DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love

“Theatre is the handmaiden of the devil”

With a theatrical version of Shakespeare in Love about to open in the West End, I thought I’d revisit the 1998 film as I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen it since it was first released. It is still surprising to see that it managed to win seven Academy Awards and whilst I like both Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench, looking at their competition it is a little galling to think that they were recognised for these roles. And in the light of the huge authorship furore that erupted around Anonymous, it is interesting to see how little comparable fuss the level of invention here caused.

 
To be fair, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s film makes no pretence to be literarily or historically accurate (given the paucity of source material, it’s hardly surprising) but because the approach here is a hugely affectionate one towards the Bard, rather than challenging popular notions about him, it is clear something of a free pass has been given here. So we see Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare working on a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and being inspired by the everyday chatter and the tumult of his personal life to amend the play and write his famous words.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love”

Review: Relative Values, Richmond

“I know nothing and just pretend to know a great deal”
I think I might be falling out with Noël Coward, or rather producers’ insistence on frequently remounting the same plays of his, so I had to be persuaded to go and see this production of Relative Values making a short tour to Richmond after a well-received run at Theatre Royal Bath. And it was nice to see a Coward play that I had never seen before, even if it was Trevor Nunn directing – running time is 2 hours 45 minutes and you do begin to feel it – even if it doesn’t really offer much new either in plot or characterisation.

Where it is strongest is in satirising the class hang-ups of post-war Britain as the stately home of Marshwood House tries to deal with the news of the impending nuptials of the son of the house to a flighty Hollywood actress. Not only that, it turns out the beloved maid has a particular connection to his wife-to-be that makes her position untenable. So in order to keep her companion, the Countess decides to elevate the reluctant Moxie from member of staff to family friend, something made more difficult by her sister’s reinvention of her past and the arrival of an old suitor who wants to stop the wedding.

The TV name-friendly cast also serve better than one might have expected. Patricia Hodge brings genuine depth and warmth to the typical battleaxe role, giving us a real sense of a woman struggling to come to terms with change but determined to do so, Caroline Quentin’s Moxie is a comic delight and stage debutant Rory Bremner also fares as the observant butler, full of bon mots as if it has all been seen before.


For the more theatrically inclined, Katherine Kingsley is a hoot as the would-be Hollywood star and Ben Mansfield as the man pursuing her and Stephen Boxer’s louche nephew Peter are both strong. But the ensemble are good across the board and there’s a tightly honed comic precision that keeps the show pointedly sharp and light on its feet, keeping away – for the most part – from too farcical a mood. It looks superb in Stephen Brimson Lewis’ swish design and one can well imagine it resurfacing soon in the West End.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 13th July

Review: Three Days in May, Richmond Theatre

“It is refreshing to work with somebody who refuses to be depressed even by the most formidable danger that has ever threatened this country”

Set predominantly in the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street between 26th and 28th May 1940, at a point when Hitler’s lightning sweep through Europe had pushed Belgium and France to the point of surrender and trapped large numbers of British troops, Ben Brown’s new play Three Days in May looks at the weight of responsibility that fell on Churchill and his War Cabinet. Behind closed doors, the prospect of going it alone against the Nazis was weighed up against the possibility of suing for some kind of peace terms at a pivotal point in British history, played here in a Bill Kenwright production at Richmond Theatre, part of a UK tour.

There is little drama in Brown’s play – given that much of the history is well-trodden territory and the ‘action’ revolves around a series of Cabinet meetings and the politicking inbetween, this is hardly surprising. But there’s little attempt by Brown, or by director Alan Strachan to really address this through an alternative approach and so what we are presented with is curiously flat and weighed down through overuse of silences. Imposing a narrator – Churchill’s young private secretary Jock Colville – to frame the play and loading him with exposition and historical detail makes for a difficult opening, more akin to a history lesson, and the first act – perhaps even the entire play – never really escapes this to kick into life. Continue reading “Review: Three Days in May, Richmond Theatre”

Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit straight off that the production of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre ranks as my ultimate top theatrical experience ever. I am a massive fan of the books, and could not believe how well Nicholas Wright translated the three novels into two such wonderful, moving plays. Having travelled to Bath to see the youth production at the Theatre Royal there a couple of years ago, I was easily convinced to see the new Birmingham Repertory touring production at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, especially as it was so close to my parental home. So my mother and father, Aunty Jean and I settled in for the same day double bill, Part I at 2pm and Part II at 7.30pm, a little bum-numbingly daunting I’ll admit, but the only way to get the full impact of this theatrical wonder.
 
So much happens in the books and so whilst a lot is lost in the condensing of the action, this is largely to the benefit of the plays as the pacing is kept quite high, with many rapid scene changes which means that you really do have to listen carefully or else you could lose the thread quite quickly if you’re hugely familiar with the plot. That said, I was with two people who had not read the books and they had no problem following the action.

Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part I & Part II, Lowry”