Monthly Archives: September 2015

Jane Eyre (National Theatre)

First presented in two parts in Bristol, this version now playing at the National Theatre has been reduced to a more manageable three and a quarter hours (including interval) in which to tell the story of Jane Eyre from birth to happy ending.  Topping and tailing the main story with the words ‘It’s a girl!’ makes this a strictly feminist reading of the novel on the surface, although the focus remains on the love story between the plain and insignificant Jane and her employer, the troubled Mr Rochester.

jane eyre

Playing Jane from childhood onwards, Madeleine Worrall is absolutely excellent, a wild haired dervish of a troubled girl whether crying out ‘unjust’ to her life, running on the spot to represent the journeys between Mrs Reed’s home and Lowood Institution, Lowood and Thornfield Hall, and climbing ladders within the set of wood and metal to show passages of place and time.  Rochester (Felix Hayes) does not overdo the bluster or sharpness of his role, instead finding a connection with his new governess and an opportunity to escape his desperate situation.

Craig Edwards has three roles – Mr Brocklehurst, Rochester’s dog Pilot, and Mason (brother to the shadowy Bertha Mason, who appears now and then in the person of Melanie Marshall’s singer who interjects ‘Mad About The Boy’ and ‘Crazy’ – the Gnarls Barkley one, not the Patsy Cline one – into proceedings), and he works hard, especially in the comic role of the faithful pet.

Other performers who deserve to be mentioned are Laura Elphinstone (Helen Burns, Adele, and a particularly sanctimonious St John Rivers), and Maggie Tierney (Mrs Reed and Mrs Fairfax), but the whole ensemble come together in a beautifully choreographed set of scenes, perfectly timed and probably testament to a long period of gestation and rehearsal.

Set pieces, too, work well in places – the cavernous grave which swallows Jane’s parents, her Uncle Reed, and Helen in quick succession as they leave her life, her Aunt Reed’s promise to bring up her baby niece as one of the family and then shaking the baby bundle with distain into the plain dress in which the young Jane is garbed, little more than a servant.

I do feel, however, that Sally Cookson’s production assumes a prior knowledge of the story that many audiences might not have, and that there are some bad decisions, including the aforementioned Bertha, who is too smooth and measured to represent a mad woman who burns, stabs and bites.  The one thing that made me cringe was Rochester’s descent from his horse in a flurry of f- words, which was unnecessary: this man is no gentleman and not worthy of Jane.  The book’s Rochester may have a certain brusqueness of tone but he would be unlikely to swear in the company of a woman; even that other Gothic hero, Heathcliff, never did that.

A Jane which perhaps fails to fully gel, could do with being cropped by around half an hour, but which nevertheless remains true to its source and its heroine, and ends up being effective and moving despite itself.

All Our Yesterdays – Blackmore’s Night (CD review)

The tenth studio album in eighteen years from the folk-rock team of Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night (and friends) follows the now familiar formula of crowdpleasing singalongs, powerful rock-influenced instrumentals, wistful ballads, and cover versions (in this case, of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Moonlight Shadow’ and Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’).

It is a strategy which has served the team well in Germany and Austria in particular, where they now have their biggest following, while, ironically for a couple based in Long Island (although Blackmore is British-born) they seem to have eluded success in the United States.

For me, I have been following the now married couple since their first album in 1997, ‘Shadow of the Moon’, which represented the twenty-six year old Night’s first leading vocals in a project, after providing back up on the album and subsequent tour of Blackmore’s reformed Rainbow two years earlier.  Blackmore at that time was fifty-two, trying a new musical path away from the hard rock he had been involved in since the early 1960s (although throughout his work with Deep Purple and Rainbow there had always been hints at a softer and perhaps more romantic side than he could indulge).

Now Night is forty-four, Blackmore is seventy, and they have two young children under six, so ‘All Our Yesterdays’ would seem to be coming from a very different place to ‘Shadow’.  The opening track, the title one, though, is fairly standard for the team, Night’s vocals taking the lead into a plantive ballad which opens into ‘hey hey’ type chorus.  This is followed by a couple of instrumentals, of which I liked ‘Darker Shade of Black’ and its – maybe overproduced – soaring melodies the most.

‘Long Long Time’ has some nice musical touches, while ‘Moonlight Shadow’ is a rockier version of what was a classy ballad with Oldfield’s style of guitar playing back on its release in the early eighties.  I am not sure about the changing of the fade-out coda though.  As for ‘I Got You Babe’, Night sings this well with the accompaniment to bells and the now ubiquitous drum machine, but the fact this was written as duet makes it fail at the last, despite attempts to muddle through.

In other tracks, 2003’s ‘Where Are We Going From Here’ is given a new, revised version (something the team have a habit of doing), and it has a pleasingly rocky feel, while the standout album track for me is ‘Will o’the Wisp’ with its pounding chorus and musical vibes.  ‘The Other Side’ seems throwaway, with pipes, drums and double-tracked vocals in Mary Ford-style.  ‘Queen’s Lament’ is a typical Blackmore guitar instrumental, musically beautiful and technically accomplished, but all too short.

It seems clear with the progression of this team’s work that Candice Night is taking more and more centre stage, and she has certainly vastly improved as a singer in both vocals and confidence since she started out.  However, the last couple of albums have started to weaken a bit against their predecessors and the formula, for what it is worth, may now need a shake-up so as not to make work feel stale.

Track listing:

All Our Yesterdays
Allan Yn N Fan
Darker Shade of Black
Long Long Time
Moonlight Shadow
I Got You Babe
The Other Side
Queen’s Lament
Where Are We Going From Here
Will o’the Wisp
Earth Wind and Sky
Coming Home

Mr Foote’s Other Leg (Hampstead Theatre)


A dark dramedy at the Hampstead Theatre passed the time this afternoon, in the story of Samuel Foote, low comedian, crossdresser and media-bait.  Played with flair and fuss by Simon Russell Beale, Foote could slump into caricature but does not, mainly due to the skill of both actor and writer in making the character a rounded one, in some ways a fool but in other a figure of sympathy.

We first find Foote in a backstage elocution class with the other major characters of the play – Midlands-accented David Garrick (Joseph Millson, who catches at chances of comedy and moments of pathos with ease), Irish Peg Woffington (Dervla Kirwan, vulgar and finally pathetic), Scots Jock Hunter (Forbes Masson, who perhaps overdoes the accent), and mute Miss Chudleigh (Sophie Bleasdale).

Their coach, Charles Macklin (Colin Stinton, who reappears later as Benjamin Franklin and is good in both roles) quickly tarnishes his character by accidentally killing a fellow actor, and Foote and friends start their own company, with Jenny Galloway as their jaded tour manager and Micah Balfour as proud free-man and former Jamaican slave Frank Barber.  Foote plays grotesque distaff roles while Peg plays young britches parts or gartered tarts (and off-stage works her way through the beds of various luminaries including the eldest son of the King, Prince George, who is played by the play’s writer, Ian Kelly).

This is a strange play, one which has ribald belly laughs alongside moments of desperation, and one gut-churning scene which deals with the aftermath of a horse-riding accident which leads to Foote having his leg amputated in graphic (verbal) detail on stage.  The tensions between the comedy and the tragedy may not always work, although in pockets and scenes the mix is effective (for example, a piece of tenderness between Garrick and Peg).

Directed by Richard Eyre, it is not a typical piece you would expect from him, and some may balk at the large use of profanity throughout the play, but with a little tightening of scenes and a slightly less sluggish pace this could be an extremely successful production.

Flare Path (Richmond Theatre)

I hadn’t come across The Original Theatre Company before but I read they have been putting on shows for eight years, and I do like a bit of Rattigan, so this was a ‘must-see’ at Richmond this week: after this week it continues on tour.

Terence Rattigan’s ‘Flare Path’ was only professionally revived in 2011 after quite a while in the wilderness, and at that point it had a rather starry cast with Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, and Sheridan Smith.  This time around we have a couple of familiar faces from television – the very, very good Philip Franks (of ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘The Darling Buds of May’) as Squadron Leader ‘Gloria’ Swanson, and Leon Ockenden (Mr Selfridge’s Russian) as Hollywood idol Peter Kyle (who is fine in a part which has to go from rather unsympathetic to something different and take the audience with him).

A lesser-spotted cast often makes a fine play, and so it proves here.  I’d been familiar with some of this production from the reworked plot which appeared in the film ‘The Way to the Stars’, but much was different in the original, which largely focuses on a love triangle between Kyle, Flight Lieut Teddy Graham (played by company artistic director Alastair Whatley, whose portrayal of the flyer my audience companion referred to as ‘Tim Nice But Dim’), and Graham’s glamourpuss wife Patricia Warren, actress and secret adultress (played by Olivia Hallinan, brittle as glass).

On the fringes are Rattigan’s beautifully drawn character parts – Jonnny the Polish count (Adam Best, who I remember seeing in the film ‘Cup Cake’, impressive then as here) and his slightly common but caring wife Doris (Siobhan O’Kelly, convincingly portrayed), ‘Dusty’ Miller the gunner (Simon Darwen, a good piece of comic relief) and his laundress wife Maudie (Shvorne Marks, good in a part which could have been written for a Thora Hird type); hotel manageress Mrs Oakes (Stephanie Jacobs, rather wonderful in her disapproving bustle), and waiter Percy (James Cooney, lots of fun).

This is a fine revival, with its one set and four acts, its aerodrome with the idea of flights using light and sound design, and a beautiful script peppered with cinematic references (‘do you know Dorothy Lamour’, ‘have you met Alice Faye’) and some real knockout moments (notably a translated letter).  The character of Patricia may be overacted, but I feel that is deliberate, and Hallinan handles the contradiction well,


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

London Life With Liz

Lover of good food, good wine and all things London-related - theatre, music, history and Arsenal FC being some of my particular passions. Join me on my travels around this amazing city and beyond...

Forgotten Television Drama

Uncovering the lost history of British TV Drama


Book reviews, author interviews, music reviews. A revue of reviews!

Being Curious

reflections on living with life

%d bloggers like this: