Dunkirk film review ****

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Dunkirk, 26th July 2017

Regular readers of this blog (soon to be counted on the fingers of more than one hand I confidently predict) will have worked out that I am not a committed film buff, preferring the theatre, art exhibitions and, within limits, classical music concerts. And I am a bit random in what I do end up seeing at the cinema, though with a bias to the kind of foreign language efforts that the Guardian approves of.

Dunkirk though was going to be an obligatory view however largely for the subject. As I observed in my review of the rather pedestrian Churchill (the film not the bloke – see here Churchill film review **) the mythology of this history is deep-rooted. What I didn’t do though was pay much attention to director. cast or the much vaunted production choices which underpin Dunkirk the film. So the absence of CGI, the focus on character as metaphor, the absence of blood and guts, the intersection of time periods, in fact the whole Sunday morning 1950s matinee quality which pervaded the whole affair was a welcome surprise.

Nothing wrong with using technology to create visual drama and spectacle for the cinema audience but, in my experience, it can mean plot. character and meaning can take a subsidiary role to the visual extravaganza. Not here. You are not going to be surprised by the depth of psychological introspection revealed in the dialogue nor should you expect a devastating indictment of the politics that lie behind what was a humiliation for the Allied forces. This is a straightforward telling of the “story” but smartly avoids moralising or mythologising precisely because of what is not there. Instead it is an engrossing impression, complete with banging score and some cracking camerawork, of a sequence of events. Branagh does a Branagh, Rylance does a Rylance, Hardy does a Hardy and the somewhat lesser known cast members (all blokes) all fall into line (including that Tom Glynn-Carney who shines in The Ferryman on the stage).

I couldn’t tell you if director Christopher Nolan’s non-linear storytelling is the mark of an auteur or just a way to cut down editing costs but it is effective for me. Too much mainstream cinema is boring for me because it is linear and predictable so this was a welcome diversion.

Anyway all I up I wandered in. sat down, got caught up in the film and the people in it, came out and broadly forgot about it. That’s enough for me and way more than I normally get when I inadvisedly see a “blockbuster” film.

 

Daniel Kitson at the Roundhouse review ****

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Daniel Kitson: Something Other Than Everything

The Roundhouse, 25th July 2017

I really can’t be doing with most stand-up comedy and will rarely pay money to go and see it. Most stand-ups are mildly diverting at best and often begin to grate as they default to cheap laughs from tired observational tropes.

LD and I recently went along to the benefit gig at the Hammersmith Apollo for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Good cause so well worth it, but, with the exception of that Russell Kane and Rob Beckett, in flashes, it served as a reminder of the above rule. Don’t get me wrong, I will laugh and generally have a good time, but this doesn’t normally do much more for me.

There are some exceptions however. En famille we can still get a lot of pleasure out of the quality punnery of Milton Jones and Tim Vine. And Stewart Lee will likely remain mandatory viewing every year until I die. (See here Stewart Lee: Content Provider review *****). As, probably, will Daniel Kitson.

Now I can’t pretend I have pitched up to everything Mr Kitson delivers but I have seen enough routines over the years to know his gifts and I also have a high regard for his more recent theatrical forays, notably Tree at the Old Vic which was a 2015 Top 10 Theatre pick for me, and the more challenging, but still very rewarding, Analog.Ue at the NT in 2014.

So high hopes going in to this. And by and large Mr Kitson delivered. Several strands woven together, enhanced by sound and lighting effects with the usual mastery of comedy technique. When it works it is still very very funny as well as being reflective to an almost exquisitely painful degree. Comedy self-examination requires discipline and by and large Mr Kitson exhibits this. However he sets such a high standard that, just occasionally here, the edifice wobbled. Two hours with this many paths through the material, with diversions, reversions, checks, balances is asking a lot of us mere mortals. How to be a liberal, how to be good, determinism and free-will, empathy, all this and more, presents an awful of possibilities for Mr Kitson to explore and sometimes I frankly wasn’t up to it.

So a qualified recommendation. It’s Daniel Kitson so if you know what to expect you will be rewarded. and it is only £12 thanks to Mr Kitson’s principled generosity. But I still have this nagging feeling that if he could just rein in the brilliance a bit and revert to a more conventional stand-up format it might have been even funnier.

Still mustn’t grumble. Like I said most stand-up comedy is pants.

Ink at the Almeida Theatre review *****

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Ink

Almeida Theatre, 24th July 2017

Recipe for a very satisfying night at the theatre.

  1. Choose your company. I spend the vast majority of my theatre going life flying solo. So it is such a pleasure to be joined by some choice chums. In this case the SO, the Blonde Bombshells, BUD and KCK. Lovely.
  2. Have a bite to eat beforehand. Now having a “pre-theatre supper”, (I f*****g loathe the concept of “supper” and all who refer to it – it is called dinner), is sailing perilously close to the limits of poncey stuckuppery as far as I am concerned. But I have to say plate of delicious comestibles at that Ottolenghi realy did hit the spot even if the price/volume interplay was very suspect. I may go again. What a toff I have become.
  3. Go to the Almeida Theatre. This is starting to get silly. As far as I can see the Almeida under Rupert Goold has not put a foot wrong in the last four years and is now, in my humble opinion, London’s best theatre. Mr Goold is blessed with Robert Icke as a wingman and can call on just about any stage acting heavyweight he fancies. And he and his team are fortunate to be well oiled by the cash of the professional and chattering classes of Islington. But what has been most impressive for me is the string of new works that have been showcased alongside the classics. As proof I give you Hamlet, Mary Stuart, Oil, They Drink it in the Congo, Richard III, Uncle Vanya, Little Eyof, Medea, Oresteia, Bakkhai, Carmen Disruption, Game, King Charles III. 1984 and American Pyscho. All great and, in many cases, outstanding works of theatre. Even the misfires have had something of value.
  4. Choose your writer, James Graham. Now it looks to me as if Mr Graham has found his groove and is now busy perfecting it. Dramatising relatively recent socio-political events brings recognition to us, the audience, which means we can ruminate on the parallels with the right now, whilst still being thoroughly entertained. Mr Graham just has the knack of picking and writing a good story. That is not as easy as it sounds. In the case of Ink he has gone one stage further than in This House for me by shining a light on the genesis of the populist tabloid, here the Sun, just at the point when maybe, the power of this particular beast is waning. The story of the first year of the Sun, following Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the title in 1969, turns out to be theatrical gold. Murdoch’s desire to take on the British establishment and “give the people what they want”. his relationship with editor Larry Lamb, Lamb’s own personal battle with Daily Mirror editor and mentor Hugh Cudlipp, the pulling together of a team of Fleet Street rejects, waifs and strays to create the new style tabloid, the shocking kidnapping and death of Muriel McKay, wife of Murdoch’s lieutenant, the provocation of Page 3: all of this is deftly and pacily explored by Mr Graham in an often acutely amusing way. The motives for recasting journalism and the press in the UK are laid bare: the consequences we know from the intervening decades. Brilliant stuff.
  5. Savour the performances. Unsurprisingly the attention of the critics has focussed on Bertie Carvel’s Murdoch. It’s another bravura performance from an actor who seems to relish “the method” as far as I can see. I thoroughly enjoyed the physicality of his Yank in the Old Vic’s Hairy Ape (which was underrated in my view) and here he captures the awkwardness of Murdoch, his prudishness, his curious accent and his “outsider” psychology perfectly. He is not the caricature demon we “liberal” types need him to be but he is the archetype of “destructive capitalism”. (As an aside I once had a breakfast meeting in Washington. Rupert Murdoch sat down alone on the table next to us. His presence dominated our meeting for the next hour. All he did was eat toast and read the paper but all eyes were on him.) However, if I were Bertie I might have fancied taking on the Lamb role instead. On the other hand Richard Coyle does such a good job there was probably no vacancy. I have seen, and I am sure will see, more virtuoso, scenery chewing, thespianism on stage this year (Lars Erdinger/Greg Hicks in Richard III, Andrew Garfield in Angels in America, Cherry Jones in the Glass Menagerie, Andrew Scott in Hamlet, Brendan Cowell in Life of Galileo, by way of example) but Mr Coyle absolutely nails this from the off. This is a character whose seems compelled to test boundaries. He carries much more of the play than I expected but, even so, this really is an ensemble piece, and that is what makes the “us against the world” dynamic so persuasive.
  6. Take your hat off to Rupert Goold as director. I could be wrong but I reckon that Mr Goold is one of those rare leaders who can control his own ego. What you see on the stage in his productions is what writers, cast, designers and all the other good folk around want to show. I am guessing he guides, he doesn’t dictate. the world needs more leaders like that. My guess is Mr Murdoch would disagree.
  7. Set, Light, Sound, Action.  It is a tabloid in 1969/1970. Activity, headlines, demarcations, flares, eyeliner, dodgy haircuts and dodgy views. You can conjure up a picture in your mind I reckon but what you actually get far surpasses this. Bunny Christie’s set is the antithesis of minimal but so perfectly captures place and time. Some of the movement and dance (yep) is very witty and the scene elucidating the production process is inspired.

All in all a tip, top piece of theatre that I defy anyone not to enjoy. It lifts you up and carries you along from the open and makes you laugh, whilst still getting a little bit vexed about how this instrument of shabby, public discourse could have become so powerful.

So if it were to pop up in a transfer, as so much of the Almeida’s work now does, and you haven’t seen it, don’t hesitate. A proper story. Popular not populist.

Giacometti at Tate Modern review ****

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Giacometti

Tate Modern, 5th July 2017

Alberto Giacometti fitted the bill of the artist perfectly. Day upon day, month upon month, year upon year ploughing the same furrow. To capture the essence of the human form largely through sculpture and occasionally with paint. More than a nod to the representation of the human form in Ancient Egypt, the Etruscan world and in African culture, with the same relentless elongation. A recognition that, after the horror of WW2, another way of looking at humanity was needed.

A limited number of models (dad, wife, brother, mistress, a few other patrons/luminaries and, for me anyway, himself, indirectly if not directly). And brother and wife looking after all the wordly stuff.

You can see the constant reworking in the works before eventually they could be cast, if required, in bronze. Apparently he was never satisfied. Now for some this might come over as all a bit cliched. But the simple fact is it is impossible not to be drawn into his world. The early p*ssing around with other artistic movements is tossed aside. Thereafter the character of his models, at least in the more substantial busts, becomes clearer and clearer. The structure and basis of human forward movement is revealed in the “walking men”. All through, the “eyes” literally have it. You think you know Giacometti’s work and ideas. But this still pulls you up in places. 

Room 1 kicks things off in style with a host of tightly packed heads of different materials and arranged broadly chronologically. It is easy to see Giacometti’s early experimentation with, for example, cubism but it is even easier to the end to which he was inevitably going to be drawn. Room 2 also shows how he flirted with other more abstract and surrealist solutions to capturing the human form. These works are interesting but not really convincing – the surrealists (a generally bitchy bunch anyway) apparently got on his case for being too naturalistically inclined. Room 3 shows his flair for decoration but it is only in Room 4 that we get a taste of the larger scale works that were to follow. There are some cracking pieces here, some very disturbing if I am honest. Room 5 shows AG’s fascination with the very small scale. In Room 6 we see the “classic” AG forms, in groups, or “penned” in some way. Room 7 brings together 8 of the 9 the Women of Venice series AG created for the 1956 Biennale and they really are fascinating (to me and judging by the stares most of the other punters as well). Rooms 8, 9 and 10 give us paint as well as walkers and the best of the heads of the people he clearly loved. And a film with AG doing his full on artist shtick, little garretty studio (Left Bank – where else?), buckets of espressos, fag dangling, mess all the place, plaster splattered jacket. The works. But his eye connects to the eye of the journo who is acting as his model and voice-over and then you absolutely get what Giacometti was about.

So a terrific exhibition of the work of, for me, a terrific artist. But I am partial as AG for me fulfils in spades two of my favourite artistic traits. The power of repetition. And the gift of emotional connection. Anyway it’s on through to September so see for yourself.

British Watercolour Landscapes at the British Museum review ****

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Places of the Mind: British Watercolour Landscapes 1850 to 1950

British Museum, 3rd July 2017

Any right thinking Londoner or visitor thereto knows that time spent in the British Museum (or the V and A for that matter) is never wasted. I have remarked before on the rich run of larger scale exhibitions that the British Museum has delivered in the last couple of years (The American Dream at the British Museum review ****) and this small but very satisfying collection of watercolours keeps up the tradition.

it does exactly what it says on the packet assembling top draw, and maybe a few lesser names, from its own collections to chart the path from precise Victorian realism to post war abstraction. Watercolour is obviously an immediately attractive medium but this also offers up plenty of technical surprise and interest as well. And there are some records of adventures abroad mixed in with the iconic British locations.

Best of the bunch. Mackintosh. Nash John and Paul. Ravilious, Whistler, Sargeant, Steer, Sutherland, Minton. But honestly I was even captivated by the Pre-Raphaelites who normally make me gag.

So take a trip up to the 4th floor (Room 90) away from the crowds and breathe this in. Cost to you – nothing at all.

And joy of joys on the way in you will see the Leonardo cartoon. And if you have time head up to the Japan galleries (92 to 94)  – always a joy – or down to the Clocks and Watches (38 and 39). Best of all Rooms 40 and 41, pound for pound the best collection of Medieval and earlier European bits and bobs anywhere. Oh except maybe the V and A.

 

The Philanthropist at Trafalgar Studios review *

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The Philanthropist

Trafalgar Studios One, 6th July

So the Philanthropist has been and gone. A combination of a visit late in the run, the Tourist’s usual dilatoriness and a holiday meant no review until now. Probably just as well. This wasn’t great I have to say.

I think I just have to accept that where others see a sharp wit in the writing of Christopher Hampton I just see a rather tired, dated smartarsery I am afraid. I seem to remember enjoying Les Liaisons Dangereuses (play and film) all those years ago but the recent Donmar revival left me a bit cold. Same thing apples to some of his screenplay adaptions like The History Man and Atonement for example. But one is supposed to admire him so I thought I would give this a whirl.

In other contexts I am also very partial to the cast on show here notably Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal in the magnificent Friday Night Dinner and Matt Berry in his various incarnations (with IT Crowd matching FND as a family favourite chez Tourist). Here though they weren’t really up to the task I fear. Simon Bird did an excellent impression of Simon Bird but that wasn’t really what I think the part required. Matt Berry could have got away with a full on Toast performance here playing an arrogant writer, but was curiously underpowered. Tom Rosenthal was better but his performance along with the character just started to grate. Lily Cole was captivately dreadful. Only Charlotte Ritchie as Mr Bird’s put upon girlfriend really gained the measure of the piece.

A bunch of 70’s academic types and hanger ons moping about and behaving carelessly turned out not to be my cup of tea and the jokes were stilted. I am sure director, the lovely Simon Callow, had an idea of what he wanted but it didn’t seem to get through to his cast. I just didn’t care about any of them and barely laughed.

So a lesson for the tourist. when buying think text first, director second and cast last of all. And do not take a punt on novelties. And stay wary of the Trafalgar Studios which seems wedded to such novelty to pull in the audience (and full price, it ain’t cheap).

It isn’t the worst play the Tourist has seen in the last few years. That accolade goes to Jamie Lloyd’s excruciatingly bad Faustus at the Duke of York’s. I know the idea here was to get a new audience into the theatre by getting Kit Harington to flash his bum at them but we had to walk out of this halfway through.

And talking of walkouts we did the same at the Open Air Theatre’s Tale of Two Cities recently. No review as I only managed the first half but you can check out the proper reviews. Believe them. This is a dog’s breakfast where the laudable concept and over complex staging end up grinding the Dickens’s story into the dust. And whilst I pride myself on being as sweary and as confrontational as the next man the Open Air really isn’t the place to do this when you are asking families to part with their cash for a magical evening’s entertainment.

 

Some forthcoming London theatre ideas

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So we have had a few new season announcements over the past few weeks so here is a wrap up of what I think looks interesting in terms of stuff coming up on various London stages.

To spare you crawling through all this guff here is my top ten, including the best of these recent new season announcements in my view, and some other incumbent recommendations.

  1. The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre. So I know the decent seats are exorbitantly priced and this has come in for a bit of “paddywackery” backlash but it is still a towering play and is a must see.
  2. Hamlet at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Ditto. This is just a brilliant Hamlet from Andrew Scott and must be seen whatever you view on Will S.
  3. Network at the National Theatre. Should be a cracker – more details below
  4. Macbeth at the Barbican. In Japanese (with surtitles) but this is a classic production which I am very excited about.
  5. I Am Rachel Corrie at the Young Vic. Erin Doherty in the lead in this revival.
  6. Gundog at the Royal Court Theatre. I have a feeling this will be good.
  7. Albion at the Almeida Theatre. The next hit from the Almeida?
  8. Young Marx at the Bridge Theatre. I have banged on about this before but all is in place for the Bridge’s first offer.
  9. Insignificance at the Arcola Theatre. Revival of Terry Johnson brainy classic.
  10. Poison at the Orange Tree Theatre. I think this will be another triumph of discovery at Paul Miller’s Orange Tree.

More detail below.

Young Vic

New season is up. Best of the bunch for me is a revival of I Am Rachel Corrie based on the eponymous activists diaries with Erin Doherty in the lead. I have said before that I think Ms Doherty will become a stage legend and this should support that idea. The Jungle also caught my eye, with a whole bunch of tip-top creatives weaving stories from the Calais refugee camp. This is the sort of thing the Young Vic excels at. I am also looking forward to Wings with Juliet Stevenson in the lead and the Suppliant Women.

