Review: Paddington 2 (2017)

I succumb easily to the charms of Paddington 2 and Hugh Grant having the time of his life

“Exit bear, pursued by an actor”

In a year when sequels have outperformed expectations (at least mine anyway), I should have heeded the signs that Paddington 2 heralded back last winter that sequels were ‘in’. Paul King’s follow-up to his 2014 warm-hearted original, reintroducing us to our ursine Peruvian hero, occupies a similar space of resolutely British family films that are a cut above. 

Written by King and Simon Farnaby, the film is unafraid to take its audience seriously and for every adorably sweet sequence, there’s genuine peril and even darkness in there too. Hugh Grant is the main antagonist, an actor called Phoenix Buchanan who has been reduced to making dog-food adverts and his ne’er-d-well ways see Paddington framed for a crime he did not commit. Continue reading “Review: Paddington 2 (2017)”

Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)

Who needs Shakespeare when you have William Oldroyd and Alice Birch to give us a chillingly excellent Lady Macbeth

“I’d rather stop you breathing than have you doubt how I feel”

Based on the book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a ferocious debut film and written by Alice Birch (no stranger to theatregoers but also making a feature debut here), it is a remarkably forward-thinking piece for that old hoary chestnut that is the British period drama.

Layering in intersectional notions of race and class, not shying away from domestic abuse and violence, it is probably safe to say it is unlike any other film you’ve seen that is set in 1865 England. Trapped into a stifling marriage with a disinterested man with a domineering father and a dour isolated estate in the North East, Katherine resolves not to let this be the sum total of her life. Continue reading “Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)”

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Don Quixote, Swan

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)

 “I need to know if he still loves me”

Joe Wright’s film version of Anna Karenina was, for me, a hugely under-rated piece of work, a sumptuous feast for the eyes in his inimitable style. But I can see it might not be to everyone tastes, which is where the 2000 mini-series should step in as an ideal replacement. Stretching out luxuriously over four hours, David Blair’s production of Tolstoy’s classic, adapted by Allan Cubitt, is something quite close to triumphant, not least for a desperately compelling performance from Helen McCrory as Anna but from a detailed realisation of so many aspects of the novel.

For though the tragic love triangle of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is the best known strand of the story, Levin and Kitty’s relationship is just as significant in the grand scheme of things and there’s also room here for a fully-fleshed version of Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. The way in which the multiple lines are followed is expertly done and begins to do some justice to the weight tome that is the piece of literature on which it is based. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)”

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre

“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received. Continue reading “Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Digital Theatre

“Can the world buy such a jewel?”

Well you can now buy a copy of Josie Rourke’s Much Ado About Nothing which parlayed the star quality of its leads David Tennant and Catherine Tate into massive box office success but watching it again, I’m not so convinced of its jewel-like propensities. Revisiting this particular show did it no real favours in my mind, exposing its limitations and the lack of subtlety that characterises so much of the production.

Relocated to a Gibraltar naval base in the 1980s, the brashness of that decade was clearly taken onboard as a key note for the whole thing. But whereas from the back row of the Wyndhams, it seemed to work in filling the theatre, in the up close and personal of the camera lens, the broadness doesn’t work quite as well. Tennant comes off slightly better with a more natural reading of the lines as a cocky Benedick but Tate never really gets under the skin of Beatrice, the emphasis too much on artifically contrived comedy which never allows her to just be. She is always made to work harder by Rourke who perhaps should have trusted her actor a bit more as she really comes into her own from ‘kill Claudio…’ where she demonstrates her dramatic gift and indicates what might have been of lines like “there was a star danced…” had she been mugging less right before delivering it. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Digital Theatre”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndhams

“Man is a giddy thing and that is my conclusion”

Marking Josie Rourke’s first major piece of work since the announcement of her appointment as the next Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, this production of Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps more notable, for those less interested in theatrical musical chairs, for reuniting David Tennant and Catherine Tate, one of my all-time favourite pairings from Doctor Who. It is actually the first time I’ve seen the play, though I adored the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson film when I was younger, and fans of this play are being spoiled as the Globe are also mounting a production which opens in the coming weeks.

The play has been moved to the heady days of the early 1980s and apparently is set in Gibraltar. I say apparently because the first I heard of it was reading the programme on the way home in which there’s an essay about life there which I assume means it serves as the location. I didn’t see any monkeys or a big rock, but I suppose it allows for the military base to be used as a reason for putting all of Don Pedro’s men in spiffing white naval uniforms đŸ˜‰ (At least I think they’re naval, military of some description anyway.) Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndhams”