Archive | Theatre reviews

An archive of all the blog's theatre reviews. There's also an archive and an A-Z index of all reviews.


January 4, 2016

What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer

Posted on January 4, 2016 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

The Christmas holidays/Saturnalia are a time for revelry and fun, followed by bloated lounging around watching TV. At least, they usually are. This year, good TV was slightly harder to find, so after the jump in this Christmas viewing round-up, the only Christmas specials I'll be looking at are Doctor Who and Sherlock, as well as the slightly unexpected and un-Christmasy Marco Polo: One Hundred Eyes. Several of the regular shows also finished their runs over Christmas, so I'll be taking a gander at Ash vs Evil Dead, The Bridge and Legends, and I finally finished the first season of The Man In the High Castle, too.

That doesn't sound like much viewing for two weeks, and you'd be right. I also watched a few movies and even went to the theatre:

Elf (Dominion theatre, London)
A stage adaptation of the delightful Will Ferrell Christmas classic movie, in which a Christmas elf discovers he's really a human and ventures south to New York to find his children's book-publisher father (James Caan), only to discover that daddy is in Santa's naughty list. He gets a job at a department store, where thanks to adorable co-worker Zooey Deschanel, he discovers the human thing called love, and manages to restore Christmas cheer to the world.

Initially tediously slavish to the original, right down to the New York setting requiring the entirely British cast to put on US accents, this musical version starts to get better only when the story begins to diverge halfway through. The show is also more knowing than the original, losing some of its innocence and adding jokes that only the adults in the audience will get.

Ben Forster (winner of ITV's Superstar), who's got a cracking set of pipes on him, plays Buddy the Elf a bit closer to Jim Carrey than to Will Ferrell, while Girls Aloud's similiarly pipe-equipped Kimberley Walsh (I'd misread that as Kimberly Wyatt from Sky 1's Got To Dance, so was a bit disappointed when I realised my mistake…) foregoes Deschanel's hipster quirkiness in favour of being just a cynical woman embittered by too many of life's disappointments. More interestingly - again for the adults - is the presence of 80s/90s stars Joe McGann (The Upper Hand) and Jessica Martin (Doctor Who, The Bobby Davro Show) as Buddy's human parents.

It's a lavish affair with a good cast that's still very entertaining and that eventually finds its feet, but it's better if you've never seen the original and imagine it's all set in London - they missed a trick there.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) (iTunes)
Every Mission Impossible is a bit different but this time we do get something a bit closer to the first movie in the series, with an attempt to do proper spy stuff again. Senator Alec Baldwin is trying to shut down the Impossible Mission Force, just as Tom Cruise cottons on to the fact that rogue agents from other countries' spy agencies have clubbed together for nefarious purposes, forcing the team to go on the lam. Can Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and generic token woman Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) stop the 'rogue nation', even though its agents are supposedly every bit as good as IMF and wise to how it does business? 

You betcha, but the fun is in finding out how. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie gives us some occasionally thrilling, mostly too-CGIed action set pieces, as well as some surprisingly funny moments and the traditional con jobs, although an attempt to create parallels to Casablanca are ill judged, Renner is confined almost entirely to chatty scenes in Washington and London has about 1,700 red telephone boxes for no good reason. Also amusing for UK viewers is that the British government appears to be entirely composed of the cast of Rev.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (20150 (in cinemas)
Simultaneously answering the questions "What if it had been Princess Leia rather than Luke Skywalker left on Tatooine?" and "What must it be like to work for the Empire?", this new Star Wars movie has newcomer Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet waiting for her family to return to pick her up. Into her life come a comedic stormtrooper-with-a-conscience sidekick (John Boyega) and a droid looking for an old jedi. Together they have to escape the revamped Empire, find the rebels, meet Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon and destroy the Empire's new, definitely-not-the-Death-Star-oh-no superweapon.