Royal Court Theatre

A whole bunch of goodies in the new season with three takes on the impact of war, Minefield, Bad Roads and Goats, and a US transfer, Grimly Handsome which has already sold out. My money is on My Mum’s a Twat a debut play from Anoushka Warden which RC’s Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone is directing, Girls and Boys, a relationship drama from Dennis Kelly (who writes for the telly) and directed by Lyndsey Turner, and, sounding best of all, Gundog, which has a nice ring of folk horror about it in the blurb. As usual with the RC there is not much to go on but I have a very good feeling about this. Ms Featherstone also directing.

Almeida Theatre

The Almeida can’t put a foot wrong under Rupert Goold with Ink the latest hit (sold out at the Almeida but go see it in the West End Transfer – you won’t regret it). I am booked for all 3 of the new season productions.

Mr Goold himself will direct Albion, Mike Bartlett’s new play. This has “state of the nation” written all over it but Mr Bartlett is a terrific writer so no need to fear. His last outing Wild at the Hampstead was good if not outstanding but this seems to have all the ingredients including a rareish outing for Victoria Hamilton on stage (you will have seen her in numerous period dramas).

Also intriguing is the Twilight Zone a world premiere from Anne Washburn based on, you guessed it, the Twilight Zone TV series from the 60’s. Now I can’t pretend I was bowled over by Ms Washburn’s Mr Burns but you have to admit this sounds quite exciting especially as it will be directed by the reliably controversial opera director Richard Jones.

After all this excitement the last play in the new season is a bit more classical in Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke directed by Rebecca Frecknall (who has taken on this relative rarity before at the Southwark Playhouse) and with Patsy Ferran seemingly perfectly cast in the lead.

Donmar Warehouse

There are still a few tickets left for the new version of Ibsen’s Lady from the Sea and more for the Knives in Hens revival which should show director Yael Farber in her best light after the tricky Salome at the NT. Knives in Hens is a spare, poetic love triangle that gets regular revivals because, er, it is very, very good.

Old Vic 

Tickets now on sale for The Divide the new dystopian drama from the pen of Alan Ayckbourn. It is in two parts and I have no idea how it will pan out. It will be premiered at the Edinburgh Festival so probably worth waiting to see how it is received. It does have my favourite Erin Doherty (see My Name Is Rachel Corrie) above so I have already taken the plunge to get my favourite seats but I might have gone too early.

Arcola Theatre

A slew of interesting stuff in the new season including the Grimeborn opera offerings, but the standout plays for me look like the revivals of Terry Johnson’s Insignificance (his new play Prism is also coming up at the Hampstead Theatre) and Howard Barker’s Judith: A Parting from the Body with Catherine Cusack in the lead.

Orange Tree Theatre

Everything in the new season looks interesting to me including productions of Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing, Elinor Cook’s Out of Love and Brad Birch’s Black Mountain, but I think the UK premiere of Poison by Dutch writer Lot Vekermans may turn out to be the best of the bunch.

National Theatre

I am seeing Angels in America shortly (always seem to end up near the end of the run) so review will follow. Common is still trundling on – I didn’t think it was too bad but others were less forgiving (Common at the National Theatre review ***). No official reviews for Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood which kicked off recently but I am looking forward to this immensely. Unfortunately the run is sold out so queueing on the day is the only way in.

Coming up are Follies, the Sondheim musical with Imelda Staunton belting out the tunes, Oslo, the sold out Broadway transfer which already has a West End transfer, St George and the Dragon, which I would take a punt on as a “modern folk tale” (expect Brexit allusions) written by Rory Mullarkey and directed by Lyndsey Turner, and Beginning, which I am guessing is a relationship drama (I assume with twists) written by David Eldridge and directed by the inestimable Polly Findlay.

My highest hopes are reserved for Network, based on the mid 70s Oscar winning film satire on the media, to be adapted by Lee Hall, directed by Ivo van Hove and with Bryan Cranston in the lead. Now film adaptions and Ivo van Hove disappointed on the last outing (Obsession at the Barbican – Obsession at the Barbican Theatre review ***) but I still would take the risk. This isn’t going to work if it follows the minimal, psychological insight route so I am assuming it will look more like Mr van Hove’s relentlessly busy Shakespearean efforts. There are tickets left for later in the run.

Barbican Theatres

Mr van Hove will also be bringing his Tonnelgroep Amsterdam team to the Barbican for After the Rehearsal/Persona and the main theatre will also show all the RSC Roman Shakespeares transferring from Stratford. I am signed up for the marathon Smile On Us Lord (I hope he/she does) from Russia’s Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre though I recognise this might be a bit hardcore for most. I do think the Ninagawa company’s Macbeth will be worth the £50 though. This is a revival was the production that first brought this innovative visual feast to the “West” so it really is a “once in a lifetime” theatrical experience.