Thursday, 15 May 2014

‘Birland’ - Royal Court Theatre - Saturday 10th May 2014

(Rated 4/5 )

Birdland’ by Simon Stephens – who previously adapted Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ for the stage – is described as a play about empathy, money and fame. The second two are very immediately obvious as subjects of the play: Rock Star Paul played by Andrew Scott – probably best known recently as Moriaty in ‘Sherlock’ – is at the height of his fame on a massive world tour, talking to anyone who will listen about bucketloads of money and material wealth and worth whilst buying anything and everything he wants, including people, with ‘his’ money and fame. Given that he doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of any of this the empathy subject is less obvious, but I guess that is one of the crucial points – it’s about empathy by exploring the corrupting effects of focusing too far away from empathy and humanity and more on superficial pleasures, which in the end have no worth at all. The play is also highly empathic in its treatment of the personal, the subtext, beneath the superficiality of the words and the dynamics of the relationships between the characters.
The staging is a lot of fun and very active. The ‘set’ mainly consists of 6 chairs - for the 6 actors playing between them a total of 18 characters - and an archway, which the actors’ and audience’s imaginations turn into whatever it needs to be in context. Later we have water gradually flooding the stage, which alarmed me a little reflecting the dangers and drowning-feeling later in the play as reality hits and fantasy fades.
Andrew Scott is very impressive and very ably supported by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Daniel Cerqueira, Yolanda Kettle and Charlotte Randle all of whom play a range of characters – gifts as acting challenges in character development – and Alex Price as Paul’s friend and fellow musician Johnny. This movement of actors into different people and of all the props by the actors rather than stage-hands, also endow the play with a lot of energy – again empathic to the life-style associated with the music business. The core of the play is the relationship between Paul and Johnny and their – yes sorry going to use this word – journey together and apart.
There is such a great deal going on in this play – so many aspects explored. Well worth a look especially if you have an interest in the entertainment business or thinking of going into it. It may have you wanting to think again.

Birdland – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

Friday, 2 May 2014

‘A Taste of Honey’ - National Theatre: Lyttleton Theatre - Saturday 26th April 2014, Film 1961 Dir Tony Richardson

(Rated 4/5 )

I saw the stage version of this play and then a few days later saw the film too. An obvious thing to say but how different and yet the same! To me the film had a darker feel and hit me harder but the play allowed a deeper exploration of the characters particularly through the dialogue, and somehow brought out more of the comedy in the dynamics between them. I felt despair at the end of the film, but hope somehow at the end of the play. It feels strange – yet I guess obvious – to get such polar feelings from the two different productions. I suppose the darkness of the film may also have to do with it being in black and white, and the more obviously visible darkness of the settings – Salford and Blackpool - and many of them cutting fairly frequently from one to another. Location changes in the play are much fewer – in the main we are either in Helen and Jo’s small ‘shabby’ flat together or Jo’s first home alone - and the characters convey to us changes in time with actions between ‘scenes’, especially with lots of great movements to music! The dancing was great and the musical interludes fun, expressive, light and deeply moving all at the same time. I loved Lesley Sharp and Kate O’Flynn as mother Helen and daughter Jo respectively. Lesley Sharp never disappoints for me though I struggled a little to feel empathy for her in a role that is so unsavoury and uncaring for her daughter yet favours the next man who turns up to woo her only, as you can so easily predict, to then let her down. Kate O’Flynn’s Jo is brilliant! She has a strength and resilience from coping with her mother moving them from place to place - no stability, no security - and bringing herself up as Helen couldn’t be bothered with and often abandoned her, yet also such a sensitivity and delicateness. A very knowing yet childlike character longing to love and be loved yet so wary and unsure of both. I loved the expressiveness in her voice, its tone, volume, accent – perfectly pitched in speech and song. Dean Lennox Kelly was suitably unlikeable as Helen’s ‘friend’ Peter, Eric Kofi Abrefa lovely as Jo’s sailor-boy Jimmie and Harry Hepple (great name) adorable as Jo’s gay friend Geoffrey, with whom she finally shares a kind of idyllic playing being a family about to bring up baby together. I found myself beautifully enveloped by the dialogue and performances and didn’t notice it being such a long play. Helen is played by Dora Bryan in the much shorter film which also introduced Rita Tushingham as Jo. Again excellent performances with the camera up close and personal to all the nuances of feeling in the actors’ faces. This play transports us to the experiences of women in 1950s Salford. A radically different perspective to what had gone before and written by the amazing Shelagh Delaney.

