9 of my top moments in a theatre in 2016

The end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances should be on their way soon, once the food coma has abated, but to tide you over, here’s my list of 9 of my top moments in a theatre over 2016, the things that first come to mind when someone says ‘what did you enjoy this year’. For reference, here’s my 2015 list and 2014 list.
 

The ‘arrival’ of the Hope Theatre

I’ve been gazumped by The Stage in recognising this Islington fringe theatre for a stellar year but it is no more than Matthew Parker and his team there deserve. Over the course of 2016, intelligent and exciting programming has made the Hope into a must-see venue for me, no mean feat in a market already full of fringe venues and new ones opening every time you look up. From promoting new writing to astutely chosen revivals, scorchingly personal writing to themed seasons culminating in delightfully campy lesbian musicals, this theatre has been on fire all year long and has made me excited to see every single thing they put – and there’s precious few places, large or small, that can say that.
 

Wizards and magic and owls, oh my

I’d have to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child again before deciding officially whether it is a great piece of drama or not, but there’s no doubting that it is a stonking piece of theatre and the atmosphere at the very first shows was something quite amazing to be a part of, even from the back row of the balcony. The romantic sweep of Christine Jones’ set and Steven Hoggett’s movement, John Tiffany’s endlessly imaginative direction and of course, the masterfully jaw-dropping effects from Jamie Harrison. It felt like something I’d never seen before and in the case of Sprocket the Owl, it was something no-one else saw either! 
 

Continue reading “9 of my top moments in a theatre in 2016”

Barely-a-Review: No Man’s Land, Wyndham’s

“You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this.”
He turns out the light.
BLACKOUT”

I do try and test my prejudices when it comes to playwrights for whom I have little fondness but the reality is that its hard to psyche yourself up in the name of being open-minded. Pinter is one of those writers for me, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed myself at one of his plays and at this point, I can’t see myself having a breakthrough moment with him in the way that I did with, say, Chekhov.

The main reason I allowed myself to be persuaded to see Sean Mathias’ production of No Man’s Land, previously seen in New York, was the cast – theatrical royalty in Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart plus Damian Molony and Owen Teale – but even then I can’t say that I was anything but bored in this tale of two old actors who may or may not share a past and waste a whole lotta breath skirting around it.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th December

DVD Review: Gnomeo and Juliet

“The story you’re about to hear as been told before, a lot”

Oh my giddy aunt, I wasn’t expecting that! Kelly Asbury’s computer-animated reworking of Romeo and Juliet (backed financially by Disney) takes us to the world of Verona Drive where elderly neighbours Mrs Montague and Mr Capulet spend their days bickering and sniping at each other whilst tending their equally impressive back gardens. And when their backs are turned, their garden gnomes come to life and play out the same conflict in miniature. Such is the world of Gnomeo and Juliet.

It is very much a family film so therefore this is very much an adaptation of the Bard and for me, it’s a rather entertaining one, if you’re seriously missing Mercutio then you’re seriously missing the point. James McAvoy’s effervescent blue-hat Gnomeo and Emily Blunt’s spirited red-hat Juliet make a highly charming couple, who fall for each other despite the enmity between their clans as typified by fierce back-alley lawnmower racing. But when things go too far – in a sequence that I actually found quite shocking, and moving – it seems that tragedy is destined to haunt this pair no matter what form they take. Continue reading “DVD Review: Gnomeo and Juliet”

DVD Review: The Lion in Winter (2003)

“Of course he has a knife! I have a knife. We all have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re all barbarians!”

It was more morbid curiosity that drew me to this 2003 TV movie remake of The Lion in Winter than anything, its most recent appearance on a London stage hardly setting the world alight, but a cast list that included John Light and Rafe Spall as well as the more luminary lights of Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart (taking the roles made famous by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in the 1968 film) added to the appeal. What was interesting though was how much I’d forgotten about James Goldman’s approach to this dynastic struggle, as humourous as it is historical.

So though it might appear dry – Henry II’s determination to overrule his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in naming their son John (of the Magna Carta) as his successor rather than the older Richard (of the Lionheart) – it’s actually a spiky family comedy-drama as the brothers, completed by Geoffrey the other one, duck and dive through the political machinations of their parents and the ever-present threat of Philip II of France whose sister Alais is contracted to be betrothed to whoever will be heir and is currently Henry’s mistress. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Lion in Winter (2003)”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown Part I, Richard II

“Take honour from me and my life is done”

And so finally it arrives, the culmination of the BBC’s Shakespeare fest in The Hollow Crown, the four history plays from Richard II through to Henry V filmed by some of our most exciting directors and bringing together a simply astounding company of actors of the highest (theatrical) pedigree. Having been spoiled by an excellent Richard II from John Heffernan at the Tobacco Factory, the subsequent Eddie Redmayne-starring production at the Donmar suffered a little by comparison, but the sheer star quality on offer here, directed by Rupert Goold no less, meant there was no way I would be missing it.

Leading the cast as the feckless monarch undone by his own grandiloquence, Ben Whishaw imbues Richard with a capricious feyness – his camp is filled with handsome serving boys, juicy figs and a monkey – and a fateful contempt for the affairs of men. This leads to his downfall as his harsh punishment of cousin Henry Bolingbroke and his unlawful seizing of his family’s land and money provokes a righteous retribution from Bolingbroke, who returns from exile supported by many a nobleman and seizes the throne. As the tide turns against him, Whishaw’s king graduates to a heart-wrenching too-late maturity, as the only life he has ever known (he was crowned aged just 10 after all) slips from his grasp. Goold lays on this transformation a little too thickly with an inescapable religious iconography but plays a masterstroke in having the scene of Richard’s return to England played out on a windy beach, his petulant hopelessness washed away with his name in the sand, Whishaw embracing the text exquisitely.   Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown Part I, Richard II”

Review: Bingo – scenes of money and death, Young Vic

“I’m stupefied by the suffering I’ve seen”

I started the year with the best of intentions to try and cut down on the number of shows I’m seeing and specifically to stop going to things I know I won’t like (mainly because of the cast). In this respect Bingo at the Young Vic was a double whammy as it had some of the worst word-of-mouth I’ve ever heard from fellow theatre-goers and I don’t even particularly like Patrick Stewart. But I allowed myself to be suckered into getting £10 tickets for a Wednesday matinee (by someone who then bailed at the last minute!) and safe to say, it was not a good experience.

