Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic

Fancy three and a half hours of Ingmar Bergman? At least the Old Vic’s seats are comfortable for Fanny and Alexander with  a marvellous Penelope Wilton 

“I’d really like to know what anyone else thinks”

I can’t think of Fanny and Alexander without thinking of the phrase sweet Fanny Adams (which, sidebar, has quite the horrific origin). But more to the point, I have to say the idea of another adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film didn’t quite fill me with enough joy to be rushing to the Old Vic (the extraordinary Scenes From A Marriage aside, I’ve not had the best of times with him).

So with Stephen Beresford (he of The Last of the Haussmans) adapting and Max Webster (he of The Lorax) directing, it was with a little reluctance that I devoted a swathe of my Easter Saturday to this drama. And while I’d love to say that it was totally worth it, as a way to wait for the Resurrection it left me feeling a little like Pontius Pilate must have done way back when. Continue reading “Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic”

Film Review: Pride (2014)

“To find out you have a friend you never knew existed, well it’s the best feeling in the world”
 
I kind of knew that I would like the film Pride, I hoped that I would really like it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I loved it – the kind of joyous, timeless film-making that makes you want to trot tired old clichés like Great British Classics. But it’s true, it really is. And it is also factually true – based on the real story of an unlikely alliance between a group of gay activists from London and a small Welsh mining community in the heart of the 1984 strike.
 
Written by Stephen Beresford (whose Last of the Haussmans probably ranks as one of my favourite new plays of recent years), there’s something just straight up lovely about the culture clash that emerges between the two groups, but also in the way that the assortment of odds and sods on both sides who are completely changed by the experience. I don’t think a coda has ever affected me quite so much in the revelation of finding out what actually happened to these people in real life.

Continue reading “Film Review: Pride (2014)”

DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right

What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”

So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.

And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre

“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received. Continue reading “Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre”

Re-review: The Last of the Haussmans, National Theatre

“Mystic, wonderful, amazing things are going to happen”

In what turned out to be a rather fortuitous piece of timing, my return visit to The Last of the Haussmans came at a point when I was beginning to think that I’d left my love of theatre back with a broken pair of flip-flops on holiday, so uninspiring have my last few trips to the theatre been. But this play blew me away back in June, I left the National Theatre via the bookshop to immediately pick up the playtext and already planning who I might invite on a return trip. And sure enough it did the job, a jolt of theatrical Prozac that more than lived up to my expectations and reconfirmed my belief that this is one of the most exciting new plays of the year.

I won’t say much here as it would just be a retread of my original review and to be frank, there are only so many ways that one can describe the eighth wonder of the world that is Helen McCrory. She is just so truthful an actress that her mere presence on the stage is just hypnotic, and her talent so great that it really does convince people (as it did again tonight) that she is corpsing in one particular scene here. I thought I’d spend a little less time watching her as I did first time round and concentrate more on the other actors, but it was not to be – every time I looked away from her I felt like I was missing out on something! Continue reading “Re-review: The Last of the Haussmans, National Theatre”

Review: The Last of the Haussmans

“’Mixed family’ this one says. Something of an understatement”

Sometimes you get to end of a show and just think ‘this is why I come to the theatre’. To be accurate it was my companion for the evening who said it but I was thinking the same thing (honest!) as the company for The Last of the Haussmans took their extremely well-deserved bows. In something of a coup for writer Stephen Beresford, his first play has been given a home in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre and with the kind of superlative cast that most dream of: Julie Walters, Rory Kinnear and, in the most exciting development for yours truly, Helen McCrory. Fortunately, the play lives up to the billing and for me, it was one of the most exhilarating pieces of new writing I have seen for quite some time.  

When ageing hippy Judy is diagnosed with cancer, her children return to their Devon homestead to be with her, but this is no sweet family reunion. Recently dumped Libby is embittered about the world, a trait passed onto her stroppy daughter Summer, and seemingly more interested in the prospects of her inheritance and her gay, former junkie brother Nick’s unanchored lifestyle shows no real signs of abating either. Over a few months, the three generations of Haussmans prowl around each other, dissecting the legacy left behind for them in a life full of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and giving us a delicious insight into how the 60s didn’t quite swing the right way for everyone. Continue reading “Review: The Last of the Haussmans”

DVD Review: She Stoops to Conquer, Out of Joint/NT

“My chief aim is to take my gentleman off his guard”

This DVD of the 2003 Out of Joint/National Theatre co-production of She Stoops to Conquer has lingered in my to-watch pile for a wee while now, as the memory of the current Jamie Lloyd production at the National has remained strong. I got round to watching it, primarily due to the thrill of finally getting to see Monica Dolan on stage in Chalet Lines at the Bush Theatre, but truth be told I should have waited, a lot longer. 

Filmed at the Theatre Royal Bath, Max Stafford-Clark’s production is far from unwatchable and is really quite good at times. But it it just felt quite tamely traditional for the most part – entirely by comparison it must be said – and misguided in the few attempts at updating it did try. Things get off to a sticky start as Jason Watkins’ manservant is lumbered with an awkward prologue which tries, and fails, to work in modern-day references effectively. Fortunately this was the only really obvious tinkering and once the play proper had started, the actors were mainly left to get about their business. Continue reading “DVD Review: She Stoops to Conquer, Out of Joint/NT”