Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul

Not even Judi Dench can save this irresponsible look at the British colonial legacy, Victoria and Abdul nevertheless takes two Oscar nominations into the ceremony.

“It is imperative that the royal colon receives a little roughage”

AKA The Other V&A. You can see the rationale behind Victoria and Abdul, allowing Dame Judi Dench to reprise her much-loved role from Mrs Brown with another 20 years under her belt. And directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Lee Hall, hopes were reasonably high.

What results though, is a film that indulges in an irresponsible kind of historical revisionism, a refusal to engage with and interrogate the reality of British colonial rule. Hall’s version of Victoria is allowed to be coyly ignorant of the looting of Indian treasure, a champion of diversity too in an improbable twist. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

2015 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Female
Linda Bassett for Visitors at The Bush and the Arcola Theatre
Laura Jane Matthewson for Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse 
Shannon Tarbet for The Edge Of Our Bodies at The Gate

Best Supporting Female
Leila Crerar for Martine at Finborough Theatre
Vicki Lee Taylor for Carousel at Arcola Theatre
Thea Jo Wolfe for Singing In The Rain at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Best Male
Patrick O’Kane for Quietly at Soho Theatre
Harry Lloyd for Notes From Underground at The Print Room, Coronet
Robin Soans For Visitors at the Bush and Arcola Theatre Continue reading “2015 Offie Award Finalists”

Re-review: Visitors, Bush

“I wish I could put a pin in my life and say, this is the moment I became myself. This is the scene my life was about”

A last cheeky visit to the theatre before the Christmas break and hardly the most festive, given the subject matter at hand. But whilst a play about dementia might not seem like the most joyous of fare, Barney Norris’ Visitors – first seen at the Arcola earlier this year – is hugely life-affirming, joy-inducing and yes, tear-jerking in its sheer beauty. Linda Bassett and Robin Soans deliver what feel like career-best performances as an elderly couple coming to terms with her failing mind and Eleanor Wyld and Simon Muller complement them well as her carer and their son, also dealing with their own dilemmas in a world stripped of certainties. My original review says it all here, I highly recommend you book now.

Review: Perseverance Drive, Bush Theatre

“I know we have a certain amount of dirty laundry in this family, but is it really necessary to keep on washing it so publicly?” 

Robin Soans’ new play for the Bush Theatre takes a little time to get where it is going but by the time it arrives at its destination, it has gathered into something really rather moving. Perseverance Drive opens in Barbados as the Gillards come together to bury their matriarch Grace. Pentecostal pastor Eli heads up a deeply religious family but not one that is close – one of his sons Joshua has been exiled for being gay, and Nathan and Zek who are both ministers as well have splintered into opposing factions of the church.
 
Their battles are endless – who will get to speak the eulogy, what will happen to their mother’s soul etc etc and though the gospel-inflected ambience created in Madani Younis’ production is powerful, this opening half is a little too static for its own good. Fortunately, after the interval the energy shifts subtly to become much more affecting. It is four years later and now it is Eli’s turn to die in the somewhat less tropical surroundings of a run-down Leytonstone flat but as he slowly shuffles closer to the end of his mortal coil, it is clear that little has really changed.

Continue reading “Review: Perseverance Drive, Bush Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

Review: Visitors, Arcola

“If I could choose any life, I don’t think I’d have things very different from this”

Angela Lansbury may be getting audiences on their feet on Shaftesbury Avenue but for my money, you should be racing over to the Arcola to catch some of the most intensely fantastic acting currently happening. Visitors is Barney Norris’ first full-length play, for the Up In Arms theatre company he co-founded with Alice Hamilton (who directs here), and as a piece of restrained – though hugely affecting – realism, it is an absolute cracker.

Norris examines the corrosive impact of dementia on a Wiltshire farming family with huge skill, deftly exploring the ways in which people make their way through such situations, with love, compassion, comedy, fear, confusion, denial. Both in their 70s, Arthur and Edie are perfectly attuned to each other after many happy years of marriage but though they would happily continue as they are, her declining condition is proving impossible to ignore. Continue reading “Review: Visitors, Arcola”

Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“I am that he, that poor unfortunate he”

As You Like It is one of those plays that I find hard to get too excited about since I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times. And Maria Aberg’s production for the RSC came with the additional baggage of over-enthusiastic acclaim from certain quarters that usually leave me sceptical but when in Newcastle the same week as the RSC… As suspected, the Laura Marling soundtrack riled me, its folks stylings seeming somewhat faux for a reason I can’t really articulate without resorting to calling it smug. But in Pippa Nixon, it has a truly excellent Rosalind.

Set in a Glastonbury-inspired Forest of Arden, Nixon is startling as a genuinely androgynous figure once transformed, making the scenes with Alex Waldmann’s Orlando a thrilling experience in its gender-questioning ardour. And she’s a compelling presence throughout whether battling her fierce father or coaching her would-be lover in the school of romance. It all builds into a touching finale of nuptial bliss, which eventually wore down most of my scepticism, but I’m not entirely convinced that the setting works so well elsewhere. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Brevity is the soul of wit”
 

I can’t say I wasn’t warned… Work has seen me up in the north-east for a few days this month and so coinciding with the RSC’s short residency at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle which sees one of their ensembles putting on the three shows from their bit of the summer season. And I’d been told that their Hamlet was a difficult beast but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how awful I would find it.

David Farr’s modern(ish) take eschews star casting for the integrity of this ensemble, giving Jonathan Slinger the opportunity to take on this most celebrated of roles, but it is a chance they take so thoroughly by the horns with Slinger’s determination to put his own stamp thereon, it never feels real or organic, just a strained effort to be different. And at 3 hours 40 minutes, it is a lot to bear. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

DVD: Rebecca (1997)

“Stop asking silly questions and eat your egg”

If I’d known more about Rebecca before I watched the 1997 television adaptation as part of my Lucy Cohu marathon, I might not have bothered. Not having seen it before or read it, I assumed that her part – the titular role no less – might have had a little more to do in the story but as the story is about the second Mrs De Winter, this wasn’t the case. At all. The first half, 90 minutes in total, featured one brief shot of her eyebrows and one of her hands. The second not much better with tantalising glimpses of parts of her face and a few snatched lines of dialogue (although Wikipedia informs me I’m lucky to even get this!)

Whether intentional or not, this ends up being a rather fabulously camp thing. From Faye Dunaway’s Mrs Van Hopper, hunting for gossip and celebs on the Riviera, to Jonathan Cake’s scene-chewing Jack Favell, to the utter deliciousness of Diana Rigg’s ominously looming Mrs Danvers, it’s all rather gloriously over the top. The May-to-December romance of Charles Dance and Emilia Fox is played very straight and the increasing mystery of exactly what happened to her predecessor does take hold to create a rather compelling latter third which I was entirely gripped by (if not entirely convinced – the new Mrs De Winter is VERY understanding!). Continue reading “DVD: Rebecca (1997)”