Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs

I’m left unmoved by The Strange Death of John Doe, running at the newly press-covered Hampstead Downstairs

“I mean, where does a person begin and end, and when did they stop being a person?”

So it looks like the Hampstead Theatre’s policy of not having its downstairs shows ‘officially’ reviewed has been well and truly junked asThe Strange Death of John Doe is the second show to get the full press treatment after The Phlebotomist. And perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this one is directed by Edward Hall himself…

As it is, the Hampstead Downstairs’ remit as an experimental space has always been a bit of an iffy one, in reality this is more of a Royal Court Upstairs kind of theatre, and Fiona Doyle’s new play is no exception. An intriguing take on a horrific but underexplored aspect of the refugee crisis, vividly staged with movement by the late Scott Ambler. Continue reading “Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1

“Oh for…fucking internet”

On the first day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…a politician fucking a pig.

Can Charlie Brooker ever have conceived that four years after The National Anthem aired, the theme of his first episode of Black Mirror would actually come horrifically to life as Lord Ashcroft’s biography of David Cameron alluded to unsavoury acts with a pig’s head. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1”

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”

Film Review: Suffragette

“You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable”

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette offers a rather striking perspective on the women’s suffrage movement, inventing a working class character and following her political awakening at a key moment in the fight for women’s rights. Carey Mulligan’s Maud Watts is a dutiful wife and mother, working long, thankless hours at a Bethnal Green laundry whose chance encounter with a riotous group of suffragettes slowly rouses something within her.

This is where Morgan and Gavron’s approach pays dividends, in seeing the movement through working class eyes away from the privilege and relative freedom of the leaders. Even on a shop-floor full of much-put-upon women, suffragette is spat as a dirty word and in the close-knit neighbourhoods too, the leap that Maud has to make to merely stand up for what she believes is right is that much more difficult, more life-changingly dramatic and Mulligan is truly superb in tracing this transformation. Continue reading “Film Review: Suffragette”

CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)

“No… it can’t be… is it gravity I am feeling?”

It’s been a goodly time coming, just over two years since it opened actually, but the Original Cast Recording of The Light Princess is finally here. Finely crafted by writers Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson with the original cast from the National Theatre production and recorded entirely under studio conditions, this double CD a triumphant achievement. It simultaneously acts as a perfect tribute to a much-loved show (one I saw five times during its too-short run #1#2#3#4#5), it also advances the score, refining its musicality into a more intense yet accessible experience.

Right from the opening bars of the ‘Prologue: Once Upon A Time’, Katherine Rockhill’s piano playing sounds amazing and is rightfully forefronted here as the cornerstone of Amos’ wide-ranging compositions, the lushness of the strings sound pretty special too. And with Rosalie Craig’s astonishing performance as Althea – the light princess herself – liberated from the constraints of this most physically demanding of roles (both for her and for us too, goggling at the inventiveness with which her floating was essayed), her vocal interpretation deepens into something even more affecting, impossible as it may seem to anyone who saw her amazing work onstage.  Continue reading “CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion

“Learning to let go”

Just a quickie for this one-off – a fundraiser for the Make A Difference Trust of this late 1980s song cycle inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt. The original London production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens actually transferred to the Criterion – where tonight’s show was – from the King’s Head but it’s a little difficult to see how this production with its nearly 50-strong company could ever have been scaled down to fit into that Islington pub theatre. But given how the show is made up of individual songs and monologues, each inspired by a different panel on the quilt representing the life of someone who has died from HIV/AIDS, its inherent flexibility shows how it can take whatever form is needed.

Here, Stephen Whitson’s production takes on a new 21st century version of the book by Bill Russell, the updating of which has mixed results. Contemporary references clang a little awkwardly but there’s more of a problem in that neither the fast-moving world of medical advancements nor the changing nature of the epidemic itself are really reflected – the show is already a period piece in so many ways that it perhaps would be better to leave it that way rather than trying to chase a relevance that would be better served by a completely separate part two. Continue reading “Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion”

Can’t Be Fecked With A Review: Man and Superman, National Theatre

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”

Not gonna lie, the prospect of Man and Superman has had me vacillating between

and

after ill-timed illness meant we couldn’t use our £15 seats in the front row. Some stalking of the website got me another cheap seat but this time up in the circle slips which is somewhere I never want to sit again – it may be a bargain but you sacrifice an awful lot to tucked away up there (although the individual seats are quite nifty themselves).

The play itself isn’t bad, not as good as I’d hoped in all honesty given how lovely and sunny it was outside, and I rarely felt that inspired by it (a consequence of being much farther away than I’m used to I think). So for this one, I’m abdicating my blogging responsibilities and you’ll have to look elsewhere for a review…

 

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th May

Leading Man of the Year 2014

Year after year, I bust my ass writing about the hundreds of shows I see yet the most popular posts, without fail, are all about the hotness 😉

So let us do the annual ritual of casting off the Daley-like coyness for a while and appreciating the visual pleasure that theatre can bring.

 

The results from 201020112012 and 2013 can be found here for your delectation. And so without further ado, let’s take a deep breath, admire Harington’s abs, and dive into this year’s selection, in no particular order.

 

Continue reading “Leading Man of the Year 2014”

Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre

“Try not to care so much”

Whilst other people wind down for the end of the year, Nina Raine is certainly keeping busy as her self-penned and self-directed Tiger Country returns to Hampstead Theatre, in advance of Donkey Heart – written by her brother Moses and also directed by her – transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in the New Year. Declared one of Hampstead’s most popular commissions, I must confess to being a little surprised to see this 2011 play return as it didn’t stick out as particularly memorable but with the promise of a new cast, I was interested to see how it stacked up nearly four years later.

And it seems that some time away has done it some good – the play feels cleaner, sharper and less encumbered with expository dialogue clearing a path through the medical terminology. I don’t know how much the script has been updated or edited but its spin through the state of the modern NHS feels as keenly observed as ever, visiting the stresses it imposes on those who work within it as well as those who use its services. Raine’s production recaptures the frenetic energy of a hospital and its staff at full stretch – metaphorically, physically, emotionally. Continue reading “Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre”