News: Uncle Vanya to receive broadcast release

Sonia Friedman Productions has announced that Ian Rickson’s highly acclaimed production of Conor McPherson’s new adaptation of Uncle Vanya has been filmed on stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre in partnership with Angelica Films. The new film version of the production will be shown in cinemas ahead of broadcast on the BBC (date tbc) with further distribution details to be announced soon. This makes it the first UK stage production closed by the Coronavirus pandemic to have been filmed and produced for the screen.

Directed for screen by Ross MacGibbon, the film reunites nearly all of the original cast of the production that was in its final weeks (read my review here) when the country went into lockdown in March and theatres were forced to close. Only Ciarán Hinds was unavailable and his role has now been taken by Roger Allam. Continue reading “News: Uncle Vanya to receive broadcast release”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre

Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya featuring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage at the Harold Pinter Theatre is so good you can forgive the “wanging on”

“I mean what I mean when I say what I say”

Above everything, the thing that stands out most about Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Chekhov’s evergreen Uncle Vanya is his use of the phrase “wanging on”, twice. It’s such a random thing but it rings out like a bell, both times, more so than any of the usages of contemporary language that pepper the script. Running it a close second though, is just how vital and vibrant Ian Rickson’s production proves.

From stacking his cast with real, proper talent (imagine your bit players being of the ilk of Anna Calder-Marshall, Peter Wight and Dearbhla Molloy) to reuniting with Rosmersholm designer Rae Smith, this is a finely tuned piece of theatre which ultimately, doesn’t do too much that is radical (though the fourth wall breaking-bits are smashing), but rather distils its Chekhovian spirit just so. Or maybe that it’s the first production of the play I’ve seen since turning 40 and its midlife crises suddenly have new resonance…! Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre”

2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

An interesting set of nominations have been announced for the 2018 Laurence Olivier Awards. Perhaps predictably, the headline grabbers are Hamilton with their record 13 nominations, and The Ferryman which received 8. I’m pleased to see Follies and Angels in America represent a strong showing for the National with 10 and 6 respectively, and also lovely to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie close behind with 5. Beyond delighted for The Revlon Girl too, my play of the year.

Naturally, not everything can get nominated and for me, it was most disappointing to see Barber Shop Chronicles miss out on any recognition. And with Hamilton crowding out the musicals categories, there was sadly no room for The Grinning Man, Romantics Anonymous and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (although I’m unsure of the Menier’s eligibility with regards to SOLT). And I think Victoria Hamilton (Albion). Philip Quast (Follies) and Louis Maskell and Julian Bleach (The Grinning Man)  are entitled to be a bit miffed.

How do you feel about these nominations? And what do you think should have been nominated instead?

Continue reading “2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre

 “The years roll by and nothing changes”

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

Continue reading “Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre”

Review: Doubt – a Parable, Southwark Playhouse

“What do you do when you’re not sure?”

John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt, a Parable comes lauded with garlands – Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Hollywood adaptation with none other than Meryl Streep – so it must be a modern classic right? But, written in 2004, with all of the hindsight of how cases of historical sexual abuse in the Catholic church have been (mis-)handled, I find its dramatic ambivalence hard to stomach.

Shanley sidestepped the issue by setting his play in 1964 where a scandal is brewing at the St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. Or is it? Ferociously strict principal Sister Aloysius is convinced that there is inappropriateness occurring between parish priest Father Flynn and the school’s first black pupil, but her views are coloured by her loathing of Flynn’s modernising ways. Continue reading “Review: Doubt – a Parable, Southwark Playhouse”

New cast for The Ferryman announced

 
Producers Sonia Friedman Productions and Neal Street Productions have today announced new cast members for Jez Butterworth’s hugely successful The Ferryman. (Take a look at my review from the Royal Court here).
 
Maureen Beattie, Charles Dale, Laurie Davidson , Sarah Greene (replacing Laura Donnelly), William Houston (replacing Paddy Considine), Ivan Kaye, Mark Lambert, Catherine McCormack, Fergal McElherron and Glenn Speers will join the company from October 9th 2017 and the show is currently booking to January 6th 2018.

 
The original company will give its final performance on October 7th 2017, following which the cast will be comprised of:


Maureen Beattie – Aunt Maggie Far Away
Charles Dale – Father Horrigan
Laurie Davidson – Shane Corcoran
Fra Fee – Michael Carney
Stuart Graham – Muldoon
Sarah Greene – Caitlin Carney
William Houston – Quinn Carney
Ivan Kaye – Tom Kettle
Mark Lambert – Uncle Patrick Carney
Carla Langley – Shena Carney
Catherine McCormack – Mary Carney
Fergal McElherron – Frank Magennis
Conor MacNeill – Diarmaid Corcoran
Rob Malone – Oisin Carney
Dearbhla Molloy – Aunt Pat Carney
Glenn Speers – Lawrence Malone
Niall Wright – JJ Carney

As previously the full company comprises 37 performers: 17 main adults, 7 covers, 12 children on rota and 1 baby. (Plus a few other surprise guests!)

Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

Continue reading “Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court”

DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)

“We’ve been getting phone calls, text messages, emails…can’t trace where or who from”

Another drama about online shenanigans, as should be evident from the titular ‘U’, U Be Dead is an ITV television movie from 2009 and written by Gwyneth Hughes. Jan and Debra are in the midst of preparing for a lavish wedding but when they start to receive threatening messages and anonymous phone calls as part of a systematic campaign of harassment, their lives are thrown into complete turmoil. 

It’s all a bit schlocky to be completely honest (but then it is ITV) though there are some strong performances that shine through. Tara Fitzgerald unravels spectacularly as Debra, the target of the most vitriolic aspects of the stalking and clearly far too good for David Morrissey’s rather taciturn psychiatrist/speedboat racer, whose head is easily turned by pert new arrival Bethan played by Lucy Griffith, even in the midst of the crisis. Continue reading “DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)”

Review: The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre

“A pregnant woman is a Trojan horse”

After Mike Bartlett’s inimitable slant on Euripides in his contemporary version of Medea for Headlong, it is now the turn of poet Caroline Bird to reimagine the world of Ancient Greek tragedy for modern times with her take on the same playwright’s The Trojan Women, directed by the Gate’s own AD Christopher Haydon. Set in the mother and baby ward of a prison in the fallen city of Troy, the mothers, wives and sisters of the destroyed army await their fate as the marauding Greek invaders decide how to divide their spoils of war, chief among them Hecuba, the former queen and Helen, the woman in whose name the Greeks fought their bloody war. (FYI I attended the final preview, courtesy of their bargaintastic Gatecrasher offer).

Bird’s prose clearly has a keen poetic edge, especially in conjuring up the desolation of a defeated nation, and perhaps surprisingly it also opens a vein of bleak humour, at times a blessed relief from the sheer harshness of it all but also sometimes feeling dangerously close to a glibness that feels wrong and best embodied by Jon Foster’s blokey Talthybius who is frequently very close to this line. Lucy Ellinson’s excellent one-woman Chorus negotiates the balancing act with much more skill, her very pregnant tragicomic countrywoman shackled to the bed and thus an unwitting witness to everything, passing incisive comment, asking pertinent questions, bitterly relating the very human toll of the conflict to those normally protected by palace walls. Continue reading “Review: The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre”

Review: And No More Shall We Part, Hampstead Downstairs

“I still love you like in the beginning”

If you’re suffering from the January blues, then the theatre can often provide a convenient respite. But be careful about the show you pick, as following on from the tear-jerking Lovesong at the Lyric Hammersmith is another piece that seems determined to make you reach for the tissues – Tom Holloway’s And No More Shall We Part. A play about assisted suicide is rarely going to be easy viewing and in the intimate space downstairs at the Hampstead Theatre (I unwisely chose to sit on the front row), this two-hander is gently uncompromising stuff.

Pam is suffering from some unspecified terminal disease and has decided that she wants to take matters into her own hands and end her life whilst she still has her faculties and her dignity. But when the time comes, the tablets take much longer than anticipated to take hold and over several hours, horrified husband Don is forced to watch as the end comes, agonisingly slowly. The wait for release is interspersed with scenes from the recent past as we see Pam informing Don of what she has decided and his struggle to accept her wishes. Continue reading “Review: And No More Shall We Part, Hampstead Downstairs”