Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

fosterIAN awards 2016

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayJuliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary StuartUzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The MaidsGemma Arterton Nell Gwynn,
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Harriet Walter, The Tempest
Best Actor in a PlayO-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey's Black BottomLucian Msamati, Ma Rainey's Black BottomPhil Dunster, Pink Mist
Paapa Essiedu, Hamlet
Rhys Isaac-Jones, Jess and Joe Forever
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus
Danny Sapani, Les Blancs
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayJade Anouka, The TempestLizzy Connolly/Amanda Lawrence, Once in a LifetimeNadine Marshall, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Tanya Moodie, Hamlet
Siân Phillips, Les Blancs
Rachael Stirling, The Winter's Tale
Susan Wokoma, A Raisin In The Sun
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPeter Polycarpou, Scenes from 68* YearsAnthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildRudi Dharmalingham, Mary Stuart
Dex Lee, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Nick Fletcher, The Deep Blue Sea
Jonjo O'Neill, Unreachable
Alan Williams, Mary Stuart
Best Actress in a MusicalJenna Russell, Grey GardensClare Burt, Flowers for Mrs HarrisSamantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I'm Getting My Act Together...
Best Actor in a MusicalLouis Maskell, The Grinning ManAko Mitchell, RagtimeDeclan Bennett, Jesus Christ Superstar
Dex Lee, Grease
Hugh Maynard, Sweeney Todd
Charlie Stemp, Half A Sixpence
Mark Umbers, She Loves Me
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJennifer Saayeng, RagtimeVictoria Hamilton-Barritt, Murder BalladJosie Benson, Sweet Charity
Sheila Hancock, Grey Gardens
Rachel John, The Bodyguard
Katherine Kingsley, She Loves Me
Gloria Onitiri, The Grinning Man
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJulian Bleach, The Grinning ManTyrone Huntley, Jesus Christ SuperstarAdam J Bernard, Dreamgirls
Daniel Crossley, Sweet Charity
Stuart Neal, The Grinning Man
Dominic Tighe, She Loves Me
Gary Tushaw, Ragtime

2016 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Jade Anouka, The Tempest
After being somewhat underused in Doctor Faustus earlier in the year, it was extremely gratifying to see Anouka rise to the fore again in the cumulative triumph of the Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy. Striking as Hotspur in Henry IV, it was her street-smart Ariel that stood out most for me.

Honourable mention: Lizzy Connolly/Amanda Lawrence, Once in a Lifetime
Confession time. Both these women should really have been recognised last year – Connolly for Xanadu, Lawrence for Nell Gwynn – and so the fact that they appeared in the same show this year felt like a sign, Lawrence in particular proving she is a comedic tour-de-force wherever she goes.

Nadine Marshall, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Tanya Moodie, Hamlet
Siân Phillips, Les Blancs
Rachael Stirling, The Winter’s Tale
Susan Wokoma, A Raisin In The Sun

8-10
Alisha Bailey, A Raisin In The Sun; Nina Sosanya, Young Chekhov; Jo Wickham, Steel Magnolias

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Saayeng, Ragtime
She may only figure [spoiler!] in the first half of the show but Sarah is an epic part with some epic songs, including two stone-cold classics in ‘Your Daddy’s Son’ and ‘Wheels of a Dream’, and Saayeng rose to the occasion magnificently both dramatically and musically. You totally believed she was someone Ako Mitchell’s Coalhouse would turn the world upside down to avenge.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Murder Ballad
I wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of this show but Hamilton’Barritt’s performance kept me as thoroughly engaged as Ramin Karimloo’s abs did. She has that real gift of being able to transcend the material she’s given, to become scene-stealingly excellent even when she’s not the lead.

Josie Benson, Sweet Charity
Sheila Hancock, Grey Gardens
Rachel John, The Bodyguard
Katherine Kingsley, She Loves Me
Gloria Onitiri, The Grinning Man

8-10
Cassie Clare, Little Shop of Horrors; Djalenga Scott, Grease; Nicola Sloane, Flowers for Mrs Harris

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

 Thou metst with things dying,
I with things new-born”

It’s easy to feel a little jaded when it comes to Shakespeare, the same plays coming round with regularity and not always inspiring such great theatre. So I’m delighted to report that Michael Longhurst’s production of The Winter’s Tale for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is probably the best version of the play I’ve ever seen. The Kenneth Branagh Company’s The Winter’s Tale was a staid disappointment for me, previously the Crucible had let me down too but in the candlelit atmosphere on Bankside, something truly magical is happening.

It’s a tricky play to get right in its split of two very different worlds but where Longhurst really succeeds is in suggesting that Sicilia and Bohemia perhaps aren’t too separate at all. Modern designers often highlight the dichotomy between the chilly stateliness of Leonte’s Sicilia with the freewheeling japery of Polixenes’ Bohemia but in the simplicity of Richard Kent’s design, they’re both very much on the same sliding scale – psychological darkness pervading the light in both worlds, the promise of redemption ultimately illuminating one and the other too. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: An Intervention, Watford Palace

“I didn’t – 
I never – 
You would.
‘I would’.’”

Is it OK for one country to intercede in the affairs of another, even with the most liberal of intentions? If your best friend starts dating someone who you think is eminently unsuitable, is the best thing to do to tell them? A Paines Plough co-production, Mike Bartlett’s new play (and boy is he cranking them out) conflates these two questions to look at the varied nature of friendship and how it changes in response to politics, pressures and the passing of time. 

An Intervention is a two-hander, the characters simply named A and B, reflecting the universality of the issues at hand. Here, A is played with real gusto by Rachael Stirling, vibrantly passionate in the things she believes in (the anti-war movement for one) and the right to keep a full drink in her hand. John Hollingworth’s B on the other hand, is much more reserved, pragmatic in his outlook and it is he whose relationship (with the unseen Hannah) changes so much. Continue reading “Review: An Intervention, Watford Palace”

Review: Variation on a Theme, Finborough Theatre

“I suppose the truth is, if you need somebody enough it doesn’t seem to matter much what they do to you, or what they turn out to be”

It is Variation on a Theme that a young Shelagh Delaney saw and was inspired to write her iconoclastic A Taste of Honey, playing her own part in shaking up a British theatre scene that had Terence Rattigan as a fusty figurehead and whilst her play went on to become a classic, his slipped into obscurity and hasn’t been seen on stage for fifty years. Rattigan has of course undergone a serious re-appreciation since his recent centenary year with many of his works being staged, including a rehearsed reading of this play, which has blossomed into a full production at West London’s Finborough Theatre. The run has already sold out so we snuck into a preview.

Variation on a Theme is loosely based on La Dame aux Camélias, set in the 1950s on a sun and booze-soaked French Riviera where the taut charms of a handsome ballet dancer named Ron catch the eye of Rose, a much-married socialite and they tumble headlong into a passionate affair. But the path ne’er did run smooth – she’s suffering from a serious condition and has a powerful fiancé, and it’s not altogether clear that his motivations lie much beyond wanting a sugar mama. As her health continues to decline and his career hits the bumpers though, it becomes apparent that emotions run extremely deep but sadly, so too does the British predilection for repression.  Continue reading “Review: Variation on a Theme, Finborough Theatre”

DVD Review: Tipping the Velvet

“You seem so very gay and bold”

I didn’t watch this 2002 television adaptation of Sarah Waters’ debut novel Tipping the Velvet nor had I read the book so this was all unchartered territory for me. I vaguely remembered a bit of a Daily Mail-style hoohah so I was a little surprised at the relative tameness of the first episode but then after getting through the second, I can see why an eyebrow might have been raised – I doubt I’ll see Anna Chancellor in quite the same light! Andrew Davies’ had the unenviable task of condensing Water’s seven year story of sexual and self-discovery into a three hour television script and manages the job fairly well, though with a rip-roaring pace that doesn’t always quite allow the story enough time to breathe.

The story centres on Nancy Astley, a young woman who works as an oyster-girl in her father’s Whitstable restaurant but who lacks a certain fulfilment in her life as a relationship with a local boy is failing to make her weak at the knees. What does capture her attention though is the arrival of a male impersonator Kitty Butler whose performances leave her transfixed and ultimately open up a whole new world for Nan, but a world that is full of as much heartbreak as love, as much pain as pleasure, as she finds herself on the stage, on the street, on a leash, on her knees, on an incredible journey. Continue reading “DVD Review: Tipping the Velvet”

Review: Medea, Watford Palace

“I am a modern woman, exploring my options, making a decision”

Mike Bartlett’s Medea initially seems a world away from Euripides’ original. With a new version written for Headlong and directed by himself, Bartlett transplants Rachael Stirling’s Medea into stultifying Home Counties suburbia, vibrantly captured by Ruari Murchison’s set. In this small town where her husband Jason grew up, she has long been viewed as a too proud outsider and when he leaves her for the much younger daughter of their landlord, she sinks into a deep and angry depression. Her wrath is all-consuming, pushing even her maternal instincts aside as she barely engages with her son Tom, left mute since his father departed, in her relentless pursuit for vengeance.

Even before she arrives onstage, Stirling’s presence dominates proceedings like a threatening storm cloud. Her eyes flashing with coruscating wit and scarcely concealed contempt for those around her, even the making of cups of tea feels like a declaration of war as she seethes with rage at what her life has become. There’s a brutally blunt humour to her, especially in her interactions with those neighbours – Lu Corfield’s compassionate Sarah and Amelia Lowdell’s sharper Pam – but there’s also traumatic emotional damage, eye-wateringly evinced in a highly disturbing kitchen scene. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Watford Palace”