Book review: Time To Act – Simon Annand

Simon Annand’s Time To Act is a beautiful book of photos capturing actors in the minutes before they go on stage

Tackling the constraints of the pandemic in its own way, Simon Annand’s fantastic new book of photos Time To Act has launched a virtual exhibition of some of the photographs which has now been extended to until Christmas. It’s an ingenious way of sharing some of the hundreds of images from the book and should surely whet the appetite for either just buying it now or putting on your list for Santa to collect soon.

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Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

DVD Review: The Falling

“What’s a man I’ve never met got to do with all of this?”

Having cast an eye over the reviews for Carol Morley’s The Falling, I was interested to see how well it has been received by real cinephiles, their writing suffused with cinematic references to the likes of Lucrecia Martel and Lucile Hadžihalilović, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wicker Man. I was interested because the film really turned me off, despite containing many things that I love – not least a cast with Monica Dolan and Maxine Peake and a score by Tracey Thorn, late of Everything But The Girl.

Set in 1969, The Falling concerns an outbreak of what we now call mass psychogenic illness, aka hysterical fainting at an English girls’ school. At the heart of it are best friends Lydia and Abbie, the latter’s exploration of her sexuality (namely by sleeping with the former’s brother) sparking an intensification of feeling which leads to tragedy. And as a result, an epidemic of fainting spells sweeps the school, affecting even staff, unleashing its own torrent of private truths about Lydia’s family circumstances. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Falling”

DVD Review: Miss Austen Regrets

“That’s what it says in all of your books”

In 2007, the cinemas got the Anne Hathaway-starring Becoming Jane but television got Miss Austen Regrets, featuring Olivia Williams in extraordinary form as the feted author in the final years of her life. Close to 40 and looking unlikely as ever to get married herself, Jane is the favourite of her beloved niece Fanny who is dipping her toes into the world of liaisons and engagements and can’t think of anything more fabulous than an aunt whose romantic novels ought to make her an expert able to give perfect advice. But as Jane reflects on her life lived, the opportunities missed and rejected, and the perilous state those choices have left her mother and sister in, she is forced to consider if insecurity is too great a price to pay for her ambition.

For though her success is bringing her much renown, financial security eludes her as an unwed woman. She can’t own the property in which she lives, she can’t negotiate a better deal with her publisher, the independence she craves is held frustratingly just at arm’s length. But for all that, this is an unashamedly romantic and sparkily humourous piece of film which holds huge delight. Olivia Williams is impeccable as Austen – the flirtatious glint in her eye as she cuts a swathe through the stuffiness of convention, the nervous hesitation as her status sweeps her up in society, the oceans of emotional intelligence in her eyes as she has to deal with the concerns of the family and the ramifications of her choices – she is endlessly watchable and perfectly cast. Continue reading “DVD Review: Miss Austen Regrets”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond

“People are not so dreadful when you know them”

And so to the second of three The Glass Menageries in a month for me. Ellen McDougall’s production for Headlong has already played extensive runs in Leeds and Liverpool before nipping down to Richmond and Warwick for a week each and I was glad of the opportunity to see this most intriguing of directors (Henry the Fifth, Idomeneus, Anna Karenina) take on Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play. With ‘a frustrated mother, a daughter lost in her imagination, and a son intent on rebellion’, all this family needs to tip it right over the edge is an inopportune visit from a gentleman caller.

Whereas Samuel Hodges layered up the Wingfields’ existence with a scrapbook full of video references and visual cues, McDougall goes the opposite way in stripping the play to its bare bones, excavating existence through bodies alone with minimal props. Fly Davis’ design suspends the black box of Tom’s mind above water in which naturally only he can paddle, a space in which his memories play out or are perhaps trapped, like the characters themselves. A staircase at the rear leads only into darkness, there’s no real escape possible from the drudgery of life with all its anecdotes repeated ad nauseam.  Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond”

DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)

“Badly done, Emma. Badly done”

Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, this 1996 film adaptation of Emma may have had a starrier cast than the television version from the same year but it sadly pales by comparison. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brittle, aloof performance as Emma Woodhouse, an almost princessy take on the character which may work for the unthinkingness of her actions but something that also detaches her emotionally from her friends and colleagues, robbing the film of the charming resonance it ought to possess as the romantic trials of Highbury unfold around her matchmaking.

This starchiness is something that affects the whole film – Greta Scacchi’s former governess is too mannered for a good friend, Alan Cumming’s Mr Bates just feels wrongly pitched and whilst I normally love any opportunity to see Juliet Stevenson, her arrival as his wife is unbelievable and underplayed, and the delightful Toni Collette struggles with the meek Harriet, her natural ebullience hemmed in awkwardly. Even the normally reliable Jeremy Northam misses the mark as Knightley. (I won’t mention Ewan McGregor’s Frank Churchill to help to erase it from my memory). Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)”

Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong

“Foxoliver?”

Michael Frayn’s 80th birthday is being celebrated by BBC radio with a mini-season of his work, featuring a new version of his play Copenhagen and adaptation of his novels Skios and Headlong. First up was Skios, a farcical tale somewhat in the vein of Noises Off and something really quite funny indeed. The tale itself, of mistaken identities, fake professors and frustrated lovers, is mostly entertaining if not quite as masterfully complex as his other work, but what really lifts this dramatisation by Archie Scottney is the kind of dream comic casting one would pay through the nose to see in a theatre.

Tom Hollander plays Oliver Fox, who is going on an ill-advised romantic break to Greece with a woman he has just met. When he is taken for someone else at arrivals, he soon finds himself installed in the warm embrace of the Toppler Foundation who believe that he is Dr Norman Wilfred, the keynote speaker at their conference on Scientometrics and has his every need attended to by super-efficient PA Nikki Hook, Lisa Dillon in sparklingly funny form, who finds herself rather taken by him. Meanwhile, the real Dr Wilfred, a bumbling High Bonneville, also finds himself the victim of misidentification as he ends up in the remote Greek villa where Oliver was meant to be going and where his would-be girlfriend is still headed, the glorious Janie Dee starring as the unawares Georgie. Continue reading “Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong”

Review: Bette and Joan, Arts Theatre

“I could have punched her in the fucking face”

Bette and Joan is a world premiere of a new play by Anton Burge that takes place over a long day during rehearsals for the 1962 film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. Long-time rivals, Joan Crawford asked Bette Davis to star with her in this low-budget but high risk venture as they were both experiencing considerable career lows but though ostensibly working together and more alike than either would care to admit, their bitter enmity still spilled out in a number of entertaining ways. The show is set in their separate (natch) dressing rooms, allowing them to deliver their individual monologues, remembrances and anecdotes – often remembered very differently by the two women – and also for a scene in each half where they interact, rehearsing the chair lift scene and bidding each other farewell at the end of the day.

Burge’s play succeeds because it doesn’t just focus on the backstage shenanigans on the famous film, although there’s a fair bit of it in here including the wickedly played weight-belt scene, it also takes a wider view of the experience of women working in the old Hollywood system. Indeed one could extrapolate even further into the experience of all working women as the show examines the impact pursuing their careers had on their marriages, their families and the struggles they faced in a male-dominated industry. This worked particularly well for me as I haven’t actually ever seen Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (I’m a bad gay, I know) and so makes something more universal whilst still playing on the well-known legends. Continue reading “Review: Bette and Joan, Arts Theatre”