Review: The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre

“Choke a chicken”

Gruelling Irish dramas seem to pop up with some regularity at the National and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars is just the latest to test my patience. The play is considered O’Casey’s masterpiece but given that I didn’t last past the interval of Juno and the Paycock here a few years ago, I didn’t enter the Lyttelton with the highest of expectations.

And nor did it meet them. Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin’s revival may possess poignant resonance in marking the centenary of the crucial event it builds up to – the Easter Rising of 1916 – but it also feels like it takes a century to get round to it. A large ensemble populate the tenement building at the heart of the community featured here and they all get their chance to have their considerable say. Continue reading “Review: The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre

“I’m interested in what people want”

There’s not really much more to be said about All My Sons that I didn’t cover in my original review of the play. Howard Davies’ production of Arthur Miller’s classic was a deserved huge success in the West End in 2010 and Digital Theatre captured it on film over two nights in September and so one now has the opportunity to rent it online, or download it to watch via their video player.

The fact that the play takes place on the single set lends itself to being captured quite easily on film, there’s little theatrical shenanigans employed here to distract from the fireworks of the acting, that is the real focus of this show. David Suchet’s oily geniality and Zoë Wanamaker’s blind forthrightedness are simply exceptional together as the Kellers play host to family and neighbours and are ultimately left helpless as long-buried truths from the past worm their way to the surface with devastating consequences. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Digital Theatre”

DVD Review: Becoming Jane

“Consider, this is likely to be your best offer”

(This was actually written before Helen McCrory Weekend was conceptualised but I felt it fitted in better here than in the post-Christmas splurge.) Another film that was over Christmas that I hadn’t seen before was Becoming Jane. Falling neatly into the costume drama niche, I thought I was in for a nice time but it all too easily fell into one of those traps most beloved by playwrights when writing about real people: fictionalised reality. So what we have is a mixture of truth about Jane Austen’s life and a fictionalised version of a romance with lawyer Thomas Lefroy, combined with the additional directorial choice of having the events of the film be the direct inspiration for Austen’s first novel, Pride and Prejudice.

What this meant was that much of the film was robbed of its spontaneity. Julie Walters as the hectoring mother and James Cromwell as the kindly father were entirely predictable, as was Maggie Smith’s Lady Gresham – the Lady Catherine de Bourgh figure. There was hardly any room for the story to breathe of its own accord which was a real shame as this was where it was actually better. The chemistry between Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy as Austen and Lefroy – apparently the bona fide inspiration for the character of Darcy – is palpable and effectively deployed throughout the film, as Austen’s certainties crumble in the face of genuine passion. And also in the slightly transgressive romance between Jane’s brother and her older widowed cousin, the seductive Comptesse de Feullide played with glee by Lucy Cohu, an actress I love and whose presence I was nicely surprised with in this. Continue reading “DVD Review: Becoming Jane”

Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre

“I’m his father and he’s my son, and if there’s anything bigger than that I’ll put a bullet in my head!”

Featuring two heavyweights of British acting talent, David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker, the new production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue has already attracted comments which have somehow made it onto big banners up at the theatre along the lines of “as close to a summer blockbuster as the West End can get”. Given that the first preview was just last night, this does seem a little previous, but having attended said first preview, I can honestly say never a truer word was said: this tale of guilt, denial and responsibility is just sensational!

Set in late 1940s smalltown America, All My Sons looks at what happens when capitalist greed runs amok hand in hand with a lack of moral responsibility. Joe Keller is a businessman whose factory was responsible for sending faulty aircraft parts to the American forces, resulting in the deaths of several servicemen in the Second World War. He escaped prison, but his business partner did not, and with his wife Kate and son Chris, has continued to be a successful man, the American Dream personified. However, when the business partner’s daughter Ann arrives for a visit, it becomes apparent that this dream is perilously close to being shattered. It turns out Anne was engaged to the Kellers’ other son Larry who disappeared in combat a few years ago but now has a budding romance with Chris. Kate is dead set against this as she is adamant that Larry is still alive, a delusion tolerated by the other men in the house, but it is the pursuit of the truth behind the force of her denial that finally unlocks the Pandora’s box of terrible secrets. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Apollo Theatre”