DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2

“You believe in laws but there are only lechers”

For some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it’s taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I’ve managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.

It’s a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid’s wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can’t help but flirt with Reid (he’s played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2”

Review: Anita and Me, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Now here’s a little story
To tell it is a must”

One gets the feeling that had Anita and Me decided whether it wanted to be a full-blown musical or a straight play adorned by a little music, it might have been a much more successful version of Meera Syal’s novel. But as it is, Tanika Gupta’s adaptation and Roxana Silbert’s direction is marooned in a hinterland between the two, packed too full with material trying to fulfil both remits and so it can be quite the frustrating watch.

The source material is definitely there, Syal’s semi-autobiographical portrait of growing up in the West Midlands in the 1970s is full of insight and warmly old-fashioned charm. Cosseted in the vibrant home of her Punjabi parents, Meena’s teenage rebellion takes the form of throwing her lot in with neighbour Anita to help her better integrate into the society she longs to be a part of, something complicated only slightly by the ingrained racism of said society. Continue reading “Review: Anita and Me, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: Romeo + Juliet, Rose Theatre Kingston

“Were thou as young as I”

In Joseph Drake and Audrey Brisson, Sally Cookson’s Romeo + Juliet has a perfectly matched pair of pint-sized lovers to take to the stage at the Rose Kingston. And in creating a non-specifically modern Verona (as hinted by the format of the title which borrows from Luhrmann), Cookson creates the ideal setting in which to let her vivid imagination run riot over Shakespeare’s much-performed classic. Her bold vision may not be to everyone’s tastes but it delivers a unique pleasure. 

Katie Sykes’ multi-platformed urban playground of a set suggests an underbelly of a city akin to the undercroft of the Southbank Centre, recently saved for its skateboarders and under the tumble of fluorescent tubes that makes up Aideen Malone’s lighting design, there’s a highly charged sense of energy ready to explode. Benji Bower’s score carries much of the weight of the atmosphere though, an insistent presence throughout the production for better and for worse. Continue reading “Review: Romeo + Juliet, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: The Seagull, Southwark Playhouse

“I always wanted to be a writer”

With an iPod blaring out tunes from the likes of Cat Power and Animal Collective, characters wearing battered Converse and slim-fit trousers and a wannabe writer bashing away at a laptop, it is clear that Anya Reiss’ adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull is aiming to demonstrate the timelessness of the Russian playwright. But this reinterpretation, directed by Russell Bolam, strips away too much without establishing a strong enough sense of its own identity.

Elements of the play sparkle under Reiss’ touch, in unexpected places. Emily Dobbs’ vivid Masha is a cracking portrayal of the disillusioned young adulthood that is the by-product of rural isolation, as she longs for the moody passion of Joseph Drake’s immature would-be playwright Konstantin yet finds herself resigned to the duller safety net of Ben Moor’s well-observed schoolteacher Medvedenko. And there’s a neat touch too in the Act 2 opening sequence that speaks so much about how deeply she can feel. Continue reading “Review: The Seagull, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Macbeth, Crucible

“I go, and it is done”

They appear to be creatures of habit up in Sheffield. Just as big musicals pop up at Christmas, a high profile Shakespeare forms the centrepiece of their autumn schedules and powerless to resist once again, I made my way to the Crucible, this time for Macbeth. Last year’s Othello was an extraordinary success – John Simm’s Hamlet the year before somewhat less to my tastes – and the casting news of Geoffrey Streatfeild and Claudie Blakley whetted my appetite for what lay ahead in Daniel Evans’ production.

But part of the problem in investing too much expectation in anticipated performances means that one can end up blinded to the more general merits of a production through the haze of disappointment. And so it was here as the central casting just doesn’t seem to work. I have no problem at all with atypical interpretations of characters, such subversions often lead the way to sensational new insight, but I simply couldn’t get a handle on what was trying to be done here. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Crucible”

Review: The Lion in Winter, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will take what Daddy gives you”

I have to start this review off with an apology to my Medieval History A-Level teacher Mrs Grist. Despite having spent two years studying the subject, and writing an extended essay on the Capetian King Philip Augustus (who appears as a young man in this play), precious little of the detail has remained in my head. Fortunately James Goldman’s The Lion In Winter, Trevor Nunn’s latest entry in his Theatre Royal Haymarket season, has a rather loose basis in history, coming from the Philippa Gregory-type school of soapy melodrama rather striving for historical accuracy, and so the vagueness of my recollections was just fine as this ends up being more of an Ayckbourn-style domestic conflict piece – Season’s Greetings but with a cast of historical royals instead.

