July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

News: Old Vic bicentenary ambassadors announced

How do you mark a significant birthday? My parents are currently (jointly) turning 140 and are celebrating the occasion with a six month program of events, peaking with an all-day party happening very soon. But if you’re the Old Vic and you’re turning 200, you open your contacts and see who is free.

Turns out a fair few people are, and so their list currently includes Nikki Amuka-Bird, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, Cate Blanchett, Bertie Carvel, Kim Cattrall, Lily Cole, Alan Cumming, Judi Dench, Michelle Dockery, Rupert Everett, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, David Harewood, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, Cush Jumbo, Ben Kingsley, Pearl Mackie, Helen McCrory, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy, Anika Noni Rose, Maxine Peake, Mark Rylance, Andrew Scott, Tom Stoppard, Stanley Tucci and Julie Walters.

Continue reading “News: Old Vic bicentenary ambassadors announced”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2

“Everything’s just a bit wider apart”

On the second day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…two lovelorn kids

Fifteen Million Merits takes place in a fiercely satirical version of our entertainment culture, where appearing on reality TV is king and everyone else is trapped in a factory-like environment where they must cycle for hours on end to generate all the electricity needed. Forced to watch inane crap on the screens that constantly surround them, their activities are frequently interrupted by adverts, just like on the Channel 4 player!

Daniel Kaluuya’s Bing has inherited 15 million merits from his brother on his passing and decides to use them to enter Jessica Brown Findlay’s Abi into Hot Shots, the X Factor-like show with a scarily vacuous Julia Davis and a sinister Cowell-a-like Rupert Everett. This is the only route out of their slave-like existence but sure enough, nothing is as simple as it seems and as ever, you have to be careful what you wish for. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2”

DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)

“A part of love as dreams, sighs, wishes, and tears”

Perhaps taking influence from the roaring success of Kenneth Branagh’s sun-soaked Much Ado About Nothing, Michael Hoffman saw Hollywood’s return to Shakespeare transplant A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a luscious nineteenth century Tuscan setting. So Athens becomes the town of Monte Athena and the soundtrack is suffused with the strains of Verdi, Donizetti and Bellini but in many other respects, it’s a fairly traditional interpretation – a plethora of bicycles aside.

And though it might not seem that big of a deal, it is indicative of Hoffman’s initial approach to tinker where tinkering is not needed. So the heart sinks as the lovers’ comic business is rough-handled onto two wheels and Nick Bottom gains a (mute) wife, but spirits soon rise again as the film begins to trust the text and just enjoy itself. Calista Flockhart proves a revelation as a genuinely emotionally bruised Helena, chasing Christian Bale’s disinterested Demetrius and fending off Dominic West’s magically enhanced interest, much to Anna Friel’s Hermia’s chagrin. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)”

DVD Review: To Kill A King

This is not war…”

As with many historical films, it is easy to get caught up in matters of accuracy with To Kill A King’s portrayal of Oliver Cromwell and the puritan movement he led with Thomas Fairfax which ultimately saw the trial and death of King Charles I. The casting of Tim Roth instantly points toward the direction Mike Barker’s film leans in and before even a word is spoken, we’re left in no uncertain terms about the psychopathic tendencies of this interpretation of Cromwell. But written by Jenny Mayhew, the film’s focus is actually on the relationship between the two friends and the strain it faces as they set about rebuilding a nation.

And in that respect I think it is quite a successful piece of work. Roth’s furious intensity as he fights for a republican ideal is tempered by Dougray Scott’s intelligent ambivalence as Fairfax, less inclined to shake up the societal order that is such a major part of his and his family’s life, not least his wife Lady Anne, played excellently by Olivia Williams. The way in which the two are slowly pulled apart as their political ideals are twisted by the realities of negotiating with a recalcitrant Parliament and a manipulative King, active even after his deposition, is compellingly told and engagingly performed. Continue reading “DVD Review: To Kill A King”

DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love

“Theatre is the handmaiden of the devil”

With a theatrical version of Shakespeare in Love about to open in the West End, I thought I’d revisit the 1998 film as I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen it since it was first released. It is still surprising to see that it managed to win seven Academy Awards and whilst I like both Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench, looking at their competition it is a little galling to think that they were recognised for these roles. And in the light of the huge authorship furore that erupted around Anonymous, it is interesting to see how little comparable fuss the level of invention here caused.

