Friday, 24 October 2014

Shall I Compare Thee to Gwyneth Paltrow? A Review of Shakespeare in Love

(Image: Johan Persson on westendtheatre.com)

NB. I originally wrote this for my university newspaper but thought it was worth sharing on here too.


“Comedy, love – and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want,” theatre mogul Henslowe tells Shakespeare who is at a loss for ideas. And that is exactly what Lee Hall’s imaginative revival of Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre provides us with. I am a little sceptical towards the current trend of turning any film into a stage show, but this adaptation unquestionably does the 1998 film justice.

The romantic comedy tells the story of a young Shakespeare struggling with writer’s block, who finds the inspiration to write Romeo and Juliet when he falls in love with the wealthy Viola De Lesseps (played by the consistently ardent Lucy Briggs-Owen) whom he unwittingly casts as the male title role his new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. This inevitably goes to pot when he realises that the Thomas Kent he has cast as Romeo in his play is, in fact, a woman, and it is illegal to have women performing on stage. Needless to say, all is resolved and the unpromising-sounding play is a success. Perhaps not historically accurate or a plausible plotline, but entertaining nonetheless and probably still more feasible than some of the bard’s own storylines.

With witty quotations from Shakespeare’s works and cultural references to other Elizabethan writers, Hall’s adaptation of the film manages to be at once humorous, romantic and touching. Shakespeare, played by the dashing Tom Bateman and his friend and fellow writer Marlowe, played by David Oakes, have an entertaining camaraderie throughout the play: Marlowe helps the young Will to craft eloquent verse when he feels uninspired and acts as an excellent wingman by feeding what would become Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18 to him as he stands under Viola’s balcony, attempting to woo her. Oakes was really strong throughout, making it all the more poignant when Marlowe is stabbed to death in a pub brawl. (No spoilers here: that was one of the few historically accurate events of the play.) A dog called Spot (clearly named so for the “Out, damned Spot!” opportunity) features as a cameo throughout for the audience and Queen Elizabeth I to coo over, as she repeatedly mentions that she “loves a good dog” in a play.

As the play continues, so Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is played before a rather sassy Elizabeth I, portrayed by Anna Carteret. I felt that the second half was padded out a little too much with scenes from the real Romeo and Juliet. It was a nice idea initially for us to watch the play within a play (very Hamlet-esque) but it was dragged out for a little too long, although perhaps it would be ideal for people who can’t be bothered to watch the real two hours’ traffic at the Globe. That aside, I think it is a very cleverly written and performed piece of theatre that is certain to entertain anyone even vaguely familiar with Shakespeare (or, at least, Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare).

At any rate, it’s worth seeing for the dog.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion

The long-awaited beauty bible from the Guardian's in-house beauty writer Sali Hughes has finally landed and has already received masses of praise from its readers. And deservedly so. This satisfyingly heavy tome is comprised of several essays on different topics related to beauty: brows, red lipstick, skincare, nail painting... you name it, Sali's covered it. The essay format of the book lends itself well to  being a reference book you can keep coming back to when beauty issues arise. That said, Sali's witty, frank, no-nonsense style of writing becomes addictive and so I all but devoured my copy in one sitting while my uni reading sat neglected on my desk.

I think this book would be appropriate for beauty aficionados and novices alike as it covers basics such as skincare and foundation but also contains the more nitty-gritty scientific information about products that we hardened beauty addicts crave. It also caters to both young and old audiences with chapters on anti-ageing and teen beauty - there really is something for everyone who has even the slightest interest in beauty. She recommends products for all budgets so those of us who need to save cash need not feel guilty for spending money on beauty fodder - I love this as I think so many women can be conned into buying unnecessarily pricey products when there are so many great budget options on the market. Sali has also written chapters on less common beauty topics such as the benefits of beauty and self-indulgence during pregnancy and illness which I'm certain will be poignant for many women who have been through either or both.

Although Pretty Honest will eventually be available in paperback, I think the hardback copy is worth buying because it looks and feels beautiful and will be something you will want to refer to for years to come. It would also make a lovely Christmas present for any girls in your life who are interested in beauty or just don't know where to start with it.

You can find the hardback copy of the book here.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Wendy & Peter Pan

(Image: Manuel Harlan from the RSC website)

I know, another theatre review! I guess I've just seen quite a lot recently that's been worth talking about. Wendy & Peter Pan, so called as it's supposed to be Wendy's side of the children's classic story, was the RSC's big Christmas show this year but the run doesn't finish until March. I was really interested to see it as loads of people from my youth theatre had seen it and returned with very mixed opinions - some said it was fantastic, others hated it and described it as throwing round feminist terms for the sake of it. With that response, I had to see it for myself.

I have to say, I really liked it. To be honest, I was struggling to see what people could hate about it as there was nothing that stood out to me as being awful! First off, the set used throughout was incredible - complete with skull-encrusted pirate ships and slides into underground grottos, it was very visually impressive. I loved all of the flying and the use of physical theatre as well as I think it made it really magical. I actually thought that although it was aimed at kids 11+, I definitely wouldn't want to take anyone much younger than that as parts of it were quite dark and there was some more adult humour included for the parents. I thought parts of it were quite funny and that the script was well-written. Although it pretty much stuck to the original story of Peter Pan, they included some backstories such as why the Darlings' parents were unhappy as they were which were really interesting and added to the story, I thought. Now, for the feminist thing: yes, Wendy was arguing that she shouldn't have to be the damsel but as for bandying around feminist terms unnecessarily, I didn't think that was true at all. It touched on society's constructed male and female roles but other than that it really wasn't mentioned explicitly. I thought that Sam Swann and Fiona Button who played Peter and Wendy respectively were brilliant and really threw themselves into their roles.

In summary, I really enjoyed it and would say that it is well worth watching. I thought it was really magical and an interesting retelling of a well-known classic. It's on in Stratford until the 2nd March if you're interested in seeing it.