Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker

“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

In light of Roman Tragedies reminding us of the vast potential of what Shakespeare can be rather than the tendency towards the ‘proper’ readings of his work that we tend to get here in the UK (vast generalisations I know, but can you really argue against it…), it’s gratifying to see directors, and venues, taking the opportunity to stretch those traditional notions. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, housed within Shakespeare’s Globe, isn’t the first place you’d think of to find such a production but in Ellen MacDougall’s interpretation of Othello, we have just that.

Text updated to the 21st century (dramaturgy by Joel Horwood), key characters regendered (Joanna Horton’s Cassio is an inspired move), a contemporary soundtrack that interpolates Lana Del Rey, it is enough to make any purist shiver and you kinda feel that’s the point. MacDougall refocuses the play on masculinity in crisis but it is also tempting to think that on a larger scale, there’s a smidgen of Emma Rice’s shaking of the branches of theatrical orthodoxy at play here too. With the post of Artistic Director of the Globe being advertised again, we can only hope such invention remains. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker”

Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith

“The getting is cruel, is hard, but the having is civilisation” 

Shopping and Fucking. Shopping and fucking. Fucking fucking fucking. Even the venue staff at the Lyric Hammersmith have to buy into the censorship that sees Mark Ravenhill’s 1996 play coyly renamed Shopping and F***ing, referring to it as Shopping and Effing. Which makes it all the more ironic that Sean Holmes’ production places the emphasis firmly on the former part of that title.

From the minute you take your seat in the radically reconfigured auditorium (design by Jon Bausor and Tal Rosner), the cast are hawking merchandise and seat upgrades – they even need a coin for the slot machine to get the play ‘started’. It’s a whole lot of extraneous business, which continues into the production itself, which with the frantic use of green screen and multiple cameras proves most distracting. Continue reading “Review: Shopping and Fucking, Lyric Hammersmith”

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

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: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”

I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.

Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

Short Film Review #55

 

I have a thing about spiral staircases and though the one at the heart of The Last Ten is squared off, it is still freaky as shit. A genuinely disturbing film that is ingeniously conceived and shot by David Higgs with some fantastic cinematography from Nicole Heiniger, it’s all about the perspective as a single camera looking down the middle of a stairwell captures the story of a man returning home to find…well, that would be giving it away. Hitchcock-inspired brilliance, just don’t watch it on your own, or in the dark.


 

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Short Film Review #50

Passenger from HMT Productions on Vimeo.
Aaaarrgghhh – proof positive as if it were ever needed that you shouldn’t ever talk to strangers on the tube. Ed Rigg’s Passenger follows a couple at the end of a long day as they catch the Victoria Line up to Walthamstow Central and make the fatal mistake of making eye contact with the guy sitting opposite after a mildly amusing episode. Sara Vickers and Mark Quartley do a great job at capturing the helpless awkwardness of the situation but Samuel Edward-Cook really excels as the ex-serviceman who won’t leave them alone, invading their headspace as well as their personal space as the encounter becomes more and more chilling. Great work.

Short Film Review #31

Forgive

 

Sometimes, the simplest things are the best, and so it proves with Manjinder Virk’s film Forgive. A two-hander split between two timeframes, an estranged father and son reaching out but at different times, forgiveness paling into insignificance in the face of forgetting. Sacha Dhawan and Abdi Gouhad are both superb as the scars left by the sins of the past bite hard, but not quite hard enough to eradicate all traces of familial love as the unpredictability of the future shakes all certainties. Beautifully restrained film-making at its best.

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DVD Review: Luther Series 1

“You don’t need to be thinking about Alice Morgan right now”

By the time that the television series Luther started on BBC1, I was already keen on Ruth Wilson as an actress but the first episode of the first series – which now ranks as one of my all-time favourite pieces of television ever – confirmed her as one of the most exciting people we have working in this country. The show is a high-quality detective drama featuring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a member of the Serious Crime Unit, whose unconventional and often controversial methods frequently sets him at odds with his colleagues and his estranged wife who end up paying the price for his uncompromising genius. 

Entirely written and created by Neil Cross, there’s a most pleasing continuous feel to the six-part series which combines a ‘story of the week’ format featuring some extremely gory and plain icky crimes with larger story arcs which build to the shockingly climactic finish of Episode 6. Ruth Wilson stars as research scientist Alice Morgan, who is involved in the former in Episode One but soon turns into the latter as a wonderfully twisted kind of relationship builds between her and Luther. It is hard to say much more without revealing too much for those who haven’t seen it – shame on you if you haven’t, go and watch it now! – but the way in which Wilson slowly subverts our expectations in that first hour is nothing short of superlative, the gradual reveal completely compelling, the way she says the word ‘kooky’ deserves an award category of its own.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 1”