Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Morning by Simon Stephens, Lyric Hammersmith, dir Sean Holmes

B….. Work-shopped by the Lyric Young Peoples’ Company, Morning recalls Eclipse and DNA, written by Simon Armitage and Dennis Kelly. All three deal with adolescence on the dark side. In Morning soul-mates separate as one is about to go to university, while the other vows to make them stay with horrific consequences. The dangerous atmosphere is unrelenting, picked out by harsh lighting; isolated ‘bits of set’ such as fridge, a fish tank, in which paper-boats float and burn; and in a nod to Filter Company, an on-stage SX technician, who makes dissonant sound. The actors do seem to play younger than their scripted personas (Stephanie and Cat are seventeen); a little too gauche and knock-kneed. And for the most part play ‘face-on.’ This raw, authentic stance suits the story and production style. Yet the 'Youth Experience’ is not all about attitude….There is also a terrifying poetry, which Armitage offers; and taut action explored by Dennis Kelly. Morning, in comparison, still feels in places like a script in development…… 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Theatre: The Last of the Hausmanns

The Last of the Hausmanns by Stephen Beresford, Julie Walters, Rory Kinnear, Helen McCrory

Atomic. A deceptively comic play about disintegration. The Hausmanns' dynasty and family-stock are re-aligned. Judy Hausmann is the last of the bohemians – free-thinking, free-loving and free-boozing – she accepts her fate; think Chekov’s Raneveskaya. Judy’s neurotic daughter, Libby, tries to keep things together, while her son, Nicky, unfulfilled in life and love escapes as crises surface. Surrounded by sundry characters - Summer, Libby’s abrasive yet drive-in-the-wedge daughter, Peter ‘the good doctor’ who buys into Judy’s free-wheeling spirit, and speedo-clad Daniel, who has free access to the family’s outdoor swimming pool – the seasonal summer swelters. Judy Hausmann is a natural vehicle for Julie Walters - snappy one-liners, good character and observational detail - but it would be wrong to dismiss it as derivative. Walters is feisty and her timing perfect. Helen McCrory and Rory Kinnear as the siblings, crackle. While the other characters puncture this Devon idyll, with its ingenious clutter, colour and hippy sound track, in a random bid towards progress. If there is a message then it's 'be yourself.'….The Cherry Orchard it isn’t, but this is an impressive debut by Beresford. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Theatre: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, National Theatre, dir Marianne Elliott, Adapted by Simon Stephens, Bunny Christie, Luke Treadaway, Niamh Cusack, Paul Ritter, Nicola Walker, Una Stubbs

Awesome. Mrs Sear’s dog, Wellington, is killed by a garden fork in front of her house. Christopher obsessed with numbers, astronomy and the colour yellow decides to investigate. He unravels more than he can handle, discovers he doesn't like Batternberg Cake, while his journey takes him to London. He takes the train, negotiates the underground and ends up in Chapel Gardens, NW. Hugely impressive, Marianne Elliott's production stays faithful to Christopher’s perspective throughout: with ingenious design, choreography and lighting; and moments of real sensitivity. Playwright, Simon Stephens uses a clever narrative device: Siobhan, Christopher's teacher narrates his story and later turns it into a play. This allows for doublings, re-casting – watch the policemen - and detachment. Christopher’s attention to detail, his repetitions, patternings are all re-enacted by a committed, well-drilled, ensemble cast playing an assortment of characters. Lovely to see Una Stubbs.......While Mark Haddon’s iconic script is brought vividly to life making it a talking point all over again. Luke Treadaway as Christopher, is extraordinary, while Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker excel as his parents. And the dog? Well the dog…….a clever reality check, but you’ll have to go and discover that for yourself…… 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Theatre: London Road

London Road, National Theatre, Alecky Blythe, dir Rufus Norris, music Adam Cork, design Katrina Lindsay

New-mint. London Road is different. A musical in a spoken verbatim style, similar to recitative, which Alecky Blythe carefully crafts to commercial success. Real lives/voices are recorded with every hmm….pause, repetition and non sequitor; ‘Begonias, Petunias, Impatiens and things’……The music, by Adam Cork, feels forensic: reminiscent of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. Yet its dissonance and counterpoint perfectly suit the unconventional, production style. It's a year in the life of the London Road residents, Suffolk, as they reclaim their neighbourhood, enter Ipswich in Bloom and organise themselves into a successful neighbourhood association after the arrest of Stephen Wright, serial killer of 5 sex workers, who lives next door at No 79. There are no big numbers, no stars, yet London Road is compelling throughout. It shows sugar and starch, old and young, selfishness and atruism. Direction and pace are tight and the ensemble acting uniformly good, with ingenious, versatile design by Katrina Lindsay……Blooming marvellous - see it before it fades!......

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises, dir Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy

Epic. It’s big and bold, with back-stories and narrative twists to keep you on the edge of your seat. Batman/Bruce Wayne are in reclusive mode, each battles with demons, made manifest through a physical debility – we first see Bruce Wayne with a stick – later he is straightened out as a stray vertebrae is clicked back into place. There is a countdown of sorts, as once on board, they work against a ticking bomb, which will blow not only Gotham City out of the water but the world as well. It is an apocalyptic vision in which Christopher Nolan produces all the metallic, heavy hardware he and the CGI and props guys can muster; and to great effect. With costume by Lindy Hemming, who worked on five Bond movies, there is a sense that the film is not just the conclusion to the trilogy but a homage to all screen heroes who live to rid the world of evil; there’s even a nod to Angels With Dirty Faces. Estranged from Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Fox Wayne’s world is a lonely one. The spin here is that Wayne as much as Batman is on trial. Anne Hathaway is superb as Cat Women with a wonderful line in put-downs, leather outfits and killer stilettoes. And this under-cut, tongue-in-cheek saves the film from being too reverent with itself. While Tom Hardy as the evil Bane, who plots to subvert Gotham underground, is all beef, sinister mask, brute force with brute mentality….. Everyone is at the top of their game….. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Dark Shadows, dir Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Moretz

Blood-curdling!.....Take it on the rise: vampires, curses, the Adams family, hallucinogenic 70s, with sharp, cliff-face promontories….The film doesn’t take itself seriously and invites you not to do the same…..Homage to the B movie horrors with buckets, buckets and buckets of blood, reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins is released after two centuries from a chained coffin. He meets his descendants in the run-down family pile  and sets about restoring the family business – canned fish – to its former glory…..Running through his veins is the curse of the she-devil…...Everybody camps up in this movie. It is shot and conceived in excess, so you either go with it or you don’t….Wicked performances by Burton veterans Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, while popular newcomer, Chloe Moretz, is a convincing teenage uber-slayer, transformed into a werewolf……Dark Shadows is a diversion, with cameo moments by Alice Cooper, lava lamps, which underscore Burton’s affectionate, nostalgic  retro-70s, neon look……

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Review: Film

Albert Nobbs dir Rodrigo Garcia, Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Brendan Gleeson, Pauline Collins

Slow-burn……In years to come, Albert Nobbs will be judged a little masterpiece. Now it is too close (no pun intended). Close’s beloved project, fifteen years in the making, has given us a great cinema moment: two women, dressed as women who’ve spent their lives living as men, walking free for the first time along the strand, yet with all the awkwardness of the unfamiliar as they trip and clod-heel in dresses…..Marvellous……Allbert Nobbs has worked his way as a waiter in a shabby-genteel Dublin hotel, Morrisons, in the late 19th century. He carries with him a picture of his mother, an account book, and hides under the floorboards his accumulating savings; yet he is really a she. When Mr Herbert Page, painter and decorator, comes to work at the hotel and is billeted with Nobbs, Page is revealed as a woman also. Yet a typhoid epidemic strikes the city and threatens to unravel both their lives….There are touching and poignant scenes between the two, and devoid of any sexual overtones these are all the more moving for the characters’ individual, yet shared experience….The film, taken from George Moore’s novella, shows an intriguing array of Dublin-rich characters both upstairs and downstairs – the wastrel doctor, Brendan Gleeson, and the lady concierge, Pauline Collins - a precursor to James Joyce. Yet it is the two central performances by Close and McTeer which are memorable…..….. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Review: Film

Salmon Fishing in Yemen dir Lasse Hallstrom, Sceenplay Simon Beaufoy with Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked and Kristin Scott Thomas

Fun. A fisheries' expert is brought in to realise a Sheik’s vision to bring fly-fishing to the Yemini dessert. Plenty of fun, fish and faith…described as a Bill Nighy comedy without BN – filming commitments in India - its whimsy is beguiling. Good pace…Stunning Scottish backdrops contrast to the exotic Middle East. Characters lose everything and gain much as they dare to swim against the tide…..Performances are finely balanced, though Kirstin Scott Thomas steals it in presence and hutzpah, as press secretary to No 10 in search of a good British/Arab news story. Yet Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt work comfortably within the film's style, while Amr Waked brings a finely tuned dignity and wisdom.....  A restorative experience, more than a diversion, despite the mawkish love plots with direction and edits reminiscent of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther series - with split screens, the interplay between emails/widgets and the throwaway line……..Stylish

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Review: Theatre

Spamalot, Bonnie Langford, Todd Carty, Steven Pacey, Eric Idle, dir Christopher Luscombe, Richmond Theatre

Spam, spam, spam, spam….Yet the real deal…The Python's music and best-loved sketches are there: the black death, the Knights of Ni, brave Sir Robin, Sir Belvedere as Arthur and the boys go in search of the holy grail, led by the Lady-Diva of the lake. Bonnie Langford as the watery goil is fabulous. She is the all-singing, all-dancing original and has ‘special’ written through her like Brighton Rock…….The production is silly, fun and very, very British with a penchant for dressing up. Even God as Eric Idle makes an appearance via a touch screen! Such is the Python's following……….There are ridiculous songs - the fish-slapping, Finnish song; and outrageous, glorious dance numbers, with singing nuns and bible-head-hitting monks. The whole thing is a hoot. And its audience: a respectable mix of old, new and very new…..Spamalot goes as billed: ‘lovingly ripped off’….from the grail, Brian but you might want to add panto, end-of-pier and sea-side postcards as well...So for those looking for a bit of nostalgia or cult enjoyment, it works. It's a balance that Chrisopher Luscombe understands.…..There’s even a nod to Morecombe and Wise….oh, and that song: something about bright, look, right, side, life.... 

Monday, 19 March 2012

Review: Film

The Best, Exotic Marigold Hotel, Ol Parker screenplay from Deborah Moggach’s novel dir John Madden, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel

Pension-planner. Everyone is at the top of their game. Whilst the evocation of the colour, smells and vibrancy of India will do more than any tourist industry brochure could. Seven people have to adjust: to life, to death, to ruin, to loneliness and new possibilities. Some make the leap of faith to discover a new vigour and determination, while others turn their backs and run into a cultural cul-de-sac. The best exotic marigold hotel is itself the most colourful metaphor with its age-old splendour, now pealing and faded, yet waiting for the right combination of dreams and determination to kick start it into a better future. The ensemble cast are superb: one-liners and pay off lines abound, with some wonderful anticing, particularly Ronald Pickup, as a serial roue; exquisite sensitivity between Bill Nighy and Judi Dench – the sight of him in a near ‘high-five’ and the pair bombing around on a motorbike is worth the price of a ticket alone - and contrasting mis-fits, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, who never compromise truth with popularity…Old age in its golden sunset, as expressed here, is an opportunity for renewal…… 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Review: Theatre

The Recruiting Officer by George Farquahar, dir Josie Rourke, Rachel Stirling, Mark Gatiss, Nicolas Burns, Tobias Menzies, Donmar Warehouse

Delightful. Like slipping into a warm bath: everything is pitch perfect. Novel, yet poignant take on Over the Hills and Faraway - manipulated by John Gay in The Beggar’s Opera, which is the same vintage. Britches part; mistaken intentions; thwarted love and intentions as Kite, the recruiting sergeant on behalf of Captain Plume dragoons, cajoles and hood-winks innocents for the army. The womanising Captain Plume is in love with Silvia yet considers her above him. Melinda her cousin, ‘has airs,’ and is in love with Mr Worthy, Plume’s friend. Enter the post-restoration fop, Captain Brazen, who is connected and known to everyone, according to him - even the Conundrums of Shropshire – who seeks Melinda’s hand and you have a heady brew of fun, romp, wit and music that fizzles with energy……Yet Josie Rourke’s poignant twist as the soldiers do indeed go over the hills and far away, that as an after-image, remains long after the play has finished…..And for anyone familiar with Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker, The Recruiting Officer offers a poignant reminder of those real castaways in 1789, who staged this play on the shoreline of what is now Sydney….A case of art mirroring life, mirroring art, mirroring life made all the richer for it….. 

Review: Theatre

Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker, dir Alastair Whatley, Emilly Bowker, Emma Gregory, Aiden Gillett, Chris Harper, The Rose Theatre, Kingston

Heavy-going. The play still sparkles and is as fresh now as it was when written in the 1980s. Yet this production is laboured and there are beats and nuances missing as it drives to its conclusion, particularly in the handling of the erratic Harry Brewer and his jealous preoccupation with his ‘she-lag’ Duckling Smith. Part of the problem is the entrances and exits and the width of The Rose stage; the episodic scenes need more defined, intimately-marked space to show the hugger-mugger existence of the convicts and officers; in this new outpost all are prisoners. Yet the central scene amongst the officers discussing the merits of theatre is still strong, as is the derisory note of a Sydney opera house; this is still deliciously sweet. Our Country’s Good uses a play within a play device, made all the more poignant as the events and most of the characters are historically accurate. The first convicts to arrive in Australia celebrate the King’s Birthday - George III, in 1789 - by putting on a play, The Recruiting Officer by George Farquahar. The play shows, particularly in the development of the character of Liz Morden - due to be hanged - just how important respect, freely given, is to the most low in spirits and circumstance, and how this can restore dignity and hope…… 

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Review: Dance

Balletboyz The Talent, William Trevitt, Michael Nunn, A New Generation

Fabulous. 3 pieces promoting high octane, high testosterone levels of animal physicality with nine guys at the top of their game….The baton has passed to a new generation: a clever ploy on behalf of original ballet boys, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, as the company, now ten years old, repackages itself for a new audience. First up Torsion, the twisting of an object due to an applied torque, with choreography by Russell Maliphant, is striking, fast, classy and with movement that just erupts from the minimal square of light, from which set pieces build into explosions of strength, stamina and athleticism. The romantic Alpha, with choreography by Paul Roberts and music by Keaton Henson, is a fest of colour and movement as costumes, suggestive of the eighteenth century, depict sailors marooned or shipwrecked on dry, bleached sandy beaches. There is an elegance to this piece, in contrast to the visceral quality of the first, as dancers are lifted, in counterpoint, high into the air. Finally Void: edgy, fast, with a black and white film backdrop as a group of disenfranchised hoodies circle and strut in a collision of movement and balance, which is breath-taking. With fresh choreography by Jarek Cemerek, film by Andrew Ellis and music score by Ondrej Dedecek, Yoav and Ismael de Garay this is a stunning closure to the evening…..Balletboyz are on tour now; catch them as they come round….if you can.....  

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Review: Film

The Iron Lady by Abi Morgan, dir Phyllida Lloyd, Meryl Streep, Olivia Colman, Jim Broadbent

Imbalanced. A staggering, meticulous performance by Meryl Streep as the iron lady, ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. If the film had remained as an account of grief and dementia, which is its humanity, it perhaps would have earned more plaudits. As it is those at Westminster seem to have distanced themselves from it, and indeed part of an awkwardness is the juxtaposition of real footage, such as the 1980s’ miners’ strike and the sinking of The Belgrano, with its fictionalised, familial account. The difficulty is that we don’t know how to ‘read’ these as they are remembered by the ‘present’ Margaret. They come to us in an unexpurgated form, so that the mis-match of film format, after a while, becomes irritating. This is a shame for its human story is touching. Ably supporting Streep are Olivia Colman as Carol Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as Dennis; and Abi Morgan – who seems to have written everything at the moment – once again demonstrates, as she does in Lovesong, that she writes with real heart. The Iron Lady, complete with the off-stage, spectral presence of Mark Thatcher - always the favoured off-spring - as Carol does her best to keep ‘mummy’ going; and the inter-cut, imagined scenes involving Dennis, elevate the film from a kind of ordinariness……

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Review: Film

Shame written by Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen, dir Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

Brave. A few dead-end alleys in an otherwise compulsive movie: it’s shot beautifully, and erotically, around Manhattan, in subways, in anonymous grey offices, apartment buildings, sleazy bars and meat joints. The common currency is sex: Brandon, a successful middle executive, is an addict. No reasons are made clear for this. Though when Sissy, his drifter-sister, comes back into his life, there is sense of shared history, of which neither speaks. Sissy brings colour and a little bit of the exotic in the beginning, but her fragility is all too apparent when she hits on Brandon’s boss; and her heart-wrung singing of New York, New York shows her already half-submerged. There are two fine performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, in an endless, though compelling round, of seedy assignations and joyless sex, where the New York backdrop is grey and unforgiving. Whether British artist, Steve McQueen, is making some subtle call here, is difficult to tell, as his standpoint at best, is ambiguous…….Hard viewing, but the film is shot with a sincerity as we see Brandon spiral from porn sites, lack-lustre dinner dates, call-girls, orgies to a battle-scarred, mess of self-loathing….He still rides the subway, but whether he is tempted or cured as he catches the eye of an attractive girl in the final sequence, we never know……..   