A Taste of Honey – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

Thursday, 13 February 2014

‘Les Miserables’, Dir. Tom Hooper, 2012 – DVD - Wednesday 12th February 2014

(Rated 4/5 )

I’ve lost count of how many times I have seen the musical ‘Les Mis’ on stage, and how many people I have taken with me ;). It is my all time favourite musical. If requested I could probably sing it all by heart though you may not want to hear that ;) Unless, that is, I sing along with it in which case I am able to carry the tune pretty nicely if I say so myself :) My first experience of it was at its opening at the Barbican. That dates me… and it! It 25 years old in 2012!! I won’t tell you how old I was then :) Like all good things over-indulged in, I started to get a tiny bit bored and so left it for maybe at least 10 years. I even left seeing the film for some time til now. I wanted to really want to see it…
It’s good, very good actually, but not great. Given that it is a film I expected the production of it to be better. The staging of Les Mis was extremely impressive – in particular the barricade – but then maybe that would be the case because it’s not so easy to do on stage. The script, or should I say score, is changed a little from the stage version – a new song for Valjean and one of Gavroche’s about Little People taken out – also some very minor alterations – not really sure why but that doesn’t matter very much. What I wish is that they hadn’t chosen ‘stars’ to sing the leads – or okay more specifically Russell Crowe as Javert as he was okay but not good enough to carry the film in the huge rivalry main plot along with Hugh Jackman as Valjean, who did a much better job. However Anne Hathaway as Fantine was excellent – deservedly winning awards – as were Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Samantha Banks as Eponine – gorgeous voices. Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as Mme and Mr Thenardier were fun and stayed in tune-ish. But the most impressive and surprising for me by far was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Stunning singing! Well done young man! But why not have that quality for Javert and Valjean together?! A big shame that something as permanent as a film is not given the best of the best of the right talent to make it hugely impressive.

Les Miserables – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

Monday, 3 February 2014

Scandi-Noir = Scandi-Gold!!!!!

The Bridge (Original) Season 2 Finale starring Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia and The Winner Takes It All by ABBA
Saturday 1st February 2014 on BBC4
(Rated 10/5!!!!!)
I know my reviews have gone almost completely crazy in their scorings. But where do you go when you've given some things 7/5 and then you see some other things even better than that!! Okay so makes no logical sense but maybe double perfect can work given I'm writing about 2 things and given there were 2 stunning acting talents in The Bridge to see, and 2x2 exceptional people; in particular 2 out of those 2x2 who were responsible for The Winner Takes It All! And that should make a lot more than 10! Hm my logic completely fails me and any plot structure there should have been for this review has gone all wrong, which isn't surprising, as like Sofia and Kim, I am far more interested in the emotions in all of this work than plots and calculating out the logic.
I have already written about Saga and Martin in The Bridge. Could they move me even more? Well yes actually. Their performances were stunning, moving and so gripping I felt more in it with the pair of them - and to be fair the other characters too - than I think I ever have before on a TV show. As I said before Sofia's Saga holds everything just behind her eyes in that impervious face she shows and Kim's Martin can pick that up just as we can as audience. But what happens when it gets really serious - when their relationship is tested to the limits - when a person who cannot really relate to others (Saga) admits Martin is her one and only friend - and he breaks her trust and she in turn gives in to the morally right thing rather than those feelings for him she is starting to really show so committing him to... well no, I won't give it away... except to say those little cracks in her face move you to the point of breaking hearts and tears and Martin's experiences - though more easily shown - are no less powerful and moving. The actors have also said this is a love story. It is - not in any sexual way - but how a love can develop between 2 people far beyond the most romantic romance given how far they have to come in relating to feel it. I do think part of the emotion the audience feels is you're almost doing it for them as well as they can't fully break themselves. But almost more than Romeo and Juliet these two complete each other and the biggest tragedy to life is for them not to have each other as friends. Saga is Martin's rock. He is her compass for the 'normality' of human feeling and expression of that. Words really genuinely feel totally inadequate to express just how good these performances were. And just as it all comes to its thrilling conclusion and we have to wait for Season 3 to get any real sense of resolution...
BBC4 puts on a show about ABBA! Showing yet another example of sheer talent from the Scandinavians! I've been a fan for years. In fact this was the first music group I was a fan of! And now I am so proud of that - yep then it was something you hid a bit ;) Their songs moved me then - the power and depth of The Winner Takes It All, SOS, The Day Before You came and others. Bjorn Ulvaeus is interviewed in the show. The Winner Takes It All was him writing about the break-up of his marriage to Agnetha Faltzkog, and then as we all know, he gives it to her to sing. And we feel the heart and soul of the truth of their feelings in this process. It's just WOW!
Art is at its most compelling we can't but help feel empathy for those who have created it for us. It grabs our hearts, the feeling parts of our minds, and our whole being and just won't let go - leaving a permanent imprint of itself on us. Pure Gold!!!!!

Scandi-Noir = Scandi-Gold - Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

Monday, 27 January 2014

‘Richard II’ - Barbican Centre - Saturday 25th January 2014 – Final Performance

(Rated 5/5 )

And so yes – believe it or not but given how I am with seeing plays etc at least twice I’m sure you can believe it – I went again and for the final night to see R2-DT and cast perform their last. Do I detect an influence of Shakespeare’s lyricism upon me?! ;) Well be it so as the lyricism of the text was far more evident than the first time I heard it in this production J And how did they perform? Well this time they merited that elusive extra point to make it the perfect – though I have given even higher scores! – 5 out of 5! Full energy was imparted by all making it engaging in the extreme. It’s fascinating though as I think my not receiving it so well last time is actually as much to do with me as them. I don’t think I judged fairly being put off by the brilliance of previous R2s and somehow unwilling to like it as much or more. Plus my internal Shakespeare-translator wasn’t functioning properly perhaps – I did struggle to understand it, even though I had of course seen those other versions. Well whatever it was – improved delivery or improved reception – I was fully attentive and engaged the whole way through and felt I understood everything. I do still stand by what I said before – all productions I have seen are excellent and offering different things and/but if I was pressed to put the R2s in order DT would come an extremely close second to Ben, but really I think they’re equally as ‘good’ whatever that means ;) I do think DT at his best almost can’t fail to win the hardest of hearts or impress almost anyone. It almost doesn’t matter what part he is playing he will give a performance so much full of life it’s not performing – he is being in front of us even if veiled by whatever mask needs wearing as his character. I didn’t forget it was DT this time but fully believed this was Richard II without any silliness about an accent putting me off ;) And this time ‘This Sceptered Isle’ gave me goosebumps – even though it wasn’t at all cold upstairs in the ‘Gods’ – so beautiful!! And I was really struck too by what a truly great actor Oliver Ford-Davies is! The poor Duke of York really does have such a struggle through the whole thing – seeing full well what a mess is being created and how Richard and his own son have done wrong and yet what should be done legally and loyally?! What is right?! I found Bolingbroke improved on me too. And everyone else on fire also – the crème de la crème of performance!
It seemed the rest of the audience also received this play as it is meant to be received – all reactions appropriate to the moments that triggered them – be they of comedy or tragedy. It seems everyone was equally in it as it should be.
And when the performers finally reached the end of the play and DT lead the curtain calls it felt as though we were all really in it together too actors and audience – so much so the audience wouldn’t let the actors go. The last time I saw this there were just two curtain calls – this time we carried on applauding after they’d left the second and were rewarded by DT coming back on and gesturing for the other actors to join him once more. And still we wouldn’t stop. So they applauded us with absolutely massive smiles on their faces. They then stopped, and we still did not, though DT attempted to stop us with a gesture of his hands to desist. Finally, when that was to no avail, out came that wittily delivered yet firm instruction in his own tongue ‘Go home!’ and we obeyed J Thou art adorable, Mr DT!

Barbican – still nice theatre but upstairs not too cold and actor’s faces discernible even without opera glasses but even better with J !!!

