Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner finally directs a play by a woman but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of novel Alys, Always is a disappointment for me at the Bridge Theatre

“I’m going to bake a cake”

In well over 30 years of being a director, it seems scarcely credible that it is only now that Nicholas Hytner is turning his hand to directing a play written by a woman. For all of his considerable contributions to the British theatre ecology, it is a startling and sobering statistic that demonstrates the scale of the problem faced by those who would (rightfully) change the status quo.

The play in question here is Alys, Always, written by Lucinda Coxon from Harriet Lane’s 2012 novel. And it proves a serviceable psychological thriller of sorts that sits a little too cosily in the middle class-baiting madeleine-scented air of the Bridge Theatre. It is glossy and magazine-spread chic, undoubtedly shinily cast (Joanne Froggatt, Robert Glenister) but rarely essential. Continue reading “Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre

Pinter Four serves up something of a difficult double bill at the Harold Pinter Theatre, but Bríd Brennan and Janie Dee are there to help us through the dark times

“Rationality went down the drain donkey’s years ago and hasn’t been seen since”

Thing about blogging is you can’t hide from the past, or your past opinions, so the fact that the first time I saw Harold Pinter’s Moonlight was one of the most torturous hours I’d spent in a theatre up until then is no secret. So the fact that it was included along with Night School in the double bill that makes up Pinter Four gave me significant – Pinteresque even…  pause.

But that was seven years ago, people change, as do tastes, and the luxury casting of the Pinter at the Pinter season made it an attractive enough proposition to revisit. And am I a now Moonlight convert? Not exactly, but it did prove a less painful experience, even if it does still maintain a power to elongate time which is exacerbated by its coolly distant demeanour. Continue reading “Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

A beautifully sensitive film adaptation of Journey’s End that spares none of its horror

“Smells like liver without the smooth wet look”

In all of the art that has been created around the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it is a shame that this film adaptation of Journey’s End passed by without much fanfare last year. RC Sherriff’s play is a rightfully punishing and pummeling play and Simon Reade’s adaptation loses none of the ferocity and horror of the writing, while adding new layers of disturbing verisimilitude in its staging.

Set in the final months of the First World War in the trenches of northern France, Journey’s End follows C Company as they await orders with an increasing sense of dread. Newly arrived Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) has requested the posting as he naively wants to be reunited with former school colleague and family friend Captain Stanhope. But nothing can prepare him for life on the front line, nor the effects of war on his pal. Continue reading “Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)”

Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse

“We’re a dying breed”

Obviously, the choice to stage David Mamet’s ode to toxic masculinity Glengarry Glen Ross was made long before the hashtag #MeToo shattered the blinkers of anyone unaware of what men have been getting away with. But it feels indicative of a theatrical culture that has reflected and reinforced a societal imbalance – all-male plays, written by men, directed by men, lauded by prize ceremonies and thus easy targets (and safer bets) for revivals, a self-perpetuating loop that doesn’t seem to even be coming close to stopping. 

And why should it, one might argue. Sam Yates’ production is astutely cast and tightly wound as it visits the world of Chicago real estate. Firstly through a set of short duologues in a Chinese restaurant in which we variously meet a set of salesmen and discover their place in the pecking order. And then after the interval, they’re all brought together in their office (an impressive almighty set change from Chiara Stephenson) which has been broken into and where all the frustrations and feelings they’ve been bottling up now come tumbling free.  Continue reading “Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

DVD Review: Persuasion (1995)

“No-one wants to be in calm waters all their life”

Anyone who has read this blog for a wee while will know I’m a sucker for a thesp-heavy cast but not even could have come up with the manifold delights of the ensemble for this 1995 version of Persuasion. Directed by Roger Michell and adapted by Nick Dear, it features Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds as Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, a once-engaged couple who were pulled apart by societal pressure as he was but a penniless seaman. Eight years later, Anne’s family is struggling to maintain their aristrocratic lifestyle due to overspending but Wentworth is now a captain and highly sought after – might their love be reunited after all? Watch this space…

Root and Hinds are both excellent with hugely subtle performances suggesting the depth of emotion each holds, unable to express how they truly feel and buffeted around a range of alternative marriage proposals as everyone tries to secure the best possible situation for themselves. But real pleasure comes too in the supporting performances, seeing such fantastic actors earlier in their career and tracing something of a journey in their acting careers. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (1995)”

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

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”

Short Film Review: Get Off My Land

“The moral hypocrisy of the land-owning upper classes…”

There’s not really much I can say about Douglas M Ray’s short film Get Off My Land apart from just watch it. It’s less than 5 minutes long, stars Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall as a couple going for a country walk and looks absolutely gorgeous, filmed just as sunset is about to start. DoP George Steel does an amazing job of capturing the stunning light, framing some beautiful tight shots, particularly of Wilson, and whilst Ray’s hard-hitting humour may not have huge amounts to say that haven’t been said before, it can rarely have looked this good.

 

Get Off My Land from Douglas Ray on Vimeo.