Culture bound – February

Culture bound – February

 

Theatre

Vader by Peeping Tom (Barbican)  My second time taking part in the International Mime Festival and my third time getting onstage at the Barbican. Full account here

Superhoe by Nicôle Lecky (Royal Court Theatre)  A beguiling first play from a serious new talent **** Full review here

Pinter 7 by Harold Pinter (Harold Pinter Theatre) A mostly glorious conclusion to the Pinter at the Pinter season **** Full review here

The Lady From The Sea by Henrik Ibsen (The Print Room, Notting Hill) A bilingual (English/Norwegian) co-production which modernized the text and period setting. It stripped away much of the heavy symbolism often associated with Ibsen giving it increased relevance to today’s world – it was even, at points, quite funny. The central character of Ellida was stunningly realised by Pia Tjelta who allowed the audience access to the character’s tortured soul. Edward Ashley (making his stage debut) was very funny as the tortured yet ludicrously self-assured sculptor Lynggstand. The simple but stunning set of a beach added a real extra dimension to the production ****

All About Eve by Joseph L. Mankewicz (Noel Coward Theatre) Director Ivo van Hove’s cinematic tricks scupper the heart of this classic backstage drama ** Full review here

The Wider Earth by David Morton (Natural History Museum) Despite some clunky over-expository dialogue, especially at the start, this was an arresting piece of theatre which also educated. The staging was impressive and literally took us right round the world. The puppets were beautifully detailed and expertly handled by the small cast of seven who also took on multiple roles. And as for the venue, it really couldn’t have been more appropriate ***

Gently Down The Stream by Martin Sherman (Park Theatre) This production makes a fine job of tracking the vicissitudes of gay relationships across the last sixty years or so. It is well written, excellently cast and compulsively staged. The central character, Beau, is played by Jonathan Hyde with depth and precision. His monologues about the past are delivered touchingly and with all the command of a highly skilled story teller. Director Sean Matthias emphasises simplicity of choices, stripping everything back. This was unshowy, unfussy and unselfish direction which allowed the writer’s words to tell the story and which did not patronize the audience with trickery or sleight of hand (see All About Eve above!) ****

The Thrill Of Love by Amanda Whittington (Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington) The story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain convicted and hanged for murder. It was mostly well acted with a great central turn and there was a palpable sense of noir atmosphere throughout. However, I thought the script was rather a let down. I couldn’t understand why the victim never actually appeared; it’s hard to form an opinion about the couple’s doomed relationship when only shown from one side ***

Kiss Me Quickstep by Amanda Whittington (Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch) Although I could admire the skill of the performers in nailing the ballroom dancing (indeed they were clearly very good) overall I found the play somewhat bland and unchallenging. The pain behind the glitz, the personal struggles behind the smiling façade; characters were virtually stereotyped clichés with largely predictable dialogue. Staging was appropriate with some clever use of clothes rails to create defined spaces. The decision to have a section of the audience onstage did lead to some audibility problems. Costumes were showy and they and the lighting were in keeping with the ballroom ambience. However, all too safe and cosy for my liking **

Boots by Sacha Voit with Jessica Butcher (Bunker Theatre, Southwark) Two women of different generations, backgrounds and temperaments meet in the chemist’s and form an unexpected alliance. Their histories are revealed through monologues and their present is dominated by a desire to save some local trees from being felled. It was all very competently done and moved with ease from the light hearted comedy at the start to something with more serious and sinister overtones later. The writers crammed in too many ideas for the 75 minutes running time. The performers were both more successful with the comedy than the serious stuff ***

 

Cinema

All Is True directed by Kenneth Branagh.  Starting with the burning down of The Globe, this is an autumnal film focusing on the latter years of Shakepeare’s life as he reconciles with his wife and daughters and mourns the loss of his son. Branagh, Dench and McKellen are fine (of course) – apart from KB’s false nose – and the film is gorgeous to look at. Ben Elton’s script is a bit one note, however – Upstart Crow this isn’t. It would have made an interesting play ***

 

Books

 Hatchett and Lycett by Nigel Williams  Flawed but relatively entertaining *** Review here

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life by Eric Idle  The “sortabiography” of a Python; cheery and undemanding *** Review here

BEST OF THE BUNCH

The Only Story by Julian Barnes  Very well written and intensely moving short novel from a master craftsman ***** Review here

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