Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time

“You don’t know what day it is today”

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any radio drama but the prospect of an all star cast doing JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways was something I couldn’t resist and under David Hunter’s direction, it was a truly beautiful piece of work. The aching lyricism of the play and its innovative (extremely so for the time) non-linear structure have long been a favourite and so to see them get the luxury treatment here, headed up by Harriet Walter as Mrs Conway, is just fantastic.

The play looks at the fortunes of the Conway family as they celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the daughters Kay in 1919 and then flicks forward 19 years where we see straightaway what has become of them. And as their lot mirrors that of the class system in Britain, it isn’t a happy one. Walter’s brittle blitheness as she tries to ignore the financial situation is blissful, Anna Madeley and Rupert Evans are just gorgeous as Alan and Kay – the two decent ones out of the whole bunch – and Colin Guthrie’s piano adds an elegiac beauty. Sublime. Continue reading “Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time”

TV Review: The Secrets 2 – The Conversation

“He was mad and French and horny”

Part 2 of The Secrets failed to live up to Nick Payne’s opening salvo if I’m completely honest. Sarah Solemani’s The Conversation, in which she also stars, centres on a young couple on the eve of their wedding as an ill-advised secret sharing session opens up a whole can of worms as Charlotte’s revelation that she once had a threesome is blown out of the water by her discovery that Tom was once accused of rape.

That then sets Charlotte off on a spiral of reflection and recrimination as she throws her whole relationship under the spotlight, something aided by the late arrival of her sister who may or may not know more than she is letting on. Something just didn’t click for me in the way that Charlotte unravelled, Solemani bravely leaving the detail of her plot quite sketchy but consequently leaving her characters to make somewhat improbable leaps.

DVD Review: Emma (2009)

“He would know me but there’s no reason I would know a farmer”

Of all the versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, I can’t really believe that I will ever see one as well done as this 2009 BBC adaptation by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. Everything about it works for me, from the clever casting choices to the subtle redefinition of some characters, the (now) luxurious running time to the production values which mark it as something of a dying breed in terms of BBC period dramas.

I love its inventive prologue contrasting the early lives of Emma, Frank and Jane, how tragedy touched them all but their positions in life meant their journeys took wildly different paths. Romola Garai makes an immensely appealing heroine, her beautiful wide eyes so open and honest yet quickly able to take on a harder glint as her more self-obsessed side takes over, and she works so brilliantly with her cast-mates to give us full-fleshed, believable relationships.

There’s genuine affection with Michael Gambon’s fretful father, a tangible sisterly bond with Jodhi May’s former governess, a vivid friendship with Louise Dylan’s hapless Harriet and that real sense of antipathy that comes from two beautiful girls not quite able to make each other out with the arrival of Laura Pyper’s mysterious Jane Fairfax. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s excellent Mr Knightley, a hugely handsomely dashing figure who shares immense chemistry with Garai. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (2009)”

Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen

I don’t think being gay is that bad. I’ve had three erotic dreams about The One Show’s Matt Baker and I’ve really enjoyed them.”

Tom Wells’ Jonesy is currently running as part of nabokov’s Symphony as part of the Vault Festival, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it pop up as a Radio 4 Afternoon Drama, all the more so as Wells has adapted to fit the new medium. It is clearly a work that has a special relationship with sound for the writer – on stage, it is part of a trio of plays presented as a gig, live music augmenting the dramatic experience and on radio, it becomes a foray into the world of sound effects. 

The original story follows academic and asthmatic Withernsea lad Jamie Jones as he tries to emulate the sporting underdog movies he loves so much by passing GCSE PE but it is now told by Jonesy himself from the confines of the BBC Radio Drama Sound Department where he has secured some work experience. So the storytelling becomes a little meta with its references but also surreally enhanced by the breadth of effects at his fingertips, some of them not entirely appropriate for the task in hand but all of them used most wittily.  Continue reading “Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen”

DVD Review: Fingersmith

“The over-exposure of women to literature breeds unnatural fancies”

I struggled a little bit to find another theatrical-friendly lesbian-themed thing to watch so I returned to Sarah Waters and the 2005 adaptation of Fingersmith, which as it starred Sally Hawkins was no great hardship at all. Set in Victorian England as was Tipping the Velvet, this story follows the lives of Sue and Maud, two very different women whose lives are irrevocably changed when a trio of fingersmiths, or pickpockets, conspire to rob an heiress of her fortune. But it turns out the plans are even more devious than first assumed as they culminate in the most unexpected of fashions and in a deftly clever move, we revisit all we have just seen from another perspective, casting uncertainty of the surety of what we know which plays excellently in the subsequent exploration of the disturbing reality of Victorian mental asylums.

Sally Hawkins is predictably excellent as Sue, one of the pickpockets who hoodwinks her way into the slightly disturbed Maud’s, the pale Elaine Cassidy, household as a housemaid who acts as a chaperone to allow a second trickster, Mr Rivers played by a bewhiskered Rupert Evans, to pose as a gentleman and seduce Maud into marriage just before she inherits a large fortune. Maud has been stifled by life in her extremely strict uncle’s house as a contributor to his immense collection of pornography and relishes the contact of Sue’s seemingly kindred spirit, so much so that an illicit lesbian affair springs up between the pair. But even as Sue is deceiving her, it emerges that Maud is not quite as delicate as she may seem and so intrigue builds on intrigue as Peter Ransley’s screenplay condenses a wonderfully complex novel into a more streamlined narrative, though still full of equally multifaceted characters.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Fingersmith”

Review: Fear, Bush Theatre

“There’s a difference to what you say and what you really mean”

I’ve spoken before about the frustration that sometimes pops up when a designer has run wild with their imagination but apparently forgotten to take into account the fact that an audience should be able to see what is going on (The Changeling), but I’d never thought about what it must feel like for an actor to work in unconventional surroundings until I saw Fear at the Bush Theatre. takis’ set makes much use of clear plastic panels, indeed the rear wall of the playing area has three of these which provides aesthetic interest, but prove rather tricky to negotiate in the blackouts between scenes, as Rupert Evans found out to  his cost when he face-planted right into one of them at the end of a moving scene. Unfortunately this was the most interesting thing about the production for me.

Fear is Dominic Savage’s debut play, and my heart sank a little bit when I read that he was directing his own work, as the introduction of another creative presence is often invaluable to the development of a piece. That said, there are moments of raw power that emerge from this story of what happens when two very different sides of London clash, especially in the decision to have its main protagonist, rude boi Kieran, directly addressing the audience, sizing them up as his next potential victims for a spot of street robbery with his devoted lackey Jason. And as we get hints of the domestic strife that drives Kieran’s vicious anger, we also meet city banker Gerald whose personal and professional lives are most definitely on the up. Continue reading “Review: Fear, Bush Theatre”

DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – The Taming of the Shrew/A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“When you speak, it sounds like poetry”

The second disc of ShakespeaRe-Told (first disc reviewed here) features reworkings of The Taming of the Shrew by Sally Wainwright and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Peter Bowker. Shrew is a problematic play at the best of times and I have to say that I found this interpretation to be very difficult. Katherine becomes an abrasive politician aiming to become Leader of the Opposition who is advised to get married for her image, Petruchio is a foppish aristocrat who has fallen on hard times and is attracted by her wealth. They meet, sparks fly and thus do battle whilst conducting their relationship. Initially it works, as he is just as mad as her – almost cartoonish in how mental they are – but the ‘taming’ that ensues only applies to her and so the unease feeling of misogyny is always too present. Shirley Henderson gives shrewish life to Katherine (sorry) and Rufus Sewell swaggers well as the cross-dressing Petruchio, but it never really flies as a revision.

The subplot involves her supermodel sister Bianca – Jaime Murray as she bats away the affections of her manager for the seductive allure of a Spanish stranger Lucentio. I have to say that Santiago Cabrera looks pretty much like perfection here, the sexiest glasses-wearer ever, and so is forgiven for the underwhelming way in which this subplot works. Stephen Tompkinson’s manager is oddly fobbed off with the mother – Twiggy of all people – but it does lead up to a nifty conclusion in which Katherine’s hard-to-swallow speech ends up being about prenuptial agreements. David Mitchell is also featured in this as Katherine’s aide, demonstrating just how little range the man has.

Continue reading “DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – The Taming of the Shrew/A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Review: The Poetry is in the Pity, Donmar Warehouse

“No prayers nor bells, nor any voice of mourning save the choirs”

Poetry is one of those art-forms that has kind of passed me by in life: I never really engaged with it nor made the effort to acquaint myself post-education and I can only really quote two bits at you, one random verse of The Lady of Shalott and a large chunk of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est. For the one area of poetry that did make an impact on me when I was younger was the First World War writings of poets like Siegfried Sassoon, Alfred Noyes and Owen which appealed to the history student in me, and reinforced by school trips and family holiday excursion which took in the haunting battlefields and achingly huge fields of memorials in northern France and Belgium, they have long lingered in my mind.

So when the Donmar Warehouse announced their Poetry Week under the aegis of Josephine Hart, Lady Saatchi, a most passionate advocate of widening the audience that poetry reaches, this afternoon The Poetry is in the Pity was the one that stood out for me, especially with its exciting cast of actors who would be reading: in this case, Kenneth Cranham, Rupert Evans, Max Irons and Ruth Wilson. Hart herself has sadly been quite ill and so was unable to attend, Deborah Findlay stepping in and fulfilling the role of narrator, providing context and connections between the programme of poems she has put together, fulfilling her mission of trying to demystify, illuminate and intensify the experience of listening to poetry. Continue reading “Review: The Poetry is in the Pity, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Life is a Dream, Donmar

“Is the craft of our mind’s eye so skilful in its artistry, the fake becomes the thing itself?”

Written in 1635 by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La Vida Es Sueño is considered one of the most significant plays in Spanish literature and enjoys a stature similar to Hamlet. It is presented here at the Donmar Warehouse in a new translation and version by Helen Edmundson and entitled Life is a Dream. Despite being nearly 500 years old, its central issues of the nature of reality and the possibilities of freedom in a cruel world have a remarkably current feel.

Set in Poland, the play focuses on Segismundo, played here by Dominic West, the young heir to the throne who has spent his life imprisoned in a tower because omens foretold that he would one day overthrow his father, the king. Given the chance to prove fate wrong and released into court, the prince lives up to his savage reputation and so is swiftly returned to jail where he is persuaded that all he thought he saw was a dream, hence the title. When he is then released a second time, events take a different turn as Segismundo has matured and learned about the consequences of his actions, especially as a future king, but also he realises that if indeed life is a dream, then it should be lived to the full. Continue reading “Review: Life is a Dream, Donmar”