Monday, August 31, 2015

Dvd/150: The GO-BETWEEN (Joseph Losey, 1971)

Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter's elliptical film of LP Hartley's novella is fascinating to watch.

It is redolent of 1970s filmmaking, good and bad.  Michel Legrand's emphatic piano score sounds more suited to a spy thriller and the claustrophobic sound makes you suspect it was all dubbed afterwards.

Nowadays it would be filmed as straight period drama but Losey and Pinter choose a more distancing approach, cross-cutting from 1900 when young Leo is invited for the summer to the Norfolk country estate of a schoolfriend, to the 1950s when Leo returns on a secretive invitation.

Leo is smitten by his friend's sister Marion who befriends him.  Already engaged, she is secretly seeing local farmer Ted Burgess.  They use Leo as a go-between for their notes but when he discovers the secret, his loyalties become confused.

Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton and Michael Redgrave all give memorable performances.

Shelf or charity shop? Keeping it's secrets on the shelf... *nb* Now in plastic box limbo...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

RICHARD II at the Globe Theatre - non-Cumberbatch Shakespeare

You would never know it from the press hype surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch's HAMLET but there is another vacillating royal in serious trouble on the London stage and we were lucky to see it last week.

RICHARD II is the latest production in the Globe Theatre's 2015 season based around the themes of Justice and Mercy, qualities that are singularly lacking in the story of the downfall of the vain, misguided Plantagenet King who learned too late that it's more important to be human than majestic.

Charles Edwards brought his upper-class panache to the role of Richard: by turns pampered, remote, haughty and witty, he sailed through the first act on an air of privilege, uncaring of the turmoil he was creating in his wake among his lords and barons, sure in his knowledge that as an anointed King he was impervious to complaint.

However when Richard II tires of the dispute between Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray and banishes them both abroad he sets off a chain of events which swiftly leads to disaster.  Caring little for the angry remonstrations of Bolingbroke's dying father John of Gaunt, Richard seizes his property and goods to pay for his war with the Irish and in doing so deprives Bolingbroke of his legacy.  The King returns from Ireland to discover that Bolingbroke has returned from exile and rallied an army while his own followers have vanished.

Up until this point Richard has been fairly unlikeable but his realisation that his destiny is now uncertain leads him through various stages of self-pitying anger, despair, and finally to a wisdom that is touching in it's resignation.  Up until the arrival back on English shores, the only moment of real poetry has been John of Gaunt's denunciation of Richard, brooding on what his reign has done to "This sceptre'd isle".  William Gaunt in the small but haunting role of John of Gaunt was excellent, using up the last of his energy to rain down anger on Richard's reign.

But with Richard's growing realisation of his inadequacy, Shakespeare ups the ante and Richard finds his poetic voice, in particular when he invites his admirers "let us sit upon the ground and talk about the death of kings".  Two excellent scenes follow where Richard and Bolingbroke confront each other, first at Flint Castle where Richard attempts to face down his enemy but eventually capitulates to fate and the following scene at Westminster Hall where Richard is called before the council to abdicate.

This magnificent confrontation - where vacillating Richard literally makes Bolingbroke pull the crown from his grasp and then ruminates on the transition from King to man - saw Edwards at his finest and indeed, his final scene was shot through with a noble pathos.

David Sturzaker also upped his game as Bolingbroke in his scenes with Edwards although he at times felt a bit lightweight to play such an important main role.  There was very good support from William Chubb as the honest Duke of York, Richard Katz as both the murderous Exton and the Queen's head gardener and Sarah Woodward as the Duchess of York.  However her major scene at the end where she begs Bolingbroke to spare the life of her traitorous son while her husband the Duke demands his son's death was played almost as slapstick and threw the tone off dramatically.

Overall, Simon Godwin's production was very enjoyable although some of the cast were a bit lightweight and the first act seemed to feature one too many scenes of the rebellious lords sweeping on to only sweep off again after a few minutes.  Despite this I enjoyed it more than the Kevin Spacey/Old Vic production from 2005.

Where the production did score well was with Paul Wills set of cracked and peeling shining gold paint.  As soon as I saw it I was reminded of the famous portrait of the ill-fated King in Westminster Abbey.

Friday, August 28, 2015

HAMLET at the Barbican - When Cumberbatch Met Shakespeare...

After all the hype, the year-long wait for tickets, the brouhaha over director Lynsey Turner moving "To be or not to be" to the start of the play, press reviewing the first previews... after all that, how exactly did HAMLET at the Barbican pan out?

As I said I've had a year to build up to the production with only the poster art to whet one's appetite.  The design of a troubled younger Hamlet, with trademark Cumberbatch hair, staring out while other unhappy kids - maybe Laertes, Ophelia, Horatio and Fortinbras? - mope about in the background at a miserable party, is really not reflected in the final production, who knows if it ever did?

To be honest, after all the press and social media jabber about Benedict Cumberbatch stepping up to the plate to play the melancholy prince, I actually wasn't looking forward to seeing the production.  It all seemed whipped up and over-blown, and more importantly, we had seen Lynsey Turner's dire over-conceptualised production of LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE at the National which made me fear the most.  But there I was last Monday, taking my place in the front row - THE FRONT ROW - with my over-sized £10 programme.  I resisted the tshirts and mugs on sale in the foyer.

At first my heart sank as Hamlet was revealed listening to a Dansette playing Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" but I didn't dare grind my teeth as Cumberbatch was only a stone's throw away - and we all know how distracted he can get by his audience!  Turner has dropped the opening scene on the ramparts and gallops straight into the first court scene, all the quicker to get her star on the stage as quickly as possible.

The subsequent action all takes place on Es Devlin's extraordinary, angled set which suggests a low ceilinged Middle-European palatial hunting lodge, almost CinemaScope in aspect as it reaches across the large Barbican stage.  It's painstakingly detailed with mounted stags-heads, royal family portraits and, tellingly, an old rocking-horse and boxes of toys stored almost out-of-side under the impressive staircase and first-floor landing.  It could have been somewhere Nicholas and Alexandra might have stayed when they wanted to be a 'normal' family in the summer months.

When we first we see it it is also festooned with large hanging white garlands to celebrate the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude with a long table attended by courtiers dressed in bright colours - apart of course from Hamlet in his inky coat of mourning.  His first monologue "O that this too too solid flesh would melt..." is played direct to the audience with him climbing over the table while all around the others do their best sloow-motion acting.

Turner's streamlining of the text focusing all on Hamlet makes for a swift first act although the interval was placed quite late in the action after Hamlet is shipped off to England and as if to make up for it closing on a non-Cumberbatch scene, Turner has the doors of the set suddenly blow open as leaves and dust swirl through them engulfing the solo figure of Ciaran Hind's Claudius.  It did leave the nagging feeling that Elsinore was the latest venue for SLAVA'S SNOW SHOW.

Sadly the second act built on the niggles I felt during the first act and possibly because Cumberbatch was offstage for awhile, the pace slackened and never really recovered.  A main contributor to that was the fact that in the interval the set is changed to a desolate shell of it's former self with the the stage now covered in mounds of dirt and rock.  Yes it's a good visual flagging up of the fact that the second half of the play focuses on the spiralling paranoia within Elsinore and the threat of war without but it didn't help the flow of the scenes with the cast gingerly climbing over the mounds like worried mountain goats in Jane Cox's gloomy lighting.

In retrospect I think the production highlights all of Lyndsey Turner's worst aspects of vision and direction - the visual over-emphasis and the feeling that the actors are playing in their own sealed spaces and not connecting onstage was all very prevalent.  I also found the whole visual idea for Hamlet distracting: his mad scenes are played while dressed up as a toy soldier and he even finally resorts to dragging on his own large fort to hide in.  It all felt overly-cute and done to get easy laughs for Cumberbatch to the cost of the rhythm of the play - and why for the play scene did he sport a Ziggy Stardust t-shirt??

I had expected Ciaran Hinds as Claudius to really put a stamp on the production and give Cumberbatch a run for his money but he made only fitful impressions, usually when he was in scenes with others.  Anastasia Hille isn't an actress I particularly like but I also felt she was colourless as Gertrude - at no time did I feel any connection between her and Claudius and in particular between her and Hamlet - the closet scene might as well have been two people standing at a bus stop.

I was looking forward to Jim Norton as Polonius but he too seemed to gave a muted, underplayed performance while Ophelia was played by the colourless Sian Brooke.  Turner has thrown greater emphasis on Ophelia in this production, she wanders around snapping away with a box brownie camera during the first act and in her final scene, she drags on a large trunk which Gertrude opens to find hundreds of her photographs and her camera, then watches as mad Ophelia walks away from her up one of the rubble dunes to her watery death.  The trouble is that Brooke does nothing to impose any personality on the role.  Nice black lacy frock though....

The current trend seems to have been to cast a black actress as Ophelia but here the non-traditionalist casting is switched so Kobna Holdbrook-Smith plays Laertes and he at least has a forceful presence when he returns as the avenging angel.  There is also a strong performance from Sergio Vares as Fortinbras, demonstrating the strength of purpose that shows why he will thrive where Hamlet failed.  Karl Johnson, although anonymous as the Ghost was excellent as the Gravedigger. These three actors all stood out in the moribund second act.

The duel scene at the end of the play again showed the frustrating quality of the production, the swordplay was good but Gertrude's poignant last line was allotted to Horatio, her positioning was off to one side away from the action and in the final injustice, absurdly ended up doubled over on one of the mounds with her bum in the air.  Claudius's demise was also oddly bungled, happening upstage and behind the banister on the staircase, it was almost like they had to positioned to be as far away from the centre of the stage which was Cumberbatch's permanent domain.

The whole reason the production was there however was not for Lyndsey Turner's direction, Es Devlin's set, Anastasia Hille's Gertrude or Jim Norton's Polonius... it was for Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet.  To be honest he gave the performance I expected to give - he shot through the first act like an arrow, he spoke the text with clarity, waspish humour and with an intelligence that showed genuine understanding and radiated a real star wattage.

And yet.. and yet... and yet...  at no time did I feel Hamlet had taken over him, he remained Benedict Cumberbatch at all times.  This is of course what a star does, they give us various facets of an established persona and there was plenty here to please the 'Sherlock' fans in the house particularly in the cutesy business in the dress-up madness scenes.

But he didn't move me, not like the best Hamlets I have seen have done.  Derek Jacobi (1980, BBC TV), Simon Russell Beale (2000, NT), Rory Kinnear (2010, NT) and the greatest of all Ian Charleson (1989, NT) have all broken through to the real soul of the part so that by the end, when "the rest is silence", you mourn the loss of him in his world and in ours. 

In a few years Cumberbatch might have a chance of playing the role again, only hopefully with a director who can possibly connect him to a more integrated production and cast.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

SPLENDOUR at the Donmar - Women in Revolt

My favourite theatre production from last year was the Donmar's funny but devastating revival of Kevin Elyot's MY NIGHT WITH REG which was directed by actor-turned-director Robert Hastie so when it was announced that he would be directing the theatre's revival of Abi Morgan's SPLENDOUR I leaped at the chance to see it.  Could Hastie repeat his success with SPLENDOUR's all-female cast as he had with REG's all-male cast?

Abi Morgan's play, first performed in 2000, is a lesser work than Elyot's MY NIGHT WITH REG but Hastie again elicits strong performances from his four actresses.

The action takes place in the soulless elegance of a reception room in the palace of an unnamed country's dictator.  It suggests the adopted style of a 1970s hotel lobby with it's large windows and the heavy design of it's large, swirling light-fitting.  Unseen to the audience is a large abstract painting by a dead artist.  Surrounding Peter McKintosh's set is a circle of glittering, shattered glass which gives a suggestion of what is going on the other side of the windows.

Kathryn, a famous photo-journalist is waiting to take an officially-arranged portrait of the dictator of an un-named, possibly East European, country.  She waits with Gilma, her appointed translator who seems unsettled, nervously clutching her large shoulder-bag to her at all times.

They are finally joined by the dictator's polished and chic wife Micheleine who placates the photographer with news that her husband is running late and they are also joined by Micheline's best friend Genevieve, bedraggled from the pouring rain. And they wait, and wait.

Morgan's theatrical trick is that they, of course, all speak English but the photographer has to put all her questions to the two women through the translator, who is less than correct in what she translates.  Is she inept or does she have her own agenda?

And still they wait until slowly what is happening outside the palace is made clear - the photographer talks of the scary taxi ride through the agitated city, Genevieve talks of the rising tension on the streets, the translator reveals that she is from the same area as the rebels and we realise that the dictator's regime is in it's last hours.

As the realisation dawns that her husband's non-appearance could mean that he has fled the country, Micheleine lashes out at everyone and in particular at Genevieve, whose artist husband painted the abstract on the wall and whose death was sanctioned by the dictator.  In a harrowing exchange Micheleine chides Genevieve for being unloved by her children thanks to her continued friendship with the wife of their father's murderer while Genevieve reveals she only goes through the motions of friendship for the safety of her family.

Morgan's play is certainly interesting but ultimately it's deliberate obliqueness and showy theatrics cannot sustain it's ambition.  Several times during it's uninterrupted 90 minutes the play stops and starts from the opening scene again but quickly picks up from where the previous scene ended.  You would understand if it was to show the action from each character's viewpoint but it doesn't do this, just a fracturing of the timeline for it's own sake.

However the play's drawbacks are more than compensated by Hastie's taut direction and the excellent performances of Sinéad Cusack as Micheleine, by turns caustic, defiant, spiteful and haughty while finally facing her fate with a withering scorn, Michelle Fairley as Genevieve, worn-down by the constant pressure of knowing her dangerous former friend, and Zawe Ashton as Gilma, the seemingly inept interpreter who slowly reveals her disregard for Micheleine's authority by stealing and breaking objects in the palace.  In a nice final exchange, Gilma demands Micheleine's designer shoes as her people are barefoot but not before Micheleine wryly notices that they are just Gilma's size.

Genevieve O'Reilly had a harder time to impress as her character was the most colourless of all - photographer as observer - but she had an arresting presence on stage all the same.  While ultimately I felt that, stripped of the production and performances, the play is possibly not as good as it thinks it is, Morgan is still to be applauded for writing such densely-woven roles for four actresses.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

BAKKHAI at the Almeida - playing with fire in deadly drag

Nowadays it takes something very special to get me to go to the Almeida - a theatre which, like the Young Vic, over the years has grown in self-importance and is also still one of the most uncomfortable to sit in.  They currently have a lengthy Greek Tragedy season on to remind us that they are relevant to our times - gee, I would never have made that connection myself.  But it does mean I can finally see a production of Euripedes' last and most brutal play "The Bacchae" or in Anne Carson's translation BAKKHAI.

I must admit that another reason to see it was to finally see Ben Wishaw onstage and also to see him paired with Bertie Carvel, making a fascinating chance to see two of the more interesting younger actors around together.  They certainly did not disappoint in James Macdonald's claustrophobic and relentless production.

The play was Euripedes' last great play and premiered 2,420 years ago at the Theatre of Dionysus where it won the festival's first prize, awarded posthumously as he had died the year before.  Of all the playwrights writing in Ancient Greece, only Euripedes, Sophocles and Aeschyles' work survives.  Anne Carson's translation is done with a modern slant - Carvel's Penthius could be any moralistic politician trying to impose order on something already beyond his control.

The god Dionysus, come to Thebes in human form to settle some scores.  He has sent the women of Thebes into a frenzy to punish his earth-dwelling aunts for daring to suggest that his mother was not impregnated by Zeus, and has driven them into the hills to worship him and to go native.  But he also wants to punish his earthly cousin Penthius the King of Thebes who has banned the worship of him.  He faces off with the smug King and persuades him to investigate what the wild women are doing by dressing up as a woman. Penthius, secretly intrigued by Dionysus' power, agrees...

With long hair swishing and swirling long folds, Wishaw was never less than hypnotic as Dionysus: fey, petulant, self-knowing, gender-defying, dangerously willful and in his final appearance, terrifying.  He also played the elderly courtier Tiresis and a young witness to ritual slaughter.  Bertie Carvel also played two roles: the smooth, professional politician Penthius, blindly walking into Dionysus' trap and taking to a Chanel suit and grey wig with surprising willingness, and then as Penthius' mother Agarve in long white-blonde wig and gore-splattered white sheath dress - sadly sounding a little too much like his MATILDA creation Miss Trunchbull to be taken too seriously.

Also impressive was Kevin Harvey as the older King of Thebes Cadmus and a terrified shepherd.  The scenes were punctuated by the all-female chorus who sang Orlando Gough's insistent score with an admirable full-throatiness - among their number were musical performers Helen Hobson, Melanie La Barrie and Kaisa Hammarlund - but they held up the play too often.  When you have actors of the power of Wishaw and Carvel waiting in the wings, you don't want to be hearing choral singing.

James Macdonald should have tightened these interludes a bit but otherwise his production rolled unceasingly to it's grim conclusion with a brutal, powerful pace.  Antony McDonald's set design had a grimness which was fairly unrelenting but Peter Mumford's lighting was inventive and clever.

As I said the Almeida has rather slid down my list of favorite theatres but I am glad I put myself through the hell of their seating and stuffy auditorium to experience this hypnotic production.

By the way, the first in the theatre's Greek season, THE ORESTEIA, is transferring to the Trafalgar Studios for a limited season so it will be playing at the same time as the Globe's production.  Had I not already booked tickets for the Globe production, it would get my vote as the Almeida's production is being touted as "Part The Godfather, Part Breaking Bad".  Really Almeida?  Is that really the best you can do for the play that can lay claim to being the originator of all drama? *shakes head*

Dvd/150: Les REVENANTS (The RETURNED) (Fabrice Gobert/Frédéric Mermoud, 2012, tv)

On a mountain road near a French town, a school coach swerves to avoid a boy in the road and plunges into the ravine.

Schoolgirl Camille returns home to her shocked family.  Julie, a local nurse, is followed home by "Victor" a silent young boy who will not leave her flat.  A young man, Simon, visits the home of his ex-fiancée who is terrified at his demands to be let in.  Barmaid Lucy is attacked by a hooded man which reminds the police of a serial killer's modus operandi from seven years before.

What we and the strangers discover is that they are the undead, all having died at various times before, all drawn back to the town for some unknown reason.

Although this chilling series from France is based on a film, it's sombre atmosphere, understated performances, haunting imagery and edgy Mogwai score makes it a complete original.

Shelf or charity shop? It is haunting my shelf...

GRAND HOTEL at Southwark Playhouse - Fifth time checking in

For a show that has never had a long run in London, it's noticeable that I have seen GRAND HOTEL five times - I guess I like it but it wasn't always that way.

Let's step back in time to 1958: writer Luther Wright and song-writers George Forrest and Robert Wright wanted to follow up their Broadway hit KISMET with a musical based on the Vicki Baum novel and MGM film GRAND HOTEL, retitled AT THE GRAND.  KISMET leading lady Joan Deiner was to star (and her husband was to direct) but when Paul Muni was cast too the book underwent changes to make his role bigger.  But Muni was unhappy, feeling Deiner was getting preferential treatment from her husband and the show died on the West Coast.

In 1988 director/choreographer Tommy Tune was asked to revisit it and he made the show more conceptual and play with no interval. The two Wrights and Dixon balked at his changes so Tune fired them!  He gave the score to NINE composer Maury Yeston to rejig the lyrics and add several songs of his own.  The book was rewritten by Peter Stone who refused to take a writing credit.

Tune's black and gold minimalist production ran on Broadway for over 2 years, winning five Tony Awards, although not for score or book.  Still smarting from their sacking, Forrest & Wright blocked any cast album for over two years - too late for David Carroll who played the Baron as he died from a pulmonary embolism in the recording studio.

I saw the Tommy Tune production in 1992 at the Dominion Theatre when it opened with Lilianne Montevecchi reprising her role as Grushinskaya but the show closed after only four months.  I thought it visually impressive but the show was lost on that barnlike stage.

I saw the show again in 2000 at the Guildhall school performed by final year students but finally 'connected' with it when Michael Grandage directed a thrilling Olivier award-winning production at the Donmar in 2004 with Julien Ovenden as the Baron, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Grushinskaya, Helen Baker as Flaemmchen and Daniel Evans as Kringelein.

Since then there has been another Guildhall production last year and now we are invited to check in again at the Southwark Playhouse from the same team who gave us Yeston's TITANIC last year.  Staged as a traverse production, it was a production that was inventive and enjoyable but it suffered at the end from a striving for profundity that was misplaced.  Sometimes a musical is *just* a musical.

Most of the budget looks like it has gone on a massive chandelier which hangs above the playing area although Lee Newby's tiled floor summons up visions of a bygone elegance.  Sadly it's a bit of a rundown Grand Hotel as the only furniture it had was chairs and a table but the cast summoned up enough business to detract from the lack of set.

The eight-piece orchestra under Michael Bradley made the score sound great and there was atmospheric lighting from Derek Anderson.  Director Thom Sutherland maintains a through-line of near-desperation for all the show's characters who are all facing their own demons: Preysing faces financial ruin, Baron Felix von Gaigern faces physical danger through owed debts to gangsters, Grushinskaya faces the end of her ballet career, Kringelein faces the end of his life and Flaemmchen faces her unwanted pregnancy.

The cast have a good company feel which serves well in the ensemble numbers but the unstarry cast sometimes struggle to stand out in the larger-than-life roles.  Victoria Serra was vibrant as the Hollywood-sighted Flaemmschen but I didn't feel she captured the character's vulnerability.  Although too young for the role, I liked George Rae's dying-but-optimistic Kringelein and Italian musicals diva Christine Grimandi was fine as the tempestuous Grushenskaya although she was unevenly paired with Scott Garnham's Baron.  Although well sung, he wasn't terribly charismatic and the Baron needs to have it in spades as he is the glue between all the other characters.

Lee Proud's choreography was inventive within the confines of the space and none more so in the Baron's final song "Roses At The Station" where he moves between handfuls of rose petals hurled by the other cast members, moving closer all the time to his own destiny.

Sutherland badly fumbles the end of the show however: the show ends with the hotel's staff reprising their surly song "Some Have, Some Have Not" only this time in German, hinting at the coming rise of the brutish under-class thanks to the Nazis.  All well and good, but here Sutherland has them rough up the lead characters, piling up their suitcases and divesting them of their coats and keepsakes.  Rather than illuminating the moment, it felt like Sutherland was ripping off the productions of CABARET by Sam Mendes and Rufus Norris which both ended with concentration camp imagery.

Despite this I still enjoyed seeing the show again and would urge you to see it if you never have before.  GRAND HOTEL plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 5th September,

Sunday, August 09, 2015

MEASURE FOR MEASURE: back to the beginning...

In 2004 I took an afternoon off working in the poster shop to have a theatrical adventure.  Although the Globe Southwark had been open for seven years I had never had the urge to go before I heard that Sophie Thompson was playing the virtuous Isabella opposite Mark Rylance as The Duke in John Dove's production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE.

Despite an engaging performance from Sophie, I didn't feel any particular urge to go back to the theatre for another seven years!  But last year we had a good run of productions there which has continued this year so it was always going to be an interesting experience to return to MEASURE FOR MEASURE again.

This production was directed by departing Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole and seemed similar to the 2004 one in playing up the comedy and letting the dark heart of the play take a back seat.  Sadly it is not a play I warm to: it seems to be full of scenes which are full of exposition of what has happened offstage - it can get quite frustrating after a while.

The play also seems a trifle broken-backed.  Angelo appears quite a lot in the first half but then vanishes for most of the second half - we are told how the revenge on him is plotted and has come about which feels odd for such a dominant part.

Maybe I need to see a production that downplays the antics of the bawdy folk.  In Dromgoole's production all the emphasis was laid on the laughs and none on the disturbing ambiguous morality.  Maybe that is too difficult to do when you have to provide the obligatory song and jig at the end?

The Duke of Venice decides to experience for himself how amoral the city has become and disguises himself as a monk while handing the reins of power over to his deputy Angelo and his more understanding brother Escalus.  Angelo seizes his chance to crack down on all that affronts his puritanical morality, and in the midst of closing down the brothels, he also sentences to death Claudio who has committed the crime of sleeping with his fiancee Juliet.

Claudio gets word to his novice sister Isabella to intercede on his behalf but despite her impassioned pleas, Angelo refuses.  However Angelo is a typical politician - he preaches morality while being less than pure himself.  He had previously promised a woman, Mariana, that they would marry then dropped her when she proved less wealthy than he thought and now he tells Isabella that he will free Claudio - if Isabella will sleep with him.

Isabella wrestles with her conscience and she cannot give in to her brother's pleadings to sacrifice her virginity.  Angered by Angelo's draconian measures, the disguised Duke finds a plan to trap his deputy but time is running out...

I think it would certainly have helped had our Angelo dominated the production but Kurt Egyiawan's performance was as weighty as a gadfly which was a huge disappointment.  Mariah Gale's Isabella was steadfast but also lacked any inner fire to really make her claim centre-stage.

The performances that had any element in humour were the ones that seemed to connect more: there wasn't much ambiguity in Dominic Rowan's disguised Duke Vincentio but he found all the humour he could especially in the final scenes when he has to to reveal his two identities.  Brendan O'Hea was an outrageous Lucio, stalking around the stage like a camp ostrich, trying to inveigle himself in with the most powerful character.  The spirit of Kenneth Williams was abroad the night we went!

I very much liked Paul Rider's sympathetic Escalus as well as Trevor Fox's pugnacious Geordie Pompey, always ready to defend his amoral lifestyle.  There was an odd performance from Dean Nolan as Elbow the Constable who appears to be channeling James Cordon's 'look at me I'm fat' schtick and an insistent but not-very-successful Mistress Overdone from Petra Massey.  The production marked a first however - my first Globe stage bare arse courtesy of Dennis Herdman.

A problem play which was enjoyable enough but not totally delivering on what the play's real message is.  Oh well, on to the next one...

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Dvd/150: The CAESARS (Derek Bennett, 1968, tv)

Eight years before the more-famous I CLAUDIUS, there had been another TV series about the Julio-Claudian dynasty of ancient Rome called THE CAESARS on Granada TV.

I don't recall ever seeing it so it was fascinating to compare the two as they both cover the same timeline.  More interested in the political than the personal, the earlier series is exceptional thanks to the dry wit and concise story-telling of Philip Mackie's scripts and it's shadowy b&w photography.

Excellent performances abound: Sonia Dresdel's Livia is an imperious battle-axe, André Morrell is remarkable as the urbanely cynical Tiberius while Freddie Jones is fine in his award-winning performance as Claudius.

The second half of the series is dominated by Ralph Bates' quicksilver, insane Caligula - interesting too to see what was permissible onscreen in 1968!

There is also a tantalising cameo from Nicola Pagett as the young scheming Messalina.

Shelf or charity shop? A keeper... especially as it features a performance from my dear friend the late and great John Normington as Caligula's secretary!