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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Wishaw’

I’ve lost track of the number of productions of this play I’ve seen. In the last five years alone there’s been the RSC’s African one, Dominic Dromgoole’s ‘inside and out’ at both The Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the Donmar’s all-female prison setting and the RSC’s classical take earlier this month. Could the new Bridge Theatre add anything? Well, as it turns out, it does. It proves to be a very versatile space, transforming into a sort of indoor Globe, without the restriction of a stage and with a very flexible floor which solves sight line issues for smaller promenaders!

Nicholas Hytner’s production is very raucous, at times feeling like live news unfolding. There’s live heavy rock as you enter, the promenade audience swaying and swelling as the start time approaches. As the band leave, the crowd swells again, this time with Romans cheering the return of their new hero Julius Caesar. The staging is particularly effective with crowd and battle scenes, with the audience expertly marshalled, acting as extras, but the more intimate conspiratorial scenes work well too, making you feel like you’re eves-dropping on the conversations. One of the most striking things about it is how the verse feels totally naturalistic and contemporary. I felt that I absorbed more than ever, and like the RCS’s a few weeks ago, the contemporary parallels are extraordinary, without being heavy-handed or loaded with gimmicks.

Cassius and Casca are women, with Michelle Fairley giving a particularly fine performance as the former. Ben Wishaw’s intelligent characterisation of Brutus is introspective but with steely determination. David Morrisey commands the space as Mark Anthony, putting on the swagger before the play even starts. David Calder is a more complex Caesar, enjoying the adulation yet somehow uncomfortable with all its trappings. Luxury casting indeed.

My only gripe was the distraction and disrespect of people coming and going from the pit, with ushers talking to them as they did. They need to be firm about no re-entry, which could be helped by ceasing to sell drink in the space, which no doubt contributes to their need to leave during the unbroken two hours!

An unmissable Julius Caesar for our times.

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I’ve had very mixed experiences with the work of American playwright Christopher Shinn, nurtured here by the Royal Court. I loved Then & Now, his last-but-one here at the Court (mind you, it did have a stunning performance by Eddie Redmayne), but felt his last one, Teddy Ferrara, at the Donmar, sank somewhere in mid-Atlantic. Here, there’s a great idea bursting to get out, but it can’t find its way through the snails pace narrative, with a central character who’s a complete arse.

Luke is a young silicone valley billionaire who gets a message from god telling him to follow the violence, so he begins a messianic tour of schools where there have been shootings, campuses where there have been rapes, troubled workplaces and people’s homes. Unsurprisingly, there as many disciples as there are detractors; he’s loved and loathed in equal measure, though the media attention certainly makes an impact. The celebrity circus all becomes too much for him, though, so he returns to his family home until the media gets bored and disappears in search of the next circus. He reconnects with old school flame Kate and eventually gets it together with his assistant Sheila before a rescheduled visit to the Equator Fulfilment Centre, a thinly disguised Amazon, to tell the world his plans for the future.

The first half is achingly slow, though the pace does pick up in the second, but it doesn’t sustain its 2h50m length. Like Teddy Ferrara, its quintessentially American, awash with political correctness, causes of all sorts and celebrity obsession. Although it does come to a conclusion, it doesn’t really go anywhere, and Luke is such an unsympathetic character you just want to shake him and tell him to get a life and do something more productive with his billions.

Ian Rickson’s staging is uncharacteristically dull, as is Ultz non-existent design, and though he does his best with the material, there are a lot of better uses of Ben Wishaw’s extraordinary talent. There’s a fine supporting cast, so its not the Ben Wishaw Show, not that you’d notice from the fan presence. I spent most of the interval deciding if I could be bothered to return. I’m glad I did, as it picked up, though that might have something to do with the large glass of wine I took in with me.

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Contemporary Music

I couldn’t resist the two seventy-something Celtic Knights as part of BluesFest. Van the Man and Jones the Voice at the O2 Arena both proved to be at the top of their vocal game. They each played great one-hour sets with their respective bands and seven songs together, three at the end of Van’s set and four at the end of Tom’s. These collaborations were under-rehearsed, rather random and disorganised affairs but they came out charming. The contrast between Tom’s extrovert showmanship and Van’s introverted cool was extraordinary. A real one-off treat we’re unlikely to see again.

Blood & Roses: The Songs of Ewan MacColl at the Barbican was another of those themed compilation shows which proved to be a delightful evening featuring his wife Peggy Seeger, folk royalty like the Carthy’s, Unthanks and Seth Lakeman and a whole load of MacColl’s. I have to confess I knew few of his songs, so much of it was a bit of a revelation, particularly The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face. When his son read out the names of those who’d covered this, you realised the family was probably still living off the royalties!

Billy Bragg’s concert at Union Chapel was by and large a return to the solo electric style of his early years, with much of the material coming from this period, though there was a pedal steel guitarist for part of the show. It was lovely, helped by being in my favourite concert venue and the attentive audience. He included his anti-Sun protest song which made me realise he’s about the only protest songster left!

I’m not sure what I was expecting of Lulu – Murder Ballad at the Linbury Studio, but what I got was a Tiger Lillies concert; a song cycle with superb projections and a dancer, but it didn’t add up to good storytelling and was actually rather dull, so much so that I left at the interval.

Opera

A concert performance of Handel’s opera Tamerlano at the Barbican by new (and young!) kids on the block Il Pomo d’Oro got off to a tentative start but soon found it’s form. Just twenty-five singers and musicians making a beautiful noise.

Morgen und Abend was more of a soundscape than an opera. A very impressionistic piece with an entirely off-white design and an off-the-wall sound. I’m not sure it sustained its 90 minute length and I think I’ll probably forget it fairly quickly, but is was original and something refreshingly less conservative at Covent Garden.

The first act of Opera Rara’s Zaza was a bit of a mess. There was so much going on and the comedy sat uncomfotrably with the love story. The remaining three acts were musically glorious, with a stupendous performance from Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho in the title role and terrific turns from Riccardo Massi and Stephen Gaertnern as her love interest. An impulsive outing to the Barbican which turned into a treat.

Art

The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern was rather a disappointment. It set out to show Pop Art wasn’t just a US / UK phenomenon. The trouble is, most it was second or third rate stuff and made you feel it probably was a US / UK phenomenon!

The Ai Wei Wei exhibition at the Royal Academy is one of the best contemporary art exhibitions I have ever visited. The combination of imagination, craftsmanship and the political statements being made is simply overwhelming. Wonderful.

Eddie Peake’s The Forever Loop was one of the most pointless and dull installations to grace Barbican’s Curve Gallery. Not even two naked dancers could liven it up!

Film

The transition of Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van from stage to screen is a huge success. Maggie Smith is sensational, Alex Jennings is superb as Alan Bennett and it’s great to see almost the entire History Boys cast in supporting roles.

Spectre was generic Bond, though with a return to the tongue-in-cheek humour that has been lost in the last couple. The set pieces were superb and it sustained its 2.5 hour length. It’s also a Who’s Who of great British actors, with Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear and Ben Wishaw in supporting roles.

I was surprised that Steve Jobs only covered 14 years or so, but I learnt so much about what made him tick and I was captivated by it. Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet were both superb.

Brooklyn was a gorgeous piece of film-making. I loved everything about this tale of Irish emigration to New York set in the year I was born, and I blubbed!

Carol was a beautifully made film, the 50s again looking gorgeous, and the performances superb, though it was a bit slow for me, particularly in the first 30 minutes or so.

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The Almeida Greeks season goes from strength to strength with this second revelatory and intelligent production of Euripides last play, in a version by Anne Carson. It certainly does the god of theatre proud. I thought it was spellbinding.

It’s a battle between the gods, in this case Dionysos god of theatre and wine (my god!), and the mortals, in this case Pentheus, King of Thebes, whose grandfather Kadmos has passed him the throne whilst still alive as he has no son. Dionysos in human form as Bakkhos presides over all things hedonistic, with a retinue of female followers, including Pentheus’ mother Agave, partying up a nearby mountain. Pentheus foolishly decides to take him on and it all ends in a lot more than tears. It is of course playing out the conflict of human nature between rationality and instinct, with characters often describing events happening off-stage.

All of the roles are played by just three actors, as was the convention in the theatre festival where it was first performed 2420 years ago. Ben Wishaw is Bakkhos, the blind seer Tiresius and Pentheus’ servant who witnesses his demise, Bertie Carvel plays Pentheus and his mother Agave, and Kevin Harvey plays Kadmos and messengers. They all undertake brilliant transformations and they’re all terrific. The superb chorus of ten women perform with an extraordinary cocktail of speech, singing, chanting and sounds, dressed in skins and fur with headdresses of greenery and painted faces, moving and sounding as one. They are much more a part of the play than is usual in Greek tragedy.

There’s atmospheric music by Orlando Gough no less and unusual and highly effective lighting by Peter Mumford. It’s played out on a bare stage surrounded by and on top of what look like black slag heaps, which provide challenging entrances for the actors. I thought James Macdonald’s staging was masterly and it gripped me from Ben Wishaw’s prologue and never let me go for the next 110 minutes.

With the first two stunners, Almeida AD Rupert Goold has set the bar high for his own Medea in September!

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The 18 year revival rule applies again as Jez Butterworth’s first play gets a high profile West End outing. I’d decided not to go, given it cost more than five times the inflation-adjusted 1995 price, but I’m dreadfully weak-willed and I finally succumbed to the temptation of seeing a new generation of actors tackle these roles. So my review is of a performance ten weeks into the run.

Set in 50’s Soho amongst small-time gangsters, Mojo features club manager Mickey, his staff Skinny, Potts & Sweets, the owner’s son Baby and rock & roll prodigy Silver Johnny. There’s murder offstage which impacts them all, but we’re viewing their reactions and relationships in the back-room and an empty club.

The strength of the piece is not in the story, but in the world Butterworth creates, his characterisations and the rich expletive-strewn dialogue which is like verbal gunfire. It’s got great energy, edginess and dark humour, though it owes a lot to early Pinter (the menacing late 50’s Birthday Party & Caretaker period). Somewhat appropriately, it’s playing in the Harold Pinter theatre.

The chief reason for seeing it is that it provides a showcase for five leading male actors and these five relish every moment. Potts & Sweets are really a double-act and Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint have great chemistry, with slick and speedy delivery of the lines. There’s a sense of Grint apprenticed to Mays in both the characters and the actors. The role is perfect for Mays’ style and Grint’s professional debut is hugely impressive. In 1995, these roles were played by Andy Serkis and Matt Bardock respectively.

Ben Wishaw continues to impress and here effectively extends his range as Baby (Tom Hollander in 1995). Colin Morgan does more acting as Skinny, maybe a touch too much, but I still liked his highly strung take on Skinny (Aiden Gillen in 1995). Given he’s now a bit too well known as Downton’s Bates, Brendan Coyle still manages to convince as Mickey (David Westhead in 1995). Tom Rhys Harries is cool and charismatic in the smaller role of Silver Johnny. It’s the same director / design team (Ian Rickson & Ultz) and it’s staged with great tension and period style.

It is good to see these fine (mostly) young actors take on the sort of meaty ‘contemporary’ roles that don’t come around that often, so I will reluctantly accept that it was good to relent – and my admiration for producer Sonia Friedman continues to increase; it can’t be that easy to put such a bankable cast together for five months.

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Contemporary Music

Joe Jackson is someone who is forever reinventing himself and his latest project is a tribute to Duke Ellington. Given he was with ‘the bigger band’, a six piece, I was expecting his Cadogan Hall concert to be the album plus some other jazz in the same vein, but he mixed in rearrangements of his back-catalogue and it was terrific. The Latin jazz material from Night & Day fared best and the final three songs – Is She Really Going Out With Him rearranged for accordion, tuba and banjo, the timeless Sunday Papers and A Slow Song (with added tears) provided a perfect ending. A treat.

I’m afraid Rufus Wainwright’s concert proved a bit of a disappointment, as was his latest album, and to some extent for the same reason. In seeking a more commercial sound, Mark Ronson’s CD production and the somewhat one-tone live sound design are both in danger of propelling him towards blandness. You can’t take anything away from the fact he writes great songs and has an extraordinary voice, but neither of these were shown off at their best here. The band, featuring solo favourites of mine Teddy Tompson and Krystle Warren, was excellent. Both Teddy (Richard & Linda’s son) and Leonard Cohen’s son Adam provided good opening sets, though the latter wasted 10 of his 35 minutes on anecdotes and arsing around. Talking of arsing around, I sighed as it became clear we were going to get another of Rufus’ pantos as an encore (we haven’t had one of those for some time) – and the most OTT one too, presided over by cupid in loincloth and wings. Rufus entered the auditorium dressed as Apollo, walked through the audience, took people on stage and massacred a couple of songs. Though I did go with the flow and laugh along eventually (when it became so surreal there was room for nothing else) I couldn’t help thinking we could have got 5 or 6 songs in the 20 minutes it took to do all this. Looking at Teddy Thompson and Krystle Warren’s expressions made me think I was not alone!

Opera

The Guildhall School of Music & Drama excelled itself again with a fascinating and hugely entertaining triple bill. La Navarraise is a tragedy by Massenet set in the Basque country, which lent itself perfectly to an updating. The singing from the second cast was superb, in particular Roisin Walsh as Anita, Adam Smith as Araquil, Ben McAteer as his dad and James Platt as Garrido, and the choruses were outstanding. Le Portrait de Manon by the same composer was a gentle romance where Des Grieux (from his opera Manon) has to tackle the young love of his ward; I saw Manon in April and there was something satisfying about seeing Des Grieux turn up in another opera! The final piece, Comedy on the Bridge by Martinu, was more challenging musically but very clever and very funny. The characters find themselves in a no-man’s-land on a bridge between borders, as they give up their passes to one border guard and have nothing to give the other. For opera, very original, and a delightful 40 minutes. 

Four years ago, commemorating 50 years since the death of Vaughan Williams, the late great Richard Hickox & The Philharmonia gave a stunning semi-staged performance of The Pilgrim’s Progress whilst Covent Garden ignored the anniversary and ENO’s contribution was a minor work. Well, ENO now give it it’s first full staging since the 1951 premiere and it proves to be something for which staging doesn’t really add much! It’s beautifully played by the ENO Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins and Roland Wood is an excellent Pilgrim / Bunyan, but the staging and design added little I’m afraid.

Art

I enjoyed the British Museum’s Shakespeare: Staging the World, though I did think the connection of some of the material and items was a bit nebulous. There was however much to fascinate and enjoy and it was an excellent choice of subject for the London 2012 Festival.

The Michael Werner Gallery is actually two rooms on the first floor of a posh building in Hedge Fund City (Mayfair) but it was the location for 10 new paintings by Peter Doig so a visit was mandatory. They are excellent works, but 10 paintings doesn’t really constitute an exhibition in my book!

I don’t really do queuing, but the 60 minutes wait for Random International’s Rain Room at the Barbican Centre was well worth it. You walk through a tropical downpour, but as you do the rain stops wherever you are. It’s brilliantly lit, so you get changing visual images and shadows as you move through the installation. Huge fun!

Art of Change at the Hayward Gallery showcased nine Chinese installation artists and contained some very original work. I was convinced one piece was a sculpture a la Ron Muek, then they closed the space to change performer and I was gob-smacked; how he maintained the position is beyond me.

I did a fascinating backstage tour of Shakespeare’s Globe – from heaven (the attic) to hell (understage) and followed it by viewing the photographic record of the Globe to Globe season at the entrance to its exhibition space. It brought back many fond memories of a unique experience and of course I had to buy the book!

At the Southbank Centre, the annual exhibition of art by offenders didn’t seem as good as last year, but they’ve extended the range of work on show and started selling some. It remains an annual must-see anyway.

The Photographers Gallery has a fascinating little exhibition called Shoot! Existential Photography which is about something I’d never heard of – shooting galleries where you aim for a target whilst a photo is taken of you. It’s extraordinary how similar people’s expressions and poses are and there’s one series of a Dutch woman who had one taken almost every year from 1936 to 2008, so you see her age in minutes.

The pairing of photographers William Klein & Daido Moriyama at Tate Modern is inspired. They’re very different photographers yet somehow the contrast adds value. Klein is in-your-face, dramatic and challenging while Moriyama is more subtle and mysterious. I loved them both, but Klein most of all. By contrast, A Bigger Splash at the same venue is for me a bigger disappointment. It seeks to explore the connection between painting and performance. The first half was mostly film and photos of people throwing paint over themselves and the second half a bunch one-room installations, most of which left me cold. Yawn.

The NPG is a lovely place to pop into when you have a spare few minutes and this time it was a lot of minutes, two exhibitions and a handful of displays. The Portrait Photo Award Exhibition is terrific this year and includes a handful of the known (unflattering Victoria Pendleton but flattering Mo Farrah) amongst the unknown. The Lost Prince commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of the prince who would have been Henry IX had he lived (and given that Charles I got the job, may have changed British history). Though it was interesting, had I not been a member and paid the £13 admission, I’d have felt somewhat cheated – another one of those excuses for a paying exhibition?

Bronze is one of the best exhibitions the Royal Academy has ever mounted. With pieces spanning 3500 years and organised thematically rather than chronologically, it was simply captivating. Somewhat surprisingly, the oldest were north European finds and the greatest revelation was the wealth of extraordinary pieces from West Africa. Unmissable.

Film

Skyfall was the first film I’ve seen in the cinema for over six months so that could be part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much. There are fewer locations and maybe less action, but focusing on London and bringing the character of M to the fore was no bad thing. Ben Wishaw is a great new Q and there were some excellent cameos, notably from Albert Finney as an old Scottish retainer. I did think Javier Bardem’s baddie was a bit too much of a caricature though.

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