Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)

My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench

“You did this, didn’t you”

Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.

She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”

TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carters rock though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York

There’s always a new or different way to do things, no matter how ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ London-based commentators get, and so the news of Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean Theatre – SHAKESPEARE’S ROSE THEATRE feels like a good thing to me. Taking up residence in York this summer, the Rose looks set to replicate something of the Globe experience, groundlings and all, for a whole new audience.

The 10-week season will consist of four plays, performed in repertory by two companies of actors 

  • A tragedy – Macbeth
  • A comedy – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • A tragic love story – Romeo and Juliet
  • A history – Richard III

Romeo and Juliet and Richard III will be directed by the award-winning Lindsay Posner, while York Theatre Royal’s Olivier Award-winning Artistic Director Damian Cruden will direct Macbeth, and Associate Director Juliet Forster will be putting her stamp on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And particularly pleasing to see is that even in this setting which might be perceived as traditional as it gets, there’s a playfulness to the approach to the plays (from Cruden and Forster at least). Antony Bunsee and Amanda Ryan play Theseus and Hippolyta but in a bit of a switch, will also play Titania and Oberon respectively. There’s a female Puck too, plus Amy Lennox as Hermia which leaves me in no doubt as to which of these will be my priority to see! Continue reading “News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York”

Not-a-review: The Libertine, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will not like me”

There’s probably a German word for a play that opens with a self-fulfilling prophecy such as the one above, but even I wasn’t expecting how true it would be for The Libertine. Moving into the Theatre Royal Haymarket after a run in Bath, I haven’t been this bored by a play in quite some time. From Stephen Jeffrey’s writing to Terry Johnson’s direction to Dominic Cooper’s lead performance, I found it all all just fearfully dull.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd December

Review: Private Lives, Churchill Bromley

“Don’t quibble, Sibyl”

Given that this touring production of Private Lives is going on for a couple of months and stretching from Glasgow to Torquay, it seems odd that they’ve decided to hold its press night so early, when the show is in distinct need of bedding in. As Elyot and Amanda, the warring ex-couple who end up in adjacent hotel rooms celebrating honeymoons with their new partners, Tom Chambers and Laura Rogers just haven’t got there yet.

In the singing, the dancing, the bantering, the fighting, they’re decent but not much more, fatally mismatched as Chambers’ easy geniality has none of the requisite bite to be the equal sparring partner that Laura Rogers’ expressively daring Amanda needs, and deserves. He makes little attempt to stamp character onto the lines, to make them funny for him, instead relying too much on the fact that they’re just funny on the page. Continue reading “Review: Private Lives, Churchill Bromley”

TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4

“No Lib Dem leader has ever had this kind of exposure and opportunity”

James Graham definitely seems to be having a moment – the noted playwright has been branching out into film and TV and with some serendipitous timing, is showcasing his talent in all three avenues. The Vote will soon be hitting the Donmar, X&Y is in cinemas as we speak, and his television film Coalition aired on Channel 4 last night. I’ve yet to catch X&Y but if Coalition is anything to go by, then there’s absolutely no fear that he is overstretching himself as it was a cracking bit of telly.

One of the reasons it worked so well for me was its basis in more-or-less contemporary events. His play This House was a sterling piece of political theatre but for someone who had no knowledge of the 1970s politicking it portrayed, there was always a sense of catch-up whereas the more august members of the audience could enjoy the nuances of Graham’s skilful writing and observations without the niggle of also trying to work out just what was going on.  Continue reading “TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4”

Review: The Winslow Boy, Old Vic

“Which of us knows the truth about himself?”

Following the huge success of his centenary year in 2011, it seems safe to say that Terence Rattigan has now been fully rehabilitated back into the theatrical fold, somewhere near the top of the list of twentieth century British dramatists. One of his major plays that did not appear in London that year was The Winslow Boy so it is to that 1946 work that the Old Vic has turned, with Lindsay Posner directing a quality cast including Henry Goodman and Deborah Findlay. 

The Winslow boy himself is Ronnie, a 14 year old cadet at the Royal Naval college at Osborne who is expelled in shame after being accused of the theft of a five shilling postal order. His father, retired banker Arthur, takes up the mantle of defending his son’s honour but the huge legal case that snowballs out from this affair has ramifications far beyond whether Ronnie is actually guilty or not.  Continue reading “Review: The Winslow Boy, Old Vic”

Review: Somersaults, Finborough

“Fios agad am facal”

The Outer Hebrides have an austere challenging beauty about them and so too does Iain Finlay Macleod’s play Somersaults, relishing in an inscrutable quality which equally entertains and frustrates. After premiering in Edinburgh last year, director Russell Bolam has brought it to the intimate surroundings of the Finborough where its mix of English and Gaelic makes a fascinating exploration into where language and cultural heritage intersect in our lives.

Born on the Isle of Lewis (as was Macleod), David Carlyle’s James has since gotten it all. A lucrative dotcom business, a swanky pad in Hampstead, he even managed to marry the prettiest girl at university, but this has all come at a price – he’s become disconnected from his birthplace and increasingly so, from the language he spoke as a child, Scots Gaelic. And when his carefully constructed new life crashes down around him, it seems the ideal time to re-establish those links with home and the heart. Continue reading “Review: Somersaults, Finborough”

Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre

“Cure guaranteed”

George Bernard Shaw’s 1906 medical ethics drama The Doctor’s Dilemma had a lot to live up to as the last time I was in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre was for the superlative The Last of the Haussmans, one of my favourite plays of the year so far, but though it didn’t quite scale those heights for me, it did emerge as a most satisfying night at the theatre. Shaw’s play centres on the newly ennobled Sir Colenso Ridgeon, a doctor who has discovered a new cure for tuberculosis but only has limited space on his trial. When the beautiful Jennifer Dubedat pleads for the inclusion of her talented artist husband, he is torn as his penniless colleague Dr Blenkinsop is also suffering from the disease and so Ridgeon and his colleagues gather to assess and discuss who is the worthier candidate for treatment.

Peter McKintosh’s set design is an effective triumph and ingenious to the extent that it garnered a round of applause at one point (although it will be slightly less surprising to those that saw this play). It possesses the requisite austere grandeur in all its incarnations of artists’ garrets, Richmond eateries, Bond Street art galleries and Harley Street salons into which Nadia Fall places her talented cast. Genevieve O’Reilly brings a stunning self-possessed statuesque dignity to Jennifer, almost too reserved until the devastating turbulence of the final act reveals all she has been concealing, Tom Burke dances across the stage with a quicksilver lightness as the manipulative Dubedat whose artistic talent has to be weighed against his problematic morals and Aden Gillett (who should always wear a full beard, always) is magnificent as Sir Colenso, pondering the titular dilemma with an aptly detached manner as befits his finely aristocratic bearing. Continue reading “Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre”

Review: Cause Célèbre, Old Vic

“That damned woman”

Cause Célèbre is perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited events of the Terence Rattigan centenary celebrations, being directed by Thea Sharrock who helmed the multi-Olivier-winning After the Dance at the National Theatre last year. She brings this play, the last to be written by Rattigan in 1976 before his death the next year, to the Old Vic featuring the return to the stage of Anne-Marie Duff, alongside Niamh Cusack and a large supporting cast. This was a preview performance and I attended as part of the What’s on Stage group outing.

The play is based on the 1930s real-life story of Alma Rattenbury, a woman nearly 40 accused and put on trial for murdering her elderly husband along with her 18-year old lover. Society was scandalised and enthralled by the trial, not necessarily because of the crime but because of the moral profligacy that was perceived in Alma taking such a young lover, and one who was her servant to boot, and it is the attitudes of society that Rattigan focuses on. He introduces the fictionalised character of Edith Davenport into the narrative, a woman of very traditional values who is the forewoman of the jury hearing Alma’s case, yet who is struggling with her own issues as she is divorcing her feckless husband and dealing her son who has inherited his father’s taste for debauchery (as she sees it), a crucial point being that he is the same age as Alma’s lover, something which clouds her judgement from the start. Continue reading “Review: Cause Célèbre, Old Vic”