The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

New play
Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward, Hope Mill
How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris, Royal Exchange
Narcissist in the Mirror by Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Home

Opera
Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM
La Cenerentola, Opera North, the Lowry
The Little Greats, Opera North, the Lowry
The Snow Maiden, Opera North, the Lowry

Actress
Karen Henthorn, Spring and Port Wine, Oldham Coliseum
Lisa Dwyer Hogg, People, Places and Things, Home
Nina Hoss, Returning to Reims, Manchester International Festival
Janet Suzman, Rose, Home Continue reading “The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)

“What means your lordship?”

Having just seen a corking production of Hamlet at the RSC, I wasn’t expecting to like Franco Zefferelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, not least because Mel Gibson couldn’t possibly be a good Hamlet could he but I have to hold my hands up, I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting. Granted, from low expectations that might not always mean a huge amount but it was good enough for me, Glenn Close’s Gertrude an impressive Shakespearean debut amongst a quality cast combining youth and experience.

It’s full of interesting choices, not all of them 100% successful but intelligently considered nonetheless in creating a cinematic version of this theatrical behemoth that stands out on its own merits. So Ian Holm’s Polonius becomes a dour-minded, almost cruel figure that is very much at odds with how I’ve ever seen the character played, Hamlet and his mother Gertrude are shown to be locked in an Oedipal relationship (I like to think this is a nod to the fact that Close is just 9 years older than Gibson though I doubt it – I don’t think I’ve seen this interpretation onstage recently though), Helena Bonham Carter’s Ophelia a strikingly self-possessed figure from the start.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)”

Review: The Armour, Langham Hotel

 
“The most powerful people in the world have sex in hotels. In fact, having sex in the best hotels makes you powerful. It doesn’t matter how good the sex is, only how good the hotel is.”

Last year saw Defibrillator Theatre take over three rooms in The Langham Hotel, down the posh end of Regent Street, to present the short Tennessee Williams plays that made up The Hotel Plays and given its resounding success, they’ve gone back there again this year to occupy three more spaces. With 380 rooms in this self-titled “first Grand Hotel in Europe”, it will only take another 125 years to work through all of them at this rate… This year though, Defibrillator have come armed with an original piece – The Armour – written by Ben Ellis and especially commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Langham itself.

Stretching from the late nineteenth century to the present day, the three duologues each take place at a key moment in the building’s history and make for a beguiling combination. First off is a nod to the hotel’s revitalised presence as a luxury venue as Hannah Spearritt’s pop star Jade suffers a minor meltdown in the middle of a crucial comeback concert tour. Trying to calm her down in this basement suite is manager Franky, a nicely lived-in Thomas Craig, who tolerantly indulges her complaints about the trappings of fame but also can’t disguise the note of genuine fatherly concern for a young woman whose life has long not been her own to control.  Continue reading “Review: The Armour, Langham Hotel”

DVD Review: A Rather English Marriage

“We rubbed along alright”

Master of televisual adaptation Andrew Davies turned his hand to Angela Lambert’s novel A Rather English Marriage in 1998 and watching it back now, it seems to harken back to an even earlier age, one of uncomplicated classic quality with a resolutely unfashionable straight-forwardness that we simply don’t see that much at all these days. The tale is a simple one of two retired veterans who, after being widowed on the same day, are placed together by a well-meaning social worker who reckons the companionship will do them both a world of good.

They’re an odd couple though. Albert Finney’s Reggie was an air squadron leader and having married into money, is used to a wealthy life. By comparison, Tom Courtenay’s Roy was a mere NCO and became a milkman after the war so as they move into together, Reggie naturally assumes a dominant position with Roy slipping easily into the habit of calling him Sir as their relationship settles into something imbalanced. Ultimately, both men recognise the private pain they are hiding as long-held secrets come to light but it is the return of women to their lives that proves to be the most significant change. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Rather English Marriage”

Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate

“Repression is the only lasting philosophy”

Although not intentionally, this year I’ve been racing through the list of theatres (and towns) I haven’t been to before and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate is the latest to be ticked off. This production of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities marks the beginning of James Dacre’s tenure as Artistic Director there and though I have no way to compare it with what usually takes place on stage here, it feels like a hugely ambitious piece of work and a definite statement of intent.

