TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1

“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. I’m sure it’s just another false alarm”

Oh The Halcyon – shafted by the overwhelming desire for it to be the new Downton, or maybe the unfriendly Monday evening slot, or maybe the fact that Charlotte Jones’ serial never quite honed in on what it wanted to be. Following the fortunes of a luxury London hotel during the first couple of years of the Second World War, it took all possible opportunities to explore a society on the cusp of major change. But between the aristocrats who owned it, the aristocrats who stayed there, the lower classes who work there, and the multitudes of people affiliated to all these lives, the canvas was far too wide.

The hints were there right from the off in episode 1 which struggled to introduce even just its leading players in its running time, whilst still proving most tantalising, due to its cracking cast and its sumptuous design (those costumes!). At the heart of The Halycon lay the antagonistic relationship between Olivia Williams’ Lady Hamilton and Steven Mackintosh’s Mr Garland, owner versus manager as they butted heads over practicalities in the face of an ensuing Blitz but though their scenes were electric, they were given too little too late together to exploit this to its fullest.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1”

Review: Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Lie down madam and legs apart
Now brace yourself for this may smart”

Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne played a well-received run at the RSC the winter before last and it has now transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a summer season. It contains two excellent performances from Romola Garai as Sarah Churchill (stepping into the role created by Natasha McElhone) and Emma Cunniffe as the titular monarch and you can read my four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets right here.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Romola Garai will star as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough alongside Emma Cunniffe as the eponymous monarch in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Queen Anne. They will be joined by Jonathan Christie, Michael Fenton-Stevens, James Garnon, Richard Hope, Hywel Morgan, Beth Park and Carl Prekopp with further casting to be announced soon.

After originally opening at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2015, Queen Anne will transfer to Theatre Royal Haymarket for a thirteen week limited run from 30 June until 30 September. Written by Helen Edmundson (The Heresy of Love, RSC) and directed by Natalie Abrahami (Happy Days, Young Vic), this gripping play explores the life of one of England’s little-known sovereigns and her intimate friendship with her childhood confidante Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Twelfth Night, ETT at Richmond Theatre

“For women are as roses…”

It is seriously impressive how sparklingly fresh Jonathan Mumby has managed to make Twelfth Night in his production for English Touring Theatre which I caught at Richmond Theatre this week. The familiarity, even overfamiliarity, which many have with Shakespeare’s work means it can often be hard to get too excited about yet another production but Mumby’s work here has all the hallmarks of a successful and subtle reinvigoration.

Colin Richmond’s artfully distressed design and an original suite of songs from Grant Olding locate this version of Illyria in the folky fancies of Brian Protheroe’s Feste, a move which pays dividends in extending its oft-melancholy mood to all and sundry. So Hugh Ross’ Malvolio is more tragi than comic, a deep sadness apparent under the prickly exterior. Milo Twomey’s Aguecheek is a rueful soul indeed and Doña Croll’s Maria has a marvellous pragmatism.

Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, ETT at Richmond Theatre”

Review: Oh, To Be In England, Finborough Theatre

“I knew the English way was the only way, God help me. You make a bloody great speech – and then you have a stiff drink.”

Oh, To Be In England is a neat addition to the Finborough’s RediscoveriesUK programme as it is a world premiere of a 35 year old play by David Pinner which was adjudged to be unstageable due to its incendiary attacks on political extremism and its links to British pride. Set in Barnes and running through 1974 to 1975, it deals with life in a Britain still suffering from a post-imperial hangover, exacerbated by an economic downturn. In particular it looks at George, a man loses his job in the City but whose social conditioning as a middle-class white Englishman leaves him with nothing but a superiority complex and supremely ill-equipped for the realities of the struggle of life.

Darkly comic in tone, we see George divorced from everything that gave his life meaning and in his relations with his wife and son, the flirty neighbour and his German lodger, trace his retreat into a cocoon of rightwing thinking as his (already strong) xenophobia gets even worse, his politics swing further to the extreme as his economic situation fails to improve and his personal relationships stagnate and shatter. And at this level, as the story of a man, this play was surprisingly effective and engaging in portraying how easily extreme thinking can be fomented in times of hardship. It was less successful in drawing out the parallels with the wider political context due to the relentless verbosity and speechifying which Pinner saddles his characters. The dialogue often feels as if from a lecture, stilting the natural flow of things: instead of saying ‘there’s not many jobs out there’, someone says ‘we’re in an age where jobs are increasingly hard to come by’.

It was strongly acted throughout but there were some curious casting decisions which made the first scene a little more perplexing than it should have been. Charlotte Thornton looks far too close in age to Daniel Fraser to truly convince as mother and son, lending their horseplay a weirdly sexual dimension and with the arrival of Peter Broome’s rather camp George, the dynamics were all slightly off within this family. But it is testament to the quality of the acting that these obstacles were soon surmounted with Thornton impressing as Kay, finally fulfilling her potential as she’s able to stretch her artistic wings and Broome handling most of the extremely clunky dialogue rather well and doing a nice line in manic eyes and axe-wielding (though I wish he’d button his shirt up). Jonathan Christie was also good value for money as the Teutonic lodger Florian, a model example of how to deal with the past and move on successfully.

Alison Neighbour’s design seems to flow from the brown corduroy sofa that dominates the living room, most if not all costumes are stunning variations on brown polyester and floral prints and it all fits onto the set of The Potting Shed quite neatly, the action never leaving that one room. Mel Cook’s direction keeps things moving at a sprightly pace and does well to remind us that though this is a 35 year old play, so many of the lessons about the way in which society can fall apart during economic downturns and the allure of extremist thinking in times of hardship are alarmingly relevant even today.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Programme cost: free cast list, playtext available for £9
Booking until 24th January, but book quickly as there’s only 4 more performances

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews