Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre

Neil Austin’s lighting design in Rosmersholm at the Duke of York’s Theatre is a thing of beauty and Hayley Atwell is excellent but Ibsen is still Ibsen…

“You see, this is what happens when the general public becomes engaged in politics — they get duped into voting against their own interests”

Chances are if Helen McCrory can’t make me like a play, then few others will be able too either. I first saw Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm with Anthony Page’s production for the Almeida which was…eek…more than 10 years ago now. It didn’t click with me then and in the assured hands of Ian Rickson here, it still leaves me cold. 

You do have to admire the bravado of producer Sonia Friedman, opening a play like this cold into the West End without resorting to any hint of stunt casting.And creatively, this is a triumph. Neil Austin’s hauntingly perfect lighting of Rae Smith’s austerely grand designs is a thing of pure beauty as it evolves throughout the show. Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #3

“A lot of fighting ensues”


The Globe’s Complete Walk is being released in dribs and drabs for all to see and given the helter-skelter busy-ness of a blogger’s life, it’s actually working out quite well in working my way through them slowly. Click on the links for the first lot and the second lot for read about them and head below for 

Dominic Dromgoole is one of the directors lucky enough to secure the same actor for his film as for the stage versions of the play – Jamie Parker took on Henry V to great acclaim in 2012, clips of which we see here, but there’s a special thrill in seeing him on the fields of Agincourt, chatting incognito with Joel MacCormack’s sceptical soldier. And the final shot, showing Agincourt for what it is today is subtly but beautifully done.


Henry VI Part 1

Taking in clips from the 2012 touring version from the Globe and the adaptation from National Theatre Belgrade, Henry VI Part 1 is served well here. But it’s Olivia Ross’ Joan of Arc speaking from the splendour of the Château de Loches in the Loire Valley that truly stirs the soul, especially once it moves into spectral strangeness.


Going for a kind of London gangster film feel, Nick Bagnall puts Henry VI Part 2’s civil unrest in the heart of Spitalfields Market as Neil Maskell’s Jack Cade – Rebel and Dean Nolan’s Dick the Butcher – Nutcase butt heads viscerally, contrasted with the Globe’s touring show’s more restrained take on its momentous events.


Trapped in the unforgiving gloom of the Yorkshire moors, Towton Battlefield to be precise, Alex Waldmann’s Henry VI witnesses the moving lamentations of David and Tom Burke’s Father and Son as the civil war comes to a bloody climax. For me though, I could have done with more of the Macedonian version of Henry VI Part 3 which looked, and sounded, stunning, representing the Globe to Globe Festival.

Review: The Deep Blue Sea, National

“My God, how I hate getting tangled up in other people’s emotions.”

For such a enduringly magnificent play and a lead part considered “one of the greatest female roles in contemporary drama”, it’s then a little surprising (and sad) that it has been a good while since we’ve seen a major production of The Deep Blue Sea, especially given the number of Hamlets and Lears we continually get. 2011 saw Maxine Peake and Amanda Root take on Hester in Leeds and Chichester respectively but now, Helen McCrory stakes her claim as one of the finest living British actors in playing the part at the National Theatre. 

The production sees her reunite with director Carrie Cracknell after their striking Medea, and their collaboration similarly heightens the blistering emotion of the drama. Terence Rattigan’s story of shattered lives in a shattered post-WWII society drew heavily on his own tumultuous romantic life, homosexual subtext thus coded into the tale of a woman unable to maintain the veneer of respectability to a judge she does not love, instead opting to plunge into the instability of an affair with a troubled former RAF pilot. Continue reading “Review: The Deep Blue Sea, National”

Review: Reasons to be Happy, Hampstead

“That’s like practically incest”

Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Happy actually takes the form of a sequel of sorts to his earlier work Reasons to be Pretty, seen at the Almeida in 2011. Reflecting that continuity, director Michael Attenborough returns along with Soutra Gilmour as designer, reprising what looks like the same shipping container and rather oddly, just one of the original quartet of actors. Tom Burke is back as lead character Greg but the luminous lights of Siân Brooke, Kieran Bew and Billie Piper are replaced by Lauren O’Neil, Warren Brown and Robyn Addison.

You don’t need to have seen Reasons to be Pretty to see Reasons to be Happy but it certainly helps as the play picks up three years later on as their tangled inter-relationships have reconfigured into a new and different mess. Greg and Steph are no longer together but a spark still remains between them as evidenced by the blazing row that opens the show, as it did in Pretty. But she’s married to someone else and he’s having it off with her best friend Carly, who is the ex-wife of his best friend Kent who is in turn keen on getting back with the mother of his child. Continue reading “Review: Reasons to be Happy, Hampstead”

Short Film Review #29

ET IN MOTORCADIA EGO! from Tim Plester on Vimeo.

The ‘other’ 50th anniversary of the weekend was of the assassination of JFK and released with impeccable timing, Et in Motorcadia Ego! tips the hat to the huge place that that event occupied in popular culture. Written and directed by Tim Plester (and adapted from his own full-length play), it takes the form of a spontaneous dream-poem and performed by the intensely magnetic Kieran Bew, it is something spectacular. Plester’s camera loves the bearded Bew, but mixes shots of his recital with flashes of dream-like imagery to create something visually stunning and combined with the viscerally rich poetry, this is definitely recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #29”

Short Film Review #20

 

 

It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Adam Wimpenny’s film Roar is a slow-burning look at what happens when a customer gives a well-meaning key-cutter the brushoff. Jodie Whittaker’s Eva has just had a dodgy experience picking up her dry cleaning from Tom Burke’s salacious Mick and Tom, Russell Tovey, who works in the same shop follows her to make amends. But she understandably doesn’t want to know and J.S. Hill’s story turns its gaze onto Tom and the loneliness of his life. It’s Christmastime and so his estrangement from his father cuts particularly hard but as his attempts at contact are rebuffed, something breaks inside of him… Wimpenny builds the tension of the film excellently, giving us a sense of how desolate watching others’ festive joy can make a person and finding genuinely chilling moments to make us jump. Not one to watch on your own in the dark.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #20”

Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre

“Cure guaranteed”

George Bernard Shaw’s 1906 medical ethics drama The Doctor’s Dilemma had a lot to live up to as the last time I was in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre was for the superlative The Last of the Haussmans, one of my favourite plays of the year so far, but though it didn’t quite scale those heights for me, it did emerge as a most satisfying night at the theatre. Shaw’s play centres on the newly ennobled Sir Colenso Ridgeon, a doctor who has discovered a new cure for tuberculosis but only has limited space on his trial. When the beautiful Jennifer Dubedat pleads for the inclusion of her talented artist husband, he is torn as his penniless colleague Dr Blenkinsop is also suffering from the disease and so Ridgeon and his colleagues gather to assess and discuss who is the worthier candidate for treatment.

Peter McKintosh’s set design is an effective triumph and ingenious to the extent that it garnered a round of applause at one point (although it will be slightly less surprising to those that saw this play). It possesses the requisite austere grandeur in all its incarnations of artists’ garrets, Richmond eateries, Bond Street art galleries and Harley Street salons into which Nadia Fall places her talented cast. Genevieve O’Reilly brings a stunning self-possessed statuesque dignity to Jennifer, almost too reserved until the devastating turbulence of the final act reveals all she has been concealing, Tom Burke dances across the stage with a quicksilver lightness as the manipulative Dubedat whose artistic talent has to be weighed against his problematic morals and Aden Gillett (who should always wear a full beard, always) is magnificent as Sir Colenso, pondering the titular dilemma with an aptly detached manner as befits his finely aristocratic bearing. Continue reading “Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre”

TV Review: Great Expectations

“If you can’t beat a boy at Christmas when can you beat him?”

One of the centrepieces of the BBC’s festive television schedule was a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by Sarah Phelps. Dickens could well loom large in the coming months as it is the 200th anniversary of his birth in February, but I’m not yet aware of a deluge of programming, whether on television or in the theatre, though I am reliably informed that there’s many radio serialisation on at the moment. As is often the case with new productions of classics, the key word is adaptation and though purists may baulk at some of the changes instituted by Phelps and director Brian Kirk, but that would be a shame as I found this to be a rather special piece of television, the BBC doing what it does best.

From the gorgeously, hauntingly atmospheric landscapes of the beginning – Magwitch rising from the mists of the wetlands was a perfect opening scene – the show looked a treat. The splendid isolation of the Gargerys’ house making for some beautiful shots (though it did pose the question of who exactly used that forge…) and the faded glamour of the dust-covered Satis House was excellently judged, the perfect receptacle for the casting choice that caused the most headlines prior to transmission: Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham. Continue reading “TV Review: Great Expectations”

Review: Reasons To Be Pretty, Almeida

“I guess there’s a compliment wedged in there somewhere”

Neil LaBute has developed a reputation for fierce writing, exposing the darker side of human nature with an often uncompromisingly abrasive approach, but his new play at the Almeida – Reasons To Be Pretty – sees him adopt a slightly mellower tone to devastatingly powerful effect. Continuing the exploration of society’s obsession with looks and beauty that occupied earlier plays like The Shape of Things and Fat Pig, LaBute also examines disillusionment in relationships and how that can lead to betrayal.

The play opens with an intensely sharp argument between lovers Steph and Greg: he described her as regular in comparison to a new arrival in the factory where he works with best friend Kent and she found out when her friend Carly told her: she is horrified but he doesn’t see what the big deal is and their confrontations reveal cracks in their relationship. Meanwhile Carly is facing her own trials with husband Kent, expecting their child but worried he might not continue to find her attractive – how appearances are perceived is key for everyone. Continue reading “Review: Reasons To Be Pretty, Almeida”

Review: Design for Living, Old Vic

“I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me.”

Design for Living was banned in the UK for six years when first written in 1933 due to its risqué content, possibly a reaction to the sexually decisive lead female character rather than the hinted-at bisexuality and threesomes contained within, Broadway had no such issue and so it played there first instead. This production launches the Autumn/Winter season at the Old Vic and marks the first of two consecutive trips there for Lisa Dillon (she’ll be appearing in A Flea In Her Ear with Tom Hollander there next). This is a review of the second preview, so bear that in mind as I go on about how fantastic it was!

The play is set in the 1930s, following the ménage à trois between Gilda, a wealthy interior designer, playwright Leo and artist Otto as they test the boundaries of relationships in pursuing their mutual love. Over a few years and from Paris to London to New York, we see the strains of defying social conventions and loving two people equally takes their toll but finally force all three of them into deciding what they truly want. Continue reading “Review: Design for Living, Old Vic”