TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”

DVD: Rebecca (1997)

“Stop asking silly questions and eat your egg”

If I’d known more about Rebecca before I watched the 1997 television adaptation as part of my Lucy Cohu marathon, I might not have bothered. Not having seen it before or read it, I assumed that her part – the titular role no less – might have had a little more to do in the story but as the story is about the second Mrs De Winter, this wasn’t the case. At all. The first half, 90 minutes in total, featured one brief shot of her eyebrows and one of her hands. The second not much better with tantalising glimpses of parts of her face and a few snatched lines of dialogue (although Wikipedia informs me I’m lucky to even get this!)

Whether intentional or not, this ends up being a rather fabulously camp thing. From Faye Dunaway’s Mrs Van Hopper, hunting for gossip and celebs on the Riviera, to Jonathan Cake’s scene-chewing Jack Favell, to the utter deliciousness of Diana Rigg’s ominously looming Mrs Danvers, it’s all rather gloriously over the top. The May-to-December romance of Charles Dance and Emilia Fox is played very straight and the increasing mystery of exactly what happened to her predecessor does take hold to create a rather compelling latter third which I was entirely gripped by (if not entirely convinced – the new Mrs De Winter is VERY understanding!). Continue reading “DVD: Rebecca (1997)”

Barely-a-Review: Richard III, Radio 3

“So wise, so young, they say, do never live long”

I picked on this radio adaptation of Richard III to be my companion on a particularly long journey over the weekend since it came in at nearly three hours of running time, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be as dull and unengaging as it was and consequently I struggled to get to the end of it. Quite why this should be I’m not entirely sure, it is competently spoken throughout – Douglas Henshall taking on the title role – but it never gripped me, it never seemed to transcend the medium to come alive and sound real rather than an academic exercise and so it left me most disappointed indeed.  

DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right

What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”

So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.

And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”

fosterIAN awards 2011

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayEve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)Ruth Wilson, Anna ChristieRosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull
Best Actor in a PlayBenedict Cumberbatch, FrankensteinAndrew Scott, Emperor and GalileanTrevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Dominic West, Othello
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayAlexandra Gilbreath, OthelloSheridan Smith, Flare PathSinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRyan Sampson, The Kitchen SinkHarry Hadden-Paton, Flare PathRobert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Sweeney ToddAdrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, MatildaLaura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain
Best Actor in a MusicalBertie Carvel, MatildaMichael Ball, Sweeney ToddDaniel Evans, Company
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Alastair Brookshaw, Parade
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, CompanyKate Fleetwood, London RoadJosefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalDaniel Crossley, Singin’ in the RainNigel Harman, Shrek the MusicalConnor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy For You
Nick Holder London Road

2011 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Eve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

Before this year, Eve Best was one of those names I’d heard a lot, seen a lot whilst peeing at the Almeida but never really engaged with as I’d never seen on her onstage before. How that has changed with the kind of performance as Beatrice that had the entire Globe eating out of her hand. Warm, funny, spiky, romantic, independent and so incredibly open, I can’t imagine there was a person who didn’t fall in love with her as a result.

Honourable mention: Ruth Wilson, Anna Christie

It takes something to wrest my attention away from as fine a specimen as the beefed-up Jude Law was in Anna Christie, but Ruth Wilson’s titular Anna did just that with a perfectly realised portrayal of a woman caught between the feisty independence she’s needed to survive thus far in a harsh world and the change that comes about as a result of close human contact that opens her up to new possibilities. If not already there, she really is close to being one of the most exceptional actors we have.

Rosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull

7-10

Cush Jumbo, As You Like It (Royal Exchange); Anna Chancellor, The Last of the Duchess; Amanda Root, The Deep Blue Sea; Claire Price, The Pride

Best Actress in a Musical

Imelda Staunton, Sweeney Todd

I am generally of the opinion that Imelda Staunton can do no wrong, but this was no walk-in victory as it was a tough category. But her Mrs Lovett, soon to make its bow in the West End, really is one of those exceptional performances that will live long in the memory. The comedy in the role suits her strengths well, ‘A Little Priest’ has never been funnier but having made us pretty fall in love with her, the shift into malevolent darkness then cuts incredibly, terrifyingly deep and is all the more powerfully compelling for it.

