Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street

Excellent creative work makes About Leo, the debut play from Alice Allemano a real success at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“I have never, in my life, for one moment, been anyone’s muse. I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”

What does a woman have to do to be appreciated on her own merits? Be a leading surrealist painter? Be a founding member of the women’s movement in the country where she lives? Write several successful books?  Leonora Carrington may not be the best known of names but she deserves more than being known someone who had an affair with Max Ernst.

Such is the set-up for Alice Allemano’s impressive debut play About Leo. Wannabe journalist Eliza Prentice rocks up at Carrington’s Mexico City residence in order to secure an interview for a retrospective of Ernst’s work but is soon disabused of the notion that she was a mere ‘muse’. And over a long night, as tea turns into tequila, stories of love and loss and art and aspiration reveal a hugely fascinating figure.  Continue reading “Review: About Leo, Jermyn Street”

Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)

“Sight may distinguish of colours, but suddenly to nominate them all, it is impossible”

First things first for this is too important an issue to be brushed under the carpet, too vital a conversation to not too have because a press release has been summarily issued, the “historical verisimilitude” justification for Trevor Nunn’s decision to cast an all-white company for his Wars of the Roses play cycle is just pure bunkum. At one point in Henry VI, a Norwegian man and a British woman appear on a balcony playing French characters but it’s OK because we’re in a theatre, they’re acting, the natural suspension of disbelief kicks in. 

Similarly later on, the four sons of Richard of York appear, three played by adults and one by a boy. Historians might point out that the son played by the boy was the second oldest of York’s surviving issue but again it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, theatrical license is granted and it allows for more poignant drama given his ultimate fate. So the historical accuracy argument clearly has little merit, lest we need reminding that Shakespeare is fiction, and the notion that the audience couldn’t connect family trees unless everyone is the same colour is frankly insulting. Continue reading “Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)”

Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Every tale condemns me for a villain”

Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed. 

Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays.  Continue reading “Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Work thou the way – and thou shalt execute”

Edward IV was my favourite of the three The Wars of the Roses plays, comprising the latter half of 2 Henry VI and an abridged 3 Henry VI. I might be biased towards it as the middle child of the trilogy but it encapsulates much of what is impressive about the whole enterprise. Its heart lies in two of the crucial grand narratives – the epic sweep of Margaret of Anjou’s rise and fall and the arrival on the scene of Richard of Gloucester as he begins the long con that’ll take him so far – and I actually found there to be an exciting sense of pace about the whole play, right up to its cheeky cliff-hangerish ending. 

With civil war raging across the country and death and destruction and betrayal and battles round every corner, Henry VI decides to retreat into pacifism leaving Margaret to assume the mantle of leader as her vendetta against Richard of York becomes increasingly vicious as supremacy swings between the two houses. Clad in chainmail, Joely Richardson radiates a malevolent determination that is well-matched by Alexander Hanson’s fervently committed duke, their tussling over the Iron Throne (well this one is stone…) complicated by multiple machinations from supporters constantly defecting from one side to the other.  Continue reading “Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Between the red rose and the white 
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”

Of the three plays of The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI was my least favourite. Taking all of I Henry VI and about half of 2 Henry VI, Trevor Nunn’s production takes an awful long time to really get going, largely hamstrung by one of Shakespeare’s weaker plots. Henry V has died, Henry VI isn’t proving to be much cop and so trouble starts brewing in the rival camps that emerges, the Houses of Lancaster and York. But they brew slowly and for a long time as there’s all sorts of business to deal with in France, including Joan of Arc.

And that business just isn’t that entertaining here, despite Imogen Daines’ committed work as the Maid of Orléans. The importance of the loss of French territory is never keenly felt and though the build-up to the collapse of English political order instinctively registers more significantly, it never feels more than a prelude as we know there is so much more to come (about seven hours). For me, Alex Waldmann’s petulant Henry VI was a disappointment, leaving no real mark on the role amidst a bunch of angry bearded white men shouting a lot. Continue reading “Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Dream of Perfect Sleep, Finborough

“What’s more frightening than death? 
‘Forgetting’”

On a day when our Prime Minister declared dementia to be “one of [our] greatest enemies of humanity” as a new push for a cure was launched, it seems apt that the Finborough’s latest play Dream of Perfect Sleep should open. For dementia is just one of the issues that Kevin Kautzman has woven into his family drama as two adult children return to the family home for Christmas to a father suffering from a terminal illness and a mother who is no longer compos menti.

