Tamsin Greig

Days of the Bagnold Summer

20/08/20

Curzon Home Cinema

Based on a graphic novel and directed by Simon Bird, best known for playing Will McKenzie in The Inbetweeners, the curiously titled Days of the Bagnold Summer is a gentle, quirky little film that really doesn’t fit comfortably into any particular genre. It’s not exactly a comedy, though it generates plenty of smiles and there’s very little in the way of action or suspense. One quality it has in abundance, however, is charm. 

It focuses on the relationship between shy librarian Sue Bagnold (Monica Dolan) and her teenage son, Daniel (Earl Cave), a morose, heavy metal obsessed goth, who has never really forgiven his mother for breaking up with his father, even though it happened years ago. When a planned trip to Florida to spend time with his dad and his stepmum fails to materialise, Daniel doesn’t hold back in complaining about the prospect of spending the summer with the woman he considers to be the most boring person on the planet. 

Meanwhile, Sue attempts to form a meaningful relationship with amorous college lecturer, Douglas (Rob Brydon); she spends time with her more outgoing sister, Carol (Alice Lowe); and ends up confessing her troubles to smug, new age therapist, Astrid (Tamsin Greig). Daniel, aided and abetted by his only friend, Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott), tries to find a summer job and entertains ideas of becoming the front man for a local band…

If this all sounds a little underwhelming, it’s important to add that the appeal of Days of the Bagnold Summer lies in its ambling, good natured approach to its chosen subject. Both Dolan and Cave submit note-perfect performances in the lead roles: you believe in their characters absolutely and neither of them is ever allowed to become a caricature. There are no great dramatic revelations here. This is a story about a mother and son learning how to rub along with each other and their eventual bonding over the imminent demise of a family pet is nicely handled.

All in all, this is a delightful first feature for Bird and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

4.1 stars

Philip Caveney

Twelfth Night

23/04/20

National Theatre Live

I’m never sure about Twelfth Night. Yes, it’s a perfectly constructed play, with a rich cast of characters and some of Shakespeare’s most profound and memorable lines. But I’m always pulled up short by the identity swap stuff, because it’s so silly. And, dare I say it, over-used in the bard’s comedies. Yes, I know he’s a genius. But come on. It defies credulity.

Still, major plot quibbles aside, this latest offering from the NT Live’s lockdown programme is nothing short of glorious. Director Simon Godwin really revels in the play’s theme of gender fluidity, and it makes perfect sense in this context to have a female Malvolia (the marvellous Tamsin Greig), Feste (Doon Mackichan) and Fabia (Imogen Doel).

For those who need a memory jog or who are new to the play, this is the story of twins Viola (Tamara Lawrance) and Sebastian (Daniel Ezra), washed up on the shores of Illyria following a shipwreck. Each believes the other dead, and sets out alone to seek shelter.

To Viola, disguising herself as a boy seems the safest bet, so she changes her clothes and calls herself Cesario. So-disguised, she finds work as a messenger for Duke Orsino (Oliver Chris), and is soon engaged in the peculiar business of attempting to woo the Countess Olivia (Phoebe Fox) for him. Unfortunately, Olivia falls for Cesario instead – and, to complicate matters further, Viola herself is smitten with the Duke. Add Olivia’s unruly uncle Toby (Tim McMullen) and his drunken entourage into the mix, and it’s easy enough to see why the prissy, order-loving Malvolia becomes so peevish and out of sorts.

The standout here is clearly Greig’s Malvolia; this is a star turn. Her obsessive, precise nature is beautifully detailed, and the frenzied abandon that follows when she falls for the revellers’ trick – instructing her to dress in yellow stockings to win Olivia’s favour – allows us a glimpse beneath Malvolia’s repressed exterior, as her secret desires are cruelly exposed. Her abject humiliation is genuinely heartbreaking.

But there’s plenty to admire besides Greig: McMullen’s interpretation of Toby (all louche and dissipated, like an ageing rock star) is original and works well with the script, while Daniel Rigby’s man-bunned Andrew Aguecheek makes a perfect comic foil.

The set, by Soutra Gilmour, is inspired: dominated by a huge rotating staircase, that turns to reveal a vast range of locations, all cleverly depicted with a few deft strokes.

This is a lovely, light production, with both exquisite foolery and emotional depth. I reckon I’ll even let the false identity stuff go. Against the odds, they make it work.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield