Monday 27 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: The Beast Will Rise - Gators / Zarabooshka / Chihuahua / Origami

A lot of exciting-sounding shows got cancelled or postponed for the current lockdown, but some losses hurt more than others; a new Philip Ridley play is always something to look forward to and the blurb for The Beast of Blue Yonder made it sound like a particularly crazy, epic ride. Let's hope it's not too long after Southwark Playhouse reopens that they reschedule it, but in the meantime Ridley lost no time providing an alternative. And frankly, who better to whip up something for quarantine out of nowhere than a writer who deals in the apocalyptic as his bread and butter? With The Beast of Blue Yonder's production company Tramp, director Wiebke Green, and intended cast, he's put together The Beast Will Rise, a series of 14 monologues for the actors to record in their own homes, released on a weekly basis. But I couldn't wait that long for the whole set to be available so I'm going to be catching up with it every few weeks, beginning with the first four.

Friday 24 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (BBC Wales)

Russell T Davies' TV adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream first aired in 2016 as part of the BBC's commemoration of the fourth centenary of Shakespeare's death. I had planned to watch it at the time but never got round to it - that summer was one of those particularly full of competing productions of the play and I'd seen quite enough of them. Apart from that, it was clear from the opening shot of Athens as a fascist state draped in red, white and black ersatz-swastika insignia that Davies' version was going to be one of those defined entirely by the line "I wooed thee with my sword" (not necessarily a problem in itself, by this point I think I was mainly tired of people thinking they'd discovered a uniquely dark take on the play, when in fact I would say bad-guy Theseus was the standard interpretation of the 2010s.) In any case, with "Culture in Quarantine" the latest BBC strand to heavily feature Shakespeare, the film got repeated on BBC Four, giving it another month on iPlayer for me to finally catch up.

Monday 20 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: What the Butler Saw

A second virtual trip to Leicester, where the Curve Theatre has actually been ahead of the curve so to speak as one of the first venues to get its online alternative to live performances up and running. As with Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual the next show they've made available has a Leicester connection, as it was the birthplace of Joe Orton (I don't think he had much good to say about the place, but in fairness he was Joe Orton, he didn't have much good to say about anything.) What the Butler Saw was his final play, in which he delivers every beat of the perfect farce while breaking all the genre's unwritten rules. The setting is the Hampstead mental health clinic run by Dr Prentice (Rufus Hound) and his wife, and as the curtain rises the doctor is "interviewing" prospective secretary Geraldine (Dakota Blue Richards,) a process which involves making her strip for a medical examination with a view to sexually assaulting her.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Radio review: Elizabeth and Essex

A few words about an odd little (but in some ways huge and epic) audio drama, written by Robin Brooks as an original Radio 3 play but feeling like it has a strong theatrical connection in the sense that I can imagine Simon Russell Beale was probably going to find a way to play Elizabeth I sooner or later. Although technically in Elizabeth and Essex he's playing the writer and Bloomsbury Group member Lytton Strachey, whose writings the play is based on, and reveal him as a drama queen imagining himself as the Virgin Queen while writing his book about her relationship with the Earl of Essex. Strachey has recently become besotted with Roger (Harry Lloyd,) a much younger man who's star-struck by the writer and becomes hugely fond of him, but clearly doesn't feel anywhere near as strongly about him as the older man does, and who is gradually drawn away from Strachey as he falls for fellow Bloomsbury Group member, the economist John Maynard Keynes (Julian Harries.)

Monday 13 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Twelfth Night
(RSC / RST & Marquee TV)

Christopher Luscombe's Shakespeare productions tend to have a touch of the Merchant/Ivory to them, and so it is with this 2017 production of Twelfth Night, one of the few productions of the RSC's current run through the complete works that I'd missed until now, when it's just been added to Marquee TV's roster. Simon Higlett's set and costume designs are of a sumptious, solid kind a thrust stage like the RST rarely seems to need or bother with, and Nigel Hess' music is used like a movie score, much like he and Luscombe experimented with a decade earlier in their Merry Wives of Windsor for the Globe. The period movie they're making here is a Victorian one, where Shakespeare's fictional Illyrian coast becomes London and the countryside, by now comparatively easily accessible by train.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Flowers for Mrs Harris

My latest virtual visit to a regional theatre is to one I've been to before in person, although not for a couple of years: Chichester Festival Theatre, and Daniel Evans' production of Flowers for Mrs Harris, which he transferred there in 2018 after a run at his previous job in Sheffield. Rachel Wagstaff (book) and Richard Taylor's (music & lyrics) musical is based on a novella by American author Paul Gallico better known as Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, which is perhaps a helpful indicator of the kind of salt-of-the-earth working-class image of a London charlady Ada Harris (Clare Burt) is. Widowed in the Second World War and childless, she has little in her life except making ends meet through the various ungrateful clients whose houses she cleans. She ploughs through stoically until one day she covers a friend's shift cleaning for a deluded minor aristocrat (Joanna Riding,) where she spots a Christian Dior dress and becomes determined to own one some day.

Sunday 5 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: It's True, It's True, It's True - Artemisia on Trial

I think any attempt for me to see It's True, It's True, It's True live is cursed: After hearing nothing but raves for Breach Theatre's show I snuck a performance into a packed schedule when it ran at the New Diorama, only to get bronchitis and have all my theatregoing go out of the window for a few weeks. It recently spent a month available on iPlayer but I didn't watch that because I'd booked to catch its return to London for a run at the Pit; well I was due to have seen it this week, so we all know how that worked out. Now the company have put it online for another month on their YouTube channel, and let's hope finally managing to see it will break the run of bad luck. The title comes from the repeated testimony of 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi (Ellice Stevens) in a rape trial where she was the key witness, but it also describes the piece itself, which Stevens and director Billy Barrett have translated into vernacular modern English from the almost-complete transcripts of the 1612 trial in Rome.

Thursday 2 April 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Henry V (Barn Theatre)

Another regional theatre uploading an archive production online to fundraise while the doors are closed, and another grungy show to contrast with the slick offerings from the likes of the West End, National and RSC, this Henry V comes courtesy of the Barn Theatre in Cirencester, with Hal Chambers' production consciously using the ambiguity of Shakespeare's patriotic hero to reflect on the rise of populist, xenophobic politics in the 21st century. In a frantic opening, speeches from this play and the Henry IV ones preceding it are mixed with soundbites of frothing Brexiteers on Question Time, and the wild past of Prince Hal is referenced with real headlines about the current Prince Harry's party lifestyle. That Prince Harry has in recent years shown a more serious side, and so too does Shakespeare's Hal, now King Henry V (Aaron Sidwell), put on a much more serious face once he's running the country.