Mary and Gene are an elderly couple whose devoted relationship is being severely tested by their failing health. She suffers from vertigo as well as dementia and so only has a tenuous grip on reality, which makes his condition all the more tragic as he’s her primary carer and even his infinite patience is being tested. So they’ve made a decision and they’ve invited their estranged kids – recovering addict Robert and new-ager Melissa – to share it. Continue reading “Review: Dream of Perfect Sleep, Finborough”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

Review: Variation on a Theme, Finborough

“I suppose the truth is, if you need somebody enough it doesn’t seem to matter much what they do to you, or what they turn out to be”

It is Variation on a Theme that a young Shelagh Delaney saw and was inspired to write her iconoclastic A Taste of Honey, playing her own part in shaking up a British theatre scene that had Terence Rattigan as a fusty figurehead and whilst her play went on to become a classic, his slipped into obscurity and hasn’t been seen on stage for fifty years. Rattigan has of course undergone a serious re-appreciation since his recent centenary year with many of his works being staged, including a rehearsed reading of this play, which has blossomed into a full production at West London’s Finborough Theatre. The run has already sold out so we snuck into a preview.

Variation on a Theme is loosely based on La Dame aux Camélias, set in the 1950s on a sun and booze-soaked French Riviera where the taut charms of a handsome ballet dancer named Ron catch the eye of Rose, a much-married socialite and they tumble headlong into a passionate affair. But the path ne’er did run smooth – she’s suffering from a serious condition and has a powerful fiancé, and it’s not altogether clear that his motivations lie much beyond wanting a sugar mama. As her health continues to decline and his career hits the bumpers though, it becomes apparent that emotions run extremely deep but sadly, so too does the British predilection for repression.  Continue reading “Review: Variation on a Theme, Finborough”

Review: A Chorus of Disapproval, Harold Pinter

“I just want you to know I think you’re a total and utter bastard and that one of these days I hope you’ll get what’s coming to you. Having said that, best of luck with the show tonight and I hope it goes really well for you.”

Alan Ayckbourn’s plays seem to be unavoidable, not least at the Harold Pinter theatre where Absent Friends previously played to be followed by Trevor Nunn’s production of A Chorus of Disapproval and that’s before a Pinter play has even made it onto the stage of the renamed theatre. And I’ve yet to really succumb to the pleasures of our most prolific of living writers, I’ve visited many of the productions of his plays that have played in London in recent years but never quite had that lightbulb moment to explain to me his enduring success.

But I’m always up for testing my assumptions and when a friend offered to day seat (front row seats for £10), I was happy to accept and sure enough, whilst it wasn’t quite a Damascene conversion, I did find myself laughing more than I expected and actually enjoying myself for the most part. Key to this was Rob Brydon’s central performance as the ineffably Welsh Dafydd ap Llewellyn, a solicitor by day and a amateur dramatics theatre director by night taking his group through their latest production of The Beggar’s Opera. The play opens with the final number from that show and as the curtain descends, we see backstage that the relationships amongst the cast are incredibly strained. Continue reading “Review: A Chorus of Disapproval, Harold Pinter”

Review: Playhouse Creatures, Theatre on the Fly

“One can go a long way in the theatre with an open mouth”

The pop-up space created on the grounds of Chichester Festival Theatre to help celebrate its 50th anniversary is a curious thing, Named Theatre on the Fly and constructed solely from recycled material, its rough edges and unreserved bench seating speaks of its temporary nature but the introduction of a fully operational fly tower, whose machinery is laid bare for all to see, has a certain elegance about it. And it forms the ideal backdrop for April De Angelis’ play Playhouse Creatures which is set in, and backstage at, a seventeenth century theatre.

Specifically, it takes place during the Restoration. Puritanism has ended and the theatres reopened and for the first time, women are allowed on the stage. But as we follow a group of pioneering actresses in a working company, we see the struggles, compromises and stark realities they are faced with, in this exceedingly hard-hitting environment which they bear variously with grace, bawdiness, calculated drive and an ultimate equanimity that this is a tough world for a woman. Continue reading “Review: Playhouse Creatures, Theatre on the Fly”