TV Review: Black Narcissus

A quality cast including Gemma Arterton and Dame Diana Rigg can’t save Black Narcissus for me

“Better honey than vinegar”

A funny one this, particularly for the captive audience of the inbuilt lethargy of the Twixmas period. In the absence of Sarah Phelps’ brilliant reinventions of Agatha Christie, Black Narcissus was the BBC’s big drama punt on the festive schedule but I’m not entirely sure if it was the right choice.

Based on the Rumer Godden novel and famously filmed in 1947 by Powell and Pressburger with Deborah Kerr, the story follows a band of Anglican nuns as they try to establish a new mission in the Himalayan mountains. Their chosen base is a former palace with erotic paintings on the bricks, a troubled history seeping from the mortar and a swarthily handsome agent who keeps popping by – Sister Act this ain’t. Continue reading “TV Review: Black Narcissus”

DVD Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)

“I feel so absolutely stumped on the floor”

Proving that not even Kenneth Branagh is infallible when it comes to Shakespearean adaptations, this musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost sees him really come a cropper. Relocating the story to 1939 on the eve of the Second World War and swapping out three-quarters of Shakespeare’s text for a handful of Cole Porter songs to evoke the feel of a classic Golden Age musical, it is a curiously insubstantial enterprise and at its worst, somewhat smug.

It doesn’t help that the play itself ain’t a classic, as evidenced by the rarity with which it is produced but still, the approach here just doesn’t work. There’s a game cast of actors who are clearly up for it but their every weakness in singing and dancing is left exposed, there’s a paucity of triple threats here which just leaves you wondering why bother? And when you see the amazing moves of Adrian Lester or the sweet tones of Alessandro Nivola’s voice, you get hints of what might have been. Continue reading “DVD Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)”

Review: The Elephant Man, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Things just come out of my mouth which are true”

Truth be told, I wasn’t intending to go back to The Elephant Man. It was probably my least favourite of the plays I saw on Broadway at New Year (so of course it would be the one to transfer lock, stock and barrel to London) but I won a pair of tickets through my efforts on the Seatplan website and able to take a friend, I decided it was worth the revisit at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The irony of Americans bringing us a version of Victorian London from the Great White Way aside, little has changed about my opinion in that it really isn’t that grand at all.

That’s not to detract from the now Tony-nominated efforts of Bradley Cooper, who plays the physical condition of Joseph Merrick without make-up or prosthetics but purely through the contortions of his face and body. An early scene where Merrick’s physical attributes are described and Cooper layers them onto his body one by one is expertly done but as the play progresses, it remains an effortful performance that never achieves, or allows for, emotional truth, so focused is the actor on the physicality. Continue reading “Review: The Elephant Man, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

69th Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Steven Boyer – Hand to God as Jason/Tyrone
Bradley Cooper – The Elephant Man as John Merrick
Ben Miles – Wolf Hall Parts One & Two as Thomas Cromwell
Bill Nighy – Skylight as Tom Sergeant
Alex Sharp – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as Christopher Boone

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Geneva Carr – Hand to God as Margery
Helen Mirren – The Audience as Queen Elizabeth II
Elisabeth Moss – The Heidi Chronicles as Heidi Holland
Carey Mulligan – Skylight as Kyra Hollis
Ruth Wilson – Constellations as Marianne

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Michael Cerveris – Fun Home as Bruce Bechdel
Robert Fairchild – An American in Paris as Jerry Mulligan
Brian d’Arcy James – Something Rotten! as Nick Bottom
Ken Watanabe – The King and I as The King of Siam
Tony Yazbeck – On the Town as Gabey Continue reading “69th Tony Award nominations”

Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award (Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Ayad Akhtar, The Invisible Hand
Halley Feiffer, I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Elizabeth Irwin, My Mañana Comes
Markus Potter, Stalking the Bogeyman
Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Peter Gallagher, On the Twentieth Century
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town Continue reading “Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards”

Review: The Elephant Man, Booth Theatre

“I did not think of all these things, because there was no one to bother to think them for”

Of all the shows that I saw on Broadway, I really wouldn’t have picked this one to be the one that transfers to the West End. But to the Theatre Royal Haymarket it doth come after a commercially successful run. And oh the irony, casting someone named Sexiest Man Alive as the noted Victorian ‘freak’ Joseph Merrick, aka The Elephant Man. The selling point of Scott Ellis’ production of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 is most definitely three time Academy Award acting nominee (seriously, how did that happen?!) Bradley Cooper and in the grand tradition of things that Oscar likes, he’s feigning a disability in what I found to be a somewhat disturbing performance.

The script determines that no make-up or prosthetic should be used, that Merrick’s deformity should be portrayed only through physicality, and whilst that offers up a veritable challenge to any actor wishing to take on the role, it also throws up big questions that this production comes frustratingly close to interrogating in an interesting way. Putting so fêted and objectified an actor on stage and having society’s reactions in the play range from outright horror to morbid fascination feels like the beginnings of an interesting commentary on today’s obsession with celebrity – indeed, were I directing it I’d’ve had Cooper play no disability at all, to really highlight how we respond to those who are ‘different’. Continue reading “Review: The Elephant Man, Booth Theatre”

DVD Review: Mansfield Park (1999)

“Life seems nothing more than a quick succession of busy nothings”

Eek. So having sampled the more recent ITV version of Mansfield Park. I next turned to Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film adaptation and adaptation is surely the right word for it felt like an entirely different story and not in a good way. Again, there’s a distinct modernisation of the heroine into something which was assumedly palatable for test audiences and/or studio bosses but consequently way misses the mark for anything truly Austenesque, Frances O’Connor isn’t exactly bad as Fanny but it never feels like a good fit.

Elsewhere, there’s a scything of some of the key characters, script changes altering others completely. And strangely, given how much of Austen’s novel has to be concertinaed into feature film length, Rozema opts to add in new material – an overworked strand about slavery is heavy-handed in the extreme, the hints of lesbianism (Embeth Davidtz’s Mary Crawford) a desperate ploy for scandal, opium addiction for Lady Bertram scandalously wasting the presence of Lindsay Duncan.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Mansfield Park (1999)”

DVD Review: Emma (1996 TV)

“Dear Emma bears everything so well”

Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Emma for the television may have suffered by being released in the same year as the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring film version but it is infinitely superior, a much better observed version blessed with an excellent cast, many of whom have gone on to bigger things indeed. Emma herself is played by Kate Beckinsale, Mr Knightley is the recently-returned-to-our-stages Mark Strong, Samantha Morton is the willing Miss Smith and the ever-superb Olivia Williams stars as the inscrutable Miss Fairfax.

Star-spotting aside, it really works as a piece of drama. There’s a real warmth behind the whole affair which keeps it entirely engaging, Beckinsale’s Miss Woodhouse is the personification of charm and her gaucheness feels genuinely couched in innocence as she leads Morton’s Harriet a merry dance with her misguided match-making and eventually learns more about the world than her Highbury blinkers ever allowed. And Mark Strong’s pragmatically strong (ba-dum-tish) Knightley is a perfect match for her, practical in every sense as a hands-on landlord. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (1996 TV)”

Nominations for 2013-2014 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award
Scott Z. Burns, The Library
Eric Dufault, Year of the Rooster
Madeleine George, The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence
Steven Levenson, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin
Lauren Yee, The Hatmaker’s Wife

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Michael Cerveris, Fun Home
Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Andy Karl, Rocky
Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love Murder
Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder Continue reading “Nominations for 2013-2014 Outer Critics Circle Awards”