DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield

“It’s not a question of how it is, it’s a question of how it appears”

Salting the Battlefield is the third and concluding part of the Johnny Worricker trilogy, following on from Page Eight and Turks and Caicos, and sees David Hare wrap up the dramas that he both wrote and directed. Worricker is an ex-MI5 analyst who is on the run from the British authorities after exposing a couple of massive secrets that threaten PM Alec Beasley, a marvelously slimy Ralph Fiennes. From the Caribbean he’s ended up in Germany with former lover and current conspirator Margot but the net is drawing ever closer for an endgame to settle all scores. 

It’s grand to see original players from Page Eight returning. Saskia Reeves’ ambitious Deputy Prime Minister still precarious as ever in her position but finding opportunity in the chaos of her personal and professional life; Judy Davis’ plain-speaking MI5 head still bemoaning the old boys’ club of an institution she appears to have firmly by the balls; and Felicity Jones as Worricker’s under-used daughter. And as stakes are raised in order for scores are settled, there’s a fantastic amount of Machiavellian manipulation by all parties, chillingly conversational confrontation the order of the day here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield”

Review: The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, Almeida

(With huge apologies to all concerned, especially to Alfred Lord Tennyson, this is to be read to the rhythm of The Lady of Shalott)

“It doesn’t look like a poem, but it is”

Tonight I went to Islington,
For theatre and lots of fun,
But this play it was not the one
(The) Dark Earth and the Light Sky
 
‘Tis written by the man Nick Dear,
The thought it did fill me with fear,
For Frankenstein made me feel queer,
With dialogue so dry.

Continue reading “Review: The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, Almeida”

DVD Review: Christopher and His Kind

“As far as I know, Lenin said nothing about buggery”

I was told that I simply must watch Christopher and his kind after really enjoying I Am A Camera at the Southwark Playhouse, as it covered similar ground in recounting novelist Christopher Isherwood’s residency in Berlin in the early 1930s as his search for boy-fuelled hedonism comes up hard against the ugly rise of National Socialism. The film’s timespan and geographical scope also extends well beyond that of the play to create a neat companion piece which is also notable for featuring current Doctor Who Matt Smith in the sexually adventurous lead role.

It is pleasingly frank in its depiction of the gay sexuality that was missing from the play: Isherwood’s first stop upon arriving in Berlin is to be squired to the Cosy Corner, an underground gay bar of sorts, by Pip Carter’s wonderfully glacial Wystan, or WH Auden as he is better known and few blushes are spared with sex scenes (wouldn’t have imagined he was a top tbh) and deliciously scathing humour. The relationship between Auden and Isherwood is beautifully played by Carter and Smith and I wish we had seen more of it as their encounters are wonderfully scripted – the banter about…size is genius – but I guess that was the whole point about their general reticence of emotional intimacy.   Continue reading “DVD Review: Christopher and His Kind”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II

“I’ll tickle your catastrophe”

I was mildly disappointed by the second instalment of The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I and so it was pretty much a given that I’d feel more or less the same about Henry IV Part II and so it came to pass. In some ways, little changed: Walters and Russell Beale continued to be themselves, Heffernan continued to be neglected as a simple serving boy, the women continued to get a raw deal of it only this time Niamh Cusack got in on the action with a mere handful of lines as Lady Northumberland (and admittedly Maxine Peake rightly got a bit more screentime as Doll Tearsheet), Hiddleston and Irons continued to be epically good and it all felt a bit too theatrical for my liking.

I did like that we got more Dominc Rowan in this one, though his hair still caused me consternation, Iain Glen and Pip Carter were great additions to the cast as Warwick and Gower respectively – Glen was particularly sonorous when speaking – and everyone has got to love a scene that looks like it could have been set in a gay sauna 😉 And though they lacked a certain something, the rural scenes with David Bamber and Tim McMullan as Shallow and Silence, were largely well-played. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II”

Review: Publish and Be Damn’d – The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson / Philip and Sydney, Radio 4

“What next, dear reader?”

Every time I think I won’t bother listening to any more radio productions, something irresistible pops up and so it was last week when the first part of Publish and Be Damn’d – The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson was on Radio 4, with Nancy Carroll in the leading role and Charles Edwards and Anna Francolini among the supporting cast. A real life memoir of a scandalous courtesan from the early 19thcentury, Wilson’s was probably one of the first tell-all books which laid bare the shenanigans and proclivities of much of the ruling patriarchal elite and proved to be a bestselling hit with a public who lapped up its details voraciously.

Adapted most effectively here by Ellen Dryden, Carroll takes on the role of Wilson as both narrator and agent within the stories she tells which means we get huge amounts of her mellifluously beautiful voice and acres of gorgeous characterisation as Harriette negotiates the step from lover to lover, adroitly managing the simultaneous social climb but not always able to keep her emotions from being bruised. She’s also an excellently charismatic narrator, her matter-of-fact-ness about her lack of writing experience deliciously conversational. Continue reading “Review: Publish and Be Damn’d – The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson / Philip and Sydney, Radio 4”

Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s

“We’ve got some of the best sperm in the country in this room”

The Royal Court have adopted the Duke of York’s theatre for the next few months and will be feeding it with a steady stream of its recent successes. Jumpy and Constellations are yet to come, but the season starts off, a little oddly perhaps, with a remounting of Laura Wade’s Posh which first played in Sloane Square two years ago. Then, we were in the run-up to a general election in which Cameron, Osborne et al were the prospective new boys; now of course, they are in power, albeit in a far-from-cosy coalition and Laura Wade has updated her play to reflect the changes in the political and indeed the economic circumstances in this country and beyond.

In some ways, this feels like a fresh lick of paint which brings Posh bang up to date but in others, it also felt like a somewhat unnecessary updating as it focuses the attention on the play being absolutely ‘of the moment’ when it is better than that, its over-riding message is one that withstands the period details around it (surely it won’t be rewritten every time it is produced…or is this just part of the natural evolution of a new play, in which case this is the first time I think I’ve experienced it). That message is a rather pernicious one about the enduring influence of the old boys’ network in the corridors of power and the way in which our ‘finer’ educational institutions inculcate this sense of entitlement and the abdication of any real sense of responsibility. Continue reading “Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s”

Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre

“Everything that people say is so much fluff and nothing”

The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov’s final play and although the Old Vic saw Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project tackling it a few years back with a version by Tom Stoppard, it was last seen at the National Theatre a decade ago with Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. This production though sees director Howard Davies reuniting with Andrew Upton with whom he worked on Philistines and The White Guard as they continue to explore 20th century Russian theatre writing and also with leading lady Zoë Wanamaker after their wildly successful collaboration on last year’s All My Sons.

Telling of the terminal decline of the Russian ruling classes at the beginning of the twentieth century, Chekhov’s play is presented in a new version by Andrew Upton which provides a straightforward directness to the text, which is at time effective but also intermittently problematic. For me, it was just too modern for its own good, laced through with random words, colloquialisms and phrases that kept jolting me out of the period setting with some really strange choices, the Nina Simone song lyric being a particularly jarring example. When Upton imposes less on the writing, beautiful and powerful moments arise, it would just be nice if they were allowed to flow better. Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre”

Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre

“I’m losing patience with the patients”

Tiger Country is the third play by Nina Raine, writer of the best play out of all 271 that I saw last year, Tribes (which still gives me goosebumps when I think about it now) so there was nooo expectations lying on this show at all. Actually, it wasn’t too bad as I knew the subject matter here, the modern NHS, was not something that I have any connection to (unlike as in Tribes), but I was still looking forward to seeing another facet to this fast upcoming playwright’s work. Interestingly, Raine also serves as director here at the Hampstead Theatre, this writer/director thing being something which this season at Swiss Cottage has featured heavily (Athol Fugard and Mike Leigh being the other culprits).

Raine’s production reconfigures the space in traverse, allowing for the hustle and bustle of hospital life to be quickly and efficiently portrayed. We see emergencies being rushed in by paramedics, the studied quiet of the operating room, the weariness of the staffroom, private rooms for terminally ill patients, cubicles, wards, offices staffed by a range of medical professionals with varying degrees of enthusiasm, coping with terminal exhaustion and a hierarchy that won’t let go of age-old rivalries between departments. Looking at the personal and professional lives of the medical staff as they deal with the unrelenting pressure to make the right decisions for both their patients and themselves. Continue reading “Review: Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2011

My intention is, honestly, to see less theatre this year and try and regain some semblance of a normal life again on the odd evening. But the curse of advance booking and grabbing cheap(er) tickets whilst you can has meant that there’s already an awful lot of theatre booked for 2011. Some have been booked without a huge deal of enthusiasm, but others have a dangerous amount of anticipation attached to them…and so I present to you, the shows I am most excited about seeing this year (so far).

 
Antonioni Project – Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

The Roman Tragedies was hands down one of the most exhilarating and refreshing theatrical experiences of 2009 and possibly my life, I’m even headed to Amsterdam in May to see a surtitled production of their Angels in America. So when I heard that the same Dutch theatre company were returning to the Barbican in February, tickets were booked instantly and I am feverishly over-excited for this now! Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2011”