A horror story that will tug at your heart: PATRICK MARMION reviews Let The Right One In
Let The Right One In (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
Verdict: Let this one in
Rating: **** (4 stars)
A Dead Body In Taos (Wilton’s Music Hall, London)
Verdict: Sketchy sci-fi
Rating: *** (3 stars)
How do you feel about horror stories? Some won’t go near them, even armed with a crucifix and bottle of holy water. But inside many a fright-fest lies a fairy tale, trying to get out.
That was definitely the case with John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel about Oskar, a bullied adolescent in suburban 1980s Stockholm who befriends young vampire Eli, after she moves in next door. (The book was adapted by Lindqvist himself for the Swedish film of the same name).
And Bryony Shanahan’s mesmerising revival of Jack Thorne’s 2013 adaptation sinks its fangs into the story’s jugular afresh . . . with pleasingly creepy results.
It captures the sense of a local community, and nails the agonies of puberty, thanks to extraordinary chemistry between its leads, Pete MacHale and Rhian Blundell.
And Bryony Shanahan’s mesmerising revival of Jack Thorne’s 2013 adaptation of Let The Right One In sinks its fangs into the story’s jugular afresh . . . with pleasingly creepy results
‘I’m not sure I’m very good for you, Oskar,’ Eli warns our hero, almost comically, as the two kids try to figure each other out.
Remarkably, despite the frights and blood-letting, there is an almost folksy emotional core. The pair seem hypnotised by each other’s innocence.
MacHale is vulnerable, gawky yet brave. Blundell is direct, brutal yet cagy.
Best seat in the house
Rising star Billy Howle plays the Prince of Denmark in three live broadcasts of Shakespeare’s masterpiece from Bristol’s Old Vic
(7pm, 10-12 November, bristololdvic.org.uk)
Shanahan’s production is a vast improvement on its premiere at London’s Royal Court. Here, frequent scene changes between home, school gym, sweet shop, playground and swimming pool are fluidly in- tegrated. Among many nice touches, Eli’s victims are swept up in a crowd; a swimming pool is suggested by an empty stage and dry ice; between scenes the cast mop up the blood.
Performed in the round, the backdrop remains the audience itself and Shanahan cunningly implicates us in the action.
So yes, some of the shocks make you jump and squirm, but more than that, it’s a tale with a wistful, old-school heart.
Another kind of fairy tale is the idea that humans might one day curate our own digital afterlife. This is the lofty premise of A Dead Body In Taos, a new sci-fi drama by David Farr — a fine playwright now best known for TV series The Night Manager — currently on at Wilton’s Music Hall.
It’s what is dubbed a high-concept story (big idea, minimal plausibility), focusing on a young woman, Sam, whose estranged mother is found dead in the New Mexico desert, near Taos.
It turns out that before she died, Mum Kath had her consciousness uploaded to a specialist server, where she’s now enjoying life as an algorithm and talking like Alexa.
Sadly, for all the slick efficiencies of Rachel Bagshaw’s production and Ti Green’s minimalist set, the clever idea overshadows the human drama.
This is the lofty premise of A Dead Body In Taos, a new sci-fi drama by David Farr — a fine playwright now best known for TV series The Night Manager — currently on at Wilton’s Music Hall
It’s what is dubbed a high-concept story (big idea, minimal plausibility), focusing on a young woman, Sam, whose estranged mother is found dead in the New Mexico desert, near Taos
Sadly, for all the slick efficiencies of Rachel Bagshaw’s production and Ti Green’s minimalist set, the clever idea overshadows the human drama
Farr might have dug deeper into Sam (Gemma Lawrence) and her paradoxical need for her mother to be more sincerely dead, rather than just passed over to the internet.
As her mum, Eve Ponsonby oscillates between her robotic future self (a monotone hologram) and her younger self — a 1960s student revolutionary.
One aspect of the production which looks increasingly like a real future, alas, is the projection of dialogue across the set (also seen recently at the National Theatre’s Dorfman). This may be great for the hard of hearing, but it totally upstages the actors. Let’s hope it’s not the shape of thing to come.
