Review: Romeo and Juliet, National Theatre via Sky Arts

Jessie Buckley is astonishing as the National Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet makes the jump from stage to screen to extraordinary effect

“What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?”

By rights, we should have seen Simon Godwin’s Romeo and Juliet at the National Theatre last summer but the stars realigned for these star-cross’d lovers and now we have the gift of the National’s first ever film. Emily Burns’ sleek adaptation has been reworked for the camera and with DP Tim Sidell reimaginging the possibilities of working onstage, something truly cinematic yet innately theatrical has emerged.

With a supporting company (plucked from my dreams) that included Deborah Findlay, Lucian Msamati, and Tamsin Greig, I was pleasantly surprised that the young leads lived up to their billing with two fine, emotionally wrought performances. Josh O’Connor’s Romeo carries the weight of the world on his shoulders but flickers beautifully into life upon the stolen touch of fingertips with Juliet. And Jessie Buckley as Juliet shimmers with luminosity with the intensity of the feelings that take her over. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, National Theatre via Sky Arts”

News: National Theatre at Home continues with dual Frankensteins and more

National Theatre at Home continues its home programming with both versions of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller and Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, plus there’s a National Theatre at Home Quiz 

Following on from the success of its opening set of transmissionsOne Man, Two Guvnors was viewed over 2.5 million times in the week it was available – the National Theatre has announced the next two productions it will be airing as part of National Theatre at Home. 2011’s Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller sharing its two main roles and 2018’s Antony and Cleopatra, starring Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo.

Both productions will be free to stream, premiering at 7.00PM BST and then available on demand for seven days. Further productions to be streamed as part of National Theatre at Home will be announced soon.

Today also sees the launch of the National Theatre at Home Quiz, to be played from home featuring familiar faces from the world of stage and screen as the quizmasters. Each quiz will include rounds of five questions on a wide variety of topics.

On the final Monday of each month people will be able join the virtual quiz directly from their homes via the NT’s YouTube channel and Facebook page live at 7pm. The first quiz will be on Monday 27 April with quizmasters Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry, Lesley Manville, and Sir Ian McKellen asking questions on topics including history, sport, nature, and of course, the National Theatre (bagsy team Manville).  

News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre

Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor headline a new production of Romeo and Juliet, while Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy star in Gary Owen’s Romeo and Julie, among other big news from the National Theatre

New productions

Simon Godwin returns to the National Theatre to direct Shakespeare’s ROMEO & JULIET following his critically-acclaimed productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night in the Olivier Theatre. Set in modern Italy in a world where Catholic and secular values clash, Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Judy) and Josh O’Connor (The Crown, God’s Own Country) play the two young lovers who strive to transcend a world of violence and corruption. Fisayo Akinade (The Antipodes, Barber Shop Chronicles) is cast as Mercutio. The production will open in the Olivier Theatre in August 2020.

Set and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Lucy Carter, composition by Michael Bruce and sound design by Christopher Shutt. Continue reading “News: new productions and casting updates for the National Theatre”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre

Antony and Cleopatra is a lengthy evening at the National Theatre but one which pays rich rewards, particularly in Sophie Okonedo’s majestic performance

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me”

Or Cleopatra and Antony as it turns out. Ralph Fiennes is plenty good in Simon Godwin’s modern-dress production of Antony and Cleopatra for the National Theatre, but Sophie Okonedo is sit-up, shut-up, stand-up amazing as she holds the ancient world and the entirety of the Olivier Theatre in her hand (and then wipes it clean with a look of disdain, as she wittily does after a messenger slobbers kisses all over it at one point). It is often acclaimed as one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles for women but an actor still has to do great things with it and here, Okonedo more than delivers.

In the opulent cerulean blue of Hildegard Bechtler’s design with its sunken pools and luxury, and in the magnificent array of statuesque costumes by Evie Gurney (such capes!!), her Cleopatra is a figure of immense poise. Even in her most capricious moments, there’s a knowing, performative quality to her that demonstrates just how much she’s controlling the narrative here, even when left alone by her Antony. And when together, there’s a palpable, mature connection between them – made all the more tragic by a prologue that presents a tableau of the final scene – their destinies entwining even as they’re increasingly doomed. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre”

Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse

“The longer I live, the more I’m tempted to think that the only moderately worthwhile people in the world are you and I”

It’s 30 years since Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ extraordinary epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses premiered in Stratford, took the West End and Broadway by storm and was turned into the most seductive of period movies in Dangerous Liaisons. Since then, the emotional war games of former lovers the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont have rarely been seen but Josie Rourke’s has revived them just in time for Christmas at the Donmar.

The decaying grandeur of the French aristocracy in 1782 – just a few years away from révolution breaking out remember – is neatly suggested by the peeling walls and dust sheets that litter Tom Scutt’s set. And their enduring decadence remains obvious in the still-luxurious quality of their clothing (some gorgeous costume work here) but Scutt and Rourke make clear that the lifestyle being pursued by Merteuil, Valmont and their ilk is doomed, regardless of how their games play out. Continue reading “Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse

“There’s a pleasure sure, in being mad, which none but mad-men know”

Josie Rourke’s inaugural season as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse starts off with the Donmar’s first ever Restoration comedy – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Written in 1706, it is also well known as the play that is rehearsed by the convicts in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good and Rourke has assembled a truly impressive cast in order to make a splash with her debut. Plotwise, it is mainly about men who go ‘huzzah’ a lot as they try to recruit the young men of Shrewsbury into the army, balanced with two central romances which are negotiating the impact of a big inheritance on female romantic inclinations.

It’s a whole lot of bawdy fun rather than making any serious points about anything if one is brutally honest, but it is totally made by the quality of the cast. Tobias Menzies exudes charisma as the bounding Captain Plume, well partnered by Mackenzie Crook’s Sergeant Kite, and together they brazenly try to wheedle their way into the sense of duty of the male populace and sweep them off to war. Completely amoral but largely quite funny about it, the scene with the faux crystal ball reader is extremely well done, Nicholas Burns’ demonstrating some nifty moves as gentleman Worthy, and many a laugh is garnered. Most of them come though from the friendly(ish) rivalry with Captain Brazen, a rival recruiting officer who is well portrayed as Mark Gatiss nearly steals the show with an outrageously foppish performance: his vocal delivery at one crucial point was just delicious. Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse”

CD Review: Much Ado About Nothing – Original London Cast Recording

“The rain it raineth every day”

A rather surprising addition to the theatrical CD racks is this official cast recording of the David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing that is currently doing great business at the Wyndham’s Theatre. Perhaps the clue is right there, there’s a natural fan-base with an appetite for all they can get their hands on when it comes to Mr Tennant and having employed up-and-coming musical theatre composer Michael Bruce to compose a score to fit in with the 80s-themed production, it is now available to buy and download from all usual outlets.

And what a funny beast it is, taking the 80s brief completely to heart, the 9 songs take Shakespearean poetry and verse and sets them to pastiches of music of the era. It is hard to credit just how much Bruce’s original music plays like an authentic Greatest Hits of the 80s without one actually being able to identify exactly who it is the song reminds you of. Just the once, in Who is Hero?, is he unable to resist the obvious connection and delivers a piece that is perhaps too close a cousin of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ yet it is still fun with it. Continue reading “CD Review: Much Ado About Nothing – Original London Cast Recording”

CD Review: Julie Atherton – No Space for Air

“If I opened my heart, there’d be no space for air”

Given that, as regular readers will know, I tend to think of Julie Atherton as something close to the Second Coming, I was a little trepidatious at the prospect of her new CD No Space for Air when it was first announced as an album embracing her rockier side and moving away from the musical theatre repertoire she is best known for. I almost cracked when I heard there was a Linkin Park song on there as I have never knowingly listened to one of their songs in my life! But I stuck with it, trusted in Julie, and was rewarded with a great listen.

For if there is a rock chick inside Atherton, it is a fairly mellow one. The aforementioned Linkin Park song ‘Crawling’ is a gorgeous string-laden number with gently strummed guitars a little at odds with the angst-ridden lyrics: a very pleasant surprise but I’m happy without ever having to listen to the original. Likewise, Skunk Anansie’s ‘Weak’ is stripped back to an almost acoustic rendition, piano-led this time but equally raw lyrically, showing a different side but still feeling authentic. Including Tori Amos’ quirky ‘Leather’ is a nice touch, allowing a little vocal playfulness, but a rendition of Shawn Colvin’s ‘Never Saw Blue Like That’ is probably the best thing on the album. Performed with such subtle restraint with a simple guitar accompaniment, it is just captivating. Continue reading “CD Review: Julie Atherton – No Space for Air”

Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs album launch, Delfont Room

“Musical theatre’s my passion, my art”

In the Delfont Room at the Prince of Wales Theatre, there is often a Sunday night treat to be found and this week saw the launch of Unwritten Songs, the debut album by Michael Bruce featuring a whole host of West End stars, many of whom were in attendance to perform the songs they sing on the album, including Julie Atherton, Alexia Khadime, Anna-Jane Casey and Mark Evans and some other special guests too, including Caroline Sheen. Bruce is a composer who has had his own West End showcase, musicals playing at Edinburgh, is resident composer at the Bush Theatre and has written the score for shows like the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep and the forthcoming David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing, so it is safe to say this is a man who is going places.

His songwriting covers many bases, but he is particularly strong at the comedic songs and his repertoire is already full of choice gifts for the more daring cabaret performer: ‘Portrait of a Princess’ (formerly titled ‘In A Disney Way’) was written especially for Julie Atherton and plays perfectly to her inimitable strength at witty story-songs, if for some crazy reason you only buy one song off this album, this would be the one. But there’s also the faux-operatic ‘Continental’ delivered with a great wry humour by Emily Tierney and the newly written ‘The Musical Theatre Song’ which borrows the rapid-fire structure of Sondheim’s ‘(Not) Getting Married Today’ as a musical theatre fan breathlessly lists all the shows she loves, delivered almost without fault by Anna-Jane Casey. Bruce clearly enjoys challenging his singers and when they are of this calibre, then why the hell not. Continue reading “Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs album launch, Delfont Room”

Review: Christmas in New York, Lyric

Continuing my obsession with all things Avenue Q or at least vaguely connected, we trotted off to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to Christmas in New York, a show of Christmas music ranging from traditional carols to thoroughly modern musical theatre numbers. The Q connection comes from Julie Atherton who alongside Paul Spicer is a founder member of Notes from New York, the company behind this annual show whose remit is to promote contemporary musical theatre composers.

It was a highly enjoyable evening in which the talent onstage was clear with a range of West End stars, singing a mix of solos, duets and group numbers accompanied by a large choir giving huge glorious voice to several of the songs. Spicer and Atherton fronted up the ensemble but they far from hogged the limelight as many others, like Emma Williams, Melanie La Barrie and Oliver Tompsett, got their turn too.

The only downside was our unfamiliarity with much of the material: it was akin to going to see a gig by someone you really like who just sings songs from a new album that you don’t know. Amongst the traditional carols and the Sondheim, Berlin and Rodgers number were intertwined with new composers like Michael Bruce, Charles Miller, Grant Olding and Ann Hampton Callaway whose material kind of passed me by a little without knowing more about it. There must have been over 30 songs performed in the big theatre and I would have preferred the stronger connection that might have developed in a more intimate venue.

The musical version of Twas the Night Before Christmas was great fun though and it was a highly entertaining night altogether. A great demonstration of fresh new talent working on the stage and a nice alternative to the endlessly repeated usual Christmas tunes.