DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)

“A man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’”

One of the main problems with the countless thinkpieces about the filming of live theatre is that they are almost always written by people who have ample opportunity to see the plays live. To talk about losing the innately unique quality of theatre unfolding before you is all too easy when you’re seeing shows pretty much every day of the week; when your own opportunities to see theatre, especially the bigger productions that tend to get filmed, are limited due to any kind of accessibility concern, it becomes a whole ‘nother ball
game.

Which is a slight digression from how I intended to start this, by saying that I wonder how much of a difference it makes if you’ve seen a production live and then on screen. I’ve not done the double, as it were, on many plays, I’ve tended just to use DVD as a way to catch up on things I missed and so was a little hesitant about whether to include Sarah Frankcom’s production of Hamlet for the Royal Exchange in this collection. But boy am I glad I did, for I enjoyed immensely, possibly even more than I did at the theatre. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)”

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

Continue reading “Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’”

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”

Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange

“What a piece of work is a man”
 

The political may be largely subsumed into the personal here but rarely has Hamlet felt so universal. Sarah Frankcom’s stated aim was to create “a Hamlet for now, a Hamlet for Manchester” and in the casting of the towering thespian might of Maxine Peake, it is not hard to feel that she has succeeded. Court scenes are played out around the dinner table, affairs of the state dealt with in business meetings, but all serve to intensify the pained intimacy of a family gone wrong, the suffering of people trapped in a dark world of pain at the heart of which lies this tortured sweet prince.

Dressed in a dark blue Chairman Mao suit (a neat nod to the politics of a determined contrarian) with hair cropped and shaved, Peake’s androgyne is a mesmeric figure from start to finish. The intelligence that sparkles from that voice, the openness that is commanded from that unflinching stare, it is nigh on impossible not to get swept away in the beauty of the performance. It remains at all times deeply humane too – this is a Hamlet who is really teetering on the brink as we see in the shaking hand that cannot pull the trigger, the vocal tremors throughout, the quivering lip at the news of Yorick. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Royal Exchange”

Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place. Continue reading “Radio review: Blood Wedding”

Review: The Organist’s Daughter / Corrinne Come Back and Gone / The Patience of Mr Job

“We’re happy enough – what more can anyone ask from life?”

Three short reviews for three short radio play this week. My favourite was The Organist’s Daughter by Stephen Wyatt, a genuinely gorgeous piece of drama with a beautiful soundscape and an excellent cast including Simon Russell Beale, Emma Fielding and Naomi Fielding. The story concerns the succession of Lübeck Cathedral’s organist – the incumbent, Dieterich Buxtehude, is in ill health and wishes to retire but the man who follows him must, as tradition dictates, marry his eldest daughter. But Anna Margreta has what people call inner beauty and her rather plain looks leave him despairing, though a series of suitors bring their own surprises with them. Russell Beale is an excellent grouch, Fielding a superbly pragmatic daughter and as the would-be organists, Karl Davies, Joseph Kloska and Matthew Watson are all good fun, the first two wannabes bearing the somewhat familiar names of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Handel…

Lenny Henry’s reinvention as a proper thespian continues apace with his first radio play, Corrinne Come Back and Gone, a powerful tale of a difficult family reunion in Jamaica. Due to the poverty of their lives, Corrinne was forced to leave her children in the Caribbean as she fled to the UK but twenty years later, she receives a letter from her daughter inviting her back though nothing is quite how she imagines it would be nor how she remembered. It’s an emotive subject but one suffused with hard-headed humour as Claire Benedict’s Corrinne sets about attempting to make amends where she can and trying, and failing, to stop interfering to make things better. A slightly too schematically upbeat ending aside, it’s an impressive debut from Henry, helped by a superb cast including Doña Croll, Nadine Marshall and Alex Lanipekun.  Continue reading “Review: The Organist’s Daughter / Corrinne Come Back and Gone / The Patience of Mr Job”