Review: One For Sorrow, Royal Court

Sadly not the Steps musical of my dreams, One For Sorrow nevertheless left me a bit disappointed at the Royal Court

You will do anything, in the end, to keep the people you love safe”

Finally, the Steps musical we’ve all been waiting for, and at no less august an institution as the Royal Court…

Sadly though, Cordelia Lynn’s One For Sorrow is a cruel attempt to lure Steps fans into theatres, leaving their hopes dashed. It’s no less than a tragedy.

Continue reading “Review: One For Sorrow, Royal Court”

Review: Ink, Almeida

“I should warn you that nobody likes me”

Truth be told, I resisted seeing Ink for the longest time, mainly because I had zero desire to see a play about Rupert Murdoch. I feel the same way about Thatcher – I will never see The Iron Lady (sorry Meryl) or any other Maggie-based drama because I just damn well don’t want to. These firmly held convictions can of course be bypassed by sourcing me a free ticket (I stepped in for an otherwise occupied colleague) and so I was able to get the best of both worlds – onto a winner if it was good, and easily able to sneer (cos yes, I am that person) if it was bad.

And as with so much in life, the truth was somewhere inbetween. I could see how good Bertie Carvel’s performance as Murdoch was, naturally far more than a simple caricature, but I still felt uneasy whilst watching him – and the play in general – about what still felt like a tacit endorsement somehow, of an institution that I believe to be thoroughly reprehensible. Ink isn’t straightforwardly about The Sun though, Graham is far too canny a writer for that. His target is journalistic ethics as a whole, using Murdoch’s purchase of that paper in the 1960s as a tipping point for tabloid behaviour. Continue reading “Review: Ink, Almeida”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield

“I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it”

The first of what will be three productions of The Glass Menagerie in a month for me is Samuel Hodges’ directorial debut for Southampton’s Nuffield, where he happens to be Artistic Director and CEO. And taking a detailed look at Tennessee Williams’ original script for his most affecting of memory plays, he’s come up with a strikingly original vision for his production, an overtly theatrical rumination on the nature of storytelling and its challenges, particularly when the narrative is so intimately linked to one’s own experiences, as in the strongly autobiographical elements here.

So Danny Lee Wynter’s Tom, our notable narrator, begins the play at a mixing desk in the middle of the auditorium from where he declares he has “tricks in his pocket” and to where he periodically returns to comment on and further conduct and control the telling of his story. At times he grabs a microphone and climbs to the lip of the stage, reciting his lines as his presence is mimed by the others in the scene, at times he’s fully present in the play. And later, he’s a ghostly figure hugging the wall of the theatre – watching on ashamed, appalled, agonised as his actions wreak unintended havoc on his beloved emotionally fragile sister. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nuffield”

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: Two Gentlemen of Verona, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Foster’d, illumin’d, cherish’d, kept alive”

I’ve become a bit of a dab hand at making work trips coincide with theatrical opportunities and as with last year, the stars aligned to put me in Newcastle at the same time as the RSC, and to see a Shakespeare play I’d never seen before as well (only six more to go and one of those will come this weekend). Two Gentlemen of Verona doesn’t get anywhere near as much exposure as some of the others, a recognition that as an early play – possibly even the first he ever wrote – it bears the marks of a playwright still very much working his way into his craft.
It also plants the seeds of what would grow into several of his hallmark devices – the liberating freedom of the forest to solve the problems of the town or court, a woman dressed as a man, sudden and random declarations of love – but they’re deployed here with a little clumsiness as the quartet of lovers here wind their way through the trials and tribulations of love’s young dream. Where Simon Godwin’s production succeeds though is in embracing these issues and shifting the tone of the play from a comedy to more of a problem play.

This ambiguity really does work and is clearly emphasised in the final reconciliations – it is no given that this is a genuinely happy ending and this complexity, paired with a modern-dress version from Godwin, manages to make the play work in a way I can’t imagine a traditional one ever would. Mark Arends’ Proteus is darn well near to being a dastardly villain as he betrays Pearl Chanda’s appealing Julia something rotten, and Michael Marcus’ Valentine matches well with Sarah MacRae’s Silvia, even with a less fascinating storyline.
Then there’s a dog. Which seemingly everyone loved but me. Thank the Lord that Will got out of that habit early on as there’s something bizarre in the hold that animals seem to hold over theatre-going audiences, to the point where there’ll happily ignore everything and everyone aside from the canine critter. (I’m not an animal person, can you tell.) I can’t say I’ll be rushing back to see this play again but I’m pleased that my first experience thereof was with as intelligent a production as this.
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th October

Review: Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs

“You have to stop seeing the good in everyone all the time”

With Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs continues its merry way of putting on some interesting theatre yet not opening it up officially to critics with a view to protecting the creativity and experimental nature of the work being performed. Deborah Bruce’s debut play is a rather conventional affair though and being directed by Michael Attenborough does nothing to challenge this and so one is left wondering why the Hampstead Theatre are shying away from replicating the model of the Royal Court Upstairs and really capitalising on being an out and proud two-studio venue.

Better known as a director (and half of a directorial super-couple with Jeremy Herrin) Bruce’s play occupies fairly safe territory in its comedic depiction of Lou, a forty-*cough*-thirty-something carefree Londoner whose style is well and truly cramped when her nineteen-year-old god-daughter Minnie moves into her flat to take up a place at university. Having fully embraced the vagaries of metropolitan living and its consequent inhibiting effect on conventional ideas of maturity, Lou is thus forced to face the difference between feeling nineteen and the dilemmas of actually being nineteen. Continue reading “Review: Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace

“Art can’t be made into a spectacle; you can’t put it in a box”

There’s something quite remarkable about the boldness with which Blanche McIntyre has reinterpreted Chekhov’s perennial classic The Seagull for Headlong. Gone is the stuffy country house to be replaced by Laura Hopkins’ expressionistic, open space and the formality of the Russian’s words has been supplanted by John Donnelly’s fresh new version which refocuses the play’s centre away from melodrama to something sharper, funnier, more powerful even. This is an interpretation that genuinely makes the play feel new. 

McIntyre introduces notes of meta-theatre to push home the exploration of the nature of art and artists that now sits at the heart of the play – the house lights come up as characters direct their soliloquies straight to the audience, the blank rear wall becomes the page of a notebook complete with significant changing scribbles, the stark simplicity of the set allowing for a deeper intellectual excavation of the issues of art and love and creativity and sex. And it is a compelling mixture, all pushing along the vital narrative and driving these familiar characters to their predestined fates with a fresh new verve.  Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Headlong at Watford Palace”