Sunday, December 30, 2012

That Was The Year That Was 2012

You wouldn't know it from looking at this blog (sorry) but there has been so much cultural stuff to enjoy this year, and - precisely because I've been a bit on the rubbish side - it's probably worth rounding it up...

Kudos to producer James Lowey for putting together School Night, a lovely club night that kicked off in January with a barnstorming performance from Humphrey Ker, whose 40 minute rattle through British kings, queens and (a lot of) wars genuinely reignited my interest in history.

In Edinburgh, Tony Law and Pappy's were rightly lauded for their hilarious, thoughtful and clever shows while David O'Doherty delivered an angst-ridden hour that is probably his best ever.

If you were after sweet, witty and hugely satisfying movies this year there were three that ticked each of those lovely boxes: The Muppets (loads of laugh out loud moments even after mulitple viewings), Avengers Assemble (funny, great fights, massively entertaining), and Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson with heart. Seriously).

I became a Ben Folds Five fan in 2001, which is something of a shame, seeing as they'd split up the year before. It was a long-awaited delight, then, to see them back together and having loads of fun at my favourite music venue Brixton Academy a few weeks back, along with 5000 other devotees. Thanks to a great, generous set list that included the likes of Alice Childress and Song for the Dumped alongside tracks from the new album, and an excited audience in fine voice, it was, probably, my favourite ever gig.

Elsewhere, Jack White proved himself to be the ultimate, timeless rocker at Alexandra Palace, Rufus Wainwright had an uptempo hoot at Hammersmith Apollo and Neil Hannon celebrated his 42nd birthday at the Royal Festival Hall. The whole of Promenade complete with a string quartet? Alison Moyet singing Don't Go and The Certainty of Chance? Party hats for the audience? Yes please.

I didn't get to the theatre as often as I'd have liked this year, but 2012 was bookended by two delightful productions: the charming, inventive and visually beautiful Swallows and Amazons in January, and Twelfth Night which - while not faultless - provided an always-cherished opportunity to see the masterful Mark Rylance in action.

With Grandma's House, The Thick of It, Peep Show, Horrible Histories, Fresh Meat and The Thick of It all returning, there's been some staggeringly great comedy writing on offer this year. And as for debuts, it's hard to look beyond Jenna-Louise Colman, who sparkled as souffle girl, and then out-Doctor'd the Doctor in terms of curiosity, fun and sheer love of life as Clara. The Doctor's smitten, and no wonder. A quick tip o' the hat to the producers of the first Eight out of Ten Cats to air after Jimmy Carr's taxgate too, as normal service was suspended to give time and space for a proper, sincere discussion.

Oh, and the Olympics? With that opening ceremony, and all those fab montages, and Murray winning Gold, and Chad's dad? Not bad.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Twelfth Night - Apollo Theatre

It's been much too long since I saw a straight play, but a combination of Shakespeare and Mark Rylance was always going to tempt me back - albeit a little late, since this is a transfer of the original Globe production.

I'm hardly alone in being a fan of Mr Rylance, but that's only because he's so genuinely, uniquely, charismatically brilliant. Since watching that BBC Four live broadcast of Richard II I've loved his ability to give such an unexpected but utterly natural cadence to Shakespeare's language, and away from the Bard I've also had the pleasure of seeing him as the British Bacchus in Jerusalem, and in La Bête, with that notorious, hilarious 25 minute speech.

It's a real thrill, then, to see him as the mourning Olivia in Twelfth Night. I didn't study the play, but have seen it once before when John Lithgow played Malvolio with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and as far as I can tell, that's usually the role that gets the "big" casting. With Stephen Fry playing the pompous - but harshly treated - steward, maybe that's the case again here, but enjoyable as he is (and he really is a commanding presence), Fry is well and truly trumped here in the 'comic performance' stakes by Rylance.

Should Olivia be the big comic role in Twelfth Night? Should she be more ridiculous than Malvolio? Than her household of scheming fops and drunks, even? Maybe it wasn't Will's plan... but it sure is fun. And it's all there in the text to be exploited, with Olivia switching from pious mourner to a love-struck girl hopelessly obsessed with the cross-dressing Viola (Johnny Flynn) in an instant - Rylance, as ever, just turns it up to eleven.

Away from Rylance and Fry, there are lovely performances to be found throughout the production though. In particular, the ever-fabulous Samuel Barnett shines as Viola's long-lost brother Sebastian - making the most of a role that could easily get lost thanks to his perfection of an incredulous "what the heck is going on?" expression.

There's also a gorgeous scene during which Viola's lord Orsino (Liam Brennan) sees his "page boy" in a whole new light - Brennan's comic timing is a delight as he tries to steal a glance or two, and is surprised at what he finds, and what he feels.

Like the RSC production, this again struggled to deal with the drawn-out "reveal" of the final act when the characters finally work out what we've known all along, but it's a minor quibble buried in a production that is big on fun, and full of performances to revel in.