Review: Witness for the Prosecution, County Hall

Productions like this are precisely why Agatha Christie has endured so long. Witness for the Prosecution is an absolute marvel in the atmospheric surroundings of County Hall

“How could he possibly commit such a brutal murder. He’s such a dish”

Most of what I know about justice comes from Bananarama (guilty as a girl can be) so I’ve yet to be called up for jury service. But Witness for the Prosecution acts as a fine stand-in, especially with this production which makes inspired use of the disused Council Chamber in London’s County Hall. The show opened back in 2017 but it has taken me this long to getting around to see it – more fool me, as it is pretty darn fantastic.

I suppose I was guilty of thinking of the slightly stale Mousetrap side of Agatha Christie, the one of which it is hard to get particularly excited, rather than the Sarah Phelpsinspired revivals which have relocated and reignited the sheer quality of Christie’s writing. Lucy Bailey’s interpretation of the 1953 play rightfully plays it with an extremely straight bat, reminding us just what a unparalleled master she was at this game of crime writing. Continue reading “Review: Witness for the Prosecution, County Hall”

News: NT launches new streaming service National Theatre at Home

The National Theatre, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, has today launched  National Theatre at Home, a brand-new streaming platform making their much-loved productions available online to watch anytime, anywhere worldwide.

Launching today with productions including the first ever National Theatre Live, Phèdre with Helen Mirren,  Othellowith Adrian Lester and the Young Vic’s Yermawith Billie Piper, new titles from the NT’s unrivalled catalogue of filmed theatre will be added to the platform every month.

In addition to productions previously broadcast to cinemas by National Theatre Live, a selection of plays filmed for the NT’s Archive will be released online for the first time through National Theatre at Home, including Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes with Olivia Colman and Inua Ellams’ new version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters (a co-production with Fuel).   Continue reading “News: NT launches new streaming service National Theatre at Home”

TV Review: The White Queen

This TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen proves rather schlockily enjoyable

“You live in a country that is divided”

Philippa Gregory’s novels have long been a pleasure for me, a guilty pleasure if I believed in such a thing, as her female-focused, historical fictions offer much trashy enjoyment. A miniseries of The White Queen was created in 2013 but though it aired on the BBC and garnered some award success, it proved to be a one-off (for five years at least).

The White Queen is an adaptation of her Cousins’ War series ((The White QueenThe Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter) and uses the Wars of the Roses as its backdrop to explore the roles of some of the most powerful women in the country. Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, Anne Neville – all determined to parlay their dynastic power into a real shot at the English throne. Continue reading “TV Review: The White Queen”

Review: The Son, Duke of York’s

Some excellent acting makes The Son, Florian Zeller’s latest West End hit, worth a trip to the Duke of York’s Theatre

“Sometimes I feel I’m not made for this life”

British theatre’s determination to adopt Florian Zeller as one of its own continues unabated as the Kiln Theatre’s production of The Son transfers into the Duke of York’s for the autumn. It completes a loose trilogy of family plays (The Father, The Mother) though it is decidedly less tricksy than either of its predecessors.

The subject at hand here is mental health and in some ways, the directness feels like the right choice. A child of a broken home, Nicolas is a troubled soul – his mum Anne is unable to cope on her own, his dad Pierre’s attentions are split with his new family, and no-one seems to really clock how deep his depression runs. Continue reading “Review: The Son, Duke of York’s”

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)
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
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: Twelve Angry Men, Garrick Theatre

“There’s always one”

My classic movie knowledge is terrible – I rarely watch old films and though I am frequently bought DVDs of “must-see classics”, they invariably remain in their wrappers on a shelf, waiting for the day when I finally decide to catch up on years of cinematic history. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never seen Twelve Angry Men. Nor had I any intention of going to see it onstage to be honest – though the Garrick Theatre is blessed with a lovely intimacy from the Grand Circle, charging 40-odd quid does seem a little optimistic, but the lovely people at Bargain Theatre (worth following on Twitter too) came through with a deal that saw those seats reduced to £16 and so I took the bait.

Playing out in real time, the play follows the deliberations of an all-white 12-man jury on a hot and sticky New York afternoon in the 1950s as they are tasked with delivering a verdict on a murder case which has seen a young black man be accused of stabbing his father. But what seems like an open-and-shut case becomes more complicated when the initial vote indicates 11 consider him guilty and 1 considers there to be reasonable doubt, and so the debate begins as each side tries to win the absolute majority it needs to prevail. In doing so, the various men – all only known by their juror numbers, never their names – reveal how their prejudices and presumptions have guided them as they decide whether to send this man to the electric chair. Continue reading “Review: Twelve Angry Men, Garrick Theatre”

Review: Boris Godunov, Swan Theatre

“Everywhere they curse the name of Boris”

The instinctive reaction when one hears of a production of a lesser-known work by a well-known writer tends to be one of healthy scepticism, as one waits to find out whether there was a good reason for its relative obscurity. But sometimes there are mitigating circumstances and Alexander Pushkin’s 1825 play Boris Godunov – receiving its first ever professional production in English here at the Swan Theatre – sufficiently provoked the ire of the state censors so that it was 30 years after his death before it was first approved and even then, continued political pressure ensured its limited impact.

The uncensored version was finally translated by Adrian Mitchell, premiered at Princeton in 2007 and selected now by Michael Boyd to mark his swansong as AD at the RSC, as part of the ensemble-led globetrotting A World Elsewhere season. And one can see why the Russian authorities wouldn’t have taken too kindly to Pushkin’s satire, indeed still to this day, as wrapped up in the tale of men lying, cheating and murdering their way to become Tsar in the late 1590s is an excoriating indictment of the Russian ruling elite. And what Boyd teases out in this fast-moving version, is that such autocratic leadership is seemingly endemic in this country and so its resonances play out right up to the current day. Continue reading “Review: Boris Godunov, Swan Theatre”

DVD Review: Charles II The Power and the Passion

“It’s amazing what Parliament will do when they feel guilty”

Charles II: The Power and the Passion was a 2003 BBC miniseries the likes of which I doubt we’ll see again in these times of austerity as it was a sprawlingly lavish costume drama, directed by a young Joe Wright. Covering the life and reign of Charles II, it starts just before his restoration to the throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell and runs right through to his death. Thus as 27 years of history are condensed into 4 hours, liberties and dramatic license is freely taken and this isn’t really the place to be too pernickety about this kind of things.

We follow Charles from his libidinous time in exile on the continent to arriving back in London to be crowned King and to lock horns with Parliament. Charles still believed strongly in the absolute power of the monarchy but the politicians of the day were determined not to surrender any of their new-gained influence and so much struggles ensued as members of his court both grew in influence and fell from favour as everyone jockeys for power and to make sure they’re on the winning side. There is also the matter of the succession as Charles has no legitimate heir, though plenty of illegitimate offspring, and wants his brother named but he is a Catholic. Continue reading “DVD Review: Charles II The Power and the Passion”

Review: Electra, Gate Theatre

“Electra, you need to calm down”

This version of Electra by Nick Payne which is currently playing at the Gate Theatre is brand new, but it does bear some resemblance to the production Elektra, which played, for free, at the Young Vic last summer. That version was by Anne Carson was a co-production with Headlong but is now being labelled the workshop production of this one, as it was also directed by Carrie Cracknell and featured the same creative team around her here, indeed one of the actresses involved has travelled too though Cath Whitefield has been promoted from the chorus to the title role.

Based on Sophocles’ Ancient Greek myth, the story centres on Electra, seething with rage at the murder of her father Agamemnon at the hand of her mother Clytemnestra, who in turn was avenging his sacrifice of another of their daughters, Iphigenia, to appease the gods for a prevailing wind. Electra ships off her younger brother to safety but remains with her mother and new lover, silently plotting for the chance to take the ultimate revenge in the memory of her father and praying for a brother she has not seen for ten years. Continue reading “Review: Electra, Gate Theatre”