Most of this comes from the team he has gathered. Mike Poulton’s sleek adaptation of the novel surely confirms him as the country’s foremost translator from page to stage, Oscar winner Rachel Portman provides a hugely atmospheric score which swells to fill the auditorium, and the use of a community ensemble gives credibility to the world of the play, creating a most effective baying mob in Mike Britton’s beautiful set which effortlessly switches location as the story dictates. Continue reading “Review: A Tale of Two Cities, Royal & Derngate”

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.

Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen

I don’t think being gay is that bad. I’ve had three erotic dreams about The One Show’s Matt Baker and I’ve really enjoyed them.”

Tom Wells’ Jonesy is currently running as part of nabokov’s Symphony as part of the Vault Festival, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it pop up as a Radio 4 Afternoon Drama, all the more so as Wells has adapted to fit the new medium. It is clearly a work that has a special relationship with sound for the writer – on stage, it is part of a trio of plays presented as a gig, live music augmenting the dramatic experience and on radio, it becomes a foray into the world of sound effects. 

The original story follows academic and asthmatic Withernsea lad Jamie Jones as he tries to emulate the sporting underdog movies he loves so much by passing GCSE PE but it is now told by Jonesy himself from the confines of the BBC Radio Drama Sound Department where he has secured some work experience. So the storytelling becomes a little meta with its references but also surreally enhanced by the breadth of effects at his fingertips, some of them not entirely appropriate for the task in hand but all of them used most wittily.  Continue reading “Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Furies / November Dead List

“Was he driven to it by someone’s rage?”

Last up in the reinvention of Aeschylus’ Oresteia is Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s take on The Furies, bringing this tale of murder, revenge and justice to an end as the gods opt to end the vicious cycle of blood vengeance by introducing the concept of trial by jury and instituting the first ever homicide trial. 

Niamh Cusack’s perfectly modulated tone makes for an engaging narrator, Lesley Sharp has the intensity and ferocity of a thunderstorm as the vitriolic Clytemnestra, and Maureen Beattie, Polly Hemingway and Carolyn Pickles are intimidatingly malevolent as the Furies, determined to get their revenge on Will Howard’s Orestes. His defender comes in the form of Chipo Chung’s Athena, who spots the chance to change the way humans sort out their grievances yet still has to battle against the established order. It’s an interesting story but something in this production didn’t quite gel for me in the way the previous two parts of the trilogy did, possibly due to the use of a narrator, something I’m rarely keen on. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Furies / November Dead List”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch

“Kill her and be free”

Greek tragedies are never a light affair but The Libation Bearers, the second part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is particularly brutal. Following on from the vengeful fury of Clytemnesta slaying her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, the thirst for revenge switches to her other children Electra and Orestes, the latter of whom returning from exile to kill his mother for murdering his father. He’s got his own permission from the gods so it’s ok and urged on by a viciously determined Electra to conquer his nagging doubts, he sets about steeling himself for such a deed.

Ed Hime’s new version is highly atmospheric and swirls effectively on the edge of the mystical. His Chorus of slave women are voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri and Sheila Reid, their cracked voices recalling Macbeth’s Weird Sisters in urging Will Howard’s solid Orestes towards matricide. Lesley Sharp is strong again as Clytemnesta, haunted by her misdeeds and Electra is given a chilling intensity by Joanne Froggatt – I just find it interesting that there is no attempt to understand her mother’s actions, instead Agamemnon is venerated as the greatest leader ever despite the fact he had her sister killed. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – Agamemnon / The Brick

“Things…have consequences”

Our enduring fascination with the Greek tragedies continues with this three-part adaptation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia which sees three writers create contemporary reworkings for radio, starting with Simon Scardifield’s take on Agamemnon. It’s a cracking version, featuring a brilliantly conceived three person Chorus who merge almost seamlessly into the narrative – they pass comment and provide rich detail as per usual, but feeling so much a part of the fabric of this version of Argos makes their storytelling truly integral to the work.

Elsewhere, the story follows the familiar laugh-a-minute path of Aeschylus. After taking a decade to conquer Troy, Agamemnon (Hugo Speer) returns victorious to Argos with a new concubine the prophetess Cassandra (the mellifluous Anamaria Marinca) in tow. But far from happy to see him, his wife Clytemnestra (a calculatedly fierce Lesley Sharp) has long been plotting revenge on him as he sacrificed their eldest daughter Iphigenia on divine orders. It is bloody, brutal stuff and little is spared in this effective retelling.  Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – Agamemnon / The Brick”