DVD Review: Emma (2009)

“He would know me but there’s no reason I would know a farmer”

Of all the versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, I can’t really believe that I will ever see one as well done as this 2009 BBC adaptation by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. Everything about it works for me, from the clever casting choices to the subtle redefinition of some characters, the (now) luxurious running time to the production values which mark it as something of a dying breed in terms of BBC period dramas.

I love its inventive prologue contrasting the early lives of Emma, Frank and Jane, how tragedy touched them all but their positions in life meant their journeys took wildly different paths. Romola Garai makes an immensely appealing heroine, her beautiful wide eyes so open and honest yet quickly able to take on a harder glint as her more self-obsessed side takes over, and she works so brilliantly with her cast-mates to give us full-fleshed, believable relationships.

There’s genuine affection with Michael Gambon’s fretful father, a tangible sisterly bond with Jodhi May’s former governess, a vivid friendship with Louise Dylan’s hapless Harriet and that real sense of antipathy that comes from two beautiful girls not quite able to make each other out with the arrival of Laura Pyper’s mysterious Jane Fairfax. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s excellent Mr Knightley, a hugely handsomely dashing figure who shares immense chemistry with Garai. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (2009)”

Short Film Review #22

The opening section of Gavin Toomey’s Drop is just gorgeous – Russell Tovey’s bored security guard illuminated by the screens he’s barely watching, until his attention is drawn by a figure on edge of a rooftop. Roused from his stupor, Ben treks up to the top of the inner-city building and encounters Greg – their meeting is brief but significant, they’re two completely different people yet somehow connected and though Toomey’s screenplay cleverly leaves much unsaid, there’s something achingly gorgeous that still transpires. Tovey and Antony Edridge are both excellent and a string-laden soundtrack captures the elegiac mood perfectly. Continue reading “Short Film Review #22”

Radio Review: Austerlitz, Radio 3

“We talked about how memory deals or doesn’t deal with what is intolerable”

WG Sebald’s novel Austerlitz is a simply astounding piece of writing so I knew that I would have to make time in the busy Christmas schedule to listen to Michael Butt’s adaptation for Radio 3, even if it isn’t necessarily the most festive of fare. An emotive tale of repressed memories and how the echoes of an unresolved past can ripple out throughout an entire lifetime.

The story is based around a series of meetings between the narrator and a man named Austerlitz. From the waiting room in Antwerp station to London hotels and Parisian cafés, a relationship grows between the two men as the narrator gradually teases out the long-buried story of Austerlitz’s past which, as he was born into a Czechoslovakian Jewish family in the 1930s, is intrinsically entwined with the Holocaust, an event his mother saved him from by having him transported to the UK where he was adopted by a Welsh family and given a whole new identity. Continue reading “Radio Review: Austerlitz, Radio 3”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“I’m going to do an abstract version”

With the best will in the world, it is hard not to carry opinions with you and this is particularly true in the theatre. In the name of attempting to be open-minded, I have continued to plug away at Ibsen in the hope that one day his work might click with me, but truth be told my heart sinks when productions of his work are mentioned. And despite their sterling reputation and rave reviews, Filter’s work has previously left me a little cold, moving the head rather than the heart, so as I filled in at the last minute for a reviewer who dropped out, there was a little reluctance as I waited for the curtain to rise on their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Filter are a company whose reinterpretations of classic texts, as well as the creation of new work, burst with creativity and great imagination as they explore the theatrical potential offered by a radical approach to sound. But for me, that hasn’t always been matched with a similiar attention to story-telling – so SilenceWater and Twelfth Night were not my favourite moments in a theatre. Suffice to say though that in this case, whilst purists may baulk at this treatment of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Filter succeeded in smashing my preconceptions and entertaining me most thoroughly indeed. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre

“Hey, who governs here?”

This is another resuscitation of Filter’s Twelfth Night and its third residency at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Filter recently appeared in London and toured the UK with their version of Three Sisters, not one I was a fan of and the RSC’s most recent Twelfth Night which I really enjoyed, only left the Duke of York’s in February, but I had heard all sorts of good things about this, so I booked myself a ticket.

Things started brilliantly with a random jamming session and then the eventual arrival of the shipwrecked Viola, clutching handfuls of election leaflet, uttering the words at the top of the review, “who governs here”, it was a genuinely very funny moment and set the mood perfectly. The focus is clearly on the inventiveness with which Filter approach this well-known play. Filter are known for their sonic creativity and the stage is littered with instruments and amps, the cast in modern dress, it’s clear this is no traditional Shakespearean production. So many anarchic tricks are employed that it is hard not to love the heart of this show. There’s a deal of audience participation, yours truly was pulled onstage and had balls thrown at him and his Velcro helmet, others were invited to do tequila shots, we’re also invited to sing along and complete lines, a speech is delivered from a mobile phone held up to a microphone, information is provided by radio, there’s a four way battle of sound effects…it’s a whole load of carefully organised chaos and often great fun. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre”

Review: Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith

“One day you’ll be so bored that you’ll read it”

According to the programme, Christopher Hampton’s version of Three Sisters at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Sean Holmes and the Filter theatre company, is here to raise “the audience’s otherwise sluggard pulses in a revivifying revival”: what more introduction could we possibly need?!

Three Sisters opens with Irina Prozorova’s name-day celebration, in the provincial Russian town where their late military father had been stationed. Irina and her sisters Olga and Masha make half-hearted attempts to put up with life in their adopted home, but cannot stop longing for their birth town Moscow. We then follow the sisters and a group of acquaintances over a 3 year period as the sisters learn the hard lessons of life. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Almeida

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a play by American Stephen Adly Guirgis, receiving its UK premiere here at the Almeida in a co-production with Headlong, who are run by Rupert Goold who is the director. The play centres on a trial testing the guilt of Judas, ostensibly set in Purgatory which looks and sounds a lot like a downtown seedy part of New York today. An array of witnesses from all points in history and the Bible are summoned to argue the toss, but as they’ve all been reincarnated as foul-mouthed typical New Yorkers, they are stripped of the protective aura that history and reputation has accorded them and we see everything from a whole new perspective.

It is certainly a different way of looking at things but it has been so well written and I feel the key to its success is in its no-holds-barred approach to telling it like it is whilst maintaining a sense of decorum. Adly Guirgis is often irreverent but also respectful with it, making it all the funnier when Mother Teresa is hauled all over the coals for opposing Vatican reforms that condemned anti-Semitism and Sigmund Freud’s testimony is discredited due to his raging cocaine addiction. Continue reading “Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Almeida”