Review: Death of a Salesman, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Certain men just don’t get started ‘til later in life”

To criticise an RSC production of being traditional seems a little bit beside the point, especially under this artistic directorship, but that’s how I felt on leaving this production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It is undoubtedly impressive but it rarely feel inspired, it just doesn’t do enough to convince that the sobriquet “greatest American play of the 20th century” (as Doran labels it in the programme) is well-deserved, especially in the light of such revelatory work being done on one of Miller’s other plays even as we speak.

Antony Sher’s Willy Loman, the American Dreamer who never quite gets there, has been done in by life. Business as a travelling salesman has dried up, his older son has severely disappointed him and ghosts of the past plague his mind so virulently that they seem real. Miller weaves in scenes of the Lomans’ past most ingeniously into Willy’s current day affairs but though Sher gives us all of the abrasiveness of a frustrated would-be patriarch, his performance lacks the psychological intensity to really pull you into his thought processes.  Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards winners in full

Best actor: Harry McEntire, Billy Liar, Royal Exchange

Best actress: Clare Foster, Duet For One and Separation, Bolton Octagon

Best supporting actor: David Burrell, Journey’s End, Bolton Octagon

Best supporting actress: Gillian Bevan, Hamlet, Royal Exchange

Best actor in a visiting production : Sir Antony Sher, Henry IV, Royal Shakespeare Company at The Lowry

Best actress in a visiting production : Katherine Kingsley, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Manchester Opera House

Best productionAngel Meadow, Anu Productions for HOME (Manchester)

Best visiting production: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, National Theatre at The Lowry

The Brynteg Award for Best Musical: Jersey Boys, Palace Theatre

Best opera: Gotterdammerung, Opera North at The Lowry

The Robert Robson award for dance: Le Corsaire, English National Ballet at The Lowry

Best design: Romeo and Juliet, HOME (Manchester)

Best newcomer: Emily Barber, Billy Liar, Royal Exchange

Best new play: An August Bank Holiday Lark, Northern Broadsides at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre

Best studio production: He Had Hairy Hands, The Lowry Studio

Best fringe production: Thick as Thieves

Best studio performance: Sinead Matthews, Pink, Royal Exchange Studio

Best fringe performance: Kaitlin Howard, The Alphabet Girl

Best ensemble: Angel Meadow, Anu Productions for HOME (Manchester)

Best special entertainment: Barry Humphries, Manchester Opera House

Youth Panel Award: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lowry Young Actors Company

Special achievement award: David Slack

The Stage Door Foundation award for excellence: Monkeywood Theatre

Critics’ Circle Awards 2014: the winners in full

 

Best New Play
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett

The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
Gypsy

Best Actor
Mark Strong in A View from the Bridge

Best Actress
Helen McCrory in Medea

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Antony Sher in Henry IV Parts I & II

Best Director
Ivo van Hove for A View from the Bridge

Best Designer (awarded jointly)
Paul Barritt for Golem 1927 at Young Vic Theatre, London
and
Es Devlin for The Nether

Most Promising Playwright
Barney Norris for Visitors

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Patsy Ferran in Blithe Spirit and Treasure Island

 

The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
Rob Edwards, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Michael Hugo, in Around The World In 80 Days, at the Royal Exchange
Harry McEntire, in Billy Liar, at the Royal Exchange
Dan Parr, in Britannia Waves The Rules, at the Royal Exchange
Michael Shelford, in Early One Morning, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Best Actress
Clare Foster, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Natalie Grady, in Hobson’s Choice, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Suranne Jones, in Orlando, at the Royal Exchange
Maxine Peake, in Hamlet, at the Royal Exchange
Lauren Samuels, in Love Story, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton Continue reading “The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love

“Theatre is the handmaiden of the devil”

With a theatrical version of Shakespeare in Love about to open in the West End, I thought I’d revisit the 1998 film as I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen it since it was first released. It is still surprising to see that it managed to win seven Academy Awards and whilst I like both Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench, looking at their competition it is a little galling to think that they were recognised for these roles. And in the light of the huge authorship furore that erupted around Anonymous, it is interesting to see how little comparable fuss the level of invention here caused.

