Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace Theatre

“We have to ask you to be gender-blind, colour-blind, age-blind, shape-blind, but in all other ways perceptive”

I actually saw a reading of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play Jefferson’s Garden in 2013 when it formed part of the extracurricular activities surrounding the run of Out of Joint’s Our Country’s Good at the St James and blogged quite extensively about it as it was a play that really struck me as one to look out for. Less than two years down the line, it has now received its first production at the hands of director Brigid Larmour and the Watford Palace Theatre where it runs until 21st February and doesn’t appear to have any life anticipated beyond that.

Which is a shame as I do think it is a fine piece of writing. Wertenbaker’s history play takes place during the American War of Independence but makes a sterling case for how the compromises in the creation of a society then have echoed throughout time to become the issues that still blight the USA today. She also plays with the way in which historical narratives are constructed (theatrical ones too) through the voice of a Chorus who stalk the action, identifying the difficulties of converting the dreams of idealism into the practicalities of the real world. Continue reading “Review: Jefferson’s Garden, Watford Palace Theatre”

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”

DVD Review: The Line of Beauty

“So what are you doing about sex just now?”

As a young gay, reading Alan Hollinghurst novels felt like the height of sophistication, and whether true or not, there was an air of exclusivity about those of us who knew him (at least in the circles I moved in). So his ‘breakthrough’ with winning the Man Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty was a validation tinged with disappointment that I now had to share that something special. His journey into the mainstream was completed with the requisite television adaptation, but with Andrew Davies at the helm for BBC2, it did feel like the right hands were on the tiller.

Hollinghurst’s story centres on a five year period in the life of Nick Guest, a fresh-faced Oxford graduate who moves to London in the summer of 1983. His offer to house-sit for the family of a university friend leads into an odyssey of personal and sexual discovery as he becomes a full-on lodger, thrust into the world of Tory politicians and old money, around which he fits furtive encounters with men as he explores his sexuality in a world in where homosexuality is far from being widely accepted in public. Thus the two main strands overlap and complement each other: Nick is given a window into the privileged lives of the wealthy upper classes in the Thatcherite boom years and in which he is allowed to play his own supporting part, but in the shadow of the emerging AIDS crisis, he discovers just how barely tolerated gay life is and just how hypocritical this society can be.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Line of Beauty”

DVD Review: The Young Victoria

“Do you ever feel like a chess piece being moved around in a game against your will”

Much as my favourite genre of theatres is old-school musicals, my favourite type of film is a lavish costume drama, especially and since I’m nicely ensconced at my parents’ house with their flash new television, I’m going to blog a few of them. First up is The Young Victoria, the 2009 film detailing the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria and the beginnings of her grand romance with Albert. I have a serious girl crush on Emily Blunt, she was the highlight of The Devil Wears Prada for me but I really fell in love with her whilst watching the bloopers from the film, she has the kind of irresistible laugh I could listen to all day but I do think she is becoming a really interesting actor (who someone should get on the stage!).

Written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and including producers like Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson – a major force behind getting it made apparently – the film starts off with Victoria as heir presumptive to her uncle King William IV and trying to fend off the avaricious advances of her mother the Duchess of Kent and the hugely ambitious comptroller of her household Sir John Conroy. Matters are complicated by her other uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, who wants to use his family connections to build a British/Belgian alliance, but his decision to use his nephew to seduce his way into her affections has unexpected repercussions for everyone, as the nephew is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Young Victoria”

Review: Off Cut Festival – The Final, Riverside Studios

“And the winner is…”

After a successful run over the last few weeks at the Riverside Studios, the Off Cut Festival reached its finale tonight and prizes awarded, including the coveted Audience Award which carries with it a commission to develop the winning play and receive a full production here in Hammersmith. The 28 plays were whittled down to the 8 most popular which then made it through to the final week to perform again and audiences were able to vote on their favourite, the announcement being made at this final showcase. A panel of industry professionals also awarded honours for the best company of actors, director and writer to complement the main prize as the audience watched each of the finalists for one final time.

Having missed Group 4, I was keen to see the two plays that had made it through from that selection so that I could make up my own mind about who I thought should win. The first of these was Andrew Biss’ The Craft – a hysterical two-hander about two mutually loathing actors playing a scene with their every inner thought being spoken out loud. I loved it, it was immediate, punchy writing and crucially extremely witty. Tracy Ann Wood and Dan March were ideally suited to their roles, the only thing I would say about it was that as it was such a perfectly-formed 15 minute short, I wasn’t too sure how it could have been further developed. The other, Tanja Mariadoss’ Let There Be, I was less keen on. A scatty artist having something of a breakdown starts an illicit affair with her landlord who is something of an uncle figure in her life whilst his 14 year old daughter watches on with disgust, kissing her teeth and spitting lyrical barbs as a would-be rapper. It wasn’t that it was at all bad, I just didn’t really engage with the piece or really want to see much more of how the story might develop, although Hannah Wood’s white-girl rapping was a delight to behold. Continue reading “Review: Off Cut Festival – The Final, Riverside Studios”

Review: Off Cut Festival Group 3, Riverside Studios

“Hey, let’s put on a play”

Due to a manic schedule this week, I was only able to attend one of the final two groups of plays in the Off Cut Festival, a fact which will annoy the completist in me something rotten, but I was pleased to at least have made it to three of the four. Reviews of Groups One and Two have already been posted, and here is a quick collection of thoughts about these plays before we head into the final week when the top two plays from each group will play for the week, ahead of the final at which the winners will be decided.

Head and shoulders above the rest for me was Mark Wright’s Looking for Vi, a gently cautionary tale about the effects of obsessive fandom on both the super-fan and on the subject too, as geeky Julia tracks down reclusive former soapstar Vi in an old person’s home in order to complete a set of signatures from her favourite TV show. But behind this simple task lies deep wells of emotion for both women and they are given beautiful depth by Maroussia Frank and Joy Blakeman. Another of my favourites was Hannah Williams Walton’s Memories of Loss, an intertwining tale of two stories of tragic loss and the histories behind the relationships. It was a quietly moving piece and given interesting direction by Ali Anderson-Dyer and it was something I felt that could be developed into something quite intriguing. Continue reading “Review: Off Cut Festival Group 3, Riverside Studios”