DVD Review: Le Week-end

“Once the kids have gone, what’s left of us?”

Renewing the creative partnership between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (which has included The Buddha of Suburbia and The Mother), Le Week-End was released in 2013 to well-deserved, general acclaim. And it really is well-deserved, this is the third time I’ve seen the film and I still find myself hugely enamoured of its bittersweet portrait of a long-married couple trying to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris, with the emphasis very much on bitter.

We first meet Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) on the Eurostar, where we first see the niggling signs of discontentment, the tiny behavioural tics that in isolation seem manageable, but over a lifetime, build up to intolerable degrees. Meg’s frustration boils over with a snafu over Nick’s hotel booking and though they soon replace that establishment with a far fancier one they can ill afford, the scene is set for an excoriating examination into the state of their marriage.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Le Week-end”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

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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: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward

“We’re practically our own children’s book department”

Second up for the Michael Grandage season at the Noël Coward Theatre is the only new play out of the programme of five – John Logan’s Peter and Alice. Logan’s stock is riding high both as a screenwriter – a 3-time Academy Award nominee and most recently responsible for Skyfall – and a playwright – his last play Red was well-received on both sides of the Atlantic – and the premise of this play, a meeting between the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland and the man who gave his name to Peter Pan, is one that certainly showed promise. But after attending this preview performance, it is not abundantly clear that this promise has been fulfilled.

The play sparks off of the real life meeting between Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, aged 35 and 80 respectively, and imagines a conversation in which they share stories of being so closely involved with 2 key figures of children’s literature. Llewelyn Davies was one of the brood of brothers with whom JM Barrie became very close and wrote Peter Pan for, and Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland after first recounting the story to Liddell Hargreaves on a family boat trip. Thus their places in literary history were sealed and Logan explores not just how their lives consequently rolled out but also touches on their relationships with the writers and the characters they inspired. Continue reading “Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward”

fosterIAN awards 2012

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayKate O’Flynn, LungsLaurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into NightHattie Morahan, A Doll’s House
Helen McCrory, Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations
Best Actor in a PlayLuke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeRafe Spall, ConstellationsBilly Carter, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
David Suchet, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Hugh Ross, A Life
Dominic Rowan, A Doll’s House
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayNiamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeLaura Howard, Lost in YonkersRuth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Open Air)
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPaul Chahidi, Twelfth Night (Globe)Charles Edwards, This HouseRobin Soans, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
Rory Kinnear, Last of the Haussmans
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur
Best Actress in a MusicalCarly Bawden, My Fair LadyJanie Dee, Hello, Dolly!Caroline O’Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along
Best Actor in a MusicalSimon Russell Beale, Privates on ParadeMark Umbers, Merrily We Roll AlongRichard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalClare Foster, Merrily We Roll AlongBonnie Langford, 9 to 5Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter’s Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll AlongAlistair Brookshaw, A Winter’s Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland

2012 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical


Best Supporting Actor in a Play 

Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
All the pre-show buzz about the Globe’s Twelfth Night was around Mark Rylance’s Olivia and Stephen Fry’s Malvolio, perhaps unfairly so given its ensemble nature. But the breakout star was undoubtedly Paul Chahidi as Maria, a deliciously wry and finely-tuned comic performance that still ranks as one of the funniest things I saw all year.

Honourable mention: Charles Edwards, This House
If anyone can make you feel sympathy for a Tory politician, it was bound to be Charles Edwards. Bringing a gentlemanly honour that one can’t really imagine existing in today’s political classes, his performance stood out in a genuinely strong ensemble and the temptation to go and see it again once the show transfers to the Olivier is strong.

Robin Soans, Someone To What Over Me 
Rory Kinnear, The Last of the Haussmans
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur

7-10
Kieran Bew, King Lear; Paul Ritter, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; Jonathan Coy, The Magistrate; Tom Goodman-Hill, The Effect

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Michael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!
Another performer who had an excellent year, Xavier is becoming one of those actors who for me is a must-see in whatever he’s in – this year I went to Milton Keynes and Leicester for him (Soho was less of a trek…) and as the endearingly goofy Cornelius in this, probably my most favourite of musicals, he made sure it was more than worth the effort.

Honourable mention: Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll Along
In one of the most strongly cast musicals anywhere in recent years, the whole character ensemble of Merrily… were of exceptional quality and in perhaps one of the less showy roles in the show, Humbley more than made his mark with a sterling rendition of ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc’.

Alistair Brookshaw, A Winter’s Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland

7-10
Stewart Wright, Swallows and Amazons; Anthony Calf, My Fair Lady; John Marquez, Ragtime; Adam Garcia, Kiss Me Kate

Review: Mercury Fur, Old Red Lion


Sarcasm will get you shot

Philip Ridley’s ‘moment’ in London continues with this Greenhouse Theatre Company production of Mercury Fur, which follows the Arcola’s Pitchfork Disney and the Southwark Playhouse’s current Shivered and forthcoming return of Tender Napalm. This desolate tale of a society, not so different from our own, on the edge of collapse is often brutally, crushingly dark as a group of young adults make an existence for themselves in any way they can, even in the most horrifying of ways.

Tucked away in a derelict council flat, brothers Elliot and Darren are setting up for a party organised by the ruthless Spinx to fulfil the request of the ‘Party Guest’. But as it becomes clear what kind of event has been arranged and what terrible desires are being sated, the relentless drive to the disturbing climax takes an appalling twist. But even in the midst of this dystopian, drug-fuelled nightmare, Ridley offers us glimmers of hope: buds of love, friendship, tenderness poke their way through the charred remnants of this world but have to fight incredibly hard. Continue reading “Review: Mercury Fur, Old Red Lion”

Review: The Aliens, Bush Theatre


“We’re not even close to being one of them”


Annie Baker’s play The Aliens marks the first time that Peter Gill has directed at the Bush Theatre in West London. Set at the yard of back of a diner in Vermont, former trailer park kid Jasper is trying to write a novel and college dropout KJ is laconically trying to find the perfect recipe for magic mushroom tea. A high school student who starts work at the coffee shop discovers the two nearly-30-somehings and a slow gentle friendship develops based on little chats, eating snacks and watching the 4th July fireworks.


Lucy Osbourne’s stage design is excellent, with the audience right there in the yard with the characters, it is well balanced being extremely intimate without feeling too intrusive and continues a strong vein of interesting design work at the Bush. But sadly that was about as good as it got for me.



It was well-acted to be sure: Mackenzie Crook nicely portrays the deluded self-confidence of Jasper, Ralf Little is convincing (and surprisingly tuneful) as the chilled stoner dropout KJ and would-be songwriter and Olly Alexander makes an intriguing debut as the awkward naïf who is sucked into their seductive world.

But as so little actually happens, I just found it dull to be honest. I longed for something more than just observing this world as I didn’t care much for Jasper or KJ and their attempted defence of their lifestyle and so struggled to engage with much of the piece. The interjections of an outsider helps a little as it is much easier to empathise with the geeky teenager but it just wasn’t enough for me.

It is fine to be minimalist, but it does rely rather on having engaging characters and I am not so sure that Baker has succeeded here in that respect. It actually reminded me most of Jerusalem, or at least in my reaction to it, in the way that it depicts a kind of fringe lifestyle that just doesn’t interest me or engage me on the night.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3.50
Booking until 16th October