TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III

“The king’s name is a tower of strength”

The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch’s starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo’s excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she’s the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity – alongside that of so many others – in something most palpable.

Cooke’s direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III’s monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2

“I was a woeful looker-on”

On a night when the real drama was unfolding in Stockholm’s Globen arena and the main internecine conflict was between the juries of music professionals and the public vote as revealed by the new counting mechanism, the BBC’s decision to schedule The Hollow Crown against the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t work for me. Last week’s Henry VI Part 1 was a great reintroduction into these quality adaptations as it started the new series but the follow-up doesn’t quite match the same level.

Part of the issue lies in the seemingly accepted wisdom that the Henry VI plays are problems that need solving – I’ve still not managed to see a conventional production of the trilogy to use as a benchmark – and so the plays are often abandoned to the mercies of the vision of writers and directors. Such is the case with The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2, chopped down and frantically paced, there’s a whole lot of fury but just not enough feeling (though if you’re a fan of battlefields and decapitated heads, you might fare better than I did). Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1

“I would his troubles were expired”

The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.

And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1”

Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic

“I have a motion much imports your good”

They say things come in threes and as with Oresteias, so too with Measure for Measures. After Cheek by Jowl’s brutally contemporary Russian interpretation and Dominic Dromgoole’s comic version for the Globe, it is now Joe Hill-Gibbins’ turn to put his inimitable stamp on the play for the Young Vic. And from the industrial techno rave that opens the show to the awkward freeze-frame of the Duke’s happy ending – all done in a smidge under two hours – this is very much a modern take on Shakespeare that is bound to ruffle certain feathers whilst stimulating others.

With the licentiousness of Viennese society being represented by scores of inflatable sex toy dolls, the image of which recur throughout this whole production, and the Duke using live video relays to speak to the city, the modern-day feel is overt but non-specific, the point being we could be in any major city where a conservative regime is free to impose its puritanical fervour. And in this mise-en-scène, curated by dramaturg Zoë Svendsen and artfully framed in Miriam Buether’s box-frame set with hidden rear compartment, the story unfolds. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic”

Re-review: Oresteia, Almeida

“This cannot be a place where the woman is less important”

There was no chance I wasn’t going to book for Robert Icke’s Oresteia again, I came out of it first time round quite sure that I’d seen one of the shows of the year and on second viewing, I am still firmly of that view. My original review can be read here and there isn’t too much more to be said aside from reiterating wow, wow, wow – how exciting it would be if this heralded just a handful more productions looking towards Europe for their inspiration and succeeding so thrillingly.

So the gauntlet has been laid for the Oresteias yet to come – at the Globe and at Manchester’s HOME, but also for the rest of the Greeks season. Bakkhai may already be sold out with Medea to follow and the anticipation could not be higher.

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 18th July, sold out but returns possible and well worth queuing for

Review: Oresteia, Almeida

There isn’t one true version. There isn’t. There isn’t one story — a line of truth that stretches start to end.”

I saw Robert Icke’s extraordinary new version of Oresteia on the same day that I watched episode 9 of series 5 of Game of Thrones [here be spoilers] and gods alive, that was a brutal day of dead children. It was also a day of some sensational acting – Stephen Dillane and Tara Fitzgerald both doing excellent work in the North, and Angus Wright and Lia Williams in blistering form in North London in the first show of the Almeida’s Greeks season which on this evidence, looks set to be a thrilling highlight of the year.

Described as an adaptation by Icke of Aeschylus’ trilogy of plays detailing the fall of the House of Atreus, the reality feels more all-encompassing, a transfiguration of the drama(s) into something genuinely new that really examines the nature of Greek tragedies in light of contemporary theatre. Appropriately, Ivo van Hove was in the audience having spoken on a panel discussion earlier in the day, and it was clear to see that Icke is in part paying homage to the Belgian with influences both specific and more general clear to see in the direction here.

Continue reading “Review: Oresteia, Almeida”

Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming

“When blood is spilt, disputes between people, nations, religions become all but impossible to solve”

A complete Brucie bonus to start off the year was the unexpected announcement that Howard Brenton’s new play Drawing the Line – a sell-out success at the Hampstead – would have its final performance live-streamed on t’internet. I hadn’t booked for the show as something had to give over Christmas and New Year and so the chance to catch up with it for free, albeit on the screen of my laptop, was one I was glad to take.

The play is set in the final days of the empire, as the British are beating a hasty retreat from the subcontinent but are determined to partition the land, and its diverse people, into India and Pakistan. The job of, quite literally, drawing the line falls to archetypal Englishman and judge Cyril Radcliffe who is shipped off to somewhere he has never been before, to accomplish what turns out to be a fiendishly complex assignment.  Continue reading “Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming”

Review: The Father / The Broken Word, Radio 3/4

“Love between sexes is war”

Laurie Slade’s adaptation of Strindberg’s The Father was commissioned for Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre last year, but now makes its radio debut as part of Radio 3 season of classics focusing on the changes for women in the late nineteenth century. It is a blistering look at the power struggle in a marriage as two middle-class parents differ hugely on the upbringing of their daughter and clash monumentously in an all-out war to get their own way.

The decks are hardly equally stacked in this version of the battle of the sexes, Strindberg’s own response to Ibsen’s novel take on gender relations in A Doll’s House, as Laura unleashes the limited tools at her disposal to blacken the name of the Captain and cast seeds of doubt about the paternity of Bertha, literally stopping at nothing as the thin line between love and hate drives her to ever more extreme action.

Katy Stephens and Joe Dixon are excellent as the married couple, inextricably linked even as they devour each other and completely unable to step back from their course of action – it’s uneasy listening at times, the charge of misogyny is easily laid at this door, but it is a story and not all women are nice, just as not all men are. What is important is that it sets up this inventive take on marital conflict that burns extremely brightly.


The Broken Word was Tim Fould’s adaptation of his own poem into a rather distressingly bleak tale set during the horrendous colonial violence of the Mau Mau uprising in 1950s Kenya. A young white man returns to his African home in the summer before his departure to university yet finds himself swept up in the vigilantism of the time as the British community took up arms against the Kenyans fighting for independence and satiated their bloodlust whilst the last days of empire still allowed them to.

Fould’s richly dense prose is narrated beautifully by Anton Lesser, highlighting the corruption of basic morality in this narrow-minded world, and later the impact that surrendering to such merciless thrill-seeking had on people such as Gunnar Cauthery’s Tom upon returning to ‘normality’. Brutal but necessary.

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead

“All these dreams of fire and steel in one little head”

The best of intentions always tend to go awry from time to time and so it is with theatre bookings. I would not normally have considered going to see Little Eagles, as Russian space history is not generally a subject I care that much about, at least not enough to pay money to see. But, as it was one of the new commissions by the RSC and being performed by the Ensemble, whom have grown into a fabulously cohesive unit and therefore pretty much making anything they do a must-see as they come into the final furlong of their time together.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned orbit of the earth, Rona Munro’s play follows the development of the Soviet space programme by Sergei Korolyov, a former gulag inmate with the meagrest of resources who managed the incredible even in the face of great political pressure. But it is a slow, long play with little variation of tone or voice; there’s no attempt to question this version of events and even the joy of seeing these actors in fascinatingly different roles did not really mitigate against this. Continue reading “Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead”