News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added

Ahead of National Theatre at Home’s one year anniversary on 1 December, the National Theatre has today announced the next filmed productions to be added to the streaming service, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Joining the platform today is Simon Godwin’s critically acclaimed 2018 production of Antony & Cleopatra in the Olivier theatre, with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo playing Shakespeare’s famous fated couple. Then the iconic and multi-award-winning production of War Horsebased on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, will be available from 1 December until 31 January 2022 on demand internationally for the first time since its premiere 14 years ago. It will be available with British Sign Language, audio description and captions. Continue reading “News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added”

Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

Review: Paddington 2 (2017)

I succumb easily to the charms of Paddington 2 and Hugh Grant having the time of his life

“Exit bear, pursued by an actor”

In a year when sequels have outperformed expectations (at least mine anyway), I should have heeded the signs that Paddington 2 heralded back last winter that sequels were ‘in’. Paul King’s follow-up to his 2014 warm-hearted original, reintroducing us to our ursine Peruvian hero, occupies a similar space of resolutely British family films that are a cut above. 

Written by King and Simon Farnaby, the film is unafraid to take its audience seriously and for every adorably sweet sequence, there’s genuine peril and even darkness in there too. Hugh Grant is the main antagonist, an actor called Phoenix Buchanan who has been reduced to making dog-food adverts and his ne’er-d-well ways see Paddington framed for a crime he did not commit. Continue reading “Review: Paddington 2 (2017)”

Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)

Who needs Shakespeare when you have William Oldroyd and Alice Birch to give us a chillingly excellent Lady Macbeth

“I’d rather stop you breathing than have you doubt how I feel”

Based on the book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov, William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a ferocious debut film and written by Alice Birch (no stranger to theatregoers but also making a feature debut here), it is a remarkably forward-thinking piece for that old hoary chestnut that is the British period drama.

Layering in intersectional notions of race and class, not shying away from domestic abuse and violence, it is probably safe to say it is unlike any other film you’ve seen that is set in 1865 England. Trapped into a stifling marriage with a disinterested man with a domineering father and a dour isolated estate in the North East, Katherine resolves not to let this be the sum total of her life. Continue reading “Film Review: Lady Macbeth (2017)”

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Don Quixote, Swan Theatre

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan Theatre”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)

 “I need to know if he still loves me”

Joe Wright’s film version of Anna Karenina was, for me, a hugely under-rated piece of work, a sumptuous feast for the eyes in his inimitable style. But I can see it might not be to everyone tastes, which is where the 2000 mini-series should step in as an ideal replacement. Stretching out luxuriously over four hours, David Blair’s production of Tolstoy’s classic, adapted by Allan Cubitt, is something quite close to triumphant, not least for a desperately compelling performance from Helen McCrory as Anna but from a detailed realisation of so many aspects of the novel.

For though the tragic love triangle of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is the best known strand of the story, Levin and Kitty’s relationship is just as significant in the grand scheme of things and there’s also room here for a fully-fleshed version of Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. The way in which the multiple lines are followed is expertly done and begins to do some justice to the weight tome that is the piece of literature on which it is based. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)”

Review: National Theatre – Fifty Years on Stage

“We’ve got two hours to show the vast range of work the National has done over the last 50 years by staging scenes from some of the most memorable shows – there are more than 800 to choose from”

Celebrating a notable half-century of the South Bank institution, National Theatre – Fifty Years on Stage proved a remarkable evening of theatre, gratefully captured on film so that its reach could indeed be closer to national than the capacity of the Oliver would allow. And Nicholas Hytner did a fine job of representing the illustrious past, showcasing 30 or so productions, mainly through live performance but also with some choice trips to the video archive.

The snippets of archive footage were delightful – from Robert Stephens, Maggie Smith and Olivier carousing in The Recruiting Officer and Smith with Anthony Nicholls in Hay Fever to Fiona Shaw’s incredible Richard II and Ian McKellen’s exceptional Richard III. And always alive to the connections to the past, we opened with the first scene of Hamlet featuring Sir Derek Jacobi as the ghost, revisiting the play in which he played Laertes in the very first production on this stage, And we end in a similarly ghostly manner, as the voices of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear giving us Othello give way to a recording of Laurence Olivier and Frank Finlay from 1965

Of the live performances, I loved Joan Plowright returning to Joan of Arc to spinetingling effect, the same with Judi Dench’s Cleopatra. Dench has a superb night in all, reprising her highly affecting rendition of A Little Night Music’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ too. And also doing it for the dames, Helen Mirren scorches in Mourning Becomes Electra, opposite Tim Pigott-Smith. And the tidbits of ‘productions we’ll never see’ were a constant delight. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch enlivening Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead no end, Ralph Fiennes and Charles Edwards teasing what they could do with Pravda, Andrew Scott and Dominic Cooper promising the world with a near-perfect slice of Angels in America. I also really enjoyed the dream cast of Arcadia, Anna Maxwell Martin and Jonathan Bailey making Stoppardian magic with Rory Kinnear and Olivia Vinall, you just wish that we could somehow get longer with all of them.

Perhaps inevitably, there’s a slight whiff of the largely male, pale and stale to proceedings. Tripping from Coward to Pinter to Ayckbourn is a natural reflection of the way things were but there’s a slight danger in perpetuating that state of affairs. There’s of course a thrill in seeing Jacobi and Michael Gambon’s excerpt of No Man’s Land but you have to hope that the future (100 Years on Stage?) is able to showcase a wider range of dramatic talent to reflect a truly national theatre.