Review: Small Island, National Theatre

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island comes to life most beautifully in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson at the National Theatre

“How come they know nothing about their own empire?”

There’s something glorious about Small Island, its epic scale suiting the National Theatre to a tee as a story about marginalised communities finally breaks free from the Dorfman… Andrea Levy’s novel was memorably adapted for television in 2009 and Helen Edmundson’s version is no less adventurous as it refashions the narrative into a linear story of just over three hours and stellar impact with its focus here on three key characters whom circumstance pushes all together.

Jamaicans Hortense and Gilbert with their respective dreams of being a teacher and a lawyer, and Lincolnshire farm daughter Queenie, all searching for their own version of escape and all unprepared for the consequences of smashing headfirst into the real world. For dreams of the ‘motherland’ prove just that for these first-generation immigrants shocked by the hostility of post-war Britain. And Queenie’s hopes of freedom are curtailed as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to bank clerk Bernard. Continue reading “Review: Small Island, National Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall

The Watermill Theatre’s 2017 production of Twelfth Night is revived to glorious effect in the atmospheric surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall

“If music be the food of love, play on…”

I was absolutely blown away by the Watermill’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in May, and so the news that their similarly actor-muso Twelfth Night from last year would be being revived at Wilton’s Music Hall was most welcome. And if it doesn’t quite live up to the magic of that first time for me, it is still a most enchanting and unmistakably bold take on the play 

Paul Hart’s production relocates Illyria to the 1920s, jazz is flourishing, prohibition is rife and the shadows of WWI haven’t quite yet dissipated. Katie Lias’ design concentrates the action in the Elephant Jazz Club and the historic atmosphere of Wilton’s proves perfect for this treatment. And without giving too much away, the dipping down into the audience is done brilliantly.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall”

DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

All hail Mamma Mia! As we tentatively await the sequel, I revisit a film I can’t ever imagine not loving

“I won’t be muscled out by an ejaculation”

With Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just about to hit cinemas, I thought I’d revisit the original Mamma Mia! film to remind myself of its pleasures, Pierce Brosnan’s singing and all. Released in 2008, it managed that trick of defying a lukewarm critical reception to garnering huge popularity, something repeated by The Greatest Showman (it’s almost as if film critics can’t quite imagine audiences wanting to see a harmlessly fun musical…). 

And that’s what this is in the end, lots of fun and silly with it. Based on the iconic jukebox musical of the same name, it’s a whole load of ABBA songs strung together on a gossamer-light plot of romantic comedy gold. Where it succeeds, as with the musical, is in taking the job at hand most seriously, whilst never taking itself too seriously at all. Songs are in the right places, serving as motors in the narrative, and there’s an integrity to the whole thing, even when its daft as a brush.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)”

The 2017 Ian Charleson Awards nominees announced – time for an update?

Nominees have been announced for the 2017 Ian Charleson Awards:

Ellie Bamber for Hilde in The Lady from the Sea, Donmar Warehouse
Daniel Ezra for Sebastian in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Tamara Lawrance for Viola in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Rebecca Lee for Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Watermill, Newbury
James Corrigan for Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare Royal Shakespeare Company
Ned Derrington for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe
Sope Dirisu for Coriolanus in Coriolanus, Royal Shakespeare Company
Arthur Hughes for Lucius in Julius Caesar, Crucible, Sheffield
Douggie McMeekin for Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic
Natalie Simpson for Duchess Rosaura in The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse
Hannah Morrish for Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Company

The focus of the award is on roles in classical theatre – yours Ibsens, your Chehkovs, your overwhelming number of Shakespeares – but you do wonder whether there’s something about the kudos automatically granted here. Though there is diversity in the names selected here, the very notion of ‘classical’ as determined by the theatrical establishment seems to work against its actual ecology, at least as it relates to modern Britain.

I mean to not at all dishonour the legacy of Ian Charleson, but I do wonder whether the awards that bear his name recognise the bias that its limitations impose. If the Quentin Letts farrago shows us anything, it shows us how entrenched some of these attitudes are. But it also serves as a reminder that actors of colour (and women to some of the same extent) are ill-served by the ‘canon’.

I’m all for celebrating and highlighting the work of great young actors but I want all of them to be included. And yes, that makes the scope considerably wider but surely its time to acknowledge that there’re amazing actors who have never performed Shakespeare, and might never do Chekhov, but who are more than worthy of the kind of recognition offered here. 

Review: Machinal, Guildhall

“Tell me ma…something…somebody”

I’ve not had the opportunity to see Sophie Treadwell’s Expressionistic classic Machinal so when a Guildhall School production appeared on my radar, I seized the chance. Seeing drama school shows also provides that elusive chance of seeing stars in the making – a production of The Last Five Years I caught here in 2010 featured the fresh young faces of Freddie Fox and Lily James. Treadwell’s 1928 play though has an extraordinary power in its searing exploration of a woman’s struggle against accepted notions about marriage and motherhood in a society defined by men and in Edward Dick’s staging here with 18 members of the final year actors, the narrative expands to encompass women’s experiences more generally.

Each taking their turn to don a distinctive red curly wig to take on the role of Young Woman in the nine scenes of the play, Amber James, Elaine Fellows, Rebecca Lee, Katrina McKeever, Emma Naomi, Marina Bye, Alice Winslow, Emily-Céline Thomson and Charlie Bate all made their own impressions in their own way on this character inspired by Ruth Snyder, a US housewife convicted and executed for the murder of her husband. Amber James’ anguish at the end of the day in the stenographer’s office, Alice Winslow’s downtrodden wife and Emily-Céline Thomson’s crumbling defendant stood out for me but what was impressive was the way in which the performances of the nine actors managed cohere into a powerful single entity whilst still differentiating themselves. Continue reading “Review: Machinal, Guildhall”