Review – A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic starring Gillian Anderson (2014)

 

Streetcar2After its superb production of A View From A Bridge, the Young Vic is clearly on a roll as its current production, Tennessee William’s classic Pulitzer prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire, continues to play to sold out houses. After failing to get to the Donmar’s much-praised production in 2009, I was very much looking forward to my first Streetcar (in no small part due to Gillian Anderson’s involvement) and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The play centres on the lives of three characters, sisters Blanche DuBois and Stella Kowalski and Stella’s husband Stanley, after Blanche arrives for a visit a decade after her sister last saw her. Over the course of the evening the audience learns more about Blanche’s past and struggles and sees how each of their desires impacts on those around them.

Ben Foster & Gillian Anderson. Photo by Alastair Muir

Ben Foster & Gillian Anderson. Photo by Alastair Muir

The design of the production seems to have divided opinion but I loved it. Staged in the round, on a rectangular space, dressed as the small New Orleans apartment of the Kowalskis, the set slowly begins to rotate once Blanche takes her first secret drink and only briefly stops during the play. For me this was a brilliant staging choice by Magda Willi and director Benedict Andrews (whose recent work includes the brilliant Three Sisters at the Young Vic in 2012). As an audience member you can’t help but feel as if you are intruding on the innermost lives of the characters and there is a wonderfully effective voyeuristic quality too – some scenes you see clearly in front of you, but others you glimpse through a window or bathroom door, until your perspective shifts with the stage. There are moments when characters overhear/see things they perhaps shouldn’t and it is the same feeling for the audience. The timing of this movement is perfect, mirroring Blanche’s descent into helplessness, occasionally speeding up to match the pace of a scene, before stopping at one moment, which felt abrupt but absolutely right for the scene. 

Vanessa Kirby as Stella.

Vanessa Kirby as Stella.

This production has also brought the play in to a more modern setting but despite this change in period, the apartment of Stella and Stanley feels very real. Unlike the childhood the sisters had, the Kowalskis are not wealthy and are making do with a simple two rooms, drawing a curtain across when extra privacy is needed (although it’s sheer quality means that nothing is really hidden in these rooms). It’s also fantastic that for the most part the actors remain on the stage, requiring quick changes in the confines of a curtained bath tub. This all adds to the pace and voyeuristic nature  of the production.

Its main power is driven by the acting of the three leads. Ben Foster is very strong as Stanley – a man you quite like until his first violent outburst shifts your perspective of him. As a former soldier, you sense all the time that his military instinct to react in the moment, often with frightening results, is lingering just under the surface. He does however clearly love his wife and feels threatened by Blanche’s presence and you are constantly waiting for them to erupt at one another, leaving Stella caught in the crossfire.

Staging which enhances the voyeuristic elements of the play, for both characters and audience. Photo by Nigel Norington

Staging which enhances the voyeuristic elements of the play, for both characters and audience. Photo by Nigel Norrington

Vanessa Kirby is one of my favourite young actresses (doing fantastic work in the Young Vic’s Three Sisters and the National’s recent Edward II to name just two) and she is wonderful as Stella. The conflicted emotions she feels when faced with supporting her sister and agreeing with her husband are conveyed brilliantly and its with unease that you watch her return to a man, who although loves her, is at risk of lashing out like an animal. She also has a very believable relationship with Gillian Anderson’s Blanche (no doubt helped by the actresses’ friendship, which began when they starred opposite each other in Great Expectations for the BBC). Corey Johnson is also very good as Mitch, Stanley’s friend who becomes entranced by Blanche. For a brief moment, he gives both Blanche and the audience hope that perhaps she may finally have a better future and some of his scenes with Gillian Anderson were particular highlights for me.

The play focuses however on Blanche’s journey and spiral into desperation and Gillian Anderson does a stunning job bringing this to life so vividly. Beginning with a haughty attitude of someone used to the finer things in life, we slowly watch as her facade begins to slip and we learn that her life has been somewhat different from the one her sister has assumed.

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche

Gillian has to encompass so many emotions as Blanche in order to make her a fully rounded character and she does this superbly. Her Blanche is a woman who can turn in one scene from a giggly young, somewhat naive woman, to a sexy, sensual seductress, to someone who is clearly deeply troubled and desperately trying to keep her world together. I loved the touch that no matter the circumstance, including just getting out of a bath, Gillian’s Blanche is always in a pair of killer heels – its part of her image, which she is determined to cling to, even as it falls away. I have always thought Gillian was a superb actress (yes I’m an X-Files fan, so what) and over the years she has only become more impressive in her various roles. Here she draws the audience in so much to Blanche’s disintegration that by the end of the production I certainly felt exhausted and incredibly moved after having watched such a powerful and emotional performance.

For me one of the thrills of live theatre is seeing a production that is so powerful that by its end you know it’ll always stay with you. As the lights went out at the end of this production I had no doubt this was one of those productions. Its rare, powerful emotion, which demands so much from its cast was a privilege to watch and I have to admit, if I can acquire another ticket before the end of the run I’ll gladly experience it all over again. 

A Streetcar Named Desire continues its run at the Young Vic until 19th September 2014. All performances are sold out (with the exception of the charity gala performance costing £150). However, some standing tickets may still be available from the box office and a day seat lottery takes place each day. The production will also be screened via NT Live in cinemas on 16 September 2014. For more information visit the Young Vic’s website here

Film review – The Rover (2014) starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson

From post apocalyptic America in Mr. Burns on stage, to post apocalyptic Australia in the second film by Australian director David Michod, whose first film Animal Kingdom was very well received. If there’s a lesson to learn from The Rover, it could be – never steal someone else’s car, as it is this very action that is the catalyst for the rest of the story. However, that is probably an unfairly simplistic way to look at the film as a whole.

Set in the Australian outback ten years after what is referred to as “the collapse,” the film’s plot is driven (pun intended) by Eric, played by Guy Pearce and his determination to track down the men who have stolen his car. Along the way his path crosses with Rey, who is badly injured from a gunshot wound, but as one of the thieves’ brother, is in the unique position of guiding Eric to their location. Rey is also looking for payback for being left to die by his brother.

Guy Pearce as Eric

Guy Pearce as Eric

What begins as a form of captor/hostage relationship soon becomes something much more complex. Eric and Rey are certainly not friends, but they come to rely on each other, to a certain extent, as they make the journey through the desolate landscape. The film is shot in a very specific style – presenting this vast land in a way that highlights its beauty and its emptiness at once. Its grey and barren vistas perfectly enhance the desperate lives of those depicted in the story.

I did find the story rather miserable ad it is certainly not an easy film to watch. Parts of it feel quite slow, with little dialogue, which can begin to feel quite tiring. It’s also rather violent in places, although the unexpected moments of violence are very effective at jolting the audience. An example being Eric’s encounter with a travelling circus, who no longer travel. However, despite this film not really appealing to me and my personal tastes, the acting of its two leads is undeniably excellent. Guy Pearce is superb as Eric – a man of few words, whose life was clearly already desperate before the collapse and who is simply existing now rather than living. His face sometimes expresses so much without a word being uttered. He is certainly not a particularly likeable character, but he is made more human through his interaction with Rey.

Robert Pattinson as Rey

Robert Pattinson as Rey

Robert Pattinson, in a role polar opposite to the one he is inevitably most famous for, is very very good as Rey and it is him who the audience care about, if you can really like any of them at all. It’s clear Rey has always been dominated by his brother Henry, his opinion never sought or valued. Initially he refuses to accept that his brother would leave him for dead, but soon cannot fail to accept the truth and although an unlikely pair, he develops a bond with Eric.

Eric demands he talk for himself, something he has clearly rarely (if ever) done and through their journey together we see Rey grow in confidence as he begins to prove he isn’t as hopeless as Eric (or his brother) have thought. Pattinson’s performance as Rey, where every word is spoken with either a stutter, nervous twitch or mumble, with body language to perfectly complement it, is impressive. He plays Rey  as someone who seems quite child-like and innocent even after he has killed. As an audience member, I knew I shouldn’t really like him, but I did slowly start to warm to him and that is in large part due to Pattinson’s performance.

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David Michod’s world is also certainly believable. This isn’t a Mad Max-style futuristic apocalypse world, but a barren, crumbling place, where people are simply existing. There is still a reliance on money (US Dollars ironically) and I could believe that such a place could become a reality (although I wouldn’t want to experience it)! The mood of the film is enhanced by its score by composer Antony Partos. There may be little dialogue at times but his industrial, unsettling music fills the void and seems to match the tone of the film perfectly.

Robert Pattinson & Guy Pearce at the BFI screening last week

Robert Pattinson & Guy Pearce at the BFI screening last week

 

Both actors at the Q&A afterwards praised Michod, as a film maker who takes risks and lets the actors do the same. I can see how that must be appealing. It’s certainly an odd film, so I’m not entirely sure the risk paid off, as by the end I did wonder what the point of it all was. It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the central performances held my attention throughout and are impressive enough for me to give this film an average score (maybe a 3/5). I’ll be interested to see what people think once it’s released.

The Rover is released in the UK on 14th August 2014. See the trailer here: The Rover trailer

Spoiler free review – Doctor Who – Deep Breath World Premiere – 7th August 2014 Cardiff

doctor-who

On Thursday I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the World Premiere screening of Deep Breath, the first episode of Doctor Who starring the new Doctor – Peter Capaldi. After a difficult few weeks for the Doctor Who team after various leaks, it was lovely to see so many people turn out in Cardiff City Centre to celebrate what is still such a treasured part of national television and welcome a new actor in to the role. On the announcement of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor last year I was thrilled with the choice (although, as when David Tennant left, I’d hoped for Chiwetel Ejiofor, but his recent critical success probably means this will never happen now). 

Daleks on the red carpet at St. David's Hall in Cardiff!

Daleks on the red carpet at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff!

The screening was great fun, with St. David’s Hall a huge venue to screen the episode for the first time and the appearance of Peter and Jenna on stage before the start was greeted with applause and cheers. After the screening there was a Q&A with them and Steven Moffat, which had some interesting and some ridiculous questions. Peter Capaldi thinks his Doctor has been influenced by all the previous ones (he is a lifelong fan after all) and both the actors talked about how much fun they had had filming the series. Peter Capaldi was asked about his audition and he mentioned how he had no idea that he was the only person Steven was planning to audition! Jenna was asked about her favourite costume and she said the one from Asylum of the Daleks as she got to wear an egg whisk! Steven also joked about when Peter was picking his costume and he’d receive photos of him in various clothes and you could tell when he didn’t like an outfit from his face. It was clear when the right one had been found as the photo he received was Peter in full Doctor pose mode! Steven was also asked if there were any plans for a 10th Anniversary celebration for modern Who next year (which seems nuts after a 50th really doesn’t it?!). He said there were no plans, but who knows what the truth is with Mr Moffatt!

Cybermen on patrol.

Cybermen on patrol.

So what did I think of episode one “Deep Breath”? It isn’t a straightforward answer as there are positives and negatives. Starting with the positives – first and foremost, Peter Capaldi is a fantastic Doctor and I have no doubt he will only get better as the series develops. His Doctor is funny, with some very witty lines in this episode, but he is also darker. As when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor rebooted the show in 2005, you are conscious that with this Doctor there is a distinctly darker man within and this will be even more evident with the 12th Doctor. Some say this is a brave choice and perhaps it is, but I think it’s absolutely right for the show now, almost ten years after its return. I’ve enjoyed all three of the modern Doctors, but it’s time for something different and a darker Doctor is an exciting prospect.

The opening episode also sees Clara dealing with a new Doctor and their relationship is re-established for a new era. I was a little irritated by her initial reaction to him – she has after all seen every Doctor and understands what regeneration means, so her attitude felt a bit odd in some respects. Although, I suppose despite meeting 13 Doctors, Matt’s was “her” Doctor so perhaps this reaction is fair enough. There is some lovely development over this feature length opener of their relationship, right through to the end (which was probably my favourite bit of the whole episode). 

Daleks entertain the crowds.

Daleks entertain the crowds.

There is a new version of the theme tune and opening credits sequence, which I loved. It’s a variant on the time vortex but focuses on the cogs of time and looks lovely on screen (and interestingly people tell me it’s based on a fan’s You Tube idea)! Murray Gold’s music is great, although the Doctor’s theme didn’t leap out at me here the way Matt’s did in The Eleventh Hour.

As for the story itself, this is where my negatives kick in. I won’t give much away, but for me the plot of Deep Breath is just average. First episodes of a new series aren’t easy, but I thought the plot was a bit boring and not very original. Beginning with a dinosaur in the heart of London, we see the Doctor, Clara and the Paternoster Gang encounter an eerie half-faced villain, who is using those around him for his own disturbing purpose. The most frustrating aspect for me is the episode’s use of elements from an earlier stand-alone story, which will be obvious to fans. There is even a couple of references to this other story by the Doctor. For me, this didn’t alter the fact it’s partly an old idea and referencing that, although amusing, didn’t make it less annoying. I want new ideas for this Doctor, not variants on old ones.

In our seats for the screening!

In our seats for the screening!

I’m also not a fan of the Paternoster Gang of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. They still feel more CBBC than Doctor Who to me and their inclusion results in repetitive dialogue and plot points. We are reminded about ten times that Vastra and Jenny are married. We get it – one reminder is enough and the constant mixing genders, war-like talk of Strax feels a bit dull at this point. I know lots of people like them but I’m not one of them. There are some fun moments and lines with them here (Vastra being Scottish gets a good scene for example), but overall I hope they pop up less this year.

There are also some odd choices – the dinosaur has a purpose but it’s a bit needless. I also didn’t like how villain’s story was resolved and I couldn’t help wondering what the point of it all had been. It seemed a bit too easy to me. Although, this does include a great sequence, which is quite different for the show and will no doubt have people debating for weeks to come and I’ll be interested to see what sides people take on that debate. 

Peter and Jenna at the Q&A

Peter and Jenna at the Q&A

The episode does have an emotional base and that’s the Doctor and Clara’s relationship – what it was, what it is and where it’s going. I’ve always liked Doctor Who when it cares about character relationships (something I still think RTD was more skilled at than Mr Moffatt) and it was lovely to see some truly emotional moments between them. They are after all the heart of the show and the last few scenes are genuinely lovely to watch. 

So there’s my attempt to write a review without giving too much away. For me, the episode’s plot is average, building too much on ideas already used to better effect in an stronger earlier episode. There is also some weak dialogue, particularly from Jenny (“It’s the TARDIS, do you think it’s the Doctor?” – well who else would it be was my response). The episode also did not need to be as long as it is and could be better if some bits were cut down. 

Showrunner Steven Moffatt

Showrunner Steven Moffatt

However, as expected, Peter Capaldi is superb – he may be older, but that only adds to the image of a Doctor who makes you feel a little uneasy and who you sense you do not want to make angry. A mix of humour and darkness is an enticing prospect and I’m looking forward to seeing what awaits in the rest of this series and beyond (first up appears to be Daleks in episode two). Welcome aboard Mr Capaldi – all of time and space awaits!

Doctor Who begins with Deep Breath on Saturday 23rd August 2014 on BBC One. Follow this link for the trailer: Series 8 Official Trailer

1914 – 2014

Originally posted on Semi-Partisan Sam:

WW1 centenary London 2014

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Picture: A view from West Hampstead, London. A solitary beam of light (“Spectra”, by Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda) pierces the London sky as lights are switched off across the nation in observance of the outbreak of the First World War.

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Review – Daytona starring Maureen Lipman at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

I had intended to catch Daytona at the Park Theatre earlier this year and so was thrilled to hear it had transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a short West End run. I have always admired Maureen Lipman as an actress and, although I wash’t a huge fan of A Little Night Music a few years ago, she was great and so the opportunity to see her in something else on stage was quite appealing. I was also interested to learn that actor Oliver Cotton, who has written the play, was also starring in the West End transfer.

Maureen Lipman & Harry Shearer

Maureen Lipman & Harry Shearer

Daytona is a fairly contained play. All the drama takes place in one setting in 1986 Brooklyn, in the home of Joe and Elli, a Jewish migrant couple who have been married and living in the States for decades and who enjoy spending their time competing in senior ballroom dancing competitions. In to their fairly mundane, safe existence appears Joe’s brother Billy, whom they have not seen for almost 30 years. However, this is not a play about a happy, comfortable reunion and as the story progresses we delve in to their past, their secrets and how these have impacted the lives each of the three characters has chosen to live over the decades.

I am cautious not to give too much of the plot away here, as part of the power of the play is discovering truths as you watch it. The first Act focuses mainly on the two brothers and, although crucial for laying the foundations for Act 2, I found this to be quite slow, with the drama picking up more in Act 2, in which Maureen Lipman’s Elli plays a far larger role. The play begins telling one story – that of Billy, who is fleeing Daytona where he has carried out a serious crime linked to their shared past during World War II, but then becomes something different, in which the focus is on the dynamic and connections these three people have shared for years.

All three actors are very good indeed. Harry Shearer (better known here in the UK for his voice work on The Simpsons, where he voices characters including Mr Burns) is strong as Joe. He clearly loves his wife very much and is content with the life they have shared over the years. Oliver Cotton is very good as Billy (a role he didn’t play himself at the play’s run at the Park Theatre). It must be daunting to act in your own play, but he handles it wonderfully. Billy is quite a complicated man, who I both liked and disliked, which made him interesting to watch and he has a great chemistry with both actors, but especially with Maureen Lipman.

Oliver Cotton & Harry Shearer

Oliver Cotton & Harry Shearer

However, the heart of the drama is Ellli and Maureen Lipman is superb in the role. We see her display so many emotions, from affection for her husband, to playfulness, to anger, regret and deep sadness and I couldn’t help but be moved by her character. There is a particular point in which she recalls an emotional memory and as she does so, her accent changes so that her Jewish roots become more strongly recognisable. I assume this is a deliberate choice and it works very well indeed.

Some may say Daytona is a bit too slow, but it’s a very powerful, moving story, which is incredibly well acted by its cast and I would certainly recommend it.

Daytona continues its run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 23rd August 2014. For more details visit the Haymarket’s website here.

Headline London Debate: Should Britain Make Eid And Diwali Public Holidays?

Originally posted on Semi-Partisan Sam:

Samuel Hooper London Live Headline London Eid Diwali Public Holiday 2

Yesterday, London Live TV’s Headline London lunchtime news programme covered the Eid celebrations taking place in the capital, and asked whether the UK government should make Eid (and the Hindu festival of Diwali) nationwide public holidays.

The idea was first raised in Parliament last week by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, in response to an online petition signed by more than 120,000 people. I vehemently disagreed with the proposal at the time, for the reasons set out here.

Semi-Partisan Sam was pleased to be invited to debate the issue with poet Mohamed “Mo Rhymes” Mohamed and political activist Peymana Assad on the Headline London panel. The debate was courteous and good-natured, which cannot often be said of debates on religion – but I believe my argument, founded on national unity, church/state separation and the rights of the individual won the day.

London Live’s website only shows the first part of the panel discussion…

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Television Preview – The Driver starring David Morrissey, coming soon to BBC One (Spoiler free)

 

As we move through the summer months, we begin to look towards the autumn television schedule and one of the upcoming dramas coming to BBC One is the three-part drama The Driver, the first episode of which was screened tonight at BAFTA in London.

Written and co-created by BAFTA-winning writer Danny Brocklehurst and Jim Poyser and co-produced by the successful RED Production Company (whose successes include Clocking Off, Single Father, Queer As Folk and Scott & Bailey), The Driver introduces us to Manchester cab driver Vince McKee, played by David Morrissey. Vince is feeling increasingly frustrated with his life and one day, after always trying to do the right thing just seems to backfire, he makes a decision that will affect his whole life. His old friend (played by Morrissey’s real life close friend Ian Hart) is just out of prison and knows a man looking for a driver who won’t ask questions.

This drama starts as it means to go on, with the opening minutes grabbing the audience’s attention and keeping it throughout the rest of the hour. Vince is clearly a good man, who has become increasingly low, possibly due to the mystery circumstances of his son’s absence from the family home. As David Morrissey said in this evening’s Q&A, although he knows what he is getting in to is wrong, he has lost his masculinity and it makes him feel alive again. Morrissey is superb as Vince. I always find him to be a very real, believable actor – no matter what the role, I always believe David Morrissey as the character and The Driver is no exception. He plays Vince as a very ordinary, simple man, who is just trying to make a living and be happy in his life. Although you find yourself frustrated by his choices, you can’t help but understand why he is ultimately making them. David Morrissey spoke about wanting the audience to be empathetic towards Vince rather than sympathetic and I certainly found that to be the case for me.

The rest of the main cast are also very good. Colm Meaney (perhaps now best known for Star Trek), in his first British television role since 1982, is perfectly cast as “Horse”, the head of the criminal gang Vince encounters. He brilliantly walks the line between friendly, jokey bloke and someone who won’t hesitate to make you pay for your mistakes. He also has great dynamics with the rest of the gang. Claudie Blakley is also good as Vince’s wife Ros, although I imagine she will continue to develop over the remaining episodes.

One of the aspects of The Driver that I most enjoyed was the fact that, although being quite tense, there are also wonderfully humorous moments too (a scene involving the gang’s tea mugs was a favourite of mine) and the script is skilfully written to bring both the humour and the high drama across in a realistic way.

I don’t want to give too much away about the story and I have no idea where it is going. What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed episode one of this series. It is a brilliantly scripted piece of drama, that is brought to the screen so well by its director and cast. It’s certainly not relaxing television, but it is high quality British drama at its best and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it in the autumn.

The Driver will be screened on BBC One this autumn, so keep an eye on the television schedules for details and have a look at the trailer via this link: The Driver Trailer

 

 

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