Edward Bond’s play looks at the final years of Shakespeare’s life as the playwright returns to Stratford-upon-Avon having given up on writing, given up on his daughter and wife whom he loathes and generally given up on life. In the midst of his depressed funk is the enactment of the Enclosures Act which enabled the landed gentry to evict many of the poor and in which Shakespeare is complicit as he allows himself to turn a blind eye – though he is not completely without conscience as he sees the wider impact of these actions on a runaway girl who is brutalised by society. But even this makes it seem more interesting than it actually was as the first half was just criminally dull. I found it extremely hard to stay awake and there were a ton of walkouts. Continue reading “Review: Bingo – scenes of money and death, Young Vic”

DVD Review: Macbeth

This filmed version of Macbeth follows on from the well-received Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, that was also captured for posterity but given the filmic treatment rather than just recorded on stage. The entire adult cast, including Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the murderous couple, from the original Chichester production reunited to film this in high definition in the gloomy tunnels and bunker-like rooms at Walbeck Abbey.

Director Rupert Goold relocates the action to the Cold War Era thus making war-torn Scotland something closer to Stalinist Russia:, the hallmarks of fascism are ever-present with giant posters of the ruler dominating rooms, a police state mentality prevailing with torture used to maintain fear and control over the people as the Macbeths seek to sate their bloodlust and desire for the crown through any means necessary.

I’m not too sure how I feel about Stewart as an actor, something about him just turns me off, but he is undoubtedly impressive here, demonstrating a clinical control over the verse and playing the dictator-like ambition turning to paranoid desperation with conviction. Fleetwood’s Lady Macbeth was chillingly effective as the driving force behind this blood-thirsty ambition, portraying a real malevolence that curdles inside her as the loveless marriage begins to crack.

Goold’s assignment of the weird sisters as surgical-masked nurses who are frequently seen around the edges of scenes puts a stronger emphasis on the supernatural side of things, suggesting the ominous inevitability of his fate and perhaps even manipulating it themselves. Polly Frame, Sophie Hunter and Niamh McGrady are all excellent though and the visual and sound effects employed on their performances adds an extra layer of disturbing menace.

As ever, Macduff and Malcolm’s killer scene dragged interminably, but there were nice performances from Tim Treloar as a bookish Ross, Suzanne Burden as the butchered Lady Macduff. But what shines as the biggest benefit to the whole thing is the use of close-ups to really capture the nuances of performances that could well have escaped people on the front row, never mind up in the gods. There’s a level of detail that one is allowed to observe here, that really elevates this from a mere recording of a staged production and demonstrating where this format has a clear value and shouldn’t just be dismissed as ‘no substitute for the real thing’.

Yes, this is not the same thing as going to the theatre but nor is it pretending to be and instead offers an opportunity that couldn’t really be equalled whilst sat in the stalls and made this an interesting and significant thing to watch.

Winners of the 2010 What’s On Stage Awards

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Rachel Weisz – A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse (24.8%)
Alison Steadman – Enjoy at the Gielgud (12.8%)
Fiona Shaw – Mother Courage & Her Children at the NT Olivier (9.4%)
Helen Mirren – Phedre at the NT Lyttelton (21.60%)
Juliet Stevenson – Duet for One at the Almeida & Vaudeville (7.60%)
Lesley Sharp – The Rise & Fall of Little Voice at the Vaudeville (23.80%

THE CAPITAL BREAKS BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Jude Law – Hamlet, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s (40.80%)
David Harewood – The Mountaintop at Theatre 503 & Trafalgar Studios 1 (6.00%)
Dominic West – Life Is a Dream at the Donmar Warehouse (13.60%)
Ken Stott – A View from the Bridge at the Duke of York’s (14.90%)
Mark Rylance – Jerusalem at the Royal Court Downstairs (13.90%)
Samuel West – Enron at the Royal Court Downstairs (10.80%)
Continue reading “Winners of the 2010 What’s On Stage Awards”

TV Review: Hamlet, RSC

“What are thou that usurp’st this time of night”
 

The recent RSC production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant, has been filmed and was broadcast on BBC2 on Boxing Day afternoon, a curious piece of scheduling but thanks to the beauty of iPlayer, I was able to watch it as my leisure this evening. Rather than filming the play as it was performed on stage, the original cast deliver this modern-dress and modern-day adaption on location which gives it a much more filmic feel, especially with some of the camera tricks used, such as observing the action from the CCTV cameras.

David Tennant really is rather good here. His Hamlet is both wiry and wired, constantly moving and shifting, mimicking those around him with a quick wit but all-the-while suffused with a precipitous edge. The sense of danger is never far from this often bare-footed prince, but in my limited Hamlet experience, I did miss a little of the brooding intensity that Jude Law brought to the role. Equally strong though was Patrick Stewart’s coldly calculating Claudius. From his opening scene, there is no doubt that he has Hamlet’s cards marked and employs a chilling restraint throughout which was far scarier than any amount of raging. And Oliver Ford Davies’ Polonius was also good value for money, flirting between the doddery old dear of the court and the canny politician keeping himself in favour. Continue reading “TV Review: Hamlet, RSC”