Monday, 29 June 2020

TV review: Talking Heads - A Lady of Letters /
An Ordinary Woman / Soldiering On

I can't realistically brand the new Talking Heads as "stage-to-screen" since they originated on TV in the first place; but Alan Bennett's beloved '80s and '90s monologues have occasionally been produced on stage as well, and this new lockdown version corralled by Bennett's regular collaborator Nicholas Hytner features a new collection of current and future dames who are mostly stage regulars, and some big theatre names directing. So I think we can call them stagey enough to keep my blogging muscles exercised on. Monologues filmed on an existing set - the Eastenders complex - are a clever way of making socially-distanced TV without resorting to the ubiquitous Zoom calls, and while I agree that giving some out-of-work playwrights the job of creating new ones might have been a better way of supporting talent, there's nothing stopping the BBC from doing that as well, and if something's acclaimed as a modern classic it should be able to stand up to reinvention.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Stage-to-screen review: It Is Easy To Be Dead

If UK theatres had anything to celebrate at the moment, the Finborough Theatre would be celebrating its 40th birthday today. Still, it's a milestone worth marking for the ambitious fringe venue, hence my second virtual trip this week to Earl's Court. The Finborough had a unique take on marking the centenary of the First World War, and instead of doing a full season of work in 2014, its THEGREATWAR100 strand staged relevant work intermittently over five years, between the points 100 years from the war's beginning, and 100 years from its end. Even so I was probably still worn down by many shows on the subject when It Is Easy To Be Dead came along in 2016, as despite rave reviews, a transfer and an Olivier nomination, I didn't get round to seeing it live. It now forms part of their online fundraising drive, and despite being inevitably heartbreaking the play has more of a bittersweet edge to it.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Jane Clegg

It's one of my own personal clichés that the Finborough Theatre approaches programming as if it's the fringe's answer to the National, with the ambition if not the budget to match. It proves true too during lockdown, with the room above an Earl's Court pub matching some of the country's biggest venues, by offering up archive recordings on YouTube for people missing their theatrical fix. Jane Clegg falls into the venue's remit that 50% of its shows be revivals of forgotten classics, as the play was a hit when it debuted in 1913, and its original star Sybil Thorndike kept returning to the title role throughout her career, but the play hadn't been seen in London since 1944 until David Gilmore's revival last year. St John Ervine's play was written with the Suffragettes in the news, and it reflects a new reality where a man might still legally be the king of his castle, but can no longer necessarily rule unquestioned.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Stage-to-screen review: The Madness of George III

National Theatre At Home, which uses recordings made during the NT Live cinema screenings that have become very popular internationally in the last ten years, has been at the forefront of online theatre in lockdown, with whole shows being made available on YouTube for one week only. I only haven't mentioned them on this blog yet because, being predominantly shows from the NT itself, I'd already seen them live and reviewed them at the time*. In recent weeks the NT has expanded the project's horizons though, offering shows from other venues, and with it the opportunity to share in the fundraising drive. This week this means a trip to Nottingham Playhouse, and Adam Penford's production of The Madness of George III. Alan Bennett's enduring play looks at the institution of royalty in all its alienness and pomp, and the frail, sometimes banal humanity holding it up.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Stage-to-screen review: The Beast Will Rise - Wound / Telescope / River / Eclipse / Performance

Back to Coronavirus, lockdown and isolation as seen through the uniquely, romantically twisted viewpoint of Philip Ridley, as I go back for a second selection of online premiere monologues in his The Beast Will Rise series (my review of the first four is here.) The next five feature both the longest and the shortest so far, and while most of them can be seen as having a specific significance to the circumstances under which they've debuted, they all could easily remain interesting taken out of context. Probably the least obviously tied to the theme of lockdown is Wound, in which Mirren Mack gives us a journey into a troubled mind in pain, escape into both self-harm and fantasy worlds, but also a resilience that keeps her coming back to reality. A few months into lockdown and everything being done on Zoom has become visually boring, but director Wiebke Green gives Wound  its own identity with a stark clinical whiteness and maintaining an extreme close-up on Mack's face that heightens the sense of anxiety.