Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

A starry Mary Queen of Scots proves an intriguing if a little frustrating film debut for Josie Rourke

“The world will decide for itself”

An intriguing, if a little frustrating one this. Josie Rourke is a titan in the world of theatre and Mary Queen of Scots marks her cinematic debut. But despite a classy pair of lead performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as diametrically opposed queens Mary and Elizabeth, an ensemble consisting of the cream of British acting talent, and the sweeping beauty of the Highlands to frame every other shot, the film never really quite sparks into life.

Beau Willimon’s screenplay, based on John Guy’s book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, dances around historical accuracy with its own determination, building in a climactic meeting between the two which although visually striking, dramatically brings precious little. Before then, the film is plotted as a strategic confrontation between two monarchs, two women, who are battling the worlds around them as much as each other. Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)”

Review: Into The Woods, Royal Exchange

“Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment though”

As with Shakespeare, plenty of people have strong ideas about how Sondheim ‘should’ be done, so I’m always interested to see a director striking out a little to establish their own vision. Inspiration often comes from the local surroundings – memorably so with Into the Woods at the Open Air Theatre a few years back and intriguingly so with Matthew Xia’s production of the same show for the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Taking Sondheim and James Lapine’s conflation of well-known fairytales and their unseen epilogues and relocating it to a contemporary here and now, this enchanted forest may have lost a little of the overtly magical but gains plenty in an evocation of Mancunian community spirit.

It may not have been the most precisely sung version of the show I’ve ever seen but the depth of performance here with all its colour and heart more than made up for it, rooting these characters perfectly in Xia’s landscape. ‘Agony’ has indeed been camper but Marc Elliott and Michael Peavoy’s modern-day Princes make you listen to the intricacy of the lyrical references like never before, Gillian Bevan’s Witch – a woman truly released from her curse – grows in impressive vocal stature throughout the show, and Natasha Cottriall (who in the interests of full disclosure, is my mother’s cousin’s wife’s sister’s daughter) brings real pathos as well as petulance to her Little Red Riding-hood. Continue reading “Review: Into The Woods, Royal Exchange”

Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange

“Love is just a better way to hurt each other”

Ellen McDougall’s debut production for the Royal Exchange is actually a trans-Pennine affair as once Anna Karenina wraps up in Manchester, the show will be heading over the hills (stopping at a Betty’s Tea Room en route as must surely be done) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, along with Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone with which it plays in rep. It is always pleasing to see this kind of regional collaboration actually coming to fruition as it does provide reassurances that the arts are finding the best ways to work through these financially straitened times.

It helps of course when the work is of this quality. Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel is very much unafraid to cut and reconfigure the story into something overtly theatrical as characters break out of the narrative to introduce themselves and provide short cuts through the author’s tangled web of nineteenth century Russian aristocracy. Clifford, and McDougall, also pull in the focus so that the counterpoint of Anna’s fast-burning passion with the dashing Vronsky and Levin’s hard-fought love for Katy becomes the beating heart of the matter. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange”

Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange

“I’m not interested in your perfect functions”

It is often the case with lesser performed works by well-known playwrights that there’s a reason why they don’t occupy the same place in the canon, and so it was with this production of Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play Orpheus Descending which I managed to squeeze into the end of a hectic work trip to Manchester. It is unmistakeably his work: elements like the oppressive heat of the Deep South, repressed passion and a mismatched couple are present and correct. But there’s also a lugubrious pace and a patchwork quilt of superfluous supporting characters which helps to explain its relative obscurity.

Lady Torrance is an unhappily married Mississippi store-owner whose head is well and truly turned with the arrival of handsome young drifter Val. He’s escaping his past but finds himself in the most stifling kind of narrow-minded community as they react against him. At the same time though, he offers the potential of a way out for Lady who dares to dream of a more liberated future, but the constraints of her present circumstances and the ever-powerful echoes of the horrific past mean nothing is easy. Continue reading “Review: Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange”