Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)

“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”

One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.

Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go. Continue reading “Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)”

TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4

“This after all has been a very careful election” 

A fascinating experiment from James Graham and Josie Rourke, The Vote was a “play for theatre and television” which after two weeks of performances at the Donmar Warehouse – for which you had to enter a ballot for tickets – aired live on More4 at the very moment that it was set, the night of the UK general election. I wasn’t one of the lucky few in the ballot and am rarely inclined to dayseat (though I know several people who managed it) so I’ve only just got around to catching up with it on All4 (formerly 4OD) where it is on for another couple of weeks.

I’m glad I did get to see it as it is very funny and pulled together an extraordinary cast, the vast majority of whom spend mere moments onstage. Graham’s play focuses on the trials and tribulations of a South London polling station in the 90 minutes before voting closes and though there’s a farcical plot that holds the play together in the larger sense, the real joy comes in the microstories of the various voters who come in to exercise their democratic right as best they see fit. Drunks losing their polling cards, giddy lesbians brandishing selfie sticks, teenagers asking Siri who to vote for, all amusing slices of life are represented by a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much as the audience. Continue reading “TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4”

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

68th Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Samuel Barnett – Twelfth Night as Viola
Bryan Cranston – All the Way as President Lyndon B. Johnson
Chris O’Dowd – Of Mice and Men as Lennie Small
Mark Rylance – Richard III as Richard III
Tony Shalhoub – Act One as Older Moss Hart / Barnett Hart / George S. Kaufman

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Tyne Daly – Mothers and Sons as Katherine Gerard
Audra McDonald – Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill as Billie Holiday
LaTanya Richardson Jackson – A Raisin in the Sun as Lena Younger
Cherry Jones – The Glass Menagerie as Amanda Wingfield
Estelle Parsons – The Velocity of Autumn as Alexandra

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Neil Patrick Harris – Hedwig and the Angry Inch as Hedwig
Ramin Karimloo – Les Misérables as Jean Valjean
Andy Karl – Rocky the Musical as Rocky Balboa
Jefferson Mays – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder as the D’Ysquith family
Bryce Pinkham – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder as Monty Navarro Continue reading “68th Tony Award nominations”

12 reasons to go and see Privacy at the Donmar Warehouse

“Ladies and gentlemen, please leave your mobile phones…on”

James Graham’s new play Privacy has just opened at the Donmar Warehouse and I cannot stress how much your viewing pleasure will be increased if you go into the theatre knowing as little as possible about it. So instead of reviewing it, I’ve taken inspiration from Buzzfeed and opted to go down the route of a list of 12 reasons to go and see it, within which is a gentle homage to the show 

1. I liked it

2. No, I really liked it

3. It’s written by the guy who wrote the frankly marvellous The Man (and the also good This House)

4. It has a fosterIAN award-winning actress in it

5. And a fosterIAN award-winning actor


7. It also has #TinyHamlet in the cast
8. It’s in a convenient central London location
9. You get instructions when you arrive
10. You’ll find things out about Google 

11. And about selfies


So there you have it, why wouldn’t you try and get tickets?! Sign up to the Front Row scheme if you haven’t done so already and you could be seeing it from amazing seats for just a tenner.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 31st May

TV Review: What Remains

“Something bad always happens when you go upstairs”

Something is in the water of British crime drama that is making it more interesting than it has been for quite some time. Tony Basgallop’s What Remains, directed by Coky Giedroyc, has thrilled across four weeks on BBC1 making the kind of whodunnit that genuinely had one guessing right till the very end with its carousel of hugely unlikeable personalities remarkably all remaining in the mix for the crime for a very long time. Set in an inner-city townhouse split into flats, it plays on the anonymity of metropolitan life – the fact that we can live next door to people and remain strangers, dissociated from their lives entirely. Such is the fate of Melissa Young, whose decaying body is found in the loft of a building yet whose absence for two years has gone unnoticed. 

She owned the top flat but as soon we get to know the rest of the inhabitants, we soon see why this wasn’t the happiest of houses. A cranky maths teacher lives in the basement with something of a dirty secret, on the ground floor is a recovering alcoholic journalist whose romance with a colleague is under threat from his self-possessed teenage son, above them are lesbian graphic designers gripped in a psychotically abusive relationship and above them are a newly-arrived and heavily pregnant young couple. Throw in a widower detective on the brink of retirement and no life outside of work and the scene is set for cracking four-parter What Remains. Continue reading “TV Review: What Remains”

Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS Spain, Royal Court via YouTube

“The wealth has been distributed differently, but they take your house too”

The Spanish take on The Big Idea featured the short plays Chalk Land by Vanessa Montfort and Merit by Alexandra Wood, interspersed with some verbatim accounts of interviews that Montfort conducted with some Spanish people. Though the last to be performed, this was actually the first of the set that I watched but I genuinely did find it hugely engaging from start to finish. Director Richard Twyman ensured that Chalk Land had the visual humour, though of a distinctly bittersweet note, to accompany the conversation between a homeless man and a passer-by full of indignance at the injustice of the world, Robert Lonsdale and Mariah Gale pairing up well.

And Wood’s Merit was a fascinating look at the ethical compromises people are willing to make in terms of getting and securing a job, but also at the ethics of friends and family around us from whom we might well benefit. Meera Syal and Paul Chahidi as the parents pussyfooting around their concern for their daughter, Gale again full of righteous fire, both giving excellent performances. I really enjoyed the verbatim accounts though, raising the powerful issue of how media coverage of austerity shies away from the ordinariness of so many of the victims and preferring to focus on stock images of poverty-ridden people in order to separate ‘them’ from ‘us’ even as the dividing line has become so blurred as to not even exist any more. Continue reading “Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS Spain, Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS, Greece – Royal Court via YouTube

There are no Greek islands left, they’ve all been bought up at knockdown prices by the Qataris”

The Greek iteration of The Big Idea had a rather distinct character, mixing the ruminative quality of Andreas Flourakis’ I Want A Country with the more absurdist bent of Mr Brown, Mrs Paparigopoulou and the Interpreter by Alexi Kaye Campbell. And perhaps with an abiding feeling that Greece has borne the brunt of the European financial crisis, watching these plays felt less enjoyable and rooted in a greater seriousness, a weight which it didn’t always manage to pull off. 

I Want A Country worked better, its lament for a homeland gone awry, for the security of the past to return and envelop the three characters in home comforts, is a delicately persuasive one and Flourakis laces the bittersweetness with occasional laughs to ensure the tone never gets too mordantly dark. Alexi Kaye Campbell – himself a Greek expat – fared less well for me, trying to find a more overtly humourous angle on the nightmare of unwanted bureaucracy being imposed on an entire nation. Continue reading “Review: The Big Idea – PIIGS, Greece – Royal Court via YouTube”

Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Portugal, – Royal Court via YouTube

“Progress has not been as pronounced as expected”

The Portuguese take on The Big Idea was Farewell to the Old Country, written by Sandra Pinheiro and responded to by April de Angelis in Articipation, with snatches of verbatim interviews interspersed throughout, and as seemed to be something of the model, ranged from the harrowing (from the native playwright) to the surreal (from the Brit). Pinheiro’s story involved a family who had taken the difficult decision to emigrate from Portugal in pursuit of work and new beginnings, but having opted to make a staggered departure – letting the husband go first to get settled – the enormity of their choice makes the wife question what is most important. 

For they have a child and she will be left with her grandma and though Dad has put up with it for six months, Mum is now having a crisis of faith. Told mainly via the medium of Skype, it formed an interesting look at how far people are willing to go in order to make change happen but also how far they are willing to let others go for them. The strain put on this marriage is unimaginably huge and though one is left appalled, there’s an element of understanding about it too. Continue reading “Review: The Big Ideas- PIIGS, Portugal, – Royal Court via YouTube”