Review: The Way of the World, Crucible

“I’m in a maze yet, like a dog in a dancing-school”

I doubt I could have named a single Restoration comedy for you even just a few months ago but trends in theatre change as endlessly as in fashion, and I now find myself having seen three already this year. Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre get in on the act with this revival of William Congreve’s The Way of the World (ahead of Chichester who are putting it on as part of this year’s festival) from 1700, following my trips to the Donmar’s The Recruiting Officer (1706) and the National’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773).

Lyndsey Turner’s production here though is the only one of these that has taken major liberties with the play, in this case setting in the modern day where ‘Restoration’ is a new trend that has swept society. At its simplest, the plot follows the young Mirabell who is courting the delicious Millament, yet comes up against her formidable aunt Lady Wishfort who is set against the match and threatens to withhold her fortune, which many others have their eye on and are willing to commit dastardly deeds to get it. But the play is rarely that simple, and with the directorial device at play, I must admit it challenged me just a little (and made me wish I’d read a synopsis beforehand). Continue reading “Review: The Way of the World, Crucible”

DVD Review: Vera Drake

“She’s gonna get herself in trouble one of these days”

I’m pretty sure that Vera Drake was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw, and what a cracker it is. It really is an extraordinary performance from Imelda Staunton as the perma-humming cheerful soul with a positive word and deed for everyone around her, the nice suggestion of putting the kettle on being the remedy for everything and her kindly demeanour drawing people close to her.

Vera’s family life is perfectly drawn too: the drudgery of post-war working-class existence in no way stinted on and the different ways it has affected people clearly evident in her children, Daniel Mays making the best of things as a cheery chatty tailor and Alex Kelly’s cowed Ethel, somewhat diminished by life as a light-bulb tester. With Phil Davis completing the family unit, there’s such genuine connectivity to these scenes, a real sense of family life being lived and a gorgeous flicker of romance brightening Ethel’s life, that the knock on the door as the law finally catches up with Vera really does come as a genuine heart-wrenching kick as their lives are shattered by the revelation that she has been carrying out illegal abortions, or just ‘helping some girls out’ as she puts it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vera Drake”

DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky

“En-ra-ha, EN-RA-HA!”

This was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw at the cinema and I absolutely loved it, so it was interesting revisiting it on DVD, especially so in the context of his other films. To my eye Happy-Go-Lucky sticks out as being a bit different to the others, and not just because it doesn’t feature Lesley Manville (or Imelda Staunton for that matter), but because its general aesthetic feels in a different key.

Sally Hawkins’ Poppy is a permanently chirpy primary school teacher whose life we follow throughout the film and though Hawkins is exceptional, as ever is the way of things with me, it is the second female lead that really grabs me and it is Alexis Zegerman’s Zoe Poppy’s best friend and flatmate that really wins me over with her drawled-out, deadpan delivery proving surprisingly alluring. That said, there is endless comedy gold in Hawkins’ face throughout the film, whether trampolining, the reactions to having her back massaged to find out where some pain is coming from, or responding to Flamenco teacher’s request, it is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky”

fosterIAN awards 2011

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayEve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)Ruth Wilson, Anna ChristieRosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull
Best Actor in a PlayBenedict Cumberbatch, FrankensteinAndrew Scott, Emperor and GalileanTrevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Dominic West, Othello
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayAlexandra Gilbreath, OthelloSheridan Smith, Flare PathSinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRyan Sampson, The Kitchen SinkHarry Hadden-Paton, Flare PathRobert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Sweeney ToddAdrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, MatildaLaura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain
Best Actor in a MusicalBertie Carvel, MatildaMichael Ball, Sweeney ToddDaniel Evans, Company
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Alastair Brookshaw, Parade
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, CompanyKate Fleetwood, London RoadJosefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalDaniel Crossley, Singin’ in the RainNigel Harman, Shrek the MusicalConnor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy For You
Nick Holder London Road

2011 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Alexandra Gilbreath, Othello
The main reason that I travelled to see Othello at the Crucible was not so much for the reunion of The Wire stars in Dominic West and Clarke Peters, but in the casting of Alexandra Gilbreath as Emilia. And it was totally worth it as she made a massive impact, creating a fully rounded character with a history and passions that surely far exceeds what is on the page. Her work in the Royal Court’s The Village Bike also pleased me greatly, making this a great year for fans of the Gilbreath.

Honourable mention: Sheridan Smith, Flare Path
As anyone who saw Flare Path will say to you, ‘the letter scene, THE LETTER SCENE!’. Though second billed below Sienna Miller in this Terence Rattigan revival, Smith pretty much stole the show, finding unexpected deep reservoirs of feeling in Doris, the barmaid with a heart of gold done good, whose reactions to hearing the (translated) letter from her husband were one of the most affecting moments in a theatre all year.

Sinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons

7-10
Claudie Blakley, Comedy of Errors (NT); Janie Dee, Noises Off; Imelda Staunton, A Delicate Balance; Anna Calder-Marshall, Salt Root and Roe

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Samantha Spiro, Company (Crucible)
It does seem that anyone playing Amy in Sondheim’s Company is a shoo-in for recognition here, Cassidy Janson just missed out on a nomination for her role in the Southwark Playhouse production, but the truth is when the song (Not) Getting Married is delivered well, it really is a showstopper. Janson did well, but Samantha Spiro, already so very beloved of my heart for Hello, Dolly! if not necessarily Chicken Soup with Barley, held the Crucible in the palm of her hand as the scatty bride-to-be whose jitters threaten to jeopardise her whole happiness. She radiates warmth here and never once sacrifices clarity of diction for an easy laugh in that most verbose of numbers: acting through song at its best.

Honourable mention: Kate Fleetwood, London Road
In some ways, it is a bit harsh to nominate one person out of London Road as it really is such a strong ensemble show but Kate Fleetwood emerged most as the beating heart of the show as the unassuming woman who set up the London Road in Bloom competition that forms the centre of the community’s coming together and achieves so very much. Fleetwood taps into so much empathetic normality here that somehow translates into something so special: that first “begonias and, petunias, and um, impatiens and things” is just remarkable.

Josefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes

7-10
Lauren Ward, Matilda; Cassidy Janson, Company (Southwark Playhouse); Joanna Riding, Lend Me A Tenor; Katherine Kingsley, Singin’ in the Rain

Review: Ecstasy, Hampstead Theatre

“I’ve had me ups and downs but what with one thing and another, it evens itself out in the end doesn’t it”

Ecstasy, at the Hampstead Theatre, marks the first time that Mike Leigh has returned to and directed one of his own plays. It originally played at the old Hampstead in 1979 and was devised by a cast that included Julie Walters, Stephen Rea, Jim Broadbent and Sheila Kelley (mother of Leo Bill, trivia fans!). It was also designed by Alison Chitty who returns here to create a most effective cramped, depressingly chilly bedsit, convincingly 70s in every way and using just a portion of the available space on the stage, but the astonishing performances that spill out from there more than fill the room in this tale of alcoholism and grim despair in the winter of discontent.

Lead character Jean works at a petrol station, lives in a dingy bedsit in Kilburn and is resigned to a life of anonymous sexual characters with the wrong men, including married violent Roy. School-friend Dawn comes down from Birmingham for a visit, away from her three kids but bringing her Irish labourer husband with her and after Jean has a particularly nasty encounter, they go out for a night on the town. The majority of the play then focuses on the aftermath of this night out, as mutual friend Len, recently divorced, also joins them for a impromptu session back at Jean’s, full of Irish sing-songs, reminisces about their youth, the state of the world they’re living in and of course, a whole lot more drink. Continue reading “Review: Ecstasy, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Young Vic

“The window is filled with pieces of coloured glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colours, like bits of shattered rainbow.”

Continuing the Young Vic’s 40th anniversary season, a new revival of Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie arrives in the main house directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins and featuring an exciting cast. One of his earliest plays and consequently one of his most autobiographical, it is set in 1937 in the city of St Louis, Missouri where the Wingfields live close to the poverty line. Mother Amanda dreams of her girlhood in the Deep South and the husband that left her, son Tom dreams of leaving his full factory job and pursuing his dreams and fragile daughter Laura is happy as she is in her own quiet world but as her mother is determined to secure a better future for the children, she pushes Tom to finding a suitable ‘gentleman caller’ for his sister with devastating effects.

Opening with an introduction to the world of memory plays, for this is what The Glass Menagerie is, narrated by an older version of Tom, the action starts with a gorgeous little coup de theatre revealing the Wingfields’ apartment on the corner stage. As Dario Marianell’s music is played live on stage by Eliza McCarthy on the piano and Simon Allen on a range of instruments including music boxes and a table of water glasses which provide a beautifully evocative soundscape: Allen also provides live sound effects which are neatly done, especially on the staircase and James Farncombe’s evocative lighting shines across the stage, the play is atmospherically set somewhere between memory and reality, helped by the levels built into Jeremy Herbert’s set design. Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Young Vic”

Review: Our Class, National

Our Class is a blistering look at the Polish collusion in the atrocities of the Second World War from Polish playwright Tadeusz Słobodzianek, presented here in a new version by Ryan Craig (although given this is a world premiere and someone else is credited with the literal translation, I’m not quite sure what ‘version’ actually means). Taking the Jedwabne massacre as its focal point, a massacre of the entire Jewish population of a village long thought to have been carried out by the Nazis but recently discovered to have actually been the actions of the local Polish people, the play is an attempt to try and understand how the villagers could have turned on each other in such a way and subsequently kept the terrible secret. It does this by following a class of Polish schoolchildren, some Catholic, some Jewish, starting in 1925 and working its way through to the modern day.

I have to admit to initially having my doubts as the play opened with adults pretending to be schoolchildren which is never nice to see, but there was enough humour present to see the scene through as they all talked about what they wanted to be in the future. The cast of ten actually play their characters throughout their lifespan and so my doubts were quickly dispelled as the classmates grew up throughout the 1930s with the twin shadows of Soviet and Nazi invasions shattering their childhood dreams and ultimately setting them against each other to brutal effect. Continue reading “Review: Our Class, National”