Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner finally directs a play by a woman but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of novel Alys, Always is a disappointment for me at the Bridge Theatre

“I’m going to bake a cake”

In well over 30 years of being a director, it seems scarcely credible that it is only now that Nicholas Hytner is turning his hand to directing a play written by a woman. For all of his considerable contributions to the British theatre ecology, it is a startling and sobering statistic that demonstrates the scale of the problem faced by those who would (rightfully) change the status quo.

The play in question here is Alys, Always, written by Lucinda Coxon from Harriet Lane’s 2012 novel. And it proves a serviceable psychological thriller of sorts that sits a little too cosily in the middle class-baiting madeleine-scented air of the Bridge Theatre. It is glossy and magazine-spread chic, undoubtedly shinily cast (Joanne Froggatt, Robert Glenister) but rarely essential. Continue reading “Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre”

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 Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar

Featuring the prime of the most excellent Lia Williams, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an undoubted success for the Donmar Warehouse

“Miss Mackay thinks to intimidate me with quarter-hours”

Everyone has that teacher that they never forget. Sometimes it’s because they were brilliant, sometimes it’s because they bent the rules, sometimes it’s because they were so bloody-minded that they remain so unforgettable. For the selected few pupils of Edinburgh’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls who found themselves in the orbit of the entirely charismatic Miss Jean Brodie, it’s all three reasons at the same time that are destined to make her such an iconic figure in their schooling.

Based on the novel by Muriel Sparks, David Harrower’s new stage adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie not only marks the 100th anniversary year of Spark’s birth but provides a scorchingly fantastic opportunity for Lia Williams to inhabit the title role so fully as to sit proudly aside Maggie Smith’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1969 film. It’s a stunning piece of acting – elevated by stunning wig and costume work – that captures so much of that beguiling power that a teacher can possess. Continue reading “Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar”

News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season

It looks like Josie Rourke is getting a little demob happy at the Donmar, as her penultimate season as artistic director sees a fresh twist on gender swapping that feels like a genuine first. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden will star in a new production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in which they will alternate the roles of Isabella and Angelo, midway through the show. Heaven knows how it will work but Lord knows I can’t wait to find out.

Brian Friel’s Aristocrats, directed by Lyndsey Turner, is also added to the slate, and this will be Turner’s fourth staging of a Friel play after Faith Healer, Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Fathers and Sons. The cast includes Elaine Cassidy, Daniel Dawson, David Ganley, Emmet Kirwan, Aisling Loftus, Ciaran McIntyre and Eileen Walsh. Continue reading “News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season”

Review: Giving, Hampstead Downstairs

“There seem to be a lot of people out there with a lot of money who don’t quite know what to do with it”

I’m pretty sure that in 30 or so years time, we will be talking about Sinéad Matthews with the hushed reverence accorded to the likes of Dame Judi as she’s surely a shoo-in for a similar ennoblement. And I’ll be telling everyone about the times I got to see her in the intimacy of the Hampstead Theatre’s downstairs space. Last year saw her star in the The Wasp and this year she returns there in Hannah Patterson’s Giving, directed by Bijan Sheibani, giving us another opportunity to see one of the finest actors in the country up close and personal. 

She plays Laura in Patterson’s new play, a journalist tasked with profiling leading British businesswoman Mary Greene for her current affairs magazine. Greene is of interest because she has decided to give away huge amounts of her wealth in a newfound burst of philanthropy. But as Laura investigates further, she finds that there’s a whole industry that’s grown up around giving, organisations who act as brokers between the millionaires and the charities, and its these motives that she decides to interrogate, regardless of the consequences. Continue reading “Review: Giving, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Waste, National Theatre

“The stateman’s task is the accommodation of stubborn facts to shifting circumstance and in effect to the practical capacities of the average stupid man. Democracy involves admission of that”

It’s always a bit tough to forge one’s own opinion of something already lauded as a masterpiece, the assumption being if you don’t like it then you’re missing something, but this is the second time I’ve seen a solidly good production of Harley Granville Barker’s Waste and it’s the second time that I just haven’t been blown away by it. Seven years ago saw Samuel West tackle it for the Almeida and now it is Roger Michell’s turn in the Lyttelton as Rufus Norris continues his balancing act of reinvigorating the National Theatre without scaring the regulars off.

But spread over a goodly three hours with a pace that could be described as stately at best and glacial at its worst, it’s hard to see Waste converting any newcomers to the joys of theatre. And even with the quality that emanates from the female-centric first scene – Olivia Williams, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Doreen Mantle and Lucy Robinson (forever in my heart as my first Lady Macbeth) doing fine work – the energy is just singularly lacking even as sex, sleaze and suicide pop up on the menu for this slice of the Edwardian political elite.  Continue reading “Review: Waste, National Theatre”

Review: The Audience, Apollo

“A good Labour woman…”

Not content with becoming a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire earlier this year, Kristin Scott Thomas was also awarded an upgraded Légion d’honneur (from chevalier to officer to be precise) in what has become something of a banner year for her. She’s also completing the not-inconsiderable feat of stepping into Helen Mirren’s award-winning shoes as Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s The Audience, whilst Dame Helen reprises the role and the award-winning on Broadway.

Morgan’s revival has updated the play a little from its first outing – Tony Blair is in, Jim Callaghan is out, the recent election gets its mention with a barbed Miliband joke, but essentially it remains the same non-confrontational easy-Sunday-evening –television style viewing. The parade of PMs mostly play off a sole predictable character note, the Queen gets an easy ride of it with a strange intimation of where her personal politics might lie, there’s not a dramatic surprise to be had in here nor anything truly arresting through all its luxuriousness. Continue reading “Review: The Audience, Apollo”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

DVD Review: Northanger Abbey (2007)

“What could be a more innocent or harmless pastime than reading”

Another of Austen’s novels that I haven’t quite gotten round to reading, Northanger Abbey was thus a brand new beast to me and so something of a queer little thing. Its mixture of naïve girlishness and gothic fantasy is winsomely portrayed by Felicity Jones as the ingenuish Catherine Morland and the ever-so-handsome JJ Field as Henry Tilney, but I found it very hard to get into the story or really care for it.

It’s always nice to see Sylvestra Le Touzel, here a friend of the family who introduces the book-obsessed Catherine into Bath society with her husband, the equally kindly Desmond Barrit, and Carey Mulligan is surprisingly fresh as the spirited Isabella. But the use of Geraldine James’ voice as a narrator in the form of Jane Austen herself sits a little oddly and altogether, this was one of my least favourite films in this whole exercise.