Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre.  Continue reading “Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Curve Studio

“I tell what ought to be the truth“

I’ve only been to the Studio at Leicester’s Curve Theatre a couple of times but I’ve never seen it done up this much like a proper theatre with a balcony and all but such it is for Nikolai Foster’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, his first at the venue where he is now Artistic Director. Tennessee Williams’ classic receives a rather traditional, if youthfully inclined, interpretation here which thus can’t help but pale a little in comparison to Benedict Andrews’ extraordinary reimagining for the Young Vic last year.

The challenges of the space are clear though in the sometimes challenging acoustics of the studio which, combined with an unstinting commitment to heavy accents, poses audibility issues throughout the production. Which is a shame as it really does look good – Michael Taylor’s set design perfectly evokes the faded grandeur and stifling intimacy of the French Quarter and Guy Hoare’s lighting suggests all of its carnivalesque atmosphere with its twinkling fairy lights and sultry red hues. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Curve Studio”

Review: Oppenheimer, Swan

“We could make a star on the surface of the Earth”

Michael Billington notes in his Guardian review that John Heffernan’s work in the title role in Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer will “elevate [him] to star-status” but to those of us in the know, he’s long been held in such lofty acclaim. From supporting roles in a wide range of interesting productions to taking the lead in Richard II and Edward II, he has steadily revealed himself as an actor of consummate skill and strength and I make no bones in asserting that he is truly the Dame Judi Dench of his generation.

And as ‘Oppie’, the leader of the Manhattan Project and as such the father of the atomic bomb, he really does live up to the billing. There’s such an easy personability about him that is a perfect introduction to a man who is a brilliant physicist, irresistible to women and surrounded by friends as they rail against 1930s fascism in Spain. But where the dexterity comes is in showing us how the weight of such increasingly terrible responsibility haunted and conflicted him in different ways – professionally, personally, philosophically, psychologically. Continue reading “Review: Oppenheimer, Swan”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

DVD Review: What You Will

“It’s brilliant not to be me”

On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.

This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company – the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally. Continue reading “DVD Review: What You Will”

Review: Desire Under The Elms, Lyric Hammersmith

“Ye make a slick pair of murderin’ turtle-doves”

It’s been a slow but increasingly steady journey into the world of Eugene O’Neill for me: since 2010’s Beyond The Horizon, high profile productions of Anna Christie and Long Day’s Journey Into Night confirmed his reputation was indeed well earned (I do like to be able to make up my own mind on such things, I hate being told “so and so is the greatest playwright” and being expected just to accept it). And after The Hairy Ape at the Southwark Playhouse, it is now the turn of the Lyric Hammersmith to get in on the action with Sean Holmes’ production of his 1924 play Desire Under The Elms

Drawing heavily from Greek tragedy and in particular the tale of Phaedra, O’Neill locates his story in 19th century New England but mines a similar vein of earth-shattering catastrophe. Son of his father’s second wife, Eben is determined to secure the family farm for his inheritance. He pays off his two older half-brothers as they depart for the Gold Rush, but his father Ephraim is a randy old goat and marries for the third time, scuppering Eben’s plan as his new young wife Abbie stakes her own claim. But matters are further problematized by an illicit attraction between son and stepmother and when Abbie falls pregnant…well, do you think there’ll be a happy ending? Continue reading “Review: Desire Under The Elms, Lyric Hammersmith”