Summer 2015

It’s been a busy summer for me and unfortunately this blog has had an enforced hiatus following the sudden demise of my laptop, lots of fun travel and moving house rendering me temporarily without internet connection. However, these disruptions have not stopped me from visiting interesting exhibitions, seeing great films and theatre and reading a mountain of books! I therefore thought I’d do a quick round up of highlights from the last few months so that I still got to talk about them.

This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is one that I love to return to year after year as I am continually surprised by the variety of how representation of the human form cnullan be approached. I may not always agree with the judges’ decision, this year some of my favourites were not even placed or commended, but this exhibition really does force the viewer to keep reassessing portraiture’s position in modern society. Descriptions accompanying the paintings highlight how different artists view the medium, with some attempting to provide a new interpretation on an age old tradition while others aim to show previously neglected subjects who might not have been treated to the same level of detail by previous painters. We no longer need it to record a likeness since photography is instant and accurate and often painted portraits do not even try to depict reality, featuring impossible shadows or proportions. This exhibition is sadly over but you can view all the portraits here so don’t worry about missing out!

nullShoes are an essential part of any outfit, no matter how fashion conscious one might be, to protect the feet and ensure that any journey by foot is without hazards. However, the V&A’s current exhibition (open until the 31st of January 2016) illustrates how little this practicality can matter when aesthetics and style are brought into consideration. It demonstrated that shoes have never been solely practical items, with absurd pointed shoes from medieval courts, tiny slippers for the bound feet of Chinese women and delicately embroidered Regency mules. The shoes only became yet more intricate as the centuries progress and I particularly enjoyed the video sequence towards the end which interviewed modern cobbler greats, such as Manolo Blahnik and Sandra Choi. They suggested some of the reasons that might lead someone to choose a glittering set of heels over the latest trainers despite the practicalities of life. It made me reassess my current footwear choices and perhaps my next shoebox will contain something suitably daring…

This is a film that I have been looking forward to for a long time, especially since I watched Frances Ha in April. I am pleased to report that I was not disappointed in the slightest although it turned out to be a very different film to what I originally expected to see. The trailer suggests that the film, directed by Noah Baumbach, will focus on how Tracy (Lola Kirke) and Brooke’s (Greta Gerwig) relationship as new found sisters develops with New York as a background. Instead the plot quickly sweeps Tracy and the viewer up into the whirlwind of Brooke’s life as she bubbles over with ideas of how she will make her name, fortune or both. As a shy freshman in college, Tracy admires Brooke’s enthusiasm and willingness to try anything and tries to emulate her by creating a more assertive and carefree demeanour. However, this all ends in a denouement which is both comic and dramatic and is worth the price of the film (whether cinema ticket or DVD) alone.

Two involuntarily impoverished gentlemen have settled on a scheme to trick a rich provincial heiress to marry one of them by posing as a rich man travelling with his manservant before splitting the resulting dowry. However, this quickly descended into chaos as it is revealed they are not the only characters with hidden motives and they also soon learn that sometimes the head might be ruled by the heart, even when faced with mountains of gold. I thought Samuel Barnett as Mr Aimwell and Geoffrey Streatfeild as Mr Archer created a believable and dynamic partnership as they tried to stay ahead of those around them. I also felt that the play really came alive with the addition of the songs, which I hadn’t initially expected. A particular favourite was the ‘It’s a Trifle’ song which I’m sure nearly every audience member left the theatre humming. Although the run of this particular play has now finished it is scheduled to be shown in cinemas shortly as part of the National Theatre’s national programme so if you can get tickets I would definitely recommend it!

 

This autumn I already have plans for reading lists, exhibitions, theatre visits and many more so expect to hear from me again soon!

Advertisements

Electra (20/12/14)

Although I have seen productions of Ancient Greek tragedy before they have often felt formal and detached from our society due to the strict constraints of the form. However, this production of Electra at the Old Vic felt alive with raw emotion as the superb Kristin Scott Thomas laid bare the eponymous character’s continued conflict with the expectations of society and familial loyalty. As with so many plots of Ancient Greek tragedies the action in Electra is tied up with events surrounding the Trojan War and expects its audience to have intimate knowledge of what has and will occur. Following the murder of her father, Agamemnon, by her mother, Clytemnestra, Electra continues to honour her father’s memory while forced to live with her mother and her mother’s lover as she waits for her brother to avenge the murder. She ostracises herself from the family that surrounds her by refusing to adapt to this new situation and therefore serves as a reminder for the whole household for what has occurred.

The set was very simple, with only a withered tree and some double doors. However, it was placed in the round so that the feel of an open air courtyard was created, with the audience observing from all sides. This simplicity was also reflected in the costumes, with Scott Thomas clad in a dirty tunic and others in cleaner, modernised Ancient Greek clothing. In particular, Electra’s sister who has accepted her place in this new, disrupted home wears colourful beads in her complicatedly arranged hair in contrast to the wild disarray of Electra. Electra appears unable to grow up as she focuses her entire life on loyalty to Agamemnon and so is unable to act on anything which might suggest healing, such as marriage or forgiveness.

Without a doubt Kristin Scott Thomas is the play’s triumph. At one moment she skips around the stage as if a carefree toddler and then stops to throw out a sarcastic comment in a world weary manner. The Electra she portrays is unbalanced but only due to the strain she has lived under for so many years constantly defying those around her. She became more haggard throughout the play as even the supposed ashes of her brother, Orestes, were spilt over her. Although I sympathised with Electra’s desperation her sole focus on avenging her father is clearly destructive and Scott Thomas suggests that her life has become irreparably narrowed. Contemporary audiences would have been aware that although revenge is wreaked Orestes soon suffers consequences and is pursued by the Furies.

Sadly I saw the play on the very last night so the run has now ended but if you do want any more information on the play do look here. I will definitely make sure that I see Kristin Scott Thomas again on stage as she was truly mesmerising and Electra is not an experience I will forget. Thank you very much to Anna for providing the tickets!

Shakespeare in Love (28/8/2014)

I had high expectations when I entered the Noel Coward theatre to see Shakespeare in Love. Not only do I love the 1998 film, starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, I had read this review which suggests the play ‘makes you feel grateful to be alive’. Happily I did not leave the theatre disappointed. This is a play I could watch more than once and probably laugh more each time.

The play opens with Will Shakespeare (Tom Bateman) overwhelmed with writer’s block and the weight of his audience’s expectations. He cannot write a word without the suggestions of Kit Marlowe, confidently played by David Oakes. The plot continues frantically on, with seamless scene changes due to the clever device of a moving balcony, to show Henslowe (Paul Chahidi) at the mercy of Fennyman (Ferdy Roberts) the money-lender and Viola (Lucy Briggs-Owen)as her impending marriage is about to be discussed. Throughout the rest of the play the audience is carried along on this constant motion until it is left to consider the final moments of calm.

The play captures the vitality which makes the film such a pleasure to watch and adds to it. Jokes are piled on top of one another as characters verbally spar but this does not prevent serious notes entering the plot. Inevitably Will and Viola’s love will not remain untouched by its Elizabethan surroundings.Their audience is constantly aware of this, particularly due to the mentions of Anne Hathaway throughout. Nevertheless, the comical aspects allow some hope to remain.

 

Despite the absence of costumes as impressive as Martin Clunes’ outfit in the film I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Tickets are currently being sold until 25th October 2014 so I’d definitely recommend booking some soon if you intend to go. They’ll be selling like hot cakes and this is not a play you want to miss!
http://shakespeareinlove.com/

The Crucible (5/08/2014)

The Crucible directed by Yaël Farber at the Old Vic is performed in the Round and really focuses on the dark, difficult and small lives that the inhabitants of Salem would have led. As soon as the news of the young girl’s seizures spreads through the town neighbours begin to pour through the hatch in the stage as they air grievances which have clearly festered for years under the pretence of concern. John Proctor’s entrance (played by Richard Armitage) brings a stubborn force to the room which refuses to bow to common opinion. He continues to hold this stance even as events escalate and the whole village first fears witchcraft and then the witch trials.

The ensemble performance of the village girls, led by Abigail Williams (played by Samantha Colley), was mesmerising. The effect of their fits and screaming made the village’s witch hunting hysteria understandable even if it remained repulsive. As each girl’s hair fell free from the previous constraints of headscarves during these moments the puritanical uniformity of the dark set provided the perfect contrast for the sudden array of colour on display. This attempted suppression of creativity and life is reminiscent of the anti-communist circumstances which led Arthur Miller to write The Crucible. 

 

If you’re looking for a thoughtful play full of emotion then The Crucible is definitely worth a visit. It runs until 13th September so there’s still time… http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2014/the-crucible/

A Streetcar Named Desire (1/08/2014)

Although I had heard much about A Streetcar Named Desire before through snippets and references I had never seen the whole play before and therefore never truly experienced how raw the play can be. Benedict Andrews has moved the setting of the play to the present day in his new production at the Young Vic, ensuring that no emotions are ascribed to period detail or quirks. The audience sits in the round and the stage itself constantly revolves slowly so that the Blanche, Stanley and Stella all seem trapped in the small apartment. The claustrophobia created draws the audience into the evolving and inevitable drama on stage. Even when a character is silent their presence is emphasised through the mundane actions that place them in the way even as they try to lead their lives.

However, this focus on the reality of such cramped living quarters does not diminish the ethereal qualities of the text where Blanche and Stella reminisce of ‘Belle Reve’ and now live at ‘Elysian Fields’. Blanche’s final exit is chilling in the emphasis on its simplicity. Those left behind  in the small flat may remain tied up in life’s struggle but this is clearly a world where Blanche could never have belonged.

 

Gillian Anderson has been rightly applauded for her role as Blanche –  she disintegrates before the audience’s eyes as she remains on stage  for the majority of the evening. Her Blanche is both terrifying and  fragile as well as flamboyant and scared. The suitcase she arrives with  continues to lavishly overflow with furs, jewellery and ballgowns but  Blanche has clearly not gained much from these material riches as  she stares out frightened past the audience.

 

The play’s run continues until 19th September and it will be  broadcast in many cinemas live on 16th September, both options are  definitely worth considering.

http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/a-streetcar-named-desire