Thursday, 30 October 2014

Distance by Deborah Bruce directed by Charlotte Gwinner with Helen Baxendale, Clare Lawrence-Moody and Emma Beattie

Distance writ multiple: it’s geographical, it’s time passing and it’s proximal. The neat, in-the-round space of The Orange Tree in Charlotte Gwinner’s absorbing production, sees Bea (Helen Baxendale) turn her back on her children in Melbourne, Australia. Now she’s in middle-class cosiness in kate's flat, Brighton. Bea is Ibsen’s Nora, 21st century-style, after the infamous door slam. Kate the control-freak and Alex, border-line intoxicant, join her in what to do about Beatrice as they pick clean notions of motherhood, friendship and life; meanwhile a contemporary context is provided through the backdrop of the Tottenham riots, 2011, on phones, the internet and TV. Deborah Bruce’s writing shows her director’s credentials: forthright with three strong, contrasting female leads. The male perspective is real and full of humour, balanced by Dewi, Kate’s husband, Liam, Alex’s fifteen year old son and Vinnie, Dewi’s straight-talking brother. The pace is cracking, particularly in the bitter-sweet first half, with expert cross-overs and dove-tailing. Bruce ultimately provides no answers to Bea’s dilemma, but the play’s two hours traffic just cruises by.......A treat! 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest directed by Lucy Bailey with Nigel Havers, Martin Jarvis, Sian Phillips, Cherie Lunghi, Christine Kavanagh

You'll either go with the contrivance or you won't. The Bunbury Players rehearse The Importance of Being Earnest, with a wink at Ayckbourn and Michael Frayn, in director Lucy Bailey's off-beat production. The play-within-a-play format highlights extenuations from Wilde's comedy, in the scarcity of cucumber sandwiches or its iconic lines. While William Dudley's clever off-kilter Arts and Crafts design, with shafts of brilliant light, offer a delicious time-warp from the late 1890s to the present, at once painterly and sun-blest just like the original. As a pair of old roues, indulged as bygone Jacks and Algys, Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers are superb: dapper, energetic with a cut-glass clarity to complement Wilde's be-dazzled wit and sharply observed characters. Equally on sparkling form is Sian Phillips, as Lady Bracknell/Lavinia and Cherie Lunghi, Christine Kavanagh as Gwendolen and Cecily in the garden scene.....Lovely stuff 

Friday, 24 October 2014

Serena directed by Susanne Bier with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper

Set in 1929, at the time of the crash, impulsive George Pemberton, timber merchant, falls for Serena who is horse-crazy with just a touch of the shamanese: she can tame eagles and turn a profit. Rhys Ifans is a loyal worker who believes in prophecies and when Serena saves him from bleeding to death, he vows eternal fealty to her. It is a brutal world as frontiers, on all fronts, are redrawn. Yet nature through the smoky mountains of Tennessee, its rattlesnakes and doom-laden beauty is European director, Susanne Bier’s, real triumph. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper do their best as noir slam-dunks deforestation, with Lawrence the more successful of the two. The flaw is in the structure, despite the film’s firey apocalyptic ending. Pursuit and payback occur with alarming frequency, in the dying third, but the focus is George’s awareness not Serena’s discovery.....Close but no smoking cigar

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Teh Internet is Serious Business by Tim Price, Royal Court with Kevin Guthrie and Hamza Jeetooa

Teh Internet is Serious Business shows the rise of the infamous ‘hactivist’ group Anonymous and the fall of LulzSec. It also shares an exhilarating, often comical, ride through the physicalised world of memes: Socially Awkward Penguin, Grumpy Cat, Storm Trooper and trolls. Hamish Pirie's hip production makes visible the mischief-making, profile-raising and displaced surrogacy that the cyber-world offers. It is both alienating and communal with chat-rooms, forums and simultaneous action. It explores issues of identity, identity theft and the anarchic thrust of anonymity. The performances are universally good with a strong ensemble. The stylised dance moves signify web addresses, accompanied by vibrant, rhythmic cyber-speak. The set is a riot of primary colours and ball pit as performers emerge or disappear through flaps or rise up from the ‘hell-mouth’ in an elaborate tableaux vivant. Teh Internet is fun, lively, yet serious business too..... 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Manon Royal Opera House, Choreography Kenneth Macmillan with Marianela Nunez, Federico Bonelli, Ricardo Cervera

Marianela Nunez and Federico Bonelli in Manon at the Royal Ballet

Manon is 40 years old. Incredible. It is as fresh today under its present cast, Marianela Nunez and Federico Bonelli, and over the four decades has been a regular feature in the Royal Ballet repertoire. It is a modern classic offering spectacular principal roles with breath-taking pas de deux. Manon's allure of money is undermined by Des Grieux's steadfast love for her; both are compromised by her brother's ruthless deals. This is eighteenth century, pre-revolutionary Paris, where the pimp and the player trade cards, dice and people. Perhaps it was the appearance of Nicholas Georgiadis' design with John B Read's sumptuous lighting or Macmillian's creative spirit, but something special happened on Thursday night. The chemistry between Nunez and Bonelli was stunning, while Macmillan's choreography as she is man-handled, feet hardly touching the floor, in Act 2 is a study in brutal dance poetry. Yet the ballet's structure is pure nineteenth century. Manon a study in lust, greed and redemption fuses the modern and the traditional. And when the dancing is this good, the price is worth paying. 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Fading Gigolo written and directed by John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis

This is a Woody Allen movie without Allen’s direction: New York setting, snappy one-liners about mortality, sex, money and relationships, with a small ensemble cast in which the little represents the big. The duo, John Turturro and Woody Allen, are pickle and rye as Murray (Allen) persuades Fioravante (Turturro) to do turns for money, as dermatologist (Sharon Stone) is turned by the idea of a ménage. The fading gigolo, like the film’s autumnal cinematography, is a series of passing moments. Fioravante speaks with many tongues and has healing hands. There is no real threat, even when he falls for Hassidic widow (Vanessa Paradis) under the watchful eye of her strict community. This is not a film for the plot-conscious, but its pace is superb, matched by an evocative Jazz/Kletzmer score. Fading Gigolo captures the bittersweet quality of life passing and life having passed, served on the rocks, New York style. And see the winsome look Allen gives Turturro at the end as if to say: ‘couldn’t have done it better myself.’

Monday, 18 August 2014

Porgy and Bess directed by Timothy Sheader, Regent's Park Theatre


Porgy and Bess is an absolute treat. Timothy Sheader’s production goes beyond genre-classification to create ‘a happening.’ The range in human emotion from comedy to despair, filtered through superlative music via Blues, Jazz, Gospel and dynamic singing, ensures classic status. At the dramatic centre is Porgy (Rufus Bonds Jnr) who protects Bess (Nicola Hughes) giving her what the world of possession and addiction, through the towering Crown (Phillip Boykin) and magical dust dealer Sporting Life (Cedric Neal) have denied her, dignity. The Catfish Row Community, led by its woman-folk, in the compassionate Mariah (Sharon D Clarke) and grieving Clara (Jade Ewen) battle with life’s vagaries and the natural elements. It’s against these two trajectories that the drama plays out in electrifying power and intensity. The Gershwins’ music and lyrics shine through from the anthemic Summertime, sung in both hope and despair, to Sporting Life’s seductive It Ain’t Necessarily So. Porgy and Bess, at Regent's Park, has it all.......