Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

Review: The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse

“A poet’s art is to lead on your thoughts through subtle paths and workings of a plot. I will say nothing positive; you may think what you please…”

It’s not too often that I open a review with mention of the sound design but Max Pappenheim’s work in The Little at the Southwark Playhouse is undoubtedly worthy of the accolade. In this intimate auditorium on the architecturally clean lines of Anna Reid’s set, there’s an extraordinary sense of being in vaulted palace chambers and cathedrals as echoes and reverberations amplify our imaginations perfectly.

It’s the kind of creative invention that those familiar with director Justin Audibert have come to expect and it is thrilling to see it maintained whether working in the vast Royal Shakespeare Theatre where his recent Snow in Midsummer was excellent, or on this much smaller scale where it is a real delight to see someone really understanding how to play to all sides of a thrust stage. There’s also a fascinating choice of material here in this revival of James Shirley’s The Cardinal, a 1641 play whose claim to fame is being one of the last to be performed before Oliver Cromwell pulled the plug on show-business.

Continue reading “Review: The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: PLAY – The Subterranean Season, VAULT Festival

“We’re gonna Jean Valjean the shit out of this”

PLAY – The Subterranean Season takes in plays 23-26 in their ever-growing programme of short plays, devised in just two weeks by a collaboration of writers, directors and actors up for the challenge of creating something sparklingly, spankingly, brand new and fresh. I saw PLAY Theatre Theatre Company for the first time at the VAULT Festival last year and fell for them hard, as is evident from the pull quote they’ve opted to use on their publicity this year (one for my scrapbook!). 

As ever, the four PLAYs cover a wide range of themes and styles, from the deceptively whimsical to the psychologically acute, sometimes within the same 15 minutes. For me, Aisha Zia’s 24 and Miriam Battye’s 26 achieved this balance perfectly, the former (directed by Holly Race-Roughan) mixing hipsterish shenanigans with guitars and cardboard boxes with a darkening look at the desperation of flat-hunting in South London. And the latter’s portrayal of an intense friendship was breath-takingly good, Matt Harrison teasing some sensational work from Emily Stott and Jessica Clark. Continue reading “Review: PLAY – The Subterranean Season, VAULT Festival”

Preview: VAULT 2017

Established now as one of the major arts festivals in London, the VAULT Festival returns from 25th January to 5th March 2017 at its original home beneath Waterloo Station and, for the first time, at satellite venues Network Theatre (just to the side of Waterloo) and Morley College (a little further away past Lambeth North). As ever, the programme features an exciting selection of shows exploring many themes via many more mediums. Full information and tickets are available now via VAULTFestival.com.

I’m still working out exactly what and how much I am going to see but I have got a few selections of the things that have definitely caught my eye.  Continue reading “Preview: VAULT 2017”

Review: After October, Finborough

“Listen: things will be different after the play comes on – completely different… Only a few more weeks, Francie, and you’ll see. Your whole life will change. I promise you it will”

Managed to sneak into After October at the Finborough  in its final week due to several people raving about it and glad I did, for it was a Christmas cracker. Rodney Ackland’s Before The Party was an under-rated triumph at the Almeida a few years ago so I don’t know why I didn’t book in for this earlier on. But pleasing to see it has had such a successful run, a well-deserved airing for an under-served writer and a continuation of the Finborough’s extraordinarily reliable track record of unearthing real gems from neglect (this is the first London revival of the play since its debut in 1936).

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 22nd December

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

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”