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 clich├ęs, 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……..