Review: Curtains, Rose Theatre Kingston

As our ageing population continues to, well, age, Stephen Bill’s Curtains at the Rose Theatre Kingston puts euthanasia in the spotlight.

“Fourteen more years and you’ll get your telegram from the Queen”

Stephen Bill’s 1987 play Curtains feels at once a curious choice to revive and yet an appropriate play for the Rose Kingston, a theatre that often seems to be searching for its audience, or at least the right material to put in front of it. Curtains has a play-of-the-day feel to it as it seeks to deal with its big issue and in some ways, achieves a measure of success.

The issue at hand is euthanasia. Ida’s family is celebrating her 86th birthday around her but it’s her party, she’ll cry if she wants to, for old age has ravaged her pain-wracked body and dementia is starting to take its toll. And as her three daughters and associated friends and family members gather round, cracks begin to show in their determination to have a good time.  Continue reading “Review: Curtains, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs

“I’m not trying to justify it…that’s the fucking point”

The next couple of shows programmed at the Hampstead Downstairs are two shows that have previously done well – Deposit and Alligators, which interestingly have press nights scheduled, contrary to the usual practice there. For the moment though, it is the thought-provoking and morally complex Diminished – Sam Hoare’s debut play – that is occupying the experimental space.

In Polly Sullivan’s starkly uncompromising arena, designed in the round and directed by Tom Attenborough, we first witness a psychiatric session between the high-functioning Mary and her clearly intrigued doctor. They banter almost flirtatiously, dancing around diagnoses and discussions, as we edge closer to the revelation that she’s being held in a secure facility after the death of her severely disabled young daughter. Continue reading “Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs”

DVD Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Atonement (2007)”

DVD Review: Mary Reilly (1996)

“I always knew you’d be the death of us.”

Even the look on Julia Roberts’ face is warning you away, ‘don’t watch Mary Reilly, it isn’t that good a film at all and my fringe is terrible’. Not only her fringe, her Irish accent is atrocious and inconsistent and the whole premise of the film – a retelling of the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde story from Valerie Martin’s novel – rests on people not being able to recognise John Malkovich in a wig and coloured contacts. 

It could have been so much more promising. Director Stephen Frears reunited several of his Dangerous Liaisons colleagues – screenwriter Christopher Hampton, actors Malkovich and Glenn Close, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and several others – but the slow, dour nature of the film is horrifically exacerbated by Roberts and Malkovich’s performances in all their miscast, malformed unglory. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mary Reilly (1996)”

Review: Now This Is Not The End, Arcola

“Everybody told us to forget about it. Now we’re all dying and everybody wants us to remember”

Eva’s memory is failing, daughter Susan recorded some of her recollections of her youth in Berlin but the cassette has gone missing and her daughter Rosie couldn’t care less, having adopted Berlin as her new home, withdrawing from the very family connection that her mother is trying to preserve. Skittering between London and Berlin and over the course of more than a decade, Rose Lewenstein’s Now This Is Not The End is a slight but serious piece of drama that eloquently explores how we’re moulded by our families, no matter how much emotional or physical distance we try to put between us.

Katie Lewis’ production is strongest when these three women are interacting, demonstrating that even though they’re trying the opposite, they’re carrying so much of their family legacy down from one generation to the next. Brigit Forsyth’s Eva subtly suggesting that her aloofness isn’t just a symptom of the early stages of her condition, Wendy Nottingham’s brittle Susan trying and failing not to repeat the lessons of the past, and Jasmine Blackborow’ spiky Rosie rather achingly looking for a sense of her own identity in a world with no easy answers. Continue reading “Review: Now This Is Not The End, Arcola”

Short Film Review: #52

 

An achingly beautiful story of two former lovers who meet up again over a pint and rehash some painful personal history. Declan Feenan’s writing is deliberately spare as the pair skirt around the real issues that are on the table and as the tension ratchets up towards the end, there’s still a very powerful use of poetic language, almost hypnotic in its telling. It helps that my newest crush Liz White is the one detailing what was done to her as a bedraggled Con O’Neill hangs his head in shame, and Jonathan Humphrey’s direction ensures a beautiful sense of imagery permeates the film, whether in profile shots or the dream-like reminiscences that can never be forgotten. Highly recommended.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review: #52”

Review: Donkey Heart, Old Red Lion

“This has been going on for years…we never put it right, it just repeats.”

Mere mortals don’t stand a chance without a dynasty behind them… Moses Raine’s father is noted poet Craig and his sister is playwright and director Nina (who looked into my very soul with the peerless Tribes) and not only that, his mother, who has her own literary career, is the niece of Boris Pasternak who wrote Doctor Zhivago. And it is to the Russian connection that Moses has turned to write his new play Donkey Heart, directed by Nina, which opens at the Old Red Lion with one of the best casts you could hope to see in any intimate theatre, never mind one perched atop an Islington pub.

Casting director Emily Jones definitely deserves mention for gathering such an illustrious company on the fringe – such experience as Wendy Nottingham and Patrick Godfrey, the younger talents of Emily Bruni and James Musgrave and emerging with one of the performances of the year so far, Lisa Diveney, She plays Sasha, the 20-something daughter of a Moscow family, three generations of which are compressed into a small apartment, along with a British visitor Thomas, her brother’s mouthy girlfriend and her father’s PA whose been stung by her landlord. Continue reading “Review: Donkey Heart, Old Red Lion”

DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

 “Even letters don’t want to be sent here”

The term black comedy is often used in reference to Russian works and in the case of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, it is well–earned. A short TV series from 2012 produced by Sky and based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s collection of short stories entitled A Country Doctor’s Notebook, it follows the experiences of a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Moscow and landed with an isolated post deep in the Russian countryside where even the nearest shop is half a day away by coach.

It frames these growing pains of a doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) learning how to deal with the practical, as opposed to the theoretical study at which he excelled, with scenes from 20 years or so in the future, when the doctor (now played by Jon Hamm) has been exposed as a morphine addict and has found his old diary. Hamm’s Doctor then dips in and out of the earlier scenes, interacting solely with his younger self and trying to offer a way through his crises of inexperience. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook”

Review: The Winslow Boy, Old Vic

“Which of us knows the truth about himself?”

Following the huge success of his centenary year in 2011, it seems safe to say that Terence Rattigan has now been fully rehabilitated back into the theatrical fold, somewhere near the top of the list of twentieth century British dramatists. One of his major plays that did not appear in London that year was The Winslow Boy so it is to that 1946 work that the Old Vic has turned, with Lindsay Posner directing a quality cast including Henry Goodman and Deborah Findlay. 

The Winslow boy himself is Ronnie, a 14 year old cadet at the Royal Naval college at Osborne who is expelled in shame after being accused of the theft of a five shilling postal order. His father, retired banker Arthur, takes up the mantle of defending his son’s honour but the huge legal case that snowballs out from this affair has ramifications far beyond whether Ronnie is actually guilty or not.  Continue reading “Review: The Winslow Boy, Old Vic”

Review: Step 9 (of 12), Trafalgar Studios 2

“You can’t serve someone a cup of gravy”

What a difference a year makes. Last summer saw Rob Hayes’ play Step 9 (of 12) premiere somewhat off the radar at the New Britannia Theatre (above the better known pub of the same name by Victoria Park), but it has now taken a giant step to receive a new production in the West End’s Trafalgar Studios 2 and snag one of The Inbetweeners for the main role into the bargain. I say this like I know what it means but I have to tell you that I’ve never seen the show and it has languished in my low priority list on Lovefilm for ages now – though I am now given to understand that it is very popular (I don’t think those autograph hunters were there for me…)!

Blake Harrison is that actor, who takes on the role of Keith here, a man recovering from alcohol addiction and working his way through the 12-step programme to serenity and sobriety. As he reaches step 9 – making direct amends to people who’ve been harmed – he invites his long-suffering foster parents Alan and Judith around to his bedsit, but raking over the past on the road to forgiveness – or rather Keith’s interpretation of forgiveness – proves to be a highly provocative and problematic affair. Continue reading “Review: Step 9 (of 12), Trafalgar Studios 2”