Review: Uncle Vanya, Almeida Theatre

“Here’s Johnny”

How do you follow the earth-shattering success of a show like Oresteia? With difficulty it seems. Having deconstructed and reconstructed the Greeks, Robert Icke turns his hand to Chekhov with Uncle Vanya. But the world is hardly suffering from a lack of Vanyas and it’s hard to escape the feeling that Icke is treading a relatively similar creative path in the way that it treats the classic text. Yes, I’m essentially complaining about too much of a good thing, as it is still a very strong production but Oresteia was so extraordinary, that this inevitably pales by comparison

As is his wont, Icke’s Uncle Vanya is presented in a new version by Icke, a new translation aimed at replicating the disrupted rhythms of Chekhov’s Russian speech patterns, a largely successful enterprise. As are the soliloquies that each of the leading players are granted, casting new and interesting light on characters that are familiar (especially Sonya’s Act 4 speech). Jessica Brown Findlay scorches as the unfulfilled Sonya, Vanessa Kirby is exceptional as a passionate Elena, Tobias Menzies’ Michael (Astrov) achingly appealing as the idealist losing the courage of his convictions.  Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents

 “I’m bored with widowhood”

As the aristocratic Lady Conway, Thelma Barlow’s amusing run through the options open to a rich widow of nearly 70 sets up Mrs Henderson Presents succinctly in its opening moments – Laura Henderson pricks her thumb trying embroidery as a hobby and bristles at the snobbery of the ladies who run charities for the deserving and so is left to spend money as she sees fit, alighting on the derelict Windmill Theatre which she purchases in a moment of inspiration as she passes in her car. Martin Sherman’s script is based on the true story of this woman who became an unlikely theatrical impresario and in director Stephen Frears’ hands, Judi Dench delivers a heart-warmingly cracking performance at the centre of a lovely film.

Set in the late 1930s, the story follows Laura as she and her theatre manager, Bob Hoskins’ cantankerous but inspired Vivian van Damm, set up a continuous variety revue called Revudeville and trying to keep ahead of a market full of copycats, they introduce still tableaux of female nudity into the show which becomes a roaring success. The onset of war casts a heavy shadow though and whilst the show continues, providing much needed entertainment and respite, as the bombs fall on London, the determination that the show must go on puts everyone in serious peril. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents”

Short Film Review #27

Passing Through

With the news that the wonderful Rio cinema in Dalston is once again under threat, Paul Rapacioli and Joe Shaw’s film Passing Through feels an entirely appropriate starting point for this post, even though it was made in 2002. A ruminative love letter to the cinema – both in terms of classic film-making and also the demise of old-school picture houses – it’s a powerfully moving and beautiful piece of work as Graham Pountney’s projectionist marks his last day at work, before enforced early retirement, with an uncharacteristic act of rebellion. It’s a heartfelt choice and even in the depths of despair, it brings to him something infinitely lasting, reminding us all of the magic of the cinema. Highly recommended. 


Be Mine

The premise behind Joyce Treasure’s Be Mine is really rather lovely – a 10 year girl from some rough area of Birmingham dreams of a shiny red bike in a local shop window, and expresses her desire mainly through the medium of song and dance. And in Esther May Campbell’s 2005 film, it has a delightfully homespun charm about it as Sophie Jukes’ Tina tries to persuade her mum (Maxine Peake) that it would be the perfect birthday present. As part of the Bollywood Shorts competition, it draws on sub-Continental influences but could have perhaps gone a little further – the main dance routine does come a little out of nowhere – but the ambition of this project is definitely delightful.

Sweetnightgoodheart

Dan Zeff’s film features a most fresh-faced David Tennant as Pete, an attentive young man agonising over the most painless way to dump his girlfriend Juliet. He makes everything as nice as can be, treats her well and prepares her for a life-changing revelation but before he actually gets to it, the phone rings and Juliet answers, revealing that she’s got the wrong end of the stick and thinks he is trying to propose. The ‘news’ soon spreads quickly and an array of well-wishers turn up to wish them well, including nice turns from Diana Hardcastle as her mother, Thusitha Jayasundera as a colleague of hers, the hilarious Bruce Mackinnon as one of his friends and Barry McCarthy as his dad. The final note doesn’t quite have the impact it desires, the abrupt end a little too brutal but it’s fun none the less.

Painkiller

Benedict Wong has had a great year on the stage but delving into his filmography has been lots of fun too as his short film work is pretty bloody good too. Selina Lim’s Painkiller is another example of his extraordinary talent at bringing portrayals of bruised masculinity to life as a stick-up of a convenience store goes wrong with him stuck inside. Franz Drameh’s Dominic is the youthful robber determined to make a quick getaway but finds himself distracted and nearly derailed by Wong’s Jay, a depressed taxi driver who manages to connect with him. Director Mustapha Kseibati keeps us on our toes throughout, throwing in sharp beats, comic beats, dark beats, particularly where Kris Saddler’s hapless cashier is involved, and it makes for a brilliant piece of film.

Review: Three Sisters, Young Vic

“It’s like a nail being hammered in my head”

Back when the Young Vic announced their forthcoming shows as being A Doll’s House and Three Sisters, I was a little surprised at how safe the programming seemed, on the surface at least. For as it turned out, Ibsen was revitalised by Simon Stephens to stunning effect in one of the shows of the year so far and so expectations were high for Chekhov’s turn, adapted and directed by Benedict Andrews, the Australian auteur whose Cate Blanchett-starring Big and Small proved to be somewhat divisive.

And this production, set in an abstract modern day, also seems set to provoke strong opinion. From Helen Rappaport’s literal translation, Andrews has thoroughly modernised the language of this story of three young women trapped in a stultifying provincial Russian town, dreaming of heady love affairs and escaping to the Moscow of their childhoods yet unable to fully wrest control of their lives from the cruel twists of fate. But dislocating the play from the social and economic context in which Chekhov conceived it seriously undermines a central aspect of the drama.  Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Young Vic”