Stories, National Theatre, South Bank London SE1

Stories

About a year ago. I saw Nina Raine’s last play, Consent, also at the Dorfman Theatre here at the National.  It was the strength of the writing in that production that drew me to see Stories. This is a play about Anna, a woman approaching 40, who is desperate to have a baby. She does not have a partner and she is investigating the options available to her as a would be single mother.

The Dorfman theatre is an intimate venue when laid out in the round, suited to the living room settings of this play. The show consists of multiple short scenes and the automated set changes where the sections of the floor rise to make a table or slide in to form a bed are very cleverly done. They contribute well to the maintaining the pace of the drama, through the constant scene changes. The clean IKEA lines also felt nicely contemporary.

Anna is played by Claudie Blakely with a controlled desperation, knowing that if she shows it too much, that she will frighten baby fathers off. Sam Troughton plays all the prospective sperm donors and he is almost too good at this, in that his changing performances are very funny and at times this becomes the focus of the play,  distracting your attention from the main storyline. Anna is the only person in the entire play that is one person playing one part and this diminishes the clarity of the piece somewhat.

Brian Vernel is excellent as Anna’s younger brother and Stephen Boxer is fantastic as her Dad. They have great lines and the spiky but caring relationship the three of them have is beautifully conveyed. The rest of the characters are less fully rounded and although they have some very funny lines, they are sometimes two dimensional ciphers. I found this particularly true of Natasha and Girl. I did realise, eventually, that they are meant to represent Anna’s inner child and inner parent, but I am not sure what they added to the story.

I think there might be brilliant play in here, but the story is not presented clearly enough to follow easily. Nina Raine is a fantastic author, there are probably few writers who can capture current bar and dinner table conversations as well or as wittily. This is not the ground breaking piece that she will one day write, but I enjoyed it well enough and I will continue to look out for shows that she writes in the future.

 

Consensual, Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London W1

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Consensual is the latest production from the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. Set in an urban modern school, it deals with very current issues. It was first performed three years ago, but following the rise of the #metoo movement in the intervening time, it catches the zeitgeist even more today than it did at the time.

The thrust of the play is about the what exactly constitutes consent and where the abuse of power begins. The play wastes no time getting into the subject matter.  A teacher is discussing the “Healthy Relationships” curriculum in  class, then after school, she is confronted by a relationship that she had with a student seven years earlier when she was a teaching assistant. She believes that the student took advantage of her naïveté at the time. He believes that she groomed him while he was underage.

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These two, Diane and Freddie, nicely played by Marilyn Nnadebe and Fred Hughes-Stanton, are the main protagonists of the story. The are supported by a cast of pupils, teachers and family who highlight the blurring of the lines, between their opposing points of view. There is a host of great cameo performances among them, the play is sharply observed and cleverly written, so there are some nice characters and some excellent lines to be delivered. I particularly like Alice Vilanculo as Georgia, who manages to convey a begging for help by resolutely deny that she needs it. Jay Mailer is also outstanding in his one scene as Jake, Freddie’s brother, his exasperation giving way to  grudging support in the end.

The direction is clever, the dark subject matter and deep conversation is interspersed with musical breaks and funny moments.  The song where the school boys deliver a song in the manner of the Pussycat Dolls or Destiny’s Child is a highlight.  There are some very witty exchanges between classmates and these lines are delivered fast and the scenes are short. Jamie Ankrah, Muhammad Abubakar Khan, Olivia Dowd and Simran Hunjun deliver nice brashness and impudence, they keep the mood upbeat and the pace brisk.

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The set is sparse and inventive, allowing the direction and writing to shine. I did love the way the cast quickly make a car from school benches. Consensual is a thought provoking show, it tackles a difficult subject in an entertaining way. It could not be more topical.  It has some great acting, keep your eyes on the cast list – I’m sure we will be seeing more of these actors in the future!

 
 

Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier) 2015

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Green Room is marketed as a violent thriller, gory horror movie. It is actually a violent thriller, gory horror movie. It delivers.
There is lots of blood, lots of violence, lots of aggression. There are plenty of thrills, many tense moments. It has a good cast, some dark humour and a loud indie/punk soundtrack.
It has Anton Yelchin as Pat, a guitarist in a punk rock band who witnesses a death. It has Imogen Poots as Amber, who turns out to be very handy with a knife and not at all squeamish about using it. It has Patrick Stewart as Darcy, a white supremacist with a small army of thugs and attack dogs at his disposal. He is brilliantly menacing and when he says near the start of the film “Let’s be clear. It won’t end well” you truly believe him.
Slash horror movies are not usually the type of film that I choose to watch, but a good movie is a good movie and this is well written, well directed and well acted.
In short, it is an excellent example of its genre. If you like violent thriller, gory horror movies you will enjoy this.

T2: Trainspotting (dir. Danny Boyle) 2016

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Trainspotting was one of the best, if not the best, films of the 1990s. In an era of remakes, follow-ups and spin-offs, waiting 20 years to do the sequel was remarkably restrained. Getting the original leads and director back together led to huge anticipation.
It is great to see the four protagonists again, and all four are on top form here. Danny Boyle’s direction is great, playing homage to the original but making it modern and keeping it relevant to the 2010s. Edinburgh looks great in its extremes; futuristic and rich, old fashioned and poor. If anything might be a bit weak, it could be the story. However although all the individual parts are good, it never reaches the highs of the original.
It is a bit like meeting a wild old friend after many years; you look forward to it, you have a good night out, you have changed a little, they have changed a little, it is nice to see them, but ultimately you don’t have much in common any more.

Red (dir. Robert Schwentke) 2010

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Red is available on Netflix. It is an action, comedy, thriller mash-up that does not take itself too seriously.
It has a very famous cast headed by Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker and Morgan Freeman. For me John Malkovich and Helen Mirren steal the show though with great off the wall characters, brilliantly portrayed.  Right through the cast are big names and they all look like they are enjoying themselves immensely.
The movie is an over-the-top version of the  over-the-top 1990s action films, where it more about the guns, the explosions, the car chases and the banter than the story. The story is particularly ridiculous here and it really does not matter because it has the all of the other elements in spades.
Reds is very knowing, in that it pokes fun at all the clichés of the time, while blatantly using them to its advantage. It has likeable, if a bit two dimensional, characters and the  direction is clever and camp.
Watch this if you want a lot of bullets, a lot of bangs and some good laughs but avoid it you want any great philosophical insights.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
 

82 portraits and 1 still life, David Hockney, Royal Academy, 2016 London

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This exhibition is like a scientific experiment into the nature of portrait painting.
All the portraits are exactly the same size and shape. They are all full body portraits of a subject sitting in the same, yellow cushioned, wooden chair. They all have roughly the same, green and blue, background and each one was painted over the course of 3 days. They are all very recent – some only painted in February and March this year. There are 83 paintings crammed together in 3 small rooms, the walls painted in a matt magenta. A couple of people are pictured twice and one person three times over the course of the exhibition.
The individual portraits themselves are very good; Hockney is a fine portrait artist, but this is a single piece of work and it is seeing the whole exhibition as a unit that transforms this into an exceptional show. The uniformity of the portraits in terms of size, colour, and time, makes one notice the differences between them; the pose, the clothes, the gaze.
I don’t think of it as 83 individual pictures, I see it as one portrait of 83 individual sittings.
This is David Hockney at his best; confident, relaxed, colourful, witty and experimental.
I left very happy.

Maleficent (dir. Robert Stromberg) 2014

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This movie has earned over $750million so it is a huge success by many standards and it certainly has a lot going for it. It looks spectacular – this is obviously what Disney were aiming for when they hired Robert Stromberg, whose previous experience was in special effects, as director. They took a risk by giving him the largest ever budget for a first time director and it paid off. The style of the film is individual and the worlds he created are lush and beautiful.
Angelina Jolie is perfect for the part, always visually striking. As Maleficent, she is cold and polished, yet she is compassionate and composed when necessary and she makes us believe these changes in temperament. She needs to be strong as this film is all about her, every other role is almost a cameo.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for Costume Design and this was deserved.
It is darker than expected for a Disney film, but this adds a little depth and probably reflects the slightly older audience they were aiming for.
Overall, although it does not really go any where new, it is a high quality, enjoyable Disney telling of a classic fairytale.