My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench
“You did this, didn’t you”
Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.
She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”
“I’m the only person whose ever loved you”
Reflecting the impressive balance of their Roundabout season (an ensemble that’s 2/3s female and two out of three playwrights being women as well – see artistic directors, it can be done!), Elinor Cook’s Out Of Love places female friendship at the heart of its storytelling. 30 years of love and loss, dreams and betrayals, wrapped into a fractured narrative which denies nothing of how complex a thing friendship can be.
Lorna and Grace have been great pals since as long as they can remember. But given the structure of the play, as soon as they’re declaring that they are going to be friends forever and that nothing can tear them apart, we’re 10, 15, 20 years down seeing exactly that. The one steals a creative idea and scores an amazing job, the other steals a boyfriend and ends up with a baby, people die and they’re brought back together but much has changed. Much keeps changing. Continue reading “Review: Out Of Love, Orange Tree Theatre”
“I think we can only heal if we’re both hurt”
There’s acres of atmosphere in Brad Birch’s Black Mountain – the eerie luminosity of Peter Small’s lighting piercing the dark and bursts of Dominic Kennedy’s sound design curling around unexpected twists and turns. But for all of the creative invention at work here, James Grieve’s production can’t quite cover the feeling of something frustratingly incomplete about the writing, resulting in a hollowness at the heart of this would-be suspenseful thriller.
Part of the Roundabout Plays (with How To Be A Kid and Out of Love), Black Mountain starts off promisingly. We meet Rebecca and Paul as they take up residence in a rural cottage where they’re attempting to work through some problems in their relationship (“I didn’t come on a fucking holiday with you”). Sleeping in separate bedrooms, it is clear there’s something seriously awry here as evidenced by the tension in their every interaction (“you’re saying it with a tone”), even as they’re ostensibly trying to fix things. Continue reading “Review: Black Mountain, Orange Tree Theatre”
“Some people expecting you to be very grown up and some people treating you like a kid”
It’s a mark of Paul Miller’s reinvigoration of the Orange Tree that it doesn’t feel too much of a surprise to hear Katy Perry and Little Mix playing in the theatre as you enter. In this particular case it is for a play for seven- to eleven- year olds but still, it feels wonderful that this artistic director has introduced this note of unpredictability to this Richmond institution.
Sarah McDonald-Hughes’ How To Be A Kid arrives here as part of Paines Plough’s trio of Roundabout Plays (along with Black Mountain and Out of Love), a co-production with Theatr Clywd and the Orange Tree which uses an ensemble of three actors to deliver three shining examples of new British writing. And as the opening salvo in the three-show press day, it proved an entertainingly strong start. Continue reading “Review: How To Be A Kid, Orange Tree Theatre”
As Paines Plough’s 2017 Roundabout season of Brad Birch’s Black Mountain, Elinor Cook’s Out Of Love and Sarah McDonald-Hughes’ How To Be A Kid – co-produced with the Orange Tree Theatre and Theatr Clwyd – arrives in London (running until 3rd March), news of their 2018 programme has now been announced.
Roundabout 2018 features world premieres from Georgia Christou (How To Spot An Alien), Simon Longman (Island Town) and Vinay Patel (Sticks and Stones) in co-production with Theatr Clywd and after opening there in Wales, will tour to touring to The Lowry (Salford), Brewery Arts Centre (Kendal), Lighthouse (Poole), Theatre Royal Margate, Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, Appetite (Stoke-on-Trent), Darlington Theatre Town and Luton Culture. Continue reading “News: Paines Plough announces their 2018 programme”
“It’s hard to get things right while they happen to you”
With his second play Eventide, one gets a sense of what the Barney Norris-verse is about. As with the aching splendour of last year’s Visitors, we’re in rural England and focusing on the smaller details of the big picture, the individual lives that make up a society that is struggling to keep pace with the changing world. An elegant three-hander played out over two key encounters a year apart, Alice Hamilton’s production is full of subtleties and subtly powerful acting that does real justice to Norris’ emerging voice as a playwright of real note.
In the pub garden of an establishment in deepest Hampshire, three lonely souls share their sorrows, specifically in one case as it is the day of a funeral but also more generally as the rural economy on which they all depend has become increasingly depressed, the world of farming very much no longer what it used to be. Pub landlord John is throwing in the towel and selling to a chain, church organist Liz is losing money foot over pedal as local gigs are so thin on the ground and Mark, whose best friend’s funeral it is, can’t go because a rare job offer – as painful as it is – has come up. Continue reading “Review: Eventide, Arcola Theatre”
“Does his breath make you want to feel his tongue in your mouth”
Outgoing Artistic Directors Natalie Abrahami and Carrie Cracknell have made the Gate Theatre into quite the powerhouse of small-scale international drama and Abrahami has turned her hand one last time with this production of Federico García Lorca’s Yerma, a co-production with Hull Truck, in a new version by Anthony Weigh. Having never seen it before, I couldn’t tell you anything about how it compares to the original (indeed I often wonder how many reviewers have real experience that they refer to rather than meticulous research) so I’m not even going to try.
The play centres on Yerma, a young peasant wife who is increasingly distraught at her childlessness in a community where fecundity is everything. Her sheep farmer husband Juan is more interested in tending his flock than tending to her needs and as she resorts to increasingly desperate measures to get a baby, she edges closer to the dark secret that haunts her marriage. In the ochre-heavy set of harsh sand and rusted corrugated iron – beautifully realised by Ruth Sutcliffe – the intensity is wound further and further until the spring breaks. Continue reading “Review: Yerma, Gate Theatre”
The Spanish Tragedy was written by Thomas Kyd in the 16th century and is regarded as one of the first ever examples of the revenge tragedy. Kyd’s play proved to be highly influential on other Elizabethan writers such as Marlowe, Jonson and indeed Shakespeare, Hamlet in particular takes much inspiration from several key elements of this play. It is presented here at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney, one of the most interesting fringe venues in London, with a great cafe and bar for pre/post-show interactions.
In the aftermath of a bloody war, the royal leaders of war-torn Spain and Portugal plan a marriage between their families in the hope of forging peace. But the bride already has a secret lover. When he is murdered to make way for the new groom, his father Hieronimo is forced down a brutal path of vengeance from which there is no return. Watched throughout by the ghost of a soldier and Revenge, personified here by a chillingly played, creepy little girl, there seems no doubt about the inexorable path of vengeance that Hieronimo takes, the implication being that their supernatural influence is guiding the grieving father. Yet the heart of the play is more about the human reaction to being wronged, and the pervasive need for retribution, no matter the consequences. Continue reading “Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola Theatre”