Review: Glorious, Frinton Summer Theatre

“If things don’t wobble when you walk, you should eat more dinner”

Between Maureen Lipman in the West End and Meryl Streep in Hollywood, the story of notorious singer Florence Foster Jenkins has become much more widely known over the last decade. It does however remain one that I had somehow avoided and so the chance to see see the Peter Quilter play Glorious! with the marvellous Stella Gonet in the lead was one I gladly took. It also meant my first trip to the Frinton Summer Theatre out by the seaside in Essex.

Foster Jenkins’ insistence on pursuing a career as a soprano of note had one major flaw in her lack of singing ability but with a family legacy able to pay enough yesmen to shield her from any negative reaction and the force of her good nature, a striking journey was established. And in Quilter’s play, it a journey we witness through the eyes of her new pianist Cosmé McMoon, taken on to accompany Foster Jenkins at her 1944 concert at none other than Carnegie Hall. Continue reading “Review: Glorious, Frinton Summer Theatre”

Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National

 

#4 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings
 
“I love you… What’s wrong with that?”
 
Perhaps one of the better known of these plays but still a new one to me, I really wasn’t prepared for the emotional trauma of Martin Sherman’s Bent whether I was hungover to fuck or not. Harrowing is barely the word to describe this dramatisation of the way in which the Nazis persecuted gay men in Germany before and during World War II and with this reading, directed by Stephen Daldry, taking place on Pride weekend, its impact was all the more emotional. 
 
Russell Tovey (continuing his graduation into a properly fine actor) and George Mackay took on the lovers Max and Rudy, their coming together in the hedonism of Weimar Berlin shattered by the dawning of the Night of the Long Knives, the realisation of just how insidious the Third Reich is, and the astonishing lengths that people will go to in order to protect themselves at the expense of all they hold dear.

Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Bent, National”

DVD Review: Henry V (1989)

”Customs curtsy to great kings”

It is instructive to watch performances from Kenneth Branagh such as these, to counteract the ones he is currently giving as part of his company’s year-long residency at the Garrick. They have their fans to be sure but for me, there’s something much more powerful about the subtlety on display as a younger actor as opposed to the broader, louder turns he’s given thus far. Sacrilegious as it may be to admit it, I have no real love for Henry V as a play but there is no denying this excellent piece of film-making, directed by Branagh in his debut in the chair.

Taking a grittier, more ‘realistic’ take on this history pays dividends, not least in minimising the slapstick for which I care little but also emphasising an emotional truthfulness that doesn’t always come across on stage. Only the stoniest of hearts could remain unmoved by Judi Dench’s achingly poignant farewell to Falstaff, or be swept up in the playful flirtiness between the King and Emma Thompson’s Princess Katherine, or be chilled by the declaration at Harfleur, Branagh showing us the young monarch taking the brutal responsibility of a warrior.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Henry V (1989)”

Review: Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre

“You have to want to care what’s going to happen to these characters”

There’s a sequence towards the end of Evening at the Talk House where a character says things along the lines of ‘I’m so bored’, ‘I’m ready to die’ and ‘please help me get out of here’ and never have truer words been spoken. That last one might have been an internal voice though as the grinding horror of this new Wallace Shawn play rolled inexorably on. In some ways, I have no excuse. The one and only time I’ve seen his work before saw indignities inflicted on none other than Miranda Richardson, left to pretend to be a cat licking Shawn’s bald head, and so I had fair warning of Shawn’s singular style.

But it’s a style that I find utterly baffling. As a thespy crowd meet for a long awaited reunion at their old members club, they reminisce and chat effusively and endlessly about this actor who used to be in that TV show or that actress in this TV show – all made up ones of course – to a point of mind-numbing inanity. And in this version of the world, there’s a dystopian state-sponsored execution programme wiping out enemies of the state (and plenty more besides) which is carried out by out-of-work actors like many of the crew here. They also get served canapés about which they chatter excitedly, which is nice I suppose.  Continue reading “Review: Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre”

Review: The Duck House, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

“Remember when we used to trust politicians”

Although outrageous and audacious in its scope, the expenses scandal that rocked the Houses of Parliament in 2009 was also rich in comic detail as the minutiae of what our elected officials deemed acceptable to claim was revealed in the pages of the Daily Telegraph. And it is this that writers Dan Patterson and Colin Swash (with Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You among their credits) have picked up on in their new comedy The Duck House

Set in May of that year with the Labour Party in disarray, backbencher Robert Houston decides to defect to the Tories in order to maintain the lifestyle he and his family have become used to. But with just one more interview with Tory grandee Sir Norman Cavendish to get through, the expenses scandal breaks and the Houstons set about trying to minimise the damage to their prospects. The depth of their financial fiddling means that this is no easy task though and results in farcical shenanigans that affect them all.  Continue reading “Review: The Duck House, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre”

Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle

“I think most of us are walking around in a sort of slumber really”

With a revival of The Pride just announced as the next production in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency, it seemed like a good time to visit Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest play Bracken Moor at the Tricycle. That said, I have to admit to not being the greatest fan of this ambitious mash-up of political/economic drama and ghost story which is co-produced by Shared Experience and directed by their own Polly Teale. In the midst of the 1930s financial crisis, Yorkshire landowner Harold and his wife Elizabeth are still shell-shocked by the ghastly death of their young son Edgar ten years since and only now are they acquiescing to an extended visit from their old friends Vanessa and Geoffrey. But as they retrace their old friendship, the presence of the visitors’ son Terence awakens something more sinister.

Terence was Edgar’s boyhood best friend and within a few nights, appears to become possessed by Edgar’s restless spirit. This provokes his parents to finally start to deal with their buttoned-up grief but in hugely different ways. Helen Schlesinger’s extraordinarily affecting Elizabeth clings to every possible shred of hope that she could actually be communicating with her lost son and the rawness of her grief is spell-binding. And the much more pragmatic Harold, Antony Byrne in classically old-school English mode, finds himself questioning the decisions he has to make about a dispute over pit closures, his capitalist certainties challenged by this brush with the unknown. Continue reading “Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle”

Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s

“We’ve got some of the best sperm in the country in this room”

The Royal Court have adopted the Duke of York’s theatre for the next few months and will be feeding it with a steady stream of its recent successes. Jumpy and Constellations are yet to come, but the season starts off, a little oddly perhaps, with a remounting of Laura Wade’s Posh which first played in Sloane Square two years ago. Then, we were in the run-up to a general election in which Cameron, Osborne et al were the prospective new boys; now of course, they are in power, albeit in a far-from-cosy coalition and Laura Wade has updated her play to reflect the changes in the political and indeed the economic circumstances in this country and beyond.

In some ways, this feels like a fresh lick of paint which brings Posh bang up to date but in others, it also felt like a somewhat unnecessary updating as it focuses the attention on the play being absolutely ‘of the moment’ when it is better than that, its over-riding message is one that withstands the period details around it (surely it won’t be rewritten every time it is produced…or is this just part of the natural evolution of a new play, in which case this is the first time I think I’ve experienced it). That message is a rather pernicious one about the enduring influence of the old boys’ network in the corridors of power and the way in which our ‘finer’ educational institutions inculcate this sense of entitlement and the abdication of any real sense of responsibility. Continue reading “Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s”

Review: Posh, Royal Court

“And these people think we’re twats? Are we going to just sit here and take it…”

Posh, a new black comedy by Laura Wade at the Royal Court, follows a group of young toffs, calling themselves the Riot Club, as they meet up to get thoroughly drunk or “chateaued” and trash the private dining room of the Oxfordshire gastropub where they are spending the evening. It is apparently inspired by Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club which has given us such scions of society as David Cameron and Boris Johnson though I can’t see either of them making the trip to see this as it does rather skewer their antics (that said, the vast majority of the audience had a much closer affinity to the title than I would have imagined, and on cheap Monday prices too, shame on them!)

The writing is beautifully delicious in places, I loved the quip about reading languages in Newcastle (you’d have to, up there!), the scene with the prostitute with a mind of her own is wonderfully awkward and so much of the dialogue has clearly been finely crafted, reflecting the intelligence, no matter how odious they get, of many of these chaps. Wade also captures the righteous indignation of those who feel their birthrights have been slowly eroded but yet insist on the maintenance of the system of privileges that accompanies membership of the upper classes. Continue reading “Review: Posh, Royal Court”