Film Review: Pride (2014)

“To find out you have a friend you never knew existed, well it’s the best feeling in the world”

I kind of knew that I would like the film Pride, I hoped that I would really like it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I loved it – the kind of joyous, timeless film-making that makes you want to trot tired old clichés like Great British Classics. But it’s true, it really is. And it is also factually true – based on the real story of an unlikely alliance between a group of gay activists from London and a small Welsh mining community in the heart of the 1984 strike.

Written by Stephen Beresford (whose Last of the Haussmans probably ranks as one of my favourite new plays of recent years), there’s something just straight up lovely about the culture clash that emerges between the two groups, but also in the way that the assortment of odds and sods on both sides who are completely changed by the experience. I don’t think a coda has ever affected me quite so much in the revelation of finding out what actually happened to these people in real life. Continue reading “Film Review: Pride (2014)”

Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre

“We are tiny, tiny fragments of miniscule cogs in a grand and fabulously random collision”

If it ain’t broke… Adaptor Andrew Upton, director Howard Davies and designer Bunny Christie have had considerable success with previous Russian epics Philistines and The White Guard and so they’ve reunited once again, this time to breathe new life in Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, which has just started its run in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre. Set in a small town in a Russia on the cusp of revolution (1905 rather than 1917), experimental chemist Protasov and his coterie of middle class hangers-on are waltzing through life oblivious to the turmoil outside the gates of their estate, but their tragedy is as much personal as they turn out to be as blind to the needs and desires of each other as well. 

Gorky’s writing is remarkably perceptive throughout the play. Written in 1905 as a direct response to the huge societal changes around him, he skilfully diagnoses the malaise of the self-absorbed bourgeoisie and lays bare the blinkeredness of their cosseted ignorance and the hopelessness of their grandiose idealism. But he does it with a real deftness of touch, creating richly detailed characters who are rarely so insufferable that one’s heart doesn’t ache at the inevitability of the violent collapse of their entire world. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s erudite academic Protasov fully exemplifies this – a man full of an acute sense of the growing importance of science in the world yet an abject failure at maintaining the relationships in his life. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre”

Review: Mare Rider, Arcola Theatre

“I’m a legendary woman my dear, and as you know, the legendary women never die”

Leyla Nazli co-founded the Arcola with Mehmet Ergen in 2000 and it was here that her first play, Silver Birch House, was directed by Ergen to considerable acclaim in 2007. And with her new play Mare Rider, her writing returns to the Dalston theatre, directed by Ergen again and featuring a highly seductive cast including Kathryn Hunter and Anna Francolini. The Mare Rider is full of mystery, a bad spirit named Elka, reputed to haunt new mothers and as Selma goes through a troublesome birth at Homerton Hospital, the two women take a journey of haunting revelation that hinges somewhere between fantasy and tragedy.

Elka is the kind of role Hunter revels in inhabiting. A mythical figure from Turkish fairytales, there’s a strong vein of mordant humour in her stories of her own rebellious long-gone past in which her struggle for independence was subverted to make her an enemy of her own society and thus a monstrous legend was born. She’s also a highly fantastical figure and her tales of adventure frequently possess a magical quality, something conjured excellent by Richard Williamson’s lighting and video design from Ben Walden and Dick Straker and of course, Hunter’s own sinuous physicality, whether stamping out a tribal dance, aggressively flipping beds or riding a horse across the Anatolian plain. Continue reading “Review: Mare Rider, Arcola Theatre”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Must I bite?”

Marking the final entry in the Globe to Globe festival is the UK with this production of Henry V which reunites Jamie Parker with the role of Prince Hal that he played in 2010’s Henry IV Part I and II. The boy has now become king and the play covers his attempt to reconquer the English gains in France, most notably at the battle of Agincourt, and his growth into a leader who can inspire men to follow their duty to their country. Parker clearly has a close affinity to this character and it was a clever move to wait a couple of years before taking on this particular part as he is able to bring even more clear-spoken gravitas, colour and detail to this very human king.

Around him though, is a production by Dominic Dromgoole which errs very strongly towards the broadest crowd-pleasing comedy it can manage. Bríd Brennan’s beautifully versed Chorus and Olivia Ross’ poised Princess Katherine impressed as did the multi-part antics of Chris Starkie and Beruce Khan (additionally stepping in as understudy for an indisposed Matthew Flynn). But too often, the overreliance on the comic tone just fell flat for me. The Pistol, Bardolph et al antics were as bawdy as they have ever been, which ended up undermining their darker side (is the treatment of the French soldier really a subject of comedy?) and the tragedy of their fates (Boy is particularly hard done by). Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse

“You take it for granted that I am in something that I want to get out of”

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire seems an unlikely choice to put on in a chilly March in Liverpool – the Donmar’s 2009 production took place at the height of summer – but Gemma Bodinetz’s production succeeds utterly in raising the temperature to create a rather stunning account of this classic play which remains taut and gripping throughout. When Blanche DuBois is forced to throw herself on the mercy of her sister Stella in her tiny New Orleans apartment, Blanche is ill-prepared for the clash of class, culture and character that comes from such proximity to Stella’s husband Stanley as he sets about dismantling her delusions of grandeur with chilling cruelty.

The stifling heat of the French Quarter, and the ever-constricting atmosphere are perfectly simulated here in Gideon Davey’s design (plus special credit to Paul Keogan’s lighting) and Bodinetz expertly increases the pressure in ever-increasing increments to an almost unbearable level. There is dark stuff contained in here, I’d forgotten just how dark myself, yet we’re constantly reminded of Williams’ point that the world is full of pain and suffering and most people just get on with it. Yet Blanche has retreated from reality, glass in hand, Stanley’s completely differing take on life set him on a collision course with her and we are spared none of the violence as class warfare degenerates into domestic abuse on a horrific level. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Liverpool Playhouse”

Review: Macbeth, Everyman Liverpool

“What’s done cannot be undone”

The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool will shortly be closing for an extensive three year renovation programme which will see the building being completely rebuilt to reinvigorate the already sterling work that the Everyman and Playhouse theatres have been doing for the last few years. The final show to be mounted here is a production of Macbeth which features the return of one of its prodigal sons in the title role, David Morrissey, a Liverpudlian by birth who trained at the Everyman Youth Theatre in the early 1980s alongside Ian Hart, Mark McGann and Cathy Tyson.

Originally cast alongside him to play Lady Macbeth was Jemma Redgrave but she had to withdraw due to personal reasons (one hopes that she is ok, that family has suffered enough hardship in recent times) just three weeks before the show was due to open, but fortunately Julia Ford (recently seen in Mogadishu) was able to join the cast and ensure this valedictory telling of ‘the Scottish play’ was able to continue. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Everyman Liverpool”