JJ Abrams gives us the first decent addition to the Star Wars series since the 80s through the simple measure of giving us Star Wars again, but with modern special effects and a few character/relationship switches just to obfuscate the fact it's the same movie as the first one. But it is a very decent remake-sequel, reminding you of just how good the original was, being genuinely thrilling, funny and enjoyable throughout, not invoking any of the tedious cruft that Lucas added in the prequels, and giving us a decent new cast and a return of the old cast. And it's great to have one of these things about a girl rather than a boy for a change, too.

The big question, given where the film ends, is whether the next one is going to be a simple retread of The Empire Strikes Back or whether there are still new stories to be told in the franchise.

Kung Fu Killer/Jungle (2014) (Netflix)
Top martial artist Donnie Yen's in Hong Kong nick for murder, when other top martial artists start getting killed off, forcing the police to recruit him to stop the murderer from killing anyone else. But does Yen know more than he's letting on and can he stop the killer before he gets to his girlfriend?

It's a largely unremarkable plot, but what lifts Kung Fu Killer are its fight scenes, direction and cast. Featuring pretty much a who's who of the Hong Kong martial arts industry, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera (stick around to the end to see if you spotted everyone), the movie is often a Chinese travelogue and has some directorial flourishes that nod to a diverse range of movies, including The Bourne Supremacy, although its CGI is a bit weak and the wire work a bit too obvious. The best fight is saved for Yen and till last, but the movie fills its runtime in an almost Game of Death-style deconstruction of kung fu, each scene showing a different aspect of Chinese martial arts.

Worth watching if you want to see what a modern Hong Kong martial arts movie looks like and to see Donnie Yen on good form.

Continue reading "What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer "

October 30, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Medea (Almeida), The Beautiful Lie, The Player, Y Gwyll and Limitless

Posted on October 30, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

With no Cumberemergency to take me away from it all this week, here's WHYBW, right on schedule. This week, I've already reviewed the first episode of ABC's rather bad (in all senses of the word) Wicked City, and passed a third-episode verdict on The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; of course, Supergirl began this week on CBS and Sky1, but I previewed that a while ago. That means that after the jump, you can enjoy my thoughts on the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, The Beautiful Lie, Blindspot, The Flash, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You're The Worst.

But I've also been to the theatre again! Proper theatre, too - none of that 'theatre at the movies' rubbish, neither.

Medea (Almeida, until November 14)
Remember Clueless and how everyone was impressed at how Amy Heckerling had taken Jane Austen's Emma and modernised it for American teenagers? Remember how it wasn't called Emma

That's probably Medea's biggest failing. Had it been called Northern London Writer Is Getting A Divorce From Her Actor Husband Jason and the Kids Are Being Dragged Into It, people would probably have been raving about it being a great modern feminist play, with marvellous parallels to the Euripidean Medea

However, if you call something Medea, there's a certain expectation that there should be a certain amount of dialogue, plot, characters, etc from the original. Whereas this Medea has virtually no lines, few characters, few themes and few plot elements in common with the original. Which is probably why no one's been raving about it.

On its own terms, it's not bad. In terms of staging, it's a sort of halfway house between the Almeida's almost traditional Bakkhai and its archly inventive Oresteia, sometimes a little too pretentious for its own good to the point of laughability, but usually taking good decisions about how to depict events. Kate Fleetwood is as good as Helen McCrory was at the National last year, but less 'actorly' about it. The feminism isn't so much sub-text as both text and super-text, with endless debates about the place of women in society, women's value, men, fathers et al. The changes made by Rachel Cusk feel almost autobiographical - even if they aren't, you'll still feel they are by the end of it.

The worst aspect of the play is that it has the somewhat clumsy move of having a god/goddess explain the feminism of it all to the audience at the end. It also feels, given how much plot innovations Cusk has added to the text, like she's realised she's run out of time, as virtually everything that gets set up by her ends up explained concluded hurriedly at the end by this god/goddess. You could potentially argue that it's a traditional move for a Greek tragedy, to have a god explain the plot, but it sits poorly in such an otherwise modern play. 

It's intermittently interesting and clever, with a lot to say for itself, even if it could say a lot of it with considerably more subtlety and maybe better pacing, too. But whatever you do, don't go in thinking you're going to see something that's anything like what Euripides wrote.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including Medea (Almeida), The Beautiful Lie, The Player, Y Gwyll and Limitless"

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October 26, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player

Posted on October 26, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

So I had a last minute 'Cumberemergency' on Friday, which meant that I suddenly didn't have the time to write 'What have you been watching?' Sorry about that, but hopefully, this will make it up to you.

Last week on the blog, I reviewed a big slew of first episodes from all manner of different countries:

And today I passed a third-episode verdict on BBC America/BBC Two's The Last Kingdom

That means that after the jump, you can find reviews of the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, CSI, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You're The Worst. Yes CSI, since I finally got around to watch the final ever episode of that.

One of those shows is getting promoted to regular. Can you guess which one it is? Not CSI, obviously.

(Actually, I haven't managed to watch the very latest episodes of either Y Gwyll or The Beautiful Lie, because it's really Sunday and this is a scheduled post I'm writing before both of them have aired. I'll let you know about them next time.)

I did try to watch the first episode of Con Man as well. However, I gave up 5 minutes when it started becoming cringe comedy on the plane and Tudyk tried to get a fan to give up his seat for him. No extended music sequences in my TV shows, no cringe comedy in my comedies - those rules are sacred.

Anyway, let's talk about the 'Cumberemergency', since I was called upon at the last minute to accompany my mother-in-law to the theatre. Or was it a movie? Maybe it was both. Or neither.

Hamlet (The Barbican)
The National Theatre's latest version of Hamlet, performed at the Barbican and starring that Benedict Cumberbatch from off the telly. Except it was one of those NT Live things where they film the play as it's performed and beam it into cinemas everywhere. Except the cinema in question was at the Barbican, so they might as well have just knocked a hole in the wall and let us look through it.

Anyway, Hamlet's one of those plays where every director tries to make his or her mark by doing something radically different. The last version I saw at the Barbican was the Stephen Dillane (The One Game, The Tunnel, Hunted, Game of Thrones) one where he went naked for a scene. 

On top of that, Hamlet exists in three different versions, some which have scenes that aren't in the others. The result is that I always forget what's in the play and spend the whole time thinking "I don't remember this. Is this in the original?" 

In this version, our Benedict is playing a very bereaved, but generally good-egg Hamlet, who's a bit annoyed his mum's remarrying so soon after his dad died - except his dad's ghost reveals that actually, he was murdered. He doesn't get very pissed off like Mel Gibson or naked like Dillane, but does plot his revenge, all while his girlfriend goes super-loopy.

Unfortunately, the NT Live experience is basically the worst of both worlds. Despite my flippancy, the NT production does look very innovative, interesting and surprisingly funny, giving all the scenes genuine meaning. Bennie gives a great performance as Hamlet, making interesting choices such as the removal of any hint of sarcasm from the 'what a piece of work is man' monologue to make him a disappointed optimist rather than an embittered child-man. Siân Brook is marvellously barking as Ophelia. Ciaran Hinds's Claudius is the surprising weak link, straining to effect a Yorkshire accent for no discernable reason, but still a decent stage presence.

But any sense of theatre's immediacy is lost in the cinema. It looks nice, but you don't feel anything, because the actors aren't there on stage in front of you. Similarly, it's not cinematic enough, despite the director's best efforts to include crane shots and the like, for you to get the benefits of the directorial options and camerawork available to movies.

The play's split into two acts, the first 2h, the second 1h, and the first certainly feels the full 2h as a result of these problems. It's not the production's fault, it's simply a problem of the medium.

So don't do NT Live if you can. The play's the thing, after all.

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