Review: The Height of the Storm, Wyndham’s

Such pleasure in watching Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins onstage plus The Height of the Storm at the Wyndham’s Theatre is great for post-show reconstruction of this deconstructed story 

“What would I do without you?
What would become of me without you?”

As Florian Zeller returns to the London stage with his latest play The Height of the Storm, you get something of the sense that British theatre is patting itself on the back saying ‘look, we do do European theatre’. But as with Ivo van Hove’s continued presence here, there’s a risk that familiarity will breed contempt as the risk of employing European theatremakers is mitigated by picking the same ones over and over.

Which is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that, whilst I enjoyed this immensely, I wonder if we’re approaching diminishing returns territory with Zeller. The Father was an extraordinary piece of storytelling in its disorientating structure and The Height of the Storm occupies a similar territory as we join long-married André and Madeleine and their two daughters and try to work out who is alive, who is dead, and just how many mushrooms there are onstage. Continue reading “Review: The Height of the Storm, Wyndham’s”

#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage

Such amazing casting news came our way yesterday, with not one but two of my absolute faves returning to the London stage in the coming months. The starrier of the two is Cate Blanchett, who will appear with Stephen Dillane in a brand new play by Martin Crimp’s directed by Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre in January 2019. The play is enigmatically entitled When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. (The torture presumably being the absolute scrum there’ll be to get tickets, as the show is going into the NT’s most intimate space, the Dorfman.)

But matching Blanchett in my personal pantheon in Lucy Cohu, an actor whom I’ve longed admired since she broke my heart in the double whammy of Torchwood – Children of Earth on the TV and Speaking in Tongues on the stage. She’s joining the cast of Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm, alongside Anna Madeley and Amanda Drew. And given that the cast already contains the previously announced Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins, this ought to be a good’un. That shows arrives at the Wyndham’s Theatre in October after a brief tour of Richmond, Cambridge and Bath. Continue reading “#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage”

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”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

DVD Review: Suite Française (2015)

 “Be careful… with your life”

Irène Némirovsky’s novel Suite Française has one of those origin stories you’d scarcely believe if you read it in a novel itself. In 1942, Ukrainian-Jewish Némirovsky was deported from the France where she had lived more than half her life, having written two parts of an intended sequence of five novels in the previous couple of years. She spent time at Pithiviers and then Auschwitz where she was murdered, leaving notebooks with family members who could not bring themselves to look at them until they were to be donated to a museum whereupon they were amazed to find complete novels as opposed to mere scribblings – thus Suite Française was published in 2004 to considerable acclaim. 

And where such stories go, film must follow and so a movie adaptation made its way to cinemas in 2015, directed by Saul Dibb and co-written with Matt Charman. Suite Française follows life in a village outside of Paris in the first few months of occupation in 1940 and as with several of the films I’ve watched recently, concerns itself with the lack of moral clarity at that time, refusing to depict the world in black and white with choices made easy with hindsight, but rather investigating the realities of living through such a time of crisis and the lengths to which people will go to to survive. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suite Française (2015)”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Shakespeare Solos – Part 1

“But I do think it is their husbands’ faults if wives do fall”

There’s going to be a lot of Shakespearean content coming our way in the next couple of months as we approach the 400th anniversary of his death and the Guardian have got in early with the first part of their Shakespeare Solos. Six leading actors performing favourite monologues from the Bard, directed by Dan Susman, it’s all rather luxurious, especially when we get the delights of Eileen Atkins in beautifully conversational mode as Othello’s Emilia, Adrian Lester returning to Hamlet and Roger Allam whetting the appetite for a King Lear which will surely be one of the wonders of the modern world once it happens.

And if a couple of the choices here smack a little of sneaky advertising, then so what. Better to have opportunities for people to book and see more if they are so inspired by these clips. Atkins is reprising her solo show at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and Ayesha Dharker (here as Titania) will open in the RSC’s mammoth tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream later this month. It might not be Hamlet but Adrian Lester can be seen being differently Shakespearean in Red Velvet and most tenuously of all though still thoroughly theatrical, David Morrissey (a hypnotic Richard III) can be seen for another month in Hangmen.

DVD Review: Last Chance Harvey

“Cantankerous I’ve never been”

Joel Hopkins’ The Love Punch was a film that worked far better than one might have expected, a lovely surprise in the cinema back in 2014, so I’ve been looking forward to catching up with his earlier 2008 movie Last Chance Harvey. And once again I was caught unawares, even as I knew that I would probably like it, I had no idea I would love it so completely.

Dustin Hoffman’s Harvey is a washed-up US jingle-writer, finding himself on the fringes of his daughter’s London wedding in place of a beloved stepfather; Emma Thompson’s Kate has found life has passed her by, still single and struggling with an overbearing mother. That the two will end up together somehow is never in doubt but the joy of Hopkins’ film is in making the journey so beautifully, emotionally real. Continue reading “DVD Review: Last Chance Harvey”

DVD Review: The Hours

“I seem to have fallen out of time”

Based on Michael Cunningham’s novel of the same name, I loved 2012 film The Hours from the first time I saw it and still think it a minor masterpiece a three women, each connected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, try to get through the living of a single day. In the present day, Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughan, a NY society hostess planning a party for her AIDS-stricken poet friend; Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, a depressed 1950s housewife, unhappily married and pregnant for the second time; and Nicole Kidman plays Woolf herself, battling her own demons whilst writing the book.

From David Hare’s screenplay, Stephen Daldry creates a hugely elegant sweep across time as echoes ripple across the separate narratives – connections built through the smallest of details recurring as each woman variously deals with repressed longing, the fear of a life not lived to its fullest, the hours that keep on passing. Kidman (and her prosthetic nose) may have won the Academy Award and she is very good but for my money, it is Moore’s anguished housewife who should have won the plaudits, such is the intensity she brings to the role.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Hours”