Rona Munro’s new play about Mary Queen of Scots is nothing if not heavy going — but if you can put in the hard yards, and feel strong enough for a lesson in 16th-century Scottish history, it’s probably worth it.
On the plus side, it’s just 90 minutes long, and although sometimes as dry as oatcakes, it’s lit up by a star turn from Douglas Henshall (he of Shetland off the telly).
Henshall plays Protestant Scottish courtier Sir James Melville who’s loyal to Catholic Queen Mary, despite her being in bad odour, due to a rising tide of Protestant populism.
Mary never appears here to make her own case, but Melville helps her escape plotters in Edinburgh, only for her to be abducted by his ambitious rival the Earl of Bothwell and taken to Dunbar castle. Munro’s big question then, is if Mary was raped and forced to marry Bothwell — or if she took him freely.
As one character says, Scotland is ‘a nation that lives by argument’ and so too does Munro’s play. She chisels through long, complex debates analysing Melville’s motivation in supporting Mary. It’s all knowingly difficult — ‘thrawn’ even, as they say in Caledonia. Yet, it has the deliciously sour snarl of modern Scots vernacular.
Rona Munro’s new play about Mary Queen of Scots is nothing if not heavy going — but if you can put in the hard yards, and feel strong enough for a lesson in 16th-century Scottish history, it’s probably worth it
Standing straight as a guardsman, Henshall governs the stage with the full weight of his considerable authority. He deploys stoicism and wiliness, before yielding to anger and tears as his ties to Mary are exposed.
Brian Vernel belies his years as a young kid about court who Henshall first commands, then later answers to. And there is cold Presbyterian fire from Rona Morison as the serving girl who starts as a cheerleader of puritanism — but ends up an angry feminist.
Roxana Silbert’s lean and Lutheran production carries not an ounce of Papist fat.
And Ashley Martin-Davis’s set offers scant visual consolation, with its dingy wood panelled ante-room that later opens onto a spartan court room. But then they say hard work is good for the soul.
A Single Man (Park Theatre, London)
Verdict: Neat but neutral
Rating: *** (3 stars)
A Single Man is best known from the slick, 2009 Tom Ford film starring Colin Firth, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood.
Isherwood was, of course, the writer whose memoirs of Berlin in the 1930s inspired the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret.
This, though, is a day in the life of George: a charming, English, gay, fiftysomething literature professor in Los Angeles of the 1960s.
Being a dapper gentleman of impeccable breeding, who uses a shoehorn to slip into his brogues in the morning, made him a perfect focus for Ford’s film, which concentrated on catwalk costumes and cool interior design.
Thankfully, in Simon Reade’s neatly filleted adaptation of the book, we hear more of Isherwood’s elegant turn of phrase as he distances himself from the heterosexual American dream, laments a former lover killed in a crash, spends a boozy evening with a female friend and finds himself falling under the spell of a provocatively buff young student.
A Single Man is best known from the slick, 2009 Tom Ford film starring Colin Firth, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood
Theo Fraser Steele brings much of that Firth-like reticence to the role of George in Philip Wilson’s finely drilled, but frustratingly detached production.
Although Fraser Steele is lightly camp, his character’s emotionally neutral, BBC period accent renders him remote. And although the costumes are immaculately tailored, the ingenious polished concrete set is half Sixties’ minimalism, half morgue.
At least Olivia Darnley brings some vitality as George’s female friend, who is a creature of the flesh — mysteriously dressed like a barmaid from a Munich bierkeller.
Miles Molan, meanwhile, roams the stage in dressing gown and underwear as George’s late partner and admiring student, provoking thoughts of desire lost and yet to come.
The problem is, solid Englishman that he is, George never lets his guard down. And while still waters may run deep, sometimes they need churning up.
Love and memories light up this tale told in an old folks’ home
By Georgina Brown for The Daily Mail
Something in the Air (Jermyn Street Theatre, London)
Verdict: It’s never too late
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Peter Gill’s latest, elegiac play begins with two white-haired men sitting hand-in-hand, side-by-side in the kind of cheerily red, but depressingly plastic-covered armchairs only found in posh care homes.
