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 39 Steps

“Life never seems grim after a couple of fried eggs”

I haven’t quite made it to see The 39 Steps on the stage yet, it’s one of those shows that seems set to go nowhere and so I am waiting for a cast to arrive that will really excite me and finally get me into the Criterion Theatre to see it. In the meantime, I borrowed this 2008 BBC adaptation on DVD off a friend to fit into my weekend of spy thrillers. For anyone who hasn’t seen it before (like me), the story revolves around Richard Hannay who, finding himself wrongfully accused of murder in mid-1914, is forced on the run as he uncovers a dastardly plot to cause a major war led by a German spy ring somewhere in Scotland and finds himself being chased by the Germans, the British police and a mysterious bi-plane, even as he tries to save the nation from invasion.

This adaptation was written by Lizzie Mickery from John Buchan’s novel and directed by James Hawes so its pedigree was relatively high, but I have to admit to finding the whole thing a bit creaky. Part of the problem was the central casting of Rupert Penry-Jones as Hannay, an actor whom I’ve previously much enjoyed but who lacks much presence at all here as events just spiral on all around him. Hawes could have done with injecting much more pace into the production all-around too but Mickery’s writing doesn’t help as it lacks any real menace to convince us of the peril in which our hero finds himself in. Continue reading “DVD Review: The 39 Steps”

Review: Onassis, Novello Theatre

“I knew he was a pirate, I didn’t know he was a gangster”

Onassis is a play by Martin Sherman based on material from the book Nemesis by Peter Evans, which was originally produced under the title Aristo at Chichester two years ago. It covers the last 12 years of the life of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis as he wooed and married Jackie Kennedy, flirted with Maria Callas, sailed on his yacht, made shady deals with the likes of the Palestinians which may or may not have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Bobby Kennedy.

Robert Lindsay plays the central role who dominates everything whether in his personal life or his business affairs and consequently commands the stage almost entirely through the evening with his a foul-mouthed, twinkle-toed massively-larger-than-life performance that at times rises above the limitations of the material. As unfortunately Sherman has made little attempt to tell a story here, what we end up with is a torrent of information and an unchanging presentation of a rich man, even the most tragic of events have little emotional impact since there’s no extra dimension or depth to proceedings aside from an overused continuing reference to the Greek gods. Continue reading “Review: Onassis, Novello Theatre”

Review: Elektra, Young Vic

“There are times when justice is too big a risk”

Anne Carson’s version of Elektra is the latest play to take up residence in the Maria studio upstairs at the Young Vic. Allegedly having written 123 plays, only 7 of Greek playwright Sophocles’ works still remain, yet they remain ever popular: soon to open at the National Theatre, Moira Buffini’s Welcome to Thebes also takes much from his writing. However, this Elektra is doing things a little differently: no press night, no previews, just opening to its audience, oh and all tickets are completely free (though advance booking is strongly recommended!)

Carrie Cracknell’s debut as Associate Director at the Young Vic is a joint effort with Headlong and so it should come as little surprise that it is an inventive fusion of movement, music and text, creating haunting dreamscapes and evocative imagery that really capture the overwhelming aura of grief permeating this play. The whole play is darkly lit with varying shades of gloom and this allows for some eerie dream sequences to be played out with masked dancers at the start, setting the tone for a haunting exploration of grief and what it will drive people to. Continue reading “Review: Elektra, Young Vic”

Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre

This week saw a visit to the Lyttleton at the National Theatre for the first preview of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways. Starting off in 1919 at a birthday party, we meet the Conways, a rich family infused with hope for the future: the Great War is over, the sons have returned home safely and potential love matches abound for the numerous sisters. This act is sumptuously mounted, the costumes are fantastic and the company do a great job of introducing a sense of real decadence and loucheness, exuding the confidence that their upper-class lives safely back in place after the wartime turmoil. Francesca Annis as the mother of the family excels here, ruling her roost with a witty demeanour, as does Faye Castelow as the youngest daughter, a bubble of positive energy in primrose yellow. Annis also dealt extremely well with her scarf becoming attached to one of her daughter’s rings for over a minute!

Act II then skips 20 years into the future to see how the passage of time has affected the Conways. With this leap forward, all the actors are called on to really deliver sufficiently nuanced performances to convey the passage of time, and with the aid of some impressive make-up, they pretty much all succeed in this. Lydia Leonard and Hattie Morahan in particular stood out for me, both of them reaching deep to show the frustrations that inter-war life has imposed on them. That said, the acting all-around was of a high quality, although some nerves were in evidence with a couple of fluffed lines (something I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed at the National before).

The final act then returns to where we left off at the end of Act I and we see the culmination of the storylines that started, but with the knowledge of how they will ultimately turn out, 20 years later.

Continue reading “Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre”