Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)

Given the current discourse around Churchill and the aspects of British history that are commonly taught, watching A United Kingdom couldn’t be more timely

“Would you care for a sherry?”

It’s no secret that the realities of British colonial history are too often and too easily brushed under the carpet. And so it’s no surprise that it is directors of colour who are dragging them into the spotlight, as Amma Asante does with A United Kingdom. You can’t imagine a history lesson that wouldn’t benefit from screening this for its students.

Written by Guy Hibbert from Susan Williams’ Colour Bar, it is based on the true-life story of a law student named Seretse and a underwriters’ clerk named Ruth who met at a dance and fell in love, the film intelligently explores and exposes post-war British imperialist attitudes as well as giving us an epic love story. Continue reading “Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”

Reviewer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“A manly enterprise”

Propeller’s 2013/14 tour sees them revive their productions ofThe Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the latter kicking things off in a few venues this winter before the former joins it in rep early next year. The all-male Shakespeare company has rightfully garnered considerable praise for its innovative ensemble-driven approach to the Bard’s works but returning to this interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, previously seen in 2003 and 2009, sees them lose a little of that special magic that they have previously brought to bear.

Located in a Victorian attic of sorts, the story of the course of true love is surprisingly leaden in a protracted first half which fails to reveal any real sense of purpose to Edward Hall’s production. The ducal court is dull with a criminally insipid Hippolyta, any character that does arrive in Will Featherstone’s performance is too little too late; there’s a quartet of curiously bloodless lovers, with only Dan Wheeler’s Helena really standing out; and the Rude Mechanicals are serviceable but little more. Joseph Chance’s Wizard of Oz-inspired Puck really is the saving grace with his supple slyness.  Continue reading “Reviewer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Southwark Playhouse

“Here’s a snip and nip and cut and slish and slash”

Robin Norton-Hale has been responsible for reinvigorating (or even inventing) the genre of pub opera with the wildly successful La Bohème, followed up by Don Giovanni this year and now turns her hand to Shakespeare with this adaption of The Taming of the Shrew at Southwark Playhouse. The modernisation sees us located in 21st century Brixton, the train map in the programme guiding us through stations such as Mantua Hill, Old Naples Road and Milan House allowing the Italian place names to remain in situ. And in Cherry Truluck’s cluttered market stall design, there’s a raft of amusing little touches: Katherine is first seen reading Margaret Attwood, Hortensio woos in his music lesson with a rendition of Mad World, Grumio serves up microwaved lasagne for dinner and there’s a mobile phone gag which is still making me chuckle now.

But the updating is merely cosmetic in the final analysis, the text – although considerably trimmed and reshaped here – doesn’t really impose any new interpretative framework onto the play and so the problems that can be found remain, and in some cases are exacerbated. Times have changed (although some might say not enough) and so the story struggles to connect in the modern-day context: Katherine doesn’t need to get married and could strike out on her own whenever she wanted – the opportunities available now are worlds apart from the 17th century, the economic and social pressures just aren’t there and so the motivation behind her actions is not particularly evident in this production. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“They see you as a hussy who planned to get your claws into the King from the moment you came to Court”

Another revisit to a play in a month that has seen a fair few and once again, it was to a play I hadn’t intended to see for a second time. This time it was Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn which premiered at the Globe last summer and which seriously impressed as a piece of new writing which managed to bring a potentially very dry historical subject to vibrant life, both enlightening and amusing audiences in equal measure and earning its star, the luminous Miranda Raison, a Best Actress fosterIAN nomination. When it was first announced that it was returning as part of the 2011 Globe Season, the lacking of accompanying casting news led me (and others) to suspect that she would not be returning with the production and so I was quite happy not to bother seeing it again. Sod’s law dictated that Raison did indeed return though and so my resistance was quickly work down and a visit made to the penultimate performance of the run.

My review from last year can be read here and little has changed in that I really did love it just as much second time round. I’d forgotten just how witty it was from start to finish and just how well-written the whole thing is, but particularly the role of Anne. It really is a superb part, shedding a brand new light on a historical figure of whom so much has already been said, but Brenton makes a convincing case for her as a truly unique figure, dazzling with intelligence but also possessed of reckless abandon in the pursuit of her goals. And Miranda Raison breathes such delightful life into her portrayal, brimming with self-confidence and a self-assurance that allows her to dominate Henry VIII for years whilst his divorce with ‘the Aragon cow’ is sorted out yet makes her entirely likeable. Continue reading “Re-review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Make the coming hour o’erflow with joy and pleasure drown the brim”

 All’s Well That Ends Well occupies an enigmatic place in the Shakespearean canon, grouped as one of the ‘problem plays’ since it does not fit neatly into one category or another – an enigmatically dark comedy full of ambiguity and curious ethics which means it is not one of the more regularly performed plays, indeed this is the first production to grace the stage of the Globe.

Helena is in love with the arrogant Bertram, son of her guardian the Countess of Rousillon, despite him being well out of her league as she is but a commoner. But when she utilises the skills left to her by her deceased physician father to cure to the King of France of a painful fistula and he gratefully offers a reward of her choosing, she seizes the opportunity to have the king allow her to marry the man of her choosing. Bertram does not take too kindly to being coerced thus and reluctantly submits to the betrothal but declares he will never be a true husband until two seemingly impossible conditions are met and leaves France for Italy to become a soldier, hoping to never see Helena again but she is one determined young lady. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would lose my life rather than my honesty”

Anne Boleyn marks the first new play in this year’s programme at Shakespeare’s Globe. Written by Howard Brenton, it features Miranda Raison in the title role, continuing a character that she also plays in Shakespeare’s own Henry VIII, also playing in rep. This is a review of the first preview, so please bear that in mind whilst reading my thoughts below.
 
The play covers the life of Anne Boleyn from her time in court as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, through her developing relationship with Henry VIII and the ideals of Protestant reform, ideas that ultimately caused her downfall but also sowed the seeds for the huge upheaval that culminated in the Civil War. What Brenton has done though, is to couple this story with the story of James I trying to establish control over a sceptical kingdom and varied religious groupings, centring around his commission of a new translation of the Bible. James is haunted, literally, by Anne’s ghost and her legacy and the two combine to great effect. Continue reading “Review: Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe

“You that thus far have come to pity me, hear what I say, and then go home and lose me”

Not having seen Henry VIII before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the second play in the Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe (this was the second preview) and as delightfully coloured cod-pieces and a mightily impressive heaving bosom (bosoms?) emerged in the course of the first act, I suspected we could be in for a right rollicking good time. This play takes place in the middle of Henry’s reign and follows the rise and fall of four important people in his life, the Duke of Buckingham, his first wife Katherine of Aragon, the Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer. It mixes up elements of history, tragedy and romance and wraps it all up in the opulent pageantry of the era but it also allows us to see behind the scenes, the gossiping, the politicking and those moments when the mask slips and we see glimpses of the real people behind the public personae.

It is full of stately pomp and circumstance and the set-pieces are visually stunning: Anne Bullen’s procession through the theatre at her coronation, Princess Elizabeth’s christening, even Katherine of Aragon’s trial, all are sumptuously mounted and there are some truly moving moments, especially at the moment of downfall of each of the above-mentioned players. But in truth, Henry VIII plays as a series of episodes rather than a long play and there’s surprisingly little interaction between many of the key characters. This could be to do with the much-debated true authorship of the play, it has been suggested that it was a collaboration between Shakespeare and another playwright John Fletcher, though my knowledge on this is limited to reading the programme notes so I couldn’t possibly come down on one side or the other. Either way, there is much unevenness in this play and as a result it is only fitfully engaging. Continue reading “Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe”