TV Review: The White Princess

The TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s historical novel restarts a little unsteadily with The White Princess

“The England we once knew has gone”

For whatever reason, it took four years for the Philippa Gregory TV adaptations to restart with The White Princess following on from The White Queen. And it is a series saved by the introduction of Michelle Fairley and Essie Davis as the feuding mothers of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, intent on relitigating the Wars of the Roses even as the marriage of their children was meant to have ended it.

A pre-Killing Eve Jodie Comer and Jacob Collins-Levy take on the roles of the couple forced together in the name of their country. With years of enmity between their houses and any number of horrific, murderous actions committed by them or in their names, it does require a fair bit of remembering your history lessons (or the first series) as so much is carried over. It does make you wonder a little why only one cast member (Caroline Goodall) was carried over from The White Queen. Continue reading “TV Review: The White Princess”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: The Rivals, Arcola Theatre

“Through all the drama — whether damned or not —Love gilds the scene, and women guide the plot.”

The main beauty of Selina Cadell’s production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s evergreen The Rivals is her mastery of the Restoration form which sees no fourth wall separating players and punters. So on taking the stage, her actors acknowledge the audience in their own ways – awkward bows, tacit nods, arched eyebrows – and continue to address us throughout, an expositionary monologue here, an announcement of the scene’s location there, a gossipy aside everywhere. What really makes it work though is the warmth and wit with which the company fold us into its welcoming arms.

With a wicked glint in her eye and wryly pursed lips, an extravagantly dressed Gemma Jones ensures her Mrs Malaprop reaches the very pineapple of her comic potential and with no less captivating humour, Nicholas Le Prevost makes even the lewdest of Sir Anthony Absolute’s comments a hilarious part of his incorrigible charm. They have decided that her niece Lydia Languish and his son Captain Jack Absolute are an ideal match but young Lydia – an outrageous Jenny Rainsford who plays her on the edge of sanity to hugely entertaining effect – has her heart set on the romantic, and penniless, hero of her dreams. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Edward II, National Theatre

“I will have Gaveston, and you shall know what danger ’tis to stand against your king”

Now this is what I want my National Theatre to be like – creative, bold, fresh, fearless. There’s no pretending that Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Marlowe’s Edward II is flawless perfection, its modern ambition sprawls over the Olivier’s vast stage and up onto the walls as screens either side relay live video footage, but the energy at hand from both cast and creatives is wonderfully galvanising and points defiantly towards the possibilities of the future when Nicholas Hytner finally stands down in a couple of years. Traditionalists may balk, especially in some of the more challenging sections of the first half but for this institution to thrive, it has to be allowed to experiment and expand its remit and that ought to be supported by all. 

Under the cruel yoke of his father, Edward suffered his lover Gaveston to be exiled but on ascending to the throne to become Edward II, he restores him to England and lavishes him with jewels and titles. But their overt hedonism riles up the powerful barons of the realm as they take up the cause of his neglected queen Isabella in an audacious power-grab, setting up the kind of conflict that leaves no-one unscathed. John Heffernan ascends to his first major London lead role with all of the subtlety and aching depth that has long made him a favourite around these parts. His Edward is a capricious fidget, pathetically desperate to please Kyle Soller’s cockily assured Gaveston and their headlong lustful passion is one that you believe he would fight tooth and nail for, yet he also possesses an innate grace under pressure – his abdication speech is profoundly moving, the desperation of his exile near-impossible to watch. Continue reading “Review: Edward II, National Theatre”

Radio Review: Dickens in London

“It seems that I would be an uncommercial traveler”

The bi-centenary of Charles Dickens’ birth has been marked in several different ways across a variety of media and Dickens in London, this collection of five short radio plays by Michael Eaton was one which entertained me nicely. Adapted from some of Dickens’ journalistic essays, the plays deal with his changing impressions of London as he grew up, was stimulated by and then grew tired of the great city that inspired so much of his writing.

We start with A Not-Overly-Particularly-Taken-Care-Of Boy where the boy Charles gets lost on his very first visit with his uncle, then move to Boz, where a young man has secured himself employment as a Parliamentary Reporter for the Morning Chronicle but dreams of writing his own stories. Samuel Barnett is particularly good in these two first stories, his voice is particularly well suited to radio, so full of character and crackled emotion. Continue reading “Radio Review: Dickens in London”

Review: After Troy, Shaw Theatre

“Was there another Troy for her to burn?”

After Troy sees Glyn Maxwell creating a new play out of Euripides’ two tragedies, Hecuba and The Women of Troy, both dealing with the experience of the women left behind in the aftermath of the Trojan War with marauding Greek soldiers an ever-present threat. Hecuba and her daughters are the prisoners of warrior Agamemnon and vile king Mestor and as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of the men in their lives, kings, husbands, father, brothers, sons whilst waiting to be delivered into a life of slavery, there are many horrors still yet to come for Hecuba.

Maxwell is a poet and this is evident in the lyrical density of his verse which is tightly constructed with lots of repetition and synchronised dialogue aiming for an epic feel, but slightly undermined by the modern sensibilities that have been introduced in the desire to create something new, the humour and particularly the heavy use of expletives didn’t always feel appropriate and become quite wearing. But it is not just a lyrical piece, it is heavily influenced by movement, the women often express themselves through the medium of dance which becomes as important a part of their vocabulary as words. This is effective at first but as we come to realise that it is only the women who take part in this ritual dancing, the ‘Ancient’ as it were and it is the men who get to swear, wear modern costumes and be funny, the balance of After Troy never quite finds its equilibrium.

The strength of the performances helps to somewhat overcome the density of the material: Eve Matheson’s Hecuba is a force to be reckoned with, a grieving vengeful woman finding dignity where she can in the oppression wrought by the Greek men holding them prisoner. I also enjoyed Rebecca Smith-Williams’ willowy prophetic Cassandra and the beautifully compassionate turn from Oscar Peace as Talthybius, the Greek scribe who comes close to understanding the true horror that his people are wreaking on Troy.

There were moments where it all gets a bit relentless, the subjugation of these women to the masculine military might pushes and pushes but without a real sense of purpose, it is not immediately clear what Maxwell is trying to achieve here. The timelessness of war and the effect is has on people is an enduring truth, but making his victims so recognisably Ancient Greek lessens the impact. But there is a strangely hypnotic quality to proceedings, with its flashes of dark humour in the perils of not listening to women and the power of Matheson’s performance in particular, that stirred something deep inside me, but this was a realisation that hit me on the way home – it would have been much nicer to have that response to the drama that was playing out in front of me.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 23rd April then touring to the Lowry, Salford and the Stephen Joseph, Scarborough