10 questions for 10 years – Samuel Barnett

Original History Boy Samuel Barnett takes on the 10 Questions for 10 Years challenge 

Even though I demurred from seeing The History Boys on stage, I’ve loved much else of Samuel Barnett’s work in so many ways. London was cruelly cheated of his Viola but it was in some of his earlier plays that he really stood out for me.
The Way of the World in Sheffield
“I really enjoyed that kabuki drop at the beginning…and I loved playing Witwoud. It was a joy to play a character who is so much funnier, brighter and wittier than I am. I loved the cast too. ”
and James Graham’s The Whisky Taster
“That remains one of my favourite jobs. The writing, the cast, our amazing director James Grieve, and playing in the old Bush theatre: it was one of those rare jobs where everything came together so perfectly. I adored working so closely with Kate O’Flynn, who is just phenomenal. Perhaps my favourite bit was the last few lines about the colour of love, and the snow falling. Got me every time.”

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Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre

With Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, the return of Alan Bennett leaves me less than enthused 

“Still, it was better than this”

In some ways, Allelujah! is perfectly symptomatic of the problem I have with the Bridge Theatre. Does London really need any new theatres, no matter how much people think they want interval madeleines? Does it especially need ones that put on large-scale Alan Bennett premieres? It is nice to see Nicholas Hytner maintaining the long-gestating creative relationship he has with Bennett but at the point where his new venture is now just a carbon-copy of his former home down the South Bank, except with premium seating, it is increasingly hard to make the case for it.

It doesn’t help that this isn’t vintage Bennett. His first play in six years, Allelujah! takes place in the crowded geriatric ward of the Bethlehem, a Yorkshire hospital threatened with closure. A camera crew are filming a documentary, allowing many of the patients to wax lyrical about lives that have passed on by, the England that once was. And in the corridors around the hospital, Bennett similarly lets rip, on the loss of compassion in our society, a social care system on its knees, an NHS in an even worse state, privatisation, gentrification, the downright stupidity of an immigration system that is leaching away the very talent we need to stay. Continue reading “Review: Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Kiss of the Spider Woman, Menier Chocolate Factory

Samuel Barnett and Declan Bennett excel at the Menier Chocolate Factory in this beautiful new version of Kiss of the Spider Woman

“Sometimes that kind of behaviour can get in a man’s way”

Despite playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory, this version of Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman is not Kander & Ebb’s 1993 musical, just so you’re clear. What it is, is a beautifully calibrated and ferociously emotive study of love and loneliness and what, if anything, masculinity means. 

This new adaptation by José Rivera and Allan Baker casts right back to the original novel, jettisoning memories of the 1985 film too, to trace the burgeoning relationship between two cellmates. Political prisoner Valentin and sexual deviant Molina  have little in common but through their shared trials, something beautiful thrives. 

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TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

“Why would the devil be interested in you?”

And so the penny drops, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful comes to an end after 3 highly atmospheric seasons of gothic drama, anchored by a sensational performance from Eva Green that ought to have been way more recognised that it was. It’s taken me a little while to get round to watching the series after writing about the first episode so apologies for that, but sometimes, life (and summer holidays) just get in the way. Beware, spoilers will abound.

In some ways, the ending of Season 2 acted as a finale that really worked, the key characters left shell-shocked by what had befallen them and scattered across the globe, as manifested in a gloriously down-beat last half-hour of Episode 10. And so the main challenge of Season 3 was to find a way to reconnect their stories in a way that was at least thematically interesting, if not necessarily the most dramatically satisfying. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1

“The cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail”

The focus may be elsewhere with regards to returning cult TV shows this spring but to my mind, there’s something more satisfying about the Victorian Gothic psychodrama of John Logan’s Penny Dreadful than we’ve had recently in Westeros. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a turn on the Game of Thrones as much as the next Lannister child but the greater focus and emotional intensity of Penny Dreadful’s supernatural solemnity has kept me gripped over the last two seasons (Season 1 review; Season 2 review) and had me keenly anticipating the third, showing on Showtime (USA) and Sky Atlantic (UK).

The catastrophic climax of Season 2 saw our cast of characters fleeing the gaslit darkness of London and scattering across the globe, each ruminating over their lot. Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler is extradited back to New Mexico under Douglas Hodge’s wonderfully taciturn supervision as Inspector Rusk, Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm finds himself in Zanzibar after burying the unfortunately deceased Sembene, Rory Kinnear’s John Clare aka Caliban aka The Creature is stuck on an ice-bound ship in the Arctic, and in a London caught in mourning for Alfred Lord Tennyson (the episode is called “The Day Tennyson Died”), Eva Green’s Vanessa and Harry Treadaway’s Frankenstein are each trapped in their own emotional paralysis. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1”

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”

Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre

“A man dare not play the tyrant in London, because there are so many examples to encourage the subject to rebel.”

It may be The Beaux’ Stratagem but it is Mrs Sullen’s play. The most striking thing about Simon Godwin’s production of George Farquhar’s final Restoration comedy is its determinedly proto-feminist stance as Mrs Sullen – an independently wealthy woman now desperately unhappily married – is given surprising agency to express herself in a meaningful way and attempt to extricate herself from her situation. And in Susannah Fielding’s superbly silken performance, she’s exquisitely played as an almost tragicomic figure, endlessly entertaining in the raucous romping around but as Jon Clark’s lighting picks her out at the end of each act, capable of holding the entire Olivier theatre’s hearts in her hands.

The beaux ain’t too bad either. Farquhar’s plot centres on their attempts to marry into money after squandering their fortunes in London. Hoping news of their disgrace hasn’t reached the provinces, they head north and stop off in Lichfield, pretending to be master and servant, where their attentions fall on a rich young heiress and her unhappily married sister-in-law. Samuel Barnett’s Aimwell and Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Archer are a witty pair of fellows indeed, with a cracking line in beautifully cut overcoats too, as their avaricious adventures are soon overturned by amorous attentions as they can’t help but fall head over well-turned heel for their marks. Continue reading “Review: The Beaux’ Stratagem, National Theatre”

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

 

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

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Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents

 “I’m bored with widowhood”

As the aristocratic Lady Conway, Thelma Barlow’s amusing run through the options open to a rich widow of nearly 70 sets up Mrs Henderson Presents succinctly in its opening moments – Laura Henderson pricks her thumb trying embroidery as a hobby and bristles at the snobbery of the ladies who run charities for the deserving and so is left to spend money as she sees fit, alighting on the derelict Windmill Theatre which she purchases in a moment of inspiration as she passes in her car. Martin Sherman’s script is based on the true story of this woman who became an unlikely theatrical impresario and in director Stephen Frears’ hands, Judi Dench delivers a heart-warmingly cracking performance at the centre of a lovely film.

Set in the late 1930s, the story follows Laura as she and her theatre manager, Bob Hoskins’ cantankerous but inspired Vivian van Damm, set up a continuous variety revue called Revudeville and trying to keep ahead of a market full of copycats, they introduce still tableaux of female nudity into the show which becomes a roaring success. The onset of war casts a heavy shadow though and whilst the show continues, providing much needed entertainment and respite, as the bombs fall on London, the determination that the show must go on puts everyone in serious peril. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents”