Review: Oslo, National Theatre

“The Americans cannot stand it when others take the lead”

What does it take to get peace in the Middle East? Some determined Norwegians and a plate or two of tasty waffles apparently… At a leisurely three hours in length and set around the Oslo Peace Accords, JT Rogers’ Oslo might not on the face of it seem like theatrical gold but it won a Tony on Broadway and such was the confidence in this production that a West End run was booked in to follow its short engagement at the National before a ticket had even been sold.

And it is a confidence that has paid off handsomely. Bartlett Sher’s direction has an epic sweep to its depiction of world affairs but Rogers’ writing shines through its focus on the intimate detail, on the personal struggle, sacrifice and success of the individuals who managed to break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and work towards the unimaginable – a lasting peace. History has shown us the reality of that, something acknowledged in a coda here, but it is still thrilling to watch. Continue reading “Review: Oslo, National Theatre”

A whole load of Friday casting news

I want to be able to resist anything to do with Alan Ayckbourn but the cast and creatives for Chichester’s production of The Norman Conquests is making it very hard indeed. Wunderkind director Blanche McIntyre is at the helm of a company for the trilogy of plays that consists of Jonathan Broadbent, Trystan Gravelle, Sarah Hadland, John Hollingworth, Hattie Ladbury and Jemima Rooper. Best get booking then…

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TV Review: And Then There Were None

“This is for a play in the West End?”

 Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None may not have seemed like the most obvious festive programming but Sarah Phelps’ three-part adaptation was an unalloyed success for the BBC. It was a particular surprise for me, as having seen it a couple of times on the stage, most recently in a rather creaky touring production, I wasn’t sure how it could be done well. But Phelps and director Craig Viveiros have managed a remarkable job, transforming the murder mystery into a dark, oppressive psychodrama.

From the off, swooping camera shots (of the Cornish locations standing in for the Devonian Soldier Island) take us out of the dusty drawing room, and haunting flashbacks take perfect advantage of the medium to suggest the oppressive weight of guilt that is being brought to bear here. For those new to the story, a microcosm of English society is invited to an isolated country house, under varying auspices, and once fully assembled, find themselves being picked off one by one by an unknown killer. Continue reading “TV Review: And Then There Were None”

TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”

DVD Review: Jane Eyre (2006)

“We’re not the platonic sort Jane”

The 2006 BBC take on Jane Eyre marked Ruth Wilson’s major television debut and in quite some style too. Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous heroine is surely one of literature’s most loved but it is a challenge that Wilson rises to excellently, with the kind of nuanced sensitive portrayal that will ensure that this version will remain near the top of the ever-growing pile of adaptations of this story. Alongside Toby Stephens as Rochester, she drives this clear-sighted, uncomplicated retelling over four hour-long episodes as Jane negotiates the many travails of her life.

From being abandoned as a poor relation with a dour aunt to the unfriendly walls of Lowood School and then on to her first job as governess to a young girl in a household where the promise of love and genuine affection offer a first chance at happiness, but also where secrets abound and threaten to snatch it away before it has even started. Wilson makes Jane a straightforward girl, always pragmatic in the face of adversity and even as she melts in the face of kindness, whether from Lorraine Ashbourne’s kindly Mrs Fairfax or the one that eventually comes from Rochester, she has enough nous to be able to retain her poise. Stephens really is good here too, balancing the macho arrogance of the man with a more romantic sensibility that comes through but always keeping each element in play so we never forget the complexity of the man, yet remaining entirely drawn by his charisma.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Jane Eyre (2006)”

Re-review: Private Lives, Gielgud

“Are you glad you got married to me?”

As is proving de rigueur for many a Chichester show, last year’s production of Private Lives makes the leap into the West End, sashaying with its silk pyjamas into the Gielgud Theatre for the summer. I made the trip to the Minerva Theatre to see the show as the chance of seeing Anna Chancellor on stage is not one that one should really turn down and my review can be read here – I liked the production immensely but can’t help but feel that I don’t really need to see this play again -for me, it turns out Coward is a playwright who is not standing up to repeated viewings. But throw a good deal my way and my intentions go out the window – Time Out were offering dress circle seats for a tenner and so I just couldn’t resist.

And I pretty much felt the same second time around. Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens are truly excellently cast as the dangerously dynamic duo Amanda and Elyot, a divorced couple whose chance meeting as they both honeymoon with new partners pulls them back into the vortex of their passion which is somehow simultaneously self-destructive and enduring. Chancellor slinks around Anthony Ward’s handsomely appointed set with the elegance of a panther, her feline seductiveness quick to turn fearsome the moment she doesn’t get her own way. And Stephens makes Elyot a unreconstructed public schoolboy, full of bluffness and a near-childish sense of humour as he turns to acerbically mock everyone around him. Continue reading “Re-review: Private Lives, Gielgud”

Review: Private Lives, Minerva

“You don’t hold any mystery for me darling, do you mind?”

Is there anything left that one can say about Private Lives? That was my abiding feeling on leaving the final show in Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2012 programme despite having had an immensely enjoyable time. The show has proved to be one of Noël Coward’s enduring successes with productions continuing to regularly bless our stages – Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen brought it to the West End a couple of years ago – as they dance the timeless dance of irresistible couple Elyot and Amanda.

The chemistry in Jonathan Kent’s production is palpable with the nigh-on perfect casting of Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens. Chancellor, always a fearsomely good actress, brings a fulsome depth to bear which never lets us forget that there is a lifetime of love and loss that underlies all the comic business which occurs when the divorced couple meet accidentally on a hotel balcony, whilst both on their honeymoons with new partners. And Toby Stephens brings an unexpectedly delicious levity to his Elyot, public schoolboy through and through but charmingly warm too and both display perfect comic precision. Continue reading “Review: Private Lives, Minerva”

DVD Review: Cambridge Spies

“Ponces and spies, Anthony. The people with most to hide never have moustaches.”

In retrospect, I can’t even begin to comprehend why it has taken me so long to getting round to watching Cambridge Spies (the obvious lack of time given how much theatre I see aside) – a quality BBC drama with a properly thesp-heavy cast about spies, with gayness involved, and Imelda Staunton as the Queen (Mother). But regardless, it has taken me this long and of course I’m kicking myself as I thought it was a brilliant piece of drama. Over four parts, Peter Moffat takes us through the key years of four of the Cambridge Five Soviet spies from their recruitment at Trinity College through to the defection of two of them nearly 20 years later.

It was a story I knew little of, so there was a genuine frisson in watching how it all unfolded, not knowing what would happen next, but the real thrill was in the excellent character work from the four leads – Toby Stephens as Kim Philby, Tom Hollander as Guy Burgess, Rupert Penry-Jones as Donald Maclean and particularly Samuel West as Anthony Blunt. From their idealistic anti-fascist student days when the Soviet Union seemed like the only real option to stand against the encroaching terror, the wisdom of the KGB’s recruiting plan was borne out by the ascendance of these four into the higher echelons of the British state, from where they would be able to provide the most important of secrets. Continue reading “DVD Review: Cambridge Spies”

Radio Review: From Russia With Love / My Own Private Gondolier

“It doesn’t do get mixed up with neurotic women in this business”

Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres have now produced three James Bond stories for Radio 4, the enduring popularity of the spy evidently insatiable and so From Russia With Love was the latest to be broadcast in the Saturday drama slot. I was being a bit of a glutton for punishment in listening to it as I really wasn’t a fan of Goldfinger which I listened to at Christmas, and the same thing that struck me about how old-fashioned it seems with the insistence on keeping Ian Fleming’s voice squarely in the production as the narrator. Fortunately, there aren’t too many interjections but each one breaks the mood of the story and makes it seem annoyingly quaint. This is exacerbated by the very old-school nature of the writing which feels rather out of place in the modern world, at least to me.

I seem to have tumbled for Toby Stephens’ charms though which meant I was much more engaged in the story, which cleaves closely to Fleming’s original in this adaptation by Archie Scottney, which focuses on Bond’s attempts to extract a Soviet army clerk who wants to defect along with a code-breaking device whilst attempting to foil a Rosa Klebb-led plot by the KGB to assassinate him. Stephens made a very personable Bond, unafraid to be a bit more human as his relationship with the Soviet Tatiana Romanova – ex-Holby City’s Olga Fedori in a lovely turn – begins to cloud his judgement. Continue reading “Radio Review: From Russia With Love / My Own Private Gondolier”

DVD Review: The Queen’s Sister

 “You will not menace the House of Windsor”

Lucy Cohu has the dubious pleasure of being one of the few women I would probably turn for,  she radiates an old-school glamour and sensuality that I find near-irresistable and I’ve loved the few stage performances of hers I have been able to catch (Speaking in Tongues, Broken Glass and A Delicate Balance). So I was quite happy to take in the Channel 4 television movie The Queen’s Sister, in which she took the lead role of Princess Margaret, in the name of the Jubilee Weekend đŸ˜‰

It’s a semi-fictionalised account of her life by Craig Warner (although knowing so little of the reality, I couldn’t have told you what was real and what wasn’t) which focuses on her struggles against the establishment as she followed a life of largely wanton hedonism and leaving a trail of paramours behind her. Whether her previously married lover whom she was forbidden from wedding, the long-suffering husband prone to infidelity, the young pop singer who offers a faint hope of redemption, her relentless partying, fondness of always having a drink in her hand and general spoiltness consistently makes life difficult for herself.
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