DVD Review: The Way We Live Now

“We’ll be making history gentleman, and money too”

I picked up a copy of The Way We Live Now mid-November and as my first Anthony Trollope novel, I rather enjoyed reading it. So with time on my hands for once over Christmas, I decided to watch the 2001 BBC adaptation which I didn’t watch at the time. Prolific period adaptor Andrew Davies was on hand to turn this lengthy novel into a four parter (just about 5 hours in total) and I found it to be a rather effective rendering of a most complex world of plots and subplots which, although a tad disappointing in its ending, was well worth the time to savour and enjoy.

If it were on the stage, it would be labelled all over as a ‘timely revival’ as Trollope’s main thrust concerns the deviousness of financiers and politicos and the depths that society will sink to in order to maintain its position. There’s also love and good natured people involved to and the balance between the ever-spinning storylines is very well done. At the heart of it all is David Suchet’s Augustus Melmotte, surely one of his best ever performances, a foreign businessman who attempts to reinvent himself as a Englishman of pedigree by buying his way into business, society, property, the House of Commons, his ambitions know no bounds. And as he does so, many around him attempt to jump on his coat-tails for the ride up, not least the aristocratic but impoverished Carburys.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Way We Live Now”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown Part I, Richard II

“Take honour from me and my life is done”

And so finally it arrives, the culmination of the BBC’s Shakespeare fest in The Hollow Crown, the four history plays from Richard II through to Henry V filmed by some of our most exciting directors and bringing together a simply astounding company of actors of the highest (theatrical) pedigree. Having been spoiled by an excellent Richard II from John Heffernan at the Tobacco Factory, the subsequent Eddie Redmayne-starring production at the Donmar suffered a little by comparison, but the sheer star quality on offer here, directed by Rupert Goold no less, meant there was no way I would be missing it.

Leading the cast as the feckless monarch undone by his own grandiloquence, Ben Whishaw imbues Richard with a capricious feyness – his camp is filled with handsome serving boys, juicy figs and a monkey – and a fateful contempt for the affairs of men. This leads to his downfall as his harsh punishment of cousin Henry Bolingbroke and his unlawful seizing of his family’s land and money provokes a righteous retribution from Bolingbroke, who returns from exile supported by many a nobleman and seizes the throne. As the tide turns against him, Whishaw’s king graduates to a heart-wrenching too-late maturity, as the only life he has ever known (he was crowned aged just 10 after all) slips from his grasp. Goold lays on this transformation a little too thickly with an inescapable religious iconography but plays a masterstroke in having the scene of Richard’s return to England played out on a windy beach, his petulant hopelessness washed away with his name in the sand, Whishaw embracing the text exquisitely.   Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown Part I, Richard II”

Review: All New People, Duke of York’s Theatre

“We’re all in pain, Charlie”

Zach Braff’s debut play All New People premiered off-Broadway last year with the new playwright remaining behind the scenes. But for its arrival into the West End, after a short UK tour, the Scrubs star has taken up the lead role as the suicidal Charlie. He’s shut himself away in a New Jersey beach house in the depth of winter to do the deed, but his solitude is interrupted by the arrival of three misfits who set about infuriating him yet ultimately helping to shift his outlook in the subtlest of ways.

Yet the play is anything but subtle. The cutaways to flashbacks to explain why each of the characters has ended up in this particular circumstance offer amusing cameos from a range of stars, but rob scenes of their dramatic impetus; the destruction of a bead-filled piece of African art sets up some painfully contrived pratfalls; the continued recourse to (sometimes highly amusing) one-liners; the clunky shoehorning in of the show’s title in a moment of cod-philosophy in the final moments. The clumsy construction of the play’s components is frequently laid bare and the lack of finesse in the writing all too apparent. Continue reading “Review: All New People, Duke of York’s Theatre”

DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby

“You must bear up against sorrow my dear”

Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby manages the not-unimpressive feat of condensing Dickens’ weighty novel into a two hour film, and whilst much must have been jettisoned (I’ve never read the book so I couldn’t tell you what) it still hangs together as a cohesive story with much to recommend it. McGrath also directs and remains very much faithful to the spirit of Dickens with a straightforward aesthetic that takes a few artistic liberties but whose heart is very much in the right place.

After the death of Nickleby senior, Nickleby junior is thrust into the role of head of the family but with the dastardly deeds of their unscrupulous Uncle Ralph, Nicholas has to work extremely hard and keep his wits about him in order to protect his friends and family from the misfortune around them. Those misfortunes are many and varied but entertainingly portrayed here as there’s a good deal of humour and pathos mixed in with the grimness. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby”

DVD Review: Another Year

“On a scale of one to ten, how happy would you say you were”

Mike Leigh’s most recent film split my friends – you can read a lengthy and less than enthusiastic review of Another Year here, but others really enjoyed it and I have to say that I found it to be a warm, perceptive and affecting drama that fits in perfectly to his work in the 2000s. Initially it seems to come from the same mould as Happy Go Lucky as we focus on engineer Tom and therapist Gerri, a long-married couple who are still deeply affectionate for each other and appear to live lives untroubled by major concerns and more than happy with their lot.

Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent fit together beautifully, their affability shining through as they tend to their beloved allotment or entertain their son Joe, Oliver Maltman in a seemingly permanent flirtatious mood. But it seems that happiness is something of a lottery and as we progress through the four acts of the film, taking place over the seasons of a year, we see that the lives of the people living around this couple are substantially less than idyllic. Whether it is Gerri’s client, a devastatingly pinched Imelda Staunton; Tom’s old pal Ken who has hit the booze and pies incredibly hard, Peter Wight in great desperate bedraggled form; David Bradley’s shell-shocked Ronnie, Tom’s brother with a tearaway nightmare of a son, Martin Savage crackling with vicious energy, it seem that happiness has passed them all by. Continue reading “DVD Review: Another Year”

DVD Review: Charles II The Power and the Passion

“It’s amazing what Parliament will do when they feel guilty”

Charles II: The Power and the Passion was a 2003 BBC miniseries the likes of which I doubt we’ll see again in these times of austerity as it was a sprawlingly lavish costume drama, directed by a young Joe Wright. Covering the life and reign of Charles II, it starts just before his restoration to the throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell and runs right through to his death. Thus as 27 years of history are condensed into 4 hours, liberties and dramatic license is freely taken and this isn’t really the place to be too pernickety about this kind of things.

We follow Charles from his libidinous time in exile on the continent to arriving back in London to be crowned King and to lock horns with Parliament. Charles still believed strongly in the absolute power of the monarchy but the politicians of the day were determined not to surrender any of their new-gained influence and so much struggles ensued as members of his court both grew in influence and fell from favour as everyone jockeys for power and to make sure they’re on the winning side. There is also the matter of the succession as Charles has no legitimate heir, though plenty of illegitimate offspring, and wants his brother named but he is a Catholic. Continue reading “DVD Review: Charles II The Power and the Passion”

Review: Moonlight, Donmar Warehouse

“You are the proper target for a cat’s derision”
 
Pinter has never really been one of those playwrights that has held much appeal for me, despite how well regarded he is. The only of his plays that I’ve ever seen is the Almeida’s production of The Homecoming but by and large, I’ve tended to avoid his work. But the Donmar is usually good value for money and always pull together stellar casts and so I duly booked for his 1993 play Moonlight, with Bijan Sheibani making his Donmar directorial debut, sneaking in for a £10 seat at the last preview. Little was I know that time could so slowly as it did here.
 
A ruminative meditation on a dysfunctional family, Moonlight focuses on the dying Andy and his estranged family: his emotionally distant wife Bel tends at his bedside, his two sons refuse to see him and verbally spar with each in a grubby bedsit and the ghostly presence of his daughter that haunts his house. In their own spheres, they all talk about the things they have lost, or rather talk around them, as it is clear that the breakdown in communication between that has caused the rifts, still persists and they are all unable to surmount it.

Continue reading “Review: Moonlight, Donmar Warehouse”

2009 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Black Watch by Gregory Burke – Barbican
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts – National Theatre Lyttelton
That Face by Polly Stenham – Duke of York’s
The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall – National Theatre Cottesloe

Best New Musical
Jersey Boys – Prince Edward
Zorro – Garrick

Best Revival 
The Histories – Roundhouse
The Chalk Garden – Donmar Warehouse
The Norman Conquests – Old Vic Continue reading “2009 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

2009 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Katy Stephens – The Histories, RSC at the Roundhouse 
Deanna Dunagan – August: Osage County at the NT Lyttelton 
Lesley Sharp – Harper Regan at NT Cottesloe
Lindsay Duncan – That Face at the Duke of York’s 
Margaret Tyzack – The Chalk Garden at the Donmar Warehouse 
Penelope Wilton – The Chalk Garden at the Donmar Warehouse 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Kenneth Branagh – Ivanov, Donmar West End at Wyndham’s 
Adam Godley – Rain Man at the Apollo 
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Othello at the Donmar Warehouse
Eddie Redmayne – Now or Later at the Royal Court Downstairs 
Ian McDiarmid – Six Characters in Search of an Author at the Gielgud 
Kevin Spacey & Jeff Goldblum – Speed the Plow at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2009 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”