The first couple of episodes of Julian Fellowes’ latest TV series Belgravia are quite frankly an embarrassment
“How strange that we should be having a ball when we are on the brink of war”
Who knows what hold Julian Fellowes has over the British cultural industries as once again, another major commission comes through for this painfully lazy of writers. I should have resisted Belgravia but with a cast that includes Harriet Walter, Tara Fitzgerald and Saskia Reeves, not to mention Penny Layden and Adam James, curiosity got the better of me and by the crin, I wish it hadn’t. Lucy Mangan puts it scathingly well in her review for the Guardian and I couldn’t have put it any better. Avoid like the, well, plague.
As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend proves a festive treat at the Menier Chocolate Factory
“Clap-a your hands and slap on your thighs
Grin like a goon and roll up your eyes”
As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend belongs in the same delightfully daft bracket of musical theatre as the likes of Salad Days and as such, is the perfect kind of frothy fun that offers a little respite from the darkness of winter nights and politicians’ empty promises. Written in the 1950s as an homage to the 1920s and with a plot that can be summed up in one character’s aside “poor little rich girl”, Matthew White’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory sees him renew a richly fruitful relationship which has included such successes as She Loves Me and Sweet Charity.
Keeping the original three act structure, complete with two intervals, pushes the evening a little towards the episodic, but any sense of slightness is banished by the thrilling choreographic content from Bill Deamer (also associate director). From the gobsmacking elasticity and unflagging energy of Jack Butterworth and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson’s first act charleston, to the explosive passion of Bethany Huckle and Matthew Ives’ fiery carnival tango, the quality of the dancing really is second to none. And as the full company join in time and again, it’s hard not to be swept up in the joyous atmosphere and just join in with their beaming grins. Continue reading “Review: The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory”
“Don’t play those games with me”
In these post-referendum times, there’s something a little ironic in the whole-hearted manner withw which British theatre has embraced French playwright Florian Zeller. From The Father to The Mother and now to The Truth, from the Theatre Royal Bath to the heart of the West End, Zeller is clearly having un moment. A moment that has been extended by the Menier Chocolate Factory transferring their production of The Truth into the Wyndham’s Theatre for the summer.
Less inventive and affecting as his other two plays that we’ve seen, The Truth is more of an outright comedy, almost farcical at times, as the affair between Michel and his best friend’s wife Alice threatens to spiral out of control as his own wife seems to be getting closer to discovering what is going on, and who knows what Alice’s husband knows. But as ever with Zeller, it’s very difficult to ascertain exactly what we – or his characters – can believe, the truth is as slippery and unknowable as ever. Continue reading “Review: The Truth, Wyndham’s Theatre”
“I thought you hated all that Royal Court stuff”
I never quite got round to watching My Week With Marilyn when it was released in late 2011: it came out at a busy theatre time (as if there’s any other time for me) and clearly I wasn’t in a particularly cinematic frame of mind as this kind of film would normally be catnip to me with its combination of old-school Hollywood and a British thesp-heavy cast. So I’ve only just gotten round to watching it now and though it clearly contains a performance of exceptional grace and ingenuity in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was surprised at how lightweight the film was as a whole.
Based on two books by Colin Clark, a young man so determined to make a career for himself in the film industry that he managed to wangle his first job as a production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring Lawrence Olivier. But working with such a megastar as Monroe does not prove easy: her personal demons constantly threaten to overwhelm her, exacerbating her already-troubled new third marriage to Arthur Miller, and her over-reliance on her acting coach causes much tension as she ends up delaying the making of the film time and time again. In the midst of all the chaos, she lights upon Clark, who is completely bewitched by his idol, as an emotional crutch and he ends up spending a week escorting her about and providing some light escapism from her life. Continue reading “DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn”
“A well-used minimum suffices for anything”
The festive offering from the St James Theatre this year is a new version of classic adventure story Around the World in 80 Days. Laura Eason’s adaptation from Jules Verne’s novel has a playful sense of invention about it – a company of 8 actors take on more than 50 characters – but with an abundance of festive frivolity available in pantomimes across the land, Lucy Bailey’s production falls a little flat, lacking the necessary sparkle for real theatrical magic.
Providing an alternative to standard Christmas programme makes sense though, and the travels of English adventurer Phileas Fogg are a good fit for this family-based entertainment. The epitome of the Victorian gentleman, Fogg takes on a wager from his club buddies that he can’t circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days and bets his whole fortune on it. With just his trusty valet Passepartout by his side to get them through the many scrapes in which they find themselves, the race is on. Continue reading “Review: Around the World in 80 Days, St James Theatre”
“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”
One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.
Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”
I’m the headless hunter of Honfleur, I’m the strangled Sister of Soissons, I’m the noseless Nun of Nantes”
Those who know me will attest to how firmly I tend to hold my preconceptions, but I do try to test them fairly regularly on the off-chance that a certain production might prove me wrong, if not about the whole genre then at least about that particular show. And despite its much-beloved status by the likes of Billington, Spencer et al, farce is one such genre of which I am no particular fan. I am one of the few who found One Man Two Guvnors painful in the extreme but I found myself tumbling easily for the charms of Noises Off, so whilst I might not ever call myself a fan of farce, I do know that it is impossible to lump them all together dismissively.
Which is a most long-winded way to say that I went to the Theatre Royal Bath to see Georges Feydeau and Maurice Désvallières’ A Little Hotel on the Side. Adapted by John Mortimer and directed by Lindsay Posner with an amazingly luxurious cast including the likes of Richard McCabe, Hannah Waddingham and Richard Wilson, it seems incredible that the run is just two weeks long but I would struggle to recommend dropping everything to try and see this. My only previous experience of Feydeau was with the Old Vic’s 2010 A Flea In Her Ear, which decidedly didn’t tickle my funnybone, and this felt far closer to that than to the delirious pleasures of Frayn’s backstage antics. Continue reading “Review: A Little Hotel on the Side, Theatre Royal Bath”
George Bernard Shaw’s 1906 medical ethics drama The Doctor’s Dilemma had a lot to live up to as the last time I was in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre was for the superlative The Last of the Haussmans, one of my favourite plays of the year so far, but though it didn’t quite scale those heights for me, it did emerge as a most satisfying night at the theatre. Shaw’s play centres on the newly ennobled Sir Colenso Ridgeon, a doctor who has discovered a new cure for tuberculosis but only has limited space on his trial. When the beautiful Jennifer Dubedat pleads for the inclusion of her talented artist husband, he is torn as his penniless colleague Dr Blenkinsop is also suffering from the disease and so Ridgeon and his colleagues gather to assess and discuss who is the worthier candidate for treatment.
Peter McKintosh’s set design is an effective triumph and ingenious to the extent that it garnered a round of applause at one point (although it will be slightly less surprising to those that saw this play). It possesses the requisite austere grandeur in all its incarnations of artists’ garrets, Richmond eateries, Bond Street art galleries and Harley Street salons into which Nadia Fall places her talented cast. Genevieve O’Reilly brings a stunning self-possessed statuesque dignity to Jennifer, almost too reserved until the devastating turbulence of the final act reveals all she has been concealing, Tom Burke dances across the stage with a quicksilver lightness as the manipulative Dubedat whose artistic talent has to be weighed against his problematic morals and Aden Gillett (who should always wear a full beard, always) is magnificent as Sir Colenso, pondering the titular dilemma with an aptly detached manner as befits his finely aristocratic bearing. Continue reading “Review: The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre”
“You will not menace the House of Windsor”
Lucy Cohu has the dubious pleasure of being one of the few women I would probably turn for, she radiates an old-school glamour and sensuality that I find near-irresistable and I’ve loved the few stage performances of hers I have been able to catch (Speaking in Tongues, Broken Glass and A Delicate Balance). So I was quite happy to take in the Channel 4 television movie The Queen’s Sister, in which she took the lead role of Princess Margaret, in the name of the Jubilee Weekend 😉
It’s a semi-fictionalised account of her life by Craig Warner (although knowing so little of the reality, I couldn’t have told you what was real and what wasn’t) which focuses on her struggles against the establishment as she followed a life of largely wanton hedonism and leaving a trail of paramours behind her. Whether her previously married lover whom she was forbidden from wedding, the long-suffering husband prone to infidelity, the young pop singer who offers a faint hope of redemption, her relentless partying, fondness of always having a drink in her hand and general spoiltness consistently makes life difficult for herself.
Continue reading “DVD Review: The Queen’s Sister”
“When I see the common man in the street, I’m struck by how little I know of his life and how little he knows of mine”
My abiding memory of going to see The King’s Speech at the cinema was the bizarre round of applause that came at the end from about two thirds of the Hammersmith Cineworld audience, a truly odd moment. I did rather like the film, but couldn’t quite see why it was lauded quite so much: it tells its story extremely well but lacked a certain emotional heart for me, I didn’t end up caring a huge amount for Colin Firth’s George VI if I’m honest. But as the film came on over Christmas, I decided to give it a go again, not least becaus I will be going to see the play of The King’s Speech in Guildford in February, David Seidler having initially written this for the stage.
Again, I did quite enjoy watching the film, but was struck by how emotionally uninvolving it is for large stretches. Normally, I’d be a sucker for this kind of thing but for whatever reason, it never quite hits the mark. Firth is good as the monarch faced with trying to conquer his stammer but his Oscar should really have come the year before for A Single Man and Geoffrey Rush is superb as the anarchic Antipodean speech therapist whose unconventional methods eventually reap rewards. But it is only in Helena Bonham Carter’s excellent Queen Elizabeth (now, she should definitely have won the Oscar for making such a brilliant job out of a role that basically required her to just react) that the movie has any heart, her looks of tender concern and joy full of deep meaning and a wry sense of humour about her position that manifests itself in some great one-liners. Continue reading “DVD Review: The King’s Speech”