Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC at the Barbican

In the spirit of the season, I’m not commenting too much on the RSC’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Barbican

“I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”

Fiona Laird’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is the third of the RSC’s show to open at the Barbican this winter and whilst it is certainly an eye-catching revival with its Only Way is Essex tendencies, it really wasn’t the one for me.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes ((with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Merry Wives of Windsor is booking at the Barbican until 5th January

Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican

A modern and moving take on Romeo and Juliet from the RSC at the Barbican

“I am too young. I pray you, pardon me”

It’s sometimes a little difficult to take seriously how old everyone is meant to be in Romeo and Juliet but Erica Whyman’s modern-day production for the RSC, playing in rep now at the Barbican, never lets you forget. She fills the stage with kids for a cacophonous prologue, Karen Fishwick’s Juliet rightfully feels like a child and in turn, Mariam Haque’s Lady Capulet (“I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid”) is a convincing 26, closer to her daughter in age than her husband, but emotionally distant from both. 

It’s a pattern Juliet seizes the first chance to break when she meets Bally Gill’s charismatic Romeo, a young man very much still coming into his own. And you feel that it is the running away that appeals to her just as much as the running away together. For she’s all too aware that there are cycles of violence that the young’uns of this Verona can’t hope to escape – indeed what chance do they have when even all the adults around them carry and use knives to resolve even the smallest slight.  Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican”

Review: Goats, Royal Court

“Has anyone ever told the truth?”

Can I recommend Goats, even with live goats appearing onstage with the cast? Not by the hairs on my chinny chin chin. There’s definitely something interesting at the nub of Liwaa Yazji’s play, based on so many real events from her native Syria, but it has yet to achieve dramatically effective form. Whether lost in translation into English (by Katharine Halls) or onto the stage (by Hamish Pirie), it is hard-going indeed.

The problem is a pace that is stultifyingly slow. And in a society completely riven by conflict, increasingly divested of its young blood by rising death tolls, it shouldn’t be so. As Yazji interrogates the madness of an ongoing civil war, where the families of dead soldiers are rewarded for their sacrifice with the gift of a goat, where neither side can really be considered ‘good’, where the role of propaganda muddies the water even further, the potential is clear. Continue reading “Review: Goats, Royal Court”

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”

TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1

“This is sheep-rustling, north-Halifax style – just the one sheep and three lads off their heads on acid”

One of the televisual highlights of 2014 was Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, anchored by an astonishing central performance from Sarah Lancashire as pragmatic Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. So the return of a second series on BBC One is good news indeed, especially given Wainwright’s decision to also direct considerably more of the episodes this time round.

It’s obvious from the off that she is entirely at the top of her game. Reintroducing the startlingly mordant vein of humour on’t’moor, this opening sequence sees Cawood recounting a day’s work to her sister, namely sheep-rustling gone unfortunately wrong on a housing estate but leading to an even grimmer discovery, one which links directly back to James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, the father of her grandson after raping her daughter (who then committed suicide) and Catherine’s nemesis from the first series. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1”

New trailer for A Mad World My Masters

Want to see a trailer for The RSC and ETT’s A Mad World My Masters? Why sure you do.

Sean Foley and Phil Porter’s version of the Thomas Middleton play was a big hit for the RSC in Stratford in 2013 so English Touring Theatre saw it as a good fit to revive and tour around the country. The show is in Brighton this week and goes onto Malvern, Truro, Bath, Darlington, Cambridge and then the Barbican in London from 29th April to 9th May.

TV Review: Happy Valley

 
“Why would he do something like that? We’ve got caravans, we’ve got a games room that caters for people in wheelchairs”

My favourite thing about Happy Valley is actually the association the title has for me and my family – it was the name of the Chinese takeaway opposite my Aunty Jean’s house where we’d often get our Saturday tea. It’s a lovely fond memory that sits rather at odds with the realities of this recent TV series which I finally caught up with and which reunites what looks like becoming one of the best creative partnerships we have in the country – writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. Baftas all around I shouldn’t wonder.

The location may be similar to the rather more bucolic Last Tango in HalifaxHappy Valley is set in nearby Hebden Bridge – but we’re in a much grittier world of suburban disillusionment as this police drama takes in kidnap, rape and murder, all underscored by the pervasive influence of a spiralling drugs problem throughout the town. Wainwright being a more sophisticated writer than most though, ensures that her drama takes in the full breadth of the experience, examining the aftermath of the crimes just as much as the deeds themselves. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1

“We’re not burglars, we’re pensioners”

Going to the theatre as much as I do means that there’s a limit to the number of TV shows that I can watch as they air and so I have to make choices. And opting not to watch Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango to Halifax was one of the poorer decisions of recent times as I soon found out from the rapturous reception from many around me. But lucky boy that I am, the DVD of the show was one of my birthday presents and so I was able to binge on the six episodes over a weekend.

And of course it justified its Best Drama Series BAFTA within its opening minutes and completely entranced me with its world-beating quality and utter classiness. Its main premise is the reconnection between childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia who are now both widowed, in their 70s and just discovering the joys of Facebook. When their IT-literate grandchildren engineer a meeting between the pair, the old flame splutters back into life and we follow the gorgeously sensitive and romantic road that they tread to try and recapture that youthful happiness. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1”

Review: Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse

“There is a tide in the affairs of men”

In a year when the Globe has gathered an all-male ensemble which has now made its way to the West End and Propeller continue their innovative range of productions, it perhaps apt that Phyllida Lloyd has turned to an all-female cast for her take on Julius Caesar for the Donmar Warehouse. The overarching conceit that she has adopted, and it is one that the production wears heavily at times, is that it is a play within a play, put on by inmates in a women’s prison, aided and abetted by wardens (or are they?) and so the power struggles within the jail population come to be replicated and challenged in the political struggles within the text.

Perhaps as it should be, the most striking moments come from acting choices that have nothing to do with gender. A bluntly vicious Caesar, Frances Barber’s hoarsely croaked out “et tu…” is devastatingly affecting after the assassination is carried out in a rather unexpected manner and Cush Jumbo’s delivery of “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” is spun completely on its head as it opens under the most violent of circumstances, her Mark Antony is superbly played. And Jenny Jules and Harriet Walter as Cassius and Brutus are both blessed with the kind of emotive verse-speaking that breathes real life and explanatory motive between the text and the interpretation.   Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Rose Kingston

“When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people.”

 
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest follows the Rose Theatre Kingston’s tried and tested formula of mounting classic plays for their homegrown productions. We’ve had Dame Judi in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Celia Imrie in Hay Fever and now we have Jane Asher taking on Lady Bracknell and her handbag under Artistic Director Stephen Unwin. Hayden Griffin’s spare design on the wide stage is framed within a proscenium arch of sorts, a giant picture frame containing a few pieces of furniture scattered around, but largely the stage is left free to be dominated by Wilde’s witticisms.

And how witty it is. Wilde’s play may not tackle any deep societal issues or serious topics but his clever plotting and incisive humour skewers the English obsession with class and the grasping social ambition of those who have clambered their way up the ladder, keen to keep others in their place. There’s also a touch of feminism in a trio of strong female characters determined to get what they want and fully cognisant of how to get it whilst the men mess around with their false identities and get increasingly flustered. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Rose Kingston”