 
To be fair, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s film makes no pretence to be literarily or historically accurate (given the paucity of source material, it’s hardly surprising) but because the approach here is a hugely affectionate one towards the Bard, rather than challenging popular notions about him, it is clear something of a free pass has been given here. So we see Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare working on a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and being inspired by the everyday chatter and the tumult of his personal life to amend the play and write his famous words.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love”

DVD Review: Stage Beauty

“A woman playing a woman, where’s the trick in that” 

Any film with Clare Higgins yelling ‘give me back my merkin’ is surely destined for stone cold classic status but 2004’s Stage Beauty seems to have slipped from people’s minds whereas I always remembered it as a film I really enjoyed, more so that Shakespeare in Love. Much will depend on your opinion of Claire Danes but this tale of the rapidly changing world of the theatre during Charles II’s reign proved much more enjoyable than Shakespeare in Love ever did, and offers a fascinating, even-handed look at how both the men and women of the stage were affected by the decision to ban the former from playing the latter.

Billy Crudup’s Ned Kynaston has become one of the top actors in town, specialising in female characters like Othello’s Desdemona in which he frequently steals the show and aided by his faithful dresser Maria, played by Danes. She has a burning desire to act on the stage herself but since the Puritans outlawed such a thing in professional theatres, she’s limited to appearing in grubby pub theatres on the fringe (plus ça change…). The thespian desires of Charles’ ambitious mistress Nell Gwynn seem set to change that completely though, along with the fortunes of all concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: Stage Beauty”

DVD Review: Hysteria

“It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time”

I’ve had this film on my Lovefilm list for ages – I love Maggie Gyllenhaal so I knew I’d get round to it one day but I have to say it has never really grabbed me as a must-see. When a play about the invention of the vibrator was announced, it seemed as good a time as any to compare and contrast the two. A 2011 film directed by Tanya Wexler, Hysteria quickly loses points by teasing us with Anna Chancellor in its opening scene, only to never feature her again. That aside, it is actually quite the enjoyable watch as a good-natured and good-intentioned take on Victorian innovation.

Here, the vibrator is invented by Dr Mortimer Granville, a young forward-thinking doctor reduced to assisting a Dr Dalrymple in the treatment of female ‘hysteria’, basically inducing paroxysms in ladies’ private parts with his nimble fingers. His reputation for…hitting the spot, shall we say, soon means he is much in demand in society but as his arm grows overtired, his mind seeks for alternative ways of scratching the itch. Against this, is Granville’s interactions with Dalrymple’s daughters – the quietly permissive Emily and the one-woman suffragette movement Charlotte.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Hysteria”

DVD Review: Wild Target

“I’m Victor Maynard, I’m 54 years old and I work as a professional killer”

Wild Target was a 2010 Brit-flick, adapted by Lucinda Coxon from the French film Cible Émouvante and directed by Jonathan Lynn, that made little real impact despite a rather fabulous cast. Bill Nighy plays Victor Maynard, a middle-aged man who has followed in the footsteps of his father as an assassin, but has no personal or social life to speak of, just regular visits to his mother, Eileen Atkins in fierce form. But when a job goes wrong, he finds himself trying to defend the very person he’s meant to kill, Emily Blunt’s con-artist Rose with the help of a young would-be apprentice in the shape of Rupert Grint’s Tony. 

It’s mainly frothy silliness. Amusing in parts as the threesome try to avoid being killed by the hapless assassins dispatched to finish off the original contract and round up the loose ends, including Martin Freeman with some lovely dental work…, the bond that grows between them is strongest when it is most ambiguous. There’s hints that the hitherto asexual Maynard may be a closet case, though meeting George Rainsford as a waiter in a gay café (that I would so frequent) sadly leads to nothing; Rose and Tony both come unencumbered by any attachments and so it seems it is anyone’s game. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wild Target”