Review: The Three Lions, St James Theatre

“What’s the difference between a bribe and an incentive?”

With the fallout of FIFA’s decisions of where to have the 2018 and 2022 World Cups still percolating around footballing bureaucrats even now, one could probably find more than enough material for a verbatim play full of high drama – alleged bribery and corruption, the tragedy of migrant working conditions, war-mongering presidents, seismic calendar shifts from summer to winter. William Gaminara’s The Three Lions wisely sidesteps that potential controversy though, by imagining a behind-the-scenes farce involving the trio spearheading the English bid to host the 2018 competition – three blokes by the name of David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William.

In representing three such well-known figures, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Séan Browne and Tom Davey have to tread a fine line between impersonation and inhabiting their characters more fully and Gaminara’s script doesn’t always allow for this. Davey’s lanky Prince William becomes an improbable japester as he desperately tries to shake off his inbred stiffness and grammatical pedantry and be one of the lads. And Bruce-Lockhart gets the PM’s blustering and patronising tone just right, matching it with the overcompensatory physical language that belies innate insecurity. But they both get overshadowed by a work of comic genius in Browne’s footballer. Continue reading “Review: The Three Lions, St James Theatre”

Review: The Water Babies, Curve

“If I drop from the sky, nobody may care but will they catch me”

Under Paul Kerryson, Leicester’s Curve Theatre really has become the incubator for some great musical theatre, reinventing stale classics like Chicago and Hairspray and hosting significant premieres like Finding Neverland and now a new version of Charles Kingsley’s children’s novel The Water Babies. Boasting an impressive array of special effects, a stridently modern score from Chris Egan and a fresh take on the story by Ed Curtis (who also directs) and Guy Jones, it makes for a interesting new entry into the world of British musical theatre. 

The show borrows liberally from Kingsley’s original morality tale of Tom, an orphaned young ne’er-do-well who is framed for a crime he did not commit and whilst fleeing capture, finds his only choice is to dive into a waterfall whereupon he discovers a new world. That underwater world uses in turn inspiration from the 1978 animated version of the story, as Tom is forced to journey through a series of challenges, aided and abetted by talking sea creatures as he searches for the mysterious Water Babies who hold the key to a better understanding of himself and thus his future. Continue reading “Review: The Water Babies, Curve”

Review: Outward Bound, Finborough Theatre

“It’s made me very particular about my hyphen”

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. One of the difficulties of writing about shows is the balancing act between trying to give enough information to give a palpable sense of a production without giving away too much of it to preserve as much of its revelatory nature as possible. Major plot points are frequently given away in reviews, especially of classics (which always strikes me as a little arrogant, this idea that because the reviewer has seen the play 60 times doesn’t mean that the reader necessarily has – I loved the surprises that King Lear held for me when I saw it for the first time last year), but then the act of writing about theatre lends itself to detailed analysis which can’t afford to be coy.

The plot of Sutton Vane’s 1923 play Outward Bound hinges on a major revelation, not so much in a whodunit sense but rather in the direction that the play then takes. It comes fairly early in the show and so when debating this issue, my companion thought it would be ok to mention it in the review, but reading the blurb on the production, the enigma is preserved and I think I prefer it that way round. But I suppose there’s then an element of me having my cake and eating it here – in not wanting to talk about ‘it’, I’ve flagged up its presence something rotten! But anyhoo, to the show in hand. Continue reading “Review: Outward Bound, Finborough Theatre”

DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

“I mean to have that ruby”

The Ruby from the Smoke is the first in a series of four books featuring adventuring lead character Sally Lockhart. Here a mysterious message received from her father just before he drowned in the South China Seas sets her on a dangerous journey which starts with a man dying in front of her very eyes at the mere mention of what is contained within. She is then drawn into a mystery involving the opium trade, the fabled Ruby of Agrapur and even secrets from her own family history as her life is under constant peril from the dastardly Mrs Holland.

This was one of those things that I pretty much knew I was going to love from the moment I heard about it, but it certainly does help that I do really like the actress that Billie Piper has become. There’s an inner strength to her as well as a richly warm quality that is highly endearing and ideally suited to this modern figure of a woman, challenging Victorian notions of womanhood as she strives to uncover the truth. And Pullman writes extremely well for his female characters, something carried over in Adrian Hodges’ screenplay, as Hayley Atwell’s Rosa makes a sterling ally for Sally and as the evil Mrs Holland, Julie Walters makes a convincing villain. Obviously casting against type, it is an astonishingly effective performance, exuding huge malevolence and full of spine-chilling touches – the false teeth in particular – it’s a vein of work she ought to pursue a little more. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke”

TV Review: Hamlet, RSC

“What are thou that usurp’st this time of night”
 

The recent RSC production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant, has been filmed and was broadcast on BBC2 on Boxing Day afternoon, a curious piece of scheduling but thanks to the beauty of iPlayer, I was able to watch it as my leisure this evening. Rather than filming the play as it was performed on stage, the original cast deliver this modern-dress and modern-day adaption on location which gives it a much more filmic feel, especially with some of the camera tricks used, such as observing the action from the CCTV cameras.

David Tennant really is rather good here. His Hamlet is both wiry and wired, constantly moving and shifting, mimicking those around him with a quick wit but all-the-while suffused with a precipitous edge. The sense of danger is never far from this often bare-footed prince, but in my limited Hamlet experience, I did miss a little of the brooding intensity that Jude Law brought to the role. Equally strong though was Patrick Stewart’s coldly calculating Claudius. From his opening scene, there is no doubt that he has Hamlet’s cards marked and employs a chilling restraint throughout which was far scarier than any amount of raging. And Oliver Ford Davies’ Polonius was also good value for money, flirting between the doddery old dear of the court and the canny politician keeping himself in favour. Continue reading “TV Review: Hamlet, RSC”

Review: Molière or The League of Hypocrites, Finborough Theatre

“This man Molière, is he dangerous?
‘He is Satan himself'”

I hadn’t originally intended to see Molière or The League of Hypocrites at the Finborough Theatre due to a packed festive schedule but reconsidered after a gap opened up this afternoon and a couple of realisations occurred to me: having never seen a Molière play before I figured I may as well see one about him before going to see The Misanthrope next week, and also Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The White Guard which arrives at the National Theatre in February, so I thought what the heck and swung on down to SW10.

Explicitly about the French playwright Molière, a huge success in the court of Louis XIV until his plays started to make an enemy of the Church, which devotes its considerable energies to discrediting him by any means possible and ruining him. The play then follows Molière as he struggles to maintain “his integrity under a repressive regime”, a point made all the more poignant by the fact that Bulgakov was writing in Stalin’s Russia, suffering much the same treatment and risking it all by writing such plays. Continue reading “Review: Molière or The League of Hypocrites, Finborough Theatre”