Review: Best of Enemies, Young Vic

David Harewood and Charles Edwards lead James Graham’s new play Best of Enemies with real excitement in this Young Vic / Headlong co-production

“A man should never turn down two things. Sex, and appearing on television”

James Graham seems to have an unerringly great hit rate (recent gigs include Quiz and an episode of The Crown) and his return to the theatre is no exception with this exciting new play at the Young Vic, Best of Enemies. On the face of it, you woudn’t be sure some 1968 US TV debates would have much to say to us but Graham’s instinct is naturally assured and thus their impact of so much of the shape of public discourse, even today, is explored.

The debates were between the conservative William F Buckley Jr and the liberal Gore Vidal, put together by the ABC network in order to galvanise TV audiences during the 1968 US presidential elections. And Graham combines verbatim reconstructions of the debates with a fictionalised account of the world around them, as they unexpectedly birth a news format and polarised commentariat that endures, like the worst of barnacles, to this very day. Continue reading “Review: Best of Enemies, Young Vic”

Plays update November 2021

Casting updates for the Young Vic’s Best of Enemies, Hampstead Theatre’s Peggy For You, audio drama Ghost Walk and the Royal Court’s A Fight Against…

The Young Vic has revealed the complete cast and creative team for James Graham’s bold new play Best of Enemiesdirected by Jeremy Herrin, in a co-production with Headlong.

1968 – a year of protest that divided America. As two men fight to become the next President, all eyes are on the battle between two others: the cunningly conservative William F Buckley Jr., and the iconoclastic liberal Gore Vidal. Beliefs are challenged and slurs slung as these political idols feud nightly in a new television format, debating the moral landscape of a shattered nation. Little do they know they’re about to open up a new frontier in American politics, and transform television news forever…

Charles Edwards plays Gore Vidal and David Harewood plays William F. Buckley Jr. The complete cast also includes Margo Cargill, Emilio Doorgasingh, Clare Foster, Tom Godwin, John Hodgkinson, Justina Kehinde, Syrus Lowe, Kevin McMonagle and Sam Otto. Continue reading “Plays update November 2021”

Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

As much an M movie as a Bond flick, Skyfall benefits from putting Dame Judi Dench front and centre to make this one of the best Bond films of recent times

“Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do and the truth is that what I see frightens me”

One of the best aspects of Bond in the Daniel Craig era has been the introduction of actual consequences for people. We’re not dealing with total realism to be sure, but rather a thoughtfulness that is too rarely seen in the action genre. Written by John Logan and directed by Sam Mendes, Skyfall is a masterful entry in the Bond canon, playing out the complex relationship between Bond and Judi Dench’s steely M right through to its devastating end. 

Delving into both of their pasts and hauling them up to account, the notion of personal vengeance as all-encompassing motive is far more effective than the fate of the Bolivian water supply. And Javier Bardem’s Silva is one of the most genuinely chilling villains for that very reason, his cyberterrorist truly compelling in his psychopathy – that climactic scene in the chapel is simply stunning on all levels.

It’s not perfect: the queer-baiting, sorely underusing Helen McCrory in just one scene, and all the business on the tube is ridiculous (it’s rush hour in the station but the train that crashes is somehow empty? And you can’t slide down the escalators like they do, there’s things in the way. And yes, I know it is a film, hehe). But I’m picking at small things cos I can – the new Q is introduced perfectly (all credit to Ben Whishaw) and ultimately, it’s just a great film, never mind a great Bond film. Continue reading “Film Review: Skyfall (2012)”

TV Review: Small Axe

Steve McQueen’s anthology flm series Small Axe is an absolute triumph as it depicts the West Indian experience in London but tells us all so much about the UK

“We mustn’t be victims, but protagonists of our stories. And what better way of representing ourselves than self-representing ourselves”

Not too much to say about Small Axe that hasn’t been said much more eloquently and appropriately by many others. But I just wanted to applaud some stirring acting work across all 5 films – in particular Shaun Parkes and Letitia Wright in Mangrove and John Boyega in Red White and Blue. And writer/director Steve McQueen, with co-writing work from Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland, who plants racism, and racist activity, so undeniably in front of a Sunday night BBC1 audience in a way that has so rarely been done before.

September theatre round-up

A quick round-up of the rest of September’s shows

Mary Said What She Said, aka how far I will go for Isabelle Huppert
The Provoked Wife, aka how far I will go for Alexandra Gilbreath
A Doll’s House, aka if we must have more Ibsen, at least it is like this
Falsettos, aka finding the right way, for me, to respond
The Comedy Grotto, aka a sneaky peak at Joseph Morpurgo
The Life I Lead, aka something really rather sweet
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, aka well why not go again Continue reading “September theatre round-up”

Review: The Country Wife, Minerva

A cracking cast can’t quite make sense of a modern updating of The Country Wife at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre

“What is wit in a wife good for, but to make a man a cuckold?”

How many productions does it take for a playwright to have a moment? We could be on the cusp of a Wycherley wave, with the second production of The Country Wife to arrive this year (the first being at the Southwark Playhouse in April). 

But though this Restoration writer is proving popular, directors seem unable not to tinker with his work – that production was set in the 1920s and Jonathan Munby here moves it even further to the present day, casting new light but also dimming its intent. Continue reading “Review: The Country Wife, Minerva”

2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

An interesting set of nominations have been announced for the 2018 Laurence Olivier Awards. Perhaps predictably, the headline grabbers are Hamilton with their record 13 nominations, and The Ferryman which received 8. I’m pleased to see Follies and Angels in America represent a strong showing for the National with 10 and 6 respectively, and also lovely to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie close behind with 5. Beyond delighted for The Revlon Girl too, my play of the year.

Naturally, not everything can get nominated and for me, it was most disappointing to see Barber Shop Chronicles miss out on any recognition. And with Hamilton crowding out the musicals categories, there was sadly no room for The Grinning Man, Romantics Anonymous and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (although I’m unsure of the Menier’s eligibility with regards to SOLT). And I think Victoria Hamilton (Albion). Philip Quast (Follies) and Louis Maskell and Julian Bleach (The Grinning Man)  are entitled to be a bit miffed.

How do you feel about these nominations? And what do you think should have been nominated instead?

Continue reading “2018 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre

 “The years roll by and nothing changes”

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

Continue reading “Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre”

Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

Continue reading “Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court”

Review: Hangmen, Royal Court

“Don’t worry. I may have my quirks but I’m not an animal. Or am I? One for the courts to discuss.”

The term ‘dark comedy’ is much abused but there really is no better descriptor for Hangmen, Martin McDonagh’s long-awaited return to theatrical writing. Set (mostly) within the tobacco-stained walls of a proper boozer in Oldham in the 1960s on the day that Britain has abolished the death penalty, landlord Harry’s (the excellent David Morrissey) past comes back to haunt him in a big way. For he was the last hangman in the country, as evinced by a cracking prologue (that isn’t for the squeamish) that sees him and his assistant Syd go about their business.

The arrival of enigmatic Londoner Mooney (Johnny Flynn never better) is the catalyst for the plot, as Harry’s disaffected daughter becomes easy prey to his professed affections and disappears with him, round about the same time Syd reappears in Harry’s life to say something rum is going on with a serial killer who has a Southern accent. But the real joy is in the motley crew of grizzled regulars who gather in the pub and the cracking dialogue McDonagh gives them as they dance around the morbid curiosity that has called them to this pub rather than any others.  Continue reading “Review: Hangmen, Royal Court”