Category Archives: Theatre

Hamlet Barbican: Benedict Cumberbatch. Review.

I count myself very lucky to have seen this play with a few of my (new) friends, and to have had a seat in the front row.  The 26th of October 2015 was a glorious evening.  Thanks to the power of the internet, not only was it an evening out with some home-grown culture, but it afforded an occasion to meet up with some people to whom I’ve been talking for a number of years – but had never met face to face.  Now we have!  This production has brought together people with similar interests from all over the globe.  That’s a triumph in and of itself!

Now: the play.  Throughout, I marvelled at the set design.  Both simple, and intricate.  Beautiful and tragic.  It enhanced the story, and was both part of the action and a metaphor for the disintegrating state of the minds of the characters.  Not quite contemporary, not quite traditional.  The mix of the fashions, the soldiers’ uniforms, formal attire, and casual clothing, created a universal time-period in which the story unfolded.  It may have looked like madness, but there be method in it!

I was not overly familiar with Hamlet – I couldn’t quote much, or remember in what order the events occur.  The slight rearrangement of the scenes created a fresh vision of the material.  Even if you did know the play well, this version would have been a little bit new to you.  I think this was a fun way to make sure the audience paid attention!  Another very clever device used was in the way Hamlet’s soliloquies were delivered.  These speeches are basically a glimpse inside the mind of Hamlet.  He’s more thinking these words in his head, rather than speaking them to another character, or indeed the audience.  Here the foreground focused on Hamlet, in the background the lights were dimmed, and the action of the other players continued.. but in slow motion.  Very effective, and beautiful.

So, to the performances.  I’m already biased when it comes to Benedict Cumberbatch.. so I’ll just say he was brilliant!  His descent into “madness”, introspection, and cutting remarks to Ophelia and others were felt deeply from the front row, to the back.  Brilliant (I’ve said that, I know.  I’m saying it again!).  Siân Brooke was outstanding as Ophelia.  As she developed from a naive young woman in love; led on by Hamlet, and her own parents, you could feel the heartbreak oozing off the stage as her world fell apart.  Similarly, Anastasia Hille brought a sense of strength to Gertrude the Queen, which was ripped away from her as the truth of her marriage to Claudius, played by Ciarán Hinds, and his betrayal is revealed later on.  As Claudius realises that his treachery will be his own undoing, that is when the proverbial excrement hits the fan.. or in our case a ton of bits of black paper…!  Hinds was excellent in showing (and indeed hiding) the duplicity of his character.

The run at the Barbican is now sadly finished.  From me, a round of applause to all involved.  A special mention to the Director Lyndsey Turner, who brought this incredible production to life.  It was a delightful evening’s entertainment.


Coriolanus NTLive (Encore) Screening

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s plays with which I was not previously familiar.  So in anticipation of this National Theatre Encore Screening, I made a point of reading the text.  I’ve discovered that when I’m not forced to read Shakespeare because I’m later being tested, I actually enjoy it!  Reading without the stress = a lovely time.

With thanks to some of the contemporary artists who are now making these plays more accessible to the lay-person (i.e. me!), and no doubt my (slightly) advanced age; I’m both interested and excited by both Shakespeare and literary prose.  It’s been a while since I was at school, and all I remember from back then was it taking forever to get through the text, and not understanding a word.  So my thanks goes to Joss Whedon (for Much Ado About Nothing), the BBC for The Hollow Crown and for the David Tennant version of Hamlet, Tom Hiddleston & Mark Gatiss (for being in this one!), and Benedict Cumberbatch for the latest production of Hamlet at the Barbican (I have tickets for later this month!).

I was intrigued to find out how relevant the story of Coriolanus is to us today.  Politics and politicians have been two-faced and back-stabbing for millennia, it seems.  So far, so obvious.

Coriolanus is a character who remains true to himself throughout the whole story.  He will not compromise for anything, nor anyone.  This is a sign of both his strength of character, his stubbornness, and ultimately causes his downfall.  Winning at war is very different from winning in politics.  You need very different skills.  Coriolanus will either learn to play this new game – or he will not.  Guess which outcome is more likely!

With such an epic story to tell, it was brilliant to see the extremely efficient use of space.  The Donmar Warehouse stage is very very small.  The audience is right on top of the action.  And for a certain scene, the fake blood was all over the audience! Which made me chuckle – because I was at the Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre watching a recording, not getting covered in it myself; but at the same time that scene was difficult to watch as Tom Hiddleston played the intense pain felt by Marcius from his injuries.

All in all, this was an excellent play.  Very well directed, brilliantly acted, and very cleverly constructed.  A round of applause to all who were involved.

2014 Review Plus My Favourite Things I Didn’t Write About

2014 was a great year for Movies and TV.  I got the chance to make a dent in my “To Read” pile, visited an exhibition or two, and I got to see Frankenstein NT Live Encore Screening at my local theatre.  Most importantly, I made a proper attempt to blog more regularly here!

Here’s a summary of my favourite posts from this past year, and some honourable mentions for other stuff that I have also enjoyed, but for whatever reason I didn’t actually write about!

My favourites from Existing Posts:

Only Lovers Left Alive
The Imitation Game
Frankenstein NT Live Encore Screening
Sherlock Holmes Exhibition at the Museum of London
For The Win by Cory Doctorow
The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss


Honourable Mentions:

Hannibal Seasons 1 and 2
This show is deliciously dark!  Mads Mikkelson is a brilliant Hannibal Lecter.  Hugh Dancy is a slightly different take on Will Graham where he has a more intuitive insight into the mind of a killer based on his introspective social anxiety or Asperger’s type disorder.  Supported excellently by Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas and a host of talented others.

Set before Hannibal is caught for being his own brand of serial killer, there are twists and turns aplenty in both the crime of the week, and the ongoing arc.  And if you’re a foodie, this show presents more than enough food-porn to whet your appetite.  Even when you know what they’re supposedly eating!

Both seasons 1 and 2 kept me enraptured, and I can’t wait for season 3.

Penny Dreadful Season 1
I was pleasantly surprised by this series.  Initially it sounded like the usual re-hash of old standard horror stories into a single show, which had the potential to devolve into a jumbled mess.  Actually, this show was well-staged, and the stories were cleverly intertwined.  Timothy Dalton and Eva Green brought an air of sophistication to some of the wilder moments.  And the fact that this show did not shy away from some pretty startling imagery and possession-induced bad language!  I’m eagerly anticipating the next season for more lovely tangled tales.

The Walking Dead Seasons 1 to 5
I’ve followed this show since it’s beginning, and although these later seasons seem to have slowed down a little, the main characters are still well worth watching.  Previous years have shown us that even the title characters are not guaranteed to get out of any situation alive.  The jeopardy started high and had remained so.  It’s not the zombie horde you have to worry about!

Breaking Bad Seasons 1 to 5
I am guilty, like many others I am sure, of mainlining this show from start to finish on Netflix.  I don’t think this has ever aired on UK television, and yet I know of many people who have sought it out after hearing about it through word of mouth, or from the good old internet!  If you haven’t heard of this show, you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years.  Just queue it up and watch it already!

Guardians of the Galaxy
One of the few movies actually worth seeing in 3D.  There are some directors who I think understand the medium of 3D more than others.  You can often tell whether a movie was designed to be in 3D from the start, and those where they decided to add in the 3D gimmick at the last minute, through the framing of many of the shots.  For 3D to actually add something to the experience of the movie you need to barely notice it’s being used at all, if you’re immersed in the environment then it’s working.  If you’re just waiting for something to pop out of the screen and poke you in the eye, it’s a waste of time!

This movie has a great story, has loads of hidden gems related to other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has characters you really care for, and is crammed with comedic moments.  Because it was created from a lesser-known comic book, it’s likely to be a new story for most of the viewers, so there’s no requirement for fore knowledge of any of the comics.

I generally don’t read comics; not because they’re not any good – clearly they are – but I read text really quickly and therefore skip through comics too fast.  You’re supposed to slow down and appreciate the artwork.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The main thing to say about this movie is how brilliant the performance is by Andy Serkis in the role of Caesar.  Motion capture has come a very long way, and you can barely tell that the apes are computer generated.

MARVEL’s Agents of SHIELD Seasons 1 and 2
Continuing and expanding on some of the plots and enemies from the MCU, Agents of SHIELD is a fairly light-hearted addition.  Focusing on the human perspective and policing a world where superheroes and villains are the norm.  Both stories of teamwork and stories of betrayal keep you guessing each week.

Sherlock Seasons 1 to 3
Sherlock has quickly become one of my favourite shows of all time.  The fact that you only get 3 episodes per season means that, for me, it always stays fresh and new.  Sherlock the series, not just the man, is super intelligent and I’ll be eagerly awaiting new cases every year (or two!).  I don’t mind that there’s a long wait between series, the anticipation and speculation is half the fun.  We know that the show is created by super-fans in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, so as long as they’re all enjoying making the show, the outcome will always be great.

The 2015 special is currently in production, quite possibly as a one-off out of the timeline of the regular show.  This should be interesting!

Game of Thrones Seasons 1 to 4
Another show where the main cast of characters are in constant jeopardy.  The fight to claim the throne of the 7 kingdoms is a bloody one.  It’s epic in scale, violent, and sexy.  What’s not to like!

Frankenstein – NT Live Encore Screening

CrownJules Concludes:

4.5 Stars out of 5
An enthralling journey of discovery, and heartbreak.  I just wish I could have seen it properly live the first time around.  And both versions!


All Image Credits: National Theatre Live.

Halloween 2014, should I stay in and watch horror movies whilst pretending not to be in and eating all the sweets by myself?  Not this year!  The first time that Frankenstein was broadcast by National Theatre Live in cinema’s and local theatres I completely missed it.  And I was gutted!  But due to popular demand they brought out an “Encore” Screening, so I was able to see it after all, and in my home town, and I brought my parents along!

So I booked tickets online, and on Halloween night wandered down to the local Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre to enjoy the show.  Frankenstein was showing for 2 nights only, and they broadcast both versions, the first night with Jonny Lee Miller as Dr Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster, and the second night (which was the version I saw) they swapped roles.

Frank BC JLM 2
I did not get to see the Monster-Batch!
Frank BC JLM 1
The Miller-Monster was excellent!


At first we witness the birth of the monster.  And it’s really a birth.  It’s painful and confusing.  JLM writhes around on the floor, and develops from a newborn, to crawling, to taking his first steps.  He’s messy and juvenile, and he has a distracting amount of drool on his chin throughout the whole performance!  Immediately rejected by his creator, we follow the monster’s journey to discover the world and learn what it is to be human.  Unfortunately for him, he learns how the human race are scared and aggressive towards those who are strange or disfigured.  The only person to treat him well is an old blind man, who teaches him to read and write; until he is forced to leave, and he finds his way back to confront his creator.

Meanwhile, Dr Frankenstein is driving himself completely insane.  Obsessing over his biological work, and the mysterious death of a family member, drive him to experiment in more and more drastic ways.  When he again comes face to face with what he has created, he strikes up a bargain to make the monster a female companion.  But when Frankenstein goes back on his word, his creation has nothing but vengeance left.

With Frankenstein’s upcoming wedding fast approaching, he goes back to his home.  Unfortunately, his monster has learned more than he anticipated about people and the way the world works, and destroys Frankenstein’s future.  Leaving them both in a continual unending chase to the ends of the world.

This production follows the plot of the book more closely than many other film adaptations that I have previously seen.  I’ve seen a few, but not all!  The childlike quality of the monster is played extremely well, as are the obsessive and manic behaviours of Frankenstein.  Having previously read the book (although several years ago), I always felt compassion for the creation, as he was basically a victim.  He was the result of a cruel experiment, abandoned at birth, and subsequently treated as an animal by all who meet him.  He did not choose the hand that he was dealt.

This work of science-fiction-horror by Mary Shelley has always generated discussion over what it is to be human.  Do we have the right to experiment with human life?  How do we “civilised” humans react to something different? Can we create new life? The answer to the last question is of course “yes” – it’s called procreation, the traditional way.

JLM in this production conveyed the tragedy and emotion with such sincerity. BC portrayed the anger, obsession and revulsion to the highest degree and standard.

I can only hope that they eventually bring this show out on DVD. I would love to see the actors having reversed the roles, and their different interpretations. Maybe one day.

And finally a shout out to the Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre! The staff were extremely helpful and friendly. The theatre was a pleasant environment. And they have a bar! Fantastic.

Support your local theatres and facilities everyone!

Links for more information:

Frankenstein – National Theatre Live official website
Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre