Sunday, 31 January 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Among the many instances of time seeming to move unpredictably lately is the realisation that the National's production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was exactly five years ago; the fictional story of the real-life "Mother of the Blues" who weaponised diva behaviour feels much more recent to me than that. The 1920s instalment of August Wilson's Century Cycle (better known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, except for the fact that this one play isn't set there) has been one of the more notable stage adaptations for the screen in recent months, unfortunately notable in large part for being Chadwick Boseman's final onscreen role. He plays Levee, horn player for the superstar singer, and the most cocky, vocal and jumpy member of the four-strong band waiting in a rehearsal room for her to arrive and begin recording an EP of some of her most famous songs. This includes the one which gives the play its title, and for which Levee has prepared a new arrangement.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Radio review: The Two Noble Kinsmen

Even speaking optimistically it'll be a while before any live Shakespeare productions come along in 2021 (although multiple competing Romeo and Juliets are on their way digitally,) but in the meantime the BBC Sounds app offers an alternative: The Shakespeare Sessions podcast features, alongside various Bard-related documentaries and interviews, some of the Radio 3 adaptations from recent years. So with me not fancying another lockdown night in front of Netflix, one of the most obscure plays in the canon and the last one I ticked off my "seen onstage" list, but one which I've become more familiar with in the last few years, was an option. A candidate for the title of his final (collaborative) work, Shakespeare and Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen is an eccentric, tragicomic adaptation of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Northern Ballet's Dracula

Regular readers of this blog will both know that ballet/dance in general isn't something I know anything about, but it is something that will very occasionally creep into my theatregoing. Often as a gift for my mum or sister, but sometimes for myself when the choice of subject matter is eccentric enough to grab my interest: Matthew Bourne's tendency to tell unlikely stories like Edward Scissorhands and Lord of the Flies through the gift of dance for example, or Drew McOnie turning Jekyll & Hyde into Sexy Sexy Little Shop of Horrors. So with my theatregoing still of the virtual variety, and both the BBC and Sky Arts having had a lot of ballet in their scheduling over the last few months, Northern Ballet's take on Dracula, still available on iPlayer, seemed to fit the bill. This is very much David Nixon's vision for Bram Stoker's story as he directs, choreographs and designs the costumes for the classic vampire tale.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Phèdre

A new year starts much as the old one ended, in lockdown and with theatres trying their best to remain not only above water financially, but alive in the public's minds. Most high-profile has been the National Theatre, which late last year launched a major new international streaming platform, NTatHome. Of their initial selection of shows available, I've already seen everything except their kids' offering I Want My Hat Back, but if I was going to revisit one I'd already seen and reviewed, Nicholas Hytner's Helen Mirren-starring production of Phèdre would seem the obvious choice: It dates from 2009, making it the oldest recording currently on the service, which means that with over a decade since seeing this live I can treat it more or less with fresh eyes (all I really remembered was that Dominic Cooper's attempt to give "Phèdre" the correct French pronunciation ended up with him repeatedly calling the leading lady "veg.")