Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre

“I bear no malice to the people I abuse”

Sparkling reinterpretations of 18th century comedies have become something of an annual treat from Jessica Swale’s Red Handed Theatre company and following on from the delights of the Celia Imrie-starring The Rivals, the remounting of Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem and last year’s excellent The Busy Body, it is now the turn of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal to be primped and preened in their deliciously inimitable style. So for those as yet uninitiated to their ways, prepare for witty musical interludes and warmly embracing audience interaction as a vivacious ensemble romp through this comedy of manners.

Led by the machinations of the vicious-tongued Lady Sneerwell – Belinda Lang in epically glam form – Sheridan’s plot winds through a portion of the higher echelons of London society and exposes the gossip-fuelled hypocrisy at the heart of it. Lady Sneerwell wants others to suffer the loss of reputation she has; Sir Peter Teazle is concerned about the flightiness of his flirtatious younger wife; Sir Oliver Surface wants to test the mettle of his two nephews who stand to inherit his vast fortune; and above all, everyone wants to be the first to tell the juiciest pieces of gossip with the most salacious details.

It is these scenes which glitter the best – Michael Bryher’s Sir Benjamin Backbite and Buffy Davis’ Mrs Candour delight in outdoing each other with the latest tidbits and Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Teazle gives as good as she gets, even as she sees the effect of the ridicule on her husband, a battered if not quite elderly enough Daniel Gosling. But there’s much fun too with the errant nephews. Harry Kerr’s ruffled and raffish Charles can’t hide his innate goodness even at the heights of his carousing, and Tom Berish’s Joseph is just excellent as the seductively handsome one that everyone likes, little suspecting his most devious nature.    

The production is always light-hearted and fun – a trick with a book is particularly well played, the programme is a work of genius and Fi Russell’s costumes are a bejewelled array of lush fabric – but there’s also a sureness to Swale’s direction as she constantly refines and sharpens her approach. Laura Forrest-Hay once again contributes original music rather than pastiches of pop songs, the portrait gallery ditty and the raucous lark in the park number add to the general feel of a delightful romp, unafraid to play it to the back of the (admittedly intimate) Park Theatre but crucially never takes itself too seriously.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 7th July


Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Bent, Tabard

“I love you…what’s wrong with that?”

Andrew Keates’ production of Martin Sherman’s play Bent was a big success at the Landor Theatre earlier in the year and so its transfer to the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick makes sense. Both spaces share an intimacy that feels appropriate to the intense emotion of the play and Keates is clearly attuned to the full range of human experience that lovers Max and Rudy are forced to go through. In 1930s Berlin, the pair flee persecution after witnessing a murder but when the Nazis catch up with them, they’re shipped off to Dachau.

What follows is an exploration of just how viciously homosexuals were treated by the Nazi regime and a testament to the immense spirit shown by those who were unfortunate enough to be oppressed. This lends the Dachau scenes an air of slight unreality, almost of idealism, but it is one that is indubitably well-earned as these men search for the tiniest bit of tenderness, humanity, even love, in the most horrendous of surroundings. The brutality of Freya Groves’ design of barbed wire and swastikas never lets us forget where we are though.

Russell Morton as Max is simply superb, tracing the journey from carefree gay abandon to appalled helplessness , full of love and pain as the gravity of the situation slowly becomes apparent. Steven Butler’s Rudy is deliberately more grating, his giddy youthfulness unable to resist the rough, working class charms of David Flynn’s Horst in the camp, but we’re never in any doubt as to the private pain underneath the brash public persona. Bent is brutal but brilliant, this production serves it as well as any possibly could.