Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville

Sexed-up rather than subtle, I can’t help but be won over by this fresh take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre

“I hope you have not been leading a double life…that would be hypocrisy”

I find it increasingly hard to get too excited about the prospect of Oscar Wilde these days, hence having been a rare visitor indeed to Classic Spring’s year-long residency at the Vaudeville. My problem is that, as with Noël Coward’s work, there’s an insistence on the specificity of its staging which means it is far too easy to feel like you’ve seen it all before, silk pyjamas, bustles, handbags, the lot. So the notion that Michael Fentiman’s The Importance of Being Earnest has ruffled a few feathers by daring to do something different, plus the kind of casting that I could never resist, meant that I had to see for myself.

And ultimately, there’s something laughable in the idea that there’s only the one way to do Wilde. It’s more that ‘certain people’ prefer it done the way they’ve always seen it done, which is all well and good (if soul-destroying) but to bemoan a lost art because someone is finally ringing the changes? Shove a cucumber sandwich in it mate. What’s even funnier is that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference really, it’s not as if this production is set in space, or it’s being mimed, or it’s been directed in a…European way. It has just had a good shaking down, the dust blown off the manuscript, the cobwebs swept from the velvet curtains, and an enjoyable freshness thus brought to proceedings which are sexed-up rather than subtle. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville”

Review: Doubt – a Parable, Southwark Playhouse

“What do you do when you’re not sure?”

John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt, a Parable comes lauded with garlands – Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Hollywood adaptation with none other than Meryl Streep – so it must be a modern classic right? But, written in 2004, with all of the hindsight of how cases of historical sexual abuse in the Catholic church have been (mis-)handled, I find its dramatic ambivalence hard to stomach.

Shanley sidestepped the issue by setting his play in 1964 where a scandal is brewing at the St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. Or is it? Ferociously strict principal Sister Aloysius is convinced that there is inappropriateness occurring between parish priest Father Flynn and the school’s first black pupil, but her views are coloured by her loathing of Flynn’s modernising ways. Continue reading “Review: Doubt – a Parable, Southwark Playhouse”

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”

A whole load of Friday casting news

I want to be able to resist anything to do with Alan Ayckbourn but the cast and creatives for Chichester’s production of The Norman Conquests is making it very hard indeed. Wunderkind director Blanche McIntyre is at the helm of a company for the trilogy of plays that consists of Jonathan Broadbent, Trystan Gravelle, Sarah Hadland, John Hollingworth, Hattie Ladbury and Jemima Rooper. Best get booking then…

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Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines

“Open your eyes, what do you see?”

It may well have had much to do with the fact that I was knackered after the previous six but I have to admit that the seventh final session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was probably my least favourite of the day. The 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines programme saw writers respond to headlines of the moment to create rapid response plays – none of which really lived up to the quality of the programmed works that had preceded them.

There were lots of interesting ideas floating around – Rebecca Lenkiewicz and director Anna Ledwich’s scorching take-down of Vogue’s declaration that the cleavage is out of fashion probably worked the best, interleaved with a young woman’s desperate search for adequate healthcare and the inadequacy of male responses to a serious discussion about breasts. And Charlene James’ kidnap drama with a twist gave Maggie Steed a cracking part to play, directed by Alice Hamilton. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – 24 Hour Plays | Making Headlines”

Review: Human Animals, Royal Court

“I’m taking my cat’s Prozac”

The pigeons are revolting, the foxes are running riot, those damn cockroaches just won’t die – so far so realistic in Stef Smith’s debut play for the Royal Court. But Human Animals take its thesis three steps further to a place where animal nature has become dangerously unpredictable and taken human nature along with it. And as environmental crisis threatens to turn into ecological apocalypse, it becomes increasingly difficult to see where the real problem lies.

Smith explores this world through the interconnected lives of six characters, their interactions played out in a series of duologues that sees them all spiral out differently but still downwardly. Ashley Zhangazha’s Jamie tries to find meaning in eco-activism, giving the cause a hand; Lisa McGrillis’ Lisa, his partner, finds economic advancement but at personal cost; Sargon Yelda’s bureaucrat Si seems more interested in flirting with men in bars (like Ian Gelder’s suave John) than making his blithe assurances that all is OK seem truly convincing. Continue reading “Review: Human Animals, Royal Court”

Review: A Further Education, Hampstead Downstairs

“We come here to learn things we don’t know”

Right now, there’s more women onstage at Hampstead’s downstairs theatre than there are in the current and next main house shows (The Moderate Soprano and Hapgood, both written and directed by men too) combined – a sorry record indeed for any establishment. Which isn’t the note on which I intended to start this review of A Further Education (which is directed by a woman at least) but it’s something I wanted to say which I think needs to be recognised more widely.

But to the matter at hand. A Further Education is Will Mortimer’s debut professional play and is something of a gentle comedy, its rather warm ideal ideal for these darkening nights. It’s the start of a new year at university and Josh and Lydia’s English Lit tutorial is blown open by the arrival of mature student Charlotte Swift. Seemingly an academic genius wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, her insights even knock the socks off lecturer Chris yet try as they all might to get her to open up, Charlotte’s personal circumstances remain a closed book. Continue reading “Review: A Further Education, Hampstead Downstairs”

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

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Review: Hope, Royal Court

“It’s the trouble with being so overwhelmingly Labour”

The plot for Jack Thorne’s Hope could be lifted from the newspapers right now – a cash-strapped Labour council is faced with impossible choices as austerity continues to bites hard and £22 million has to be trimmed from this year’s budget, £64 million over the next three years. In Newcastle, the figure is actually £90 million despite having already lost £151 million over the last four years, and the decisions about what essential services are to be cut are those that plague Hilary and Mark, the Leader and Deputy Leader respectively, of Thorne’s unspecified local government.

Stella Gonet’s Hilary is determined to make it work, a New Labour pragmatism already drawing up the list of priorities – Sure Start centres versus swimming pools, daycare for the disabled versus personal safety in rough areas to give but a couple of examples – but Paul Higgins’ Mark is cut from much more traditional cloth and his protesting colleagues coalesce around him. Eventually, he reluctantly spearheads a rebellion and a refusal to set an amended budget but though this is described as a fable, it is no fairytale, and the consequences of defying government are all too real. Continue reading “Review: Hope, Royal Court”

DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)

“I will not allow a woman’s nature to be more unconstant than a man’s”

This was actually my first interaction with Persuasion, the novel has languished on my bookshelf for years and I’ve never seen an adaptation before, so it was an interesting experience to take the story in for the first time with this ITV adaptation starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Simon Burke’s adaptation condenses Austen’s work right down to 90 minutes, which means a lot may well have been lost, but it also made a great introduction for a novice.

After an engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth eight years ago which crumbled in the face of her family’s disapproval, Anne Elliot finds herself on the shelf at 27. When her father and sister’s lavish lifestyle requires a downsizing of their household, life seems set to change for good as their beloved Kellynch Hall has to be let out to tenants. But the world is a small place and the connections that emerge between her sister’s household where she goes to stay and the new tenants, the Crofts, ensure that the past is not so easily left behind. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)”