Richard II (“R2-DT”) – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

Monday, 20 January 2014

‘Richard II’ - Barbican Centre - Thursday 16th January 2014

(Rated 4/5 )

I told my friends/fellow theatre-goers that David Tennant had a lot of work to do to impress me as Richard II. I was joking in some ways – so confident in “DT” and his abilities as he has never disappointed me - but having seen two previous very good performances of “R2” by Eddie Redmayne and Ben Whishaw and been exceptionally impressed by the latter, who embodied him so perfectly and sensitively, I was doubtful as to whether DT could match or even top that. I was also excited to give him that challenge – though of course the man himself knew nothing about it ;). So who and how was “R2-DT” as he has become affectionately known to us ever since we first heard that David was going to undertake this Richard? Well not an immediate hit with me. I was a little put off by his accent (my issue with posh accents that are not the actor’s own ;)) and, as one of my friends said, he doesn’t get much to do for some time in this production of the play. Of course that is the text itself, but The Donmar’s production had Eddie sitting on the throne as the audience took their seats giving us time to kind of bond with him. R2-DT does not appear for some time. His transformation includes long wavy hair extensions and black mascara – he is slim elegant and beautiful – and he convincingly plays the vanity, narcissism and materialistic attitudes of Richard II. This Richard is not so much young – well DT is a little bit older – but his youthfulness comes from a strong yet subtle femininity that DT gives him. As you see him next to his Queen, played very nicely indeed by RSC newcomer Emma Hamilton, they are two lovely royal feminine creatures. I felt really drawn to his Queen – pun very much intended as DT does give his Richard an element of gay man far be it from a drag version – with whom I could connect more than Eddie or Ben’s Queens. Michael Pennington has the exciting task of playing John of Gaunt and so delivering probably the most anticipated speech in this play, ‘This Sceptered Isle’. His version, while not losing any of the lilting poetry, still comes across as sort of matter-of-fact – he might have said ‘This is England and I love it and that’s that’. ;). Oliver Ford-Davies appears again alongside DT – having played Polonius to his Hamlet – his interaction with John of Gaunt is good attentive listener, but he shines later in the humour of his part of the Duke of York, both bumbling, indignant, fickle and despairing as to the events around him brought about by his nearest and supposedly dearest. Marty Cruickshank and Jane Lapotaire, as the Duchesses of York and Gloucester respectively, were delightful. I also really took to Greene and Bushy – Marcus Griffiths and Sam Marks – not large parts but they made their presences felt, but not so much to Nigel Lindsay’s Henry Bolingbroke. I guess if you grow sympathetic to Richard, you’re going to turn against Henry, though I somehow didn’t feel as much as I’d want from him as a character – indifference isn’t so good. R2-DT gradually made his way into my heart – by the end of the performance I was kissing my friend next to me in delight!
The design, courtesy of Stephen Brimson Lewis, was very clever – strings of metal onto which the scenery itself was projected, including as an opener the interior of Westminster Abbey. The projections changed through the play and I forgot they were there. I recall really noticing the lyricism of Shakespeare’s words when delivered in the production at the Donmar. Part way through this I suddenly remembered that, but somehow it seemed lost in this production. The focus seemed more on conveying it as more natural speech.
I suppose it is a very obvious thing to say both how different productions can come across in such different ways but also show the audience something/s completely new about the characters, the story; in this case the history. It’s all in the interpretation, and even in a character so ‘set’ somehow, as you might expect real-life King Richard II to be, as opposed to a character like Hamlet who can be literally anything the actor wishes to give him, the actor can give us very refreshingly new aspects of who he might have been. I think that is especially true for Shakespeare’s plays – ‘remakes’ can keep on coming, whilst for other plays – screen or stage – you may sometimes think – what is the point when you’ve already seen a good version! Here is so much depth in all he wrote and on each reworking, on each performance of the same reworking, ever more truth about the human condition and new insights emerge. “R2-DT” is also very opposite to the image you may get if you think of the little blue droid his nick-name is based on. As is his way he gives so much feeling to everyone he embodies making his character leap out and grab the audience’s empathy. He is extra-ordinary with the emphasis on that extra. As to be expected some of the audience wanted to clasp at and laugh out loud in response to the tiny nuggets of humour there are in the play, especially when coming from DT, which was a shame as at times their loud ‘guffaws’ - more suited to a comedy - took away from the poignancy of performance. This is probably the farthest away DT has been in performance from his regeneration of The Doctor. Shakespeare is not even remotely alien to him – this is DT beauty-fully at home.

Barbican – nice theatre but too cold!!!

Richard II (“R2-DT”) – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

‘The Railwayman’ – Barbican Centre Cinema 2 - Sunday 19th January 2014

(Rated 6/5 ) 
Having given ’12 Years a Slave’ – seen last Sunday – a 6/5, ‘The Railwayman’ has to have at least the same. And maybe actually a little more for having a life-affirming resolution, but then again that would be biased – life so often does not resolve for people in such a special and therapeutic way as it did for Lomax, and someone else!, in this film and so to give it more marks would be like to penalise the truth and insult the experience and awful pain for those for whom it does not. So no, another 6/5 for ‘The Railwayman’. But a note that its ending is more satisfying and in comparison does make the ‘postscript’ for the characters in ’12 Years’ all the more painful and possibly anger-inducing. This film is no easier to watch though and I found myself screeching in horror at one particular scene of torture. But I’m ahead of myself – haven’t even explained anything about it! This is the story of railway enthusiast – as he calls himself Eric Lomax (Colin Firth (older) and Jeremy Irvine (younger)), a soldier in the army during the second world war, who is captured, along with comrades, by the Japanese and subjected to barbaric torture by them, via ‘translator’ Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada (older) and Tanroh Ishida (younger)), in an attempt to abstract a confession from him when there was actually nothing he could confess to! The irony is painful – what he goes through, in essence due to his interest in the railways and a desire he and his comrades have to hear friendly voices from their homeland, is beyond unreasonable, beyond barbaric. If he’d actually been a spy maybe there would be an excuse! ‘The Railwayman’ is a very satisfyingly structured film. It opens as Lomax meets Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman) both passengers on a train and they fall in love. This is so gorgeously performed by the two of them – such an easy connection. In a lovely sequence their relationship rapidly heads to marriage and soon after we start to see Lomax’s symptoms of PTSD strike. His new wife wishes to help – in spite of the abuse he subjects her to as a result – and so we follow Lomax’s journey in flashback and onwards. Psychotherapists will adore this film! And anyone interested in the process of how those who majorly challenge us can become so dear and loved in our lives. I so want to say more but reviews are meant to entice you to wish to see it for yourselves and not spoil it so I shall resist temptation. Jeremy Irvine as younger Lomax is so cute and reflects Colin Firth’s performance superbly. Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman exhibit their true mastery of the acting art yet again as though it’s as easy as breathing.
I said ’12 Years’ was important to see. I’d label this one as ‘must-see’ J
Barbican Cinema2 – very comfortable with very nice red leather seats!

The Railwayman – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

‘12 Years a Slave’ – Odeon, South Woodford - Sunday 12th January 2014

(Rated 6/5) 

Directed by Turner prize-winning artist Steve McQueen this film is a heart-wrenching work exhibiting the stark harrowing brutality of the world of slavery in 19th century America suffered by kidnapped former freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and many others, in the form of a series of exceptionally beautiful moving works of art. Sean Bobbitt is the man actually behind the camera and I can only say that the actor artists involved in this must have had great trust and faith in both Bobbitt and McQueen. To say the work is up close and personal is an understatement, especially given what the actors are portraying so bravely and truthfully. Everything about their humanity both physically and emotionally is exposed to the core with exquisite truth and extreme openness.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is responsible for my all time favourite solo piece of emotive performance. He was exceptional as Othello at the Donmar Warehouse. If anything he surpasses that in this film. The expressiveness of his face, and the rest of his body, conveys all. There is no need for dialogue of which there is in fact little. And so often all and everything we get is him in close-up and the poignancy of his character’s feelings.
This is harsh and not for the weak of stomach, but so necessarily so to show us the reality of these experiences. Everyone is excellent and meets up to the standards set by Ejiofor, including Benedict Cumberbatch as a ‘nice’ slave owner – even though he seemed to forget his American accent for a time - and Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson as the ‘nigger-breaking’ husband and wife Epps with no compassion or sympathy whatsoever. Fellow slave, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) gets caught between the Epps – raped by the husband and tortured by the wife for being her husband’s favourite. Sadly there is arguably even worse to come for her. The sensitivity of Nyong’o’s performance is also extraordinary given she is a newcomer – then again being from truth rather than acting it perhaps the best way to do this kind of work with then a great deal of support to recover from it!
I’m not sure I’d say it’s ‘must-see’ – but it is very important to see and for sure one of the best films made of those that I have ever seen!

(The front row of Screen 1 Odeon, South Woodford is too close to the actual screen for comfort!)

12 Years a Slave – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2014