TV Review: A Poet in New York

“I am such a disappointment, to everyone it seems. Of course”

Just a quickie for this as it was far too brilliant a piece of television to let slide without comment. Written by Andrew Davies and directed by Aisling Walsh, the focus is the final few months of Dylan Thomas’ life where his alcohol abuse is putting both his health and career at risk during a trip to New York intended to culminate in a meeting with Stravinsky to discuss a collaboration. Whilst staying in a Chelsea hotel, he delves back into his mind’s eye to revisit key moments of his life to desperately try and find something to cling onto.

Tom Hollander is sensational as the booze-sodden Thomas, tragically crushed by the addiction he can’t kick but yet so movingly eloquent when reciting his poetry, which Davies makes great use of throughout the screenplay, and remembering the relationships with his ailing father, and with wife (Essie Davis) and child in Wales, which stimulated such great art from him. Phoebe Fox matches him though as assistant and lover Liz, along with Ewen Bremmer as his long-suffering agent, their efforts to keep him afloat almost unbearably poignant as he pushes them away. Continue reading “TV Review: A Poet in New York”

Review: Twelve Angry Men, Garrick

“There’s always one”

My classic movie knowledge is terrible – I rarely watch old films and though I am frequently bought DVDs of “must-see classics”, they invariably remain in their wrappers on a shelf, waiting for the day when I finally decide to catch up on years of cinematic history. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never seen Twelve Angry Men. Nor had I any intention of going to see it onstage to be honest – though the Garrick Theatre is blessed with a lovely intimacy from the Grand Circle, charging 40-odd quid does seem a little optimistic, but the lovely people at Bargain Theatre (worth following on Twitter too) came through with a deal that saw those seats reduced to £16 and so I took the bait. 

Playing out in real time, the play follows the deliberations of an all-white 12-man jury on a hot and sticky New York afternoon in the 1950s as they are tasked with delivering a verdict on a murder case which has seen a young black man be accused of stabbing his father. But what seems like an open-and-shut case becomes more complicated when the initial vote indicates 11 consider him guilty and 1 considers there to be reasonable doubt, and so the debate begins as each side tries to win the absolute majority it needs to prevail. In doing so, the various men – all only known by their juror numbers, never their names – reveal how their prejudices and presumptions have guided them as they decide whether to send this man to the electric chair. 

As they thrash through the finer details of the case and interrogate the notion of reasonable doubt, it is impossible to ignore the contrivances needed to keep the action firmly in the jury room – the defence counsel were clearly having a bad day in the office given what they apparently missed. And there’s something schematic in the way in which the momentum in the room inexorably shifts, there is no doubt at all about how the whole thing will play out from the off as the artfully pensive Martin Bell-suited Juror 8 starts sowing his seeds of doubt. Martin Shaw is certainly good in this role but it’s awfully hard not to see him as just slightly sanctimonious at times.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself somewhat at the same time as identifying this creakiness. Michael Pavelka’s set revolves its giant table to show the wheel of justice in (slow-)motion and has the unexpected benefit of showing you exactly where we are in the play (it makes one full circuit by the end). And it also helps director Christopher Haydon allow his cast their moment each to shine, whether Miles Richardson’s virulent working-class racism, Robert Vaughn’s elder statesman ultimately bringing his experience to bear or the reasoned if shouty determination of Jeff Fahey. Legal dramas may have come a long way since Reginald Rose wrote this but there’s something of the old-school charm about Twelve Angry Men (but keep your eyes out for a deal).

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Booking until 1st March

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre”