TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1

“I would his troubles were expired”

The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.

And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1”

Review: Foxfinder, Finborough Theatre

“Nature is full of symbols…you just have to know how to interpret them”

Expectations are a tricky thing. One of the reasons I do like to see shows earlier in the run is that I can safely formulate my own opinion on things without too much chatter from elsewhere unduly influencing me. For I am terrible at accidentally borrowing ideas and phrases, mostly unintentionally!, and ending up responding to the reviews of others in the end, where I prefer this blog to more about how I react to the piece I’ve just seen. Sometimes though, I will let myself be guided by others when their recommendations of a certain piece of theatre, that I haven’t seen, become too big to ignore.

Such it was with Foxfinder at the Finborough. A play by Dawn King that won the 2011 Papatango New Writing Competition in conjunction with the Finborough, the word of mouth for this was overwhelmingly good and though I hadn’t intended to catch the show, a gap in the schedule for a Saturday matinée late in the run meant I could squeeze it in. The play is set in a dystopian England, a parallel world that reminded me a bit of the film Children of Men, where farmers are under strict orders to meet quotas to feed the people of the city who are forced to work in a much feared ‘factory’. Sam and Judith Covey’s farm is suffering from a suspected contamination though and as William, an inspector comes to investigate, he sets in chain a shattering set of events. Continue reading “Review: Foxfinder, Finborough Theatre”

Review: The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hours”

Very occasionally I see a play which saps the life of my desire to write about all the shows that I see. Good ones are great, bad ones are fine as they often provoke much thought and opinion, but some are just so crushingly dull that they simply inspire nothing. Trevor Nunn’s production of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Haymarket was such a play and what is worse, I already knew that that would be my response to it due to the feedback from people who had already gone. Fortunately, I was gifted the ticket for services rendered so there was no financial cost but things can tax you severely in other ways.

Mainly it is due to the extreme lack of pace, the play is stretched out laboriously over more than three hours for no discernible reason than to fill time, there’s no reason contained within the interpretation that justifies this lack of speed and it becomes painfully obvious that we’re in for the long haul from the outset with precious few sparks of life animating events onstage. As Prospero, Ralph Fiennes was actually better than I was anticipating, the sole beneficiary of my lowered expectations, with a vocal performance that was colourful and commanding. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Les Parents Terribles, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2

“Grandfather collected semi-colons…”

The final play in the first residency of the Donmar Warehouse’s Resident Assistant Directors scheme at the Trafalgar Studios 2 is Jean Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles. Set in a crowded bohemian household in 1930s Paris, it examines the dynamics of an extremely dysfunctional family. The tempestuous Yvonne worships her son Michael and he revels in their almost incestuously close relationship but when he declares that he has fallen in love with a girl called Madeleine, her world is shattered and histrionics ensue. Also living with them is Yvonne’s spinster sister Leo who has long been nurturing a candle for her brother-in-law George but matters are made even worse when he realises that his son’s lover is actually his own mistress as well.

Rather pleasingly this is a proper Donmar-quality cast and they did not disappoint, attached as they are to the best play that has been featured in this run. Elaine Cassidy and Tom Byam Shaw suggest the promise and escape of young love with their wide-eyed naïveté and charming connection; Cassidy is particularly heart-breaking when the sheer selfishness of this family threatens to overwhelm her, leaving her stricken on the floor. Anthony Calf as failed inventor George exudes a floppy bumbling self-pity but capable of a barbarous cruelty as he seeks to get his own way no matter what. Continue reading “Review: Les Parents Terribles, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Salome, Richmond Theatre

“You must not look at her. You look too much at her.”

Salome has quite some theatrical pedigree: presented by Rupert Goold’s Headlong company and directed by Donmar Associate Jamie Lloyd, Oscar Wilde’s one act tragedy based on the Biblical story has been radically refashioned into a bold new production currently touring the UK (Oxford, Newcastle and Brighton remain) before settling at the Hampstead Theatre for a month on 22nd June.

Set in a post-apocalyptic futuristic industrial hellhole somewhere in the Middle East, spoiled princess Salome takes a perverse fancy to Iokanaan (John the Baptist) despite or perhaps because of the grim prophecies he has for her mother, Herodias, and stepfather, the Tetrarch King Herod. It seems as if these prophecies, and the detestation both Herod and Herodias have for the prophet, are the reason for Salome’s sudden obsession but when Herod makes her an offer she can’t refuse involving a dance, the opportunistic princess sows the seeds for her own downfall.

After a slightly slow opening 15 minutes or so, Salome soon kicks into gear with a highly visual gore-filled, sexualised take on the well known Biblical story. Not recognisably Wildean it must be said, Jamie Lloyd has stripped it bare of its original idiosyncrasies and reconstructed a savage modern tale of 21st century sexuality which surprises rather than truly shocks but nevertheless develops into an engaging account of what is a largely familiar story.

As the titular Salome, Zawe Ashton is unashamedly shallow and sexual, portraying her as hopped up on something or other, her jittery hands unable to stop themselves from running over her body, alive to her sexuality but not yet fully aware of its power and the consequences of flaunting it so vividly. This awkwardness is perfectly played in the beginning of the infamous dance sequence, thoroughly updated here but imbued with a painful ungainliness exacerbated by the reaction of Herod (which is to masturbate furiously in the open court). Ashton has to deal with much of Wilde’s repetitive text, endlessly repeating two key phrases but she fills them with sufficient petulance to remind us that this is just an oversexualised kid.

As the tyrannical, testosterone-fuelled Herod, Con O’Neill is quite something: sexually hungry for men and women alike and unable to control his urges, leading to his rash promise that leads to the climactic demand. Physically he gave a magnificent portrayal of this rapacious despot and the human frailty beneath the swaggering, but I wasn’t 100% convinced by his vocal delivery, strangely high-pitched and mostly delivered at a bellow. Jaye Griffiths is vocally much stronger as his attention-hungry embittered wife and as a result becomes something of a focal point as probably the strongest performance onstage. Seun Shote’s Iokanaan deserves a special mention though: kept chained under a manhole, his first arrival from his prison kickstarts the show, his muscular presence rising from the deeps and spewing forth prophetic pronouncements with a powerful baritone. The rest of the ensemble is strong but there is little to distinguish them from one another, only Richard Cant’s heartbroken Page of Herodias stands out with his revelations about the true closeness of his friendship with the Young Syrian Sam Donovan.

The design by Soutra Gilmour is impressive, all the more so considering how it reinvents the traditional stage at Richmond and is a touring show, with a large square sandpit strewn with puddles of tar dominating the dungeon-like space, scaffolds and lighting rigs around the walls add to savagery of the landscape. Combined with very effective lighting and pulsing sound design, there is a great sense of atmosphere to this production culminating in the production of an extremely gory and effective severed head, and with a running time of just 90 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. All in all, something really quite different and interesting that you should make the effort to see.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £3
Note: smoke, haze and scenes of a sexual nature abound in this production so probably not one for the sensitive.