Review: Here We Go, National Theatre

“Are those the pearly gates?” 

Almost like buses, you wait for a new Caryl Churchill play and two come along – Escaped Alone will play at the Royal Court in the New Year but up first is Here We Go at the National, directed by Dominic Cooke. Described as “a short play about death”, it clocks in at 45 minutes but depending on how you fare with it, it may seem like longer… 

Churchill has split her musings on mortality into a triptych of distinct but related scenarios. The first scene sees the playwright deploy her characteristic linguistic playfulness on a group of mourners at a funeral, their fragmented chit-chat skirting around the larger issues, their individual asides to the audience riffing beautifully on the coda to Six Feet Under’s magisterial finale (of all things).  Continue reading “Review: Here We Go, National Theatre”

Review: As You Like It, National Theatre

“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad”

For regular theatregoers, it can sometimes feel a bit hard to get excited about the umpteenth production of a play, so much so that I almost didn’t see the winning combination of the much-loved Blanche McIntyre and Michelle Terry until the very end of their run at the Globe this summer. So the news that Polly Findlay was also tackling As You Like It for the National was tempered a little (though it is the first time in 30 years it has played there) but as Rosalind was announced (Rosalie Craig poached from the cast of wonder.land to replace an indisposed Andrea Riseborough), the excitement began to build and the inevitable ticket was purchased and boy am I glad that I did. 

For the transformation of the set into the Forest of Arden is a moment of genuinely breath-taking theatre, Lizzie Clachan pulling the rug from under us and her design to create a most singular vision. And it is one in which enchantment slowly grows with sylvan sound effects created by company members onstage and a choir singing Orlando Gough’s contemporary and complex score (akin if alike to the one he composed for Bakkhai). There’s a lovely conceit in which Alan Williams’ Corins, nominally a shepherd but here more like a forest deity, summons the music every time love is needed to cast its spell, enhancing the magical feel. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

fosterIAN awards 2014

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayGillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire Chris Nietvelt & Halina Reijn, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Linda Bassett, Visitors
Susannah Fielding, The Merchant of Venice (Almeida)
Denise Gough, Adler and Gibb
Imelda Staunton, Good People
Best Actor in a PlayCary Crankson, The Saints Jack Holden, Johnny Get Your Gun Jonathan Broadbent, My Night With Reg
Chris Connel, Wet House
Harry Melling, peddling
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayVanessa Kirby, A Streetcar Named DesirePhoebe Fox & Nicola Walker, A View From The Bridge Blythe Duff, The James Plays
Liz White, Electra
Lydia Wilson, King Charles III
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayJoe Caffrey, Wet House Hans Kesting, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Patrick Godfrey, Donkey Heart
Julian Ovenden, My Night With Reg
Hugh Skinner, Thérèse Raquin (Theatre Royal Bath)
Geoffrey Streatfeild, My Night With Reg
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Gypsy Gemma Arterton, Made in Dagenham Charlotte Baptie, Free As Air
Natalie Mendoza, Here Lies Love
Christina Modestou, In The Heights
Sophie Thompson, Guys and Dolls
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Mackay, In The Heights Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion Adrian der Gregorian, Made In Dagenham
Killian Donnelly, Memphis
Jon Robyns, The Last Five Years
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJenna Russell, Urinetown Lara Pulver, Gypsy Samantha Bond, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, In The Heights
Kiara Jay, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Zoe Rainey, The Return of the Soldier
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJason Pennycooke, Memphis Aaron Tveit, Assassins Damian Buhagiar, In The Heights
Tyrone Huntley, Memphis
Nadim Naaman, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Jonathan Slinger, Urinetown

2014 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + a Musical


Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Joe Caffrey, Wet House
One of the most painfully believable portrayals of alcoholism you could ever wish to see and just brutal in its tragedy, even if the audience around laughed merrily away

Honourable mention: Hans Kesting, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
As the charismatic Leicester, loved by two queens, Kesting was a silkily seductive presence but one with steel at its very core. The kind of actor you can’t keep your eyes off (and if you ever see a show at the Stadschouwberg, nip upstairs to look at the very fetching portrait of him!).

Patrick Godfrey, Donkey Heart
Julian Ovenden, My Night With Reg
Hugh Skinner, Thérèse Raquin (Theatre Royal Bath)
Geoffrey Streatfeild, My Night With Reg

7-10
Sam Crane, Eternal Love; John Hodgkinson, Love’s Labours Lost/Won (RSC); Luke Norris, A View From The Bridge; Mark Rowley, The James Plays

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Jason Pennycooke, Memphis
Twinkle-eyed and twinkle-toed, Pennycooke is a sheer delight in Memphis as Bobby, the cleaner who becomes an unexpected television star, and just edges colleagues Rolan Bell and Tyrone Huntley who altogether make a superbly strong supporting line-up for this show.

Honourable Mention: Aaron Tveit, Assassins
The arrival of this square-jawed Broadway import was much heralded and certainly didn’t disappoint as he bolstered the tip-top ensemble that Jamie Lloyd assembled for Assassins with some fierce commitment and sheer quality.

Damian Buhagiar, In The Heights
Tyrone Huntley, Memphis
Nadim Naaman, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Jonathan Slinger, Urinetown

7-10
Dean John-Wilson, Here Lies Love; John Marquez, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Michael Matus, The Return of the Soldier; Cedric Neal, Porgy and Bess

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)


“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre


“It wouldn’t be like this at the National”

Does the West End really need another straight production of Oscar Wilde’s old war horse The Importance of Being Earnest? Apparently not, as the new productions lined up each have their own spin – 2015 will see David Suchet take on the role of the redoubtable Lady Bracknell for Adrian Noble and 2014 sees Lucy Bailey impose her own conceit onto the show which allows her to gather an ensemble of more seasoned professionals than might normally be expected to take on this play.

That she does with the help of extra material written by Simon Brett which sees this starry cast take on the mantle of am-dram society The Bunbury Company of Players who in turn, are putting on their take on Wilde’s play as part of their summer season. So before Algernon and Jack have even taken to the stage, we’ve been inducted into the mini-dramas of the company themselves – Nigel Havers’ lothario now having an affair with a third woman in the group, Siân Phillips and Patrick Godfrey’s long-married couple fussing and bickering, Cherie Lunghi’s would-be diva complaining about her costume not fitting… The scene thus seems set for a melding of onstage and offstage drama which would bring something new to this old classic.  Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Review: Donkey Heart, Old Red Lion


“This has been going on for years…we never put it right, it just repeats.”

Mere mortals don’t stand a chance without a dynasty behind them… Moses Raine’s father is noted poet Craig and his sister is playwright and director Nina (who looked into my very soul with the peerless Tribes) and not only that, his mother, who has her own literary career, is the niece of Boris Pasternak who wrote Doctor Zhivago. And it is to the Russian connection that Moses has turned to write his new play Donkey Heart, directed by Nina, which opens at the Old Red Lion with one of the best casts you could hope to see in any intimate theatre, never mind one perched atop an Islington pub.

Casting director Emily Jones definitely deserves mention for gathering such an illustrious company on the fringe – such experience as Wendy Nottingham and Patrick Godfrey, the younger talents of Emily Bruni and James Musgrave and emerging with one of the performances of the year so far, Lisa Diveney, She plays Sasha, the 20-something daughter of a Moscow family, three generations of which are compressed into a small apartment, along with a British visitor Thomas, her brother’s mouthy girlfriend and her father’s PA whose been stung by her landlord. Continue reading “Review: Donkey Heart, Old Red Lion”

Short Film Review #28


A curious little thing this. Written and directed by Alnoor Dewshi, 77 Beds features Ben Whishaw as Ismael, a young man having problems sleeping who decides to count things to try and get to the land of nod. But instead of sheep, he counts the number of beds he has slept in, and so follows a kind of patchwork personal history, snippets of his life, his friends, his family, appear in brief recollections of significant events and the beds that accompanied them. It’s intriguing but never really develops into something compelling, though it is always good to see Ben Whishaw, his angular youth a powerful central presence. 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #28”

Film Review: Les Misérables


“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”