Tag Archives: War

Review Hamilton by Jonathan Evans

 

(5 / 5)

 

Hamilton is a phenomenon. Lin Manauel Miranda’s show about the rise and fall of the founding farther Alexander Hamilton who would be immortalised by having his face on the ten dollar bill is one of the biggest shows to musical theatre in a long time. It’s fan-base has grown and grown and it has conquered America and  is now taking on the rest of the world.

The London show at the Victoria Palace Theatre has grabbed and magnificently run with the baton of standard that this show has gathered. From the words on the page,  the set, to the performances themselves they bring this show to life with grace and fury.

The opening number sets up almost everything we need to know. From our heroes backstory to where he is when the story stars and even his end.

The stage has the floor and rafters so that actors can ascend and descend to signify gain and loss of power. The unique aspect of it is the revolving mechanic of the floor of the stage. It is both technically impressing but also essential to the language of the play.

The rotation gives a greater geography to the limited space of the stage, now the actors can continually walk. Also it happens during more key moments so it becomes an expression of Hamilton’s life moments, when he meets someone new or a choice is to be made his world has shifted. It again serves as having Hamilton as the centre while the character and events revolve around him also the ticking of a clock that waits for no one. Along with the unique element they also use the lighting to paint the mood of the scene and represent when a character is isolated. The actors navigate the space expertly with almost nothing out of sync.

As we all know the founding fathers were all white men and married white women. For historical accuracy this cannot be disputed. However this is a contemporary piece of art so it is not so much interested in being historically accurate but more in spiritually representative of America. The casting for the Hamilton cast is very diverse, having almost everyone of every ethnicity represented on stage. If someone who is curious what Alexander Hamilton really looked like then they have only look it up.

An elements of the performance that there is an argument for being cut (but people would be hounding for blood if it was.) This is the segments with King George, they are the point of view from his perspective as he learns about Americas quest and gaining of independence. Really they don’t need to be there, yet they are so loved and funny they must. His lack of choreography is also immensely amusing, because he is dressed to the ninth all he can really do is stand there but it works by making him seem more uptight.He manages to work in some shoulder movements and he works the crowd greatly. His musical style is more like that of British rock which adds another level of diversity to the show.

The songs carry the narrative and theme. No speaking breaks, all songs, non-stop. The backing musicians play extremely well. The songs themselves area all immensely catchy and will have you repeating a few of them when you leave the theatre. Some of the top favourite are My Shot, Helpless, You’ll Be Back, Burn and others but count on you leaving with a favourite (mine’s Non-Stop).

The play as a whole is divided into two acts. The first is establishing Hamilton himself as well as a few of the others that will play big roles in this story, also about Americas fight for independence. The second act is about dealing with independence and the conflicts they have to deal with become more personal and internal.

The acting from the players is very good. There are many characters in this story and in the second act the actors switch roles to the new characters that are introduced. There is just so much to say about them that it would take up too much of the review, so I’ll just summarise by saying their performance, from the expressions, to the singing is indeed top notch.

The main feats of dancing and choreography come from the background extras. The main players in the scene don’t really bust out many impressive moves, but then again they have many lyrics to remember and sing and if they were doing something more physically taxing then they’d most likely be out of breathe and that wouldn’t be any good. They do indeed do some dancing and hand movements to stop them from becoming dull planks which keeps us looking at them.

Hamilton is the story of the American dream as well as other things and told with modern sensibilities. It is incorrect in a few historical details as others have pointed out, but this is a work of art not an accurate historical account of events. It tells it’s story succinctly through it’s chosen medium of rap with very efficient and fast lyrics being sung and the visuals on-stage from the dancing to the lighting do so many things to draw your eye that you’ll be engaged for the full three hours and then complain that it was over too soon.

Jonathan Evans

Review Darkest Hour by Jonathan Evans

(3 / 5)

 

Winston Churchill was a Prime Minister that was granted his position because of the oncoming war. He took up the position and lead England to victory. He is remembered for his inspiring speeches and iconic look. Darkest Hour tells the story of Churchill gaining position and his first few days as the leader of Britain.

Director Joe Wright is nothing if not someone that has a visual vision for his movies. They always have a haunting look to them, thick with atmosphere. He’s an expressionistic illustrator, not a accurate photographer. Take for example that most of the sets have one large source of lighting that casts across the room, leaving a lot of it in shadows. Why would anyone have this for a Parliament meeting or in Buckingham Palace? They wouldn’t really, it’s to create a sense of mood, he has never let realism get in the way of creating a good shot.

Obviously the main point of focus has gone to Gary Oldman and his performance. His makeup alone probably took a heap of effort and cost to execute. He slouches and walks in the way that we have to recognise as the man from photographs, illustrations and footage. When he stares at his obstacle he is like a bulldog ready to tear it apart, whether it strategic problem or political member that stands against him. For his characterisation he is a blend of cantankerous, fastidious, shrewd and more than comfortable in indulging in his vices (constantly smoking his cigar and a glass of brandy in-hand). Oldman, along with everything else manipulates his voice to match the real mans very closely as well as being able to act with it.

Surrounding Oldman are a few other players that are also on point. As it’s been said behind every great man is a great woman, there is his wife Clementine (Kristen Scott Thomas) that knew the man she chose the spend the rest of her life with was more than flawed and would only spare her half his time. Joining him at the start of the movie is his new assistant Elizabeth Nel (Lilly James), trepidatious in some ways but also spirited in others. King George IV (Ben Mendelson), that is not the happiest about Churchill’s election but deals with him and eventually gains respect for the man.

There is always a blurry line when it comes to adapting historical events and people into a piece of entertainment. You don’t want to completely lie and deface the memory of what happened but at the same time adjustments must be made for passing and fitting it all into the running time. So the question is how does this one do? It accurately dates it’s big events in the plot with fat dates over the screen, I don’t doubt their accuracy. I feel like this movies goal is about engaging the spirit of having a man that knows how to tackle the threat of Hitler even though he might not be the most polite and likable person. so it is the spirit of the movie you need to connect with rather than be pedantic about it’s accuracy.

The movie has striking visuals and good performances from it’s players. But the experience is lacking of a soul. It simply comes off as trying too hard and you can practically detect that the creators had an Oscar in-mind when they were creating it. Whether it will win any I do not know, it does deserve a few nominations and might very well win a few. But the prodding for the recognition is simply too obvious.

Jonathan Evans

 

Review The Wipers Times by Jane Bisset

 

(4 / 5)

 

By Ian Hislop and Nick Newman

Based on a true story from World War I, The Wipers Times is an insight as to life and amazingly laughs in the trenches.

Following the discovery of a printing press and indeed paper during an advance, Officers’ Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Pearson decide instead of allowing it to be smashed and pieces used to bolster trenches that they would use it to produce a publication and bolster the moral of the men instead.

The publication, The Wipers Times, quickly gained notoriety and a following in the trenches which in the dreadful and soul destroying conditions the men were in must have been a tonic in itself.

There is something typically British in the way that the men went about ensuring that the Times was printed no matter what and despite disapproval by the senior officers it became something for the men to look forward to and for the editorial team and production team something to lift spirits and keep going for.

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman must be commended for the wonderful way that they have brought this story not only to the stage but also into the public consciousness. Roberts and Pearson were real people who certainly made a great contribution to the moral of the troops and did by the vehicle of their publication encouraged many soldiers to write.

Hislop and Newman take little credit for the written material of the play. Instead they let the content of memoirs of the men who were there and the Wipers Times tell the story for them.

The set was atmospheric and with minimal and slick scene changes were accompanied by the men singing war time song, which were actually poems that has been published in the Wipers Times set to music.

James Dutton and George Kemp gave credible performances as Roberts and Pearson, that said Officers’ are only as good as the men they command and the cast brought the soldiers from the past to the stage to warm our hearts and to believe that in the face of adversity their strength of character and determination was what got men through these most dreadful of time.

Dora Schweitzer (designer), James Smith (lighting), and Steve Mayo (sound) are to be commended for an exceptional job of giving us a true feel of life at the front line which was believable and bearable.

War of course is not clever, not funny and is certainly not a holiday destination. In the blackness of war The Wipers Times was an antidote to the reality of the horrors surrounding them and the awfulness of everyday life. In true British style humour is what keeps us going and the more inappropriate and condemed by the ‘establishment’ the better we like it.

At the beginning of the evening I felt a little uncomfortable in even considering the war to be funny but as a true brit it wasn’t long before I, along with a packed auditorium, was laughing and indeed wanting more.

After the war Roberts and Pearson returned to civilian life and to occupations they were both familiar with.

The Wipers Times is their legacy of life and laughs in the trenches. The discovery of the printing press was by chance but the production of the paper was a concious decision to try to make best of things and to improve the mens’ moral.

It is thanks to Hislop and Newman that these two men will be remembered and after far too long Roberts and Pearson were recognised by the Times broadsheet newspaper when they published obituaries for the men.

Us Brits are a strange breed and our humour often does not transfer to other nations well. However, amidst the laughter, we must be thankful for all those men who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom to laugh at the things we do.

And to people such as Messrs Roberts, Pearson, Hislop, Newman and all the anonymous men who have produced humour in uniform, we salute you.