Review: Henry V, Noël Coward Theatre

“What art thou, thou idle ceremony?”

Early days for the final instalment in Michael Grandage’s season at the Noël Coward and another return to Shakespeare. But the Jude Law-starring Henry V did little to entertain, not helped by an abortive start which meant the opening scenes had to be replayed, with a production that is full of Acting with a capital A but little sense of theatrical vibrancy. Truth be told, I think I’m done with the play for a while – last year saw a slew of adaptations, some more successful than others, and so it doesn’t feel like a necessary addition to our stages (though I appreciate not everyone will be in quite the same position.)

 
Part of the problem is soon apparent with the sneaking suspicion that we’ve been here before. Longtime collaborator Christopher Oram’s distressed wood set recalls the Donmar’s Lear, the throne as icon imagery their Richard II. Ashley Zhangazha’s Chorus arrives onstage in modern dress (with what looks suspiciously like a Viva Forever t-shirt) but this is a red herring as the play is performed in classic dress, although Law’s soldier King is frequently attired in some distractingly tight-fitting trouser-wear.  Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Noël Coward Theatre”

Short Film Review #17

Sometimes, just sometimes, one of these films comes from nowhere to just punch in the guts with its downright amazingness yet simultaneously leaving unable to really articulate just why it is so. Joe Tunmer’s Mockingbird is such a film – achingly beautiful, gorgeously shot and infinitely moving. William Houston is extraordinary, Eliza Darby refreshingly appealing and there’s bonus Olivia Williams – what more do you want?!

Continue reading “Short Film Review #17”

Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

Out-of-Office

I won’t be posting for a few days so I thought I’d leave you an out-of-office message so you’d know nothing was wrong – I have coping strategies in place to manage six days without theatre (though celebrating my birthday in Florence with friends will certainly help…!).

And as a birthday present to you, my readers, I’ve selected some of my favourite current videos for your viewing pleasure.   Continue reading “Out-of-Office”

Review: Nightwatchman, National Theatre

Forming the first half of Double Feature 2 is this debut play from Prasanna Puwanarajah. Puwanarajah has a lot he wants to get off his plate, several ideas bubbling under and consequently the end of result is that Nightwatchman is both overloaded – thematically its reach incorporates too many weighty issues for the running time – and undernourished – the format precludes any of them being dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Whether its talking about the travails of playing a minority sport like women’s cricket, delving into her own history as growing up ‘different’, in many senses of the word, in Salford, recounting the troubled history of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka or debating matters of identity and nationality in a multicultural world, flashes of insight constantly emerge, hinting at a playwright who does show promise.

But in flitting around such huge topics without really engaging with them beyond the superficial, there’s a sense of frustration that builds. A fair amount of knowledge is presumed of the audience member, my hazy recall of the recent geopolitics in the region didn’t help enough, and the jargon-filled cricket references mainly sailed on by. Worst of all though, is that is makes Abirami a largely unsympathetic protagonist. Every time the surface is scratched and the promise of something interesting to further develop is revealed, Puwanarajah ducks away and the attention diverted elsewhere. Stephanie Street battles gamely to bring life beyond the labels, to flesh out this character beyond being a simple vessel to spout words but she is fighting a losing battle against the material. It is a fine performance though. Continue reading “Review: Nightwatchman, National Theatre”

Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre

“Words and thoughts are just as important as deeds”

Though Ibsen is reputed to have described Emperor and Galilean as his ‘major work’ which took nine years to complete, it has never previously been staged in English and little is known about it given how often his other works are revived. This may well be because it was not actually written for the stage but to be read, consequently the original epic spreads over ten acts and is allegedly over eight hours long. Never one to shirk a challenge though, the National Theatre commissioned a new adaptation by Ben Power which condenses it down to about 3 hours 20 minutes yet still employs over 50 performers to bring this version of Ibsen’s epic to life. This was a preview performance on Monday 13th June.

The play spans 351 to 363AD, following the life of Julian, nephew of the Roman emperor, an intelligent erudite man even from his teenage days which were spent exploring his faith and studying the Bible with his friends. But chafing against the constraints of the imperial household which isn’t altogether sympathetic to his existence, he escapes to a carefree existence in Athens where he is seduced by the exotic lure of the worship of the ancient pagan Gods. His eventual rise to Holy Roman Emperor thus saw him try to abolish Christianity as the state religion and replace it Paganism, returning back to the values of old, but conflating his own personal struggle with faith with the trials of ruling a fading empire is an awful lot for one man to take on. Continue reading “Review: Emperor and Galilean, National Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, National Theatre

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

It is apparently a truth universally acknowledged that any actor aiming for greatness needs to tackle Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most revered epic, and it is now the turn of Rory Kinnear, under the directorial baton of Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre to make his entry into the canon (this was the second preview). Recently we’ve had David Tennant and Jude Law, John Simm is currently performing it in Sheffield (I’ll be there on Wednesday) and Michael Sheen will be making his mark at the Young Vic next year. I don’t have a problem with this so much as just wish that there was a similar epic role for women which was restaged and revived as often to allow a comparable ticket to magnitude.

This is very much a modern-day Elsinore. Suited security guards with earpieces are ever-present, state of the art bugging technology is used, a briefcase of tools of torture is brandished and high-definition television cameras record political and battlefield broadcasts. Thus the familial quarrel at the heart of this play is firmly located in the wider political sphere of this dangerous Denmark and it is a mostly highly effective updating. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, National Theatre”

The 2009 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Ruth Negga, for Aricia in Phèdre (National Theatre)

Second prize

Max Bennett, for Claudio in Measure for Measure (Theatre Royal, Plymouth) and Frank in Mrs Warren’s Profession (Theatre Royal, Bath)

Third prize

Natalie Dew, for Celia in As You Like It (Curve Theatre)

Special commendations as previous winners

Mariah Gale, for Celia in As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Rebecca Hall, for Hermione in The Winter’s Tale (Bridge Project at the Old Vic)

Commendations

Hedydd Dylan, for Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (Clwyd Theatr Cymru)
Tracy Ifeachor, for Rosalind in As You Like It (Curve Theatre)
Max Irons, for Max Piccolomini in Wallenstein (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Tunji Kasim, for Lucius and Romulus in Julius Caesar (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Vanessa Kirby, for Regina in Ghosts (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)
Keira Knightley, for Jennifer in The Misanthrope (Comedy Theatre)
Jack Laskey, for Orlando in As You Like It (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Harry Lloyd, for Oswald in Ghosts (Arcola Theatre)
John MacMillan, for Malcolm in Macbeth (Royal Exchange Theatre), and Rosencrantz in Hamlet(Wyndhams Theatre)
David Ononokpono, for Orlando in As You Like It (Curve Theatre)
Henry Pettigrew, for Marcellus and Second Gravedigger in Hamlet (Wyndhams Theatre)
Prasanna Puwanarajah, for Messenger in Thyestes (Arcola Theatre)
George Rainsford, for Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well (National Theatre)
Sam Swainsbury, for Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Salerio in The Merchant of Venice (Propeller)
Ellie Turner, for Agnes in The School for Wives (Upstairs at the Gatehouse)

Review: London Assurance, National Theatre

“I didn’t imagine I’d ever find the countryside so amusing”

Dion Boucicault’s 1844 play, London Assurance, the latest National Theatre production is a rip-roaring, farcical romp of a show that should leave even the most depressed Phantom of the Opera fan with a smile on their face. With a quality all-star ensemble: Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Richard Briers, Michelle Terry, Paul Ready, all hamming it up for all they are worth, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sir Harcourt Courtly, a London socialite travels up to Gloucestershire, determined to procure himself a much younger wife-to-be, heiress Grace Harkaway, yet once there his head is turned by her cousin, Lady Gay Spanker, a forthright horse-riding fox-hunting Amazon of a woman. To further complicate matters, Sir Harcourt’s son Charles is also there, in disguise hiding from his creditors, and has fallen for Grace. Sensing the opportunity for merriment, Charles’ friend Richard Dazzle then colludes with Lady Gay to toy with the bumptious Sir Harcourt and lead him astray. Continue reading “Review: London Assurance, National Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC

“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction”

There’s a pleasing circularity to this visit to Twelfth Night for me: one of the first plays I saw this year was the Donmar’s West End production of Twelfth Night, a trip marred by horrendous winter storms and travel chaos, so it seems right that one of my last trips to the theatre this year was to the RSC’s version of the same play, once again during some insane winter weather. Fortunately, my journey was less traumatic this time, so I was able to make a more reasoned verdict on the play.

As one would expect from the RSC, and from a production that has already done a Stratford run, it is slickly done and all the performers feel and look supremely confident in their roles. Staged in a incense-laden, Turkish-inspired set, it looks amazing and the costumes are rich and opulent (Orsino’s red robe is a sight to behold). And this all contributed to me being much more amenable to giving the suspension of disbelief necessary for this play, a matter much helped by some canny casting and dressing of Viola and Sebastian who for once really did look like they could be twins.

Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC”