Thursday, 18 August 2011

Theatre Review - Much Ado About Nothing.

Performance Date: 11th August 2011.
Venue: Wyndham’s Theatre, London.

Script by: William Shakespeare.
Directed by: Josie Rourke.
Starring: David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Adam James, Tom Bateman, Jonathan Coy, Elliot Levey, Sarah Macrae.

The eighties may be the current go-to decade for a nice fat slice of depression, but it’s nice to see the party atmosphere of those ten years embraced in Rourke’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

For those who don’t know the story, the action picks up with the return of Don Pedro (Adam James) from a victorious battle, alongside Benedict (David Tennant) and Claudio (Tom Bateman). Upon their arrival, Claudio plans to marry Hero (Sarah Macrae), daughter of Leonato (Jonathan Coy), and Benedick is reunited with his verbal jousting partner, Beatrice (Catherine Tate). With some help from Don Pedro, Claudio and Hero are soon betrothed to one another, and amongst the wedding preparations, it is planned that Benedick and Beatrice will be forced into realising their love for each other. Of course, this being Shakespeare, all is not destined to go to plan, as the “plain-dealing” Don John (Elliot Levey) schemes to break up Claudio and Hero.

The action takes place atop a giant turntable, complete with four movable pillars and numerous pieces of set dressing (such as chairs, DJ decks, etc) brought on and off when scenes demanded them. The sheer number of different positions that the pillars are placed in to create the necessary locations are astounding, and the revolving stage means that set changes can be performed with minimal effort, as well as perform small sequences of action while the turntable rotates into place. This turntable is also used to great effect in Act 2 Scene 3, where Benedick ‘eavesdrops’ on Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio’s conversation, adding both depth to the stage as well as the illusion that the three are chasing Benedick through a much bigger space than they actually are. It is because of this unique staging, combined with the eighties tone, that the play has a real sense of atmosphere and setting.

Tennant and Tate share excellent chemistry on stage, playing their characters as two old friends who are perfectly comfortable insulting each other while at the same time knowing they won’t cause any great offence to each other - everyone knows a pair of friends like this, making their relationship something real and relatable to the audience. Tennant, who has shown his comedic side in both Doctor Who and previous stage production Hamlet, really turns the humour up to eleven, and though Tate does on occasion fall back on traits from characters in her own TV sketch show, she is enough at home in this world to make the character of Beatrice her own, and capable of turning from hilarious to tense during Act 4 Scene 1. Of the other performances, the one which stands out is Adam James’ Don Pedro, who really brings the character to life, in particular when interacting with Bateman. He is a joy to watch, as are the rest of the cast, including those taking up smaller roles such as Dogberry and Borachio, as played by John Ramm and Alex Beckett respectively.

Finally, it is worth taking note of Michael Bruce’s score. The music used within scenes is distinctive of the period setting, often sampling from well known eighties pop, yet still feels fresh and original. This makes a striking contrast to that found during scene changes, which is often more tranquil and fitting to the action the audience has just seen. It is a treat for the ears, and shows just how important music is for helping set the correct atmosphere for a production.

In short, Much Ado About Nothing is a triumphant, well-performed piece of theatre that is well worth seeing - provided you can afford the hefty ticket price, that is! The cast work in great harmony, and the entire show is a tightly-run production.

Rating: 9/10.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Itchy Liverpool Articles and Reviews.

Hey all,

As you may or may not know (most likely the latter), I have written a handful of articles and reviews for Itchy Liverpool, an online magazine focused on the city where I studied my degree. Recently, I had a review of Arrietty published - far more abridged than the one found here, but covering many of the same points. My reviews have all been kindly edited by the staff at Itchy Liverpool, and you can check them out by clicking the links below.

Hope you enjoy reading them, and that you spread the word about an excellent and funny website. They also have branches based in other cities around the UK, so check them out if Liverpool isn't your closest.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Film Review - Arrietty.

Year: 2010.
Studio: Studio Ghibli.
Language: English.

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Mark Strong, Olivia Colman, Geraldine McEwan.

It's difficult to not love Studio Ghibli film. From the magical bathhouse of Spirited Away to the Cat Kingdom of The Cat Returns, to the windswept city of Kiki's Delivery Service. However, it's safe to say a number of their films are far from child-friendly: Princess Mononoke is surprisingly violent for a PG film, and Grave of the Fireflies holds a reputation to sending people into a deep depression. The company's last UK theatrical release, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, is by far their more child-focused film, and this year’s work, Arrietty, seems to find the right balance between children and adults, making for a truly excellent family film.

The story, based on Mary Norton’s The Borrowers novels, follows the Clock family's only daughter Arrietty, who lives with her father Pod and mother Homily underneath the floorboards on an old house. There, they borrow small items such as sugar cubes and tissues which the human residents will not notice are missing. When a boy named Shō comes to the house to rest before an operation, Arrietty is spotted by him. Raised to believe that humans are dangerous, Arrietty finds herself torn between her home life and the strange human who insists on befriending her.

The key to Arrietty's success is the portrayal of its eponymous heroine. Studio Ghibli's films are ripe with effective female leads, such as Chihiro (Spirited Away) and Nausicaä (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind). Arrietty stands among the best of them. A curious, excitable teenager, she understands the lessons taught to her by Pod, yet is also willing to act on her own initiative: when she sees a pair of rats on her first borrowing trip with her father, she tells him that she could defend herself using a newly-obtained safety pin in place of a sword. Pod cautions her, however, that it is often better to avoid looking for trouble than go looking for it. This lesson is put to the test as Arrietty interacts with the dogged Shō, who represents the dangers of humans for the Borrowers and yet is also the most frail of them. Saoirse Ronan does a fantastic job at bringing her to life, capturing the hesitant inquisitiveness that defines her.

It's not just Arrietty who is well-developed: the entire Clock family is well-rounded, giving a genuine sense that the family is united not only by love, but by being, as they believe, the last Borrowers in the world. Pod is accepting of his daughter's curiosity while at the same time trying to reign her in and make her the skilled Borrower they needs her to be, while Homily is protective to the point of overbearing, but cares for her family and wants them all to be safe in what is a dangerous world. This is helped by Mark Strong, who's calm performance as Pod makes him both kindly and intimidating when angry with Arrietty. Olivia Colman's Homily is suitably motherly, which makes it disappointed when the script gives her little to do but shriek and faint as the third act arrives.

Of course, Studio Ghibli films are renowned for their high-quality animation, and their latest offering is no different. After last year's Ponyo, it is nice to see a return to a more traditional animation style. The visuals of Arrietty are striking, with some great use of household objects as methods of transportation: crooked nails serve as walkways and cables as climbing ropes, which the scenes in the garden are filled with insects and animals which seem looming and alien when seen from the viewpoint of the miniscule Borrowers. Of course, the world changes to something more familiar when while with Shō and the other humans, and it's great fun to try spot the route that Arrietty and Pod have taken on their outings during these scenes.

The remaining voice actors are definitely a mixed bag, with Geraldine McEwan giving a fantastic performance as the housekeeper Haru. While Phyllida Law does well as Sadako, there is simply not enough of her to make her memorable. Unfortunately, it is Tom Holland's vocal work as Shō which serves as the weak link in the casting, giving a monotonous and often grating performance. It is easy to see why he played the boy in such a way, especially as you learn more about his illness, but it can still be painful to listen to.

Regardless, Holland's performance is far from a reason to avoid the English dub, which is otherwise solidly scripted and performed, underlined by a fantastic score Cécile Corbel. While the film is not going to reinvent the anime landscape, it is a simply gorgeous film with a bittersweet ending, albeit one that is a little too open-ended for some.

Rating: 7/10.
If you liked this, you might like:  Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbour Totoro.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


Hello, and welcome to Manafiend Presents, a blog dedicated to reviews and articles about all things culture. Here, you'll find opinions on everything, from computer games to the stage, and everything inbetween.* I'm Chris, aka Manafiend, the blog author.

The name Manafiend Presents comes from my xbox360 gamertag, manafiend, and that this blog is a presentation of my work. I've taken to using my gamertag everywhere I can online, including twitter and my Steam account. If you see manafiend somewhere, chance is that it's me!

The aim of this blog is to write light-hearted, funny features to spark discussion on a wide range of topics. For now, everything uses a written format, but I hope to branch out into Vlogging some day, so keep your eyes peeled. All comments are welcome, and can be left at the bottom of an article, though I request that they be well-mannered and that any criticism be kept constructive. Any trolling or inappropriate behaviour will result in the comment being removed.

So, with that in mind, hope you all enjoy reading, and come back for more.

* Your definition of 'everything' may vary... Considerably!