted entirely in the messiness of real life, the pain of broken homes and broken relationships and the difficulties in starting over again. It’s beautifully acted by Cowell, heart-breakingly so at times, and Claire Price and Jot Davies as the warring exes, trying not to manipulate their daughter ‘too’ much are both strong, along with Shaun Dooley as the kindly Finn, who offers hope to both mother and child. 

Review: The Audience, Gielgud

“It is the flow of information from one institution to another”

Helen Mirren took home the Academy Award in 2006 for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s film The Queen, so it was perhaps a bit of a surprise that her reprisal of the role was announced to take place on the stage of the Gielgud Theatre in The Audience, a new play written by Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry. The Audience centres on the custom for the reigning monarch to meet their Prime Minister every week at Buckingham Palace, a meeting which is held in complete privacy, and it is this that Morgan has seized upon. The play has just started previews and opens officially on 5th March.

He imagines how some of these audiences might have gone, with strong political characters and epochal events of the second half of the twentieth century passing through and the Queen being the only constant, though not unchanging. There have been 12 Prime Ministers during the Queen’s reign so far, 8 are featured here and even some of those are just fleeting appearances. But Morgan’s selectiveness and use of a non-chronological ordering pays huge dividends in the development of the play and of the Queen as a dramatic character.  Continue reading “Review: The Audience, Gielgud”