Saturday, 25 July 2015

Review: Richard III at Leicester's Curve Theatre

Shakespeare's Richard III at the Curve Theatre, Leicester, 25th July 2015

A bit of a change this week after a visit to a community production of Richard III at Leicester’s Curve Theatre. My expectations beforehand were not especially high, but the production gave me a number of pleasant surprises. The set had a professional look. The industrial minimalism thing is getting a little tedious at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, but this looked just as good as the ones they’re churning out in Stratford. There was an unpleasant David Lynch-esque humming sound effect before the show started: it reminded me of the last moments of consciousness before having a seizure, but for people without such a point of reference it probably wasn’t so bad. An unpleasant but arresting moment occurred at the very beginning of the play. A shirtless Richard gave his ‘winter of our discontent’ speech and we were treated to a very realistic, scabby, sore looking hump which a nurse then injected with a syringe. It was always unlikely that such a great beginning could be maintained, and so it proved.

It would be harsh to single out any individual because the problems ran through most of the cast. Many of the speeches were given at breakneck speed, giving the impression that the lines had been learned without being understood. This might also have been a problem caused by lack of editing: it would have been a good idea to make a few changes here and there, but perhaps being amateurs there was not the confidence to start messing editing the Bard. As it was, there was too much hurried talking and not enough acting. Some of the cast found it difficult to project their voices clearly, whilst others overacted their scenes (my companion actually preferred the latter approach, as it at least had the benefit of making sure you could understand what was happening). The industrial setting sort of went with the kleptocratic Russia theme, but this theme was only applied intermittently in costume and there was no real effort to draw deeper parallels. Occasional fur coats, orthodox priests and paramilitaries wandered around with a Church of England Bishop and, at the end, a bunch of World War One Tommies. The fighting at the end perhaps went on a little too long for a professional production, but this cast have clearly had a lot of fun arranging the battle scenes that it is hard to begrudge them a little fun with them.

The actor in the title role, Mark Peachey, was the highlight of the night and, on balance, made this a pretty
good performance. I could point out that he managed to be comprehensible without shouting every line, but this would damn him with faint praise. In fact, his Richard was charismatic, humorous and menacing – everything you could ask for. This was a warrior Richard, more Stannis Baratheon than Frank Underwood. Overall, he would not have been out of place at any of the RSC performances I’ve seen over the last couple of years: one hopes that he soon gets a shot at acting on a stage that will do his talents more justice.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Film Review: Great Expectations (2012)

Film Review: Great Expectations (2012)

Adaptations of classic novels inevitably confront a dilemma; how do you maintain authenticity when reworking a slow-motion story for an audience with a twenty-first century attention span? But the makers of the 2012 Great Expectations film had a smaller dilemma than usual. Great Expectations the novel, originally published in instalments, is fast paced, there are attention grabbing twists, and Dickensian characters, with their odd, visual mannerisms, are well-suited to film. So the pitfalls are shallower than usual – but they still exist. Director Mike Newell has surrendered to temptation and sexed up the action, so we’ve got a gruesomely burnt body and masses of extra, aimless menace. The stand-out performances are Holliday Grainger’s sultry but vulnerable Estella, and the Magwitch of Ralph Fiennes’, who capably surpasses Robert de Niro’s 1998 portrayal. But the interpretation of Miss Havisham is a squandered chance. Helena Bonham-Carter relishes playing flamboyant half-mad icons so the archetypal character of Miss Havisham should have been a triumph. But a curiously flat performance turns that initial excitement as stale and dusty as Miss Havisham’s ancient wedding cake. The greatest disappointment, though, is also the most fatally fundamental. Pip needs to be likeable enough that we forgive him for his shameless social climbing and abandonment of his decent but embarrassing friends. But he is too driven, and the viewer never really wills him towards a happy outcome. Nonetheless, there is enough here to entertain: fans of literary exactitude will be reasonably gratified whilst newcomers and radicals will still be enthused.