Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)

 “To be born a woman is the worst punishment” 

The ominous funeral bell tolling throughout the opening of this Radio 3 version of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba is a brilliant scene setter, and a telling reminder that so much of the world of this play is actually only ever heard making it ideal for radio adaptation. Fearsome matriarch Bernarda Alba has declared eight years of mourning after the death of her second husband and orders her daughters to remain barricaded inside the family home with her. The younger women bristle at the restraint, especially as the sounds of the world beyond their gate let them know what they’re missing, and the family trait for stubbornness proves enduringly tragic. 

Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata’s translation sacrifices little of Lorca’s striking poetic imagery but impressively manages to keep a convincing colloquiality to the speech. It helps of course to have a strong cast – Siân Thomas’ Bernarda prickles with venom, Brigit Forsyth’s kindly housekeeper Poncia is achingly good and Kate Coogan and Elaine Cassidy as the oldest and youngest daughters battle excellently for the hand of a man and more importantly, for the freedom it represents.  Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)”

Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen

I don’t think being gay is that bad. I’ve had three erotic dreams about The One Show’s Matt Baker and I’ve really enjoyed them.”

Tom Wells’ Jonesy is currently running as part of nabokov’s Symphony as part of the Vault Festival, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it pop up as a Radio 4 Afternoon Drama, all the more so as Wells has adapted to fit the new medium. It is clearly a work that has a special relationship with sound for the writer – on stage, it is part of a trio of plays presented as a gig, live music augmenting the dramatic experience and on radio, it becomes a foray into the world of sound effects. 

The original story follows academic and asthmatic Withernsea lad Jamie Jones as he tries to emulate the sporting underdog movies he loves so much by passing GCSE PE but it is now told by Jonesy himself from the confines of the BBC Radio Drama Sound Department where he has secured some work experience. So the storytelling becomes a little meta with its references but also surreally enhanced by the breadth of effects at his fingertips, some of them not entirely appropriate for the task in hand but all of them used most wittily.  Continue reading “Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen”

DVD Review: Fingersmith

“The over-exposure of women to literature breeds unnatural fancies”

I struggled a little bit to find another theatrical-friendly lesbian-themed thing to watch so I returned to Sarah Waters and the 2005 adaptation of Fingersmith, which as it starred Sally Hawkins was no great hardship at all. Set in Victorian England as was Tipping the Velvet, this story follows the lives of Sue and Maud, two very different women whose lives are irrevocably changed when a trio of fingersmiths, or pickpockets, conspire to rob an heiress of her fortune. But it turns out the plans are even more devious than first assumed as they culminate in the most unexpected of fashions and in a deftly clever move, we revisit all we have just seen from another perspective, casting uncertainty of the surety of what we know which plays excellently in the subsequent exploration of the disturbing reality of Victorian mental asylums.

Sally Hawkins is predictably excellent as Sue, one of the pickpockets who hoodwinks her way into the slightly disturbed Maud’s, the pale Elaine Cassidy, household as a housemaid who acts as a chaperone to allow a second trickster, Mr Rivers played by a bewhiskered Rupert Evans, to pose as a gentleman and seduce Maud into marriage just before she inherits a large fortune. Maud has been stifled by life in her extremely strict uncle’s house as a contributor to his immense collection of pornography and relishes the contact of Sue’s seemingly kindred spirit, so much so that an illicit lesbian affair springs up between the pair. But even as Sue is deceiving her, it emerges that Maud is not quite as delicate as she may seem and so intrigue builds on intrigue as Peter Ransley’s screenplay condenses a wonderfully complex novel into a more streamlined narrative, though still full of equally multifaceted characters.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Fingersmith”

Review: Les Parents Terribles, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2

“Grandfather collected semi-colons…”

The final play in the first residency of the Donmar Warehouse’s Resident Assistant Directors scheme at the Trafalgar Studios 2 is Jean Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles. Set in a crowded bohemian household in 1930s Paris, it examines the dynamics of an extremely dysfunctional family. The tempestuous Yvonne worships her son Michael and he revels in their almost incestuously close relationship but when he declares that he has fallen in love with a girl called Madeleine, her world is shattered and histrionics ensue. Also living with them is Yvonne’s spinster sister Leo who has long been nurturing a candle for her brother-in-law George but matters are made even worse when he realises that his son’s lover is actually his own mistress as well.

Rather pleasingly this is a proper Donmar-quality cast and they did not disappoint, attached as they are to the best play that has been featured in this run. Elaine Cassidy and Tom Byam Shaw suggest the promise and escape of young love with their wide-eyed naïveté and charming connection; Cassidy is particularly heart-breaking when the sheer selfishness of this family threatens to overwhelm her, leaving her stricken on the floor. Anthony Calf as failed inventor George exudes a floppy bumbling self-pity but capable of a barbarous cruelty as he seeks to get his own way no matter what. Continue reading “Review: Les Parents Terribles, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about the witchcraft trials that took place in Salem in the seventeenth century but at a time when America was gripped in the McCarthyite Communist hunt of the 1950s so much of its message was an attack on the contemporary situation thinly disguised with the veneer of historical parallel. This RSC production which has transferred to the West End after a very successful run is directed by Dominic Cooke.

A group of drunken women dancing naked in the woods late one night starts off rumours of witch-craft and devil-worshipping in the little village of Salem and so begins the witch hunt that ultimately leads to the torture and the execution of innocent men and women as hysteria takes over some and cold political survival dominates the elite’s response even at the expense of human life. It’s quite grim, but its power comes from the resonance that it still has today with the political situation in the USA. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre”