Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida Theatre

Simon Russell Beale and Leo Bill shine in Joe Hill-Gibbins’ perfectly reimagined The Tragedy of King Richard the Second at the Almeida Theatre

“Thus play I in one person many people”

It’s tempting to think of this production of Shakespeare’s Richard II as specifically designed to rile up Billington and sure enough, he fell into the trap and reviewed the show he wanted to see rather than what was presented to him. He sees what Shakespeare should be; here, Joe Hill-Gibbins shows us what Shakespeare can be. 

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second is undoubtedly a consequential adaptation. Compressed to 100 minutes without interval, spoken at speed and set entirely within a grey-walled cell, it is disarming and disruptive. But it also works beautifully once you’re attuned to its rhythms as it makes the blind pursuit of power its central thesis, underscored by the desperation of the elite to cling onto their political influence. Continue reading “Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida Theatre”

TV Review: Mrs Wilson

Ruth Wilson excels in the intriguing Mrs Wilson, a drama that couldn’t possibly be true…

“You know all you need to know”

Mrs Wilson begins with ‘the following is inspired by real events’ but the truth is even more than that, as main protagonist Alison Wilson is played by Ruth Wilson, who just happens to be her granddaughter. For the story is taken from the extraordinary revelations of her own family history and adapted into a three-part serial here, which is marvellously tense and beautifully filmed.

We begin on an ordinary day in the early 60s as Alison nips home from her job to make a lunch of cold cuts for her novelist husband Alec. He doesn’t make it down to the table though as he’s kicked the bucket and instantly, hints of mystery abound as she hides his wallet and makes a surreptitious phone call. What she doesn’t expect is the knock on the door a few days later from a woman who claim to be his wife. Continue reading “TV Review: Mrs Wilson”

Review: Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre

“You have to want to care what’s going to happen to these characters”

There’s a sequence towards the end of Evening at the Talk House where a character says things along the lines of ‘I’m so bored’, ‘I’m ready to die’ and ‘please help me get out of here’ and never have truer words been spoken. That last one might have been an internal voice though as the grinding horror of this new Wallace Shawn play rolled inexorably on. In some ways, I have no excuse. The one and only time I’ve seen his work before saw indignities inflicted on none other than Miranda Richardson, left to pretend to be a cat licking Shawn’s bald head, and so I had fair warning of Shawn’s singular style.

But it’s a style that I find utterly baffling. As a thespy crowd meet for a long awaited reunion at their old members club, they reminisce and chat effusively and endlessly about this actor who used to be in that TV show or that actress in this TV show – all made up ones of course – to a point of mind-numbing inanity. And in this version of the world, there’s a dystopian state-sponsored execution programme wiping out enemies of the state (and plenty more besides) which is carried out by out-of-work actors like many of the crew here. They also get served canapés about which they chatter excitedly, which is nice I suppose.  Continue reading “Review: Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre”

Short Film Review #33


Responding to the work of Belarus Free Theatre, Connection is part of the continuing short film work that the Young Vic are producing in collaboration with the Guardian in response to their theatrical work. Written by Nicolai Khalezin and Laura Wade, it features Khalezin and Jude Law playing thinly veiled versions of themselves, both stuck at a London airport but for very different reasons. It’s an engaging, moving little tale and if the parallels that are drawn between the pair stick in the craw a little, Law’s ongoing work with BFT ought to silence any naysayers.

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Review: A Season in the Congo, Young Vic

“This is our Africa”

The curse of theatre addiction is that even when I know I don’t want to see something, I quite often end up going anyway, especially when it has been well recommended by friends and colleagues. So it was with the Young Vic’s A Season in the Congo, particularly galling as someone very kind indeed offered to queue for dayseats… Joe Wright’s theatrical debut as a director came earlier this year with Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar, a production I wasn’t much enamoured with, but he kicks into another gear altogether with this 1966 play by Aimé Césaire about the life and death of Patrice Lumumba, one of the men who led the Democratic Republic of Congo to independence.

It’s a vastly collaborative work, pulling together wide-ranging artistic elements into a hugely theatrical experience which is hugely ambitious and was clearly well-received, though I found it to be distracting and distancing. Choreographer (and co-director) Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui intersperses numerous dance sequences, musician Kabongo Tshisensa makes a Brechtian troubadour-like figure who passes comment throughout on the action in tribal dialect, puppets and masks are used to represent the white characters and colonial powers whose influences are very much in decline. They’re undoubtedly impressively done yet for me, all over-used, reducing their impact and padding out an already healthy run-time unnecessarily. Continue reading “Review: A Season in the Congo, Young Vic”

Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire / The Colour of Milk, Radio 3/4

“I know what you think, but I cannot turn away”

For reasons not entirely clear, Mark Ravenhill is curating a season of three classic plays that he likes for Radio 3, the first of which was Carol Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. It’s an interesting choice as it is a fairly challenging piece of historical drama and as I observed when I saw Polly Findlay’s production for the Arcola back in 2010, it is a highly theatrical one as the company of actors rattle through a large number of short scenes and an equally considerable cast of characters. Consequently, I don’t think it suited the medium of radio as the differentiation between them all didn’t really come across.

And being such a cerebral play, focusing on the tumultuous period in English history during the Civil War when huge social and political change was in the offing and tracing its impact on all levels of society, it needs a deal of clarity for it to be most effective and for me, the announcement of scene titles wasn’t enough. Which was a shame as the cast that Ravenhill gathered for this was brilliant – Amanda Drew and Monica Dolan, Justin Salinger and Paul Rhys, the kind of company I would pay extremely good money to see. You can’t win them all. Continue reading “Review: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire / The Colour of Milk, Radio 3/4”

Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre

“Men may construe things after their fashion clean from the purpose of the things themselves”

I hadn’t originally intended to take in Gregory Doran’s all-black version of Julius Caesar for the RSC, not for any particular reason than just that it didn’t really appeal. It seemed that my instincts had paid off when it was announced that, with a rather odd sense of timing, the production would be filmed in Stratford-upon-Avon and shown on television before it made its transfer to London’s Noël Coward Theatre and then on to a UK tour. But upon watching this televised version which mixed location shooting with action filmed on-stage, I was utterly seduced by Doran’s reinterpretation which sees the play relocated into some unspecified modern African dictatorship.

Most of what I said about the production in my review of the film still holds true so I won’t repeat myself too much. Having been spoiled by the intimacy that television cameras provided, it was a little difficult to readjust expectations in light of being seated in the rear stalls. Missing so much of the detailing, and indeed the clarity of much of the text in a couple of heavily-accented places, meant that I never felt quite as connected to the action as I had previously been, an interesting thing to discover given that the live experience is the one that is always trumpeted. Michael Vale’s crumbling set design did look impressive though, with its looming statue an ever-present reminder of the seeming inevitability of oppressive leadership.

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TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4

“Men, at some times, are masters of their fate”

In the near-overwhelming deluge of Shakespeare love on the BBC which is about to reach its crescendo with the debut of the Hollow Crown season, the decision to film and broadcast the RSC’s current production of Julius Caesar seems a rather perverse one. The show, an all-black adaptation relocated to an unspecified modern African state by director Gregory Doran, has yet to complete its Stratford-upon-Avon run and will embark on a major UK tour including a residency in the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to present it on our televisions – I only hope this does not impact on ticket sales (though given it played on BBC4, one does wonder what viewing figures were actually like…).

Of course, watching a play on screen is not the same as watching it live and though this starts with the opening scene recorded at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the first transition cleverly moves us into location filming and so the production gains a filmic quality which makes use of varied locations, including a return to the RST, direct addresses to camera, ‘found’ cellphone footage and voiceovers to really translate the theatrical interpretation into something new for the screen, as opposed to simply replicating it. The relocation is a simple, yet powerfully effective one, the overthrowing of a military dictator by less than honourable types is something which will seemingly always have currency in the modern world, but more importantly the concept is worn lightly with little shoe-horning necessary to make it work. Instead it flows beautifully and naturally to great effect. Continue reading “TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre

“How ill agrees it with your gravity to counterfeit thus grossly with your slave”

Ephesus is London, Syracuse is somewhere in the West Indies (I think) and we’re in the modern day: Dominic Cooke’s production of The Comedy of Errors moves into the Olivier at the National Theatre for an epically long run of a thoroughly updated version of this play. One of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it’s a classic tale of mistaken identities as two sets of twins separated at birth by a shipwreck rocket around the same city causing absolute mayhem as wives, merchants and policemen get tangled in a confused mess over the course of a manic day. We took in a late preview of this show which opens officially on Tuesday 29th.

Though it is Lenny Henry’s face on the poster, this is Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry’s show. As Adriana and Luciana, here a pair of loaded Essex girls, they ooze buckets of attitude as they sit through manicures and massages whilst bemoaning their menfolk and spend the vast majority of the play in some seriously impressive towering heels, even managing to run round the stage in them several times. Blakely’s comic timing is nigh on perfect as she rages through Ephesus/London but also plays a depth to this woman, all too aware of her husband’s philandering and her final contemplative gaze at her husband is a mightily powerful moment. Terry is transformed with straightened blonde locks and a delightfully brash manner which milks every conceivable laugh from her lines: together they are just dynamite. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, Crucible

“For some must watch, while some must sleep”

So part two of the Hamlet week saw me making my first ever visit to Sheffield to the Crucible Theatre where director Paul Miller has reunited with frequent collaborator John Simm in tackling Shakespeare’s epic. I have resisted making any comparisons with the two productions in this review and tried my best to approach the writing of this review as if I had not seen the other.

This Hamlet is very much back to basics, very few props and frippery onstage, so that quite often what we are seeing is simply just a group of actors acting. And whilst on the one hand that was nice to see, on the other, it did mean that there was a whole lot of just standing around and the limited emotional palette with which they had to work meant that too often the connections just weren’t there between the characters, Ophelia and Laertes might as well have been strangers for example. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Crucible”