Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston

The reliance on an all-white cast to tell Hogarth’s Progress is another mis-step from a Rose Theatre Kingston who should know better

“We’ve all had our share of bad reviews”

The oft-misquoted George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and taking a glance at Nick Dear’s Hogarth’s Progress, you can’t help but feel it is most apposite for the folks at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Once again, they’re tackling a slice of English history in a multi-play format and once again, they’re doing it with a lily-white cast – diversity be damned! 

It’s a bit exhausting to go over the same arguments but they still hold true. The notion of historical verisimilitude holds no water, not least because Dear has talked about employing dramatic licence with history itself, but because once again we’re not talking about German actresses being employed to play Queen Caroline (it is Susannah Harker, with an accent). We’re talking about directors not trusting that audiences will accept actors of colour in such roles, but also not doing enough to challenge such audience-held perceptions. Continue reading “Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Round-up of news, treats and other interesting things

You go away for a week, hoping they’ll put any exciting news on hold but no, there were headlines aplenty…

Michelle Terry being revealed as Emma Rice’s successor as Artistic Director of the Globe. I think this is a brave and inspired choice, for Terry is a deeply intelligent actor (Tribes, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Cleansed) and a superb Shakespearean at that (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors).

Rice seemed to consider Shakespeare a puzzle that needed unlocking for (new) audiences but you were left wondering if there was a touch of square peg round hole syndrome in the way the plays were manhandled. It is tempting to think that Terry will be a smoother fit whilst maintaining a sense of adventurousness (she played Henry V after all) although this is, of course, pure conjecture. Still, exciting times ahead. Continue reading “Round-up of news, treats and other interesting things”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: The Cement Garden, Vault Festival

“Thing is pet, maybe you’re better on your own”

Under the cement and brick of Waterloo lies The Cement Garden, an interpretation of Ian McEwan’s highly regarded novel which is one of the centrepieces of the six week Vault Festival. Adapted by David Aula and Jimmy Osborne, it tells the disturbing story of what happens when four children are orphaned and end up retreating from society rather than notifying the authorities they believe would split them up.

Aula, who also directs, has chosen a deliberately varied and theatrical approach to the production. So the youngest child Tom is played by the oldest man in the cast, David Annen who manipulates a puppet boy. But the central couple of the two oldest kids, Jack and Julie, are played with an exceptionally punchy, naturalistic force by Ruby Bentall and BAFTA Rising Star Award nominee George MacKay. Continue reading “Review: The Cement Garden, Vault Festival”

Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward

“We’re practically our own children’s book department”

Second up for the Michael Grandage season at the Noël Coward Theatre is the only new play out of the programme of five – John Logan’s Peter and Alice. Logan’s stock is riding high both as a screenwriter – a 3-time Academy Award nominee and most recently responsible for Skyfall – and a playwright – his last play Red was well-received on both sides of the Atlantic – and the premise of this play, a meeting between the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland and the man who gave his name to Peter Pan, is one that certainly showed promise. But after attending this preview performance, it is not abundantly clear that this promise has been fulfilled.

The play sparks off of the real life meeting between Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, aged 35 and 80 respectively, and imagines a conversation in which they share stories of being so closely involved with 2 key figures of children’s literature. Llewelyn Davies was one of the brood of brothers with whom JM Barrie became very close and wrote Peter Pan for, and Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland after first recounting the story to Liddell Hargreaves on a family boat trip. Thus their places in literary history were sealed and Logan explores not just how their lives consequently rolled out but also touches on their relationships with the writers and the characters they inspired. Continue reading “Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward”

Review: Hansel and Gretel, National Theatre

“NEVER sit on the confabulator”

Once again, the National Theatre turn to Katie Mitchell to create their festive show and with frequent collaborator Lucy Kirkwood, who wrote and co-devised here, this year sees Hansel and Gretel receive their inimitable treatment. As one would expect from Mitchell, this is an extremely playful and creative take on the tale which starts off with the Brothers Grimm as a vaudevillian double act hunting for elusive stories in the depths of the mysterious Black Forest. When they finally catch one, they pop it into their special confabulating machine and the result is this bewitching production.

