DVD Review: Late Bloomers

“Did you see how he combined misogyny with just blatant ageism”

A film that passed me by on its 2011 release (possibly as it’s a French film, though English-language), Julie Gavras’ Late Bloomers entertained me much more than the rather tepid critical response had led me to expect. I think this is mainly because the script, written by Gavras with Olivier Dazat, treats its protagonists Adam and Mary with equal importance.

Both heading into their sixties after thirty-odd years of marriage, a mid-to-late-life crisis hits the couple in different ways. He’s an architect who throws himself into working late nights with young associates rather than design retirement homes and feeling neglected, she focuses on her doctor’s advice to keep active after an incident of memory loss leaves her shaken. With three adult children watching haplessly, their parents’ different responses to the reality of ageing threatens to shatter all their worlds. Continue reading “DVD Review: Late Bloomers”

Review: Black Watch, Barbican

“You’ve got to know what we’re fighting for, otherwise there’s no point…”

Returning to the Barbican after a highly acclaimed run in 2008, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch is in the midst of an international tour of UK and US cities with a brand new cast. Based on interviews conducted by playwright Gregory Burke with former soldiers who served in the recent conflict in Iraq, the show examines what it is to be a soldier in the modern age and what comes after. As we shift between the pool room back in Fife where they’re being interviewed by a journalist and the war zone with its armoured vehicles, makeshift shacks and lookout points, the complex truth of delivering modern warfare is exposed. And though it is set right in the middle of the war on terror, it studiously avoids moralising or coming down on one side or the other, allowing reasoned arguments on both sides.

Creatively, it combines several elements to create a piece of visceral physical theatre that lingers in the memory and is clearly one of the main reasons for its continuing success: Gareth Fry’s ear-splitting sounds never let us forget the constant presence of danger in the field; Davey Anderson’s use of music allows for a reflective melancholy to be interspersed amongst scenes and Steven Hoggett’s stylised movement provides a striking beauty whether to rituals, battles, even the changing of seats in a pub, using the reconfigured space of the Barbican’s main theatre most effectively. Continue reading “Review: Black Watch, Barbican”

Review: The White Guard, National

“Negativity be damned”

Maintaining a strong record of reviving Russian plays (Burnt By The Sun was a highlight of last year for me), Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard takes up residence in the Lyttleton in a version by Andrew Upton (I saw a preview, it opens officially on 23rd April). Stalin was famously a fan of this play but it should be noted that Bulgakov was no Stalinist and was pretty much a dissident, writing as anti-Soviet works as he dared whilst forbidden to leave the country and suffering much from censorship, a theme visited in another of his plays, Molière or the League of Hypocrites seen in London late last year at the Finborough.

The White Guard is a look at the price that is paid by people during wartime: both on the grand political scale, but also on the personal and family lives. Set in the Ukraine in 1918, we follow the Turbin family as they struggle to maintain their lives in a Kiev ravaged by the just-ended First World War, yet flung headlong into the Russian Civil War which ensued immediately after. The Turbin’s apartment is presided over by the luminous Lena, around whom a coterie of assorted characters gravitate, as the tumultuous sequence of events and invaders threaten to irrevocably change to everyone’s way of life. Continue reading “Review: The White Guard, National”

Review: Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre

The latest play to open at the National Theatre is Burnt By The Sun, a story set in Russia, in the days just before Stalin did bad things in the Great Purge, of a revolutionary and his wife and family whose tranquil repose is rocked by the return of a former lover of the wife. The play was based on a film which won the best Foreign Language Oscar and the Grand Prize at Cannes, but I have to admit to not being familiar with it at all.

This play exemplifies for me one of the key strengths of the National Theatre does best: putting together high quality ensemble casts and allowing them to create the necessary atmosphere and feelings in which the play can unfold. Whereas it may feel that not an awful lot actually happens in the first half, I was swept up in the genuine camaraderie of the ensemble, especially in the group scenes around the table and the time simply flew by. Stephanie Jacob deserves a special mention for her comic turn as Mokhova the help, but all the actors really deliver here and set the scene for the events of Act 2.

Continue reading “Review: Burnt By The Sun, National Theatre”