DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)

“For your love I pray you, wrong me not”

Any filmed adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is up against it for me as I adore the Al Pacino version from 2004 which makes so much sense of so many of the difficulties of the play. This Trevor Nunn production was a big success for the National Theatre, transferring from the then-Cottesloe to the Olivier, winning all sorts of awards and then filmed for the US’s Masterpiece Theatre.

And as is often the case with these stage-to-screen adaptations, it’s a little flat and disappointing, little concession made to the change in medium and so the abiding feeling is that one is left wishing one could have seen it onstage. Which is a shame, as Henry Goodman makes an excellent Shylock, viciously vengeful but clearly victimised too in this adroit resituating of the play to the 1930s. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)”

Review: The Domino Heart, Finborough Theatre

“After all, my little one, our life is this moment. This one. Gone. In a heartbeat.”

‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’ The mysteries of the heart have long enthralled songwriters but Canadian writer Matthew Edison has used this enduring fascination to fashion a most affecting play in the form of The Domino Heart. Three people sit on the stage of the Finborough as the show opens but they’re completely separate, isolated from one another and lost in the gravity of the situation that faces each of them. For though they are strangers, there is something that connects them, binding them together metaphysically even though they might not ever realise it.

‘Piece of my Heart’ Cara’s husband has been killed in a car crash and she is wracked with guilt for arguing with him just beforehand. Mortimer is a Reverend in his 70s whose fear of death is matched only by his fear of not having lived (and loved). And Leo is a brash corporate type whose only real pleasure comes from making money with the rest of life a pointless distraction to him. But as he takes his shirt off, we see that he has received a heart transplant and not only that, it is a domino heart, one which has been already rejected by a recipient and therefore has carried on down the chain.  Continue reading “Review: The Domino Heart, Finborough Theatre”

Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, St Leonard’s Church

“There’s a concept, Cunningham, called “playing the card you are dealt” – one can either accept that concept, or, one can slowly lose their mind, heart and soul.”

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot premiered in the UK back in 2008 at the Almeida with a colourful and sharp production from Headlong. Producer/director and latterly actor Antony Law’s revival down the road in St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch has removed the colour for an altogether more severe aesthetic and, although there are two sets of cushions on the pews, it is a severity that punishes your posterior as much as anything. The setting of the church has a sombre beauty and occasional acoustic challenges aside, offers a grandeur to this courtroom-set drama with its Alice-in-Wonderland-style oversized judge’s platform but Law rarely exploits the potential of this unique venue and the production suffers a little for it.

Set in Purgatory, the point where souls await their ultimate destination of either heaven or hell, Guirgis puts Judas in the dock and in something of a show trial, a vastly eclectic range of witnesses are called not just to explore the reasons behind his betrayal of Jesus but a wider examination of what it means to be good or to be responsible. So contemporaries like Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas the Elder are interrogated for their culpability whilst luminaries such as Sigmund Freud and Mother Teresa find themselves under the spotlight as their reputations are questioned too. It’s a heady mixture of intellectual argument and showboating pizazz, difficult to pull off and only intermittently successful here. Continue reading “Review: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, St Leonard’s Church”

Review: The Heart of Robin Hood, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“A forest is owned by no man”

I don’t have any memory of booking The Heart of Robin Hood at all! But sometime late in November I did indeed book it and failed to put it in my calendar – I may well have been drunk, I most definitely was tired! – and it was only The Trainline sending me a reminder about the train journey that alerted me to what I should be indeed be doing this Thursday afternoon.

The most impressive thing about the production, that is evident from the off, is Börkur Jonsson’s set design which has to rank as one of the most inventive uses of a thrust stage ever. A huge branch of a tree is suspended above a wide green swathe of astroturf which slopes from on high at the back of the stage, down into the auditorium. Thus the forest of Sherwood is evoked, with platforms and sections peeling back to suggest the castle of the nobles. It really is an ingenious piece of staging, endlessly delightful in the constant little reveals and surprises it came up with and even in the sheer fun of seeing people slide down into view from the top. Continue reading “Review: The Heart of Robin Hood, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, Old Vic Tunnels

“The mind of man is less perturbed by a mystery he cannot explain than by an explanation he cannot understand”

I’ve had something of a varied history in the Old Vic Tunnels since it opened early last year: exciting immersive experiences and one of the worst productions conceivable – I still can’t look at a watering can the same way… And since opening last year, it continued to develop as a performing space, making varied use of the atmospheric arches, and they have now opened up The Screening Room, a brand-new 125-seater space both programmed and run by a team of volunteers to showcase the ‘new’ and offer training and experience in all aspects of theatre creation. The first show mounted here is a double bill of David Mamet radio plays, Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, presented by Theatre6 and MokitaGrit.

The first, short, piece is a one-man-show, David Burt starring as a radio show host playing at agony uncle, reading out letters and dispensing frank advice to his listeners’ personal problems. Silhouettes on the bookshelves behind him enact some of the scenes which adds an extra layer which isn’t strictly necessary as Burt’s sonorous voice and expressive face are more than plenty to guide us through the tangled concerns with a soft but matter-of-fact humour. Continue reading “Review: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine, Old Vic Tunnels”