Don Quixote, Royal Shakespeare Company, Garrick Theatre, London WC2

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The Royal Shakespeare Company have gone the whole hog in this version of Don Quixote.  They commissioned James Fenton and Grant Olding to adapt Miguel De Cervantes story for a modern audience and the pair have come up with a show that feels contemporary but true to time in which it was written. With audience participation encouraged and the cast entering and exiting through the stalls, it feels like a show that would have worked very well in the Globe Theatre even in the 17th Century.

David Threlfall is Don Quixote. He plays him as the straight man to Rufus Hounds’ Sancho Panza. This works very well as we care for Quixote, the fantasist who sees the world as he wishes it was. Panza is his faithful squire who sees the real world but makes sure that we are laughing at the situation not at the man. They make a fantastic double act, Rufus Hound improvises and involves the audience while Threlfall is too involved in his windmills to notice.

Audience participation is a large part of the show, it has a panto feel in places. Some of the comedy is slapstick and it is still funny – a sweary monk as he trips over an audience members foot, a bun fight between the cast and the audience. However, there is more to the show than this, it has so much going on that catching it all in one viewing is unlikely. The songs are good and give the piece an Andalusian atmosphere. There is puppetry that is both attractive and clever. The lion is spectacular and the hawk is funny. The horses are brilliant and their interaction threatens to steal the scene on a number of occasions.

The Don Quixote that we see these days consists of two books, the original and the follow up. The second was written roughly a decade after the success of the first, it tells of the exploits of Don Quixote after he becomes famous and this show retains that tradition. Often it leads to a change in tone between the two acts. Here is it handled cleverly by making the Duke and Duchess, nicely played by Richard Dempsey and Ruth Everett, into caricatures of pantomime villains, so their cruel tricks are jokes on them rather than our hero Quixote.

The ending of the story is done well, Rufus Hound has surprising depth, having laughed with him through the show, we feel his sadness at the end. Don Quixote has the last laugh though and we can be moved and still grin at his ascent to heaven.

The RSC have invented posh panto. A show that an Eton educated ex prime minister might take his son to see.  This show is a blast from beginning to end, great fun and a great night out. It deserves to be this year’s big Christmas hit.

 

Victoria's Knickers, Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London W1.

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I love when the National Youth Theatre Rep Company’s West End season comes around. This year their shows are on at the Soho Theatre throughout November. Victoria’s Knickers is the second production of the season. Consensual began a week ago and you can still catch a performance of that if you are quick, I saw it last week and you can read what I thought of it here: Consensual.

One of the things I really enjoy about the National Youth Theatre shows is that you often have absolutely no idea what kind of thing you are going to see until the curtain goes up. This particular show is a historical romp set in the early nineteenth century delivered in modern language with musical interludes and current world references. It is, very loosely, based on a real historical incident when a teenage boy repeatedly broke into Buckingham Palace. He was feted by the papers at the time, he was interviewed by Charles Dickens and it was even reported that on one occasion he was caught with a pair of Victoria’s Knickers.

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The story is delivered in a musical madcap romcom style, with a touch of 18th century political drama. The genre of the play changes from minute to minute and the musical styles vary from hip-hop, through Disney to Ed Sheeran and Adele. The plot line is full of holes, the story is ridiculous, the set is practically non-existent and it all adds up to a fantastic evenings entertainment, that the audience loved.

This show could not work without brilliant writing and direction. Josh Azouz on this showing is a very talented writer with a sharp eye for inventive situational comedy.  There are some great individual one line jokes in the script too. When Victoria tells Ed that she loves Albert, he replies conversationally “Of course you do, he’s your cousin”. Director, Ned Bennett does a brilliant job in drawing attention to the preposterous, and finding the humour in the clashes of cultures between all the different genres of theatre on show in this production. The set consists of unadorned MDF at the back, what looks like brown paper at the sides, and dozens of old random cardboard boxes that arrive on stage for most of the second half of the play.

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Alice Vilanculo is amazing as the soon to be Queen Victoria with a very 21st century sensibility, she makes you care for her situation while still having you laugh at it. Jamie Ankrah is excellent as Ed, 19th Century pauper, dreamer…. teenage lover. Aiden Chang has a fantastic role as Sasha, a soldier/torturer disguised as a lady of the court, he attacks the part with gusto and steals almost every scene in which he appears. Oseloka Obi is great as the rapping prince Albert, the acting throughout the company is brilliant and the show is littered with great cameos.

Victoria’s Knickers is difficult to describe and there are so many levels on which it should not work. However it is funny, inventive, musically clever and likeable. This is another success for the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain and for a writer and actors with big careers ahead of them.

This Charming Man, Marian Keyes, 2008

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It seems to me, from reviews that I have read, that Marian Keyes is not regarded as a serious author. I suspect that this comes from her novels being easy to read. “This Charming Man” is indeed easy to read, but that is because it is well written and not because it does not approach difficult subjects.

The main subjects of this book are abusive relationships, alcoholism and corruption in politics, with brief forays into living with a cancer diagnosis and isolation of cross dressers in rural communities. Marian Keyes has a deftness of touch and a sense of humour that manages to make this book engaging while still keeping the reader aware of the difficulties of the characters lives.

This is no less literature than Dickens or Austen, she has a great deal in common with Jane Austen in that the book is a good insight into society and the social norms of the time in which it is written. This story is told from the points of view of four different women and this is a structure also favoured by Austen. They also have wit in common and both poke gentle fun at their heroines as a way of pointing out the foibles of the culture in which they live. This novel is set in Dublin, London and County Clare.

Having said that, this particular novel is a little darker than some of her other books, although it is remarkable, maybe even a bit of a stretch, that she managed to tie up the loose ends quite as well as she did.

This Charming Man won the Popular Fiction Prize at the Irish Book Awards. I think it should have been considered for other more seriously regarded literary awards also, because there is no doubt that Marian Keyes’ books are going to be regarded as representative of late 20th, early 21st century literature in hundreds of years time.

 

The Young Offenders, (dir. Peter Foott) 2016

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This is an Irish road movie, set in Cork. It is written and directed by Peter Foott and, if this film is representative of his work, he has a great talent for both dialogue and character development. Conor and Jock are two feckless 15 year olds, Conor works in a fishmongers, because his Mam is the only one who would hire him and Jock seems to support himself by nicking bikes. The film is the story of them taking off to the coast, to find some bags of cocaine that have supposedly been washed ashore from a shipwreck.
Imagine “Bill and Ted” doing “Smokey and the Bandit” in County Cork on stolen bicycles…. well it’s weirder and funnier than that.
One of the many great lines form this film states “There are two things you need for an adventure, a treasure map and someone dumb enough to go with you” Neither of these boys have a clue about anything, but by the end of the film, you are really invested in them and wish them success.
This film has a hard exterior but a soft center. Jock is covered in bruises from his hard drinking Dad, but it is hardly mentioned.  Conor and his Mam are verbally abusive to each other but have an almost tender scene in the second half of the film. The acting is naturalistic and there are great performances from Alex Murphy and Chris Wally as Conor and Jock.  Hilary Rose is excellent too as the harsh Mam and P.J. Gallagher as “the drug dealer”
I liked the cinematography, Cork looks lovely in the sun and there are some great songs on the soundtrack, including “Where’s me Jumper” by the Sultans of Ping.  The incidental parts are clever too, Cork and its environs seem populated with eccentric characters and quirky misfits. What makes this film stand out though, is the amazing script, it is littered with funny lines and mad ideas.
Peter Foott has made an excellent film here and I am already looking forward to his next one.
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Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade) 2016

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Toni Erdmann is a serious comedy. It makes you laugh, but it wants you to think.
I believe that there is going to be a Hollywood remake starring Jack Nicholson, in his first role for many years. Had it been any actor, other than Jack Nicholson, I would have thought it doomed to failure, but with him in the title role, it will be interesting to see how it turns out. Who they choose to direct will be important, too.
Maren Ade is a clever director, she throws in many jokes that are not funny, in order to make you laugh out loud at the serious parts, which are absurd and ridiculous.
It’s about a father daughter relationship. They have grown apart and the dad is determined to rectify that, whether or not his daughter has time for it. Sandra Huller as Ines is very good indeed, initially irritated by her father’s attention and his worry about her life/work balance, but gradually coming to see that he might indeed have a point.
Peter Simonischek is also good as Winfried/Toni, who is at his wits end, trying to work out how to win back the lost regard of his only daughter.
This movie is slow to start, but this is purposeful, in order to make you enjoy the gentle build up to the satisfying conclusion.
I have to admit, that I haven’t seen the other films up for the best foreign language Oscar, but I can say, that one of them would need to be exceptional indeed, if it is to beat Toni Erdmann to that Academy Award.