Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

Re-review: Medea, National Theatre

“I choose to take back my life.
My life.”

Booking a return trip to anything Helen McCrory is starring in is something of a reflex action now but I was more pleased than usual to be able to revisit Medea as conversations with numerous of my friends who were not fans had left me questioning whether I had maybe over-rated the show on first viewing. And it was equally nice to find out that I had not. I can see why elements of Carrie Cracknell’s production might have been polarising but for me, the synergy between the different disciplines is alchemical.

From jerky dancing to Goldfrappian swells of music, luxury cameos through to an actor magisterially making her mark on an oft-played role to dominate the vast auditorium of the Olivier, it’s a Medeafor our time and so it was entirely correct that this performance should be part of the NTLive programme and be broadcast to cinemas across the world. Spine-chillingly remarkable stuff and that’s all I really have to say!

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 4th September

Review: Medea, National Theatre

“Terrible things breed in broken hearts”

Euripides’ Medea has long been considered one of the greatest roles for a woman to play so it is a little surprising (or perhaps not) that it hasn’t been performed at the National Theatre before. But the winds of change blow even on the South Bank so it makes great sense that one of our finest living actresses, Helen McCrory, should take on the part in a production by Carrie Cracknell, herself responsible for making some of that change with recent shows like A Doll’s House and Blurred Lines

Ben Power’s new version relocates the betrayed Medea in a blasted contemporary setting (another ingeniously cracking design from Tom Scutt, evocatively lit by Lucy Carter) where she and her two children anxiously await news of the husband and father who has abandoned them for a newly politically expedient marriage. Trapped in a foreign land, having severely burned her bridges with her homeland, we watch helplessly along with a hefty Greek Chorus as grief inexorably transmutes into anger.  Continue reading “Review: Medea, National Theatre”

Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre

“I’d be surprised if part of the audience didn’t feel alienated”

A dissection of “what it means to be a woman today”, Blurred Lines is a devised piece currently occupying the Shed, created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell and the result of improvisation and experimentation with the cast of eight women. The show utilises text (effectively), poetry (interestingly) and songs (less than successfully) woven together into a patchwork piece of theatre. Naturally, the end result is somewhat uneven and it was hard not to feel that the almost scattershot approach mutes the overall impact of the work as the attention flashes from moment to moment. 

For me, the strongest sequences were the ones bookending the show, which comes in at a snappy 70 minutes straight through. A roll call of the stereotypical depictions of women in the cultural sphere speaks with the unassailable truth that has undoubtedly dogged the careers of everyone here, reinforcing the narrative about the paucity of decent roles for women. And a blistering final segment challenges a patriarchal actor/director relationship, asking searing questions about what we all may have been conditioned to find acceptable.  Continue reading “Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre”

Film Review: Les Misérables (2012)

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables (2012)”

18th Critics’ Choice Awards nominees

Best Picture
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Best Director
Ben Affleck – Argo
Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper – Les Misérables
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg – Lincoln Continue reading “18th Critics’ Choice Awards nominees”

Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre

“Look on this and learn. Let that be your punishment”

I don’t think there is another director who frustrates me quite as much as Bijan Sheibani. The devastating simplicity with which he tackled 2009’s Our Class and the elegiac beauty he brought to the Iranian-themed Bernarda Alba earlier this year has delighted, but he’s also responsible for making 70 minutes seem like a pained lifetime in Moonlight and threw everything including his kitchen sink into the multi-authored chaotic carnival ride that was Greenland. So it is hard to know what to expect from his work, but it seems sure to provoke strong emotion in me one way or another. Sadly, his latest foray at the National Theatre – Damned by Despair – errs towards the latter of the above categories. It is still in previews to be sure, but it is hard to imagine that this isn’t a fatally flawed production. 

The play is a religious epic from 1625, written by Spanish monk Tirso de Molina, and delves into sticky questions of spirituality such as is heaven is reserved for those who spend a lifetime believing and can non-believers be redeemed through the accomplishment of good deeds. This is subject matter of a deeply different kind to what our more agnostic tastes are now suited, but the difficulties inherent in translating such ideas to a modern audience are simply magnified by a clumsy new version by Frank McGuinness and some baffling directorial choices from Sheibani which swung from cringeworthy to laughable and almost always misguided – I fear some serious trimming will need to be done if there’s any hope for the production. Continue reading “Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre”

Review: Fear, Bush Theatre

“There’s a difference to what you say and what you really mean”

I’ve spoken before about the frustration that sometimes pops up when a designer has run wild with their imagination but apparently forgotten to take into account the fact that an audience should be able to see what is going on (The Changeling), but I’d never thought about what it must feel like for an actor to work in unconventional surroundings until I saw Fear at the Bush Theatre. takis’ set makes much use of clear plastic panels, indeed the rear wall of the playing area has three of these which provides aesthetic interest, but prove rather tricky to negotiate in the blackouts between scenes, as Rupert Evans found out to  his cost when he face-planted right into one of them at the end of a moving scene. Unfortunately this was the most interesting thing about the production for me.

Fear is Dominic Savage’s debut play, and my heart sank a little bit when I read that he was directing his own work, as the introduction of another creative presence is often invaluable to the development of a piece. That said, there are moments of raw power that emerge from this story of what happens when two very different sides of London clash, especially in the decision to have its main protagonist, rude boi Kieran, directly addressing the audience, sizing them up as his next potential victims for a spot of street robbery with his devoted lackey Jason. And as we get hints of the domestic strife that drives Kieran’s vicious anger, we also meet city banker Gerald whose personal and professional lives are most definitely on the up. Continue reading “Review: Fear, Bush Theatre”

DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth

 

You really put the w into anchorman don’t you”

Another of those random charity shop bargains was this double DVD sets of modern Shakespeare adaptations – ShakespeaRe-Told (I bet that was a smug day when that title was revealed!). The first disc features rewrites of Much Ado About Nothing by David Nicholls and Macbeth by Peter Moffatt shifting the plays to a modern context and employing starry ensemble casts.

Much Ado About Nothing has been relocated to a local news station in Dorset where Sarah Parish’s Beatrice is reunited with former colleague Benedick, Damian Lewis sporting an epic moustache – who never quite got round to getting together when they worked together before – on the news desk of Wessex TV. Hero is the weather girl, daughter of the station manager, newly engaged to Claude on the sports desk though Don from Visual Effects has been nurturing an epic crush on her too and so sets about a dastardly plan to break up the engagement. Continue reading “DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth”

Re-Review: Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s Theatre

“That’s not the joke I was thinking of…”

Maintaining an excellent record of transfers for the Royal Court, Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park is the latest play to make the leap from Sloane Square to the West End, in this case the Wyndham’s Theatre. Robert Innes Hopkins’ design seems to have transferred almost exactly as it was at the Royal Court, seemingly at the same size and still undergoing such a great transformation in the interval. All but two of the original cast have transferred with the show, directed by Dominic Cooke, which has already won Best Show plaudits from the Evening Standard, South Bank Sky Arts and the Critics Circle and looks set to continue that success.

I saw the show early in its run at the Royal Court and though not originally intending to revisit the show, the opportunity arose and I became quite intrigued by the idea of seeing the production again in a new home. The play takes a dual look at racial prejudice in America, starting in 1959 as a white family try to sell their house in a white neighbourhood to a black family despite pressure from the locals, then switching to 2009 where the tables are turned as the demographic of the area has switched completely and it is the black community resisting the ideas of a white couple who want to buy the same house. It looks at how people rarely say exactly what they mean, especially where race is concerned and though things would seem to have improved by 2009, the events of the second half show us that that progress could be seen to be quite superficial. Continue reading “Re-Review: Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s Theatre”