To be fair, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s film makes no pretence to be literarily or historically accurate (given the paucity of source material, it’s hardly surprising) but because the approach here is a hugely affectionate one towards the Bard, rather than challenging popular notions about him, it is clear something of a free pass has been given here. So we see Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare working on a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and being inspired by the everyday chatter and the tumult of his personal life to amend the play and write his famous words.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love”

Review: The Captain of Köpenick, National Theatre

“Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made”

‘Released after fifteen years in prison, trapped in a bureaucratic maze, petty criminal Wilhelm Voigt wanders 1910 Berlin in desperate, hazardous pursuit of identity papers. Luck changes when he picks up an abandoned military uniform in a fancy-dress shop and finds the city ready to obey his every command. At the head of six soldiers, he marches to the Mayor’s office, cites corruption and confiscates the treasury with ease. But still what he craves is official recognition that he exists.’

It is probably cheating to use the official synopsis of a play wholesale like this but to be honest, I couldn’t care less after suffering the bloated self-satisfaction of The Captain of Köpenick at the National Theatre. An adaptation by Ron Hutchinson of a 1930s German satire by Carl Zuckmayer, it is a heavy-handed, ploddingly-laboured, fatally-misjudged confection which throws everything plus the kitchen sink into the Olivier but for shockingly low returns. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th April 

Review: Hysteria, Richmond Theatre

“This is a complete farce”

Terry Johnson’s 1993 play Hysteria garnered all sorts of awards for its original run at the Royal Court and this revival, from the Theatre Royal Bath, features Antony Sher in its leading role, so it is clearly a play that is held in some considerable regard. Set in the leafy Hampstead refuge where Sigmund Freud has sequestered himself as he battles cancer, his seclusion is interrupted by a series of visitors. Jessica, a mysterious young woman arrives, determined to have some of his time and seeking attention by stripping off her clothes, the subsequent arrivals of his elderly doctor Yahuda and then Salvador Dalí – Johnson was inspired by a real life meeting between the pair – leads to much slapstick comedy as Freud tries to hide the naked Jessica. But the real reasons for their visits are more serious and the play evolves into something much more complex. 

Structurally though, it poses challenges as the mix of high-concept verbosity and low-rent humour is not always a comfortable one. Jessica’s presence, which sparks off the chain of farcical shenanigans – which, if you find the sight of a man in his underpants generally hilarious, you might like –subsequently becomes the vehicle for the playwright’s delving into the much more cerebral. The ethics of psychotherapy are interrogated as Freud’s own case histories come under the microscope, matters of Jewish identity explored as the Blitz rains down outside and the spectre of the Holocaust looms ever large, but the farce still remains, an uneasy bedfellow in the superstructure of the play. The comedy never advances the action, in fact the reverse is true: the play essentially stops to let these scenes play out, resulting in a first half which is close to 90 minutes. They never feel like a fully incorporated part of the writing. Continue reading “Review: Hysteria, Richmond Theatre”

Radio Review: Dickens in London

“It seems that I would be an uncommercial traveler”

The bi-centenary of Charles Dickens’ birth has been marked in several different ways across a variety of media and Dickens in London, this collection of five short radio plays by Michael Eaton was one which entertained me nicely. Adapted from some of Dickens’ journalistic essays, the plays deal with his changing impressions of London as he grew up, was stimulated by and then grew tired of the great city that inspired so much of his writing.

We start with A Not-Overly-Particularly-Taken-Care-Of Boy where the boy Charles gets lost on his very first visit with his uncle, then move to Boz, where a young man has secured himself employment as a Parliamentary Reporter for the Morning Chronicle but dreams of writing his own stories. Samuel Barnett is particularly good in these two first stories, his voice is particularly well suited to radio, so full of character and crackled emotion. Continue reading “Radio Review: Dickens in London”

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”

DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)

“Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge”

It is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that any mention of Alexandra Gilbreath – recent winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Play fosterIAN to be sure – sends me all a quiver. So when someone told me about this production of The Winter’s Tale which features not only her as Hermione but also has Nancy Carroll lurking in the ensemble, I was most keen to watch it. Plus there’s the small matter of Antony Sher as Leontes, an actor whom I am always intrigued to see more of as I’ve have actually had little experience of him as a performer.

An RSC production from 1998, this was recorded at the Barbican and so as a straight filming of the stage show, it is free from the kind of directorial innovation that blighted (IMHO) the versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest also covered this weekend. Instead, we get the theatrical experience minus the live thrill but with the added bonus of close up work. And it is a great bonus here. Sher does so much acting with his eyes as a paranoiac Leontes, mentally damaged as suggested by a prologue and incapable of not seeing the dark shadows in the corner of the room. The way his suspicions are aroused by Polixenes’ attentiveness to his wife is brilliantly done as she is actually suffering from pregnancy pain but Leontes misses the crucial moments and all too easily lets the darkness consume him. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)”