Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope Theatre

“My work gets a bit poofy when I get nervous”

One of my favourite things to experience in the theatre is that sweet spot of just being happy to spend time with the characters presented to you. Much of that is down to the writing but a good deal of it also comes from how the production interprets it and so I’m delighted to report that I happily spent a couple of hours with the ladies of the Hope Theatre’s Steel Magnolias, and could easily spend a couple more, with my cup of ice tea, my fan with a pastel-coloured parrot on it (available to buy at the box office) and much love in my heart.

Robert Harling’s 1987 play found fame in the film version that was released a couple of years later but works exceptionally well here as a study in multi-generational female friendship. Over the course of 4 scenes in 3 years, we experience the trials and tribulations of the patrons of a Louisana beauty salon but despite the drama – and what tear-jerking drama it is – the beauty of Steel Magnolias comes in the everyday relationships and interplay of these women, their fallings-out and friendships, their sharing of recipes and gossip alike, the minutiae of life writ large. Continue reading “Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope Theatre”

Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union Theatre

“You won’t get that out a book on prison procedure
When those suits get caught on the hook, that’s when they need ya”

Bad Girls ran for eight years on ITV, covering the whole gamut of women’s prison storylines from the sublime to the senseless, and now the women of HMP Larkhall live on in Bad Girls the Musical, written by original creators Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus with music and lyrics by Kath Gotts. Taking many of the characters and fashioning its own story from a range of plotlines across the lifetime of the show, Will Keith’s production for the Union makes for an effective translation from screen to stage.

Perhaps naturally, given the size of the 17-strong company and the number of introductions that thus need to be made (even for those familiar with the TV show), the main thrust of the story takes a little time to come into focus. The corrupt practices of prison officer Jim Fenner, fond of doling out privileges in return for sexual favours, eventually crystallises the motives of the diverse cast of inmates but there’s also the slow burning relationship between lifer Nikki and reformist governor Helen that adds to a book which may seem slight but is ultimately dramatically satisfying.  Continue reading “Review: Bad Girls the Musical, Union Theatre”

Short Film Review #34

Korriró

 

 

The Icelandic Vesturport company are well known here for their theatre work – I’ve seen their collaborations on Faust and The Heart of Robin Hood – but they are also film producers, both long and short. The first of their shorts that I caught was Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s Korriró as it starred two actors I’ve previously seen – Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir and Gísli Örn Garðarsson. Filippusdóttir plays a homeless woman who happens on an open garage door into a luxury home which offers a brief respite from the drudgery of her life. It is beautifully shot and uncompromisingly direct – confronting us all with our attitudes towards the homeless and those from whom we avert our gaze.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #34”

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: Mary Rose, Riverside Studios

“I like your spirit…”

Ghost stories are notoriously to get right on stage: the scarcity of genuinely chilling writing is often over-compensated for by productions stuffed with cheap scare tactics and thus it is a genre that I have tended to avoid. But the prospect of a classic ghost story written in 1920 by JM Barrie (with whom I share a birthday) tempted me sufficiently to book for Mary Rose at the Riverside Studios.

And on the surface, it is a conventional ghost story. We open in a creepy and creaky drawing room where a soldier returning to his childhood home from the First World War battlefields find it abandoned and laden with stories of ghosts that haunt its corridors and rooms. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover the tale of the Morland family whose daughter, the titular Mary Rose, disappears on a holiday to a remote Hebridean island only to reemerge some three weeks later as if nothing had happened. Her childlike demeanour persists into married young motherhood, but the lure of the island remains strong and on a return trip, she disappears once more, this time not returning for more than 20 years. Continue reading “Review: Mary Rose, Riverside Studios”