Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston

The reliance on an all-white cast to tell Hogarth’s Progress is another mis-step from a Rose Theatre Kingston who should know better

“We’ve all had our share of bad reviews”

The oft-misquoted George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and taking a glance at Nick Dear’s Hogarth’s Progress, you can’t help but feel it is most apposite for the folks at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Once again, they’re tackling a slice of English history in a multi-play format and once again, they’re doing it with a lily-white cast – diversity be damned! 

It’s a bit exhausting to go over the same arguments but they still hold true. The notion of historical verisimilitude holds no water, not least because Dear has talked about employing dramatic licence with history itself, but because once again we’re not talking about German actresses being employed to play Queen Caroline (it is Susannah Harker, with an accent). We’re talking about directors not trusting that audiences will accept actors of colour in such roles, but also not doing enough to challenge such audience-held perceptions. Continue reading “Review: Hogarth’s Progress, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nottingham Playhouse

“But Mother
‘Yes?’
I’m crippled”

You might, not unreasonably, think that I’d had my fill of Glass Menageries, having seen three in the space of a month late last year but Tennessee Williams’ memory play is one I enjoy especially and am usually keen to see. And so it was with Giles Croft’s production of The Glass Menagerie for Nottingham Playhouse where he is Artistic Director, this play being the one that inspired him to become a director and now 40 years later, he feels ready to tackle for himself. 

Another key factor in my decision was this theatre’s participation in the Ramps on the Moon project, helping to mainstream disability arts and culture through programming and increased opportunities, here taking the form of casting wheelchair user Amy Trigg as Laura, the young woman whose physical fragility is matched by her emotional wellbeing, smothered as she is by overbearing mother Amanda and abandoned by brother guilt-ridden Tom. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Nottingham Playhouse”

DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

“Your alliance would be a disgrace”

This six-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has gone down in history as one of the most iconic TV programmes ever, its cultural breakthrough into the mainstream taking everyone by surprise and spearheading something of a revival in period dramas. For me though, my abiding memory remains watching a documentary some years later and hearing adaptor Andrew Davies saying that the stage direction he wrote for Colin Firth, for when Darcy meets Elizabeth after she has rushed over to see her ailing sister, was “Darcy is surprised to get an erection”.

Smut aside, it is a strikingly well done piece of work though, Luxuriating over 6 hour-long instalments, it allows for the slow-burn of the central relationship which makes this version of the story really work, Firth and Jennifer Ehle so incredibly well-matched that their every interaction is scintillatingly drawn as mutual antipathy turns to mutual admiration amidst the various family dramas of the Bennetts, Wickhams, Collins et al. His brooding looks and engagingly smooth voice and her keenly intelligent eyes with her delightful pragmatism are utterly engaging. Continue reading “DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)”

Review: Present Laughter, Radio 4

“There’s something awfully sad about happiness isn’t there”

Casting is everything and Celia de Wolff hits the jackpot with her radio production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter for Radio 4 by putting Samuel West into the main role of Garry Essendine, the self-obsessed actor at the centre of a social maelstrom caused by his imminent departure on a theatre tour of Africa. West perfectly captures the outraged vanity of a man upset by the temerity of life letting him turn 40 and exasperated by the endless roll-call of people who either want to bid him farewell or can’t bear to see him go.

And what a roll-call it is – from top quality classic actors to top notch fresh talent, it sparkles from top to bottom as characters rattle in and out of the offices and spare rooms of Essendine’s house, marshalled by his ever-tolerant secretary Monica, voiced beautifully by a purring Frances Barber. Janie Dee shines as his estranged wife; Susannah Harker is raucous fun as the woman married to Jonathan Coy’s Henry, having an affair with Anthony Calf’s Morris and determined to philander her way into Garry’s bed; and Lily James and Freddie Fox are both good as a pair of besotted youngsters, the former an aspiring actress and the latter a would-be playwright, both determined to have their way with him. Continue reading “Review: Present Laughter, Radio 4”

Re-review: Abigail’s Party, Wyndhams

“Our nation’s culture. Not something you can actually read, of course.”

There’s something mildly amusing about the above quote, which refers to Shakespeare by the way, given the Bardathon currently going on at the Globe and beyond and it is one that I didn’t pick up the first time I saw Abigail’s Party. I’d never seen it before despite the Alison Steadman version being a cult classic and so the whole show was a revelation to me, especially in how dark it was given I’d assumed it was more of a comedy. That original review from this production’s original run at the Menier Chocolate Factory can be read here but it has now made the leap into the West End at the Wyndhams where it will run for the summer after it sold out at the Menier.

I don’t really have much more to add about the show second time round, except to say that the Wyndhams is a great fit for it, the sense of intimacy is still there as Beverly’s living room occupies a letterbox set on the larger stage and has brought with it all the beautifully observed period details. Performances remain sharp across the board, Natalie Casey really is excellent as the gin-soaked Ange, Andy Nyman oozes unreconstructed machismo as Laurence and Jill Halfpenny sweeps all before her as the acidic Beverly. Continue reading “Re-review: Abigail’s Party, Wyndhams”

Review: Abigail’s Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

“We’ve got whiskey, gin, vodka, whatever you like”

Whisper it quietly, but I’ve never actually seen Abigail’s Party. I came to Mike Leigh rather late and carrying so much cultural baggage and expectation with it, it’s never been a film I’ve felt a particular inclination to take in. So when the Menier Chocolate Factory announced it was producing a revival of the play, it didn’t really register on my radar of things that I needed to see. But excellent word-of-mouth and general expressions of shock that I’d never seen it before encouraged me to book a ticket when a chance visit to the theatre’s website offered up a return for sale.

Jill Halfpenny takes on Beverly, the role iconically made famous by Alison Steadman (I know that much at least) and though it is her outrageous ‘fantasticness’ that forms a large part of the play and the excruciating comedy it contains, it remains thoroughly a Mike Leigh piece at heart. So painful marital discord abounds and if the prevailing tone is comedic, it is piercingly dark and cutting. For someone watching it for the first time, I didn’t find it half as funny as nearly everyone around me. Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party, Menier Chocolate Factory”