Review: Theatre

Lovesong by Abi Morgan, Lyric, Hammersmith, dir Steven Hoggart, Scott Graham, design Merle Hensal, video design William Galloway, Adam Young, lighting Andy Purves, Edward Bennett, Leanne Rowe, Sian Phillips, Sam Cox

Spell-binding. A couple, in their early and late years, interleave experiences, in just 90 minutes. It is the story of their beginning and their end......Margaret and William, Billy and Maggie, live as a believable, seamless couple in a beautifully choreographed and finely judged production by Frantic Assembly. The use of projections, architecture, music and movement show the most simplest of stories: a lovesong. Yet it is epic in design. William at one point asks what if our lives are a series of film strips which we inhabit; in which time is not linear?....The company have captured this concept in a threnody that has left audiences standing. Abi Morgan’s script is a clever contrivance: juxtaposed ideas, themes, objects drop into the action only to recur later with an added poignancy, such as the peaches, the hammock and the boy Adam. We are being unashamedly manipulated yet the subject matter is so contemporary and the performances, so much in tune with each other, that we go along with everything. Even the flocks of starlings as they go about their business, mimicking all they hear in their upward sweep, play a fine, thematic role....And a production that can make sense of ipods,cave paintings and dentistry in the same orbit shows a deft touch.....………Exquisite 

Friday, 6 January 2012

Review: Theatre

Comedy of Errors, NT, dir Dominic Cooke, Lenny Henry, Claudie Blakely, Daniel Msamati

Muted-Tint. Classic tale of twins separated in infancy by a shipwreck……mistaken identity as Antipholus of Syracuse arrives in Ephesus to search for his lost brother…….confusion as the action of both brothers and their identical twin servants, ‘the Dromios’, spirals ever faster into chaos and absurdity. Yet the setting and other theatrical signifiers are confusing: we are in a run-down city with tenements, smart apartments and seedy red-light district. The period is difficult to read. The range of accents suggests Africa, Latin-American…..Essex. While a live band sing British pop songs in Romanian. The costumes include football shirts, 60s’ chic, hip-hop, contemporary tart, anonymous brown suits with light travelling clothes…….The appeal overall is contemporary, modern, but the disparity between these elements is too wide for it to truly cohere…..Yet Lenny Henry does a fine job as Antipholus, bringing off comic routines and moments of real pathos; similarly, Claudie Blakely - so secure in comedy – is equally dexterous when she realises she has bedded the wrong guy; and Daniel Msamati, a united Emirates Dromio, with his near-monologue on the uncertain virtues of a close admirer is great fun……..These are joyous moments but the overall dilapidation of the city with its greys and dark tones, has the effect of laughter short-lived………… 

Review: Theatre

Noises Off, Michael Frayn, dir Lindsay Posner, Celia Imrie, Janie Dee, Johnathan Coy, Amy Nuttall, Jamie Glover, Robert Glenister, Paul Ready, Aisling Loftus, Karl Johnson, des Paul McKintosh

Priceless. Just when you think comedy couldn’t be bettered after ‘One Man Two Guvnors’ along comes ‘Noises Off’ at the Old Vic. A masterly script, played at a breakneck pace, which is truly awesome, using a play-within-a-play format where genre and structure is expertly manipulated throughout. Set over three acts, ‘Noises Off’, features Act One of the sex comedy ‘Nothing On’….produced by a second rate touring theatrical company with its stock of theatricals: young juveniles, old hacks, persistent worriers and drunks. Over time, the production disintegrates, as do the relationships between the characters, as actors play characters, who play actors and characters, who play….you get the picture…. ‘Nothing On’ - replete with sardines, banging doors and country-house setting - is ripe for exploitation, reminiscent of the slap n’ tickle, seedy comedies, at the butt-end of pier. Yet Act Two, where the action switches to backstage, objectifies the highlights of Act One while the ensuring chaos of the characters’ feelings towards each other are made more ludicrous because of the backstage etiquette for silence....Celia Imrie more than matches her two predecessors, Patricia Routledge and Patricia Hodge, Robert Glenister is in perfect pitch as the frazzled director, Lloyd Dallas. Yet overall, ‘Noises Off’ is an ensemble triumph: a seasonal treat, expertly told, expertly executed…… 

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Review: Theatre

One Man Two Guvnors, Adelphi, dir Nicholas Hytner, James Corden, Jemima Rooper, Oliver Chris

Hoot. Everything you could wish for and more:  great comedic ensemble playing, stolen identities, ensuing chaos, 60s’ concept, Brighton setting and scene covering with live skiffle-band,The Curve, which has the audience standing on its feet by the end…...Francis Henshall, fired from his skiffle band, needs to keep his two new guvnors – one a gangland, androgynous twin the other a snooty toff - happy but separate. Unbeknownst to him each, in a natural twist of fate, is in love with the other. Throw in a scene-stealing, masterly waiter, Tom Eddon - think victoria Woods’ ‘two soups’ - a criminal underworld backdrop and you have a glorious romp as top-of-the-form James Corden, as the ever-hungry Francis, guides us through the byways of Richard Bean’s sparkling new adaptation of Goldoni’s 1794 comic Italian classic, A Servant and Two Masters, turning it into a very British farce par excellence….