Thursday, 22 December 2011

Review: Dance

The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, Petipa, Monica Mason/Christopher Newton, Lauren Cuthbertson, Sergei Polunin

Sumptuous. This glorious ballet, with stunning choreography and soaring Tchaikovsky score, was in 1890, a theatrical event which showed off the grand, Russian, Imperial style. It is also the Royal Ballet’s signature piece. It has land-marked its history from its inauguration at Covent Garden after the war through to its closure for refurbishment, when Darcey Bussell as the lilac fairy put the house to sleep for two years. And in the right season, Christmas, where the spirit of renewal and thanksgiving is uppermost, it is a magical, festive treat. The overall look for this current 'Beauty' is striking, in its recreation of Oliver Messel’s 1946 designs. Back then the paucity of material necessitated the mother of invention, so that the gentlemen’s cuffs were made out of paper doilies. Now its opulence, vibrant colour and grand style throws into relief the grey world of tightened belts and cut corners, and we are the better for it. Under the direction of Monica Mason and Christopher Newton this production is a homage to its 1946 lineage. Lauren Cuthbertson as Princess Aurora has a great technique with long, languorous limbs. She is also a good actress. She excelled in the Grand Pas of Act 111 with Sergei Polunin, and there is a real sense of connection and musicality between them. Polunin, touted as the next Nureyev, is stunning to watch: huge jumps, whose crisp, clean turns are thrilling. The confection of the story is lightly spun, so story book characters such as puss in boots, red riding hood, bluebeard line up as wedding guests alongside the seasons and other royal dignitaries, as we see a handsome prince kiss and reawaken a cursed princess. Yet its reality lies in a noble sentiment in which goodness rather than triumphs, endures.....We are in an allegorical world........a world, like the angels, which dances on a pin…….. 

Review: Film

My week with Marilyn, Colin Clark, dir Simon Curtis, Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh

British. The film is taken from the diaries of Colin Clark in a week in 1956 where he meets, and falls in love with, Marilyn Munroe while she films The Prince and the Show Girl opposite Lawrence Olivier. Clark is at the outset of his film career, he later went on to make documentaries, with Lawrence Olivier Productions and as third assistant director is keen to learn everything he can. Yet the focus is never on him ....Instead the film offers a glorious opportunity for Judi Dench to give her Dame Sybil Thorndike and for Kenneth Branagh to give his Olivier….both excel. For a one note song the film is diverting, amusing. Yet the real interest lies in how Marliyn’s other close associates act towards Colin as his Marilyn stock increases. Yet the film gives little thought to this, beyond a few peeved expressions, so it remains a fluffy light-weight. As Colin is infatuated with Marillyn before The Prince and the Show Girl, once she gives him the glad-eye, that’s it…….Yet the period detail is finely recreated, and for the most part has some fun, interesting performances. And for all its soft focus, shampoo-advert moments - skinny-dipping in the Thames, mid-afternoon, after being halloooed by some hot-under-the-collar Etonians, I dont' think so - My Week With Marilyn is worth the price of the popcorn…… 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Review: Theatre

13, Mike Bartlett, The National Theatre, dir Thea Sharrock, Geraldine James

Big. Similar in scope to Earthquakes in London with recurring stylistic features: a messianic figure, a large multi-racial cast, of all ages, covering sections of the community from the government down. The thematic backdrop is protest and the exploration of personal and political belief, whilst widespread disaffection is across the board…..Enter John - think John the Baptist - who offers hope, action and positive change, albeit briefly, until the consequences of a young girl’s untimely death de-rails him……It is difficult to know whether hope-cut-down is Bartlett’s own view or not. What is striking is the huge canvass that he sets up which is contemporary and exciting. Bartlett dares to be bold and that is a good thing…..The exploration of belief is central to the play as people wake up from similar, recurring dreams and images. Big in concept 13 features an eerie physical and psychological landscape both familiar and strange. (In Earthquakes in London he reaches into the future, 2025, with the messianic figure, Emily)…..13's huge, revolving metal cube and staging add to the alienation. While an abstract, dissonant soundscape and digital countdown, create a disturbing,  dystopian world……terrific……… 

Review: Film

The deep blue sea, Terrence Rattigan, dir Terrence Davies, Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale, Tom Hiddleston

Moody. Ex-fighter pilot Freddie lives in an older world. He finds it hard to adjust: he drinks and brawls his way through life. Hester falls for him with a passion which consumes her, while married to Judge, Sir William Collyer, who is increasingly out of his depth. The film begins with an attempted suicide. While the presence of death, destruction, is never far from the surface throughout. For the most part the film is believable: the period is meticulously evoked, with fly- on-the-wall camera-work - a Davies’ trope - together with pub sing-songs, and the absence of emotional underscored music, showing a gritty, grainy post-war London. As a result, The Deep Blue Sea is bleak, muted: too much so. The passion between the leads' shared screen-time, despite the artistic entanglement of bodies, kindles rather than fires. With moments from zero to sixty driven rather than realistic……..It looks good, though, if heavily-laden.......and Simon Russell-Beale triumphs……….

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Review: Film

We Need to Talk About Kevin dir Lynne Ramsay, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C Reilly

Accomplished. Shows the intense relationship between a mother and son, over fifteen years, as one grows in hate and manipulation while the other tries to manage and disarm. Tilda Swinton as Eva is outstanding. Her life unravels in seconds and the two main strands in the film, the events which lead up to her changed circumstances and how she copes with this, form the film’s narrative drive. The reveal is slow and utterly compelling from the start: from the breeze-blown curtains to Eva’s start from consciousness as she wakes from a dream. Linking images, ideas such as the thematic use of the colour red, Ramsay produces an intense, psychological thriller based on the best-selling novel by Lionel Shriver. We Need to Talk About Kevin explores the nature vs nurture debate, revealing Eva’s culpability or inheritance, set against Kevin’s disturbed tendencies. Yet there is a redemptive quality at the end, albeit small, which is both dramatically satisfying and prevents the film from being just another nihilistic, slasher-movie. The cinematography and direction capture the story's inside-out quality; and Ramsay in creating a strong, visual text, combines a moral uncertainty with a persuasive narrative, to build towards a chilling, memorable climax……

Review: Film

Wuthering Heights dir Andrea Arnold, Robbie Ryan, Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, Shannon Beer, Solomon Glave

Muddied. Feral children become poised adults with a stretched believability across the two states. Arnold has a great concept: to make the natural elements of the Yorkshire Moors, the weather, time of day as complete a visceral experience as possible. Yet glaring gaps in the narrative and continuity make Wuthering Heights an intensely annoying experience to sit through. The plot is reduced and simplified: Heathcliff is taken in by the wealthy Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. Yet most of the film centres on the younger actors whose inexperience shows little connection between the two, never mind passion. The pair inhabit little more than a pigsty, at odds with the Earnshaws’ wealthy status, roll around in the mud, climb the highest tor and ride bare-backed horses. Yet Cathy’s conversion to the Lintons’ Georgian splendour is covered in one line. The infamous tapping-branches-on-the-windowpane is there but no supernatural, destructive force which dominates and grips the novel. That said it looks wonderful, cinematographer Robbie Ryan, and the bleak aspect fits the dour emotional landscape of the film…… 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Review: Theatre

Lysistrata, Aristophanes, Actors of Dionysus, The Rose, Kingston

Rambunctious. An anti-war play with a difference….No sex please, we’re British…in an end of pier style which is fresh, funny, and when it needs to be, serious. Actors of Dionysus do a great job with a pared down company of five – though this is stretched to the point of incredulity when the male and female chorus unite. Names have been changed to Luce, Claire but the ribaldry of the men’s ardent desire and the women’s sex ban is pure Aristophanes; and in this sense this production is a glorious study in comedy. The plot is deceptively simple: the women withdraw their favours until the men renounce war and sign a peace treaty. Yet while this is done by the end of the play it is not long before Athens and Sparta spate and goad each other again……The humour is knockabout, scatological but never crass; a must for followers of the forum, Frankie Howard and those that like their humour more Beryl Cook than Oscar Wilde…… 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Review: Film

Anonymous dir Roland Emmerich, Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall, Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans

Teasing. The contention about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is well known. The front-runner, apart from our William, is the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere; and here he takes centre stage. De Vere offers playwright Ben Jonson money to claim authorship, as to do so himself would be to compromise his position. Yet in a moment’s hesitation, one William Shakespeare - jobbing actor, semi-illiterate and would-be-blackmailer – steps up to claim penmanship and the money. Set this teasing diversion against the political intrigues of the powerful Cecil family, the perennial fantasies about Elizabeth 1, our virgin, or not so virgin, queen, and you have a melting pot of multi-plot involving some of the best known English characters from the history and theatre annals of the seventeenth century, which is hugely entertaining. There will be no peace in the hen coop, however, for the film’s claims range from tame to outlandish, yet are teasingly plausible: from Robert Cecil as the model for Richard III to Elizabeth's incestuous relationship which produces the Earl of Southampton; now think about those sonnets……. Roland Emmerich’s seventeenth recreation is visceral, cut-throat; with the need to see Elizabeth at the beginning and end of her reign, neatly answered by the intriguing casting of mother and daughter, Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson……  

Review: Film

The Help dir Tate Taylor, Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Sissy Specek

Faithful. Taken from Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help, on last Summer’s reading hit list, the film is an up-lifting tale, about black maids who raised the white children of America’s south in the 1960s. Though sanitised for general consumption, the film has some cracking performances: Viola Davis as Abileen, Octavia Spencer as the mischievous pie-maker, Minnie, Jessica Chastain as gauche Celia Foote and Bryce Dallas Howard as the spiteful Hilly Holbrook. Segregation is routine and Hilly decides to impose the ‘home sanitation initiative’ – an outside toilet for ‘coloureds’ - in Jackson, Mississippi. In the background is the assassination of civil rights campaigner Medger Evers, pre Martin Luther King; with the shocking image of his son, heart-broken, on the front of Time Magazine, providing one of the few moments of real tension. Yet Abileen finds her own independent voice, as do the other helps, who aid Skeeter – white and fresh out of the University of Mississippi – to compile a book about all their experiences. Its development, and the subsequent fall-out, is the film’s meat and drink……faithful recreations of hair-dos and home-bakes add to the 60s' feel, in which conservative America's crisp, gingham is as stiff and outmoded as their dyed-in-the-wool principles....... 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Review: Theatre

Earthquakes in London, Mike Bartlett, dir Rupert Goold, Headlong, Paul Shelley, Richmond Theatre
Big.Big. Big in ideas: global warming; 6 billion people in a world that can only sustain 1 billion; a prophet/scientist who sells out; 3 disenfranchised children, 2 more if you include self-identified aspergers subject, Peter, and Freya’s unborn child; and a messiah called Emily........Big in concept: revolving stages, multiple locations, multiple realities, mega timespan 1960 to 2525, and yes, it does include Zager and Evans’ doom-laden hit......Big on theatricality: multiple/juxtaposed scenes, dance/robotics, music, and projections which are fast, fluid, as the play’s referencing constantly shifts in contemporary, edgy fashion from trendy restaurant interiors to manic street-scenes….A production of no compromises: catch it....... 

Review: Theatre

The Playboy of the Western World, dir John Crowley, Niamh Cusack, Old Vic

Traditional. It caused Yeats to get to his feet and condemn the protests which greeted this play when it first opened at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin; hard to believe now. This revival approaches the play with reverence; too much at times. It has a wonderful set, an evocative shebeen, which revolves; and you can smell the peat and taste the porter, as Pegeen Mike falls for fantasist Christy Mahon and his tall tales of killing his father, while Master Keogh, her intended, jealously looks on. A group of musicians open both halves, which is an authentic touch, as game-player Christy, spins his yarns and reaches the status of hero. It is this that sits oddly, and sinisterly, with the play. This is no harmless fun, as the duped-townsfolk turn on Christy, burning his leg, when his father unexpectedly turns up. It was this negative image that caused the initial riots: Irish people as clichés, sentimental, gullible, and more often than not, drunk. This revival is careful to distance itself from this; and all the characterisations have been carefully thought out, particularly in the groupings of the men and women. Yet Pegeen Mike and Christy too reverent. Niamh Cusack is outstanding as Widow Quinn: her widow is vibrant, sexual and quick to assess the situation where the others do not. Used to living by her wits, it is this knowing angle which saves the play from slipping into ‘irishy’, giving it a fresh, contemporary appeal…….. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Review: Film

Contagion dir Steven Soderbergh, Kate Winslet, Marion Cottiliard, Jude Law, Lawrence Fishbourne, Matt Damon

Pacey. Fear spreads. And disease from bats to pigs to humans is a step away from global contagion. The film is built up using several strands and begins with an edgy summation from the major capitals of the world as the air-borne disease affects entire blocks of the human population from Hong Kong, the States to London. The science is plausibly presented via high-tech scanners, computer programmes and lab monkeys. While the main drama involves the race for an antidote and vaccine as Mitch Emhoff, Matt Damon, cares for his teenage daughter after losing his wife and son.  Predictably across the board we see the range of human response from panic and desperation to altruism and simple acts of kindness. If there is a fault it is that director Stephen Soderburgh is spoilt for starry choice as to how to tie up successfully all the strands from his A-List cast. Some of the stories seem to be either heavily edited, the 'Stockholm' angle involving Marion Cottiliard is a case in point, or to just peter out. Yet the film's overall pace is good, as it tracks retrospectively the movements of Beth Emhoff, Gweneth Paltrow, revealing in the final frames, in 'quick time' how she contracts the disease. Contagion is Soderbergh's cinematic investigation into cause and affect, big time; part thriller, part disaster movie......enjoyable in spite of its limitation......

Review: Theatre

Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde, dir Stephen Unwin, Jane Asher, Rose, Kingston

Elegant. Framed by a black-lacquered picture frame, embossed with gold, all the sharpness of Wilde’s observations, wit and period detail is beautifully captured in this elegant production. The epigrams are delivered in a fresh, fast-paced form as new coinage and as natural as a new spring day; and the well-loved set-pieces, the bunburying, the muffin-eating, the tea-party between Gwendolen and Cicely, and the final production of the handbag itself are deliciously and lovingly executed. With a strong ensemble cast and direction, in which clarity is uppermost, the pairings between Jack and Algy, Gwendolen and Cicely, Dr Chasible and Miss Prism, with a sharply delineated Lane and Merriman as the butlers who see everything but say nothing, not even for ‘ready money’, are uniformly superb. Proceedings are presided over by Lady Bracknell which sees Jane Asher on fine, winning form. She is wiry, formidable but with a natural grace borne from the divine right to lead……....

Review: Theatre

Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde, dir Stephen Unwin, Jane Asher, Rose, Kingston

Elegant. Framed by a black-lacquered picture frame, embossed with gold, all the sharpness of Wilde’s observations, wit and period detail is beautifully captured in this elegant production. The epigrams are delivered in a fresh, fast-paced form as new coinage and as natural as a new spring day; and the well-loved set-pieces, the bunburying, the muffin-eating, the tea-party between Gwendolen and Cicely, and the final production of the handbag itself are deliciously and lovingly executed. With a strong ensemble cast and direction, in which clarity is uppermost, the pairings between Jack and Algy, Gwendolen and Cicely, Dr Chasible and Miss Prism, with a sharply delineated Lane and Merriman as the butlers who see everything but say nothing, not even for ‘ready money’, are uniformly superb. Proceedings are presided over by Lady Bracknell which sees Jan Asher on fine, winning form. She is wiry, formidable but with a natural grace borne from the divine right to lead……Hugely enjoyable......

