Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

Casting announced for Theatre Royal Bath’s Racing Demon

Theatre Royal Bath Productions has announced full casting for David Hare’s Racing Demon, directed by Jonathan Church, and seemingly deliberately designed to challenge my resolve to not see the production which runs from Wednesday 21 June to Saturday 8 July.

As previously announced Olivier Award-winner David Haig will star as Lionel Espy in the multi-award winning play. He will be joined by Sam Alexander, Michelle Bonnard, Anthony Calf, William Chubb, Paapa Essiedu, Ian Gelder, Andrew Fraser, Rebecca Night, Amanda Root and Ashley Russell.

Four clergymen seek to make sense of their mission in inner-city London whilst facing their own personal crises. There’s Lionel Espy, a cleric whose faith is wavering as his parishioners dwindle; tabloid-hounded gay vicar Harry Henderson; ‘Streaky’ Bacon, a genial reverend with a taste for tequila, and a charismatic young curate, Tony Ferris whose arrival is set to fan the flames, whilst his sexual relationship with his lover turns to ash. The day of judgement is at hand for all. Continue reading “Casting announced for Theatre Royal Bath’s Racing Demon”

Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud Theatre

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”

Despite never having seen or read Strangers on a Train, I seemed to carry a strong idea of what the plot would entail. So of course I was disappointed to find out that the play wasn’t actually about two men deciding to kill each other’s wives on a long journey on the rails and that the action actually left the train carriage pretty early on. Expectations aside, I was also a little surprised at just how cinematic Robert Allan Ackerman’s production was, a veritable film noir brought to life in all its tense monochrome glory.

But for all the gloss that Tim Goodchild’s ever-revolving set and Peter Wilms’ frequent projections bring, there’s a curious lack of effective theatricality to Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. The fateful initial meeting between Laurence Fox’s Guy and Jack Huston’s Bruno is charged with homoerotic tension as the latter teasingly offers to kill the former’s unloved wife if he will reciprocate by offing his overbearing father. Yet this isn’t something that is played out in the psychodrama that follows, exploring the effects on each man of perpetrating their crimes. Continue reading “Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud Theatre”

DVD Review: Gosford Park

“Now, now, we don’t want to be thought unsophisticated”

There’s a rather amusing moment on the Gosford Park DVD extras with a short documentary about how director Robert Altman but particularly writer Julian Fellowes tried to ensure the greatest level of authenticity in representing the world of service. Three people who were actually in service in the 1930s were employed as consultants on the film and their insights are genuinely fascinating and it shows. It’s just a shame that Fellowes took so little of that knowledge into creating the fanciful world of Downton Abbey with its blurred distinctions between masters and servants.

There’s no such problem in Altman’s film where the social divisions are sharply defined between upstairs and downstairs but where Gosford Park really grips is in the hierarchies and snobberies that exist throughout, the vagaries of the English class system permeating at all levels. The murder mystery that forms the biggest plot point is deliberately incidental as what is much more compelling is the intricate web of relationships that percolate through the McCordle’s country pile over a long weekend of shooting and the simply gobsmacking ensemble cast that was put together to portray them. Continue reading “DVD Review: Gosford Park”

Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre

“The army is not a game”

Director David Grindley’s first London job was as an ASM on the original 1993 award-winning production of Jonathan Lewis’ army hospital-based Our Boys so there is a pleasing circularity to him being the director of the play’s first West End revival. It is set in Ward 9 Bay 4 of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich, with five soldiers at various stages in their recovery from injuries suffered in the line of duty who have their easy dynamic changed by the arrival of Potential Officer Menzies into the mix. 

His presence shakes things up initially but he is soon assimilated into the group which kills the endless stretches of time with the recreation of barracks humour – strident banter that is close to the bone, searching for female company in want ads, illicit drinking games based on The Deer Hunter. But try as they might, they can’t escape from the ugly reality of their situation as their various torments rear their heads and it becomes apparent that this is a place where mental recovery is just as vital as physical recuperation. Continue reading “Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre”

DVD Review: Becoming Jane

“Consider, this is likely to be your best offer”

(This was actually written before Helen McCrory Weekend was conceptualised but I felt it fitted in better here than in the post-Christmas splurge.) Another film that was over Christmas that I hadn’t seen before was Becoming Jane. Falling neatly into the costume drama niche, I thought I was in for a nice time but it all too easily fell into one of those traps most beloved by playwrights when writing about real people: fictionalised reality. So what we have is a mixture of truth about Jane Austen’s life and a fictionalised version of a romance with lawyer Thomas Lefroy, combined with the additional directorial choice of having the events of the film be the direct inspiration for Austen’s first novel, Pride and Prejudice.

What this meant was that much of the film was robbed of its spontaneity. Julie Walters as the hectoring mother and James Cromwell as the kindly father were entirely predictable, as was Maggie Smith’s Lady Gresham – the Lady Catherine de Bourgh figure. There was hardly any room for the story to breathe of its own accord which was a real shame as this was where it was actually better. The chemistry between Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy as Austen and Lefroy – apparently the bona fide inspiration for the character of Darcy – is palpable and effectively deployed throughout the film, as Austen’s certainties crumble in the face of genuine passion. And also in the slightly transgressive romance between Jane’s brother and her older widowed cousin, the seductive Comptesse de Feullide played with glee by Lucy Cohu, an actress I love and whose presence I was nicely surprised with in this. Continue reading “DVD Review: Becoming Jane”