Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

A beautifully sensitive film adaptation of Journey’s End that spares none of its horror

“Smells like liver without the smooth wet look”

In all of the art that has been created around the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it is a shame that this film adaptation of Journey’s End passed by without much fanfare last year. RC Sherriff’s play is a rightfully punishing and pummeling play and Simon Reade’s adaptation loses none of the ferocity and horror of the writing, while adding new layers of disturbing verisimilitude in its staging.

Set in the final months of the First World War in the trenches of northern France, Journey’s End follows C Company as they await orders with an increasing sense of dread. Newly arrived Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) has requested the posting as he naively wants to be reunited with former school colleague and family friend Captain Stanhope. But nothing can prepare him for life on the front line, nor the effects of war on his pal. Continue reading “Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)”

Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs

“The crisis is over. Isn’t it…?”

The Hampstead Downstairs continues its strong run of programming with The Argument, further developing already existing creative relationships. This is William Boyd’s first original play, following his adaptation of 2 Chekhov short stories in Longing which played the main house in 2013, and it is directed by Anna Ledwich, who helmed the Olivier-nominated Four Minutes Twelve Seconds here in 2014.

Though it is a much abused term when it comes to theatre marketing, The Argument really does fall into the category of dark comedy. Pip and Meredith are just back from seeing some popcorn flick at the cinema and a disagreement about the flimsiness of the plot snowballs into a titanic argument about the very nature of their relationship, which then cracks under the strain. In a series of two-handers, Boyd then shows us how the ripples of this quarrel impact on their best friends Tony and Jane and her parents Chloe and Frank, provoking new arguments too. Continue reading “Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8

“Are you one of those? They’re everywhere in Brighton aren’t they.
‘Yeah, not so many in Halifax though, cos of the weather’”

I really enjoyed the opening half of new BBC police drama Cuffs and so whacked up a review of those four episodes whilst they were still watchable on the iPlayer. The show has now finished its run, 8 episodes being the default setting for a ‘long’ series here in the UK, and whilst it may have lost a little of the fast-paced energy that characterised its arrival, its bevy of boisterous characters ensured I was fully engaged right through to the end of the last episode.

With such a large ensemble making up the South Sussex team, Cuffs did sometimes struggle in giving each of them a fair crack of the whip. For me, it was Amanda Abbington’s Jo who got the shortest end of the stick, too much of her screen-time, especially early on, being taken up with the fallout of her illicit affair instead of showing her as the more than capable police officer we finally saw in the latter episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8”

DVD Review: What You Will

“It’s brilliant not to be me”

On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.

This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company – the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally. Continue reading “DVD Review: What You Will”

Review: Macbeth, Tobacco Factory

“Full of sound and fury”

For those in the know, Filter’s reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s work can be an anarchic delight but for those coming to them for the first time, as I suspect a deal of this matinée audience for Macbeth might well have been, their approach can prove a little disarming. It does presuppose a solid working knowledge of the play and an affection for the anarchic working practices of the company comes in handy too as the sound desk once again becomes an additional member, working overtime to create the truly unique soundscape of this strangely enchanting world.

I’m going to hold off too much comment about the piece as it would appear to be a bit of a work-in-progress. This is cited as the premiere of the piece here in Bristol with a UK tour coming in the new year and one imagines that changes and development will occur, it does have a rawness to it albeit one that is most appealing. More significantly, it is brimming with huge invention – the witches are brilliantly, the way that dialogue is toyed with brings a new psychological depth to play and it feels utterly contemporary in its different attacks on the main characters. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Tobacco Factory”

Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate

“Repression is the only lasting philosophy”

Although not intentionally, this year I’ve been racing through the list of theatres (and towns) I haven’t been to before and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate is the latest to be ticked off. This production of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities marks the beginning of James Dacre’s tenure as Artistic Director there and though I have no way to compare it with what usually takes place on stage here, it feels like a hugely ambitious piece of work and a definite statement of intent.

