Thursday, 14 September 2017

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Theatre Review

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Review (Storyhouse, Chester) - 8th July 2017.

As part of its inaugural season of four plays, with the same cast and crew performing two each - Storyhouse’s brand-new theatre complex and its company, produces a completely new, fresh and vibrant version of Shakespeare’s beloved, romantic classic of magic, couples and comic misunderstanding!
  Director Alex Clifton’s production is a bold, brilliant, instantly accessible interpretation of this timeless fairytale. It strikes the perfect balance between retaining all the classical, traditional elements of original structure: The interlinking narrative strands of the two couples, the players, the fairy kingdom), whilst also subtly adding a contemporary edge.
 For example, the very smart, topical casting choice has been made, to make Lysander a female as oppossed to a male - without that change ever being too heavy-handed, or overwhelming the overall story.
 The effectiveness of the set-design lies in its simplicity: a canopy of fairground-style lightbulbs and several props, allow much of the other magic to exist in the imagination of the audience.
  The cast are universally excellent. In particular, Natalie Grady is hilarious as Quince, the director of: ‘the play within the play’. The character’s first name was Peter in Shakespeare’s original text, however another refreshing update means that she’s now called Petra - as Grady’s unforgettable characterisation repeatedly reminds us!
  Fred Lancaster is also brilliant as a sharp, sophisticated, protective Demetrius, pursuing his one true love, but falling under the notoriously convoluted magic spell of the kingdom. Anne Odeke is a jolly, joyous Titania who revels in extravagance. Emily Johnstone is appropriately exasperated as the disparaging Helena, and Vanessa Schofield brings a purity of spirit to the innocence of Hermia. The two couples increasingly complicated confrontations are masterful!
  The performance which the players (Nick Bottom the weaver etc) put on at the end, for the Duke Theseus’s engagement, is extremely funny, complete with Alex McGonagle’s Francis Flute raising his voice a few octaves to play Thisbe, and Petra Quince acting as a prompt, correcting her cast via a karaoke-style microphone!
  The use of music is also especially inventive, with Puck’s final soliloquy being turned into a song and dance, lending the finale a real sense of a party atmosphere - one to which the audience all feel invited!

Rating: * * * *

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Friday, 8 September 2017

The Limehouse Golem

The Limehouse Golem, Certificate 15, 109 mins, Lionsgate.

Set within the notoriously ominous world of Victorian-era London - cobbled moonlit back-streets rife with playwrights, ‘women of the town’ and a clutch of horrific serial-killings for good measure, this is a terrific, puzzle-solver of a very traditional murder-mystery - in the most thrillingly entertaining sense.
 A very classic, deliberately old fashioned who-dunnit rather than horror, its economical, gripping adaptation from the Peter Ackroyd novel, is given a subtly contemporary edge, by prolifically versatile screenwriter Jane Goldman: (Stardust, X-Men: First Class, and the fantastically inventive Kingsman and its forthcoming sequel).
  The opening shot is extremely bold and striking: The ghost-white face of famed compare Dan Lino (a terrific Douglas Booth), directly, simultaneously addressing both the unsuspectingly captivated audience inside the theatre - and us, the equally enthralled, almost complicit audience, safe within the confines of the cinema - declaring: ‘Let us begin, my friends - at the end…Whose is the name of fear on every Londoner’s lips?’… Cue the gloriously lacerating string crescendo, in a score every bit as doom-laden and tightly-wound as the never-gratuitous violence.
  That name is the infamous Limehouse Golem: a relentless, blade-wielding, seemingly arbitrary multiple-murderer, pre-dating Jack The Ripper.
  Drafted in to investigate is the straight-laced Inspector Kildare, a role originally planned for the absolutely seminal, much-missed Alan Rickman, played brilliantly by Bill Nighy, a more serious role for him - he still brings that trademark twinkle, charm and expert timing. (Similarly, with his unmistakable tones and slow, sinister delivery, I’m certain Rickman would’ve been perfect).
Booth steals the show as a charismatic and singing Lino, the ever-excellent Daniel Mays is soulful as the policeman, and Olivia Cooke has real integrity as Elizabeth.
  It has echoes of the Ripper chronicle From Hell, or Sleepy Hollow (both starring Johnny Depp), Agatha Christie, and Nolan’s The Prestige. The structure and cinematography, perfectly capture playing cleverly with flashback, perspective and identity - exploring notions of performance, theatricality and deception. ‘We all wear pantomime masks - do we not?’ The glow, vibrancy and excessive extravagance of the music-hall scene, is juxtaposed with the icy chill of murder outside. The final twist is shocking and ingenious - my jaw dropped to the floor!…

Rating: * * * * *

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Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower - 97 mins. Approx, Cert: 12A- Sony / Columbia / Imagine Entertainment.

After decades of being in the production doldrums, die-hard fans of Stephen King’s fabled chronicles have been building up to the first cinematic adaptation of The Dark Tower with white-hot levels of anticipation. King is his own king of the chiller: author of such seminal standalone classics as The Shining & Carrie as well as the equally hyped, forthcoming clown-chimera IT - (in cinemas Friday 8th September), he’s in the doomy midst of somewhat of a late-career reconnaissance.  
  Penning the adaptation is screenwriter Akiva Goldsman; a writer of striking visual aplomb: nineties Batman’s Forever & Robin, I Robot, I Am Legend, and more recently the much-misunderstood A New York Winter’s Tale.
  It’s also produced by Ron Howard’s company; another nineties powerhouse: Imagine Entertainment.
  It’s entertaining, and has stylish cinematographic touches of slow-motion, speed-ramped editing (my screening wasn’t in 3D - but I’m glad the motif of so-called ‘bullet-time’ makes a return, even if the impact of those techniques is far more muted than I was expected.
  Perfectly enjoyable it may be, but in a commercially inconsistent summer of a very hyped, well-publicised slate of blockbusters: (Baywatch, Ghost In The Shell, even Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky unexpectedly flopped in the U.S.) - Tower may suffer from the fact it could’ve been far more daring, sharper and scarier than it is - instead of a very muddled confection.
  It’s Taylor Hackford’s Devil’s Advocate, (nowhere near as gripping or edgy), mixed unevenly with more family-orientated versions of Jumanji or Zathura. King purists may be doubly disappointed, not only by vast liberties taken with the source material, but also by rushed pacing, easy plotting choices made for convenience, and safe sanitisation of shocks in favour of securing a 12A audience - as opposed to making it darker and riskier.
  Both Matthew McConaughey (terrific; stealing the show with a drawling malevolence as Walter - The Man In Black) and Idris Elba (dependably stoic), subtly and skilfully make the delivery of Goldsman’s often complex script look effortless. But the dialogue is so needlessly didactic: ‘He has the boy! We must save him / I know!’. But I hope to see more, and the effects are impressive.


Rating: * * *

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Family Day

‘Family Day’. - Becca Phillipson - James Burgess - 2.9.17.

This is a very sweet-natured, charming short-film from the multi-talented Becca Phillipson. A refreshing, earnest ‘dramedy’ - obtaining the correct balance of a mixture of drama and comedy, Family Day is set within the limiting confines of a prison.
  But what is all the more surprising is that aside from the dark and gritting tones that have become customary - particularly on television - in the ilk of Bad Girls or The Accused - this feels much lighter. It’s lighthearted, without ever feeling too frothy or insubstantial.
  These are people who - prisoner and visitor - both still strive for fulfilment and aspiration, and, without giving to much away - also don’t let authority prohibit a little liberated freedom…
  Exactly what that freedom entails is again executed very deftly, without ever seeming didactic or over-sentimentalized. This is achieved through such clever use of slow-motion (again, never too earnest or over-the-top) and a yearning score that’s understated - matching the action perfectly.
  These themes are well-observed and timely, but the camaraderie of the inmates is still very present, even in the face of obvious adversity.
  The performances are all appropriately conversational and natural, and on what must have been shoe-string money and resources - a crisp, deeply polished project has been made. I wish there were more short-films of this sheer quality that were both this original, as well as  fundamentally entertaining - whilst also being subtly undercut with offering an acute social comment.

Rating: * * * *