Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville

Sexed-up rather than subtle, I can’t help but be won over by this fresh take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre

“I hope you have not been leading a double life…that would be hypocrisy”

I find it increasingly hard to get too excited about the prospect of Oscar Wilde these days, hence having been a rare visitor indeed to Classic Spring’s year-long residency at the Vaudeville. My problem is that, as with Noël Coward’s work, there’s an insistence on the specificity of its staging which means it is far too easy to feel like you’ve seen it all before, silk pyjamas, bustles, handbags, the lot. So the notion that Michael Fentiman’s The Importance of Being Earnest has ruffled a few feathers by daring to do something different, plus the kind of casting that I could never resist, meant that I had to see for myself.

And ultimately, there’s something laughable in the idea that there’s only the one way to do Wilde. It’s more that ‘certain people’ prefer it done the way they’ve always seen it done, which is all well and good (if soul-destroying) but to bemoan a lost art because someone is finally ringing the changes? Shove a cucumber sandwich in it mate. What’s even funnier is that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference really, it’s not as if this production is set in space, or it’s being mimed, or it’s been directed in a…European way. It has just had a good shaking down, the dust blown off the manuscript, the cobwebs swept from the velvet curtains, and an enjoyable freshness thus brought to proceedings which are sexed-up rather than subtle. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville”

Round-up of news and other interesting things

In the wake of a global shift in politics that saw reality star Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States of America, Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign win the majority and the Conservative party seek out a deal with the DUP, Theatre Renegade is proud to present a one-off gala, In Response To… Politics.

>With performances from critically acclaimed performers including Pippa Nixon, Madalena Alberto, Gloria Onitiri and Nigel Richards, In Response To…Politics will take place on 24th July at The Other Palace Studio and feature a number of pieces each designed to directly respond to the current political turmoil. Continue reading “Round-up of news and other interesting things”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #5

“When we are born, we cry”

Entries #1, #2, #3 and #4 – and here’s number 5. 

Actually taking Lear to the White Cliffs of Dover seems like a good enough reason to mount the entire Complete Walk project if you ask me, and director Bill Buckhurst doesn’t disappoint. Belaris Free Festival’s interpretation gets a wee whirl before we move to Kent where Kenneth Cranham’s disoriented monarch comes across powerfully in jerky jump-cuts and voiceover and then ultimately powerful soliloquy. Skipping to the end of the play, Joseph Marcell then takes on Lear for a sensationally powerful reunion with Zawe Ashton’s deeply considered Cordelia.


I must confess I do find it hard to get excited about King John and despite a huge affection for the much-missed Trystan Gravelle, I saw nothing here to change my mind. Filmed at Northampton’s Holy Sepulchre church, with inserts that acted almost as a Shakespearean documentary in covering the death of Shakespeare’s son at the time of writing the play, this one just didn’t do it for me I’m afraid.


Philip Cumbus’ anguished Clarence in his cell; Prasanna Puwanarajah and Paul Ready giving subtly comic life to the murderers on his way to him; Clare Higgins’ Margaret looming ominously in the shadows, Michelle Terry’s (for yes, she directs too!) take on Richard III uses all the shadowy sinister atmosphere of the Tower of London to capture the mood of the play rather successfully. It is contrasted with a silent film version which is amusing to watch at first but spookily effective in the end in the way it portrays Richard’s climactic dream. (NB: click on the title for the full clip.) 

Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National

“Something Greek sounds good”

It’s the ideal isn’t it, shipping off to a Greek island to escape grey clouds in June and point-settling about plus ones, and its what Charlotte and Theo have done in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play Sunset at the Villa Thalia. He’s a playwright seeking inspiration, she’s an actress who loves him very much, and so they’re renting a cottage on the idyllic isle of Skiathos. But the year is 1967, a momentous year in Greece’s political history, and the American couple they’ve bumped into at the port aren’t quite as benign as they might seem.

