The DCH Blog
Jimmy's Hall and National Theatre Frankenstein - pre-screening reviews - Sunday 26th October 2014
There’s a chance to see the work of two of Britain’s greatest directors this week - Jimmy’s Hall, directed by Ken Loach and a broadcast of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein from the National Theatre.
Loach’s film is a fitting return to form after the uneasy tone of Angel’s Share. Didactic, polemical and angry, it is everything that infuriates Loach’s critics, and everything that makes him worth watching. Loach takes the story of James Grafton - the only Irishman to ever be deported from Ireland - as the starting point for an examination of a post-colonial country in turmoil. It’s a compact, simple story, passionately told with humanity, and packed-full of joy and hope, notwithstanding its melancholy narrative. Barry Ward is fittingly charismatic as Jimmy but it is Jim Norton, as Father Sheridan, that stays in the memory. His nuanced performance deftly avoids pantomime villainy. He is monstrous yet principled, ruthless yet troubled – his internal conflict an exemplar of the issues at the heart of this film.
Jimmy’s Hall has had a few dim-witted reviews, seemingly oblivious to Loach’s meticulous adherence to the facts of the case – these reviews should be ignored. It seems, even now, folk struggle to accept that an ordinary working man could be that noble and that articulate, and would be that brave in the face of a venal, self-serving union of church and state. It makes the need for such films, and Loach, all the more palpable.
Frankenstein may be a play, but Boyle’s cinematic sensibilities are evident from the outset. Nick French’s faithful adaption is enriched by an extraordinary spectacle of a show. With stunning lighting, and the empathetic rhythms of Underworld’s pounding score, steam trains, burning cabins, blood and guts, rain, snow and fire all combine to startle and amaze. For all this sound and fury however, the play truly comes alive when the two leads first meet, standing face-to-face discussing philosophy on an otherwise empty stage. Benedict Cumberbatch based his creature on recovering stroke victims, and it’s a haunting, harrowing performance, as is the understated insanity of Johnny Lee Miller’s Frankenstein. Although we only get to see it one way round, it’s easy to see how Cumberbatch and Millers's nightly swapping of roles informs and influences what each of them do, making explicit the idea that the creature and Victor are two facets of the same character.
Occasionally episodic, and with some uneven supporting work, this isn’t the unalloyed masterpiece some have said, but it is astonishingly exciting theatre, audaciously staged and brilliantly acted. Like a fairground ride for grown-ups, as soon as it has finished you want to go round again.
By David Vass
Marcus Brigstocke: Je M'accuse - I Am Marcus - a review - Friday 24th October 2014
Marcus Brigstocke is a sneaky fellow. Instead of his signature splenetic diatribes, he teased his audience’s assumptions about the show they were getting, with the simple pleasures of daft voices and warm gel on the private parts. However silly, this was still thought-provoking stuff - Brigstocke had great fun mocking the sensibilities of his Radio 4 demographic, shivering at the frisson of a West Indian accent.
It was an effective lever to somewhere darker and altogether more affecting, as the evening developed into one of self-effacing rumination. Without a hint of clashing gears, Brigstocke took us through a time when, as he put it, too much cake was eaten. Still jaw-achingly funny (not a figure of speech - after two hours of grinning, my jaw really did ache) he was nevertheless able to touch on the surprisingly serious issue of self-loathing addiction, albeit wrapped up in an expertly delivered routine.
As someone who has seen Brigstocke countless times – he is practically compulsory viewing on the festival circuit – I really enjoyed this change of pace. We may not have seen the mask slipping, but I think we saw it deftly moved to one side.
By David Vass
Spinning Wheel Theatre production of Mindgame - a review - Monday 20th October 2014
Spinning Wheel Theatre came to the Corn Hall in April of last year, with Jim Cartwright’s Two. On that occasion, I recall being hugely impressed by great acting and excellent stagecraft, and looked forward to seeing the company perform in a play that really showcased their skills.
Anthony Horowitz’s Mindgame proved to be exactly that - a preposterous twisty turny puzzle in the spirit of Death Trap or Sleuth. For the most part a two-hander, Joe Leat was particularly good as the curious author with dark secrets, ably complemented by Tom Leeper, playing a man with secrets that were blacker still. Setting aside a couple of early run hiccoughs, both of them had a sureness, and lightness, of touch notwithstanding the grim subject matter. Without turning the play into an outright farce, they’ve worked with director Amy Wyllie to draw humour out of what is, after all, a ludicrous scenario, enabling the audience to laugh with the play, not at it.
This was a fast-paced, rollicking rollercoaster of a play, a great example of what touring theatre can do, and quite simply the best night at the theatre I can recall in a long time.
By David Vass