2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “2013 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Hedda Gabler, Old Vic

“They may say what they like, for aught that I care”

There’s something rather pleasing about watching the upwards trajectory of an actor in front of our very eyes, the sense that we are witness to a genuine star in the making. From Little Shop of Horrors to Legally Blonde to Flare Path, Sheridan Smith has worked up a list of much-lauded theatrical credits, in the face of much scepticism it has to be said, which sits next to a television career which has also deepened and broadened in the types of roles that she is taking on. It was still a little bit of a surprise though to find that she would be taking on the title role in the Old Vic’s production of Hedda Gabler, Ibsen’s complex character oft being considered one of the juiciest roles for an actress to take on. 

Anna Mackmin directs a new version of the text by Brian Friel whose main focus seems to have been to imbue the play with a much stronger vein of humour. It is a decision of which I was not particularly fond as it diminishes much of the impact of the first half of the play. Being encouraged to laugh so much at the characters by whom Hedda finds herself surrounded in what is meant to be her newly-wedded bliss means that there’s too much of a disconnect when the more serious business post-interval kicks in. Adrian Scarborough’s husband is the biggest victim here, we’re never really invited to see him as a real man beyond his wife’s distaste and though his grand moment plays well to his comic strengths, it feels entirely incongruous.  Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, Old Vic”

DVD Review: Bright Young Things

“Reader, be glad that you have nothing to do with this world. Its glamour is a delusion, its speed a snare, its music a scream of fear.”

Whilst recently sitting through the 1930s-set play I Am A Camera at the Southwark Playhouse, I had that frustrating sensation of being reminded of a film that I couldn’t quite recall, mainly in the carefree attitudes of its lead characters. A post-show drink or three finally got me there, the film was Bright Young Things and so I popped it onto my Lovefilm list as it had been quite a while since I last saw it and I was keen for a rewatch.

Based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies which written in 1930, the film marked the screenwriting and directorial debut of a certain Stephen Fry. Positioned as a satire on this section of society, the plot circles around a fast-living decadent set of aristocrats and bohemians living the high life of cocaine and champagne-fuelled parties completely divorced from the realities and responsibilities of the real world around them. Would-be novelist Adam Fenwick-Symes and party girl fiancée Nina Blount are the central couple whose wedding is forever being put off as he keeps losing the money for it, but the Jack and Karen in their lives – the Hon Agatha Runcible and the fey Miles – are much more fun. Continue reading “DVD Review: Bright Young Things”

DVD Review: Vera Drake

“She’s gonna get herself in trouble one of these days”

I’m pretty sure that Vera Drake was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw, and what a cracker it is. It really is an extraordinary performance from Imelda Staunton as the perma-humming cheerful soul with a positive word and deed for everyone around her, the nice suggestion of putting the kettle on being the remedy for everything and her kindly demeanour drawing people close to her.

Vera’s family life is perfectly drawn too: the drudgery of post-war working-class existence in no way stinted on and the different ways it has affected people clearly evident in her children, Daniel Mays making the best of things as a cheery chatty tailor and Alex Kelly’s cowed Ethel, somewhat diminished by life as a light-bulb tester. With Phil Davis completing the family unit, there’s such genuine connectivity to these scenes, a real sense of family life being lived and a gorgeous flicker of romance brightening Ethel’s life, that the knock on the door as the law finally catches up with Vera really does come as a genuine heart-wrenching kick as their lives are shattered by the revelation that she has been carrying out illegal abortions, or just ‘helping some girls out’ as she puts it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vera Drake”

Review: The Jinx Element, Radio 4

Having loved the adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome that I listened to last week, my anticipation for The Jinx Element was quite high and that’s always a dangerous place to be. Sadly, my expectations weren’t really met by this radio play by Stephen Wakelam which told the story of Wharton’s affair with younger journalist Morton Fullerton, this being (part of at least) the inspiration for the story behind Ethan Frome. Told through the eyes of her friend Henry James, we see the impact of the liaison on the 47 year-old Wharton, on her stale marriage to Teddy Wharton and the creative impulses that it released in her.

But for whatever reason, it just didn’t click with me. In truth, it came across as a rather dull effort to me – the narrative device is one which I’m never sure about as it does mean that there’s a lot of reportage rather than action and it’s not always the most entertaining. It was nice to hear Fenella Woolgar as Wharton again though her performance was a little too restrained for my liking, and the same went for Patrick Baladi’s Morton and Allan Corduner’s Henry James – just too much reserve all around.

Review: Ethan Frome, Radio 4

“He felt like he was in another world”

And so my delving into the world of radio drama continues with this adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novella Ethan Frome. Serialised on Radio 4’s Woman Hour as was Possession, this didn’t appear to get the omnibus treatment so I had to listen to it in 15 minute chunks, but by leaving it until it had finished, I was able to listen to them all in one night. To be honest, I find the idea of listening to a part a day quite odd especially as they’re only 15 minutes long, but then the whole world of listening to the radio is alien to me and it obviously works well for them 😉

Ethan Frome is perhaps not as well known as Wharton’s other works such as The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, but actually contains the most autobiographical detail as it took large inspiration from her own sexless marriage and ensuing passionate affair with a younger man. (The story of which is covered in the accompanying Saturday play The Jinx Element which I’ll be listening to next.) And Lin Coghlan’s dramatisation plays on this by making Edith Wharton, voiced here by the incomparable Fenella Woolgar, the narrator of the story. Continue reading “Review: Ethan Frome, Radio 4”

Review: The Veil, National Theatre

“What is it about this place that is a conduit for desperate souls”

Conor McPherson’s The Veil is his first original play for 5 years and set in 1822, marks his first foray into period writing although as it is set in a haunted country house in rural Ireland, he isn’t venturing too far from familiar territory. Rae Smith’s one room set, although it is a lavish recreation of the faded grandeur of a crumbling country pile, has great attention to detail with a great staircase going off the left and up to the gods and a large tree out the back of the conservatory and in it, we see the trials of the Lambroke family. Lady Madeleine’s estate is heavily indebted after the death of her husband and an impending economic crisis and so her 17 year old daughter Hannah is being married off to an English marquis. Hannah is a troubled young woman though, who hears voices and when her chaperone Berkeley proposes a séance before heading back to England with his philosopher friend Audelle, the personal demons and family secrets thus revealed threaten devastating effects.

I was someone else’s plus one for the evening for once and wasn’t actually aware it was the first preview until we arrived at the National in good company (though I did know it was early in the run) and so all the usual caveats apply. And they will apply because I didn’t like it all, though as ever, people rarely seem to have complaints when it is a positive review about a preview… McPherson directs his own play in the Lyttelton and I tend to be a little wary when I hear that playwrights are directing their own work, especially with new plays, as I always innately feel that they would benefit from external influences. Whether that is true or not I don’t know, but what I do know is that The Veil was painfully sluggish and not because of the mechanics of working through a first performance but mainly because of the writing and its construction. Continue reading “Review: The Veil, National Theatre”

Review: The Real Thing, Old Vic

“There’s something scary about stupidity made coherent”
 

Consistency or stuck in a rut? Once again, the Old Vic presents a play set firmly in the 80s and advertised by posters featuring giant up-close portraits of its leading stars. Not knowing anything about The Real Thing did not prevent me from eagerly booking tickets when it was announced though, especially since I had loved Arcadia last year and the early casting news of Toby Stephens and Hattie Morahan filled me with joy. Described on the promotional material as an examination of the complex nature of love, art and reality and also as a modern classic, you’d think you couldn’t go wrong here, but how wrong I was to think that this would be the real thing for me though.

Set in London in the (early?) 80s, Henry is a successful playwright, married to his current leading lady but having an affair with another actress for whom he leaves his wife. He then ends up questioning whether this new marriage is indeed the ‘real thing’ but these issues extend to his professional life too as the question is continually posed about what is the most real, experiencing it for oneself or being able to write beautifully about it, even if it is happening to other people, ‘it’ ultimately being interchangeable for both art and love. It’s a bit tricksy in its format as one might expect from Mr Stoppard so you do need to pay attention from the outset. Continue reading “Review: The Real Thing, Old Vic”

Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre

This week saw a visit to the Lyttleton at the National Theatre for the first preview of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways. Starting off in 1919 at a birthday party, we meet the Conways, a rich family infused with hope for the future: the Great War is over, the sons have returned home safely and potential love matches abound for the numerous sisters. This act is sumptuously mounted, the costumes are fantastic and the company do a great job of introducing a sense of real decadence and loucheness, exuding the confidence that their upper-class lives safely back in place after the wartime turmoil. Francesca Annis as the mother of the family excels here, ruling her roost with a witty demeanour, as does Faye Castelow as the youngest daughter, a bubble of positive energy in primrose yellow. Annis also dealt extremely well with her scarf becoming attached to one of her daughter’s rings for over a minute!

Act II then skips 20 years into the future to see how the passage of time has affected the Conways. With this leap forward, all the actors are called on to really deliver sufficiently nuanced performances to convey the passage of time, and with the aid of some impressive make-up, they pretty much all succeed in this. Lydia Leonard and Hattie Morahan in particular stood out for me, both of them reaching deep to show the frustrations that inter-war life has imposed on them. That said, the acting all-around was of a high quality, although some nerves were in evidence with a couple of fluffed lines (something I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed at the National before).

The final act then returns to where we left off at the end of Act I and we see the culmination of the storylines that started, but with the knowledge of how they will ultimately turn out, 20 years later.

Continue reading “Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre”