Tag Archive | Mark Rylance

17 Films to see in 2017!

Happy New Year!

I’ve already set out my suggested theatre productions to see in 2017 (read it here if you want to), as well as my television choices for the next twelve months (read that one here too). This post will therefore take a look at the films we can look forward to. There were some wonderful films in 2016 and I’m hoping 2017 will also contain some gems. Any release dates listed will be for the UK seeing as that is the home of this blog.

Enjoy!

1. A Monster Calls (out from 1 January)

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The first film on my list is one I saw during the London Film Festival last year and loved. Out yesterday, A Monster Calls is a truly moving film based on Patrick Ness’s book, in which young Conor O’Malley copes with his mother’s cancer by escaping in to his imagination and the monster he creates from the tree in the cemetery at the bottom of their garden. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Conor’s mother, Signourney Weaver does a great job as his grandmother and Liam Neeson adds gravitas to the “monster”. However, the finest performance is that given by Lewis MacDougall as Conor. Take your tissues! Read my review here and you can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ

2. La La Land (out 12th January)

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It’s highly likely that you’ve already heard about La La Land. It has won a raft of awards and is the hot favourite for the Oscars. Having been lucky enough to see it during October’s London Film Festival, I can vouch for the fact it really does live up to the hype. The opening sequence is impressive (but perhaps a bit cheesy), but once you fall under the spell of this film, it’ll captivate you until the very end. With a superb chemistry between its leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, some lovely songs and utterly magical scenes, this is guaranteed to become a modern classic. Read my review here. Go, go, go!! You can watch the trailer here too: https://youtu.be/0pdqf4P9MB8

3. Jackie (out 20th January)

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Another film tipped for awards glory is Jackie, in which Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. From the trailer this looks to be quite a harrowing film, but Portman is such a fantastic actress that I can’t miss seeing it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g9pW3B8Ycc4

4. Hacksaw Ridge (out 27th January)

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Mel Gibson’s latest film tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, an American army medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa. He refused to kill anyone and yet due to his actions during WWII he was the first man to be awarded the Medal of Honour without firing a shot. Doss is played by Brit Andrew Garfield and I’ve heard lots of positive reaction to this film from those who’ve already seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/s2-1hz1juBI

5. Moonlight (out early February)

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Moonlight has also received a great deal of acclaim and finally arrives in UK cinemas in February. Set in Miami, it charts the life of a young black man through three chapters of his life, as he seeks to understand his sexuality as a gay man. Loosely based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this film has quite a buzz around it due to the powerful nature of its story. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/9NJj12tJzqc

6. Star Wars Episode VIII (out 15th December)

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After the success of Rogue One this Christmas, December sees the arrival of the next instalment in the Star Wars saga with the release of Episode 8. I’m staying away from spoilers so I know very little about this film. One thing that is certain, is that following the recent death of Carrie Fisher, her role in this film will have an added poignancy.

7. The Circle (out TBC)

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Dave Eggers’s book The Circle has been on my to-read list for a while now, but it seems I may end up seeing this film adaptation first. Emma Watson plays a young woman who lands a job at the world’s largest tech and social media corporation called The Circle, but she soon realises that it is a world where everyone is watching. With the other lead being played by Tom Hanks (always one of my favourite actors) and support from John Boyega, this thriller sounds very promising indeed. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/QCOXARv6J9k

8. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (out 28th April)

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I admit I’m not a huge superhero film fan. I like some, but not all of them and I’ve seen very few of the Marvel movies. I did however love the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and this sequel looks to be as much fun as the first, with all the leads returning. I can only hope the soundtrack is also as fab the second time around! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/2cv2ueYnKjg

9. Hidden Figures (out 17th February)

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures since I first heard about it last year. It’s based on the true story of a team of African American women who, due to their mathematical talents, worked with NASA to assist with it launching its first successful space missions. It’s such an incredible story that I was shocked I hadn’t already heard about it and so I hope the film will also bring the wider recognition these women deserve. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/RK8xHq6dfAo

10. Dunkirk (out 21st July)

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Christopher Nolan’s next film arrives in the summer and will tell the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, one of WWII’s most well known events, when after becoming surrounded by German troops, Allied forces were evacuated in Operation Dynamo between 26th May – 4th June 1940. Written and directed by Nolan and with a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance, I’m wondering whether I’ll find this as powerful as I did Saving Private Ryan. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/F-eMt3SrfFU

11. Blade Runner 2049 (out October)

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Last year saw Harrison Ford return to the iconic role of Han Solo and 2017 sees him return to another character – Rick Deckard. Set 30 years after the original film, Ryan Gosling plays LAPD Officer K, a new blade runner, who discovers a long-buried secret that results in him going in search of Deckard, who has been missing for decades. The original is such a classic that I’m still a little uncertain about a sequel, but after watching the superb Arrival, I’ve no doubt that director Denis Villeneuve is the ideal choice of director to pull this off. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/S_JAMRKzEHs

12. Fences (out 17th February)

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I missed a recent London production of August Wilson’s play and so it’ll be great to see this film adaptation, which was written by Wilson prior to his death. Starring Denzel Washington (who also directs) and Viola Davis, it’s the story of a working class African American family in 1950s Pittsburgh. The performances of both Davis and Washington have already been widely praised and I’m pleased this will finally reach the UK in February. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/spCxVd9ctFs

13. Murder on the Orient Express (out November)

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Murder on the Orient Express is a classic Agatha Christie story and perhaps the most famous Poirot tale. The version starring David Suchet a few years ago was very very good, but I’m curious to see this film adaptation due to the calibre of the cast assembled. Among the stars are Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp and Dame Judi Dench, alongside the director Kenneth Branagh who will also star as Poirot. He has big shoes to fill as Belgium’s famous detective, but I hope this is as good as it could potentially be.

14. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (out TBC)

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After the success of Bridge of Spies, I’m rather excited to see this collaboration between Steven Spielberg and (now) Sir Mark Rylance. It tells the story of a young Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy in 1858, who is forcibly taken from his family to be raised a Christian after having been secretly baptised and his parents’s struggle to to get him back. Their fight brings them up against the papacy and Rylance will play the Pope. Directed by Spielberg and written by playwright Tony Kushner, it will also star Oscar Isaac.

15. The Dark Tower (out 28th July)

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I’ve never read Stephen King’s series of novels, but I’ve heard a great deal over the years, as the possibility of a film was rumoured. Now it is finally happening and will star Idris Elba as a lone frontiersman knight. I admit this isn’t usually my kind of film, but with Elba involved I’m more than willing to give it a try!

16. Split (out 20th January)

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M. Knight Shyamalan has had an up and down career in terms of his films (personally I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the rest not so much), but I’ll always give his films a chance. This latest one, written and directed by Shyamalan, stars James McCoy as a man suffering from disassociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls. It has been described as the director’s best film in years and as I already know how superb McAvoy is, I have my fingers crossed for this one. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/84TouqfIsiI

17. Manchester By The Sea (out 13th January)

 

 

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Manchester By The Sea was another film I was able to see during the London Film Festival and it’s one that certainly made an impression on me. Kenneth Lonergan’s story of Lee Chandler, who has to take on responsibility for his brother’s son, Patrick, following his death won’t appeal to everyone. It is quite long and rather slow in pace. However, it is a compelling and very raw look at how we cope with grief, loss and guilt and how it affects those around us as well as ourselves. Lucas Hedges is superb as Patrick, bringing humour and warmth to the film, but it is Casey Affleck’s movie, in what for me has to be a frontrunner for Best Actor at all the awards ceremonies. You can read my review here and watch there trailer here: https://youtu.be/NxQmuJnrjxg

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So, those are the films that I’m most excited about seeing (or indeed, in some cases, seeing again) in 2017. Time will tell whether they all live up to expectation!

 

 

Film Review – Bridge of Spies

 

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The latest collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies is a superb film and already one of my favourites of 2016. It is perhaps more incredible due to the fact that it is based on actual events, depicting one man’s determination to do what is right despite the risks to himself, during a politically dangerous time in the twentieth century.

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Mark Rylance (Rudolf Abel) & Tom Hanks (James B. Donovan)

Set during the height of the Cold War, the film recalls the arrest of a Russian KGB spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), in Brooklyn in 1957 and his subsequent trial. Determined to present the image of a fair process, an insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is chosen by the government to represent him. A man of principle, Donovan is confronted with bias and brick walls as he mounts his defence of a man the whole country wants to see hanged. This clearly causes problems for Donovan (and indeed his family) in how he is perceived by the American public, especially once Donovan’s commitment to justice is viewed as contrary to the mood of the nation.

However, in a plot that perhaps seems as if created for a work of fiction, Donovan’s role in historical events became even more important as, on the downing of an American spy plane by the Soviet Union in 1962, it is he who is entrusted to negotiate an exchange – Abel for the U.S pilot Francis Gary Powers. However, Powers is not the only American prisoner, as the East German police have also recently captured an American economics student Frederic Pryor in Berlin. With no official acknowledged support from his government, Donovan puts himself at great risk to secretly travel to East Berlin (at the time of the building of the Wall), in the company of the CIA, to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers with the Russians. However, being the honourable man that he is, he is also determined to find a way to bring Pryor home too. He has no guarantee he won’t also be captured, as he finds himself in a dangerous and unstable country, as East is cut off from West Berlin.

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The film also highlights the panic in Berlin as the Berlin Wall is erected

As is to be expected by a filmmaker of the calibre of Spielberg, this is a film of the highest quality. The screenplay by Marc Charman and the Coen brothers is a tense, thrilling story, which has you on the edge of your seat as Donovan takes ever more risks, negotiating with the Russians and the Germans in order to secure a fair exchange. Having the negotiations in Germany rather than Russia means the films is able to highlight what it was like in Germany following the second world war. I found it incredibly interesting to think about that period of history from the perspective of those living in Berlin and found the scenes in which the Wall is erected, causing desperate panic, especially moving. The film also wonderfully captures the relationship that grows between Abel and Donovan, who come to respect each other’s sense of duty and service the longer they know one another.

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Tom Hanks is the perfect choice to play Donovan

The casting is also first class. Tom Hanks is the perfect choice for the principled Donovan and brings a weight and gravitas to the screen in a way that makes the audience truly admire him and feel invested in his journey. You almost hold your breath as he makes his way shivering through the snowy streets of East Berlin. His chemistry with Rylance is also crucial, as it is their relationship as Donovan and Abel that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Donovan may have only been assigned to the case initially, but Hanks is able to convey how he quickly grows to like and respect Abel as a man.

As a huge admirer of Mark Rylance for a number of years through his superb stage career, it is wonderful to see his talents recognised by a wider audience (and indeed he has been nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar this year). He is excellent as Abel, bringing out the sense of humour and even kindness in a man who many at the time saw as evil. It is also an understated performance of a quiet man, which is perfect for Rylance, who can convey so much through so little. The film in fact begins with us following Abel going about a relatively quiet existence. You can see how he has managed to be a successful spy for so long – simply blending in with his surroundings and not drawing attention to himself. However, it is a relatively small role, which only makes me wonder at what would happen if filmgoers were to see him show just how much he is capable of as an actor in a larger part.

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Mark Rylance gives a wonderfully understated performance as Rudolf Abel

I’m thrilled to see Bridge of Spies nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. It certainly deserves the recognition, although I doubt it will win. We are all so used to Spielberg (and now even Spielberg and Hanks together) producing films of this quality that I suspect this expectation will work against it in terms of awards success. That aside, Bridge of Spies remains one of the most intelligent, thrilling, absorbing and deeply interesting and emotive stories I have seen in a long time. I felt uplifted by the end, as through this inspiring man, I was reminded of what we could all be capable of if we have the courage and the belief in ourselves to do what is right. Whether you still catch it at the cinema or see it on DVD, I cannot recommend this film enough.

Bridge of Spies is still showing at certain UK cinemas and will be released on DVD on 28th March 2016. Watch the trailer here.

My Theatre Review 2015!

I can hardly believe it’s the end of the year already! Time to look back at another twelve months of theatregoing and reflect on what was brilliant, what was unexpected (whether in a good or bad way!) and what I wish I hadn’t bought a ticket for. Thankfully there aren’t too many in the latter category!

Starting with the numbers, I’ve seen 63 productions, of which I’ve seen seven more than once, giving a total of 76 theatre trips in 2015. Not too shabby, although still an amateur compared to others I know! Overall, it’s been a very strong year and the thrill of seeing a new play, visiting a new venue or seeing an actor I was unaware of grab my attention, remains just as addictive as in previous years.

Productions of the Year – My Top 10

Without further ado, here are my top ten productions of the year. Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree!

  1. Oresteia (Almeida / Trafalgar Studios)

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Perhaps a rather predictable number one this year is the Almeida’s new interpretation of Aeschylus’s 2,500 year old Greek tragedy. I missed it at the Almeida, but thankfully made it to the West End transfer. Simply put, this will remain one of the finest productions I’ve ever seen for a long time to come. Writer and director Robert Icke (now at the top of my must-see list) made such an ancient play current, while also delivering an exhilarating, powerful, intense and spellbinding production. The 3.5 hours flew by, as the whole audience seemed to hold its breath. Superbly acted, directed and designed, with set, lights and haunting sound combining to achieve something remarkable. It’s productions like this that remind me how incredible theatre can truly be.

2. Hello/Goodbye (Hampstead Theatre)

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This may not make anyone else’s top ten of 2015 but I adored this production of Peter Souter’s play, having missed it in 2014. Maybe it was my mood in February, but it tapped in to my emotions and was a story that truly moved me by the end (yes, I cried). Miranda Raison and Shaun Evans had a wonderful chemistry as they brought the story of the evolution of two people’s love for one another (even when they can no longer see it) over a decade to life in such a believable way. I’d see it again tomorrow if I could. Read my full review here.

3. Love’s Labour’s Won (aka Much Ado) (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre)

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I still find it criminal that this beautiful RSC production didn’t transfer to London. Together with Love’s Labour’s Lost they made a wonderful bookend of stories around World War I, but this was my favourite of the two. The set was gorgeous, the costumes sublime and the cast excellent, led by a brilliant Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Benedick (Edward Bennett). Ed has grown so much since stepping in to David Tennant’s Hamlet shoes in 2009 and is now a leading man in his own right. He was charming, funny and cocky and I loved every moment, making this my favourite Much Ado to date (sorry DT!). The DVD is available if you missed it and you can read my full review here.

4. City of Angels (Donmar Warehouse)

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I have a friend to thank for my ticket to this musical revival and how very grateful I am for her queuing skills! The songs were all fantastic and delivered with strength, confidence and power (where on earth is the cast album?!) and the design concept visually wonderful. I especially loved the use of black and white, against colour for the two worlds depicted and the strength of the cast was superb. Everyone made the whole production better, whether Hadley Fraser’s author, Tam Matu’s private eye or Katherine Kelly’s sexy black widow to name but a few. A truly impressive show and my favourite musical of the year.

5. Hangmen (Royal Court / Wyndham’s Theatre)

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Another production I managed to see on its transfer was Hangmen. I thought it was terrific. Martin McDonagh’s script is of the highest quality, filled with brilliant one-liners and exchanges and a twisting, turning story, during which  you never quite know where it is leading. The cast are all superb, especially David Morrissey, but the standout is Johnny Flynn as the mysterious southern stranger, whose motives are unclear, but who makes you feel distinctly uneasy. Combined with a fantastic set (not to mention that first set change) and this should certainly be one your 2016 list if you haven’t seen it already. Read my full review here.

6. Tree (Old Vic Theatre)

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My top ten of 2014 included my first experience of a production by Daniel Kitson and this year sees him back on my list with Tree. It was such a simple concept. Two men spend the duration of the play talking about their lives and what has brought them to be there (one waiting for a date, the other living high up in the branches!). Performed by Kitson and Tim Key it was funny, sad, inappropriate at times, but incredibly moving by the end and certainly made me think for a long time afterwards. Read my full review here.

7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios)

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Seeing the return of James McAvoy to this venue, again directed by Jamie Lloyd, I had no idea what to expect from this play (last seen in London in 1968). My lasting memory of it will be how utterly bonkers it was, but oh what a joy to watch! A superb, satirical look at the upper classes of privileged families I was captivated for the entire performance. Then of course there was James McAvoy himself, whose performance was one of the best I’ve seen all year. He had so much to do – crazed, vulnerable, angry, affectionate, flirty and disturbing, as well as taking on so much physicality. A production and performance I will never forget. Read my full review here.

8. Farinelli & The King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse / Duke of York’s Theatre)

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I saw this new play by Claire van Kampen in both venues this year and I loved it each time. Part play, part music concert, it was one of the most enchanting and captivating productions I saw this year. Based on the true story that a famous singer who helped the depressed King of Spain in the 18th century, we were treated to the stunning voice of Iestyn Davies as Farinelli and the legend that is Mark Rylance. His King Philippe is one of a quiet disposition, but who is capable of moments of violent anger and intense sadness. He is also incredibly funny and I’d forgotten how funny this play was until I saw it again. Proving yet again that Mark Rylance on stage is something never to be missed, this was a gem of the theatre year. Read my full review here.

9. Rules For Living (National Theatre, Doorman)

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My first trip to the refurbished Cottesloe Theatre was to see this new play by Sam Holcroft and what a joy it was. I admit that it came at a time in the year when I really needed something to make me laugh and this ridiculous glimpse in to one family’s dysfunctional Christmas did the trick. I hadn’t laughed that much for quite a while. Seeing how our own internal rules govern our behaviour and responses to others, highlighted so cleverly through the gameshow style scoreboard was a wonderful concept and gave the audience the pleasure of knowing more than some of the characters. Plus the final food fight was brilliant! It’s just a shame this isn’t back at the National for Christmas! Read my full review here.

10. Husbands & Sons (National Theatre, Dorfman)

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Picking a final choice was quite difficult, but this tremendous new adaptation of three D.H Lawrence’s plays really did impress me (runner-up mention has to go to the RSC’s Henry V which I also very much enjoyed). Ben Powers’s play weaves the themes of all three plays together so perfectly, as we see the ongoing cycle, as women go from being the frustrated new wife unable to live up to the mother, to the mother being too protective and then jealous of the girl whom her son falls for, a role she perhaps once had herself years before. I loved seeing all three stories unfolding on stage at the same time and each was so well acted, containing some wonderful performances including Louise Brealey and Anne-Marie Duff. The staging and set were effective, suggesting each story occurring behind closed doors in one village and the use of the lightning rig to evoke a sense of the mine was a great touch. Crucially it’s a production I’ve continued to think about long after seeing it and one I would love to see again. Read my full review here.

Disappointments of the Year

There are bound to be some shows that sit at the bottom of the pile each year, but thankfully there haven’t been too many I’ve really disliked in 2015 and even those had aspects that I can appreciate even if they didn’t appeal to me. Having said that, my theatre year would have been fine had I not seen any of the below productions!

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  • How to Hold Your Breath (Royal Court Theatre) – Nothing else could beat this Royal Court show to take the title of worst of 2015 for me. Ten minutes in, I knew this wasn’t for me and it didn’t improve. I can appreciate some of the ideas and Maxine Peake was (as usual) very good, but it remains 90 minutes I’ll never get back. Read my full review here.
  • Matchbox Theatre (Hampstead Theatre) – The concept of combining lots of little vignettes in to one production could have been entertaining, but too many of these pieces were just boring or not that funny. I did like the one about stage management as nocturnal animals and the member of the orchestra with barely any part, but overall this felt incredibly pointless.
  • Carmen Disruption (Almeida Theatre) – This is another production for which I enjoyed some elements, but as a whole it just didn’t work for me. There were some strong performances (particularly Jack Farthing’s Carmen and Noma Dumezweni’s moving portrayal of a mother estranged from her children), but I found myself wishing I was instead just seeing Carmen. Read my full review here.

Productions I Was Sorry To Miss

Despite my best efforts, I never see everything on my list each year and 2015 has been no exception. These are the ones I’m most sorry I didn’t see this year.

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  • Young Chekhov (Chichester Festival Theatre) – I heard such wonderful things about this triptych of plays, with its wonderful cast. I hope the rumours of a London transfer prove to be true!
  • The Wars of the Roses (The Rose Theatre, Kingston) – Another triple bill I missed was Trevor Nunn’s restaged histories, which included one of my favourite actors Alex Waldmann.
  • People, Places & Things (National Theatre) – I had a ticket and couldn’t go to this highly praised production. However all is not lost, as it transfers next year to the West End and thankfully leading actress Denise Gough does too!

Performances of the Year

2015 has been an impressive year for individual performances, across musicals and plays and it almost seems unfair to only highlight a few. Below are my top leading and supporting performances of the year.

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Leading

  • Imelda Staunton (Gypsy) – a truly incredible performance as Mama Rose Lee, Imelda brought everything to this role and the way she hit those huge notes was astonishing! Watch it on BBC4 on 27th December if you can.
  • James McAvoy (The Ruling Class) – as I have already said, his performance was in another league to most others this year. Captivating throughout.
  • Ralph Fiennes (Man & Superman) – I’ve never seen anyone speak as fast and fluid as Fiennes here. The time of this play flew by despite the long running time and his performance was magnetic and incredibly memorable.
  • Lia Williams (Oresteia) – Lia’s performance as Clytemnestra was astonishing. Both a woman of strength and vulnerability, seeing her finally take the revenge she had stored for so many years against her husband was so intense and her scream of relief and anger was spellbinding.
  • Tobias Menzies (The Fever) – This one man monologue play in the Mayfair Hotel was an intense story and one I still don’t fully understand, but Tobias Menzies was superb and it was a privilege to watch him.
  • Susannah Fielding (The Merchant of Venice) – Rapidly becoming one of my favourite actresses, she was superb as Portio in this RSC/Rupert Goold production.

Supporting

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  • Johnny Flynn (Hangmen) – The standout of this play, Johnny’s performance is unnerving and darkly entertaining throughout.
  • Mark Gatiss (Three Days in the Country) – This performance was full of humour and fun and the scene in which he attempts to propose while also doing his back in was utterly brilliant.
  • Judi Dench (The Winter’s Tale) – I love Judi and she is excellent in this Shakespearean tale, bringing a gravitas to the production and effortlessly speaking the Bard’s words.

Memorable Moments of the Year

Each year also brings individual moments, which remind me why I love going to the theatre. It’s these that make live theatre unique – no one else will experience that moment in quite the same way. Here are my top theatrical moments from 2015:

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  • The daring nature of The Vote at the Donmar – a very British comedy, which was wonderful to see live and then watch again as it transmitted in real-time on television on Election Night.
  • Ophelia’s final exit in the Barbican Hamlet – this was the most emotional moment of the Cumberbatch Hamlet for me. Sian Brooke’s Ophelia felt very real; truly broken by grief and seeing her break down at the piano and then turn and walk off up the slope in to the light, as if towards heaven, as Jon Hopkins’s score played, was incredibly powerful and visually and emotionally beautiful.

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  • The split-level ship set rising up during Treasure Island – I was a little disappointed by this National Theatre show, but the ship set rising up from the drum revolve was a wonderful sight.
  • The final moments of The Red Lion – I thought this Patrick Marber play was very good, but it was the power of the final few minutes that I will remember. So poignant and powerful.
  • Experiencing The Fever in a Mayfair hotel suite with Andrew Scott sitting at my feet – okay, so this is more a memorable audience moment for me, but seeing such an intense play, with the added experience of having Andrew Scott sitting at my feet is something I won’t forget in a hurry!
  • A stage full of inflatable sex dolls – Shakespeare and sex dolls were a combination I never imagined I’d see, but it actually worked in this Young Vic production of Measure For Measure! Unexpected and surreal.

So, that’s my round-up of my theatre year and hopefully 2016 will bring even more special productions, performances and memories. My recommendations for 2016 will follow in the next few days! Thanks for reading!

 

My Top Television of 2015

The year is almost over so it’s time for another annual television review. How time flies! It’s been a mixed year, however, there were still some brilliant programmes during 2015 and these are the ones that stood out for me, which I couldn’t wait to rewatch and will no doubt tune in to again in the future.

Wolf Hall (BBC)

Wolf Hall was a truly superb achievement, highlighting the quality that the BBC produces effortlessly. As someone who had only recently seen the RSC stage productions and started reading the books after watching a BFI preview of this series, it met every expectation I had for it. The screenplay was a perfect adaptation of the books, the locations and costumes were gorgeous and the direction and choice of lighting was inspired. The scenes lit purely by candlelight truly captured the sense of England in another time. Then of course was the acting, with a strong ensemble bringing these famous characters to life, all led by Mark Rylance, one of my favourite actors. His Cromwell manages to capture all the internal thinking of the man. You can see that so much is going on in his head, even when no word is spoken and it’s lovely more people have become aware of his brilliance through this drama. I certainly hope that the third book will also be adapted once it’s released.

Broadchurch (ITV)

I’m aware that a lot of people were disappointed by the second series of Broadchurch, but I wasn’t one of them and actually think the series was underrated and very worthy of a revisit for those who only watched it on transmission. Yes, series one was superb, partly due to the unexpected quality of the story and the way it captured the nation’s interest. It was always going to be difficult to repeat. However, series two has a lot of brilliant elements that the first didn’t (and couldn’t) have. The bond and relationship between Hardy and Miller was stronger and gave David Tennant and Olivia Colman more scope to build on what had gone before. They are friends here and able to be a team in a way they couldn’t be in those early episodes before the trust had been built. On top of that you had two stories at once. Perhaps the weakness of this series was too many little plots (the barrister’s son as an example), but the mix of the court case with, for me, the more interesting plot of Sandbrook always kept me guessing. It also gave us one of the most interesting characters on television this year – Eve Myles’s Claire Ripley. One minute you liked her, then you suspected her, then you worried for her. She was a whirlwind of emotions and personalities and was always wonderful to watch. I’m a little worried a third series may be unnecessary, but I’m intrigued to see what Chris Chibnall has in mind.

Doctor Strange & Mr Norrell (BBC)

Another quality BBC drama was this adaptation of Susannah Clarke’s fantasy novel and I still think it received much less fuss than it deserved, being a brave and exciting choice of drama for the BBC to make. The cast were wonderful, with Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan doing fantastically as the title characters, with Marc Warren truly creepy as The Gentleman. Beautifully shot and with some impressive special effects (that sand horse scene in episode two was truly fantastic on first viewing for a television show). If you didn’t watch it, I’d encourage you to give it a try. It really is magical.

Game of Thrones (HBO)

I imagine Game of Thrones will make this list every year unless it does something spectacularly wrong before it ends! Series five also marked the year in which those of us who’d read the books finally moved on to new material! Anything is possible now! Ayra Stark’s development continues in fascinating ways and Maisie Williams only gets better each year, but let’s face it the pinnacle of series five was Hardhome. It felt like a scene from The Lord of the Rings and I’d love to see it on a cinema screen. The vast, epic and powerful scope of those 20 minutes were incredible. I’m very excited to see what will be coming next.

Jessica Jones (Netflix)

I admit that I came to Jessica Jones as a David Tennant fan rather than a Marvel fan, but I’m very pleased indeed that I did, with Jessica Jones being one of the one most fascinating characters on television this year, wonderfully played by Krysten Ritter. It may be part of a comic universe, but this is not what you’d normally expect from a superhero series, with that aspect of the show seeming secondary to the dark, adult themes that it contains. Tennant’s Killgrave is also a truly chilling villain, his ability to make anyone do anything, frightening in its possibilities. With strong writing and an excellent supporting cast, this was one of the strongest first series of a show I’ve seen in a long time. Read my full review here.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

I admit I tend to watch more dramas than comedies, but this new Netflix series was recommended by so many of my friends I had to try it. What a brilliant series it is and series two cannot come quickly enough! The premise may seem bonkers, but the writing is sharp and funny and the characters immediately likeable. Kimmy Schmidt is so full of naive, innocence and Ellie Kemper is wonderful in the role. Not many characters have made me laugh as much as Titus Andromedon (played by Tituss Burgess) did this year and it’s always lovely to see Jane  Krakowski on screen. You couldn’t fail to be cheered up, no matter how naff you felt when you watched this series and that’s a rare achievement.

Arrow / The Flash (Sky)

I may be cheating a little counting two shows as one, but due to the crossover nature of the worlds of Arrow and The Flash it seems justified (look at the great promos they can do for them both now)! I’ll always love Arrow, as the characters have bedded in and let’s face it, it has Felicity Smoak (and yes, Stephen Ammell…), but The Flash really did a  brilliant job in its first year of settling in so quickly. After only a few episodes the characters felt developed and were people you were genuinely interested in watching. I’ve not enjoyed series two of The Flash so far as much as the first, but together these two shows do a brilliant job of combining the fantasy/superhero elements with interesting, well-rounded characters and stories.

The Blacklist (Sky Living)

In my view, series three of The Blacklist is its best yet. Initially the plots felt a bit silly and the FBI characters laughable in their ineptness, but it was the brilliance of James Spader’s performance as Raymond “Red” Reddington that hooked me. He was enigmatic, charming, funny and with an edge that made you know you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him! Series three has seen him and Agent Keen work even more as a team, as she continues to be on the run from the very colleagues she used to work with. It has given the series an interesting new angle and given Megan Boone as Keen some much more interesting material to work with.

Doctor Foster (BBC)

Mike Bartlett is one of my favourite playwrights, currently on a role with his stage successes both here and on Broadway and with Doctor Foster he has brought his ability to write human emotions and behaviour to the small screen as well. Over the course of this series, the tension that developed as the truths of the characters unravelled was brilliant. Bertie Carvel was very good as the cheating husband who you couldn’t completely despise (well not initially anyway!), Adam James was on fine form as the sleezy neighbour, but Suranne Jones is utterly superb as Doctor Foster. Her performance is magnetic, as we watched her move ever closer to confronting her husband and the final episode was certainly nail-biting. It’ll be interesting to see where series two finds her.

Peter Kay’s Car Share (BBC)

It was actually my parents who told me how good this series was. This recommendation was quite unusual, as I wouldn’t have expected them to be watching this type of comedy and so curiosity meant I had to tune in. It’s such a gem of a series and so brilliantly written by Peter Kay. How he comes up with some of these ideas I do not know, but it made me laugh more than most series have this year. The central chemistry between him and Sian Gibson, as his colleague and friend Kayleigh Kitson is perfect and has so much potential. I’m very much looking forward to a second series, which surely must be coming soon.

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So those are my television highlights of 2015. There has certainly been a lot to see this year and I have a list of things to catch up on that I couldn’t fit in. I hope 2016 proves to be just as entertaining (well it already has The X-Files so will be off to a spectacular start!). My top picks for 2016 will follow soon.

Theatre review – Farinelli & The King at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Mark Rylance Mark Rylance burst to my attention in the acclaimed Jerusalem, as Johnny Rooster Byron, a play, character and performance I will almost certainly never forget. From that point on, I was determined to never miss him on stage in the future and had been sticking to this resolution very well over the last four years (which have seen him in the quirky La Bete, as well as reviving his Richard III and Twelfth Night at the Globe). Currently gaining a wider audience through his excellent portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s Wolf Hall, I was therefore thrilled to hear he was to perform at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the indoor theatre at the Globe, which celebrated its first birthday last month. As the man who ran the Globe for a decade, it seemed right that he tread the boards of its newest stage and thanks to a friend having spare tickets, I was able to see him this weekend.

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Iestyn Davies (front) and Sam Crane, both as Farinelli

Farinelli & The King is based on true events during the reign of King Philippe V of Spain, who suffered from what we would today diagnose as depression. As his advisers grew concerned as to his ability to lead the country and take whatever military action may become necessary, the Queen resorted to a rather unique and radical idea to try and restore her husband to health. She brought Farinelli, regarded as the greatest castrato (yes that does horribly refer to what you are thinking) in the world to the Spanish court. He is 32, famous and growing in success, with the world at his feet and yet he is being asked to step away to become one of the closest members of the King’s circle, as his incredibly unique voice brings a peace and happiness in to the ruler’s life. It sounds fictional, but historical accounts confirm that this did indeed happen. A composer herself, here writing her first play, what Claire van Kampen’s new play does brilliantly is ask us to wonder at what that relationship must have been like between them, what they must have talked about and how such a bond may have developed. The play, although set in the 1730s, is very modern in terms of language (there’s plenty of swearing from Rylance), as well as being very witty, as well as touching. Rylance is wonderful as King Philippe, conveying his deep melancholy, anger, playfulness and naughty sense of humour all brilliantly. I always feel Rylance gives a part of himself to the character in order to inhabit him and I certainly felt that again watching this production.

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Melody Grove as Queen Isabelle

Sam Crane is very good as Farinelli, the young man whose loyalty to his King and Queen is very genuine and Melody Grove plays Queen Isabelle with a convincing strength and determination. I had been curious to see how the production would include Farinelli’s singing and this too was done superbly, with counter tenor Iestyn Davies appearing on stage with Crane, in the same costume, to sing at certain moments the arias which King Philippe heard all those years ago. This didn’t feel odd at all, in fact they felt like two halves of the same character, as you see Farinelli the man as well as Farinelli the singer. The result is an enchanting production, which transports the audience to another era, only enhanced by the period setting of this lovely little theatre. From my seat in the Pit at the front of the stage, I felt privileged to experience such an incredible voice, on top of some excellent acting. This is a lovely story and production, which highlights the power of music to help try and heal a person’s pain and how it can also bring such joy and peace to those who hear it. If you are able to pick up a ticket then it’s definitely worth the effort.

Farinelli & The King continues at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 8th March 2015. The run is sold out, but it is certainly worth contacting the box office for details of returns in advance or on the day. More information can be found here.

Television Preview – Wolf Hall (BBC) with Q&A including Hilary Mantel

2550588734 Last week saw my first trip out of the house on my own since August. Freedom at last! What better way to get back in to the London culture scene than with a preview of the upcoming BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies at the BFI (thanks to @Ruther2 for my ticket). The BBC’s six-part drama begins later this month and after watching the first two episodes, I was certainly impressed. The cast is first-class, led by the truly brilliant Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son who rises to become one of the most powerful men in the country. Rylance never fails to impress, most recently through his stage work (Jerusalem, La Bete, Richard III and Twelfth Night were all superb) and that he is so able to play such an eclectic range of characters is a testament to how great an actor he is. His Cromwell may not have come across as as witty as Ben Miles’ performance on stage at the RSC, but he has an intensity about him that is bound to grow through the episodes – Cromwell is always observing, thinking, planning and this is always clear from Rylance’s portrayal. He also has a touching relationship with Jonathan Pryce’s Cardinal Wolsey, the master he stands by until his fall in 1529.

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Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Wolsey

Other notable performances from the first two episodes were Claire Foy’s Anne Boleyn, Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardiner, Charity Wakefield as a playful and strong Mary Boleyn and Thomas Brodie Sangster as Rafe, Cromwell’s loyal ward. We didn’t get to see too much of Damian Lewis’s interpretation of King Henry VIII in these early episodes, but he seemed very promising, not only a younger, more athletic figure, but also one who still carries a gravitas and power that makes you know he should not be crossed. I have owned the novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies for years and always intended to read them, especially so after seeing the stage productions last year in Stratford-Upon-Avon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However it was only after going to this preview that I finally picked up Wolf Hall, which I have just finished. The BBC drama is very faithful to the novel, with lines of dialogue and scenes instantly recognisable to me as being identical. It’s impressive to see how such a detailed novel has been adapted so perfectly for the screen by Peter Straughan. They are books that contain so much detail and description that as a reader you need to commit to them in order to be swept up in the sumptuous, yet murky world of Henry’s court and it’s fantastic that Straughan’s scripts have not strayed from the example set by Mantel in her work. There are some scenes and moments that are moved around slightly, so that they occur earlier or later than in the book, but you can understand why each of these choices was made, in order to keep the pace of the screen version and I don’t think any such choices are at the detriment of the original books.

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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn

I also thoroughly enjoyed Mike Poulton’s stage adaptations for the RSC (soon to transfer to Broadway), which I found to be fast paced, modern and funnier than I’d expected. Comparing this to the television version, I’d say that the stage one seems to be faster paced, which makes sense when you have create the world for a live performance in three hours, through which Cromwell can speak directly to the audience. This direct rapport also opened the door more for humour to come across, particularly from Cromwell. As with the novels, the series cannot do this directly and so more is dependent of Rylance’s skill at conveying his thoughts through a look and his eyes, something he is more than capable of achieving. As for the production itself, it is of a level of quality we expect from a BBC period drama – beautiful locations and costumes, wonderful music by Debbie Wiseman, which feels authentic, yet contemporary and superbly shot – the scenes you think seem to be lit just by candlelight really are exactly that, which lends the production an added layer of realism. There is one scene in which Cromwell talks with his sister-in-law as she puts out the candles around the room – as each is distinguished the room grows darker until only one remains. Touches like this truly impressed me and you can understand that a great deal of preparation and skill has been invested by the crew and director Peter Kosminsky in order to film the series this way. I also loved the hand held camera style for certain scenes, which allows the audience to be always seeing the events from Cromwell’s perspective. This again makes the characters feel very much alive.

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Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII

I am incredibly excited to see the remaining four episodes of this wonderful series and cannot recommend it highly enough. The opening episode may feel a little slow to some people, but I would urge you to stick with it, as you are soon drawn in to the drama and intrigue of a world that really did exist 500 years ago and in to events that had a lasting impact on our country. This is due to a superb combination of top quality acting performances from some of the country’s best talents, a faithful and perfectly paced screenplay, sumptuous costumes, locations and music and the brilliant choice of filming style so that, as an audience you really are following in Cromwell’s footsteps as he navigates this dangerous world of Tudor England. Panel and Q&A following the screening After the screening we were treated to a Q&A with director Peter Kosminsky, composer Debbie Wiseman, actress Claire Foy (Anne Bolyen) and Hilary Mantel herself.

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Waiting for the screening at the BFI to begin

What did Hilary Mantel think of the adaptation? Mantel was full of praise for the series, calling it sumptuous and saying that she had fallen into her own story while watching it. She does not refer to it as an adaptation however, as she feels such a word sounds like a compromise. This is not an adaptation, but the material in a different medium and she was very proud. What was the director’s approach to the series? Peter Kosminsky talked about how the characters think they are us. They don’t know that they are in fact in history, so it was important to create a world that felt real and contemporary, so that the characters are living in the moment. He also spoke of how closely Peter Straughan worked with Mantel on the screenplay and how important it was to cast the right people in order make the production feel real. The importance of the director of photography’s role and that of the camera operator was also mentioned, in order to give the series its documentary style, which makes the audience experience the events with Cromwell as they happen. What was it like playing Anne Boleyn? Claire Foy spoke of how much she’d enjoyed the books when she’d read them, but that she’d felt dread when it was suggested she should audition, as she was sure she was nothing like the Anne she had read about in the books. She was amazed that Peter wanted her to play the role and also agreed that there is more of a responsibility playing someone who lived. Peter Kosminsky explained that he’d thought Claire would be perfect for Anne, as he knew from working with her before that she could portray the nastier side of Anne, but still break your heart at the end. He knew she wouldn’t need to “soft sell” Anne.

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Claire Foy, Hilary Mantel, Debbie Wiseman and Peter Kosminsky during the Q&A

Music process and cliches and music? This is Debbie Wiseman’s sixth collaboration with Peter Kosminsky and she talked about how early she was involved in the process. The music in fact had a life before the filming began, with themes such as Cromwell’s theme and Anne’s them existing in an initial form from the beginning, which meant that demos could be taken on set and used, which does not normally happen. Later in the evening she was also asked about whether there were any period cliches that had arisen when creating the score. Debbie talked about the influence of Tudor instruments, some of which were used, including the lute and viol, but also that there had been a desire for the music to have a contemporary feel, so the music aims to look forwards as well as backwards. Did Mark Rylance’s performance provide new insight in to the world for Mantel? Through working on this drama series and the stage production, Hilary Mantel said there are themes that linger and that each process feeds in to the other and also in to the third and final book, which is still a live process for her. To be called “The Mirror and the Light” Mantel explained that the final novel will cast light on what has gone before and see events from a different angle, while also filling in some of the gaps. She was incredibly enthusiastic about how wonderful it is to have people to co-imagine with you and that through the stage and screen processes she has had more such co-imaginers to help her create the world. Filming process? The director referred to the use of filming by candlelight and Claire Foy stressed how dark it was when filming certain scenes, during which they were amazed the cameras were actually able to see more than the cast and crew could due to the darkness! They were also terrified of someone catching fire (a risk that Mantel said was a very real one for those living at that time). Five cameras and five lenses in different configurations were tested before filming began in order to ensure the very best equipment was chosen. The candlelight was an important element for the production, especially as they were filming in real period locations, which were built and designed to be lit that way. Mantel also agreed with its importance, saying that it does something to your imagination when just in candlelight. Claire and Peter also reminisced about the comedic scene of having to film at Penshurst Place in Kent, due to the requirement on the crew to pause filming every 20 minutes in order for tourists to walk through on tours! Wolf-Hall-Bring-Up-The-Bodies2 The language of Wolf Hall? On being asked about writing the novels and the language used, Mantel referred to George Cavendish’s biography of Cardinal Wolsey, as it was from this source material that she found the idiom for her novels. At the time, when the people communicated it would have been clear to them and so it was important for her to have a living, speakable idiom. Therefore the novels are written in modern English, but slightly sideways, for example, with syntax different from everyday English used today. She also agreed that Peter Straughan’s adaptation is very faithful to the novels. The third book and the challenging nature of the material for its audience? On being asked if they would film the third book, both Peter and Hilary said that would be wonderful but Mantel needs to finish writing it first! Mantel was also asked how much of a hit she thought the series would be on television, due to the fact that, like the novels, the audience has to work for it. Mantel agreed that the dialogue takes no prisoners and that there would have been no point dumbing it down for the series as you could never pitch it right for everyone. She felt it was important to do it with honesty and integrity and then hope to carry the audience with you, as she wants them to be co-imaginers too, as writing is not a two dimensional process. Is this the golden age of television? On being asked by the audience whether this was a new era of a higher art for television, Peter Kosminsky said that there are new challenges and opportunities now, for example a greater number of channels, but less viewers watching a programme than when there were only four channels. He also spoke of how big development budgets were no longer there, so he didn’t see it as a golden age, as you have to fight for budget and to keep something relevant and real. Wolf Hall begins on Wednesday 21st January on BBC Two at 9 p.m. and you can watch the trailer here. Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies can be purchased at all the usual book stockists.

Looking Ahead to Theatre in 2015

With a new year almost here, it’s that time of year for theatregoers to start looking forward to all the exciting and intriguing prospects announced, as well as planning strategies to nab tickets for those sold out or hot tickets! After four months out of the theatre loop, I’ve needed to do my research this year more than ever to make sure I know what’s coming in 2015. This year has been very strong and it looks like 2015 is shaping up to be just as thrilling, in London and the regions.

So, here are the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2015.

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1. Hamlet (Barbican, 5th August – 31st October)

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There couldn’t really be anything else at number one for me than the upcoming Hamlet at the Barbican starring Benedict Cumberbatch. As one of my favourite stage actors, ever since I saw After The Dance in 2010, it seemed only a matter of time before such a brilliant actor would want to take on Shakespeare’s most challenging role and I admit my expectations are already rather high! He’s now had a good amount of time to contemplate his Hamlet and I’m intrigued to see the choices he and Lyndsey Turner make as to setting and staging. With the run of 89 performances selling out as soon as public booking opened, this is certain to be the theatre event of the summer. I just hope that, as David Tennnat did with me in 2008, Benedict brings a whole new audience to Shakesepeare, who then become addicted to it! If you didn’t succeed in acquiring tickets earlier this year, then 100 £10 seats will be released for each performance nearer the time. Now to find out who else will be in this production. I’ve chosen my fantasy cast here and I really hope at least one of them could happen. Time will tell.

2. Oppenheimer (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 15th January – 7th March)

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Another actor who I would watch in absolutely anything and who I also first saw on stage in After The Dance is the brilliant John Heffernan, whose stage work just seems to get more and more exciting (with recent success in The Hot House and Edward II to name just two). This play centres around the development of atomic fission in 1939, as J Robert Oppenheimer (Heffernan) races to win the battle to create the first nuclear bomb as World War II continues across Europe. It may sound a bit heavy for some people, but with such a talented lead actor, I’m certain this will be a highlight of 2015.

3. Closer (Donmar Warehouse, 12th February – 4th April)

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Although I’ve still never watched the 2004 film version of Patrick Marber’s play Closer, whose star-studded cast of Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts and Jude Law had lots of people talking before its release, it was still the film I was aware of raher than the 1997 play and so I’m thrilled it is being revived by the Donmar. For theatre fans the cast for the upcoming production is even more thrilling: Nancy Carroll (yet another After The Dance cast member!), Oliver Chris (fresh from his success in King Charles III) and Rufus Sewell (most recently seen in Old Times) are joined by recent RADA graduate Rachel Redford. Due to the Donmar’s size, the only ticket availability is now through the Barclays Front Row Scheme or returns, but this is certainly promising enough to make it worth the effort if you have yet to nab a ticket.

4. Bull (Young Vic, 8th January – 7th February)

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This year has been a great one for Mike Bartlett and 2015 could be just as successful, with two productions included in this list. I first saw Bull during its premiere run in Sheffield in 2013 and I’m thrilled it’s finally getting a London run at the Young Vic, with three of the four original cast (Neil Stuke replaced Adrian Lukis for the Broadway run and continues in the role in London). It’s short and sharp at only 50 minutes long, but its powerful office dynamics certainly pack a punch and Adam James, Sam Troughton and Eleanor Matsuura are bound to bring the same quality as I saw at the Crucible. One not to miss.

5. Tree (Old Vic, 5th – 31st January)

2850My first experience of a Kitson production was this year’s unique and moving Analog.ue, which has left me very excited to see his next idea brought to life at the Old Vic for its London premiere (following a staging at the Manchester Royal Exchange). The overview simply says this is about dissent, commitment, two people and a tree. I’m sufficiently intrigued and after finding the simple beauty of Analog.ue, both in terms of story and how it was told, incredibly moving, there is no way I can miss this.

6. Game (Almeida, 23rd February – 4th April)

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It’s another entry for Mike Bartlett, as he brings his latest play to the Almeida. The simple summary on the Almeida’s website gives very little away. We know this is a play about the current housing crisis and what price people are willing to pay to have a home of their own. Even more intriguing is the staging, with four different zones offering “equal, yet subtly different” perspectives on the action. The Almeida is certainly incredibly versatile for such a small theatre and this is shaping up to be yet another exciting viewing experience. Now to wait and see who will be in it – yes I admit I’m hoping for Adam James (who seems to be a staple part of Bartlett’s shows)!

7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios, 16th January – 11th April)

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Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season at the Trafalgar Studios has, in such a short time, established itself as must-see theatre after so many brilliant productions since it began with McAvoy’s Macbeth last year. Coming next is a play I’m not very familiar with – The Ruling Class, a satire which looks at the foibles of English nobility after a possible paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex, inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney when his father passes away in a bizarre accident. Directed by Lloyd and starring James McAvoy, tickets are selling fast for this production, which sounds perfect for such a skilled actor. If you want a bargain, hold off for the £15 Mondays (the tickets for the Mondays of each month are released on the second day of each month at just £15 each).

8. The Hard Problem (Dorfman, National Theatre, 21st January – 16th April)

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Its been nine years since Tom Stoppard wrote a new play and this one arrives at the National Theatre’s newly refurbished Dorfman (it’ll still be the Cottesloe to me) in time to be the last production to be directed by Nicholas Hytner before he steps down as Artistic Director. All we know is that it centres on Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain-science institute, who is asking herself the “hard problem” – if there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness? With a cast that includes Olivia Vinnell (whose work in the NT’s Othello and King Lear have proven she is someone to watch) and Anthony Calf, I’m very much looking forward to this one.

9. The Vote (Donmar Warehouse, 24th April – 7th May and live on More 4 on 7th May)

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I’ve included this production here despite the fact I hold out little hope of seeing it in the theatre itself! James Graham has earned a great deal of praise with the political drama This House and this year’s Privacy, which shone a spotlight on technology and online security. The Vote could possibly combine the two, set in a fictional polling station during the last 90 minutes of polling day for 2015’s General Election. Will it be the same each show? Who knows, but what makes this even more thrilling and unique is that it will also be shown live on television (on More 4) on election night, so we can see it play out in real time on 7th May! You can’t get much more current than that! Tickets for the rest of the run will be available via a ballot, but at least we’ll all get to see it from the comfort of our sofas on 7th May!

10. Carmen Disruption (Almeida, 10th April – 23rd May)

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Another playwright whose work always impresses and excites me is Simon Stephens (whose Birdland made this year’s top ten for me and whose other recent work includes Seawall and the adaptation of The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time). This could be a thrilling run for the Almeida, as this UK premiere follows Mike Bartlett’s latest offering and is said to be a reimagining of Bizet’s opera Carmen. From rock and roll in Birdland to opera? If anyone can do it, Simon Stephens can – I don’t suppose Andrew Scott can be in it can he?!

11. American Buffalo (Wyndam’s, 16th April – 27th June)

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I first heard that this production would be arriving in the spring of 2015 from the lead actor himself, when Damian Lewis excitedly announced it at the Times Talks interview earlier this year. Now more famous for his television success in Homeland (and soon to be seen in the BBC’s Wolf Hall as King Henry VIII), Lewis has not been on stage since 2009 and as I was unable to get to The Misanthrope, I won’t want to miss American Buffalo, a play about a pair of junk-shop workers plotting to steal a valuable coin collection. Directed by Daniel Evans, who has done such wonderful work in recent years as Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, I’m very excited to see this production.

12. Bugsy Malone (Lyric Hammersmith, 11th April – 1st August)

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Just when I thought a musical wouldn’t make the list, I hear about the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Bugsy Malone! What a fantastic way to reopen the theatre after its redevelopment! The Jodie Foster film from 1976 is certainly very well known and it will be thrilling to see this gangster musical set in the Prohibition era of the 1920s brought to life with, as the theatre says, “a cast of exciting young talent.” 2014 has been a tough year for musicals, so I hope this one proves to be a success.

13. Death of a Salesman (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 26th March – 2nd May)

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2014 has seen me tick off two more Arthur Miller classics from my list of plays to see and thanks to the RSC next year, I’ll also be able to add Death of a Salesman to that list. To be directed by the brilliant Greg Doran (whose plays seem to be brought to life in such an accessible and clear way) and with a cast that includes well established stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter alongside younger RSC talent such as Alex Hassell (currently Prince Hal in Henry IV) and Sam Marks, I’m looking forward to planning a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this.

14. A View From A Bridge (Wyndam’s transfer, 10th February – 11th April)

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It would have been criminal not to include the transfer of the Young Vic’s utterly incredible production of another Arthur Miller classic. Mark Strong was one of the best performances of 2014 as Eddie, whose complex relationship with his family, particularly his niece drives the play. You cannot take your eyes off him and I have no doubt it will be the same when this production begins at the Wyndam’s in February. The main cast are all back for its West End transfer, including Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox as his wife and niece. Get your tickets fast!

15. My Night With Reg (Apollo transfer, 17th January – 11th April)

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Another West End transfer coming soon is the transfer of the recent Donmar production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg. Set in a flat in 1985, everyone I know who saw this funny, yet bittersweet play loved it and so I’m so pleased I have another chance to catch it.

Sold out shows to keep an eye on

There are also a couple of exciting prospects which are already sold out, but I’ll be trying to get a return or day seat for if I can (the things you miss booking when in hospital!). So if you’re willing to not let the words “sold out” get in your way, keep these productions on your radar!

Man and Superman (Lyttelton, National Theatre, 17th February – 17th May)

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I’m not familiar with this Bernard Shaw play, but the description sounds very unusual and interesting and it marks the return to the stage of Ralph Fiennes as Jack Tanner, together with Faye Castelow (yet another After The Dance alumni!) and Nick Hendrix (last at the NT in The Light Princess).

Farinelli & the King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 11th February – 8th March)

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Another production I’m wishing I’d booked, especially due to its short run, is Farinelli and the King at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. A true story about the world’s most famous castrato Farinelli, who is sent for to sing to the King of Spain to help his insomnia and depression, this production sees the return to the stage of Mark Rylance. I’m really going to need a strategy to get to see this now. Wish me luck!

Catch them before they close!

Of course there are also some productions that are already running and continue in to next year and which deserve a mention here too.

King Charles III (Wyndam’s, until 31st January) – My top production of 2014 by Mike Bartlett is worth catching if you can.

The Scottsboro Boys (Garrick, until 21st February) – I saw this at the Young Vic before its transfer and loved it. It is full of wonderful songs and dancing, while managing to movingly convey this true story of injustice in 1930s America.

Cats (until 28th February) – I still need to grab a ticket to this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline musical. I saw it years ago and loved it and it’s certainly getting praise this time too. Former Pussy Cat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger, appears until 7th February.

Once (Phoenix, until 21st March) – Another one of this year’s top ten for me. If you have yet to see this utterly beautiful musical, you have until 21st March before it leaves London. I’m no Boyzone fan, but even I plan on going while Ronan Keating is in it in order to see it once again while I can.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Gielgud) – As long as this play runs in London, it will always make my theatre recommendations list. It’s just that good. I’ve seen it in every theatre so far in London, so I’ll have to add the Gielgud to my list in 2015.

So, hopefully this list will include something for everyone, whether Shakespeare, or a short 50 minute show. There is already so much to look forward to and who knows what other productions will be announced as we start the year. Happy theatre-filled New Year everyone!!!

Solochocolatee

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