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Review: Theatre

Saved Edward Bond, Lyric, Hammersmith, dir Sean Holmes, Morgan Watkins

Compelling. The sterile backdrop to Mary and Fred’s front room is unrelenting as it moves up and down like the slamming of steel shutters, cutting episode by episode. It’s claustrophobic, deliberately so, yet you are always aware of space. We watch the disintegration of Len and Pam, sort of girlfriend and boyfriend, as they become like Mary and Fred, Pam’s parents. Always fighting, tearing chunks out of each other, the characters are like chickens, so absorbed in pecking each other that they fail to realise that they themselves are being eaten. The play’s outer world is the gang, seen at its most devastating in the stoning of the baby, and made more horrific by the absence of sound. We are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. Bond’s vision is bleak but the message is clear if you strip away hope, decency, respect then sooner or later the group turns in on itself. The play has a ‘play for today’ feel. The accents caricatured belonging to a by-gone time. Its action truncated, episodic, so that the whole experience becomes a forensic exercise. Yet the production is compelling throughout. Written in 1965, and revived after the abolition of the Lord Chamberlain’s censure in 1967, today it seems sadly prophetic set against the recent riots and looting…. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Review: Film

Midnight in Paris dir Woody Allen, Rachel Mc Adams, Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen

Beautiful. Clever, full of romance and witty invention. Americans in Paris, some fall in love others remain on stony ground, as screenwriter, Gil, realises the shortcomings in his relationship with his fiancée, through a magical, midnight spree into Paris in the roaring twenties. Here he meets American ex-pats F Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, Hemingway, and is critiqued by Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Dali. The film is a take on nostalgia, art, existentialism and sees Allen in brilliant, dazzling form. Owen Wilson as Gil is Allen monque, complete with voice rhythms, indecision, stooped-shuffle and the characteristic throwaway, dead-pan lines that slice pastrami. It’s beautifully shot, with some sparkling recreations, including a spell in la belle epoque, the Moulin Rouge where the champagne just flows and flows…….yet while nostalgia is centre stage it has for now as the black and cream Bugati pulls up and the chimes strike midnight........

Friday, 14 October 2011

Review: Theatre

Great Expectations Neil Bartlett, Watermill Theatre, dir Paul Hart 

Larks! An encounter on the Kent Marshes changes Pip’s life and fortunes. His great expectations take him to London where he learns to be a gentleman; where he loves the cold-hearted Estella from afar;  and where he wrestles with his growing priggishness in regards to kind-hearted Joe. Great Expectations is a classic Dickens story. It has everything. It naturally translates to a theatrical setting and Neil Bartlett’s adaptation is robust. The company do well under the direction of Paul Hart, Associate Director of Propeller, with some inventive business to create internal worlds, sounds, which make this a very expressionistic re-telling of the story. The difficulty is that you admire the skill rather than engage with the action, and Pip, Edward Hancock, is too casual to really convince…..Nonetheless, a must for Dickens’ fans……. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Review: Film

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy director Tomas Alfredson, writer John le Carre, J Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbach, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong

A-cut-above. 70s’ London; tit for tat; spy for spy. Period detail is meticulously adhered to, and in tonal colour, run-down London is a lot like Moscow. There is a washed-out mood, tired, a between-states view point before the fall of the Berlin wall………So George Smiley adjusts his specs, comes out of semi-retirement, to catch a mole at the heart of a spy-ring. Potentially there are five suspects. Yet this is not a game of elimination, the film is far more subtle than that, but the clues are there from the beginning. The performances are terrific throughout, particularly Gary Oldman, with comparisons to  Sir Alec Guinness inevitable. His Smiley is tired, done-over. There are no dramatic outbursts just a slow, forward progress as he crosses and re-crosses an a-moral hinterland, and picks through the debris of a broken marriage.  The support cast are also fine, each keyed in to the film’s particular dystopian style and mood. The Christmas party complete with Lenin father Christmas mask, Russian anthem and a cameo appearance by John le Carre, is the only moment of irony, which intercuts the action. The direction is sharp and the music an eclectic mix of cool jazz……..  

Monday, 3 October 2011

Review: Film

The Debt dir John Madden, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain

Classy. 3 Mossad agents set out to capture and bring to justice the Surgeon of Birkenau. The action is set in 1966 and the present, dipping between the two periods. East Berlin in the 60s is grim, grey and sinister; the present day is sunshine, LA beaches and comfortable posterity. Yet the debt of the title is manifold: justice, guilt, history and the real casualty, truth. Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren play Rachel Singer; Sam Worthington and Ciaran Hinds play David Perretz; while Maron Csokas and Tom Wilkinson play Stefan Gold. The younger trio fair better than the old guard but then the story spins on the 60s set up and dominates the film. So that by the time we are emotionally connected in the present day the drama rushes towards its dramatic conclusion, through sleight of hand envelope shifting and the wave goodbye. Yet Jesper Christensen is chilling as Dieter Vogel. He exploits each with the precision of the surgeon’s knife. Pacey, earlier direction; skilful editing, particularly in the opening and closing sequences, with stunning music by Thomas Newman, give this 2007 remake of Assaf Bernstein’s Israeli film, a classy edge……

Friday, 23 September 2011

Review: Film

Drive Dir Wilding Refn from the novella by James Sallis, Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston

Messy. There’s little driving in this film despite its title……..Ryan Gosling, no name, rolls cars by day as a stunt driver and is a getaway driver by night in this ‘noir-heist’ movie. He says little but looks lots......Yet with little backstory it is difficult to read anything he does say or do…..We know he can drive ‘the best in the business’ and we know he’s signed up to race ‘big time’: a storyline that is left under-developed. And we know he helps the ex-con husband of Irene in a heist that goes badly wrong - then he and the film go visit the dark side……We do get to traverse the mean streets of LA but this is at the beginning before the credits; and that’s pretty much it!.....It has its gore-filled moments; some cheeky, smirking flirtation between Gosling and Mulligan; a scene with bare-breasted showgirls who don’t move a muscle as our hero attempts to hammer a nail into a guy’s head; and a white satin jacket with embroidered gold motif that becomes bloodier and bloodier which nobody comments on……If you like your movies hard-boiled, go see it. If you like your movies…...  

