Tuesday, 28 May 2013

‘Peter and Alice’ - Noel Coward Theatre - Saturday 25th May 2013

(Rated 8/5 ) 

Yes I know! 8/5 doesn’t really make sense in our ‘normal’, adult world, then again in a world of fiction and fantasy – in a child’s world – anything and everything is possible – and this restricted reviewer can fly to the giddy heights and give this production the best score she has ever given! Not that I/she tends to restrict herself anyway – I’ve gone to 7/5 for my previous favourites: The National Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Tennant and Tate’s Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, but this truly is even better! This is exceptional! The performances of Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in this are the most moving I have ever witnessed! For many years that ‘honour’ went to Chiwitel Ejiofor’s Othello, when his anguish at Desdemona’s death by his own hand due to the dastardly deeds of his trusted Iago (Ewan McGregor) ripped at my heart. I was crying with him – and the intimacy of the Donmar Warehouse added so much to his sharing with us the audience. With Judi and Ben my heart was going through every single emotion it can possibly feel – from the joy and excitement of a child on an adventure in a wondrous world of the imagination, via the ecstasy of falling in love, through the devastation at the loss of your own children, the pain of crushing disappointment and abuse to the empty loneliness of isolation. I could almost say it beat faster as I felt the warmth of my blood rushing the good emotions through it, then cold slow pulses before it was ripped to shreds.
Yet I realise I haven’t even told you what this play is about. Perhaps it is unexpected that it comes from the pen of John Logan – author of James Bond movie Skyfall. Action movie this isn’t. But then again Skyfall was also packed with psychology and the relationships between adults and the ‘children’ taken under their wings. Here we have the stories of Peter Llewelyn Davies (Ben Whishaw) and Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Judi Dench), who as children inspired Rev Charles Dodgson – better known by his pen-name Lewis Carroll (Nicholas Farrell) and James Barrie (Derek Riddell) to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan respectively. The play begins with the catalyst for John Logan to write it – when the real life Alice and Peter meet each other – they were both adults and preparing to appear before the public at an anniversary celebration of Alice in Wonderland. John Logan wondered what they might have said to each other…
What was it like to be the inspirations for these two characters? What is it like to be an expectation of something that isn’t really you? A ‘poor’ adult reflection of a ‘richly exciting’ fictional child. The child/ren who never grow(s) up both in books and in the readers’ minds. What is it actually like to grow up and leave that child behind? To face the painful reality of adulthood. Or not – to live in isolation and escape in your head because the real world is too much to bear. What were the ‘real’ relationships between Alice and Lewis Carroll and Peter and James Barrie? John Logan explores all this – partly based on research from biographies – and Ben and Judi show us with the most extraordinarily natural and true performance skills. In fact so convincing were they, that even at curtain call, neither seemed able to escape the world and lives they had created for us, and I then imagine took their time in their dressing rooms to do so. (They did not appear at the stage door afterwards.) And nor did the audience giving them a standing ovation loaded with smiles and tears.
Ben/Peter opens the play for us – coming on stage and nervously waiting for Judi/Alice to arrive. Ben conveys Peter with every single element of his being; his vocal expression, his body language; the way he holds himself, walks, the bow of his head, anxious hand gestures to push back his hair and… his eyes! I’ve never seen more expressive eyes. Blinking is a Ben Whishaw trait for sure - something he cannot fail to lend his characters – but there is such poignancy in how his eyes dart around, how they well-up with emotion, how they shine and then fade. He is exquisite; slight and yet so powerful. As is Dame Judi, who at one point has a line about how people don’t expect someone famous to be so small, which she delivers perfectly as she stands in her small exceptionally well-known self. She gives us an frail elderly lady needing a walking stick to a skipping and dancing young girl. She is gorgeously sensitive – so deep and honest as she takes us to the core of painful emotions, and then ever so subtle yet effervescent as she escorts us to the dizzying heights of jolly good fun. Another time Alice cries for a full five minutes creating, as she describes, a well of tears – as did Judi completely authentically. I wanted to get up on stage and hug her. And yet actually didn’t need to as audience and performers were completely integrated in this experience together all as one so it felt as though we were carrying each other anyway.
In some productions the ‘stars’ outshine their supporting cast. Not in this case. This was a beautiful ensemble piece bringing out the best in everyone. Olly Alexander energetically gives us the delightfully boyish Peter Pan and Ruby Bentall is the prettily inquisitive Alice in Wonderland, wondering at everything she witnesses. Stefano Braschi ably takes on all remaining parts.
And production father – director – is Michael Grandage from whom – especially following his superb 10-year stint at the Donmar Warehouse – we have come to expect genius. He does not fall short.
This is a must-see – though that could be difficult as it’s nearing the end of its run – Saturday 1st June – and is sold-out! Queue for returns if you can!

Peter and Alice – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2013

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Name of the Doctor: Mini-Review

(Rated 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8.5?!, 9, 10 and 11/5)

OUTSTANDING, HEART-POUNDING high level drama from the pen of Stephen Moffat! This half-series had taken a bit of a dip for me up until this point. It was good, but not great and I struggled to connect with Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and felt The Doctor did too. Who IS she?! (Not in the voice of that Big Brother star but maybe in a similar disbelieving vein as to why she is so important!) And then we discover and suddenly her ratings in each of our hearts - and his two hearts - climb universe-high! If you will forgive the use of this word, this episode was orgasmic for fans of Classic Dr Who - as we see - SPOILER alert - Clara save all of them! And for this Nine-fan an extra rush for me as she crosses paths with him! And spoilers OMG!! Dearest loveliest Prof River Song (Alex Kingston) also returns to - well yes spoilers - but has a gorgeous interaction with Sweetie Doctor Matt Smith! Matt put in yet another great performance - he is excellent as the Professor/Public School-Boy Doctor creating toy-boy feelings in this Whovian ;). And then at the end we have the man whose name we still don't know! - played by John Hurt - but have to wait til November 23rd 2013 for our climax! 

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

I, Claudius - BBC

I, Claudius
(Rated 6/5)
I just wanted to say a few words about this BBC drama series from oh so long ago, that is currently being repeated on BBC4. I was a child, under 10, at the time it was made and now I'm almost a middle-aged woman! The sets creating ancient Rome were a little wobbly - just like good old classic Dr Who - but it didn't matter then, and actually doesn't matter now either! It was expertly written and sensationally performed by the best acting talent of the day and still now in some cases! Derek Jacobi as Claudius - pictured below - was exceptionally natural in Claudius' physical walking disability, uncontrollable twitching and stammer - who could not adore this highly intelligent 'fool' who instilled such empathy that you willed him to get his words out and carry on playing an idiot so as not to be a threat to his crazy family in power who could kill someone at the drop of a toga?! And the best at that - Empress Livia - Sian Phillips - who calmly poisoned all those she perceived as a threat to the Roman Empire and in the way of her quest for power. One of the worst serial killers ever and yet I completely adored her as a child and still now. So much so one of our cats was named after her. In last night's episode she was no longer there to poison the problematic people and all hell broke loose! I missed her so much and yet we have John Hurt as the dreadful Caligula, also putting in a delicious performance. They were all completely mad - except Claudius - and terrible too in many cases, and yet this is like a glorious farce as well as stunning drama. I highly recommend catching up with it if you can...