Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

“I know your moustache…”


What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble.

Branagh is clearly invested in giving us an in-depth look into M Poirot’s psyche but by allowing him to dominate the narrative so, he neglects to pay the many other characters the attention they need for us to fully invest in the emotional stakes of each of their situations. For that’s a rather important aspect here and one that would keep the storytelling much more engaging, well before the finale finally grabs our attention. As it is, it all ends up rather dull, glamorous window-dressing in pointlessly ugly CGI settings, narrative clarity sacrificed for tricksy camera angles.

Photos: Allstar/20th Century Fox



Review: The Exorcist, Phoenix

After a premiere in Birmingham last year…

Sean Mathias’ production of The Exorcist has resurfaced in the West End just in time for Hallowe’en in the hope of recreating the chills and thrills of the 1973 movie, despite the fact that it is notoriously difficult to get horror right in the theatre.

We saw a preview and there may have been wine involved, hence the gif mood-board presented here rather than your fully-fleshed review. So…

See Jenny Seagrove in a collection of saucily modern outfits

Appreciate Adam Garcia’s Father Damien in his boxing scenes

Wonder whether a pre-recorded Ian McKellen is really the best fit for the demon

Marvel at how Ben Hart’s illusions recreate many of the iconic moments from the film…

But wonder too at how the biggest effect is achieved right at the start with barely any effort at all

And for the love of God, don’t buy tickets at the front and on the sides!

Don’t take your kids – there’s a (perhaps overly cautious) 18+ age guidance note

And do as we did and take advantage of the late night show (9pm start) on a Friday, which allows enough time to get sufficiently warmed up…

…and you might well have a screamer of a time

In all honesty, it really ain’t that scary, something so ingrained in the cultural memory could scarcely hope to continue to shock. But in its best moments, The Exorcist is high camp and thus gloriously, enjoyably silly. Plus it will most likely make you jump one way or another.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 10th March

Review: Late Company, FInborough

“When you wake up in a cold sweat at night and you think someone is watching you, well it’s me. I’m watching you”

Guess who’s coming to dinner, Toronto-style. The table has been set at Debora and Michael’s oh-so-tasteful upper class home but the atmosphere is thick with tension as their guests are Curtis, the schoolboy who bullied their son Joel – who committed suicide a year ago – and his parents. The meeting has been arranged in order to try and achieve some kind of emotional closure but as it is revealed just how raw the wounds still are, there’s so much more to dig into than a bowl of seafood pasta.
The Finborough has long had a record of supporting Canadian writers and Jordan Tannahill certainly seems like one to watch. Directed with an unhurried and unfussy clarity by Michael Yale, Late Company blisters through its hot-button topics of cyber-bullying and teen suicide with real skill, presenting an even-handed look at the issues but what really impresses, is the way in which he drips revelation after revelation into his narrative to keep us constantly on the edge of our seats.
For though Lucy Robinson’s scorchingly grief-stricken and vengeful Debora has clearly established that for her, closure means making Curtis pay, the truth of her son’s death is far more complex than that. Tannahill raises the trials of modern parenthood (how to deal with a YouTube drag artist for a son) but counters them with human nature at its most hypocritical (how to capitalise on your son’s death if you’re a politician). And as Curtis’ culpability is called into question, the social gap between the two families looms large,
Robinson is the fearsome centre of the play, both wounded and wounding, but she’s matched by great work from David Leopold as Curtis, a nuanced portrayal of what might drive someone to become a bully. Zahra Mansouri’s naturalistic set and Yale’s direction draws us right up alongside the dinner table and into Tannahill’s inquisitive and interesting plotting which has a great deal to say. You’d do well to listen.
Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Charlie Round-Turner
Booking until 20th May


Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

A tempting looking trailer has been released for Late Company, the Finborough’s forthcoming drama

— TheatreDotLondon (@TheatreDotLDN) April 13, 2017

Octagon Theatre Bolton have announced full casting for their forthcoming world premiere production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play Winter Hill.

The production’s all-female cast will feature Cathy Tyson (BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated Mona Lisa; Band of Gold, ITV and most recently onstage in Nikolai Forster’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Birmingham Rep) as Irene; Denise Black (Denise Osbourne in Coronation Street and Joanie Wright in Emmerdale, Both ITV; Cucumber and Queer as Folk , Channel 4 and onstage in Pack at the Finborough Theatre and as Mother Superior in the UK tour of Sister Act) as Dolly; Louise Jameson (Doc Martin, ITV; Doctor Who, EastEnders and Bergerac, BBC) as Beth; Fiona Hampton (Of Mice and Men, The Glass Menagerie and Private Lives, Octagon Theatre Bolton) as Emma and Janet Henfrey (Wolf Hall, The Singing Detective and as Mrs Bale in As Time Goes By (all BBC) as Felicity
Joining them will be Souad Faress (Linda in Brief Encounters, ITV and Bridget Jones Diary, Bhaji on the Beach and My Beautiful Laundrette) as Vivian, Eva-Jane Willis (Magnificence, Finborough Theatre And We Really Should Do Something, Bush Theatre) as Alex and Susan Twist (Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Octagon Theatre Bolton) as The Fury.
Directed by Octagon Theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play explores how a group of seemingly ordinary women endeavour to protect their local community, no matter the cost and questioning the lengths people go to for a cause they believe in and at what point does the fight for freedom become terrorism?

Winter Hill will be playing at the Octagon Theatre Bolton between Thu 11 May – Sat 3 June

Also in casting news, the Old Vic announced that Jade Anouka will star alongside Charlie Fink in Cover My Tracks, their next late-night show interweaving live music and theatre.  Telling the story of an idealistic young songwriter who sets out to write a pop masterpiece and vanishes without a trace, this show plays the late slot from 5-17 Jun. Tickets are just £12-£17.50.

As a teaser, they’ve shared Charlie Fink performing ‘Firecracker’, the first track from his newly announced album, on stage at The Old Vic. Cover My Tracks will give the exclusive chance to see Charlie perform songs from his new solo album of the same title, his first since Noah and the Whale.

Thinking outside the box as ever, the Royal Court have announced a new  temporary theatre space The Site curated by Royal Court Associate Designer Chloe Lamford.
The Site is a workshop and rehearsal space situated next door to the Royal Court and rented from Transport for London. Chloe is transforming the space and is offering audiences an invitation; an experiment in design, collaboration and process. She has designed a space where language, form, the body and instructions are the materials and where both artists and audiences are invited to rethink how we create, present, and watch plays.
This series of works is an experiment, exploring performance through language, physicality and the power of the imagination, created by five playwrights in response to Chloe Lamford’s provocation.
The programme includes new work from writers EV Crowe, Stacey Gregg, Theresa Ikoko, Nathaniel Martello-White and Deborah Pearson. With Creative Direction by both Chloe Lamford and Royal Court Associate Director Lucy Morrison.
As well as being a leading theatre designer of her generation Chloe is now well known for her extraordinary collaborations with leading European artists such as Lies Pauwels, Katie Mitchell and most recently Wanda on a pop gig. She has collaborated with the Tate Modern and as Associate Designer at the Royal Court is in a constant conversation with the writers to help them challenge form and question the image-based and visual dramaturgy of their work. It is in this spirit that she is leading this project.

The work:

LIGHTS OUT by Stacey Gregg
In 2017 Gregg began to examine strategies used to bridge the gap between socio-economic backgrounds.
The project takes place in the context of Lights-Out manufacturing, which refers to factories that are fully automated and require no human workers, thus no need for light.

It’s All Made Up by Deborah Pearson
Deborah Pearson isn’t very comfortable writing fiction. To her, it feels like lying. As a result, she’s made her career in theatre by telling real stories about her life or her performers’ lives. Chloe has challenged Deborah not to do that. Deborah has been asked to write a made-up story that takes place in a real life place – The Site.
Deborah will only start making up the story as soon as she first walks into the Site, always writing from and in The Site. She hopes that what ends up being performed is a string of pathological lies and made-up magic.

A new work by Nathaniel Martello-White
A provocation
What happened.
Did we see what we think we saw?
What are the facts?
Is a square really a square? Or a triangle posing as one?
Or has our capacity to discern a square perished
Truth is in the eye of the beholder
So it’s beauty
So is murder
Or maybe it isn’t
Did we just have that conversation?
In this new unknown space, Nathaniel Martello-White explores the post-truth era where facts have become irrelevant and we are forced to question the ‘reality’ that surrounds us.

The Unknown by EV Crowe
There are four basic principles:
1) They are not willed by the individual self
2) They reflect social reality
3) They are public rhetoric
4) They are collectively interpretable
EV Crowe’s real life dreams will be shared as a play and interpreted by an audience.
Quote source: Nocturnal Omissions: Steps Toward a Sociology of Dreams (pages 95–104). Gary Alan Fine and Laura Fischer Leighton

A new work by Theresa Ikoko
“From creators Chloe Lamford and Theresa Ikoko comes The Site, the brand new, state-of-the art venue of The Space Between.
Welcome, the 107,683,902,202nd contestant will join us shortly.
I will be your host. Life points are under your seat. Feel free to use them today. Or save them for your turn. Maybe soon…

The final level.
What’s next?”