Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending may not be his greatest play but Tamara Harvey’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory proves most affecting in the end

“What on earth can you do on this earth but catch at whatever comes near you, with both your fingers, until your fingers are broken?”

Any project that tempts Hattie Morahan back onto the stage has to be worth checking out (qv Anatomy of a Suicide, A Doll’s House, but maybe let’s not mention The Dark Earth and the Light Sky). Orpheus Descending, a Menier Chocolate Factory & Theatr Clwyd co-production directed by Tamara Harvey, proves no exception, bolstered by the presence of the ever-excellent Jemima Rooper in the cast, plus a brooding Seth Numrich.

Orpheus… is something of a minor Tennessee Williams work (one I didn’t much enjoy when I saw it at the Royal Exchange a few years ago) but one which feels stronger here. Navigating the stifling heat and social strictures of smalltown Deep South in the 1950s, Lady seeks escape from her loveless marriage and small-minded neighbours. And in the arrival of handsome drifter Val Xavier, it seems she might have found it – doesn’t it? Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory”

DVD Review: Private Romeo

“Proud can I never be of what I hate”

What first attracted me to a gay remake of Romeo and Juliet set in a military academy I cannot tell you but shallowness for shirtless soldiers aside, Alan Brown’s Private Romeo is a fascinating and adventurous take on Shakespeare. Eight military cadets are left unsupervised for four days as everyone else departs on some land navigation exercise or other, with the strict instruction to follow their usual campus routine. In English Lit though, their study of Romeo and Juliet takes on a new practical dimension as it inspires a real romance between leads Sam and Glenn.

Writer/director Alan Brown thus blends classroom readings with real-life re-enactments as the boys fall under the spell of Shakespeare – the vast majority of the dialogue is the written text – but also mixes in contemporary concepts as lipsyncs to YouTube videos to pull us further away from orthodoxy. The Shakespearean narrative is necessarily compressed and considerably adapted, which takes a little getting used to, but the result is a heady mixture of exuberance and exhilaration which, whilst it doesn’t always quite come off, still results in the kind of admirable experimental quality that is most appealing.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Private Romeo”

Review: Fathers and Sons, Donmar Warehouse

“I share no-one’s ideas, I have my own”

Another day, another tale of people languishing in the dying embers of Imperial Russia, but Fathers and Sons – Brian Friel’s 1987 adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 novel – has something special about it, which makes it truly stand out from the crowd. Much of this has to do with Lyndsey Turner’s sterling production for the Donmar, her gift for marshalling large ensembles to the absolute best of their abilities coming to the fore once again and smoothing over any potential weaknesses in the play itself.

Pace sometimes flags, with narrative description dominating a little too much in the second act and too many characters for them to all to really register. But such caveats pale in the face of performances like these – Joshua James’ would-be revolutionary Arkady and Anthony Calf as his hapless father, Seth Numrich’s more radical Bazarov and his own father played beautifully by Karl Johnson, Susan Engel’s vividly drawn Princess, Tim McMullan’s hilarious fop of an uncle, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 26th July

Winners of the 2013 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

BEST ACTOR
Chiwetel Ejiofor, A Season in the Congo (Young Vic)
WINNER Rory Kinnear, Othello, National (Olivier)
WINNER Adrian Lester, Othello, National (Olivier)

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS
Linda Bassett, Roots (Donmar Warehouse)
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
WINNER Helen Mirren, The Audience (Gielgud)
Billie Piper, The Effect, National (Cottesloe)
Kristin Scott Thomas, Old Times (Harold Pinter) Continue reading “Winners of the 2013 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

The 2013 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

BEST ACTOR
Chiwetel EjioforA Season in the Congo (Young Vic)
Rory Kinnear, Othello, National (Olivier)
Adrian Lester, 
Othello, National (Olivier)

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS
Linda BassettRoots (Donmar Warehouse)
Lesley ManvilleGhosts (Almeida)
Helen Mirren, The Audience (Gielgud)
Billie Piper
The Effect, National (Cottesloe)
Kristin Scott ThomasOld Times (Harold Pinter) Continue reading “The 2013 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic

“A lot of folks say they like what I did but they don’t like the way I did it”

There’s much to admire about the Old Vic’s lavish production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, but ultimately I found little to really love as its three hours meander their way through its uneventful beginnings to a far-from-revelatory conclusion. Its big selling point is the return of Kim Cattrall to our stage, playing fading Hollywood star Alexandra Del Lago who is in hiding in a Florida hotel after a disastrous movie premiere which was designed to be a grand comeback. Helping her over her trauma is a handsome gigolo named Chance who fancies himself as an actor but finding himself in his hometown, has to deal with the demons of his past.

The play feels scuppered from the start by the lengthy two-hander which dominates the opening. Cattrall is excellent, if a little too luminous to really convince as a past-it star, as Del Lago rails against the movie system that has made her who she is and can yet still spit her out at the merest hint of failure. The problem lies with the character of Chance, Williams’ predilection for martyrish tendencies not backed up with anywhere near enough depth of character to make us care for someone intended to be a tragic hero. Seth Numrich does well in layering in as much nuance as he can but never really convinces as far as the chemistry between the pair goes, a near-fatal mis-step for me and one from which the play never recovered.

Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic”