TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: The Politician’s Wife

“Why do you think it is always Conservative politicians who end up in these kind of sexual scandals?”

The list of actresses that I just LOVE is ridiculously long and seemingly grows by the day, but Juliet Stevenson has long been on there and a discussion with a colleague just before I popped off to see Happy Days reminded me that one of my earliest memories of her work was in 1995’s The Politician’s Wife, which due to the lovely folk of 4OD, one can watch at one’s leisure. And so I did. And whilst there may be a hint of the rose-tinted glow about it, I have to say I really enjoyed delving back into the story.

Set in a Conservative administration largely inspired by the heady days of John Major’s Back to Basics campaign, Minister for Families Duncan Matlock finds himself mired in tabloid scandal as his affair with ostensible researcher Jennifer Caird is exposed to all and sundry. Devoted wife Flora is left in shock, at first by her husband’s dalliances but then by the revelation that several party grandees knew long before she did and so she plots a calculated revenge with help from some unexpected quarters. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Politician’s Wife”

Review: Ghosts, Rose Theatre Kingston

“In other words, you have no idea what you’re condemning”

London has long thrived on its paranormal industry – spooky tours, famous cemeteries, Jack the Ripper and his ilk and now in its theatres, a double helping of Ghosts, albeit of Ibsen’s variety. Richard Eyre will direct his own version for the Almeida which opens next week but sneaking ahead is Stephen Unwin’s adaptation, also self-directed, for the Rose Theatre, Kingston. A co-production with English Touring Theatre, it marks the twentieth anniversary of that company but perhaps more significantly, it will be Unwin’s final production at the Rose where he has served as Artistic Director for six years.

He has a clear affinity for the Norwegian playwright – Ghosts is the second translation Unwin has written and the seventh of his plays that he has directed and upping the authenticity ante, the look of the show has taken direct inspiration from the stage designs of Edvard Munch, who designed a production in Berlin in 1906 and which have never been seen since. And the result is an extremely classy piece of theatre, one which coils up the intensity of its acting for an incendiary final act but sometimes feels like it is taking an age to get there. Continue reading “Review: Ghosts, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Strange Interlude, National Theatre

“What am I doing here?”

When a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude was first announced as part of the National Theatre’s summer programme, the five hour running time of the original struck a note of fear in many a heart of those who are used to the cheap seats in the Lyttelton Theatre. And though it has been trimmed down to 3 hours 20 minutes in Simon Godwin’s production, it still proves something of a considerable challenge – not least because I could not see for the life of me why it has been revived.

Due to its length and winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1928, it is no surprise that it ticks the ‘rarely performed classics’ box and featuring an absolute doozy of a central female role in Nina Leeds, it is no typical piece of theatre. Sadly, its main innovation – characters speaking their many, many internal thoughts out loud as asides – is one which felt far too similar to last week’s Passion Play to really impress. And it also makes what ought to be more seriously considered drama into an unexpected campfest that feels more like an American soap opera like Dynasty or Sunset Beach but with none of the schlocky enjoyment. Continue reading “Review: Strange Interlude, National Theatre”

Review: Democracy, Old Vic

“That’s why I love mushrooms – you pick them, pickle them and eat them”

There’s apparently no predicting the way in which theatrical transfers work (apart from if we’re talking about Chichester musicals…). I can’t imagine the logistics involved in securing the necessary financial support, keeping the cast onboard and finding the ideal venue but perhaps more significantly, I’ve no concept of how the conversations begin. In some cases it seems a no-brainer, as in the aforementioned big-hitting Chichester musicals and indeed plays; in others, it seems easily misjudged, cf Written on the Heart;  and then there’s the others, in which a perfect confluence of factors enable a well-received production to make the relocation.

It is probably the latter of these options in the case of Democracy, one of the three Michael Frayn plays that made up Sheffield Theatre’s celebration of his work earlier this year (Copenhagen and Benefactors were the others), which has now transferred to the Old Vic. On the face of it, it may not be the most appealing of prospects, a play based on real-life events in West German politics in the 1970s but what emerges is a sweeping spy thriller full of political intrigue and historical significance, which is all the more compelling for being true.   Continue reading “Review: Democracy, Old Vic”

Review: Judgment Day, Almeida Theatre

“The train is coming…”

Judgment Day is a play by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth, which has been translated here at the Almeida theatre by Christoper Hampton. One of the first commissions after Michael Attenborough’s arrival as Artistic Director, Hampton has long been a champion of this writer and this is the first full production of this play in this country. Von Horváth wrote much of his anti-Nazi work in Germany in the 1930s, but opted to remain in the country to study the encroaching rise of Nazism, instead of fleeing like many of his compatriots such as Brecht.

It’s the story of Hudetz, a stationmaster of a small village who, distracted one evening by a popular local girl eager for a kiss, fails to make the necessary signal to a passing train causing a devastating fatal crash. The girl Anna then perjures herself to defend Hudetz as he seeks to escape justice, despite his unhappy wife also witnessing the events. We then see the effects of overwhelming grief on this pair as they struggle to carry on with their lives, exacerbated by the ever-changing moods of the townspeople, whose vicious, bigoted anger seems to be refocused with every new piece of gossip that comes their way. Continue reading “Review: Judgment Day, Almeida Theatre”

Review: Waste, Almeida Theatre

Waste, a play by Harley Granville Barker, is another one of those plays that was banned when first written, in this case in 1907. Directed by actor Samuel West at the Almeida theatre, this version uses the revised 1926 text to great effect with as strong an ensemble you will find in London this autumn.

The story follows Henry Trebell an independent MP with a lifelong dream of wanting to disestablish the Church of England and build colleges on the land and has formed part of a Tory push to get the bill passed as law with their anticipated arrival in government. However, his personal life is in disarray as a casual affair with a married woman who ends up pregnant comes to light and threatens to ruin everything that he holds dear. Continue reading “Review: Waste, Almeida Theatre”

Review: The Enchantment, National Theatre

Does context make a difference? Not knowing anything about Victoria Benedictsson, the Swedish writer of The Enchantment, would leave you thinking that this is just another tale of Nordic emotional angst, the doom and gloom we know from the likes of Strindberg and Ibsen. But there’s much more to it than that: Benedictsson herself had a scandalous affair with a critic which ended badly in him rejecting her both sexually and artistically and she consequently committed suicide just months after completing this play in 1888. Her story then formed the inspiration for both aforementioned writers: the seeds of both Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler could be said to arise from here.

The Enchantment is probably best described as semi-autobigraphical, clearly heavily informed by her own experiences but not a strict representation thereof. Caddish sculptor Gustave Alland captures the heart and mind of Louise Strandberg whilst she is recuperating in her brother’s Parisian art studio. She tries to forget him by fleeing back to her native Sweden and a life of domestic drudgery, but temptation is strong and she returns to surrender to an utterly unsuitable affair that cannot end happily. Continue reading “Review: The Enchantment, National Theatre”