TV Review: London Spy

 “People lie Danny, they lie very well” 

Well this was a disappointment wasn’t it, there’s no two ways about it. Tom Rob Smith’s London Spy started its five episode run most promisingly with its forthrightly modern gay love story – between emotionally reclusive Secret Service operative Alex and Danny, a shift worker and regular on the hard-partying Vauxhall gay clubbing scene. Edward Holcroft and Ben Whishaw made a powerfully effective couple, negotiating their differences beautifully and believably so that by the time Alex went missing, the substance of the emerging conspiracy theories actually meant something.

But as the plot wound vaguely into labyrinthine dead ends and red herrings, it became increasingly hard to get a handle not just on what was happening but what Smith was trying to say. And directed in would-be sepulchral (but actually just frustratingly dark) gloom by Jakob Verbruggen, the joys of recognising bits of my local Vauxhall soon wore off as you realised that such a stunning supporting cast as Adrian Lester, Clarke Peters and Harriet Walter were indeed being criminally underused or landed with heinous dialogue and what started off irresistibly disintegrated into implausibility. Continue reading “TV Review: London Spy”

Re-reviews: Di and Viv and Rose / Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

 

“It was a ball, it was a blast
It was a shame it couldn’t last”

A half-term jaunt down to London for Aunty Jean saw us take in a couple of shows I was happy to revisit. I remain as affectionately inclined towards Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as I ever have done, its traditional bonhomie remains as watchable as ever and there’s just something comfortable about the whole affair which remains hard to resist. Even whilst not being Robert Lindsay’s biggest fan (seriously, is he being paid by the pelvic thrust?!) the shimmering star quality of Kat Kingsley and the affable appeal of Alex Gaumond more than compensate. And the bumbling charms of Ben Fox, the third Chief of Police since the show started – job security in Beaumont-Sur-Mer is clearly not strong 😉 – prove the ideal foil for Bonnie Langford’s knowingly charismatic Muriel.

And we also made a more-timely-than-we-realised trip to Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose which posted closing notices pretty much as we left the matinée. It feels a real shame as it is such a sprightly production of a sparkling play which certainly deserved better audiences but for whatever reason, it just didn’t connect. I’ve written more about the show on my three previous visits (link here) but I’d definitely recommend trying to catch it before it closes, not least for some of the most joyous dancing onstage (which forms the perfect counterbalance to My Night With Reg) and Jenna Russell’s glorious performance as the hugely-generous-of-spirit Rose. 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th March

Di and Viv and Rose
Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 14th March

Re-viewing Bull, and Di and Viv and Rose

“If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else”
 
In one of those curious co-incidences, Mark Shenton’s blog for The Stage today was about the pleasure of re-viewing shows already seen. For me, it was a two show day and in both cases, it was the third time I had seen them, albeit in different productions. Part of being a theatre addict is the delicious thrill of being able to revisit plays and get something new from them, as well as being reminded of why I enjoyed it so much, and so it proved with Mike Bartlett’s Bull and Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose.
 
I first saw Bull in a rehearsed reading at the Finborough back in 2010, when I was still in the process of falling hard for Bartlett’s writing, and was then so enthused by the prospect of seeing a full production that we made a trip to Sheffield to see it be wonderfully staged by Clare Lizzimore in the Studio at the Crucible in 2013. (Travelling from London to Sheffield for a show that isn’t even an hour long is proof positive, as if it were ever needed, of the strength of my addiction!) And it is that same production that has belatedly arrived at the Young Vic this year.

Continue reading “Re-viewing Bull, and Di and Viv and Rose”

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”

Review: Kafka’s Dick, Theatre Royal Bath

“Hey, you look really depressed”

I fly off on holiday in mere hours so the briefest of mentions for this Alan Bennett play. My second comedy in a day after a Chichester matinée and a thankfully traffic-free drive over to Bath, Kafka’s Dick is a remarkably prescient play (from 1986) which looks at our ever-increasing desire to know more about the private details of our public figures. Sydney and Linda, a regular Yorkshire couple (is there any other kind?!) have their lives disrupted when Franz Kafka, his friend and contemporary Max Brod and his father Hermann all turn up at their home.

That they’re all dead is one thing but more importantly, Elliot Levey’s Brod promised Daniel Weyman’s Kafka that he would destroy all his writings on his death but published them instead, garnering the writer unimaginable posthumous fame. And as it turns out, Sydney is something of a Kafka scholar who focused on the family dynamic of the Czech, so the arrival of Matthew Kelly as Hermann adds a surprising depth to the play, far beyond the initial comic stylings. Continue reading “Review: Kafka’s Dick, Theatre Royal Bath”

Short Film Review #37

Method Actor from Justin Stokes on Vimeo.

A monologue by the silken-voiced John Shrapnel is something to look forward to no matter the format, and Justin Stokes’ short film Method Actor is a brilliant vehicle for it. Mere minutes long, it courses through the imagination of an ageing actor as he dispenses bitterly-won advice on how he has gotten where he has, Glenn Smith’s script cleverly weaving its way into unexpected places and DP John Lynch creating a gorgeously lush world for him to inhabit. Continue reading “Short Film Review #37”

Radio Review: Pride and Prejudice, Radio 4

“I think the temptations will be too strong in Brighton”

 Just a quickie for this 3 hour adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which was spread over 3 weeks and so proved to be quite a drawn-out experience. Charlotte Jones’ dramatisation, directed by Sally Avens, worked extremely well, thanks to a spiffingly high-quality cast. Current RSC darling Pippa Nixon ad Jamie Parker took on the leading couple, Samantha Spiro as Mrs Bennett, Toby Jones as Mr Collins, Fenella Woolgar as Miss Bingley…the list goes on. And narrated by Amanda  Root, it was practically tailor-made for me.

Which made the scheduling a tad frustrating, the week-long gaps a little too long for my apparent attention span these days whereas I would have rather binged on the whole thing in one go. But it was good. Parker taking a little getting used to as Darcy but getting there, connecting well with Nixon’s vibrant Elizabeth. Lydia Wilson making a compassionate Jane, Michelle Terry the same with Charlotte Lucas, David Troughton’s Mr Bennett resignedly pleasant against Spiro’s over-exuberant wife. A genuine pleasure.

Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Laugh to scorn the power of men”

Who’d’ve thought 2013 would turn out to be the year of the impressive Malcolm? After Alexander Vlahos’ strongly defined interpretation of a fast-maturing young man for the MIF’s Macbeth in the summer, so now Philip Cumbus makes his own successful stab at the character for the Globe’s take on the Scottish Play, making him an unmistakeable stateman from the off even if he hides it well. The production is most notable for marking the directorial debut of that product-of-a-star-dancing Eve Best and a striking one it is too – whereas Lucy Bailey went all-out Dante back in 2010, Best treats it with a much lighter, even comedic, touch.

It’s a bold choice and one that is just so different that in the trickier moments, it was hard to tell whether I felt it was genuinely unsuccessful or rather that it was just so unexpected. Generally speaking, the vein of black comedy that was teased out was stronger than the broader strokes that often appear in Globe comedies, but the sound of so much laughter in the play did feel at odds with its increasingly darkening horizons, the creeping sense of horror never really materialises as the tonal balance of the production makes it hard for the actors to shift modes and carry the audience with them. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

“For she is changed, as she had never been”

Despite featuring Samantha Spiro as Kate, the Globe’s production of The Taming of the Shrew held little attraction for me when it was announced, and even once it had started. Though, not considered a ‘problem play’ as far as Shakespeare’s canon is concerned, problems tend to arise when productions seek to make sense of its knotty gender politics from a contemporary perspective. Southwark Playhouse and the RSC have recently tried different updated versions but neither one really convinced me. After allowing myself to be persuaded to see it before it finished its run, Toby Frow comes the closest I have seen to making the play work, mainly by – against the above quote – simply leaving it alone.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an immense amount of work that has been done, but rather that this production just takes the play for what it is – a piece of sixteenth century fiction presented as such. And instead of the furrowed brow that often comes with trying to work how misogynistic or otherwise the play or the production is being, there’s a sense of joyous fun as high-octane slapstick, capering about and unbelievably destructive capabilities are the order of the day.  Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Filumena, Almeida

“Wherever I come from, it’s where you come from too”

Eduardo De Filippo’s 1946 play Filumena starts off with the title character on her deathbed, finally having married the man with whom she has lived for the last 27 years. But all is not as it seems: he’s a wealthy businessman but she’s been his mistress, a former prostitute who has inveigled him into nuptial promises after seeing his attention waver elsewhere. And upon the deal being sealed, she makes a miraculous recovery and reveals that she has three sons who need taking care of. As truths spill out from all sides, we see the sacrifices that women are willing to make for their children and the ingenuity they need to play men at their own game.

Michael Attenborough takes on the directorial duties here at the Almeida in this new colloquial version by Tanya Ronder which sits a little at odds with the 1940s Naples setting but it is structurally where the play really feels somewhat curious. The first act plays out well, setting up the story and building up the necessary drama, but then we return after the interval to a very short second act which has jumped 10 months into the future and feels rather disconnected from what has gone before. The tone of the play shifts away from the darkness suggested by the social realism into an easy comic mood which does a disservice to the people working so hard to unearth an emotional depth here. Continue reading “Review: Filumena, Almeida”