Casting announced for Theatre Royal Bath’s Racing Demon

Theatre Royal Bath Productions has announced full casting for David Hare’s Racing Demon, directed by Jonathan Church, and seemingly deliberately designed to challenge my resolve to not see the production which runs from Wednesday 21 June to Saturday 8 July.

As previously announced Olivier Award-winner David Haig will star as Lionel Espy in the multi-award winning play. He will be joined by Sam Alexander, Michelle Bonnard, Anthony Calf, William Chubb, Paapa Essiedu, Ian Gelder, Andrew Fraser, Rebecca Night, Amanda Root and Ashley Russell.

Four clergymen seek to make sense of their mission in inner-city London whilst facing their own personal crises. There’s Lionel Espy, a cleric whose faith is wavering as his parishioners dwindle; tabloid-hounded gay vicar Harry Henderson; ‘Streaky’ Bacon, a genial reverend with a taste for tequila, and a charismatic young curate, Tony Ferris whose arrival is set to fan the flames, whilst his sexual relationship with his lover turns to ash. The day of judgement is at hand for all. Continue reading “Casting announced for Theatre Royal Bath’s Racing Demon”

Review: King Lear, Old Vic

“’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind”

Though no spring chicken myself, I’m not quite the right age to be truly excited about Oscar winning actress-turned politician-turned actress again Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage. I was more intrigued than truly excited when she was announced in the title role of Deborah Warner’s King Lear for the Old Vic for though I’m well aware of who she is, her film and TV credits never broke through into what I was watching either back then or since. (Feel free to recommend her must-see performances – I’ll add them to the list of things I’ll get round to watching one day.)

But I’m always here for casting decisions that shake the established order somewhat and with Celia Imrie, Jane Horrocks and Rhys Ifans in the cast too, there was no chance I wouldn’t go see this. Full disclosure though, I went to the final £10 preview so treat this review how you will. For it is simultaneously an effortful and frustratingly vague production that never truly convinces of the attempted scope of its artistic vision. Fortunately, this often-times ephemeral and occasionally perplexing Lear is anchored by a striking performance from Jackson. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Old Vic”

Review: Waste, National Theatre

“The stateman’s task is the accommodation of stubborn facts to shifting circumstance and in effect to the practical capacities of the average stupid man. Democracy involves admission of that”

It’s always a bit tough to forge one’s own opinion of something already lauded as a masterpiece, the assumption being if you don’t like it then you’re missing something, but this is the second time I’ve seen a solidly good production of Harley Granville Barker’s Waste and it’s the second time that I just haven’t been blown away by it. Seven years ago saw Samuel West tackle it for the Almeida and now it is Roger Michell’s turn in the Lyttelton as Rufus Norris continues his balancing act of reinvigorating the National Theatre without scaring the regulars off.

But spread over a goodly three hours with a pace that could be described as stately at best and glacial at its worst, it’s hard to see Waste converting any newcomers to the joys of theatre. And even with the quality that emanates from the female-centric first scene – Olivia Williams, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Doreen Mantle and Lucy Robinson (forever in my heart as my first Lady Macbeth) doing fine work – the energy is just singularly lacking even as sex, sleaze and suicide pop up on the menu for this slice of the Edwardian political elite.  Continue reading “Review: Waste, National Theatre”

Review: Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe

“What must the king do now”

A late trip to the Globe to catch Richard II (for which I had a ticket months ago but was waylaid by an exciting game of tennis) at its final Friday matinee. It’s a little funny how this theatre programmes its runs well into Autumn, especially with the vicariousness of British weather, as there was a decided chill in the air even in the afternoon so heaven knows how it feels in the evening. It might be fine for a rip-roaring delight like Nell Gwynn but for the more measured qualities of Richard II, it’s a bit more of a challenge.

Simon Godwin’s production has had quite strong notices and is blessed with the fine Charles Edwards in the title role, but something about it never quite gripped me and so I was a tad more ambivalent than amazed. It’s a singular interpretation of the role, flippant and fabulous to the gold-plated extreme but Edwards’ performance style is so far removed from the rest of the company that it almost feels as if it belongs in another play, the emotional complexity (from everyone really) that marks this venue’s best productions doesn’t quite feel present.  Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

Review: Othello, National Theatre

“Demand me nothing: what you know, you know”

Though I’ve been to the theatre a fair bit over the last few years and taken in more than my fair share of Shakespeare, the distribution across his plays has been far from equitable. I’ve seen more Macbeths, Twelfth Nights and Midsummer Night’s Dreams that I can shake a stick at, yet my first and only Othello to date was in Sheffield back in 2011. Not having previously read or studied it, it was never a play that had really appealed and though I really did enjoy that trip to the Crucible, I can’t say I was dying to see it again. But this high-profile National Theatre modern-day update, featuring Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester under Nicholas Hytner’s direction, proved impossible to resist, not least with preview prices meaning the £48 seats were going for £20 (and with this running time, it was money well spent).
 
The Venice of the opening is a non-descript place and it is only with the departure to Cyprus, and specifically here a British base on the island, that the military aesthetic of the production comes to full fruition. Vicki Mortimer’s design captures the sun-blasted stone of the Mediterranean location and the claustrophobically stuffy air of the prefab offices and rooms of the military base, with the only real nod to the geopolitics of the modern-day setting a map of the Middle East behind a desk. The production wears the updating quite lightly: on the one hand, nothing feels too forced to fit in with the concept but on the other, it doesn’t always seem like the most inspired. The bland nature of so much of the setting – the generic office, the shared bathroom, the depersonalised bedroom – mutes something of the tragedy, there’s little grandeur on display to match the heights of the emotion.

Continue reading “Review: Othello, National Theatre”

Review: The Vortex, Rose Kingston

“He’s always taciturn after a matinée”

I’m unwilling to write it off just yet, but I really do have problems with the Rose Kingston as a theatrical space. Its very design seems inimical to fostering the sense of emotional connection that marks truly great productions and very few directors I have seen work there have been able to substantially address this. As the AD of the place, Stephen Unwin has tried more than most but in a play like The Vortex, which unusually for Noël Coward coils ever tighter into the most intense of two-handers in its final act, it proves a serious issue.

Coward’s 1924 debut work caused shockwaves with its portrayal of casual marital infidelity and cocaine addiction and though it may have lost some of that power now, it still has the power to move. Nicky Lancaster is a disaffected young music student who returns from a sojourn in Paris with a fiancée, a drug habit and an uncertain amount of sexual confusion. He is shocked on his arrival though, to find his mother Florence engaged in a heady affair with a much younger Guards Officer and determined to live her life free from societal pressure or marital responsibilities. Over the course of a weekend, their lives and the secrets they both possess clash to devastating effect. 


Though the production never really moved me as I thought it might, it did have flashes of inspiration. There are several gorgeous touches like having Nicky play Someone To Watch Over Me as a desperate plea to his self-involved mother and making Rebecca Johnson’s über-honest Helen – unexpectedly the production’s highlight – not just Florence’s confidante but someone who would be more than just a friend. And it is moments like these that sit beautifully alongside the strong performances of the leads.

  

The divine Kerry Fox – an actress whose CV is admirably if frustratingly sparse – makes Florence a fearsomely determined figure, less flighty society hostess and more a woman utterly convinced of her infallibility, which makes the stripping back of her certainties all the more effective. And David Dawson nails the quicksilver changes of mood of Nicky, one moment the epitome of Coward-esque charm, the next lost in the haunting depths of his despair.


But where the show ought to ratchet up the intensity, the atmosphere is broken by the insertion of two regular-sized intervals which undo so much of the good work that has been done. And the other members of the company often just seem marooned on the platform of the stage, raised and removed from the audience and so not always able to bridge that gap to draw us into their world. Solid rather than superlative, the lead performances make it worth a visit. 


Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with 2 intervals)

Booking until 2nd March