Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National

“It took three surgeries to give me back my eyelid”

There’s a moment to catch the breath in the opening scene of Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies The Bone as Kate Fleetwood’s Jess removes the virtual reality helmet she’s been wearing to reveal substantial scarring across half her face (excellent prosthetic work from the creative team). Jess is a veteran of three tours of Afghanistan, the last cut short by a close encounter with an IED that ravaged her body, whose recovery process after fourteen months in a hospital bed is not necessarily being aided by a return home to the depressed Florida town where she grew up.

What is proving effective is a pioneering form of virtual reality-based therapy (based on real life) that is designed to help Jess manage the constant pain that her injuries cause. In a custom computer-generated world, she is liberated, if only momentarily from excruciating skin grafts and flashbacks and an understandable heaviness of spirit that claws its way back to the surface as soon as the helmet comes off. For in the real world, the end of NASA’s shuttle programme has left Titusville a shadow of the place it once was, making it even harder to reconnect with the sister and ex-lover she finds there. Continue reading “Review: Ugly Lies The Bone, National”

DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures

“There was a motivation…” 

This is a curious thing – a drama-documentary of legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie which utilises a double flashback structure to form a kind of biopic of her life, but one with an additional focus on her mysterious disappearance over several days after a particularly traumatic, though unexplained, experience. Anna Massey plays Christie late in life, at a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Mousetrap’s West End run, where she fields questions from journalists about her life, the answers to which are played out in flashback. Olivia Williams takes on the younger role who is meeting with a psychiatrist to try and explain her experiences, which are also replayed to us, through the delicate probing of her psyche. 

It is all elegantly done in this BBC adaptation, written and directed by Richard Curson Smith, covering the key points of her life – a happy childhood devastated by the loss of her father, the freedom of becoming a volunteer nurse and then pharmacist during the Great War, the beginnings of her career as a writer – but with little real insight or inspiration in what it is saying. The scenes around her disappearance have more meat to them but again fail to really click as the build-up to the grand reveal of what caused it falls rather flat in the final analysis. The split narrative adds nothing and instead subtract substantially from the pace of the film, continually frustrating as we switch fruitlessly between the two.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures”

Review: Pig Girl, Finborough

“Turn your head and you’ll see me”

Colleen Murphy’s Armstrong’s War remains one of the best new plays I’ve seen in recent years and that it hasn’t returned to these shores since its initial Sunday/Monday run at the Finborough in 2013 is an absolute travesty. In the meantime, we do now have the opportunity to see another of Murphy’s plays – 2012’s Pig Girl – which comes freighted with a different sense of expectation, as its premiere in Edmonton, Alberta was mired in controversy and sparked fervent protests at its perceived cultural appropriation. (An excellent précis can be read here.)

The play was inspired by a horrifically true story of a Canadian pig farmer and serial killer who was convicted of six murders but implicated in dozens more – his preferred victim being sex workers of aboriginal descent, a section of society too easily ignored and neglected, allowing him to literally get away with murder. Murphy depersonalises her story though, elevating it to near-mythical status in order to give a voice to the thousands of women, so many of them nameless, whose lives have been impacted by senseless violence. Continue reading “Review: Pig Girl, Finborough”

Review: Accolade, St James

“Everybody has one vice…”

An interesting choice of revival rounded off the One Stage season for emerging producers that has been taking place at the St James Theatre in Emlyn Williams’ Accolade. Previously seen at the Finborough back in early 2011, it won awards and critical acclaim as it formed part of Blanche McIntyre’s rise to one of the most eagerly watched directors working in British theatre and so despite the delay, it does seem like an astute decision from producer Nicola Seed to nurture this back onto the stage.

And something I hadn’t appreciated was how different it would feel in both a post-Leveson and post-Yewtree world. Will Trenting’s huge success as a novelist has seen him be awarded a knighthood despite the salacious nature of his fiction but the night before he is due to receive it, secrets and scandals come creeping out of the woodwork. For Trenting has taken the maxim ‘write of which you know’ most seriously and enjoys a regular dose of orgies in Rotherhithe on the side of his otherwise happy family life and a participant at one of them is discovered to have been underage.

My original review can read here and much still stands true now, if not even more so. McIntyre draws out the contemporary resonances in a society that revels in celebrity gossip and the dismantling of reputations, however they’ve been earned, and the hypocrisy endemic in its higher echelons. And she also lets us make the connections about Williams’ intentions in writing the play, the appeal for tolerance of alternative lifestyles is impassioned but not overstated, even as he suggests that it is possibly a necessary part of any creative spirit.

Alexander Hanson and Abigail Cruttenden embody this tension beautifully as Trenting and his wife Rona – Hanson is marvellously, unapologetically frank about his predilections and persuasions whilst Cruttenden’s quietly affecting devotion speaks of the deep connection between the pair that transcends conventional notions of marital fidelity and there’s great support all around them, not least from Sam Clemmett as their son. The slightly depressing treatment of the underage girl strikes the only bum note, popular ideas of consent and victimhood as problematic then as they ever have been now.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th December

Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre

“He needs to be on the side of the light”

Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the Booker Price twice when the literary behemoth that was Wolf Hall was followed up by the equally considerable Bring Up The Bodies. And whilst we wait for the third part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy – The Mirror and the Light – thoughts have turned quickly to adaptation. The BBC will be airing a six-part version by Peter Straughan in the future but the RSC have readied a theatrical interpretation of the novels by Mike Poulton which is now playing in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The shows can be seen separately, but are clearly designed to fit together (Wolf Hall has as close as the theatre gets to a cliffhanger ending!) and there are opportunities to see them on the same day.

At first glance, they may not seem the most likely choice for staging – set in the court of Henry VIII as he looks for ways of getting rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he might plant Anne Boleyn in her stead, these are all-too-familiar events. But Mantel’s magic was to tell the story through the eyes and mind of Thomas Cromwell, the wily commoner who worked his way up through the ranks to become one of the most influential man in the realm. Additionally, her magnificent present-tense prose brought Tudor England to life like never before, a rich attention to detail making this universe feel new-minted, as if anything could happen, not just what the history books say. Continue reading “Review: Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies, Swan Theatre”

Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre

“I suppose his…fortune had some bearing”

The choice to adapt Jane Austen’s endlessly popular novel Pride and Prejudice for the stage, as Simon Reade as done for this version at Regents Park’s Open Air Theatre, may well be one universally acknowledged as a good business decision. And whilst it may naturally lose some of the linguistic acuity that characterises the best of Austen’s work and provide a stately and solid, rather than superlative, piece of theatre, Deborah Bruce’s production has an undeniable elegance and a rather irresistible charm that many may find hard to resist.

There are few surprises in Reade’s adaptation apart from the skill with which he has compressed and filleted the story, so that it keeps an entirely recognisable shape, populated by all the well-loved characters doing what they do best, over the 2 and three quarter hour running time. Daughters of a country gentleman who hasn’t quite kept up his responsibilities to them and a mother all-too-keen to sort them our, the five Bennett sisters find themselves in need of securing their position in society in the only way they can, through marriage.  Continue reading “Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre”

Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre

“I’m interested in what people want”

There’s not really much more to be said about All My Sons that I didn’t cover in my original review of the play. Howard Davies’ production of Arthur Miller’s classic was a deserved huge success in the West End in 2010 and Digital Theatre captured it on film over two nights in September and so one now has the opportunity to rent it online, or download it to watch via their video player.

The fact that the play takes place on the single set lends itself to being captured quite easily on film, there’s little theatrical shenanigans employed here to distract from the fireworks of the acting, that is the real focus of this show. David Suchet’s oily geniality and Zoë Wanamaker’s blind forthrightedness are simply exceptional together as the Kellers play host to family and neighbours and are ultimately left helpless as long-buried truths from the past worm their way to the surface with devastating consequences. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre”

Review: Accolade, Finborough

“But what have they knighted you for?”

Accolade, a 1950 play by Emlyn Williams, is receiving its first ever revival here at the Finborough as part of their RediscoveriesUK season. Considered a controversial play at the time due to its unashamedly frank approach to sexuality, it will hardly seem risqué to modern audiences but as it is a rather tightly-constructed drama filled with suspense and given an excellent production here with Blanche McIntyre directing, one can’t help but wonder how on earth it has taken so long to get this back on the stage!

Set in London in 1950, Will Trenting is a novelist who has received notification that he is to be knighted and fully embraced into respectable society. But his scandalous novels have been born out of the double life that he has been leading and the attention that comes with this accolade being awarded to him exposes his predilection for drunken orgies in the East End with partners of all ages. Just before his date with Buckingham Palace though, a shocking charge is made and the fallout threatens his carefully balanced mix of family life and wilful hedonism. Continue reading “Review: Accolade, Finborough”