Review: Red, Wyndham’s Theatre

There’s two Alfreds for the price of one in this polished revival of Red, the first of two shows in Michael Grandage’s mini-season at the Wyndham’s Theatre

“There is only one thing I fear in life my friend”

I was a fan of Red when it first played London back in 2010 and so was pleased by the news that Michael Grandage would be reviving that Donmar Warehouse production for a belated turn in the West End at the Wyndham’s. Take a read of my four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Red is booking at the Wyndham’s until 28th July

DVD Review: As You Like It (2006)

“We are not all alone unhappy”

As the fifth of his big screen Shakespeare adaptations, there’s a slight sense of Kenneth Branagh chomping at the bit, determined to do things differently whether they work or not. Not content with mutating Love’s Labour’s Lost into a 1930s musical, he then turned his hand to a more beloved play in As You Like It and adopted another approach, relocating it – notionally at least – to the striking world of late 19th century Japan.

There, the characters are turned into merchants seeking a foothold in the newly opened up trading routes and the battle between Dukes Senior and Frederick is over control of the family business. But aside from the wrestling match being turned into a sumo contest, there’s disappointingly little real purchase in this new world. Once in the forest, it could be any old Arden and the opportunity to explore something differently culturally is abandoned.  Continue reading “DVD Review: As You Like It (2006)”

DVD Review: Love is Strange

“Sometimes when you live with people, you know them better than you care to”

The move to a more sensitive, nuanced portrayal of lives well-lived is none more evident than in the excellent Love is Strange. Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias’ screenplay puts John Lithgow’s Ben and Alfred Molina’s George, a happy couple of nearly 40 years standing at the heart of its story and pleasingly lets them remain (relatively) happy. Instead, the trials in their life come from the fallout of finally deciding to tie the knot, it leading to one of them losing his job. 

Financially up against it, Ben and George find themselves having to sell their much-loved apartment in New York City and with limited options in a tough real estate market, end up living apart with friends and family as no-one has room for them both. Separated and going through a transitional time, it is the relationships of those with whom they’re staying that get put under the microscope, particularly Ben’s nephew and his family. Continue reading “DVD Review: Love is Strange”

DVD Review: An Education

“Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous older men, but what about you two?”

Lone Scherfig’s film An Education was one of my top films back in 2009 and rightly saw Carey Mulligan nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. Watching it again reminded me of how good it is, a great showcase for British film and one of my favourite depictions of 1960s Britain I think I’ve ever seen. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is based on Lynn Barber’s memoirs of her schoolgirl years, spent mainly pleasing her father’s desire for her to be an excellent student and get into Oxford. That is, until handsome stranger David offers her a lift one day. That he’s twice her age is no matter, the world of sophistication he inhabits seduces her entirely from her humdrum Twickenham existence and changes her life completely.

Mulligan is brilliantly cast as the 16 going on 17 Jenny Mellor, the combination of her youthful looks and soulful eyes captures much of the teenage precocity that leads her to think she’s more mature than she is, especially in the face of such rowdy schoolgirl friends like Ellie Kendrick’s Tina and as she rushes headlong into this adult world of jazz clubs, stolen nights in hotels and weekends away in Paris, she brilliantly shows how her self-assuredness is slowly stripped away as she comes to see what she has sacrificed in order to follow her heart. Olivia Williams’ brilliant Miss Stubbs is the perfect counterpoint, a spinster teacher who encourages Jenny’s academic dreams yet perversely epitomises the height of ambition for an educated woman. Continue reading “DVD Review: An Education”

Short Film Review #37

Method Actor from Justin Stokes on Vimeo.

A monologue by the silken-voiced John Shrapnel is something to look forward to no matter the format, and Justin Stokes’ short film Method Actor is a brilliant vehicle for it. Mere minutes long, it courses through the imagination of an ageing actor as he dispenses bitterly-won advice on how he has gotten where he has, Glenn Smith’s script cleverly weaving its way into unexpected places and DP John Lynch creating a gorgeously lush world for him to inhabit. Continue reading “Short Film Review #37”

TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto

“Young people make promises because they don’t know what life is like”

Housewife, 49 was one of the highlights of my TV viewing last Christmas, quite how I had missed it first time round I do not know and so once I saw that Victoria Wood had penned a new drama, Loving Miss Hatto, I was determined not to leave it quite so long this time round. Based on a story from the New Yorker on the strange but real-life case of classical music fraud around pianist Joyce Hatto, this was a beautifully modulated piece of drama with a light sweetness and just enough of the trademark Wood humour, interwoven with such melancholic depths of human tragedy.

Starting in the 1950s, we meet Joyce Hatto as a rehearsal pianist in whom self-described musical impresario William Barrington-Coupe (or Barrie for short) spotted much potential. But as something of a wideboy and of a conman, his dreams of moulding Joyce into a top-rank concert pianist never quite came to fruition, something exacerbated by her stage fright. The story then flicked forward to the 2000s where embittered by the frustrations of life, Joyce is now dying of cancer and unable to play. With the dawn of the digital age and in light of a flurry of interest in Hatto on a messageboard, Barrie hit upon the idea of satisfying the demand for recordings of her work by releasing a series of CDs. Only problem was, there were no recordings and Barrie was passing off other pianists’ work as his wife’s.

Both timezones were beautifully realised. The hopeful youthfulness of the 50s scenes were perfectly captured by Maimie McCoy and Rory Kinnear (with some appalling hair), him determined to do anything, no matter how ill-advised, for his beloved and her trying to ensure she didn’t end up like her mother (an archetypal but still excellent performance from a purse-lipped Phoebe Nicholls) yet unable to really break through the emotional repression of the age. This was reinforced by older Joyce, a wonderful turn from Francesca Annis all bitter recrimination and sharp edges and all too close to the matriarch she was trying to escape, but one who jumped at the chance at a second bite of the cherry as Wood’s creative license made Hatto a witting accomplice in the fraud.

The real life Barrie (still alive) is adamant that she never knew a thing but Wood’s evocation of the man, played with astounding sensitivity by Alfred Molina, as someone willing to do anything for his wife in her final months and a man somehow lost in the fantastical world he had created has a deep tragedy about him. The way in which he struggles to break the old routines after her death, his determination to protect her reputation, the depth of his love for his wife, it all made for an emotionally disturbing ending that lingered long in the mind. Victoria Wood really is building a considerable case for her work as a dramatist to be taken as seriously as her comedy – iPlayer it now.