Radio Review: Just Dance / Sargasso

”They called a horse after a dancer?”

Just a quickie for these two Afternoon Dramas as it has turned into one of those weeks… I tweeted about Just Dance as its main star – John Heffernan – has quite the following amongst my followers and beyond and the prospect of hearing his voice when his next stage appearance is as yet unconfirmed was not one to pass up lightly.

In Frances Byrnes’ Just Dance, he played Luke, the best dancer of his generation but one now crippled with doubt, psychologically unable to dance. Through a chance meeting with Afro-Caribbean Guy, he explores the driving forces behind both his talent and his torment, his luxuriously deep tones bringing the perfect amount of dancer’s elegance to the part. Continue reading “Radio Review: Just Dance / Sargasso”

Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4

“No decent woman will be able to say suffrage without blushing for another generation”

Part of a series of radio dramas looking at contemporary responses to the increasing emancipation of women at the turn of the twentieth century, Votes for Women is a 1907 suffragette play by Elizabeth Robins, one of the most forthright actresses of the time who allegedly pulled a gun on George Bernard Shaw when he made a pass at her. Her play looks at women who were equally bold at a time when the movement for women’s suffrage was beginning to stagnate, paralysed by the filibustering efforts of the men in Parliament. Where some were content to continue the same path and attempt to win them over, others were adamant that direct action was the only course of action and Robins neatly explores this schism in the movement.

In Marion Nancarrow’s production, Zoë Tapper plays Vida Levering, one of the activists determined to take things further whose zeal sweeps up those around her, including the youthful heiress Jean Dunbarton, voiced by the delicately effervescent Charity Wakefield, who is newly engaged to Sam West’s Tory MP Geoffrey Stoner, who in turn has his own connection to Vida. This tangled relationship provides the melodramatic meat for the final third of the play and if not quite brilliant, it is certainly engaging. Robins is much more successful at the dramatisation of the crusading spirit and enthusiasm of the time. Continue reading “Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4”

Radio Review: Dickens in London

“It seems that I would be an uncommercial traveler”

The bi-centenary of Charles Dickens’ birth has been marked in several different ways across a variety of media and Dickens in London, this collection of five short radio plays by Michael Eaton was one which entertained me nicely. Adapted from some of Dickens’ journalistic essays, the plays deal with his changing impressions of London as he grew up, was stimulated by and then grew tired of the great city that inspired so much of his writing.

We start with A Not-Overly-Particularly-Taken-Care-Of Boy where the boy Charles gets lost on his very first visit with his uncle, then move to Boz, where a young man has secured himself employment as a Parliamentary Reporter for the Morning Chronicle but dreams of writing his own stories. Samuel Barnett is particularly good in these two first stories, his voice is particularly well suited to radio, so full of character and crackled emotion. Continue reading “Radio Review: Dickens in London”

Film Review: The Deep Blue Sea

“Hester, what have they done to you?”

2011 marked the centenary of the birth of Terence Rattigan and theatres across the country have paid their tribute to this oft-neglected playwright with a range of productions which have arguably pulled him back into fashion. London saw Flare Path and Cause Célèbre amongst others, Chichester devoted much of their season to his work, commissioning two new dramatic responses to his plays as well as South Downs (alongside The Browning Version) and Rattigan’s Nijinsky. But perhaps one of his greatest works is The Deep Blue Sea, of which I have seen two productions this year – one in Leeds with Maxine Peake and the other with Amanda Root in Chichester. And it is this play that has received the silver screen treatment in a film version by Terence Davies.

Davies has definitely taken the adage quality over quantity to heart – having produced just 4 dramatic feature films in a career that began in the mid-70s – but one of those is the Gillian Anderson starring The House of Mirth which is one of my all-time favourite films so I was intrigued to see what he had made of this story, of which I have grown uncommonly fond. Too fond as it turned out, because I was completely unable to judge the film as its own artistic entity and found myself constantly referring back to how it was differing from the play. Continue reading “Film Review: The Deep Blue Sea”

Review: The Wild Bride, Lyric Hammersmith

“There’s precious little else to do, the Devil supposed, but to sell your soul at the crossroads”

I have to admit to not being entirely won over by Kneehigh. They spoken of with such reverence but the handful of shows of theirs that I have seen haven’t really won me over to their style. I found the archness of The Red Shoes lacking in emotion, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tried too hard to force too much quirkiness, A Matter of Life and Death just left me baffled! But Emma Rice’s retelling of a Hungarian fairytale, The Handless Maiden, retitled here as The Wild Bride feels like something closer to Kneehigh’s raison d’être, combining light with the dark, humour with the tragedy, and consequently I found it highly enjoyable.

When a miller accidentally sells his only daughter to the Devil and has to chop her hands off as it turns out she is too pure to be taken, the girl ends up in the harsh world of the forest where hardship is endured, opportunity presents itself but the Devil is always keeping a watchful eye. The company of six – actors, musicians, performers, dancers, artists – tell the story in typical Kneehigh style, embracing a world of influences the most significant of which are the enchanted dark forests of the Brothers Grimm with their mysterious feel and the American South of the Great Depression, with the twang of blues guitar never far away. The end result is something close to magic. Continue reading “Review: The Wild Bride, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre

Based on a well respected (although I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it) film, A Matter of Life and Death sees Cornish theatre company Kneehigh take the cavernous Olivier theatre by storm with a highly inventive and physical reinterpretation of this story. Peter, a World War II pilot is shot down whilst on a mission but doesn’t die because the angel sent to collect him gets lost in the fog. Instead, he meets and falls in love with June, the radio operator who tried to help him down. Peter is then forced to plead his case in the court of Heaven to see how his future will play out.

As the romantic leads, both Tristan Sturrock as Peter and Lyndsey Marshal as June seemed a little overwhelmed by the production, not really able to give us much of a sense of the relationship between the two and too often required to do something gymnastic or wacky instead of focusing on the emotion of the moment. In the more light-hearted characters, like Douglas Hodge’s Frank and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s gymnastic Conductor, there’s more freedom and opportunity for fun, but by and large this wasn’t a production about strong acting. Continue reading “Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre”