TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3

I ration myself to Episodes 1-3 of Series 4 of The Crown in the first instance but find it is losing its lustre a little

“I’m struggling to find any redeeming features in these people at all”

Kicking off in 1977, Series 4 of The Crown swiftly moves into my lifetime with its second scene taking place in 1979, although not quite into events that I remember, at least in these first three episodes. And with the arrival of both Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher on the scene, there’s quite the decade to explore.

But something has gone a little awry for me and The Crown. The sheer scope of Peter Morgan’s writing means that there’s a mahoosive ensemble at work here but the nature of his construction of episodes that drill down to intimate focus means that there’s huge gaps and terrible wastage, particularly of Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious Princess Margaret. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3”

News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week

The latest venue to announce the opening of their digital archive in order to satisfy our theatrical cravings is the Hampstead Theatre who, in partnership with The Guardian will re-release the live stream recordings of Mike Bartlett’s Wild, Beth Steel’s Wonderland and Howard Brenton’s Drawing the Line for free.

Available to watch on theguardian.com and hampsteadtheatre.com, the three productions will be made available, on demand, over three consecutive weeks as part of the theatre’s #HampsteadTheatreAtHome series and the first of these – Wild – is available now. And once you’ve watched it, take a look at the ways you can support the Hampstead Theatre here. Continue reading “News: #HampsteadTheatreAtHome launches this week”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: Mamma Mia, Novello

 “It’s all very Greek”

18 years since it opened, Mamma Mia continues to tempt people to the island as it now ranks as the seventh-longest running show in the West End. It recently welcomed a new cast into the Novello and I got the opportunity to revisit this stalwart this week (only for the second time actually, here’s my review from 2014). I’ll post a link to my three star review once it gets published.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd March 2018, at the moment

 

Review: The Three Lions, St James Theatre

“What’s the difference between a bribe and an incentive?”

With the fallout of FIFA’s decisions of where to have the 2018 and 2022 World Cups still percolating around footballing bureaucrats even now, one could probably find more than enough material for a verbatim play full of high drama – alleged bribery and corruption, the tragedy of migrant working conditions, war-mongering presidents, seismic calendar shifts from summer to winter. William Gaminara’s The Three Lions wisely sidesteps that potential controversy though, by imagining a behind-the-scenes farce involving the trio spearheading the English bid to host the 2018 competition – three blokes by the name of David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William.

In representing three such well-known figures, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Séan Browne and Tom Davey have to tread a fine line between impersonation and inhabiting their characters more fully and Gaminara’s script doesn’t always allow for this. Davey’s lanky Prince William becomes an improbable japester as he desperately tries to shake off his inbred stiffness and grammatical pedantry and be one of the lads. And Bruce-Lockhart gets the PM’s blustering and patronising tone just right, matching it with the overcompensatory physical language that belies innate insecurity. But they both get overshadowed by a work of comic genius in Browne’s footballer. Continue reading “Review: The Three Lions, St James Theatre”

Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre

“I’m the son of a son of a son of a collier’s son, the last in a long line”

So this is actually a review of a preview, although it was not intended to be. Beth Steel’s Wonderland was meant to open on Thursday but had to delay it until next week due to “ensure the safety of the cast” which may seem a little dramatic but once you enter the Hampstead Theatre’s main auditorium, it soon becomes clear that this was no idle claim. The theatre has gone into the round again and this time, Ashley Martin Davis’ awe-inspiring design has carved out a 3-storey high pit shaft that operates at three levels. Even the act of walking to your seat (if you’re on the stage) becomes precarious as high-heeled shoes must be removed and if you don’t like heights, I wouldn’t look down…!

In a year that marks the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, Steel’s play instantly feels well-timed but cleverly, it is not the play you might be expecting. The presence of Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher loom large (how could they not) but the focus lies elsewhere, in the heart of a Nottinghamshire mining community that feels the effects of the strike, and its lingering aftermath, most keenly indeed. We join the play as two lads start their first day down the pit and are initiated into its unique working ways and its all-encompassing camaraderie, right at the moment that the government has decided to take on the miners as part of a schismatic ideological shift in workers’ rights. Continue reading “Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“What kind of woman is’t?”

In what is now a bit of a tradition (although I was abandoned by my usual partner in crime), late November sees me travel to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, as it has become one of the first places that Propeller visit as they commence their lengthy tours around the UK and beyond. Indeed my first ever Propeller experience was here with the frankly outstanding Richard III, which with The Comedy of Errors made for an incredible introduction to this all-male company. The most recent double bill of Henry V and The Winter’s Tale didn’t quite live up to that billing for me, despite still being some of the most imaginatively reinterpreted Shakespeare I saw all year, and so there was no doubt I would continue to make the pilgrimage to Surrey. 

This time round, they are revisiting their 2006/7 productions of The Taming of the Shrew (which will start performances in late January) and Twelfth Night which commenced earlier in the month and which I saw at this midweek matinée. And from the lowering storm clouds that form the ever-present backdrop, it is clear that this is going to be no fluffy romp but rather a bittersweet take on Shakespeare’s rich comedy of frustrated love and sexual confusion. Sure, the production is full of the raucous innovation that Propeller bring to their reassessment of the Bard’s work and so we have here – amongst many, many other things – boxing matches, the La’s, tap dancing, nose flicking, and shirtless moving statues. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Propeller at the Crucible

“Many a man there is”

The second part of Propeller’s current double bill is The Winter’s Tale and much as we did last year for The Comedy of Errors, Boycotting Trends and I (with bonus @3rdspearcarrier) trekked up to Sheffield to catch it early in the substantial tour that follows. It was a little sad but true that Henry V failed to live up to my (sky-high) expectations so I’d aimed for a better job of managing them this time round for this ‘problem play’.

Sicilia is all moon-lit stark, metallic edges, the dark candle-lit atmosphere matching the troubled mind of Leontes, whose tortured jealousy sends him into a frenzy that challenges a lifelong friendship, the will of the gods and the lives of his children and his dear wife Hermione. Robert Hands give his Leontes an anger that subtly builds rather than one that defines his character and thus we feel for him even in his most fevered moments and always see the husband and father that is being lost in the red mist of jealousy – this in turn makes it (slightly) more believable that Hermione might forgive him. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Propeller at the Crucible”

The 2011 fosterIAN award nominations

So here it is, as best a summation of what I liked most about the year’s theatregoing as I can manage. I racked up 332 plays in the end this year (a further analysis will come in a later post) so it has taken quite some considerable time to narrow these down (especially the supporting actress categories which should surprise no-one who knows me) and considering which were the performances that stood out for me this year led to some surprises. Thus here we go, the 2011 fosterIAN (fos-tîr’ē-ən) award nominations for acting this year.
(NB Eligibility is quite simple: if I saw this play/production for the first time this year, it went in the hat. I saw Propeller’s Richard III last November so that fell into last’s year cohort.)

Best Actor in a Play
Benedict Cumberbatch, Frankenstein
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Trevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Andrew Scott, Emperor and Galilean
Dominic West, Othello

Best Actress in a Play
Eve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Geraldine James, Seagull
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Ruth Wilson, Anna Christie
Rosie Wyatt, Bunny Continue reading “The 2011 fosterIAN award nominations”

Review: Henry V, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“May I with right and conscience make this claim”

After the phenomenal success of their pairing of Richard III and The Comedy of Errors which toured considerably this year, all-male Shakespeare company Propeller are riding on something of a high. The company has evolved once again with some departures, some new faces and several stalwarts remaining in situ to take on Henry V (which will be accompanied by The Winter’s Tale from next year) which will tour the UK and the world once again, even heading over to Australia and New Zealand in March.

A history play that has war at the very heart of it, Henry V perhaps lends itself more easily than most to updating, the enduring nature of conflict meaning that resonance is sadly never too far away. Propeller, with Michael Pavelka’s design, have adopted a modern feel – costumes point towards early-twentieth century – but one that generally feels more timeless rather than particularly anchored to any specific period with scaffolding units and crates forming a flexible set. The company bring their customary level of reinvigoration to the play, breathing a new physical life into the work and letting their imagination take it to new places. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”