Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!

“It’s because you love him too much”

So a slightly odd position to be in, as we saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 nearly 7 weeks ago at their first previews. And with the #keepthesecrets campaign already in full force then, I didn’t write up a review, opting instead for this preview of sorts. And even now, I’m loathe to write too much about it, for it really is the kind of play, and production, that benefits from the multiple elements of surprise contained within.

And it really is packed full of them, from all aspects. Based on an original new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Thorne’s play revels in the richness and full depth of the Harry Potter universe to the point where the named cast are described as playing “roles include…” so as not to spoil what’s to come. This does have the knock-on effect of making this a play not really suitable for newcomers but I can’t imagine too many of them will have booked! Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!”

Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace

“How is that even possible?!”

Well it’s finally here, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 have landed at the Palace Theatre in a blaze of insane publicity and media coverage desperate for a touch of that JK Rowling magic to drive web traffic. In some ways, I’m no different (hence this post!) but in one crucial way I do have the advantage – I’m one of the lucky audience members who has now seen both shows, along with the one and only scene-stealing appearance of Sprocket the owl.

It’s no secret that Rowling is asking people to #KeepTheSecrets and there’s always an interesting tension about whether or not one should observe an embargo when you’ve paid for your ticket (a whole £10 per show too, we weren’t going crazy!). So for now, I’m leaving you with this little collection of teasers about some of my favourite things from the show and be warned, they do increase in mild spoilerishness (mostly about staging, the final E is the one to avoid if you’re not sure…forgive me JK!). Continue reading “Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace”

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”

Review: A Woman Killed With Kindness, National Theatre

“Woman, hear thy judgement”

It’s typical really. When Wastwater at the Royal Court played out with hardly any of the (in)famous flair that director Katie Mitchell has become known for, I perversely rather missed it. Now she is back at the National Theatre with a production of Thomas Heywood’s 1603 play A Woman Killed with Kindness, updated to a loose 1920s setting and the kookiness is back. Am I glad? I’m not sure! The show is playing in the Lyttelton as part of the Travelex Season and this was a preview performance on 14th July.

The play is noted for one of the first tragedies to be written in the domestic sphere, looking at the loves and lives of everyday people. The marriage of John Frankford and his wife Anne is threatened by John inviting a man, Wendoll, into their home as a companion and to take all at his disposal: Wendoll thus pursues an affair with Anne much to John’s anger. Across the way, Sir Charles Mountford is heavily in debt and constantly in serious trouble due to his ructions with Sir Francis Acton (Anne’s brother). Acton is enamoured of Mountford’s sister Susan and she finds herself an unwitting pawn in her brother’s increasingly desperate attempts to get off the hook. Continue reading “Review: A Woman Killed With Kindness, National Theatre”

Review: small hours, Hampstead Downstairs

“I got two hours last night…”

small hours is a one woman show about post-natal depression conceived as an installation piece in the Michael Frayn Space in the basement of the Hampstead Theatre as part of their Hampstead Downstairs season. Truth be told, this would not normally appeal to me but as it is directed by Katie Mitchell, doyenne of the avant-garde, it felt like a risk worth taking to see what this most innovative of directors had come up with next. It reunites her with Beauty and the Beast counterpart Lucy Kirkwood who wrote this play with Ed Hime, a writer of Skins amongst other things.

Asked to take our shoes off and told to take seats on the furniture around the edges of the room, there’s chairs, sofas, benches, armchairs to take your pick from, we enter a large living/dining room which has been most effectively realised by designer Alex Eales. We become aware of a woman sat at one end of the room, just in from a visit to a corner shop, and we’re soon drawn into her insomniatic world. It is 3am in the morning, her husband is away with work leaving her with the baby and so we watch her trying to while the hours away, phoning her partner, wrestling with voice recognition systems trying to book a cinema ticket, watching late night shopping channels on the TV. Continue reading “Review: small hours, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: The Seagull, National Theatre

I’m not hugely proud of it, but I feel I ought to be honest in telling you that we left this at the interval. Hence this review of Chekhov’s The Seagull is technically a review of the first half but wild horses could not have dragged us back into the Lyttelton at the National Theatre, no matter how much I love Juliet Stevenson. It is presented here in a new version by Martin Crimp, condensed and stripped of its location, so that it is now set in some unidentified locale, a non-specific netherland which was quite disorientating. And combined with Katie Mitchell’s highly individualistic approach to directing, it means that this is most definitely Chekhov with a twist.

And I didn’t like it. At all. So many of the directorial choices were just annoying: the tendency towards the naturalistic speaking style meant that far too many crucial lines were swallowed up, most criminally in Nina’s monologue; even when they were loud enough, the idea to have the domestic servants continually running across the stage throughout the scenes resulted in more distraction away from the clear delivery of lines; the dim lighting restricts how much of the actors’ faces you can see (on the one hand this forces you to watch their physical performance more, but on the other, for a lip-reader like me, it was a nightmare). Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, National Theatre”

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, National Theatre

I do love me some actresses, and I always get a thrill when I hear the words ‘all-female cast’ so I was very much inclined to book for The House of Bernarda Alba at the National Theatre. A new version by David Hare has been commissioned of Lorca’s classic (I say classic, I’ve never read it…) which bemoaned the way in which women were treated at the time but hinted metaphorically at his own repressed homosexuality and the increasingly oppression that brought about Franco’s rule.

Set in 1930s Spain in a stunningly mounted (by Vicki Mortimer) palace of an Andalusian house, the Alba household is mourning the death of matriarch Bernarda’s husband but the actual feeling is one more akin to liberation as it turns out she relishes the chance to take control of the family, of her five unmarried daughters, and maintain the staunchly Catholic ethos of sexual repression despite the natural urges of her girls. Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba, National Theatre”