TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3

I ration myself to Episodes 1-3 of Series 4 of The Crown in the first instance but find it is losing its lustre a little

“I’m struggling to find any redeeming features in these people at all”

Kicking off in 1977, Series 4 of The Crown swiftly moves into my lifetime with its second scene taking place in 1979, although not quite into events that I remember, at least in these first three episodes. And with the arrival of both Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher on the scene, there’s quite the decade to explore.

But something has gone a little awry for me and The Crown. The sheer scope of Peter Morgan’s writing means that there’s a mahoosive ensemble at work here but the nature of his construction of episodes that drill down to intimate focus means that there’s huge gaps and terrible wastage, particularly of Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious Princess Margaret. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3”

News: The Mono Box launch The Monologue Library

I mean, just look at this absolute treasure trove of theatrical talent! 

 

I’m off to listen to Patsy Ferran read Tom Wells, and Gabby Wong read Alexi Kaye Campbell, and Sarah Niles read Winsome Pinnock and…and…

This incredible resource is free but like so many creative endeavours right now, would benefit hugely from your donations here

 

Dispatches from the Vaults #3

“Did you not learn anything?”

Henry Carpenter’s The Quentin Dentin Show was a deserved Edinburgh whose late night charm transferred well to the late night slot at the Above the Arts Theatre last year, so it makes sense that his new musical, Summer Nights in Space, billed as a sequel in spirit if not in content, has opened as part of The Vaults festival. But where I was seduced by the random insanity of its predecessor, this new sci-fi musical still feels like a work-in-progress with work still to be done.

All John Spartan has ever wanted to do is go to outer space but like many a man with an obsession, this dedication has come at a cost to his friendships and marriage as he finds himself packed off on a solo mission, which ultimately isn’t at all what it seems. Matthew Jacobs Morgan’s space traveller is thus left to carry a huge amount of the show by himself and sadly, Carpenter’s book just doesn’t give him enough material to sell it as a dynamic one-man-show. Continue reading “Dispatches from the Vaults #3”

Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs

“The crisis is over. Isn’t it…?”

The Hampstead Downstairs continues its strong run of programming with The Argument, further developing already existing creative relationships. This is William Boyd’s first original play, following his adaptation of 2 Chekhov short stories in Longing which played the main house in 2013, and it is directed by Anna Ledwich, who helmed the Olivier-nominated Four Minutes Twelve Seconds here in 2014.

Though it is a much abused term when it comes to theatre marketing, The Argument really does fall into the category of dark comedy. Pip and Meredith are just back from seeing some popcorn flick at the cinema and a disagreement about the flimsiness of the plot snowballs into a titanic argument about the very nature of their relationship, which then cracks under the strain. In a series of two-handers, Boyd then shows us how the ripples of this quarrel impact on their best friends Tony and Jane and her parents Chloe and Frank, provoking new arguments too. Continue reading “Review: The Argument, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Temple, Donmar Warehouse

“Was it ever our choice to be the parish church of high finance?”

I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t come back after the interval of The Red Lion on Friday night as I was enjoying myself but on reflection, you can see that for all its lyricism (or indeed because of it) Patrick Marber’s writing doesn’t really stretch far beyond the world of football in which it is set. A similar narrowness of vision struck me about Steve Waters’ Temple at the Donmar Warehouse too, its exploration of the place of the church in the modern world does just that without substantially delving beyond that into whether the church should have a place in the modern world – it preaches to the choir somewhat.

A fictionalised account of the October 2011 events that saw the Occupy London camp force what not even the Blitz could manage – the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral. Starting at the end of a fortnight of fraught hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing which saw the doors eventually reopen but the canon resign, Waters places us at the heart the behind-the-scenes soul-searching. This he does through Simon Russell Beale’s dean (his boss) who finds himself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight and having to tread a most careful path through a treacherous landscape – can the church be party to a forced eviction, what leadership can such a venerable institution truly offer, do its duties lie with the City or the citizens? Continue reading “Review: Temple, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre

“This isn’t conversation. It’s just you telling me about your dick”

Paul Miller’s reign at the Orange Tree looked to be an interesting one from the moment he announced his debut season as Artistic Director, mixing the classic revivals for which the Richmond venue has long been known with a more cutting edge approach to its new writing policy, inviting new directors too to open up the theatre to new eyes. But not even he can have anticipated the veritable Twitterstorm of good publicity that flew up among online reviewers when Alistair McDowell’s Pomona opened last month.

Continue reading “Review: Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre”

Short Film Review #10

A new set of short films for your delectation.

Laura Degnan’s film Blind Eye is chiefly so effective because it taps into one of those fears that is so current and real and the reason why most sensible people avoid the top decks of buses that populated by roving youths. Anchored by a compelling performance from Liz White as the mother torn between doing the right thing and protective self-interest for herself and her daughter, Degnan explores the ‘what would you do’ scenario with visual interest and a little imagination. And if it gets a little heavy-handed towards its ending, then it worth remembering that it’s an issue where we’d all need a little prodding to decide where we’d ultimately come down. 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #10”

Review: I Am A Camera, Southwark Playhouse

“Isn’t life extraordinary”

Written in 1951, John Van Druten’s play I Am A Camera will trigger moments of recognition for many more people than will initially be expecting it. Based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, it formed a major part of the inspiration for the Kander + Ebb musical Cabaret in its depiction of a 1932 Berlin whose Bohemian excesses are beginning to be curbed by the rise of the Nazi party to power. Suffering from writer’s block, Isherwood happily allowed himself to get side-tracked in the decadent whirl of the Weimar Republic and right in the heart of the storm, taking him along for the ride, is his great friend Sally Bowles.

Spread over a few months, Van Druten gives us vignettes of Christopher and Sally’s hectic lives, as well as those who are drawn into their orbit, like the inscrutable Fritz, the intense Jewish Natalia and the dashingly charismatic American Clive. It is Isherwood’s story, so we delve in and out of his memory – Nicolai Kornum’s lighting crucially good here – as tales of love and friendship play around the hopes, ambitions and trials of this group of people. The combined effect is one of a beautiful portrait of quietly observed humanity in all its complexity.

Barely recognisable as Dudley from the Harry Potter films, Harry Melling imbues Isherwood with a sinuous physical grace and a highly appealing charm throughout. His mostly unruffable demeanour makes him a steadying presence, but one filled with deeply felt emotion which comes out in his show of great maturity late on. Around him, Oliver Rix’s debonair Clive is a bundle of hat-tossing sexually ambiguous delight, Sophie Dickson and Freddie Capper negotiate a failed attempt at romance with skill and Sherry Baines’ domineering matriarch makes a strong late impression.

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Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre

“What is there more?”

The Kitchen was one of Arnold Wesker’s first plays and follows on from the Royal Court’s well-received (if not by me) Chicken Soup with Barley in a year which has been something of a revival for Wesker. Written in 1959 and inspired by his own experiences of working in the catering industry, it is set in 1957 in the basement kitchen of a large London restaurant, the Tivoli. The dynamics of a swirling multi-cultural mass of chefs, waitresses and kitchen porters are exposed as they slowly build to the mad rush of a huge lunchtime service. Playing in the Olivier at the National Theatre, this was a late preview performance.

Director Bijan Sheibani has assembled a cast of 30 who rush about Giles Cadle’s circular kitchen set with increasing fervour as prep turns into service and the banter with all its personal enmities, tribal groupings and rivalries between kitchen staff and dining-room staff becomes increasingly fraught, and of course largely forgotten as the rush passes and the calm of the afternoon allows for a more reflective atmosphere. The less intense evening service provides a final act is no less dramatic though as slow burning stories finally explode. Continue reading “Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre”