Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre

“He thinks too much – such men are dangerous”

Though it is billed as ‘a promenade staging’ and the website refers to ‘mob tickets’ and ‘immersive ticket holders’, make no mistake that if you’re in the pit for Julius Caesar, you’re standing. For two hours. There’s a bit of movement, as in five paces that way or this when a new bit of the set has to wheeled into place but don’t be distracted into thinking there’s anything more on offer here than can be gotten further along the South Bank at the Globe (apart from a roof of course, which allows them to charge five times the price, or three times if you book your tickets via TodayTix).

And as with being a groundling, there are decided pros and cons to experiencing theatre this way. The first half of Shakespeare’s political thriller works extremely well under this modern-dress treatment from Nicholas Hytner. As you enter the Bridge’s auditorium, reconceived into the round here, the pit is filled with a rock gig, vendors sell beer and baseball caps, a febrile energy fills the space which carries through to the arrival of David Calder’s populist Caesar with his red cap and puerile slogan ‘Do this!’ (Contemporary allusions are clear but later on you may find the mind gets weirdly drawn to Murdoch more than Trump…).

Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre”

Full cast of the Bridge Theatre’s Julius Caesar announced

The full cast for the Bridge Theatre’s second production – a promenade version of Julius Caesar – has been announced and obviously the news that Adjoa Andoh will be playing Casca is the bee’s knees.

The company is: Adjoa Andoh (Casca), David Calder (Caesar), Leaphia Darko (ensemble), Rosie Ede (Marullus/ Artemidorus), Michelle Fairley (Cassius), Leila Farzad (Decius Brutus), Fred Fergus (Lucius/Cinna the Poet), Zachary Hart (ensemble), Wendy Kweh (Calpurnia), David Morrissey (Mark Antony), Mark Penfold (Caius Ligarius), Abraham Popoola (Trebonius), Sid Sagar (Flavius/Popilius Lena), Nick Sampson (Cinna), Hannah Stokely (Metellus Cimber), Ben Whishaw (Brutus) and Kit Young (Octavius).

Review: Mrs Orwell, Southwark Playhouse

“So what you want, in a nutshell, George, is a mistress, housekeeper, nurse, literary executor and mother for Richard?”

Tony Cox’s play Mrs Orwell did sufficiently good business in its run at the Old Red Lion last month that it has quickly transferred south of the river, to the Southwark Playhouse for an additional few weeks. Based on actual events but with a fair measure of artistic license thrown in, as with all the best stories, it sheds light on the final weeks of George Orwell’s life, as tuberculosis ravaged his lungs.

Coming from near Wigan as I do, I had heard of Orwell long before I really knew who he was, as much for the pub named after him as his famous book. So Cox provides an interesting biographical slant on the writer, looking at him through the eyes of assistant magazine editor Sonia Brownell, who became a constant visitor to his University College hospital bed and eventually received the most platonic of proposals. Continue reading “Review: Mrs Orwell, Southwark Playhouse”

DVD Review: The Heart of Me

“And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me”

For me, there’s a serious problem that lies at the heart of The Heart of Me and that is that the man at the apex of the love triangle that tears two sisters apart just isn’t worth it. Paul Bettany’s Rickie marries Olivia Williams’ Madeleine in the whirl of 1930s London but her repressed nature contrasts strongly with her much more bohemian sister Dinah, Helena Bonham-Carter in fine, liberated form, and an affair strikes up between the pair, the effects of which ricochet hard through all their lives. It’s very much a slow-burner and in the grand tradition of Merchant Ivory, it evokes so much of the early twentieth century British character that has proven endurably entertaining to watch on screen and stage.

It is a brave choice to make Rickie a complexly dark character, the way his frustrations spill out as he abuses marital privileges and his moral weakness in the face of tough decisions make him a rotter par excellence which Bettany pulls off well. Yet the spark of something there, to draw Dinah into betraying her sibling so, has to be pulsatingly powerful so as to ride roughshod over convention and I never really bought that, instead one is left with the pure selfishness of their action, as opposed to the purity of their love, and thus I had difficulties with much of this story thread. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Heart of Me”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“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”