TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

“We must stay positive my dear, and hope that he at least died in a duel”

The jewel in the BBC’s Christmas programming for 2013 was the adaptation of PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, her continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but in the vein of her own murder mystery style. Stripped over three days (because schedulers don’t seem to believe we can wait between episodes any more), the trio of hour-long, lusciously-filmed episodes were perfect for plumping in front of the telly for, without having to engage the brain too much, and proved an interesting exemplar of both the weaknesses and strengths of James’ enterprise.

The story begins six years after the wedding between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy as the preparations for their annual ball are rudely disrupted by the wayward arrival of Lydia’s coach and her breathless announcement of murder. An investigation into the woods around Pemberley soon reveals a body and it is Lydia’s husband the dastardly Mr Wickham who is suspected of the deed. Thus follows a crime procedural (of sorts) as Lizzie and Darcy try to get to the bottom of who exactly killed the man, whilst negotiating their tangled history of their families and trying to avoid social shame.  Continue reading “TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley”

Review: Richard II, Barbican

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”

I am aware that I’m flying in the face of received wisdom here but I really wasn’t a fan of the RSC’s Richard II. The announcement of David Tennant in the leading role ensured its sell-out success (regardless of the actual strength of the production) and its transfer to the Barbican after its initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon likewise proved to be the quickest of sellers. Its critical notices have been close to superlative too, so the level of expectation was certainly high.

But for all of this, I found Gregory Doran’s production to be largely quite dull, it hardly ever provoked excitement or even piqued my interest in the slow-moving telling of its tale of regime change and the corrosive effects of absolute monarchy on the individual. The inferences of a Christ-like demeanour to this King are heavily played and Tennant laps this up, irascible and irritable throughout and increasingly given to thoughts of his own divinity. Intentional perhaps, but hard to like. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Barbican”

Review: Narrative, Royal Court

“Don’t internalise it, tell us your story”

‘Form is broken’, so the publicity for Anthony Neilson’s new play Narrative tells us, so here goes. Simply described as a new play about stories, it has been devised by Neilson and his company of seven  and brings together a blend of characters and scenes and songs and poems and scripts and video to diagnose something of the modern condition, the world in which we find ourselves today.  Continue reading “Review: Narrative, Royal Court”

Review: I Am A Camera, Southwark Playhouse

“Isn’t life extraordinary”

Written in 1951, John Van Druten’s play I Am A Camera will trigger moments of recognition for many more people than will initially be expecting it. Based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, it formed a major part of the inspiration for the Kander + Ebb musical Cabaret in its depiction of a 1932 Berlin whose Bohemian excesses are beginning to be curbed by the rise of the Nazi party to power. Suffering from writer’s block, Isherwood happily allowed himself to get side-tracked in the decadent whirl of the Weimar Republic and right in the heart of the storm, taking him along for the ride, is his great friend Sally Bowles.

Spread over a few months, Van Druten gives us vignettes of Christopher and Sally’s hectic lives, as well as those who are drawn into their orbit, like the inscrutable Fritz, the intense Jewish Natalia and the dashingly charismatic American Clive. It is Isherwood’s story, so we delve in and out of his memory – Nicolai Kornum’s lighting crucially good here – as tales of love and friendship play around the hopes, ambitions and trials of this group of people. The combined effect is one of a beautiful portrait of quietly observed humanity in all its complexity.

Barely recognisable as Dudley from the Harry Potter films, Harry Melling imbues Isherwood with a sinuous physical grace and a highly appealing charm throughout. His mostly unruffable demeanour makes him a steadying presence, but one filled with deeply felt emotion which comes out in his show of great maturity late on. Around him, Oliver Rix’s debonair Clive is a bundle of hat-tossing sexually ambiguous delight, Sophie Dickson and Freddie Capper negotiate a failed attempt at romance with skill and Sherry Baines’ domineering matriarch makes a strong late impression.

Continue reading “Review: I Am A Camera, Southwark Playhouse”