TV Review: Black Earth Rising

A cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati make Hugo Blick’s complex Black Earth Rising watchable if not quite essential

“That is why I made a deal like that”

A tricky one this. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Hugo Blick drama (qv The Shadow Line, The Honorable Woman), weighty complex dramas with amazing casts tackling inscrutable global conspiracies. And Black Earth Rising is no different, as it puts the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath under the microscope, examining Western colonial and capitalist attitudes towards Africa along with the role of the Iinternational Criminal Court.

And with a cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, Harriet Walter, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati to name just a few, it is naturally eminently watchable. Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her barrister mother Eve (Walter). Eve adopted Kate from Rwanda years back but her decision to take on a case prosecuting a Tutsi general who, after helping end the genocide, went on to commit war crimes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, outrages Kate who is also Tutsi.
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Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican

A modern and moving take on Romeo and Juliet from the RSC at the Barbican

“I am too young. I pray you, pardon me”

It’s sometimes a little difficult to take seriously how old everyone is meant to be in Romeo and Juliet but Erica Whyman’s modern-day production for the RSC, playing in rep now at the Barbican, never lets you forget. She fills the stage with kids for a cacophonous prologue, Karen Fishwick’s Juliet rightfully feels like a child and in turn, Mariam Haque’s Lady Capulet (“I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid”) is a convincing 26, closer to her daughter in age than her husband, but emotionally distant from both. 

It’s a pattern Juliet seizes the first chance to break when she meets Bally Gill’s charismatic Romeo, a young man very much still coming into his own. And you feel that it is the running away that appeals to her just as much as the running away together. For she’s all too aware that there are cycles of violence that the young’uns of this Verona can’t hope to escape – indeed what chance do they have when even all the adults around them carry and use knives to resolve even the smallest slight.  Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, RSC at the Barbican”

Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican

Despite a cast including Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack, this proves another disappointment of a Macbeth as the RSC start their Autumn residency at the Barbican

“Better health attend his majesty”

Its enduring popularity on school curricula means we will probably never be free of it but in a year when both the National Theatre and the RSC have swung and missed with modern takes on Macbeth, surely it is time to give it a rest. Rufus Norris’s post-apocalyptic production felt unmoored and lacklustre in the unforgiving Olivier and now taking up residency at the Barbican, Polly Findlay’s interpretation for the RSC similarly lacks clarity and intent.

There’s plenty of ambition here and it is tempting to see the influence of a certain Dutch auteur (barefeet actors, clocks counting down to deaths…). But the over-riding aspect of Findlay’s direction is its headlong speed as it hurtles through a cut-down version of the text. Too much has been sacrificed here in the name of accessibility with precious little time given to allow emotional beats to play out, for motivations to be understood, the hurly-burly rules. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican”

Full cast for the RSC’s upcoming Macbeth revealed

The full cast for the RSC’s upcoming production of Macbeth has been announced.

Christopher Eccleston, making his debut at Stratford-upon-Avon,  as Macbeth and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth had already been announced and will be joined by:

  • David Acton (Duncan)
  • Raphael Sowole (Banquo)
  • Edward Bennett (Macduff)
  • Bally Gill (Ross)
  • Luke Newberry (Malcolm)
  • Tim Samuels (Lennox)
  • Mariam Haque (Lady MacDuff)
  • Donna Banya (Donalbain/Gentlewoman)
  • Stevie Basaula (Bloody Captain/Second Murderer),
  • Katy Brittain (Doctor)
  • Raif Clarke (Boy)
  • Paul Dodds (Chamberlain 1)
  • Michael Hodgson Porter)
  • John Macaulay (Chamberlain/Lord)
  • Tom Padley (First Murderer)
  • Josh Finan (Company)
  • Afolabi Alli (Company)

The production will be directed by Polly Findlay and runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 20 March to 18 September with previews from 13 March.

 

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror Christmas

“So thanks to you, some dork meets a girl, not much of a Christmas story…”

On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror also gave to me…only bloody Jon Hamm!

Well this was a White Christmas but necessarily like the ones you used to know. Black Mirror’s 2014 Christmas special saw writer Charlie Brooker go feature length and director Carl Tibbetts get crazy fortuitous as Jon Hamm just declared his love for the series and his interest in appearing in it one way or another, the result being this interlinked triptych of stories, combining as ever to chilling effect.

Hamm plays Matt, a man working in some unspecified remote location and sharing a cabin with Rafe Spall’s Joe. They’ve been living together for five years without really communicating but this particular morning, Joe wakes up to Matt making Christmas dinner, determined to get the story of how he ended up in this isolated place. And sure enough, it is a tale of human exploitation of technological advancement. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror Christmas”

Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic

“I have a motion much imports your good”

They say things come in threes and as with Oresteias, so too with Measure for Measures. After Cheek by Jowl’s brutally contemporary Russian interpretation and Dominic Dromgoole’s comic version for the Globe, it is now Joe Hill-Gibbins’ turn to put his inimitable stamp on the play for the Young Vic. And from the industrial techno rave that opens the show to the awkward freeze-frame of the Duke’s happy ending – all done in a smidge under two hours – this is very much a modern take on Shakespeare that is bound to ruffle certain feathers whilst stimulating others.

With the licentiousness of Viennese society being represented by scores of inflatable sex toy dolls, the image of which recur throughout this whole production, and the Duke using live video relays to speak to the city, the modern-day feel is overt but non-specific, the point being we could be in any major city where a conservative regime is free to impose its puritanical fervour. And in this mise-en-scène, curated by dramaturg Zoë Svendsen and artfully framed in Miriam Buether’s box-frame set with hidden rear compartment, the story unfolds. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, Almeida Theatre

“You know someone said that’ the world’s a stage”

One almost wishes that Rupert Goold had gone the whole hog and renamed this The Merchant of Vegas – Portia’s Turn, so complete is the re-envisioning of Shakespeare’s work here that it almost deserves the new title. The Merchant of Venice is commonly considered one of the problem plays and so it is not too unusual to see grand concepts imposed upon it and that is certainly what Goold has delivered here in this modern-day Sin City-set adaptation. Naturally it doesn’t solve all the issues about the play and it does introduce some problems of its own but with its verve and vision, it is a breath-taking experience.

Much of this comes from a genuinely sensational performance from Susannah Fielding as Portia, who is in many ways at the centre of this interpretation, the character foregrounded in a way I’ve never seen before. In this gaudy world of all-night casinos, Elvis impersonators and reality TV, she is the star and ultimate prize of a gameshow called Destiny, caskets remaining in situ as no-hopers compete for her hand. But once the cameras are off and she aims squarely for Bassanio’s heart, the complexity deepens considerably as Fielding lays this woman bare in all her insecure vanity and condescending cruelty – there’s no doubting how this Portia feels about Jews as she patronises Jessica and vilifies Shylock. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, Almeida Theatre”