Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2020)

Despite a talented cast including Judi Dench and Dan Stevens, this cinematic version of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is a big miss

“I’ll have a grilled grapefruit and a strong coffee please”

On the one hand, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy Blithe Spirit, Noël Coward’s enduring play offering increasingly diminishing returns every time it reappears. On the other, I don’t think anyone would have predicted how misjudged this film version would be, directed by Ed Hall and adapted for the screen by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft.

Coward’s plays do what they do, offering safe options for audiences (and theatre programmers) and usually attracting top actors (Jennifer Saunders and Angela Lansbury are the last two to have starred in the West End in this play). And on the face of it, the same ought to be true of a filmed version, here with Dame Judi Dench stepping into the feathered caftan of Madame Arcati. Continue reading “Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2020)”

News: stars come out to support the Jermyn Street Theatre

Stars of stage and screen including Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, David Suchet, Dame Penelope Keith, Timothy West, Jamael Westman, Tobias Menzies, Aimee Lou Wood, Grace Saif, Dame Penelope Wilton, and Julie Hesmondhalgh have joined forces to perform Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets for Jermyn Street Theatre, a 70-seat studio in London’s West End.

The Sonnet Project launched on the theatre’s social media channels on 21 March, when Hannah Morrish performed Sonnet 1. One sonnet has appeared every day since then, with the cycle due to complete with Sonnet 154 in late August. David Suchet, star of Agatha Christie’s Poirot but also a veteran of numerous Royal Shakespeare Company productions, performed Sonnet 34 on Shakespeare’s birthday. Continue reading “News: stars come out to support the Jermyn Street Theatre”

Review: The Tempest, Jermyn Street Theatre

Michael Pennington and Kirsty Bushell shine in a clever take on the The Tempest at the Jermyn Street Theatre

“Thy food shall be fresh-brook mussels”

It is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and so I rarely seek it out these days, but the prospect of seeing actors of the calibre of Michael Pennington and Kirsty Bushell in the intimacy of the Jermyn Street Theatre got me along to The Tempest there. It also helped that it was directed by Tom Littler, whose inventive reworking of All’s Well That Ends Well last year was its own little piece of magic. 

Aging Prospero upwards a little has a distinct impact on the tenor of the play. From the opening scene where he wreaks stormy havoc with a touch of malevolence via a toy boat to the air of almost-relieved resignation that comes at the close, there’s a palpable sense of the prospect of vengeance having fired him on in later years yet Pennington balances brutality with benevolence throughout, suggesting perhaps it was closure rather than revenge that was actually his driving force. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Jermyn Street Theatre”

Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre

A hugely fascinating new musical from the RSC, Miss Littlewood impresses at the Swan Theatre – might we see it London before too long?

“I’ve come about the theatre”

The last musical to come out of the RSC is a little know thing that is still kicking around somewhere, Matilda I think it’s called… So Miss Littlewood might have a little expectation carrying on its shoulders, although it is clearly a completely different kettle of fish.

In the Swan Theatre, Sam Kenyon (book, music and lyrics) tells us the story of Joan Littlewood. Or rather, given the format of the show, hands the reins over to Joan to tell her story. Clare Burt stars as an older Littlewood who acts as a narrator, a maestro, as she directs six other performers, all of whom take turns in donning the blue cap to embody this most totemic figure of British theatre.  Continue reading “Review: Miss Littlewood, Swan Theatre”

Review: Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter Theatre

To the tune of ‘Waterloo Sunset’

“First on in Hampstead, now Harold Pinter, this is a musical
‘Bout how The Kinks did, become a huge band, back catalogue got full
So a show, it got wrote
Joe Penhall’s book and, Ray Davies’ music, tell us their ups and down
Brothers Ray and Dave and their friends Mick and Pete, oh
They really, really wrote some good music though, lots of it sounds the same

Stalls in the theatre, have regular seating, apart from front and rear
Where seats are nailed down, round cabaret tables, chairs that don’t move are weird

But the show, it is strong
Three hours fly by, telling the story, most entertainingly
John Dagleish is good as Ray, George Maguire’s Dave too
But really, really Ed Hall’s cast is all fine, Dominic Tighe is mineWent with my friend Chris, liked it but I wish, I could have brought my dad
Music is more of, his generation, would have made him feel glad
But I will, see him soon
And maybe I’ll take him, one day to this show, it’s bound to run and run

Sunny Afternoon’s fine.”

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May
Photo: Kevin Cummins
NB: in all seriousness it is most enjoyable, even for someone who still can only really recognise 4 songs by The Kinks even though this is the second time I’ve seen the show. The accapella rendition of ‘Days’ is a spellbinding moment (pictured below) and I suppose it would have been nice to have had a little more of that musical invention though I’m just being extremely picky now. The soundtrack has been recorded by the cast and is available to buy here, feel free to buy me a copy 😉

 
 
 

Review: Sunny Afternoon, Hampstead Theatre

“I am so lazy, I don’t want to wander, I stay at home at night”

I am the wrong age for a Kinks musical to make me particularly excited, nor were they really a part of my family’s soundtrack whilst growing up so there was little reason for me to get too excited about Sunny Afternoon at the Hampstead Theatre. Indeed, even my personal alert service notifying me that Dominic Tighe appears in a police uniform (albeit briefly) scarcely raised my attention which is most unlike me. But with the end of the run fast approaching, a rumoured transfer as yet unconfirmed and someone willing to queue, I found myself at the final show.

Where I enjoyed myself mostly. Aiming itself above the jukebox format but still coming across as a luxury version thereof, it is paper-thin stuff, clearly far too in reverence of its still-living protagonists (one imagines Joe Penhall writing the book with Ray Davies hovering over his shoulder). The focus is far too much on Ray rather than the band as a whole or even the excitement of 60s Britain and so one is left waiting for the songs, which are undoubtedly extremely well done. Miriam Buether enjoys the chance to reconfigure the auditorium once again with her design and Ed Hall keeps a pulsing energy about the piece although it would be nice to see a show like this that doesn’t force the jollity quite so much at the end… 

So whilst glad I caught it, my instinct that it was missable was on the nose. And for my money, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is a Cathy Dennis song (and I had the cassingle to prove it).

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 24th May

Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud Theatre

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”

Despite never having seen or read Strangers on a Train, I seemed to carry a strong idea of what the plot would entail. So of course I was disappointed to find out that the play wasn’t actually about two men deciding to kill each other’s wives on a long journey on the rails and that the action actually left the train carriage pretty early on. Expectations aside, I was also a little surprised at just how cinematic Robert Allan Ackerman’s production was, a veritable film noir brought to life in all its tense monochrome glory.

But for all the gloss that Tim Goodchild’s ever-revolving set and Peter Wilms’ frequent projections bring, there’s a curious lack of effective theatricality to Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. The fateful initial meeting between Laurence Fox’s Guy and Jack Huston’s Bruno is charged with homoerotic tension as the latter teasingly offers to kill the former’s unloved wife if he will reciprocate by offing his overbearing father. Yet this isn’t something that is played out in the psychodrama that follows, exploring the effects on each man of perpetrating their crimes. Continue reading “Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud Theatre”

Review: Chariots of Fire, Gielgud Theatre

“100 metres can feel like a marathon”
For the longest time, I was sure that I didn’t want to see Chariots of Fire, not least because the hoarding for this Hampstead Theatre transfer into the Gielgud finds it necessary to call it Chariots of Fire on stage, as if it could be anything else in a theatre. But Mike Bartlett, who adapted the film, is a writer I like and a change of cast meant Gabriel Vick, an actor whose charms I, erm, appreciate, was able to tempt me there on the final day of the (curtailed) run. The most arresting aspect of Edward Hall’s production is Miriam Buether’s design which snakes a running track around the front stalls and puts audience members on the stage – it makes for constant visual interest and not just for the men in shorts.
As a story set around the Olympics (Paris 1924), when the production was first announced it felt like a bit of a cash-in to the upcoming Games (London 2012) and sure enough, a West End transfer was announced even before it began. And to be honest, I’m not sure that it really stood up as a piece of effective theatre when separated from all the 2012 buzz. I’ve never seen the film so I wonder if this had an impact, but essentially the thrill of having athletically performed athletic races aside, it was rather dull.

The rivalry between two British runners – religious Scot Eric Liddell, played with fervent defiance by Jack Lowden and James McArdle’s first-generation Lithuanian immigrant Harold Abrahams – never really takes off dramatically as it is largely implicit, rather than actualised (the pair are rarely together). The whirl of supporting characters get so little stage time that very few of the fine actors onstage get the opportunity to make an impact and I wasn’t a fan of the way in which the action sequences were blended, or otherwise, with the dramatic scenes, too often the transitions felt painfully obvious. 
Using the famous music, written by Vangelis, also didn’t really work for me. It’s a no-brainer in the end and the oohs and aahs of recognition from the audience around me clearly showed that it was the big money note they’d been waiting for but it felt so unsubtle, so bolted onto the production that it just didn’t connect with the whole. So I should have listened to my instincts in the first place! 

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 5th January