Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre

“It wouldn’t be like this at the National”

Does the West End really need another straight production of Oscar Wilde’s old war horse The Importance of Being Earnest? Apparently not, as the new productions lined up each have their own spin – 2015 will see David Suchet take on the role of the redoubtable Lady Bracknell for Adrian Noble and 2014 sees Lucy Bailey impose her own conceit onto the show which allows her to gather an ensemble of more seasoned professionals than might normally be expected to take on this play.

That she does with the help of extra material written by Simon Brett which sees this starry cast take on the mantle of am-dram society The Bunbury Company of Players who in turn, are putting on their take on Wilde’s play as part of their summer season. So before Algernon and Jack have even taken to the stage, we’ve been inducted into the mini-dramas of the company themselves – Nigel Havers’ lothario now having an affair with a third woman in the group, Siân Phillips and Patrick Godfrey’s long-married couple fussing and bickering, Cherie Lunghi’s would-be diva complaining about her costume not fitting… The scene thus seems set for a melding of onstage and offstage drama which would bring something new to this old classic.  Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong

“Foxoliver?”

Michael Frayn’s 80th birthday is being celebrated by BBC radio with a mini-season of his work, featuring a new version of his play Copenhagen and adaptation of his novels Skios and Headlong. First up was Skios, a farcical tale somewhat in the vein of Noises Off and something really quite funny indeed. The tale itself, of mistaken identities, fake professors and frustrated lovers, is mostly entertaining if not quite as masterfully complex as his other work, but what really lifts this dramatisation by Archie Scottney is the kind of dream comic casting one would pay through the nose to see in a theatre.

Tom Hollander plays Oliver Fox, who is going on an ill-advised romantic break to Greece with a woman he has just met. When he is taken for someone else at arrivals, he soon finds himself installed in the warm embrace of the Toppler Foundation who believe that he is Dr Norman Wilfred, the keynote speaker at their conference on Scientometrics and has his every need attended to by super-efficient PA Nikki Hook, Lisa Dillon in sparklingly funny form, who finds herself rather taken by him. Meanwhile, the real Dr Wilfred, a bumbling High Bonneville, also finds himself the victim of misidentification as he ends up in the remote Greek villa where Oliver was meant to be going and where his would-be girlfriend is still headed, the glorious Janie Dee starring as the unawares Georgie. Continue reading “Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong”

Radio Review: From Russia With Love / My Own Private Gondolier

“It doesn’t do get mixed up with neurotic women in this business”

Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres have now produced three James Bond stories for Radio 4, the enduring popularity of the spy evidently insatiable and so From Russia With Love was the latest to be broadcast in the Saturday drama slot. I was being a bit of a glutton for punishment in listening to it as I really wasn’t a fan of Goldfinger which I listened to at Christmas, and the same thing that struck me about how old-fashioned it seems with the insistence on keeping Ian Fleming’s voice squarely in the production as the narrator. Fortunately, there aren’t too many interjections but each one breaks the mood of the story and makes it seem annoyingly quaint. This is exacerbated by the very old-school nature of the writing which feels rather out of place in the modern world, at least to me.

I seem to have tumbled for Toby Stephens’ charms though which meant I was much more engaged in the story, which cleaves closely to Fleming’s original in this adaptation by Archie Scottney, which focuses on Bond’s attempts to extract a Soviet army clerk who wants to defect along with a code-breaking device whilst attempting to foil a Rosa Klebb-led plot by the KGB to assassinate him. Stephens made a very personable Bond, unafraid to be a bit more human as his relationship with the Soviet Tatiana Romanova – ex-Holby City’s Olga Fedori in a lovely turn – begins to cloud his judgement. Continue reading “Radio Review: From Russia With Love / My Own Private Gondolier”

DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

“I mean to have that ruby”

The Ruby from the Smoke is the first in a series of four books featuring adventuring lead character Sally Lockhart. Here a mysterious message received from her father just before he drowned in the South China Seas sets her on a dangerous journey which starts with a man dying in front of her very eyes at the mere mention of what is contained within. She is then drawn into a mystery involving the opium trade, the fabled Ruby of Agrapur and even secrets from her own family history as her life is under constant peril from the dastardly Mrs Holland.

This was one of those things that I pretty much knew I was going to love from the moment I heard about it, but it certainly does help that I do really like the actress that Billie Piper has become. There’s an inner strength to her as well as a richly warm quality that is highly endearing and ideally suited to this modern figure of a woman, challenging Victorian notions of womanhood as she strives to uncover the truth. And Pullman writes extremely well for his female characters, something carried over in Adrian Hodges’ screenplay, as Hayley Atwell’s Rosa makes a sterling ally for Sally and as the evil Mrs Holland, Julie Walters makes a convincing villain. Obviously casting against type, it is an astonishingly effective performance, exuding huge malevolence and full of spine-chilling touches – the false teeth in particular – it’s a vein of work she ought to pursue a little more. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke”

Review: Goldfinger, Radio 4

“Gold attracts the most ingenious criminals”

I’ve now figured out the best way for me to listen to plays on the radio, which is whilst recovering from a hangover in bed, and not doing anything else. So it was thus that I took in this all-star production of the James Bond story Goldfinger, Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel having been dramatised by Archie Scottney, and Ian McKellen recruited to take on the iconic villain against Toby Stephens’ secret agent. But I have to say, it was my least favourite of the radio plays that I have taken in recently, partly due to the terribly dated writing but also due to the way in which it was presented, being partly narrated by Martin Jarvis (also the director) as Fleming.

The narration made it seem really rather old-fashioned, a very traditional way of telling a story and that is how it came across, as a story rather than a play, a piece of drama. It felt rather flat and lacked excitement, despite the quality of the cast, but I think it also suffered a bit by comparison. No sound effect could ever replicate the visual of Oddjob’s deadly bowler hat (yet simultaneously, without that visual it would barely have any impact, a whooshing sound alone inspires little), likewise John Standing’s M’s gagdetry, and the constantly changing locations, within a short space of time, do not really lend themselves to effective drama – explanations needed too often. Continue reading “Review: Goldfinger, Radio 4”

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”