Honourable mention: Adrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, Matilda

Shared six ways as incredibly, there are six girls with the enormous, precocious talent to carry off the demanding lead role in Matilda and I don’t think I have heard a bad word about any of them which is some impressive feat. Josie Griffiths in Stratford and Kerry Ingram in London are the two I’ve seen (thus far) and both blew me away with their assured stage presence, their maturity of performance and the all-round talent they possess.

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain

7-10

Louisa Lydell, Ragtime; Sarah Lancashire, Betty Blue Eyes; Jenna Russell, The Day We Sang; Clare Foster, Crazy for You

DVD Review: Calendar Girls

“I can’t knit or make plum jam, but I can make a bloody victoria sponge…Of course I didn’t make this one, I got it from Marks and Spencer”

I managed to resist the temptation to go and see the stage version of Calendar Girls, the prospect of it never really appealed and though it has now started appearing with regularity on the touring circuit, I still haven’t worked enough desire to make the effort. When the film appeared on the television though in a post-turkey leftovers dinner haze, I couldn’t find the remote and so ended up watching it. I seem to remember quite liking it in the cinema, but something obviously didn’t settle too well in my memory as I’d never revisited on DVD or TV, never mind on stage, despite its epic cast of dames to be.

For much like with The King’s Speech, the feel-good factor that comes from the first viewing just evaporated and what was left was, to me at least, a rather thin film, of limited characterisation and what little there is feels laboured and contrived. A problem I guess that results from trying to dramatise a real life story, but one which felt rather exposed when rewatching the film. Continue reading “DVD Review: Calendar Girls”

Review: 13, National Theatre

“Over the last year, it feels like it’s all falling apart…in this country…across the world…”

Mike Bartlett can probably lay claim to being one of the most interesting new British playwrights to emerge this century, steadily building his oeuvre of plays that pick at modern life and expose its shortcomings… And as his profile increases, so too have the stature of the commissions, moving from the Royal Court – where I saw his Cock  – to the Cottesloe at the National Theatre with last year’s Earthquakes in London and now graduating to the Olivier – the youngest writer in 10 years to be staged there – with his latest new play 13.

What is it all ‘about’ I hear you say. Well if that question is foremost in your mind then it is likely that you may be disappointed with 13, as it eschews a conventional sense of narrative for the creation of apocalyptic foreboding in a contemporary London that feels all too realistic. For it is a piece of writing that feels incredibly pertinent, full of up-to-the-minute references to public disorder, social media, student riots and the Arab Spring, concerning a society wracked with disturbing dreams and a crippling uncertainty. What Bartlett alights on is the importance of belief, not necessarily in God but having some conviction that things will be ok if we trust our instincts, and the succour that is gained from collecting as a group behind such beliefs. Continue reading “Review: 13, National Theatre”

Review: Seagull, Arcola Theatre

“I’ll sit through drivel if I have to, providing it’s witty and amusing”

The Arcola has had something of an unofficial Russian season of late, what with Anna Karenina and Uncle Vanya, and so their attention now turns to Chekhov’s classic play Seagull (the definitive article is clearly passé this year what with Government Inspector losing it too) with Runaway Theatre, using a new translation by Charlotte Pyke, John Kerr and Joseph Blatchley, the latter of whom is also the director. Set in 19th century Russia, the story revolves around four artistic types: fading actress Arkadina, young ingénue Nina, successful writer Trigorin and would-be playwright Konstantin and their complicated loves and lives between each other and those around them. When Konstantin puts on a play for the two women in his life, it acts as the precipice for a tragic set of consequences as all strive for emotional happiness and artistic freedom, yet despair and failure are never far away.

With this new translation that adhered word-for-word to the original text, it was discovered that some cuts and amendments had been made by the Russian censor back in 1896 and these have now been restored. It doesn’t quite mean there’s now Tarantino-levels of swearing and violence, indeed I would reckon even Chekhovian scholars would be hard-pressed to notice all the changes as many of them are relatively minor, but adding layers of subtlety to characters and a touch of clarity to relationships that contribute to the overall feeling of freshness to this interpretation. Continue reading “Review: Seagull, Arcola Theatre”