DVD Review: Anonymous

“Let me offer you a different story”

Any film that contains someone being dragged to the theatre saying “there won’t be puppets will there?” is bound to be a winner with me. And if that film has also courted controversy then my interest is bound to be piqued. But the publicity campaign against Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous was so vociferous that it disappeared from cinemas before I got the chance to see it and so I had to wait for it to emerge on DVD. Why so controversial? Emmerich’s (better known for loud blockbusters like Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow) film is based on the premise that the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was in fact the true author of the works normally attributed to Shakespeare. Thus a great outcry was launched, by the people and scholars for whom this is the biggest deal, and the film largely scuppered.

Which ultimately is a shame, as I found it to be rather an enjoyable film and somewhat perversely, the authorship question is just one of many strands of story in what turns out to be a historical political thriller, mainly based around the succession to the throne as Elizabeth I’s reign has produced no (legitimate) heirs. That one of the key players in her court just happens to be a playwright on the sly, who is forced to use a surrogate by the name of William to get his plays staged, is taken as a given here and it makes for an entertaining ‘what if’ scenario. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anonymous”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare on 3

“What should it be that they so shriek abroad”

After Twelfth Night, the Shakespeare on 3 radio season continues with Romeo and Juliet with the same company, plus a few additions, taking on the Bard’s work again. Whereas there’s a nice sense of continuity about it, it’s an odd choice as there’s another play, The Tempest, to complete the season which uses a different cast. And it is also a slightly difficult choice in the limitations it imposes on the casting, although this may just be a personal thing as it took a long time for me accept the idea of Trystan Gravelle, an actor I really like, as the teenage Romeo.

His voice is so melodiously identifiable that I completely failed at convincing myself I was listening to Romeo rather than Gravelle, and even if you’re not familiar with him, I’m pretty sure he just sounds too old and experienced for the role. Paired with Vanessa Kirby as Juliet, whose voice I struggled to warm to in Twelfth Night, it made for an ignominious beginning despite the evocative sound design of the piece. But something eventually clicked after about an hour, whether it was my preconception finally dying down or the production finding another gear or some combination of both, and from their post-coital glow of tenderness I completely bought into them as a couple. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare on 3”

Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare on 3

“Oh had I but followed the arts”

Joining in the veritable orgy of Bard love that is currently going on, the BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked season has a wide-ranging programme of features, not least three radio productions of his plays by the Drama on 3 team, two of which are cross-cast from the same company which was full of names I like and was keen to hear. First up was Sally Avens’ Twelfth Night, probably most notable for casting David Tennant as Malvolio.

I haven’t ever just listened to a Shakespeare play before, and though I wasn’t doubting the poetry of Shakespeare’s words, I did wonder what effect removing the visual, and Twelfth Night is a very visual play, would have on the whole. Knowing the play fairly well was both a blessing and a curse in some ways – little was ever likely to surprise me and I had no sense of what this would be like for a first-time-listener, but that knowledge also meant I could relax a little rom trying to work out what was going on. And fortunately, a cast of great experience and talent meant that the thrusting of the language front and centre was a largely successful exercise. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare on 3”

Review: Afternoon Dramas – Lilo and My One and Only

Time is slipping away from me somewhat and so I’m going to cheat a little by lumping together reviews of Radio 4 Afternoon Plays into one post which might hide the fact they’re more mini-reviews than anything. I do like to diarise everything theatrical, such being the addictive nature of maintaining this blog, and so I wanted to tip the nod to these plays, Lilo by Katie Hims but particularly Dawn King’s most excellent My One and Only.

I first became aware of King with her darkly atmospheric play Foxfinder at the Finborough last year which I rather enjoyed, so was looking forward to My One and Only even before the announcement of the frankly fantabulous Katherine Parkinson as Layla, one of the lead roles in this tale about stalkerish obsessive love and the modern technological age facilitates that all too easily. A modern advancement of the epistolary form, this play is made up purely of phone calls yet King manages to build up character and mood in the most effective of manners as the tale twists and turns with jaw-dropping revelations and heart-stopping tension. Continue reading “Review: Afternoon Dramas – Lilo and My One and Only”

2012 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Best Male Performance
Aden Gillett in Accolade at the Finborough
Trystan Gravelle in Honest at the Queen’s Head Pub
Michael Matus in The Baker’s Wife at the Union
David Wilson Barnes in Becky Shaw at the Almeida

Best Female Performance
Kelly Burke in Zelda at the Charing Cross Hotel
Vicky Campbell in I Am A Camera at the Rosemary Branch
Lisa Dillon in Knot Of The Heart at the Almeida
Vinette Robinson in Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse

Best New Play
Knot of The Heart by David Eldridge at the Almeida 
Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann at the Lyric Hammersmith
The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells at the Bush Continue reading “2012 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: 13, National Theatre

“Over the last year, it feels like it’s all falling apart…in this country…across the world…”

Mike Bartlett can probably lay claim to being one of the most interesting new British playwrights to emerge this century, steadily building his oeuvre of plays that pick at modern life and expose its shortcomings… And as his profile increases, so too have the stature of the commissions, moving from the Royal Court – where I saw his Cock  – to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre with last year’s Earthquakes in London and now graduating to the Olivier – the youngest writer in 10 years to be staged there – with his latest new play 13.

What is it all ‘about’ I hear you say. Well if that question is foremost in your mind then it is likely that you may be disappointed with 13, as it eschews a conventional sense of narrative for the creation of apocalyptic foreboding in a contemporary London that feels all too realistic. For it is a piece of writing that feels incredibly pertinent, full of up-to-the-minute references to public disorder, social media, student riots and the Arab Spring, concerning a society wracked with disturbing dreams and a crippling uncertainty. What Bartlett alights on is the importance of belief, not necessarily in God but having some conviction that things will be ok if we trust our instincts, and the succour that is gained from collecting as a group behind such beliefs. Continue reading “Review: 13, National Theatre”

Review: Edgar and Annabel, National Theatre

As mentioned in the main review for Double Feature 1, of which this is the opening play, the less you know about Edgar and Annabel in advance the better, as this really is one of those watching experiences that benefits hugely from being allowed to unfold in front of us without any forewarning. So this is your last warning, I will try to avoid too many spoilers but if you’re thinking about going to see this, stop reading (and then come back afterwards!)

Sam Holcroft’s tightly-crafted new play takes place in a land gripped in a police state, with people under constant surveillance in their own homes, where a brave few are attempting to stand up to the ‘Orwellian establishment’. In their kitchen, young married professionals Edgar and Annabel go about their daily business, but it is soon apparent that not all is what it seems. Continue reading “Review: Edgar and Annabel, National Theatre”

Review: There is a War, National Theatre

Tom Basden’s There is a War makes for a more entertaining second half of Double Feature 2, at least for the first few scenes. Occupying the kind of slightly surreal version of reality he has become known for, it is set in a non-specific domain where a civil war is being waged between the Blues and the Greys.

When he is being sharply satirical, Basden is at his best and it shows in the great opening third of the show and the way he skewers the group mentalities that emerge. Whether it is the meaningless bureaucracy of the military, the lengths some people are driven to to avoid certain things, the hypocrisy of the peace protestors, or the sheer ridiculousness of a conflict that no-one is 100% sure about – exactly how different is blue from grey anyway… – yet they all take part in it anyway, he mines a brilliantly dark shaft of humour through the brief appearances of some hilarious characters. Kirsty Bushell’s fantastically-unprepared dance-drama teacher, Trevor Cooper’s Big Dave – advising Richard Hope’s Field Commander Goodman on military strategy, the imprisoned yet chirpy soldier (I think played by Richard Goulding): they all help play up the absurdity of the situation. Continue reading “Review: There is a War, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Love’s Labours Lost, Shakespeare’s Globe

“He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument”

Working my way through the Globe DVD collection from their 2009 season has been good fun and a nice way to catch up on shows that I did not see and in the case of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a show that I have never actually seen. Dominic Dromgoole’s revival of his 2007 production brought back several original cast members (although sadly not Gemma Arterton who made her stage debut here) to this early Shakespearean comedy.

Not having any knowledge or preconceptions about a play is always a nice state of affairs for me, but by the end I could tell that this was surely going to be one of those of his works that is deemed problematic. The King of Navarre and his court decide to forswear women and pleasure for serious study but the arrival of the Princess of France and her ladies and their mischievous ways challenges their resolve. But not content with four potential couplings, the youthful Shakespeare works in a number of additional sub-plots which seriously pull focus from any main story and combined with an extreme wordiness – it’s often trying too hard to be clever to be genuinely funny – and a kicker of an ending, it does make for a rather odd experience. Continue reading “DVD Review: Love’s Labours Lost, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Honest, Queen’s Head Pub

“This department is not fit for purpose”

First staged at the Mailcoach pub in Northampton under the aegis of Royal & Derngate, Northampton followed by a highly successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, DC Moore’s 40 minute monologue Honest now arrives in London. As the set-up is simply a man talking in a pub, so this show has actually been playing pubs rather than theatres, in London it has taken up residence in the Queen’s Head near Piccadilly Circus and right next to the Piccadilly Theatre where Grease is currently playing.

Honest starts as Dave takes his seat in the pub alongside us, takes a sip from his half of bitter and starts to talk about the prevalence of lying and deceit in all aspects of modern life, something which irks him something rotten as he’s a guy who believes that honesty is the best policy whether it concerns family, work colleagues or complete strangers. He regales us with amusing razor-sharp anecdotes about the inanities of office life in an obscure government department, full of over-promoted idiots and endless office celebrations and how sickened he is by having become complicit in not telling people what he really thinks of them. But absolute honesty comes at a price and things come to a head, as they are wont to do, at a drunken work night out when he finally snaps and tells his boss exactly what he thinks of him. He then sets off on a booze-fuelled stagger through South London to find his nephew and be faced with some home truths. Continue reading “Review: Honest, Queen’s Head Pub”