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Review: Theatre

The Tempest dir Trevor Nunn, design Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Andrew Jarvis

Reconciliation. This is the mood throughout. Everything stems from Ralph Fiennes’ fine Prospero as he dons his magical cloak and incants the spell which precipitates the storm. He is ready to forgive. The production feels eighteenth century: in is the masque of the three goddesses, sung in mock-baroque fashion; in is the illusory feast which so stills the ship-wrecked dukes; in is the harmonic balance between action, singing, music and staging; and in is a contrived sentimentality with flying cherubs and counter-tenor arias. The production is big with arielists, projections, while the constancy of the hour-glass downstage reminds us that there are tasks to be completed. From the innocuous log-fetching of Caliban and Ferdinand to Ariel's right to freedom and Prospero's restoration as the rightful Duke of Milan. The comic duo, Trinculo and Stephano, replete with shanties and folk songs as they tame/civilise their moon-calf, Caliban, with the celestial liquor, offer an ironic counterpoint to the vision of kingship and kingdom, as does the gentle, yet steadfast Gonzalo. To each the isle is full of strange noises that are harmonious or dissonant depending on what is in their hearts………… 

Review: Theatre

The Kitchen, Arnold Wesker, dir Bijan Sheibani, design Giles Cadle, National Theatre

Pressure-cooker. In just under three hours we sweat, rail, shed calories, sweat; cook fish, sweat, meat and two veg, sweat, prepare pastries in an inventive revival of Wesker’s play. It’s a tour de force, not to be used lightly, in movement and choreography covering a single day at the Tivoli Restaurant. The kitchen has its hierarchies amongst the chefs and waitresses, and in this respect, resembles a mini state. It has its nationalities, a global village, made more poignant when you consider its original setting, 1959, where things are still unstable after WW2, and principles are embryonic; all anyone can do is cling on…….This is the by-word for the play as the action, becoming more frenetic and surreal, reaches a glorious crescendo at the end of the first half…….All the characters have their moments but Peter, with his dream arch, is perhaps the most developed; the rest present points of view, character detail, like vignettes that serve the wild action of the morning, the lull of the afternoon, and the climactic evening shift….Everything about this production is outstanding from its concept through to its design...........…… 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Review: Film

Jane Eyre dir Cary Fukunaga, Screenplay Moira Buffini, Michael Fassbender, Mia Wasikowska, Jamie Bell

Muted…..Grief-stricken Jane runs from Thornfield and ends up at Moore House with St John Rivers and his sisters. Her subsequent convalescence allows Jane to reflect on her earlier fortunes from Gateshead and her vindictive Aunt Reed, Lowood School and the saintly Helen Burn, to Thornfield and the dangerous Mr Rochester. Structurally it works. Yet there is a curious detachment at the film's centre......Jane’s passion is buried too deep and is more head than heart. Even her imaginative drawings appear too studied and ordered. And the passion in MIchael Fassbender's Rochester and St John, the versatile Jamie Bell, is never quite given the full opportunity to really fly......There is an excellent support cast, led by Judi Dench, and the tone and palette, particularly in the costumes, settings and round of seasons in the longest section, Thornfield, emphasise a rich inner world with granite exterior............

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Review: Theatre

The Wild Bride, Kneehigh, Lyric, Hammersmith dir Emma Rice

Stunning. The word is too tame. This is the tale of a handless maiden, supping with the devil at the crossroads, a would-be husband who goes to war, and a misguided father who sells more than his old pear tree from the backyard. In a unique blend of theatre, fusing dance, poetry, music and spell-binding story-telling, The Wild Bride catapults Kneehigh from leading players to the forefront of theatrical style. Conventions are re-written every time yet their roots are in strong musicality, physicalisation, comedia, and theatre. The company is made up of six, multi-talented performers who make each element seem effortless. Everything serves the story. Yet over time we have seen them dance, act, play one, two or three different musical instruments, and sing in a number of styles from blues to Bulgarian folksong. Their stamina and commitment is faultless and breath-taking to experience. And this is what this is: a shared experience. Aided by an evocative light and sound design which underscores the progress from innocence, wildness to understanding, this is a thrilling, redemptive, theatrical journey…….Stop everything and go see it….

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Review: Film

Win Win dir Thomas McCarthy, Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young

Feel-good. Witty, dry script with sharply-drawn characters, though it runs out of steam towards the end. Mike Flaherty struggles: his law practice is not doing well, his heating and plumbing system are in need of desperate attention, and he coaches a failing wrestling team. He jogs to reduce stress and needs, in a mid-life-kind-of-way, purpose and direction. His family watch from the side-lines. Mike becomes the legal guardian to elderly Leo, who is in the early stages of dementia, and places him in a care home, collecting a guardianship cheque every month to supplement the family’s reduced income. Kyle, Leo’s grandson, turns up and is a would-be champion wrestler. Yes, you can see it coming……And Mike?.....Well Mike finds his life turned upside down as he tries to balance principles with practicalities……Excellent ensemble cast as wise youth triumphs over fickle middle age, in an off-beat comedy which is a cut above the rest….. 

Review: Theatre

Disco Pigs, Young Vic, Enda Walsh, dir Cathal Cleary, Charlie Murphy Rory Fleck-Byrne, design Chloe Lamford

Rollercoaster. Neither you or they stop: this is the punch of the play. Walsh’s highly-coloured language is Joycean at times, a stream of consciousness, rich in imagery and elaborate syntax. It unites the two characters, Pig and Runt, and deliberately excludes everyone else. The play’s world is seen through their eyes and boasts a host of characters, neatly shown through mannequins or impersonation. At one time Pig says this is ‘his kingdom.’ Pig and Runt, Darren and Sinead, are soul mates born in the same hospital, in ‘Pork City’, Cork, Ireland, just seconds apart. They grow up and are inseparable and have an almost telepathic relationship. As partners in crime they have a voracious appetite for recklessness, destruction and violence, fuelled by drink and an overriding sense of their own invincibility, displayed in the frenetic movement and dance, almost Bacchic-like, at the disco. Up until their seventeenth birthday, it’s always been Pig and Runt, Runt and Pig until the urge to express/claim themselves sexually leads to a devastating end……clever, highly theatrical and right between the eyeballs…… 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Review: Theatre

The Faith Machine, Alexi Kaye Campbell, dir Jamie Lloyd, Hayley Atwell, Ian McDiarmid, Jude Akuwudike, Ken Stoller

Big. Big ideas, big themes, big execution. Personal faith in a secular world twisted by politics, capitalism and out-moded ideology; the backdrop is the church schism over homosexuality, 9/11, Afghanistan and human laboratories for drugs testing. The Faith Machine set over three acts switches from 2001, 1998, 2006, 2001, 2010 and 2011. Yet structurally Campbell knows exactly what he’s doing. He leaves nothing to chance as lines, ideas recur right the way through to the end. Sophie gives Tom an ultimatum and his choice impacts on them both. Sophie’s father Edward, a bishop, is quitting the church. Edward’s dilemma is played out in an agonising, yet touching portrayal, of mortal decay by Ian McDiarmid. Yet there is a practical realism which runs through this play, which off-sets the polemics and diffused energy of some of the characters, which is refreshing; keeping faith, for all of us, is attainable. And there is plenty of light and shade with a winningly off-beat performance by Bronagh Gallagher as Edward’s housekeeper. The Faith Machine is bold, daring, in its concept and design......

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Review: Theatre

Orpheus and Eurydice, National Youth Theatre, dir James Dacre, The Old Vic Tunnels

Classy. Classic tale of love as Orpheus descends to the underworld to rescue Eurydice, with a few modern reversals: a laser eye which architecturally frames the action throughout, scanners, a river which serves for forgetfulness, a crossroads and the famed Styx complete with Charon and his boat. It’s a tale told backwards with a neat promenade at the beginning, which gives nothing away until it’s needed. Stunning ensemble work, singing and live music delivered with conviction, energy and verve; with a chorus of liars, hate dwellers, sorrow dwellers and the Oracles’ Choir. The staging, lighting and sound is superb. While Molly Davies creates dialogue with a ‘language which is intimate yet epic and lives up to the scale of these tunnels.’ And the setting is fabulous. With the constant rumble of the trains from Waterloo an evocative backdrop, while the curved arches and steel grille provide a vision of hell that is real and palpable, and stays in the mind long after the production has finished……Orpheus and Eurydice is the total theatre package…….   

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Review: Film

One Day, Putney Odeon, dir Lone Sherfig, Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Rafe Spall, Romola Garai, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Screenplay David Nicholls

Diverting. Dex and Em share one day, 15th July, St Swithin’s Day, after graduation. In essence she is from Yorkshire and is working class; he has been educated at Winchester, and is straight out of the top drawer. Neither the book nor film is a class/political statement but it is there quietly in the background as we see their development over a 20 year period; though the film reflects its contemporary date, ending in 2011. It’s a slow-burn as we witness their ups and downs, and its Emma who seems to fair the worst, initially, in a round of waitressing while Dex’s silver spoon sees him on the rise to ultimate TV fame. Yet we get to Dex’s burnout all too quickly. Much of the humour in the book is flattened out in the film; it appears too self-conscious. Though there is a chemistry between Hathaway and Sturgess. The supporting cast are good too, Rafe Spall as Ian and Romola Garai as Sylvie; and the lush music by Rachel Portman supports a dreamy, romantic-looking Edinburgh..…..

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Review: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Swimming With My Mother, CoisCeim Dance, dir David Bolger, Projection Artist Jym Daly, Dancebase
Exquisite. The joy of swimming; the joy of dancing wrapped in a narrative that is as restorative as good malt. A simple voiceover connects us to Madge, the mother, and her life on the strand and the dance hall; and latterly David, her son, with shared memories of swimming, dancing and a whole lot more. This is a beautiful homage to life and the unique bond between mother and son, told so eloquently through movement. David Bolger as performer/choreographer is supple and imaginative in his movement and storytelling; Madge Bolger in inspiration and stillness is his muse. Simple staging: a bench, a towel and a whistle with imaginative projections of the moon, and digital splashes which are playful, yet creative, make the piece intimate yet expansive…..unique…...

Rock The Ballet, dir Rasta Thomas, Assembly Hall, The Mound
Rocket….Seven males and one girl: macho, proud as beautiful bodies abound. Queen, Michael Jackson, Prince, Black-Eyed Peas, Lenny Kravitz are all featured, with the all-American Girl in a celebration of high octane, creative sculptural movement Americana-Style. Ballet is made accessible to all: the choreography is sharp, witty and inventive with breath-taking balances. Extensions show superhuman pliability, and athleticism proliferates in this eclectic feast of ballet, hip-hop, tap and much, much, more. With energetic projections of cityscapes, psychedelia, rock show lighting and special effects, this is the nearest thing to rock heaven…..….

Sunday in the Park With George, Sondheim/Lapine, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, dir Phillip Howard, C Venue
B+.’ Art, love, obsession, commitment. Sondheim’s landmark musical, inspired by the creation of one of the world’s greatest impressionist paintings’……George Seurat never had it so good: witty clever lyrics, music - matchstick men eat your hearts out - as characters come to life under his painterly orchestration. Foremost is Dot, a clever reference to Pointillism, from his painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. Staging is inventive given the limitations of the space; and the singing impressive, particularly Sarah Gibbons as Dot and Robert Dalton as George Seurat…..

Homemade Fusion, Music Kooman and Dimond, dir Frankie Wakefield, C Soco
Progressive. Time to let the songs just flow from one to the other: angst, love, falling out, cubicle-love, harmonies, boy with girl, girl, boy, stalkers, star-crossed love, love’s peccadillos; all are given a look in. More review format than a musical, Homemade Fusion, with a strong company of six - three boys, three girls - work creatively as a unit and play the confines of the space well. Simple staging: a bookcase, bric a brac, boxes for levels; with clever lyrics, musical off-beats, counterpoint and harmonies……entertaining……

What Remains, Gridiron, Traverse Production, University of Edinburgh School of Anatomy
Experiential. Gothic horror, hammer films, murder and a quest for perfection; more site-specific interactive art installation than theatre. Intimate spaces are needed to create a true claustrophobic feel but What Remains did achieve a kind of scientific detachment which suited the location well. We become objective participants rather than ‘candidates’ for the project. David Paul Jones is the sole performer and is a talented pianist and composer. And Gilbert Prendergast’s quest? Well this could be music, mastery of the piano or performance itself. There are some interesting yet startling exhibits: the bowl of sweets with shards of glass; the spyhole into his bedroom as a child, the cryptic message on the white board dear friend if you are reading this now I am already dead…..the decaying food in bowls outside a cordoned off crime scene area, and the gallery of answers from previous ‘candidates’ as to the answer to the question: What Remains…..

I Infinite, Tom Dale Company, Choreography Tom Dale, Dancer Maria Olga Palliani, Digital Media Artist Barret Hodgson, Dance Base
Sublime. ‘I Infinite is inspired by the world of digital technology and its efforts to perfect itself as it constantly tries to re-create or reproduce nature.’…..Conceptual piece where a dancer is seen in isolation, and yet in relation to, light, sound and projection. At one point it looked as if the dancer dictated terms, at other times the projection or the light. The audience, clothed in sterile blue gowns, moved around so they too provided a different movement-scape, adding to the intensity and experience. The dancing and movement was rich: fluid limbs, sometimes robotic, sometimes hip-hop but all within a contemporary dance frame of counter-balance and strength….mesmerising…...

Twenty Minutes to Nine, Belt Up, dir James Wilkes, Lucy Farrett, C Soco
Maddening. Performance irritating: too much external not enough internal, caricatured laugh and accent, young playing old: creaking stick, reedy voice, see-through dress. Writing concept interesting: Miss Haversham look-alike gives context, plays with modern profanities and audience interaction; why? Good contextual moments, which when the performer is less self-conscious, are interesting such as a visit to the elephant man or the madhouse or in her many meandering digressions. Kasbah Bedouin tent appeal with dresser, sofa, soft furnishings and decanters, with one main, diagonal lighting source; audience sat on cushions, some fell asleep, unfortunately, I didn’t…..

Oedipus, Written Steven Berkoff, dir Steven Berkoff, Set Michael Vale, Lighting Mike Robertson, Pleasance Grand
Viseral. Painterly staging reminiscent of Da Vinci’s Last Supper: Oedipus is the Christ/sacrificial figure. A huge backcloth dominates, suggestive of vast open spaces, sand, rock, sea. The Chorus are stunning, in poses of the ordinary man: cloth caps, banal expressions, though sometimes this is at odds with the tragedy of the piece – the use of Zorba the Greek in the background. The split Messenger’s speech is a shade over the top in its animation; and Anita Dobson, as Jocasta, is not as comfortable with Berkoff’s pulsating rhythms as the rest of the company…Yet this is a new, bold take on the story’s light and shade, and Berkoff is on home-turf with trademark muscular text, varied tempo, slow motion and stark animated images...…..

Ducks, Michael McClean, dir Tyne Rafaeli, Pleasance Upstairs
Clever. Strong, confident playing by R and K, aka Dean Ashton and Thomas Morrison. Pinteresque in its pausing, beats and menace yet the writing is unique. McClean is an actor’s writer and has a good ear for dialogue and musicality. Staging is clever, making good use of the confined space, with two nifty crates serving as everything: bar, DJ consul, home; add some sharp lighting and sound effects to truncate or initiate scenes and Ducks is an intense, though hugely enjoyable experiment, in what happens when two people are thrown together and one begins to get the upper hand…..

Time For a Good Looking Boy, Box Clever, Writer Michael Wicherek, dir Iqbal Khan, Set Rhys Jarman, Lloyd Thomas, Pleasance Jack
Tour-de-force. Intensely moving. Very tight script and performance; creative set consisting of two cut-outs of a house and a smaller wooden model suspended stage right….….Clever use of rap lyrics, pulsating, pumping, rhythm, featuring ‘the boy’ and his story. Billed as an urban ghost story the play shows the consequences of a night out after the end of exams….Excellent commitment to the piece, the playing area and the production by all the creative team. And as part of the Oval House encouragement to new writing and new talent, Time For a Good Looking Boy features a stunning performance, full of attack, muscularity and vim by Lloyd Thomas that will be hard to better……

Those Magnificent Men, , New Perspectives Theatre, Wrtten by Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon, dir Daniel Buckroyd with C P Hallam and Richard Earl, Pleasance Cowbarn
Chocks-away! A clever two-hander: the story of Alcock and Brown and the first transatlantic flight from St Johns, Canada, to Galway, Ireland is a comic treat. The two actors create everything; they are the characters, they are the actors, they play a variety of parts……and they build a plane. It has the charm and camaraderie of a boys’ own derring do comic, that you forget sometimes just how risky and dangerous this first transatlantic attempt, post first world war, actually was. A couple of crates and flying-clad balaclavas finish the illusion and you are there with the Vimy Vickers, flying with it, willing it, across the line…..joyous…..

Ten Plagues, Marc Almond, Mark Ravenhill, Conor Mitchell, Stewart Laing, Traverse
Experimental. Music-Theatre collaboration with Marc Almond in a song cycle about plague-ridden seventeenth century London, based on eye witness accounts ‘and drawing poetic parallels to modern epidemics.’ The piece didn’t quite hit high C but was oddly compelling in parts, through its use of projections and aspects of Almond’s performance. The setting was a frame within a frame; and music stands were suggestive of people and the London streets. Pianist and performer were linked through similar black costumes, part punk, part seventeenth century, with the piano providing a central focus. The A-tonal music does need adjusting to, though clever lyrics, take the audience on one man’s journey from springtime and the plague’s beginning to survival. Yet Ten Plagues does leave you strangely detached……. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Review: Film

The Rise of Planet of the Apes, Odeon Putney dir Rupert Wyatt, Andrew Serkis, Frieda Pinto, James Franco

Impressive. Great special effects. An experiment to cure Alzheimer’s, amongst other things, leads to the creation of a super-race of apes. A battle for supremacy is slugged out on the San Francisco bridge, beyond which lies the Redwood forest. The film is about good intentions but altruism when not considered objectively, scientifically, can lead to devastating consequences. The Rise of Planet of the Apes is a formula film but it’s very good of its kind, largely due to a talented creative team that was behind Avatar and Lord of the rings, snappy, stylish direction by Rupert Wyatt, with a winning performance by Andrew Serkis as Ceasar. The film is also about intelligence, what it means to be civilised, and who has the right to decide what these things are. In the jungle it is physical supremacy that rules. In captivity subjugation is by other external means, the gun, the syringe, the compound. Great moments of light and shade: the gesture of a stroked palm, in seeking permission, by Ceasar is juxtaposed with the humans’ focus, I’m just interested in making money…..good story-making…..  

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Review: Film

Captain America, Putney Odeon, dir Joe Johnston, Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell

A-Team. Unfit for military service, sickly, puny Steve Rogers, volunteers for a top secret research project. After administering blue serum he is turned into Captain America: a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals. An intentionally patriotic creation, often depicted fighting the Axis powers of World Wall II, Captain America was Timely Comics’ most popular character during the wartime period. Today it’s not hard to see its contemporary appeal as America recession, terrorism and a crisis of confidence.  Great build up, set sequences, parody of the Technicolor glamour of the 40s. In jingoistic fashion he tours the country to bolster national pride, whilst yearning to try out his muscle-power. Complete with patriotic shield and indestructible combats he champions the world, and heralds next summer’s blockbuster, as the first avenger…..

Monday, 18 July 2011

Review: Theatre

The Beggar’s Opera, Regent’s Park Theatre dir Lucy Bailey, design William Dudley

A-Treat. Gay and Rich put on the first musical satire in 1728 with The Beggar’s Opera or a Newgate Pastoral. It filters through to us via the likes of Olivier and Roger Daltry and sits as one of the wittiest and cleverest theatrical treats of all time. Written as a criticism against the collapse of the South Sea Bubble, think current financial crash, it’s not just the gargantuan personalities of Peachum and Mrs P and Lockit, the love rivalry of Polly and Lucy, the cuckoldry by Macheath, the ribaldry, camaraderie of the male and female gangs that delight, it’s the complexity and simplicity, fixed like Brighton Rock, of English heritage and folklore itself. The artist William Hogarth was drawn to this opera, himself a fine satirist, with its multiple stories, backdrops both private and public. Director Lucy Bailey has drawn inspiration from him and used his work as a pictorial cue throughout. The music, a mix of operatic recitative, folk songs, ballads, a kick-back at some of the conventions of the time, is evoked on eighteenth century instruments and the singing is strong. The setting of Regent’s Park made for a real pastoral evocation, so that even the predictable deluge could dent neither the spirit nor energy of this timely revival…….

Review: Theatre

The Uncommercial Traveller, Punchdrunk, Pearson Street, Hackney

Too-short. Promises a good deal but leaves you wanting more. A brief snapshot of Dickens' nineteenth century London, inspired by his walks around London. Brilliant evocations, feeling more like an art installation than theatre, I became mixed up with a baby farm. I was led from tavern down dilapidated steps into a tiny cubicle with cot, a bank of bottles and a small camp-sized bed. The dilemma as to whether to administer ‘a compound’ to the baby or not became the nub of the drama; other stories were acted out elsewhere……Working on brief character sketches, the cast of 4 improvised around the themes of transportation and death, reliant on a biddable, credible crowd to help flesh things out. There is a downloadable walk-scape made up of monologues which is separate to the theatre experience which I haven't done. So maybe this is the difference. For you get into the style of theatre, and just as your eyes become accustomed to the dark, it’s all over. One salient punter put it thus: ‘it’s like a neat shot of gin, short, sharp and to the point’….Hmm, I can’t help but feel the feel of wool…..