Things get off to a rather shaky start with a huge amount of backstory text scrolling up the screen, which is surrounded by the cheapest-looking holly border straight out of a clip-art folder. It is a rather unwieldy way to convey a ton of information which if significant, ought to be clear anyway from strong playwriting. But in a nutshell, the play is set at Christmastime 1183 in the château of Chinon, Anjou in Western France where Henry II of England has kept his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, prisoner for a decade after she led a rebellion against him. Accompanying the warring couple are their three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John, who are all competing for their father’s favour in order to be named his successor and their guest, King Philip II of France, whose half-sister Alais just happens to be Richard’s fiancée and Henry’s mistress. And for two and a half hour, they all jockey for position with each other, trying to work out who will end up on top. Continue reading “Review: The Lion in Winter, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre

“The English vice is that we don’t own up to our emotions…we think they demean us”

Rattigan’s Nijinsky is something of a companion piece to the production of The Deep Blue Sea with which this is playing in rep at the Chichester Festival Theatre and sharing much of its cast. Looking to make their own unique tribute in the centenary year of Rattigan’s death, new pieces have been commissioned to play alongside his plays and here, Nicholas Wright has embroidered a story around the mystery of Rattigan’s 1974 unproduced and unpublished screenplay about ballet dancer Nijinsky and his passionate affair with Ballets Russes impresario Diaghilev.

Having been able to examine images of the original work, Wright has incorporated scenes into his own play, so we get to see Rattigan’s version of the tumultuous love affair between the older Diaghilev and his protégé, the man often cited as one of the greatest dancers ever, and the strain it was placed under due to Nijinsky’s mental fragility, something exacerbated (or even caused by?) falling into marriage with a woman. These scenes are interspersed with a modern-day (1974) narrative with an ailing Rattigan sequestered in his suite at Claridges and having to deal with Nijinsky’s widow, Romola, who is virulently objecting to his version of the events of her earlier life. Continue reading “Review: Rattigan’s Nijinsky, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: The Deep Blue Sea, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Moderation in all things has always been my motto”

Whereas productions celebrating Sondheim’s 80th birthday lasted all the blessed year long, the flurry of Terence Rattigan plays, marking the centenary year of his birth, seems to have died out in London at least. But in Chichester as their season moves into full swing, the first of a number of Rattigan productions starts with The Deep Blue Sea, a preview of which I caught on my first ever trip to the Chichester Festival Theatre.

It’s actually my second The Deep Blue Sea of the year, the first I travelled to the West Yorkshire Playhouse for to see Maxine Peake play the lead role and though several people had said to me that they thought she was too young for the role, as it was the first time I’d seen the play, it didn’t really affect me that much: having seen this production I see how that skewed the whole dynamic of the show. Here, director Philip Franks has stayed closer to the original intent by casting an older actress as Hester, in this case a stunning Amanda Root, which made the tangled nature of the relationships around her make more sense. Continue reading “Review: The Deep Blue Sea, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Kingdom of Earth, The Print Room

“Anything worth having or doing in this world is risky”

Terence Rattigan has received a lot of attention in his centenary year with productions of his shows filling theatres across the land, but it is also the anniversary of Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday this year which has been generally marked by much more low-key productions of his lesser-known works, including this 1968 work Kingdom of Earth which is presented at the West London venue The Print Room.

Set in the 1960s in an isolated ruined farmhouse in the Mississippi Delta, a sick young man Lot returns to his birthplace with his new wife, showgirl Myrtle. But he arrives to find that there is a huge impending flood about to engulf the region and his estranged half-brother Chicken is living in the house. As Lot retires to the comfort of his mother’s old bedroom and wardrobe and his illness takes a turn for the worse, Chicken seizes the chance to ensure that his legacy and claim to the family property is not affected by the presence of his rival’s new wife. Myrtle is thus caught in the power struggle between these brothers as they battle for ownership, and not just of the house. Continue reading “Review: Kingdom of Earth, The Print Room”