I mean, just look at this absolute treasure trove of theatrical talent!
I’m off to listen to Patsy Ferran read Tom Wells, and Gabby Wong read Alexi Kaye Campbell, and Sarah Niles read Winsome Pinnock and…and…
“This is for a play in the West End?”
Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None may not have seemed like the most obvious festive programming but Sarah Phelps’ three-part adaptation was an unalloyed success for the BBC. It was a particular surprise for me, as having seen it a couple of times on the stage, most recently in a rather creaky touring production, I wasn’t sure how it could be done well. But Phelps and director Craig Viveiros have managed a remarkable job, transforming the murder mystery into a dark, oppressive psychodrama.
From the off, swooping camera shots (of the Cornish locations standing in for the Devonian Soldier Island) take us out of the dusty drawing room, and haunting flashbacks take perfect advantage of the medium to suggest the oppressive weight of guilt that is being brought to bear here. For those new to the story, a microcosm of English society is invited to an isolated country house, under varying auspices, and once fully assembled, find themselves being picked off one by one by an unknown killer. Continue reading “TV Review: And Then There Were None”
“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”
I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.
Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”
“I am even the natural fool of fortune”
Poly over at The Other Bridge Project asks the question “can you have too many King Lears” and though she’s adamant that you can’t, I have to say my heart sinks a little every time a new production is announced, whether here in Chichester with Frank Langella or Simon Russell Beale’s forthcoming turn for the National Theatre early next year. But the enduring reputation of Shakespeare’s late classic attracts the kind of casts that are irresistible to a theatrical junkie like me and so I find myself a glutton for punishment going back again time after time.
And though I’d love to say that Angus Jackson’s production, running just a short while in the Minerva before transferring to New York, was worth the effort, it didn’t really do it for me. It is a hugely Lear-centric version of the play, placing Langella’s titanic monarch even more at the heart of the play than usual, and recalibrating the journey he takes as madness seizes him after a bit of a rum do with his three daughters. It’s a striking move, and one which showcases Langella well, but it does come at the expense of the richness of the ensemble.
Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Minerva”
“I suppose his…fortune had some bearing”
The choice to adapt Jane Austen’s endlessly popular novel Pride and Prejudice for the stage, as Simon Reade as done for this version at Regents Park’s Open Air Theatre, may well be one universally acknowledged as a good business decision. And whilst it may naturally lose some of the linguistic acuity that characterises the best of Austen’s work and provide a stately and solid, rather than superlative, piece of theatre, Deborah Bruce’s production has an undeniable elegance and a rather irresistible charm that many may find hard to resist.
There are few surprises in Reade’s adaptation apart from the skill with which he has compressed and filleted the story, so that it keeps an entirely recognisable shape, populated by all the well-loved characters doing what they do best, over the 2 and three quarter hour running time. Daughters of a country gentleman who hasn’t quite kept up his responsibilities to them and a mother all-too-keen to sort them our, the five Bennett sisters find themselves in need of securing their position in society in the only way they can, through marriage. Continue reading “Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre”
“I may have been a brilliant scholar, but I was woefully ignorant of the facts of life.”
Given that last year was the first time I had made the trip to Chichester and took in the vast majority of their 2011 Festival, it is perhaps a little ironic that of the five plays I saw there, a third one has now opened in London. But I have no problems revisiting quality theatre and the double bill ofSouth Downs and The Browning Version is certainly that. As part of the Rattigan centenary celebrations at CFT, David Hare was invited to write a response to The Browning Version and the two public school-set plays were mounted together in the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre to great effect. It has now transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre (surely forever destined to be known as ‘formerly the Comedy…’) where I caught the last preview with my Aunty Jean who was down for the night.
And it was a great decision. I enjoyed Jeremy Herrin’s South Downs again, but to my mind it is The Browning Version, directed by Angus Jackson, that has become richer, deeper and thus even more heartbreaking and by any rights, ought to become one of the hottest tickets in town. My original review of the plays can be read here and the cast has transferred almost in its entirety (I think just one boy has been replaced for the West End run) so I won’t say too much more here aside from a few further reflections. Particularly, I don’t think I gave enough credit to Alex Lawther’s Blakemore and Liam Morton’s Taplow first time round, who both made their professional debut at the Minerva and who both produce empathetically balanced schoolboys with nuanced mixes of eagerness, thoughtlessness and naïveté, boyhood crushes and unaffected good-naturedness. Continue reading “Re-review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre”
“Thou art all deformed”
The programme for the Southwark Playhouse’s latest main house production, The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, starts off with an honest explanation of the difficulties in staging such a dialogue-heavy work so full of asides and freely admits it is taking a risk in the approach they have adopted, which is to use voiceovers. Such candour is perhaps bravely admirable but in this case, it is a risk that does not pay off as The Production Works’ reimagining of the classic sadly falls short in a number of areas.
Beatrice-Joanna is engaged to Alonzo, hotly in love with Alsemero and stalked by her disfigured servant De Flores and such is the strength of her burning desire and the desire she provokes in others that in order to pursue the second she engages the third to get rid of the first. This production focuses on this twisted love triangle and completely does away with the comic subplot, thus bringing in the show at an interval-less 90 minutes but making the tone of the play unremittingly dark. Continue reading “Review: The Changeling, Southwark Playhouse”
“You’re 14 and you know what effeminate means, this does not bode well for you Blakemore.”
There have been quite a few revivals of Terence Rattigan shows in theatres across the country to mark his centenary year but leading them all has been Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer season which has paid tribute to the dramatist by both putting on productions of his plays and commissioning new works that have been inspired by his writings. This double bill incorporates both of those by pairing Rattigan’s one-acter The Browning Version with David Hare’s South Downs, newly written as a response to the former.
Both plays take place inside public schools, dealing with issues of insecurity and identity in such institutions and the loneliness that can strike whether through failing to fit in or losing oneself so thoroughly in dry academia. South Downs takes the pupils as a starting point, John Blakemore being a precocious 14 year old on a scholarship who doesn’t fit in with his upper-class contemporaries and whose budding intellectualism and refusal to abide by convention rattles his teachers: a nicely irascible Andrew Woodall and a kindly Nicholas Farrell. Continue reading “Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva”
“You understand how the world turns on successfully practised duplicity? On cunning lies?”
I think Phil Willmott and I would be very good friends. Creator of two of my favourite musicals in recent months, joyous works both, and whilst I may not have entirely approved of F**king Men, I can see where he’s coming from as it were. So I was quite upset when Phil went and ruined our friendship by choosing Chekhov as his next project, why Phil why? Still, all is not lost as it is at least Chekhov once removed.
The Notebook of Trigorin is described as a ‘free adaptation’ of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull by American playwright Tennessee Williams. It’s quite the moment for Williams rarities in London with one of his earlier plays Spring Storm at the National Theatre and this Notebook both being performed for the first time in the capital. It mostly follows the plot of Chekhov’s original, so Masha loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin who is also loved by Arkadina. Williams’ conceit is to make Trigorin the focus of the play and with more than a hint of autobiographical detail, makes him a closeted homosexual. So the tangle of relationships, with the destructive mother/son dynamic between Arkadina and Constantine at its core, becomes centred around the self-possessed Trigorin who is in the midst of all the tragedy in the play, yet remains unscathed by it. Continue reading “Review: The Notebook of Trigorin, Finborough”