Harvey and June are swiftly invited over for drinks on the terrace and as tongues are loosened on the ouzo, we discover that he works for the US government in a shadowy role. With these heavy hints of the CIA, we discover what Kaye Campbell is up to as it was American intervention – in aid of stifling the threat of Soviet expansion – that arguably partly facilitated the military coup that’s about to happen. And it’s not just nations he’s manipulating but the people around him, as he convinces Charlotte and Theo to buy the cottage from its desperate owners who are emigrating to Australia. Continue reading “Review: Sunset at the Villa Thalia, National”

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8

“Are you one of those? They’re everywhere in Brighton aren’t they.
‘Yeah, not so many in Halifax though, cos of the weather’”

I really enjoyed the opening half of new BBC police drama Cuffs and so whacked up a review of those four episodes whilst they were still watchable on the iPlayer. The show has now finished its run, 8 episodes being the default setting for a ‘long’ series here in the UK, and whilst it may have lost a little of the fast-paced energy that characterised its arrival, its bevy of boisterous characters ensured I was fully engaged right through to the end of the last episode.

With such a large ensemble making up the South Sussex team, Cuffs did sometimes struggle in giving each of them a fair crack of the whip. For me, it was Amanda Abbington’s Jo who got the shortest end of the stick, too much of her screen-time, especially early on, being taken up with the fallout of her illicit affair instead of showing her as the more than capable police officer we finally saw in the latter episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4

“All we can do is hang on”

Rather incredibly, given the number of crime dramas there are, Cuffs is actually the BBC’s first police procedural since 2007’s Holby Blue (according to Wikipedia at least), but a rather good one it is too. Creator Julie Gearey has set the show in Brighton and its environs, the territory of the South Sussex Police service, and the first four episodes (which entertained me on a train journey back from Amsterdam) started Cuffs off so strongly that I wanted to recommend it now whilst you can still catch them all on the iPlayer.

The opening episodes are jam-packed with incident, the first part alone crammed child abduction, stolen JCBs, stabbings and a racist released from prison to give a strong sense of the relentless pace of life in the force but the writing has been particularly strong in demonstrating the peculiar demands of modern policing. Traditional boundaries of respect have been torn down so we see the police punched, spat on, and kicked in the face and also having to deal with rubberneckers filming accident scenes on their phone, and members of the public chancing their arm with harassment claims. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4”

TV Review: Unforgotten

“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”

The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.

Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”

Review: Thérèse Raquin, Theatre Royal Bath

 
“I am yours. Do what you want with me”

It is clearly the moment for Thérèse Raquin– a stage adaptation in Bath (and touring to Malvern and Cambridge), the Finborough’s musical version transferring to the Park Theatre, and a film of the story also hitting our cinemas recently. Émile Zola’s 1867 novel heralded a new world of naturalism in literature in its focus on mood rather than character and has remained an enduring classic, hence this confluence of versions now and a cheeky trip to the penultimate show of the run at the gorgeous Theatre Royal Bath.

Reflecting Zola’s intent, Jonathan Munby’s direction is highly theatrical and brings a powerful lyricism to the stage, bringing in Ann Yee to provide a fluid movement style that is near-balletic and which captures the yearning spirit perfectly – in a world where so much is unsaid, body language becomes ever more eloquent. And Helen Edmundson’s version emphasises Thérèse’s elemental connection to the water and the fevered eroticism that takes her over, unutterably disrupting her world as sex, murder and self-destruction come a-knocking to liven up her dull life forcibly married to her cousin in the Parisian backstreets. Continue reading “Review: Thérèse Raquin, Theatre Royal Bath”

Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake

“Literature doesn’t teach us anything”

Juan Mayorga’s The Boy At The Back turned out to be one of my favourite radio dramas that I’ve listened to this year so far. A canny choice for producer/director Nicolas Jackson as Mayorga is one of Spain’s most highly renowned contemporary writers (which makes me a little sad that this is the first I’ve heard of him) and this play proved to be a most effective psychological drama as a precocious pupil and deluded teacher play out a dangerously voyeuristic pas-de-deux that threatens many people around them.

By comparison, Melissa Murray’s Chiwawa might have felt a little bit tame, but its tale of a self-important author trolling around on the internet, leaving anonymous reviews slagging off his rival’s work and bigging up his own, has a deliciously biting contemporary feel. Michael Bertenshaw’s writer is lots of pompous fun but the real joy comes from Fenella Woolgar as his manipulative wife and current RSC darling Pippa Nixon as the PA she forces to shoulder the blame for the mishaps, with unpredictable consequences. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake”