Friday, 24 June 2011

Review: Theatre

The School for Scandal, Barbican, dir Deborah Warner, design Jeremy Herbert

Sparkling. For brilliant wit and repartee you can’t beat a good restoration comedy and they don’t come much more sparkling than The School for Scandal. Delicious names: Joseph and Charles Surface, Lady Sneerwell, Candour, Backbite and Mr Snake, say it all. The play is perfect for our celeb-orientated, obsessive lives driven by gossip, glossy magazines and the minutiae of people’s lives. The production plays to our sound-bite, urban-driven age with projected lines from the play; with contrasted costumes, props, in the most perfect anachronistic clash of contemporary and eighteenth century. Sir Oliver Surface tests his two nephews, Charles and Joseph, as to virtue and truth; Sir Peter Teazle, Alan Howard, argues with his wife, while she craves greater independence; and surrounding them all are the gossips who tear and pull down any shred of decency. Great performances, particularly Leo Bill as Charles, John Shrapnel as Sir Oliver, Alan Howard as Sir Peter Teazle, Katherine Parkinson’s Lady Teazle; provocative design, Jeremy Herbert, and faithful direction to Sheridan’s classic, Deborah Warner, make this a breath of fresh air. Scintillating….

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Review: Theatre

Chicken Soup and Barley, Royal Court dir Dominic Cooke, design by Ultz

Outstanding. Chicken Soup and Barley must have struck more than just a political chord when it was first produced in 1958: this is drama at its best, a chronicle of the times, yet biblical in its scope. So viewing it now, some sixty years later, its pathos and personal aspirations seem more poignant. The play spans the thirties, the forties and ends in disillusionment in the 1950s, as the socialist ideal refracted against Mosely’s Blackshirts, the second World War and the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956, fades and disintegrates. It shows the universal through the domestic world of the Kahn family, held together by its matriarch, Sarah. The physical disintegration of Harry, her feckless husband, is ultimately mirrored in the weakened, position of Ronnie, their son; he even sits in his father’s chair at the end. Wonderful performances particularly from Samantha Spiro as Sarah and Danny Webb as Harry; and the sets by Ultz are ingenious in their use of space, suggestions of ‘other places’ and in their period detail.  

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Review: Musical

Wicked Apollo Victoria, Schwartz with Rachel Tucker Louise Dearman

Wicked. Love interest, quest, brooms and only one munchkin. A particularly British appeal in raising the underdog, Elphaba, the witch of the west from The Wizard of Oz. Story begins and ends in the ‘real Oz’, with witty references to Dorothy, the tin-man, and the scarecrow; who in the end gets his gal..Songs are strong, memorable: Defying Gravity already has legendary status as does For Good. Staging is a real treat, cogs, time, an emerald city and spectacular levels, climaxed by, a flying Ephaba to close the first half. Tight, compact, choreography which suits the focus of the story, which sees Glinda, the good witch of the north and Elphaba as college roomates, until Elphaba’s special gifts at witchery brings her to the notice of the Wizard of Oz…….Great fun! 

Review: Theatre

Rocket to the Moon by Clifford Odetts, National Theatre, Keeley Hawes, Joseph Millson, Jessica Raine, Nicolas Woodeson

Complete. Character-driven drama which is refreshing and accessible: the unlikely setting of a dentist’s waiting room provides the backdrop for ambition, dreams of love, commitment and mutual respect. The set is stunning with high windows which let in a typical high-rise, New York backdrop signalling time of day and the weather; with a kind of no-mans land in black and white check which forms an echoey corridor to the outside world and other rooms, of other dreams. It is summer, sultry and hot; a threshold before the waning autumn where decisions are made. There is a good deal of contrast in this play: man, woman; youth, age; aspiration, reality. The script is tight and the performances first-rate……

Monday, 6 June 2011

Review: Film

Senna  Curzon Chelsea, dir Asif Kapadia, Cast: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, Viviane Senna, Milton da Silva, Neide Senna, Jackie Stewart, Sid Watkins, Galv√£o Bueno…..

Rivetting. Even though the end is known this feels like a fresh piece of story-telling, largely because the film develops through thrilling archive footage of F1 from the late 80s and early 90s, insider-views from the cars and home videos from the Senna family. The main source for drama comes from the increasing acrimony between Senna and Alain Prost, and the real footage of crashes, collisions and cut-ups. The insider-views, particularly those in Senna’s car, are truly nail-biting as we take chicanes at speed, and more often than not, through the pouring rain. Senna used to do better in the rain, a voice-over states he had a feel for it, he could make the car bend.……The voice-overs from people who were nearest to him, including Prost, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, his mother, sister and doctor provide an intimate commentary of the man who believed he was protected by God, yet this device never intrudes into the main narrative. This is driven by the excitement of F1 itself and its not so well hidden behind-the-scenes politics......  

Review: Film

X Men: First Class, dir Matthew Vaughan with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon

X-Men:First Class charts the beginning of the X-Men saga. Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, Professor X and Magneto, are arch-enemies but once they were close friends and worked together. X Men is another film from the Marvel stable, the world can't move at the moment for super-heroes. X-Men: First Class is stylish, fun and always entertaining, ‘I’m mutant and I’m proud’........Wolverine, Jason Fleming, makes a one-line appearance, speaking volumes, while James McAvoy as Charles, treads a fine line between camp-real and reality, as he tunes-in to others’ thoughts. Similarly, Lensherr’s helmet, Michael Fassbender, bears more than a pasing resemblance to that other piece of famous metallic headgear, worn by the ultimate dark lord, Darth Vader. The action is pacey, strong; the style is 60s cool in tone and design, and all makes for a thoroughly good romp…..