Review: Alice – A Virtual Theme Park

Doing the Macarena with the Queen of Hearts? But of course. Alice – A Virtual Theme Park does an excellent job of blending technical innovation with live theatre

“There ought to be a book written about me”

There’s rarely a dearth of opportunities to visit Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s ever-popular source material a frequent presence in theatres but with Alice – A Virtual Theme Park, there’s a very much 21st century take which works surprisingly well. And given Covid-19, it isn’t a play but rather a multiplatform, multiple choice experience.

Let the Cheshire Cat guide you through your Zoom settings and listen to Leda Douglas’ inquisitive Alice as she takes us down the rabbit hole, and the scene is then set for an inspired, interactive and family-friendly journey with these familiar characters, effectively curated by Creation Theatre. Continue reading “Review: Alice – A Virtual Theme Park”

TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)

Series 2 of Chewing Gum sees Michaela Coel nail the ‘two series and out’ trajectory of some of the best British sitcoms

“I’m not 17, I’m a grown-up woman. I just…regularly make childlike mistakes”

I belatedly came to Chewing Gum just now and watched both the first series and this second one in a single sitting each, their addictive nature and too-easily bingeable lengths giving me two fine nights in front of the TV.

Writer and creator Michaela Coel rarely let her imagination get in the way of the first six episodes but here, the expansion of Tracey’s world beyond her Tower Hamlets estate is quite simply fucking hilarious. Plus, the marvellous Sinéad Matthews appears in this series too. Continue reading “TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 3, Episode 1

I can’t work up much enthusiasm for the first episode of this third series of Sky Atlantic show Fortitude 

“I’m not putting that in my notebook”

The first series of Simon Donald’s Fortitude was a revelation as its ricocheting from style to style cohered into something most effective so Sky Atlantic’s to commission a second was not unexpected but nor was it successful. So it was something of a surprise to discover a third season was in the works but at just four episodes long, to wrap the story, it might just do something to right those wrongs.

On the evidence of this first episode though, I’m not too sure. The mythos of the show has become so convoluted and depressingly nasty that it is hard to work up the enthusiasm for the trials of these (fool)hardy residents in the far north of Arctic Norway. The wasps with their prehistoric parasites are still causing all kinds of trouble for everyone as more and more people are changed and made more violent and, well, watch this space… 

Dispatches from the Vaults #2

“I didn’t think you all look the same”

I saw Tim Foley’s Astronauts of Hartlepool at the end of a long weekend and truth be told, I was just too tired to enjoy it properly. I’d love to read it and see it again, and then probably read it again, to get a fuller appreciation of how complex its hour. Layers upon layers are built up by Foley in his political sci-fi epic (Battlestar Galactica (the remake) as done by BBC3) in which Sophie Steer’s Aidan encounters multiple versions of Rakhee Thakrar’s dimension-hopping Nadia. They always meet in Hartlepool but all is not what it seems, even for the Brexit-voting North-East and Foley intelligently works in a deep critique of where we’ve let our country get to as well as keeping the tone admirably light. I just need to be less tired so I can concentrate more, sorry y’all.

Borderland/Calais was formulated as a response to not just the closure of the Calais refugee camps but also the media coverage thereof, using verbatim theatre techniques to give voice to those disenfranchised, dehumanised, demonised even by being part of what could be called one of the great humanitarian crises of the 21st Century. Over the week of the run, the programme featured a range of guest performers, from Rudi Dharmalingam, Lucy Ellinson and Yusra Warsama, to Denise Gough and Vera Chok who I saw deliver Borderland, written by Prasanna Puwanarajah and Stephanie Street, and Inua Ellam who performed Calais, woven from the Twitter Feeds of the Help Refugees and the Refugee Info Bus by Maddy Costa. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #2”

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick

“I do feel it gone, But know not how it went”

Perhaps one of the biggest lures of the newly established Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and its year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre is the return of Dame Judi Dench to the stage, playing Paulina in their opening production of The Winter’s Tale. One of the pre-eminent Shakespeareans of this or any age, the run largely sold out in advance proving the astute business sense but with Branagh and Rob Ashford co-directing this oft-described problem play, does it make artistic sense?

And I’m not 100% sure that it does, this doesn’t feel like a production that one will remember as a classic of our time. It is undoubtedly a difficult play to mount, the chilly stateliness of the first act’s Sicilia contrasting strongly with the permissive post-interval (and 16 years hence) Bohemia and with a rambling plot full of statuesque tragicomedy, it’s a hard one to love. Branagh and Ashford keep things more or less traditional, and of course excellently spoken, but rarely soul-stirringly good. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick”

Review: Hidden, Royal Court

“Where are you from?
No, where you from?
Where are you really from?”

Live Lunch is an intermittent series at the Royal Court which acts as a showcase for writers both new and established to delve into under-explored areas of drama. In this instance, a group of playwrights were commissioned to create short plays with British East Asian experiences at the heart of their stories and the result is Hidden, six dramas “exploding myths, questioning types and discovering hidden narratives” of a section of the population who are chronically under-represented in British cultural life. Directed by Lucy Morrison, a company of eight actors gave two lunchtime readings of the programme.

There’s something rather awe-inspiring about the rehearsed reading format. With barely three hours of rehearsal for each piece and scripts in hand, there’s a rawness to the performance level which enhances it somewhat, the occasional stumble over words giving some of the texts a believably natural feel. And seeing the speed with which the actors traverse grand emotions as they flick from play to play is truly admirable, Lourdes Faberes particularly impressing in casting off a tear-soaked character to move swiftly to the studied enigma of the next. Continue reading “Review: Hidden, Royal Court”

Some initial points of interest* about The Hard Problem at National Theatre

  • Damien Molony looking cute in a cardigan
  • The line “she was milking the family buffalo at 8” is mentioned. It is a winner.
  • Damien Molony looking strangely alluring in a lady’s shorty robe
  • Olivia Vinall looks to be the new Hattie Morahan, and delivers the leading role here with a delightful mixture of charm and confidence – nice to see her outwith Shakespearean damsel mode for once
  • Damien Molony’s thighs in said robe. *swoons*
  • Stoppard hasn’t reined in his tendency to lay his research bare. Not sure what a hedge fund is? A character conveniently asks the question to allow an explanation… Nor is there a huge deal of sophistication in his plotting, the twists that come seem rather obvious (though this could possibly have been his intention)
  • Damien Molony in his boxers
  • The play does have some meaty, fascinating aspects to it though, pairing up thoughtful forays into God versus science and the mind versus the brain, whilst also delving into the financial markets, research ethics and the vagaries of human behaviour, especially under pressure. Heaven only knows what those who’ve done their homework will make of it, for me it could do with exploiting the emotional angle more fully.
  • For all his hotness, Damien Molony could really do with enunciating and projecting a little better.
  • And plus ça change at the Dorfman/Cottesloe as in its end-on configuration, Row S clearly stands for severely restricted view – the cheap seats in the gallery on the right hand side (looking at the stage) cut off an area where Hytner frustratingly places actors on a regular basis. Even leaning didn’t really help. And with all the recent renovation work, it’s surprising the NT hasn’t managed to put signs up to Door C or Row S (or indeed placed ushers on that level to help out customers).
  • I continue to love Lucy Robinson, my first ever Lady Macbeth, even when she’s forced to swear like she’s in a Richard Curtis film.
  • Some gorgeous brainwave and synapse-inspired design work by Bob Crowley and lighting designer Mark Henderson make it visually arresting, though the reliance on the piano soundtrack felt a little clichéd and uninspired. Press go in on Wednesday though it is hard to imagine, that with this being Hytner’s directorial swansong as Artistic Director and Stoppard’s first new play in nine years, that a certain air of benevolence won’t characterise a goodly portion of the critical responses. If you’ve been already, let me know what you thought of it.

*Yes, shallowness abounds but hey, it’s Friday night.
Show information can be found here
Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 16th April (though new dates to be released in next booking period and returns often pop up)

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”