Film Review: Judy (2019)

Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold

“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”

As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.

But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to. Continue reading “Film Review: Judy (2019)”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

Too-hot-to-review: Woyzeck, Old Vic

“We are too desperate to do anything but live our lives desperately”

To be quite honest, I hadn’t intended to see Woyzeck, little about it appealing to me (despite the presence of Nancy Carroll and Ben Batt in the cast – attractive to me in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY). But a bargain and the chance to catch up with an old friend got me to the Old Vic on a gorgeously sunny afternoon where, inevitably, I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would. There’s just a few performances left though if you want to catch it for yourself/bask in their air-con.

Re-review: People, Places and Things, Wyndham’s Theatre

“I want to live vividly”

There’s something rather apposite about the rush to label Denise Gough’s performance in People, Places and Things as the greatest since Mark Rylance’s in Jerusalem, as as heretical as it may be to say it, I was no real fan of the latter. And whilst there is a huge amount to admire in Gough’s epic efforts in a behemoth of a role, my reaction to the play on seeing it a second time was magnify what I felt were its flaws, leaving me bemused at the number of 5 star notices and hyperbole-filled writing.

My original review can be found here and in its new home at the Wyndham’s, I felt much the same. Duncan Macmillan’s writing lapses towards the painfully poetic far too often when trying to engage with the realities of addiction and it still feels baggy, the group scenes linger past their welcome and the repetitiveness goes too far, a fair bit could be cut and nothing lost. But what do I do know? It fascinates me endlessly when I end up outside the zeitgeist this way and interestingly for me, no-one else’s reviews have convinced me of what I’m apparently missing. Still, I’d recommend you go along to make up your mind and to see what should be, by any rights, the ascendance of Denise Gough to a well-deserved star status. 

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th June

Short Film Review #62

Last year, I made a weekly feature out of short film reviews (if you explore the film tag, you can find them all) but in the name of reclaiming some semblance of a normal life, I’ve put them on hold. Things still pop into my awareness or my inbox though so I thought I’d flag these up. 

Not quite a short film but an interactive video game, 5 Minutes features newly-announced Beowulf Kieran Bew (and it’s good news, he’s a bearded Bew in this one) as a father trapped in a zombie nightmare with his teenage daughter. You can select three levels of difficulty to help them through their journey to try and escape the zombie curse (I’ve managed medium, just about) and it is all rather well done. I’m no expert at all in this kind of thing though so make of it what you will! Continue reading “Short Film Review #62”

New trailer for A Mad World My Masters

Want to see a trailer for The RSC and ETT’s A Mad World My Masters? Why sure you do.

Sean Foley and Phil Porter’s version of the Thomas Middleton play was a big hit for the RSC in Stratford in 2013 so English Touring Theatre saw it as a good fit to revive and tour around the country. The show is in Brighton this week and goes onto Malvern, Truro, Bath, Darlington, Cambridge and then the Barbican in London from 29th April to 9th May.

Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“It is as if we find ourselves at the beginning of time…”

It may be Shakespeare’s Globe but it is Richard Bean’s when it comes to new writing at this venue and he returns once again with a Globe, Out of Joint and Chichester Festival Theatre co-production about the island colony of Pitcairn which was set up by Fletcher Christian in the wake of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. Playing with the ideas of revolutionary freedom that were burning so fiercely on the other side of the globe, Christian dreamed of creating an Utopian ideal out of the sailors who left with him and a group of Polynesian men and women but perhaps unsurprisingly, little that was ideal came out of it.

Little that is ideal comes out of this play either. Bean throws in a number of interesting ideas into his Pitcairn – the power struggles between comrades, the jealousies that come out of the supposed liberation of sexual freedom, the culture clash that arises out of the enduring adherence to the Tahitian tradition of utmost respect for hierarchy. But it all adds up to very little and Bean has also incorporated some dodgier elements especially when it comes to the cringe-worthy expression of that sexual freedom, the constant reliance of embarrassingly dated notions of the ‘natives’ (let’s dance!) and audience participation that doesn’t really fly. Continue reading “Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre

“You know, Aslan, I’m a little disappointed in you”

Aiming to be one of the theatrical events of the summer (although it has always seemed more of a Christmassy story to me), Rupert Goold has turned his customary directorial flair to his own adaptation of CS Lewis’ quintessential English classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But in choosing to mount this production in the threesixty theatre in the grounds of Kensington Gardens, a rather unforgiving purpose-built circular tent, the show faces an uphill struggle from the start to try and create the sense of theatrical magic and wonder that is needed to transport us through the wardrobe along with the four Pevensie children. NB this was a preview performance.

The show is clearly aiming to be a family-friendly spectacular, the varied inhabitants of Narnia are evoked through a cross between Lion King puppetry and Cirque du Soleil physicality – imaginatively done if that’s your sort of thing, though readers of this blog will know it is not mine, at all – but the soulless atmosphere of the space leads to a rather sterile feel which the cast rarely overcome. Even Adam Cork’s music fails to get the pulse racing (the website says ‘the production is a play but does feature some live music and a pre-recorded fully orchestrated soundtrack’ so we’re clearly in “play with songs” territory rather than fully fledged “musical”) as the rather anodyne songs make little lasting impression and the muddy sound design meant there was precious little lyrical clarity. Continue reading “Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre”

Review: American Trade, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“I don’t even know what you are speaking of but I sense it’s dirty, underhanded and plain illegal”

And so to complete the set… Having initially declared that I was fine with not seeing any of the RSC new commissions at the Hampstead Theatre when they were announced, I’ve now seen all three of them, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s American Trade following on from Little Eagles and Silence in what has been, to be completely honest, a rather underwhelming season. Billed as a contemporary Restoration comedy, this is an ultra-modern, breakneck 90 minutes of multi-coloured, multi-racial, multi-sexual shenanigans, which also happens to mark Jamie Lloyd’s RSC directorial debut. This was a preview performance on the evening of Saturday 4th June.

Insofar as the plot is concerned, young New York hustler Pharus is offered a golden chance to escape his increasingly tricky situation when an unexpected offer from his unknown English Great-Aunt Marian to run a new modelling agency as part of her PR firm comes through. So he crosses the ocean and make a good impression but ends up finding he is best at what he knows and so the model agency becomes a cover for a prostitution racket. But his cousin Valentina, heir presumptive to the business, is not happy with the new arrival and the threat he poses, so she sets about trying to uncover his murky past whilst trying to work her PR spin on a children’s film star who has gone seriously off the rails. Continue reading “Review: American Trade, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”