Alex (Christopher Godwin) is thinking aloud, his mind drifting back to the first time he went to bed with the boyfriend who introduced him to Purcell and Matisse. Memories of the sexual thrill and the reflection of the Thames on the ceiling in the bedroom are as vivid as if it were yesterday.
A more spikily intellectual Colin (Ian Gelder) recalls heated political rallies and a louche Soho in the Sixties when ‘queer was still a word’. An affair with an attractive, entitled bloke , incapable of fidelity, begins with ‘an ecstasy of talk’, blossoms on Primrose Hill and breaks up in Green Park.
In poignant contrast to these slumped, cardiganed wrinklies, in bounce the shiny, vigorous partners they are remembering (played by James Schofield and Sam Thorpe-Sphinks) dressed in Sixties clothes, bursting with excitement and desire.
The characters are mostly lost in their own reveries, but there’s a real sweetness between Alex and attentive Colin who gently settles his friend’s agitation. Initially it seems that they are remembering their own early relationship.
Peter Gill’s latest, elegiac play Something In The Air begins with two white-haired men sitting hand-in-hand, side-by-side in the kind of cheerily red, but depressingly plastic-covered armchairs only found in posh care homes
Until Andrew (Andrew Woodall) arrives and greets his old dad and suddenly we realise that Alex took the conventional route, married, had children and it is only now, in the grip of dementia and his guard dropped, that his true feelings emerge. To the disapproval of unimaginative Andrew.
Fortunately Clare, Colin’s nice niece (a warm Claire Price), sensibly suggests there are more serious things to worry about. Andrew and Clare have also been unlucky in love — and lonely — but might there be something in the air between them?
It’s a deceptively delicate piece, the writing super-charged, charting the changes in attitudes towards homosexuality over the veteran playwright’s lifetime — and calmly concluding that all that matters is kindness. Whatever that means.
On tour …
By Veronica Lee for The Daily Mail
Strictly Ballroom The Musical
Verdict: All the right moves
Rating: *** (3 stars)
Strictly Ballroom — created by Australian director Baz Luhrmann — started life as a stage show, but most people know it from his rollicking 1992 film. In 2011 it was turned into a stage musical, with several iterations since, and this touring version, which has a mixture of old and original songs, is directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood.
Strictly’s 2018 winner Kevin Clifton (here proving to have a sweet voice), stars as Scott Hastings, the rebel dancer whose flashy steps are not the ‘strictly ballroom’ ones required to win competitions — especially those overseen by the slimy Australian Dancing Federation chief Barry Fife (Gary Davis).
When Scott loses his regular partner as a major competition looms, he finally notices Fran, the earnest beginner at his parents’ dance studio who has a crush on him and who ‘gets’ what he is trying to do with dance.
Maisie Smith (Tiffany Butcher in EastEnders) is Fran; her character’s trajectory is that tired old trope of plain Jane transformed into sexy hoofer, but she pulls it off — and her solos showcase her terrific voice.
The pair have to overcome various obstacles placed in their way by family (his ambitious, hers over strict), jealous friends and the dishonest Fife, who has fixed the contest, but of course everything is resolved by the end, and Scott and Fran’s big routine where they finally get to strut their stuff together is genuinely affecting.
The pace occasionally slackens, but we’re never far away from another dance number to put some pep into proceedings — and the pasodoble performed by Fran’s dad, Rico (Jose Agudo) even threatens to steal the show.
It’s set in 1990, so some of the characterisation seems dated — the over-protective Latin dad, for example — while darker elements of Mr Luhrmann’s tale have been sidelined to make this a feelgood show.
Touring until July 15, 2023 (strictlyballroomtour.co.uk).
By Georgina Brown for The Daily Mail
The Mirror Crack’d
Verdict: Could do with a polish
Rating: ** (2 stars)
Old Miss Marple has been hobbled by a sprained ankle and, confined to her armchair, she’s making heavy weather of her knitting. Alas, Rachel Wagstaff’s new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 whodunnit feels similarly lame, constrained and woolly.
Much-married Marina Gregg (a semi-frozen Sophie Ward), glamorous star of the silver screen, has bought the village mansion, a stone’s throw from Miss Marple’s flat.
Jane Marple knows it well as the former home of her grand, garrulous friend Dolly (pitch-perfect Veronica Roberts, pronouncing that new-fangled thing ‘supermarket’, with the emphasis on super).
At a party, a starstruck neighbour downs a drugged daquiri handed to her by her hostess…with fatal consequences. Husbands, secretary, butler, co-star, carer and even poor Dolly, come under suspicion.
Alas, Rachel Wagstaff’s new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 whodunnit The Mirror Crack’d feels similarly lame, constrained and woolly
Fortunately, our insightful if antique amateur sleuth Miss Marple (excellent Susie Blake, sharp but never acid) and Craddock, her tweedy partner in crime-solving (now elevated to chief inspector and let no one forget it) who happens to be visiting his crippled Aunt Jane, are on hand.
Flashbacks of what might have happened help to punctuate a static story in which too much is told, and too little shown. The pain of grief experienced by many characters (‘it casts such terribly long shadows’) is true to Christie.
But Wagstaff drops heavy hints about vengeful heartbroken mothers and troubled children with jarringly contemporary, psychological problems such as self-harming and unrequited lesbian crushes.
Christie’s cardboard Cluedo characters exist entirely to drive her ingenious plotting and these imagined emotional burdens hang on them as awkwardly as Miss Gregg’s stiff and ill-fitting Japanese kimono.
Even the ersatz Sixties thriller music sounds second-hand.
Worse, Philip Franks’ lacklustre production fails to grip. In a Christie mystery, it’s the only crime that matters.
For tour details see agathachristie.com
The Lavender Hill Mob
Verdict: Lumbering laughs
Rating: *** (3 stars)
The 1951 crime caper, starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway, was one of the most successful Ealing comedies, and now Phil Porter has adapted it for the stage. Miles Jupp plays Henry Holland, a Bank of England employee responsible for transporting gold bullion from the Royal Mint to Threadneedle Street, while Justin Edwards is Alfred Pendlebury, who owns a foundry making cheap souvenirs.
When Holland meets Pendlebury he sees his chance to longer be a ‘nonentity’ of 20 years’ loyal service, but to have a new life, flush with money, in Rio de Janeiro. That’s where we find him when the play opens on New Year’s Eve 1949, drinking with other ex-pats in the Union Club when the mysterious Mr Farrow (Guy Burgess) walks in.
In the film, Holland recounts to Farrow how he got to Rio but Mr Porter – who throws in some good gags, including a corker about a French seagull – uses the clever framing device of having Holland’s fellow partygoers act out his story.
The 1951 crime caper, starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway, was one of the most successful Ealing comedies, and now Phil Porter has adapted it for the stage
Miles Jupp plays Henry Holland, a Bank of England employee responsible for transporting gold bullion from the Royal Mint to Threadneedle Street, while Justin Edwards is Alfred Pendlebury, who owns a foundry making cheap souvenirs
They tell a complicated tale involving Eiffel Tower paperweights, a trip to Paris, some English schoolgirls who unwittingly come into possession of solid gold souvenirs, and finally, a chase through war-torn London involving a stolen police car.
And this is where the stage version, directed by Jeremy Sams, comes a bit of a cropper. In a crime caper there needs to be some capering – but Mr Jupp and Mr Edwards’ capering looks suspiciously like lumbering on Francis O’Connor’s fussy set.
Other cast members, including Tessa Churchard and Victoria Blunt (as party guests play-acting as the men’s accomplices) are lighter on their feet. But the production, while featuring two jolly and talented leads, needs more zip to reach the comic heights of the original.
Touring until February 18, 2023 (lavenderhillmobplay.co.uk)
In the film, Holland recounts to Farrow how he got to Rio but Mr Porter – who throws in some good gags, including a corker about a French seagull – uses the clever framing device of having Holland’s fellow partygoers act out his story
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