Aimed at 7-10 year olds, this is necessarily a rather straight-forward telling of the fairytale of the young brother and sister who are the victims of a vindictive stepmother, abandoned in the forest and left to fend for themselves. They think their dreams have come true when they find refuge in a house constructed of gingerbread and sweets owned by an old lady, but it soon turns out that they pretty much gone from the frying pan and into the fire. But the story has been enhanced: there are additional characters like a euphonium-playing bat called Stuart and a Russian kitchen slave literally chained to the stove, songs by Paul Clark are sprinkled through the narrative and there’s also some sprinkling of a more festive variety. Continue reading “Review: Hansel and Gretel, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Lost in Austen

“Is that agreeable?
‘Oh yes, ooh yes’”

To the few regular readers of this blog, it will be no surprise that I am missing Elliot Cowan’s presence on the stage. He’s currently filming a TV series of Sinbad and so in order to get my fix (plus while away a train journey or two), I decided to revisit the TV show in which he made his first major impact on me, Lost in Austen. Man-crush aside, this show also fed my girl-crush on Jemima Rooper – someone I’ve liked for ages – and started a new girl-crush on Gemma Arterton – I’m pretty sure this was the first time I saw her in anything and so has to rank as one of my favourite pieces of TV entertainment in recent years. It was a four-part drama on ITV in 2008 written by Guy Andrew and is basically a fantasy version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Amanda Price – Rooper – is a modern-day city girl who is obsessed with the book and through a portal that mysteriously appears in her bathroom, finds herself swapping places with Elizabeth Bennett and living the story that she knows far too well. But as any Doctor Who fan will tell you, you can’t go round meddling in alternative timestreams and though the set-up is entirely familiar to Amanda, the very fact of her presence in Lizzie’s stead kicks off a chain of events that knocks all the dominoes off-kilter, her manipulations never quite going right with nothing playing out like she thought it would: not least with her own tumbling head-over-heels for this version of Mr Darcy, which considering it is Elliot Cowan, that is no surprise at all. Continue reading “DVD Review: Lost in Austen”

Review: Grief, National Theatre

“I don’t want some lovely pink lemonade, I want a sherry”

Mike Leigh’s new play for the National Theatre was finally entitled Grief after going under ‘A New Play’ for what felt like the longest time and sees him reunited with frequent collaborator Lesley Manville. I was quite looking forward to it as my first ‘new’ Leigh stage experience, the revival of Ecstasy having whetted my appetite quite considerably. Manville plays Dorothy, widowed in the war and frozen in the past, who lives with her stroppy teenage daughter Victoria and also her older brother Edwin, a complete creature of habit who is coming to the end of 45 years working at the same insurance firm. A set of visitors offer a little relief to this suffocating routine in Alison Chitty’s drab suburban living room set, Edwin’s brusque doctor friend and Dorothy’s old colleagues who love a good natter but it is the cleaner who gets more of a view into the quietly toxic atmosphere of this household which gradually gets worse.

It is acted well, extremely well in most places. Marion Bailey and David Horovitch are striking in the vividness of their characterisations as two of the visitors; Ruby Bentall’s sullen teenager captures the tragedy of wasted potential, stymied by her surroundings and unable to break free; Sam Kelly’s retiree is a powerfully effective study in near-paralysis and Lesley Manville is utterly superb as a woman who seems unable to move on from the past, yet not even really gaining succour from singing old songs with her brother any more. Continue reading “Review: Grief, National Theatre”

Review: Remembrance Day, Royal Court

“They’re old men…
‘But they’re still Nazis.’”

The second half of the International Playwrights Season at the Royal Court shifts its focus to new Eastern European writing. I attended the first reading last week, of Pavel Pryazkho’s The Harvest, but the main show, playing upstairs, is Latvian-based playwright Aleksey Scherbak’s Remembrance Day, presented here in a translation by Rory Mullarkey.

On 16th March, veterans of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen SS march through the capital Riga, increasingly being joined by other native Latvians as a celebration of their national independence against Soviet oppression. The complicating factor though, being that in order to fight the Soviets, they had to align themselves with the Nazis. The march therefore is a focal point for tensions as both anti-fascist and fascist movements in the country seek to capitalise on the emotions provoked here to promote their own agendas. Sherbak’s play uses the tensions in a Russian-speaking family to explore this struggle as teenage Anya finds herself becoming more and more radicalised as a political activist whilst her father’s attempt to preach a calmer message of tolerance is misinterpreted and whips up an intense fervour of damaging extremism. Continue reading “Review: Remembrance Day, Royal Court”