Most of this comes from the team he has gathered. Mike Poulton’s sleek adaptation of the novel surely confirms him as the country’s foremost translator from page to stage, Oscar winner Rachel Portman provides a hugely atmospheric score which swells to fill the auditorium, and the use of a community ensemble gives credibility to the world of the play, creating a most effective baying mob in Mike Britton’s beautiful set which effortlessly switches location as the story dictates. Continue reading “Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate”

DVD Review: First Night

“It’s not about reality, it’s about style…feeling…”

For my birthday, the present of a DVD that contained Julian Ovenden whipping his shirt off in its opening moments and Nigel Lindsay putting the moves on Oliver Dimsdale promised much indeed but having watched it, I’m not so sure that First Night quite lives up to it. A 2010 British rom-com set in a Glyndebourne-like world of country-house opera, it flirts with catastrophe early on with the practically inexplicable decision to cast Sarah Brightman as a conductor whose wooden movements suggests not a musical bone in her body and whose leaden delivery of her lines is often cringe-worthy. But it slowly pulls itself together and in featuring more of the rest of the (much better) cast, it becomes a passable farcical romp which mildly entertains.

Richard E Grant plays Alex, a rich industrialist and frustrated opera singer (yes, another one…), who decides to mount a production of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte at his stately home to prove he is no stuffed shirt. Brightman plays the conductor he has his flirtatious eye on but the company of up and coming singers whom he recruits to sing for their supper seem more interested in getting their ends away as their antics become increasingly highly-sexed with a series of storylines designed to reflect those in the opera they are performing. Christopher Menaul and Jeremy Sams don’t quite get to such sophisticated heights with their script or plotting but the camp extravagance of the performances just about swings it around. Continue reading “DVD Review: First Night”

DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right

What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”

So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.

And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”

DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin

“Dirt is the enemy”

Breaking the Mould was a 2009 TV movie for BBC4, starring Denis Lawson and Dominic West, about the development of penicillin for use as a medicine. It occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality, in that it is based on real people and events but contains invented scenes “for the purposes of the narrative”. Added to that is a rather tight timeframe of 80 minutes in which the story is told, which results in a rather lightweight affair, which is nonetheless intermittently entertaining.

Starting in 1938, after beginning with one of those annoying flash-forwards to the end of the story, the film focuses on a group of scientists at the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, led by Australian Howard Florey. Aided by the German Ernst Chain and the English Norman Heatley, he was preoccupied creation of a stable form of penicillin that could be developed for medical use, following Fleming’s initial discovery of its antibacterial properties. Against the antipathy of the scientific community and the hardship imposed by the declaration of WWII, their determination to succeed eventually led to one of the most significant discoveries of the century, although it doesn’t always necessarily feel like it here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin”

Review: Silence, RSC at Hampstead

“It’s me…I don’t know how to be free”

My continued failure to resist booking plays I don’t really fancy but with members of the RSC Ensemble in the, resulted in this trip to the Hampstead Theatre to see Silence, their collaboration with Filter, a company whose work I haven’t really enjoyed in the three shows of theirs that I have seen. And even the assertion that it was the Ensemble members I was keen to see is stretching it a little (although Katy Stephens and Christine Entwisle were both people I wanted to see again) as it was the opportunity of gazing at Jonjo O’Neill and Oliver Dimsdale onstage that finally won me over: as Monica Geller once said, ‘homina homina’.

At its simplest, Silence follows two main narratives as a married couple pursue different paths: Kate travels to Russia to find Alexei, a man with whom she had a passionate affair more than 20 years ago; and her documentary filmmaker husband Michael with a sound technician colleague is investigating a mysterious Met Police unit whom they suspect of committing misdeeds. But this is a far from simple show as we flow seamlessly between both time and place, some scenes overlapping and even being intercut with one another. Continue reading “Review: Silence, RSC at Hampstead”