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.

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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”

Review: Outward Bound, Finborough

“It’s made me very particular about my hyphen”

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. One of the difficulties of writing about shows is the balancing act between trying to give enough information to give a palpable sense of a production without giving away too much of it to preserve as much of its revelatory nature as possible. Major plot points are frequently given away in reviews, especially of classics (which always strikes me as a little arrogant, this idea that because the reviewer has seen the play 60 times doesn’t mean that the reader necessarily has – I loved the surprises that King Lear held for me when I saw it for the first time last year), but then the act of writing about theatre lends itself to detailed analysis which can’t afford to be coy.

The plot of Sutton Vane’s 1923 play Outward Bound hinges on a major revelation, not so much in a whodunit sense but rather in the direction that the play then takes. It comes fairly early in the show and so when debating this issue, my companion thought it would be ok to mention it in the review, but reading the blurb on the production, the enigma is preserved and I think I prefer it that way round. But I suppose there’s then an element of me having my cake and eating it here – in not wanting to talk about ‘it’, I’ve flagged up its presence something rotten! But anyhoo, to the show in hand. Continue reading “Review: Outward Bound, Finborough”

Review: Seagull, Arcola

“I’ll sit through drivel if I have to, providing it’s witty and amusing”

The Arcola has had something of an unofficial Russian season of late, what with Anna Karenina and Uncle Vanya, and so their attention now turns to Chekhov’s classic play Seagull (the definitive article is clearly passé this year what with Government Inspector losing it too) with Runaway Theatre, using a new translation by Charlotte Pyke, John Kerr and Joseph Blatchley, the latter of whom is also the director. Set in 19th century Russia, the story revolves around four artistic types: fading actress Arkadina, young ingénue Nina, successful writer Trigorin and would-be playwright Konstantin and their complicated loves and lives between each other and those around them. When Konstantin puts on a play for the two women in his life, it acts as the precipice for a tragic set of consequences as all strive for emotional happiness and artistic freedom, yet despair and failure are never far away.

With this new translation that adhered word-for-word to the original text, it was discovered that some cuts and amendments had been made by the Russian censor back in 1896 and these have now been restored. It doesn’t quite mean there’s now Tarantino-levels of swearing and violence, indeed I would reckon even Chekhovian scholars would be hard-pressed to notice all the changes as many of them are relatively minor, but adding layers of subtlety to characters and a touch of clarity to relationships that contribute to the overall feeling of freshness to this interpretation. Continue reading “Review: Seagull, Arcola”