Review: Dessert, Southwark Playhouse

“I need to change what I can accept”

I only booked for Dessert at the Southwark Playhouse because of the extraordinary Alexandra Gilbreath, one of our finest – and somewhat unheralded – actors. I was no real fan of Oliver Cotton’s previous play Daytona and I’m a couple of decades too young to be excited by the prospect of Trevor Nunn directing. And lest you think me harsh, this was borne out by the audience in SE1 being much more like a typical Chichester crowd than I’ve ever seen here before.

And Dessert more than matches up to the billing by taking place during the final course of a dinner party hosted by an uber-wealthy British couple for an uber-wealthy American couple whose main topic of conversation is the number of millions a chance find of a painting can be flogged for. The menu is interrupted by a visitor but as so much of the play hinges on this late arrival, discretion will be deployed here.  Continue reading “Review: Dessert, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)

“Sight may distinguish of colours, but suddenly to nominate them all, it is impossible”

First things first for this is too important an issue to be brushed under the carpet, too vital a conversation to not too have because a press release has been summarily issued, the “historical verisimilitude” justification for Trevor Nunn’s decision to cast an all-white company for his Wars of the Roses play cycle is just pure bunkum. At one point in Henry VI, a Norwegian man and a British woman appear on a balcony playing French characters but it’s OK because we’re in a theatre, they’re acting, the natural suspension of disbelief kicks in. 

Similarly later on, the four sons of Richard of York appear, three played by adults and one by a boy. Historians might point out that the son played by the boy was the second oldest of York’s surviving issue but again it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, theatrical license is granted and it allows for more poignant drama given his ultimate fate. So the historical accuracy argument clearly has little merit, lest we need reminding that Shakespeare is fiction, and the notion that the audience couldn’t connect family trees unless everyone is the same colour is frankly insulting. Continue reading “Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)”

Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Every tale condemns me for a villain”

Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed. 

Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays.  Continue reading “Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Work thou the way – and thou shalt execute”

Edward IV was my favourite of the three The Wars of the Roses plays, comprising the latter half of 2 Henry VI and an abridged 3 Henry VI. I might be biased towards it as the middle child of the trilogy but it encapsulates much of what is impressive about the whole enterprise. Its heart lies in two of the crucial grand narratives – the epic sweep of Margaret of Anjou’s rise and fall and the arrival on the scene of Richard of Gloucester as he begins the long con that’ll take him so far – and I actually found there to be an exciting sense of pace about the whole play, right up to its cheeky cliff-hangerish ending. 

With civil war raging across the country and death and destruction and betrayal and battles round every corner, Henry VI decides to retreat into pacifism leaving Margaret to assume the mantle of leader as her vendetta against Richard of York becomes increasingly vicious as supremacy swings between the two houses. Clad in chainmail, Joely Richardson radiates a malevolent determination that is well-matched by Alexander Hanson’s fervently committed duke, their tussling over the Iron Throne (well this one is stone…) complicated by multiple machinations from supporters constantly defecting from one side to the other.  Continue reading “Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Between the red rose and the white 
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”

Of the three plays of The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI was my least favourite. Taking all of I Henry VI and about half of 2 Henry VI, Trevor Nunn’s production takes an awful long time to really get going, largely hamstrung by one of Shakespeare’s weaker plots. Henry V has died, Henry VI isn’t proving to be much cop and so trouble starts brewing in the rival camps that emerges, the Houses of Lancaster and York. But they brew slowly and for a long time as there’s all sorts of business to deal with in France, including Joan of Arc.

And that business just isn’t that entertaining here, despite Imogen Daines’ committed work as the Maid of Orléans. The importance of the loss of French territory is never keenly felt and though the build-up to the collapse of English political order instinctively registers more significantly, it never feels more than a prelude as we know there is so much more to come (about seven hours). For me, Alex Waldmann’s petulant Henry VI was a disappointment, leaving no real mark on the role amidst a bunch of angry bearded white men shouting a lot. Continue reading “Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

 
Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).
 

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)”

Review: Daytona, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“I’m a joke and you know everything”

The arrival of a new play in the West End is something to be celebrated but I wish that I liked Oliver Cotton’s Daytona more than I did, its dull convention and wayward plotting making it an old-fashioned and frustrating experience rather than a shining beacon of new writing. Originally premiered at the Park Theatre last year before setting off on a brief UK tour, David Grindley’s production has been remounted for a limited run in the Theatre Royal Haymarket before heading out to the shires once again where perhaps it will gain more love than it did from me.

Set in mid-80s New York, retired Jewish couple Joe and Elli pass their time bickering amiably and rehearsing for their next ballroom dancing competition but their domestic bliss is shattered by the arrival of Joe’s brother, unseen for the last 30 years and bringing with him two huge, weighty issues from the past. The first concerns the shocking settling of an old score with a concentration camp guard, the second is a more intimate revelation that tumbles up everything we know about this trio and their complicated personal history. Continue reading “Review: Daytona, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Passion Play, Duke of York’s

“That’s what men want to hear…pornography”

The trio of recent major Peter Nicholls revivals is completed with this West End run of Passion Play. But where Privates on Parade and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg thoroughly charmed me with their insights into his back catalogue, this play felt much less like a vibrant piece of interesting theatre and more of a dated portrayal of marriage and infidelity which, despite its technical innovation, emerges as an awkward example of middle-aged male wish fulfilment (credit to @pcchan1981 for coming up with the phrase!). This is somewhat compounded by the direction of David Leveaux which brings a lascivious, almost voyeuristic sheen that feels way too retrogressive for this day and age.

Which is a shame, as there is much to enjoy here as well, not least in the sumptuous luxury of Zoë Wanamaker and Samantha Bond playing the outer and inner voices of the same character. That woman is Eleanor, who finds her marriage of 25 years to James, Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton taking on the two sides of this man, challenged by the arrival of the seductive and much younger Kate. And through the device of the alter egos, we see how the corrosive onset of infidelity affects this couple both publicly in their interactions but also privately as their innermost thoughts are given voice. Continue reading “Review: Passion Play, Duke of York’s”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”

Review: Barefoot in the Park, Richmond Theatre

“Take care of him, make him feel important, then you’ll have a wonderful marriage – like two out of every ten couples”

The big noise around Neil Simon in London at the moment may be around the revival of The Sunshine Boys which is about to open at the Savoy, but there’s also the chance to catch another of his plays, Barefoot in the Park, as it tours around the country starring Maureen Lipman and also featuring a rare foray into the director’s chair for her.

The 1963 play is simply but effectively conceived: a couple of young newlyweds move into their not-quite-ready Manhattan apartment after a short honeymoon, but find that the glow of the honeymoon period doesn’t always last quite so long as they face the realities of living with another person. On hand to offer advice to Corrie and Paul as they navigate their way through the shifts in their relationships over a handful of scenes are Corrie’s mother Mrs Banks and their spirited upstairs neighbour, the Hungarian Victor Velasco, who start to form their own connection as the booziest of dinners leads to unexpected events. Continue reading “Review: Barefoot in the Park, Richmond Theatre”