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January 10, 2014

Mini-review: Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse)

Posted on January 10, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus

Where: Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9LX
When: 6 December 2013-8 February 2014. Broadcast to cinemas on 30 January
How long: 2h30 with 15 minute interval
Tickets from: £10 (you’ll be lucky, though)
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Virgilia and Tom Hiddleston as Caius Martius Coriolanus Photo by Johan PerssonCoriolanus is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus one of my favourite Shakespeare films/productions, and Tom Hiddleston’s one of my favourite current actors, so the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus was something I was looking forward to considerably. The story of a Roman general whose love of Rome is matched only by his hatred of the average Roman, it looks at the nature of democracy, how much we rely on people who might not have our best interests at heart but without whom we couldn’t survive, and the nature of politics and loyalty.

It’s also one of Shakespeare’s war plays. This is an important point because the Donmar is an intimate venue and having armies clash on stage isn’t really within its purview. Indeed, bar a couple of fight scenes employing some reasonably good stage jiu jitsu and swordfighting, the Donmar production is a resultantly somewhat talky affair, something that the director goes to considerable lengths to obscure, perhaps with one eye on the fact this will be beamed into cinemas at the end of the month. There’s all manner of things dropped from the ceiling, when the cast aren’t sat on chairs at the back of a scene watching proceedings they’re marching up and down stage to rearrange on them and stand on them, Tom Hiddleston gets his top off and has a shower, there’s climbing up and down ladders and walls - the list goes on.

Hiddleston is the headliner and although he’s very good, he’s slightly miscast for the role: Coriolanus is a cold, imperious eagle of a man, whom no one but another soldier could love; Hiddleston, despite his best efforts, is effortlessly charming and even amusing, light because of his age, rather than a venomous ball of entitlement. It doesn’t help that the director, Josie Rourke, aims for comedy whenever possible, which detracts from the play’s hard edge, or that Coriolanus' arch-enemy, Hadley Fraser’s Tullus Aufidius, is equally young and not especially threatening. Indeed, with his Saxon/Viking outfit and his army of Northerners ranked against Hiddleston’s Southerners, it sometimes feels like an episode of Game of Thrones, except Hiddleston is the Rob Stark of the piece, Fraser the Theon Greyjoy.

Also in the cast is TV’s Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who and Sherlock writer and actor, but let us not forget The League of Gentlemen), whose Menenius is perhaps more lounge lizard than need be, but he deals with both comedy and drama well. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Borgen) plays Hiddleston’s wife, but gets roughly five lines so you wonder why she bothered coming over from Denmark at all, other than for the experience. In fact, it’s Deborah Findlay, who plays Volumnia, Coriolanus’ wife, who comes out of the play best, effortlessly dominating every scene she’s in, in part thanks to a generous performance by Hiddleston.

It’s a good production, imaginative in many ways, but perhaps one that thinks its audience will balk at its relative bleakness and over-compensates.

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December 13, 2013

Review: Superman/Wonder Woman #3

Posted on December 13, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Superman/Wonder Woman #3

After the slightly bumpier issue #2, Superman/Wonder Woman is back on track with issue #3, which features not only a bevy of guest superheroes, including Batman and the Justice League of America, but also classic Superman villain General Zod, Harrods, a Christmas present, an ex-boyfriend and a USB flash drive.

Guess which one is going to give our hero and heroine the biggest problem?

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December 12, 2013

Nostalgia corner: Chandler and Co (1996)

Posted on December 12, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Peter Capaldi with a crossbow in Chandler and Co

There are a couple of names that are big in BBC circles right now: Peter Capaldi and Paula Milne. Capaldi is of course set to become the 12th Doctor Who (or should that be 14th? We’ll soon know) this Christmas, while Milne has been responsible for series such as Angels, The Hour and The Politician’s Husband, as well as TV movies such as Legacy.

So it seems an appropriate time to have a look back at 1996’s Chandler and Co, written by Milne and co-starring Capaldi. The show’s two lead characters, however - the eponymous Chandler and co - were Dee Chandler (Catherine Russell, who’s probably best known as Serena Campbell in Holby City and as Helen Lynley in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) and her sister-in-law Elly Chandler (Barbara Flynn from The Beiderbecke Affair and A Very Peculiar Practice). After Dee divorces Elly’s philandering brother Max, she convinces Elly to help her set up a private detective agency.

Unfortunately, of course, having no background in law enforcement or anything investigative, neither has a clue what she’s doing. Enter Larry Blakeston (Peter Capaldi), the PI who investigated Max for Dee and a supplier of fine technological devices to inquiring detectives. Blakeston agrees to help out - with some degree of eye rolling at the duo’s amateurism.

With the show keen to depict a more realistic milieu for the private detectives, far away from the drug lords and master criminals of other TV shows, in favour of the more bread and butter cheating spouses and runaway children, you’d have thought it would have been a relatively genteel piece. But instead it was largely about the emotional and physical damage loved ones can do to each other (particularly men). Indeed, even Capaldi, an ostensible hero of the piece, doesn’t get let off lightly, pressurising Dee into sleeping with him in order to maintain his good favour and by extension the viability of her business.

Fitting into a period when female crime investigators were on the rise again in the UK (Prime Suspect, Anna Lee), the show lasted two series, during the second of which Flynn was replaced by Susan Fleetwood (who sadly died shortly after the series aired). It’s not been repeated since, but you can watch the first series on YouTube below:

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