Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre

Some of the beauty of Flowers for Mrs Harris gets lost at Chichester Festival Theatre but it remains a striking new musical

“It’s a work of art… something not real, made to make you feel”

I had much love for Flowers for Mrs Harris when it premiered in Sheffield a couple of years ago, and so I was delighted to see Daniel Evans deciding to revive it at his new abode over in Chichester. My only cavil came with the placing of this most heartfelt musical in the vast space of the Festival Theatre rather than the intimacy of the Minerva where it might perhaps have been better served.

So much of the beauty of the show (book by Rachel Wagstaff from Paul Gallico’s novel, music & lyrics by Richard Taylor) comes from the fact that it isn’t a bells and whistles epic. It is something far more subtle that truly celebrates the ordinary in extraordinary, as Clare Burt’s charlady Ada Harris dares to dream of owning a Christian Dior dress and in working to achieve that dream, illuminates the lives of those around her.

Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange

Frankenstein gets taken around the block one more time at the Royal Exchange in Manchester – Sun readers need not apply

“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?”

It may have been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s magnum opus but let’s face it, no-one has ever needed an excuse to stage it before. A programme note for April De Angelis’ new version of Frankenstein for the Royal Exchange suggests there have been well over 50 adaptations and so there’s a job to make yours be the one to stand out.

Directed skillfully by Matthew Xia, De Angelis’ main superficial difference is to play up the storytelling device that frames the novel, using Captain Walton’s discovery of a bedraggled Victor Frankenstein on his expedition to the North Pole to be the mechanism through which scarcely believable events are described. And it’s a format that offers much potential – in emphasising the parallels (or differences) between the two, in exploring the role of an unreliable narrator, in making this version stand out. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange”

Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo

“I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary”

I wasn’t intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there’s no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.

And I’m glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End’s early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada. Continue reading “Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo”

Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory

“There’s no situation in the world that can’t be passed off with small-talk”

Overlord of all that is authentic in British theatre, Trevor Nunn is now further redefining authenticity by presenting us with a Terence Rattigan premiere, cobbled together from two pre-existing versions of the same play. Love in Idleness was originally known as Less Than Kind (which itself was seen at the Jermyn Street back in 2011) but was rewritten at the behest of its stars, a commercially minded decision which proved fatal to Rattigan’s reputation. And rather than choose one or the other, Nunn has fashioned something new (but assumably still authentic), named for the later version.

Sadly, that sense of compromise lingers strongly here. Fans of Rattigan were utterly spoiled by pitch-perfect interpretations of After the Dance and Flare Path (also by Nunn) at the beginning of this decade and again last year with an excoriating The Deep Blue Sea, so knowing the emotional force with which he can devastate us can only leave you disappointed at the tonally strange and inconsequential comedy of sorts with which we’re presented here. Only the long-awaited return of the marvellous Eve Best to the London stage imbues the evening with the quality it scarcely deserves. Continue reading “Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3

“I’m a decent bloke really”

On the ninth day of Christmas,Black Mirror gave to me…a skin-crawlingly dark episode

Even now, at the point where I’m trying to second-guess every episode of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker is always two, three, four steps ahead of us. With co-writer William Bridges, Shut Up and Dance manages the trick of repeating the key theme of a previous instalment but twisting it just enough so that you never suspect and that the self-referencing doesn’t feel too cheeky a move. 
 

Alex Lawther’s Kenny is a regular teenager, enjoying jerking off to porn on his laptop and getting enraged when his sister borrows said laptop without asking. When he gets it back with a virus on it, he attempts to clean his system but in doing so, unwittingly lets in a hacker who has secretly recorded Kenny’s exertions on his webcam and is threatening to release the vid unless he does exactly as he’s told. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

“This is not life”

Released last year, Victor Frankenstein has the ignominy of being something of a flop, a little surprising when you consider it is loaded with Brit talent like James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe and was directed by Sherlock alum Paul McGuigan. But as many have learned, not least Dr Frankenstein himself, reanimating old things doesn’t always go smoothly. 

Writer Max Landis’ new spin on Mary Shelley’s classic is that the story is told from (the non-canonical) Igor’s perspective, reframing the ‘hunchback assistant’ as something much more nuanced and offering a fresh set of eyes on their scientific endeavours. Here, McAvoy’s Victor is a manic medical student who rescues Radcliffe’s Igor from an undignified life as a circus freak and quite literally gives him a new lease of life as his collaborator.  Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)”

Review: Strife, Minerva

“There is only one way of treating men, with the iron hand … yield one demand and they will take six”

The list of the NT2000 top 100 plays is an interesting one, full of the sort of plays I wouldn’t ever have chosen to see and so using it as a guide to stretching my theatrical viewing has been illustrative. Which is a roundabout way of saying the latest play I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for myself that I went to see was John Galsworthy’s 1909 Strife at the Minerva in Chichester, incidentally marking Bertie Carvel’s directorial debut.

Set around an industrial dispute at a Welsh tinplate works where a strike has been running for six months, Strife examines the stresses this places on all concerned. The workers, who don’t have the support of their union; the board, who have travelled from London to thrash out a compromise; and the firebrand leaders of each faction who might not be so different as all that, each equally stubborn in refusing to budge from their position. Continue reading “Review: Strife, Minerva”

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

“There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,”

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.

Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships. Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible”

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”