Andrew Scott

Present Laughter: NT Live

26/01/20

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s hard to believe that National Theatre Live is already celebrating its 10th anniversary. This brilliant initiative, which makes the very best theatrical productions accessible to a much wider audience than they could ever reach on the stage, has been a resounding success. Like many people, we usually view them at the cinema – but there’s something very fitting about seeing this West End winner on the big screen at the Festival Theatre.

The play invites us to witness a few turbulent days in the life of highly successful actor, Garry Essendine (Andrew Scott). Recently turned forty and about to embark on a prestigious tour of Africa, Gary is suffering something of a mid-life crisis and, at the play’s opening, wakes up after a night of drunken debauchery to discover that he has slept with ingenue Daphne Stillington (Kitty Archer). Unfortunately, she is still hanging around his swish apartment, hoping for breakfast and that meaningful relationship he promised her last night.

Her presence is tolerated with little more than a raised eyebrow by Garry’s long-suffering assistant, Monica (Sophie Thompson), and by his ex wife, Liz (Indira Varma), who has long ago abandoned her personal feelings in favour of managing and protecting the Garry Essendine ‘brand.’ Both women know that such indiscretions are parr for the course.

But further complications rear their heads when Garry’s married business associate, Morris (Abdul Salis) confesses to having an affair with Joe (Enzo Cilenti), and it isn’t long before the self-same Joe has arrived at the apartment and is making flirtatious advances to Garry.

Coward fans will know that in the original play, Joe was Joanna, but this gender-swap is an astute move on the part of director, Matthew Warchus, reminding us that Coward was a closeted gay man at a time when such inclinations could never be expressed onstage. As the tempo steadily rises, and the play careers like an out-of-control vehicle from one frenetic scene to the next, it’s no surprise to hear the complaint, ‘I feel like a character in a French farce.’

The actors are all pretty much note-perfect: Luke Thallon is particularly assured as a sycophantic fan prepared to move heaven and earth to be near his idol, while Sophie Thompson is an absolute delight as Monica, enmeshed in a love-hate relationship with her employer and sometimes in danger of veering towards the former. But make no mistake, this show belongs to Scott and his undeniable talent. His embodiment of the vain, childish and self-obsessed Garry Essendine is an absolute comic tour de force. I’ve seen plenty of Noel Coward plays over the years but I’ve never laughed as uproariously as I do at this one.

I think he’d be thoroughly delighted by this version, though, which is fresh and vivacious enough to make me think that I’d like to see more of The Master’s plays reimagined for our times.

There are more top flight theatrical productions scheduled to view at the Festival Theatre. Why not treat yourself?

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Denial

02/02/17

You’d be hard put to find a worthier subject than that depicted in Denial. It’s based around the true story of American historian, Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), who, in the late 90s, was sued for defamation by author, David Irving (a slimmed-down and eerily repellant, Timothy Spall), after she dismissed his ramblings in print as the work of  a ‘holocaust denier.’ An admitted lifelong Hitler obsessive, Irving repeatedly maintained that there was no real proof that the Nazis carried out genocide on the Jewish people during the Second World War, and that Jews had simply fabricated the idea in order to obtain reparation from the Germans after the conflict was over.

The trial is played out in London and Lipstadt is horrified to discover that, because of the peculiarities of British law, it is not for her to prove that Irving is wrong, but rather that she is correct in insisting that the Holocaust actually took place. To lose the case would be unthinkable. Her solicitor, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), is insistent that Lipstadt will not be allowed to take the stand, and neither, for that matter, will any Jewish survivors, who will run the risk of being publicly humiliated by Irving. Just to make things even more difficult, Julius decides that the case  should be deliberated not by a jury, but by a single high court Judge.

This is, of course, what actually happened, so we can hardly take umbrage with the particulars of the case – but, in terms of a screenplay, it makes it very hard for playwright David Hare to generate any sense of the actual drama. Lipstadt is forced to sit throughout the proceedings in frustrated silence while barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) conducts the case on her behalf. The result is, I’m afraid, a curiously unaffecting film, one that fails to engage an audience as much as it needs to. Even the scenes shot in modern day Auschwitz seem somehow perfunctory and lacking in emotional depth. And of course, since we all know the outcome of the case, there’s no real suspense here, either.

This is a shame because on nearly every other level the film is nicely done. There are strong performances from an excellent cast, it is decently shot and Irving’s famous interview with Jeremy Paxman is cleverly reenacted. But I have to say, worthy though the subject undoubtedly is, this doesn’t have the kind of impact it could.

3.6 stars 

Philip Caveney

SPECTRE

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08/11/15

The James Bond movies seem to have settled into a regular pattern – a decent outing alternating with a not so decent one. I’ve been following the films since Dr No and was initially delighted with Daniel Craig’s efforts. Casino Royale delivered a much needed kick up the franchise, even if most of its chops were nicked from The Bourne Identity. Craig seemed to cleave closer to Ian Fleming’s vision of his infamous antihero and the silly gimmicks were kept to a minimum. Quantum of Solace felt like a decidedly patchy follow-up, which never really built up a head of steam. Skyfall of course, kicked things clear out of the stadium, becoming the most successful Bond film of all time, which leaves returning director Sam Mendes only one direction in which to take things. Down.

In the latest outing, Bond is (once again) looking like he’s all washed up. He’s gone out on his own in search of the orchestrator of a sinister organisation and M (Ralph Fiennes) has no option but to order him to stand down. Not that it deters him at all. With the help of Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) he loads his gun and heads out after the bad guys. Before you can say implausible, he’s heading off to a variety of locations to hunt down whichever evil mastermind is behind the latest series of outrages. Meanwhile, the headquarters of MI6, bombed to destruction in Skyfall, have been replaced by a brand new super dooper high rise building, masterminded by C (Andrew Scott) who may as well have the word ‘dodgy’ tattooed on his forehead.

The film starts promisingly with a pre-credits sequence set amidst Mexico City’s El Dia De Muerte celebrations. There’s a Touch of Evil style tracking shot, some massive explosions and a helicopter-set punch up that redefines the word ‘thrilling.’ If the rest of the film was up to this standard, it would be a wonderful thing indeed. Instead, after Sam Smith’s forgettable theme song, (too shrill by half) we’re treated to some exposition, which, after that brilliant opening salvo, seems to move with all the urgency of molasses in winter. It takes quite a while for the film to recover – there’s a forgettable car chase, a punch up on a train that echoes Connery’s fight with Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, a new love interest with Gallic moody monkey Lea Seydoux and a brief snogathon with Monica Bellucchi that looks like it’s crawled straight out of the sexist 60s. Things don’t really pick up much until chief villain Oberhauzer (Cristophe Waltz) puts in a belated appearance, whereupon we’re treated to a bit of torture, (always a great way to focus the attention), followed by what ought to be the finale.

Except that it’s not. There’s another finale, which though decently executed feels like a sequence too far (and judging by the legions of audience members paying a visit to the loo, we weren’t the only ones who felt this way). SPECTRE is decent entertainment and it’s savvy enough to reference many of the earlier movies, but it’s not strong enough to take its place with the best examples of the series. Some tightening up would have helped it hit all the right targets, but as it stands, this falls into the usual pattern. ‘Bond will return’ promises a credit, but will he be Daniel Craig? Watch this space.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney