Casting news aplenty!

I round up some of the recent casting news, including Queen Margaret at the Royal Exchange, Wasted at the Southwark Playhouse, Measure for Measure at the Donmar and The Woods at the Royal Court.

Shakespeare wrote more lines for Queen Margaret than he did for King Lear yet we know very little of her. Jeanie O’Hare re-acquaints us with one of Shakespeare’s major but rarely performed characters in her new play Queen Margaret. In a production that draws on original language from Shakespeare, director Elizabeth Freestone and Jade Anouka as Margaret, retell an iconic moment in British History through the eyes of the extraordinary Margaret of Anjou. This captivating exploration of The Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of this astonishing, dangerous and thrilling woman opens the Royal Exchange’s Autumn Winter 2018/19 Season.

Anouka is joined by Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward/Rutland), Lorraine Bruce (York), Samuel Edward-Cook (Suffolk/Clifford), Dexter Flanders (Edward IV), Helena Lymbery (Hume), Lucy Mangan (Joan of Arc), Roger Morlidge (Gloucester), Kwami Odoom (Somerset/Richard), Bridgitta Roy (Warwick) and Max Runham (Henry VI). Continue reading “Casting news aplenty!”

2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace
Elegy – Donmar Warehouse
The Flick – National Theatre Dorfman
One Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

Best New Musical
Groundhog Day – The Old Vic
Dreamgirls – Savoy
The Girls – Phoenix
School of Rock – New London

Best Revival 
Yerma – Young Vic
The Glass Menagerie – Duke of York’s
This House – Garrick
Travesties – Apollo Continue reading “2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Review: Hedda Gabler, National

“I’ve never felt at home”

With Hedda Gabler, the ever prolific Ivo van Hove is making his National Theatre debut, so you can forgive him returning to a production which he has launched twice before – with the exceptional Dutch actress Halina Reijn in Amsterdam and with Elizabeth Marvel in New York. This time however, he’s working with a new version of Ibsen’s play by Patrick Marber and has the equally extraordinary talents of Ruth Wilson leading his company. And as with his revelatory A View From The Bridge, this is a contemporary reworking of a classic that will frustrate some with its froideur but left me gasping at its gut-wrenching rawness.

As ever, van Hove’s spatial intelligence lends itself to a re-appreciation of the theatrical space in which he’s working. He’s invited audiences onstage at the Barbican, and backstage too and here in the Lyttelton, the wings are closed off by Jan Versweyveld’s gallery-like white box and so characters make their entrances and exits through the same doors that we use – Judge Brack even arrives via the rear stalls at one point. And van Hove keeps things off-kilter onstage too, often pushing the action out to the far edges, focusing the eye on unexpected details like the eloquent sweep of Hedda’s back, the tapping foot of a nervy ever-watching Berthe.
Marber’s lightly modernised new version allows for dark flashes of humour but there’s no mistaking how lonely and sad this Hedda is, even more so for being so isolated in this modern-day setting. Finding herself trapped in the world of the idle rich, having decided “it was time to settle”, she soon finds herself appalled at her situation. Initially, Wilson blurs the line between malice and thoughtlessness in the extremes of her behaviour but we’re soon left in no doubt that we’re in the hands of as expert a manipulator as Alice Morgan, albeit with less self-control, hints of fragility and frustration are never far away as she rages against a world she sees as determined to strip her of her power, her individuality, the sanctity of her own body as the repeated notes about children and child-bearing make plain.
And the care with which that world has been (re)constructed makes fresh new dramatic sense. Kyle Soller’s Tesman is refreshingly decent, Kate Duchêne’s Aunt Juliana perfectly obliging, Sinéad Matthews’ Mrs Elvsted possessed of a self-confidence we don’t often see in her interactions with Chuk Iwudi’s Lovborg. Against this normality, Hedda’s self-destructive urges are heightened, agonisingly so in the textured lighting design by Versweyveld and musical accompaniment from Joni Mitchell, and as Rafe Spall’s swaggeringly sexual Brack exerts his sickening power inch by inch, the production culminates in a succession of stunning but horrifying images, all correctly disturbing. As brutal a Hedda as you’ll get.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
Booking until 21st March


DVD Review: Suite Française (2015)

 “Be careful… with your life”

Irène Némirovsky’s novel Suite Française has one of those origin stories you’d scarcely believe if you read it in a novel itself. In 1942, Ukrainian-Jewish Némirovsky was deported from the France where she had lived more than half her life, having written two parts of an intended sequence of five novels in the previous couple of years. She spent time at Pithiviers and then Auschwitz where she was murdered, leaving notebooks with family members who could not bring themselves to look at them until they were to be donated to a museum whereupon they were amazed to find complete novels as opposed to mere scribblings – thus Suite Française was published in 2004 to considerable acclaim. 
And where such stories go, film must follow and so a movie adaptation made its way to cinemas in 2015, directed by Saul Dibb and co-written with Matt Charman. Suite Française follows life in a village outside of Paris in the first few months of occupation in 1940 and as with several of the films I’ve watched recently, concerns itself with the lack of moral clarity at that time, refusing to depict the world in black and white with choices made easy with hindsight, but rather investigating the realities of living through such a time of crisis and the lengths to which people will go to to survive.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Suite Française (2015)”

Hallowe’en Film Review: I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)

“The first night in a place always weirds me out”

Released by Netflix just in time for Hallowe’en, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House naturally popped up on my register as it features the ever-luminous Ruth Wilson in the starring role of Lily. Indeed, Oz Perkins’ film rests mainly on her shoulders, as a live-in hospice nurse who becomes increasingly convinced that her elderly employee’s Massachusetts house is haunted. her fears rooted in her boss Iris Blum’s former career as a horror author.

It’s a remarkably restrained affair from writer and director Perkins, astutely aware of the power of showing as little as possible whilst ratcheting up the tension through a rumbling sound design and a gorgeously gloomy colour palette from cinematographer Julie Kirkwood. It’s unrelentingly creepy rather than outright shocking (for the most part at least…) and this mood that it cultivates is properly scary (and that’s coming from someone who’s really not that much of a fan of the genre).

It helps to have an actor of the calibre of Wilson at the heart of the play, her carer curiously anachronistic – as if uprooted from the middle of the twentieth century – and through her voiceover, the inexorable growth of her fear, as she investigates whether one of Iris’ stories was based on a real murder in that very house, becomes utterly compelling through the sheer simplicity of its imagery, the sparseness of the shots that allows the imagination to run wild. 

Supported by strong work from Bob Balaban as the estate manager and Paula Prentiss’ near-dessicated Iris, I Am The Pretty Thing… is a subtler horror film than one might expect, but it is all the most effective for it – recommended.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9

“Man is a giddy thing”

Much Ado About Nothing

Quite a bold gambit here, as Jessica Swale’s Sicily-set scenes are interpolated with Jeremy Herrin’s glorious 2011 production. And most glorious within that production, Eve Best’s heart-breaking, life-affirming recounting of a star dancing is placed front and centre. So Katherine Parkinson and Samuel West are up against it a bit, swanning luxuriously but longfully around the Villa Ida in Messina, never too far from Best and Charles Edwards doing Beatrice and Benedick as well as they ever have been done.

All’s Well That Ends Well

A bit of a change of pace here and rightfully so, with Sam Yates directing a stately Lindsay Duncan and Ruth Wilson at the Chateau de Lourmarin, perhaps a more sedate piece of film than the others in the collection but all the more gorgeous for it.

The Comedy of Errors

Some people got to go to France, Italy, Turkey, even the Caribbean, this lot got to the Iznik Turkish restaurant on London’s Riverside. Bill Buckhurst directs a ruminative Phil Davis as Egeon and a boisterous Omid Djalili as Dromio, with snippets from Blanche McIntyre’s slapsticky version from 2014 providing contrasting comic relief.

TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 2)

“So, because you can’t believe it’s true, logically it’s false”

So the second and final part of Series 4 of Luther is done and well, it’s hard not to feel a little shortchanged. There’s been chatter about a movie and given that we only got 2 hours of screentime here, it’s hard to see why creator Neil Cross and star Idris Elba opted for a single two-parter split over two weeks as opposed the fiercer energy that a feature-length epic would surely have borne. 

Episode 1 aired last week and did a decent job of pulling us back into the world of DCI John Luther, delving back into the show’s mythology and the tangled web of his own past but also moving forward with the dastardly exploits of a new serial killer, which proved to be the main hook for Luther’s return from semi-retirement. Part Two continues the blend, as John Heffernan’s marvellously malevolent cannabalistic killer continues his rampage and Luther deals with the past impinging severely on his present.

The mix of dark humour and dark criminality that has been Luther’s trademark is ever-present and worked well again here, mordantly comic lines trip off Elba’s tongue so effortlessly that you always forgive the more extravagant flourishes (like kyboshing two would-be motorcycle assassins with a metal dustbin…). And there’re interesting touches in the way the crucial cold case and gangster connections play out, Patrick Malahide giving good value for money here, toying with Luther’s fluid concept of morality.

That said, featuring Alice Morgan so heavily without actually getting Ruth Wilson back on screen felt like a misuse of the limited time here, Rose Leslie’s Emma ultimately quite shortchanged in terms of character development aside from proving a little too susceptible to abandoning her police training for Luther’s reckless ways. And Heffernan’s Stephen Rose remained relatively unexplored, beyond his gruesome crime committing at least. 

So good to welcome Luther back, even if its brevity was a little frustrating. And with Idris Elba’s movie career going great guns, we should get used to these diminishing returns (each series has been shorter than the last) but maybe they’ll go for the big splash with the next series, which by this very logic should just be one (feature-length) part long, whether in cinemas or on TV again. 

TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 1)

“What do we do with something like this?”
It doesn’t quite seem right, calling this a new series of Luther when it is just two episodes, but the return of Idris Elba’s maverick DCI is something to be celebrated nonetheless. Neil Cross’ two-parter finds John Luther on a leave of absence from the Met (as opposed to having jacked it all in as we might have thought), sequestered in a coastal cottage hideaway and still reckoning with the loss of his cop partner DS Ripley after the events of the last series. Almost straightaway though, the show runs into the problems that mark the whole episode.
Two of Luther’s colleagues (Rose Leslie’s DS Lane and Darren Boyd’s DCI Bloom) turn up to inform him of the demise of the totemic nemesis/saviour figure of Alice Morgan (the glorious Ruth Wilson, never better than in the first ever episode way back when). They’re both new to the franchise (though weirdly not unfamiliar to Luther) but as there’s so little time, we have to assume an instant familiarity with them, and with the circumstances of Alice’s death and a new serial killer who is eating his way through East London. 
So naturally the pacing is beyond breakneck – victim after victim falls prey to John Heffernan’s excellently creepy killer, Luther tracks gangland suspects to get to the bottom of what happened to Alice but soon finds himself drawn back into the police fold when the show solves the problem of having to get to know at least one of the new characters (poor Boyd, I thought he was doing a cracking job actually). 
Which is all well and good, but the beauty of Luther has been its creeping sense of real menace that it has cultivated time and time again in previous stories, (the sinuous strangeness of Massive Attack’s ‘Paradise Circus’ the perfect theme tune in this regard). with so many scenarios given the time to crawl under the skin and really mess with the mind. There just doesn’t seem to be time for that here and consequently Elba’s performance responds accordingly, more bombastic than brooding.
It’s still good TV though and it’ll be interesting to see Laura Haddock’s character get something to do, how Rose Leslie develops as Luther’s replacement for Ripley, what mystery has been cooked up around Alice (who’s betting against a brief reappearance with 5 minutes to go) and what juicy climax Heffernan will deliver. Bring on part two, or the series finale..

Review: Constellations, New Victoria

“An indented rule indicates a change in universe”
When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Premiering at the Royal Court upstairs, Michael Longhurst’s production manages to be both intimate and epic, the story of two people somehow expanding to fill several universes of heartfelt emotion.

When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Transferring from the Royal Court upstairs to the Duke of York’s in the West End, Michael Longhurst’s production sacrifices nothing in the scaling up to the larger venue and if anything, gains in epic power.

When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Marking the Broadway debut for all concerned, Michael Longhurst’s production manages the transatlantic transfer seamlessly and one wonders where the show could end up next.

Woking. After successes in the West End and on Broadway, Nick Payne’s play Constellations is now touring the UK, starting off at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. Which is as good a place as any to see a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party and find themselves exploring the many possibilities that their relationship could take as scenes are played and replayed, shifting their journey together subtly but ineffably into new places. 

Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. Perfect casting for the effervescent, wise-cracking Marianne and the slightly nerdish but endlessly endearing Roland, their intensity beautifully matched especially in the poignant flashforwards.

Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. That perfect casting retained for the transfer, their ease with each other and the technical challenges of the script even smoother than before and if the larger venue challenged them at all, there was no evidence of it.

Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal. All change for Broadway – Wilson’s immense subtleties (is that an oxymoron?) made an ideal, if less kooky, Marianne and Gyllenhaal gave an interestingly judged performance as Roland, less obviously blokey but no less moving.

Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong. And to the tour, Brealey really makes her mark with a more brittle, abrasive interpretation that contrasts so effectively with the warmer moments, and Armstrong exudes a hugely likeable affability that you would certainly chase across universes to find and keep.

Can I really put my finger on why I like this play so much? Why I think it is one of the smartest pieces of new writing that I’ve seen in recent years? I’m not sure that I can.
It’s to do with the way it wears its scientific concepts so lightly – I mean I couldn’t tell you anything about quantum physics right now but during the play, it feels like maybe I could.
It’s to do with the all-too-human instinct to wonder what if I’d done that differently, what path might that have led me down.
It’s to do with the expression of such powerfully felt emotion that yet feels intelligently reasoned.
It’s to do with free will.
It’s to do with love.

I cried a little bit. Well quite a bit.

I cried so much I couldn’t speak for about quarter of an hour afterwards.

I cried a lot, but a New Year’s Day hangover probably had something to with my emotional state too.

I cried a surprisingly small amount, almost just the artful single tear in fact.

Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Atom-based clusters of balloons trail from the corridor into the theatre, hexagonal tiles mark out the physical space the actors occupy, and Lee Curran’s lighting tracks the darkening mood perfectly.  

Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Some of the finer details are lost in the larger space but the evolving scale of the work is artfully done, capturing something even grander about the emotional contours of the play. This time, it is the sound design by David McSeveney that resonates stronger, delineating each fundamental shift so clearly.  

Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him. It looks as good as ever but the detail of Curran’s lighting is what captures my attention – the shift in the flashes of colour through to blood red, the antiseptic white of the harsh future scenes, the individual balloons picked out in lights with their own secrets.

Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him and now I probably never will. Since the show has been end-on, there’s been a key scenic detail that I’ve missed every time. Every time. There aren’t enough potential universes to explain this. I need to go again.

Can I put my finger on why I like Constellations so much?
Even on my fourth viewing, there are details that come to me anew.
There are details that have still yet eluded me.
There are scenes that somehow pack a gut-punch as fierce as the first time – why wouldn’t language shift that way.
There are replayed scenes that I could continue to watch over and over – notes in hand or not 🙂   
And in perfect keeping with the theme of the show, Michael Longhurst has kept the production the same but different, or is it different but the same in a remarkable way. Marianne may wear an almost identical outfit whether it’s Hawkins, Wilson or Brealey wearing the shoes but she has exuded such a singular sense each time which has been breathtaking to behold. And partnered by the affable/affectionate/rumpled charms of Spall/Gyllenhaal/Armstrong, they’ve all been Marianne and Roland but their own Marianne and Roland and brilliantly so.

I loved it.

I loved it.

I loved it.

I loved it.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Booking until 17th May, then touring to Liverpool Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Nuffield Theatre Southampton, The Lowry Salford, Cambridge Arts, Richmond Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton

TV Review: The Affair, Sky Atlantic

“Why don’t you tell me how it began”

A belated UK premiere for this Golden Globe-winning drama over on Sky Atlantic and a much-welcomed one at that, as this is a cracking piece of television. I caught up with The Affair, created by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, during my New York trip at New Year, its 10 episodes getting me through a day off sick and the downtime in my hotel, and starring Ruth Wilson as it does, it provided a serendipitous counterpart to her stellar turn in Constellations (more of which anon).

The basic premise of the show is the affair between schoolteacher and struggling novelist Noah (Dominic West) and grieving waitress Alison (Wilson) during his family’s summer holiday in the Long Island resort town where she lives and works. As we see, the effects ripple out well into their extended families but the hook is that each episode is divided in two – each protagonist giving their version of the same events, giving their own different perspective on what actually happened. Continue reading “TV Review: The Affair, Sky Atlantic”