TV Review: We’ll Take Manhattan

“They don’t photograph just anyone you know”

You will of course be aware that it was Helen McCrory Weekend the weekend before last and in recognition of thereof, up popped two related treats: the announcement of her appearing in The Last of the Haussmans with Julie Walters and Rory Kinnear at the National Theatre and a new TV film she was in, We’ll Take Manhattan. I duly caught up with the show on iPlayer this weekend and though she gave an epic performance, I can’t say I cared that much for it.

The show followed the story of David Bailey, Aneurin Barnard in leather jacket, as he emerged as a photographic force to be reckoned with in the early 1960s, shaking up the whole fashion industry with an iconic photo shoot in New York starring his muse Jean Shrimpton, Karen Gillan marking out her possible post-Doctor Who options. McCrory starred as Lady Clare Rendlesham, fashion editor at Vogue and the representative of the old guard that Bailey so detested and wanted to be rid of. Continue reading “TV Review: We’ll Take Manhattan”

TV Review: Great Expectations

“If you can’t beat a boy at Christmas when can you beat him?”

One of the centrepieces of the BBC’s festive television schedule was a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by Sarah Phelps. Dickens could well loom large in the coming months as it is the 200th anniversary of his birth in February, but I’m not yet aware of a deluge of programming, whether on television or in the theatre, though I am reliably informed that there’s many radio serialisation on at the moment. As is often the case with new productions of classics, the key word is adaptation and though purists may baulk at some of the changes instituted by Phelps and director Brian Kirk, but that would be a shame as I found this to be a rather special piece of television, the BBC doing what it does best.

From the gorgeously, hauntingly atmospheric landscapes of the beginning – Magwitch rising from the mists of the wetlands was a perfect opening scene – the show looked a treat. The splendid isolation of the Gargerys’ house making for some beautiful shots (though it did pose the question of who exactly used that forge…) and the faded glamour of the dust-covered Satis House was excellently judged, the perfect receptacle for the casting choice that caused the most headlines prior to transmission: Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham. Continue reading “TV Review: Great Expectations”

DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear

“Who is it that can tell me who I am”

Transferring stage productions onto film is something fraught with difficulties as the magic of live performance never really survives the change of medium, so something else, something slightly different has to be striven for. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear for the RSC – originated in Stratford in 2007 then toured the world before a West End season in rep with The Seagull – which stars Ian McKellen in the title role is not a filmed performance on stage, but nor is it a reconceived enhanced film version. Instead, it was filmed rather simply at Pinewood Studios, at the end of the tour, so it has the feel of a piece of theatre rather than of film, with the added bonus of being able to see the acting up close.

And what a bonus it is. McKellen is simply outstanding here. Jacobi’s Lear for the Donmar was my first ever and I couldn’t imagine it ever being bettered, Greg Hicks’ recent RSC one was just different, but this is such an incredibly visceral performance, full of anger and rage and bewilderment that is highly affecting even on screen – what it must have been like live I can’t imagine, but the camera captures every single nervy tic and nuanced touch that must have been missed in some of the larger theatres. And facing up against him is Frances Barber as Goneril in what must be one of the performances of her lifetime. She is just astounding, all kinds of manipulative, Machiavellian evil as she plots her way through the play, but almost justifiably so as the fierce tragedy carved on her face as her father curses her indicates the troubled history between father and daughter. This is the type of performance that makes you wish the sisters were featured much more in the play. Monica Dolan’s Regan is also tremendously strong, a more nervous, unhinged energy that plays out maliciously as she caresses the text languorously and Romola Garai’s Cordelia is beautifully spoken and extremely moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear”

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”

2009 Best success in the face of adversity, and Damehood

Best success in the face of adversity

Helen Dallimore, Too Close To The Sun
Cynics might think I created this category specifically so that Too Close To The Sun could win something, and they might be right. The particular performance that I witnessed involved what can only be described as “tablegate”, so not only did they have to put up with delivering one of the worst musicals ever created, the cast in particular Helen Dallimore, had to contend with a collapsing wicker chest and the funniest case of ongoing corpsing I’ve ever seen. It made what would have been a tragedy into an ‘event’ and one which I feel privileged to have been part of!

Honourable mention
The cast of Madame de Sade
Miranda Richardson, Grasses of a Thousand Colours
When the Donmar West End season was announced, my eyes were immediately drawn to the third play, the only one to feature an all-female cast and one of such calibre that Iwas eagerly anticipating Madame de Sade. What a shame that this was the only mis-step in a excellent season: a turgid, laborious piece that not even a Dame could rescue.
And there needs to be some recognition of the indignities suffered upon Ms Richardson, cast as a lover of Wallace Shawn in a play written by the self-same Wallace Shawn, he had her pretending to be a cat and licking his bald head.

Closest move to damehood

Imelda Staunton
Parading all her wares us to laugh at in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Imelda Staunton showed great fortitude and continued a legacy of fine fine performances on the stage (which, combined with her efforts in Cranford) means that a place on the Queen’s list must surely be hers soon.

Celia Imrie
Fiona Shaw
Juliet Stevenson

Review: The Pietà, St Johns in Piccadilly

Sometimes, though increasingly rarely for me these days, a visit to the theatre can completely take you by surprise by totally exceeding any expectations you might have, if indeed you have any at all. I was taken to The Pietà by a good friend, and I agreed purely on the strength of it being Frances Barber doing something in a church, St Johns in Piccadilly to be precise, and by jove am I glad I did.

Named for the famous statue by Michaelangelo of the Virgin Mary cradling her son’s broken body, this piece takes that theme of motherly anguish and relocates it to the gun-crime-ridden streets of modern-day Manchester. It is a dramatic monologue of a mother who witnesses her son’s violent death, but the role of the mother is shared by Frances Barber who recites text, a soprano vocalist Claire O’Brien and a cor anglaisist Jessica Mogridge who each take turns in portraying the mother, sometimes alone, sometimes together. Continue reading “Review: The Pietà, St Johns in Piccadilly”

Review: Madame De Sade, Donmar Warehouse at Wyndham’s Theatre

The third play in the Donmar’s residency at the Wyndham’s Theatre is Madame de Sade, a slightly obscure work by the Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima, which fulfils Michael Grandage’s promise to bring lesser-known works into the West End alongside the classics. Unfortunately, as many reviews have already said, this is not really a play that stands up to the exceptionally high standards already set by this season, despite the efforts of an excellent cast.

The play tells the story of the life of the Marquis de Sade just before the French Revolution in three short acts, moving a few years through time with each act, but tells it through the eyes of six different women who have varying relationships with him, and the Marquis himself does not actually make an appearance. The women are his wife, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law, a servant in his house and two other ladies and they each represent a single viewpoint which rather limits the opportunities for the actresses to display their talents.
Continue reading “Review: Madame De Sade, Donmar Warehouse at Wyndham’s Theatre”