Thursday, 28 June 2012

Final 'Restricted review' for Antigone.

‘Antigone’ - National Olivier Theatre - Wednesday 20th June 2012

(Rated 4/5 )

This last of my Antigone reviews will be short. Please do check out the others for more information.
Just wanted to add a few comments on my experience of the performance last night.
The whole thing progressed more quickly - made it feel punchier. That said - for me - the whole play is still too laboured and like a discussion of the same issues over and over again. That's fine, but in a way, lacks dramatic potential in a more emotional sense. The most emotion is felt - and that's significant I guess - from Jamie Ballard as the prophet Teiresias - he cannot see and so he feels, whilst the others see, think and analyse too much.
That said, Jodie Whittaker in her last scene as Antigone - facing death and bemoaning the loss of being a wife and mother - moved me much more than in previous performances. And I really believed Chris Eccleston as the broken man Creon. At last I felt empathy for his plight in the position he is in as a leader doing his best to maintain order in difficult circumstances, how in that position he feels he has to put first what he thinks is best for Thebes, rather than his own family, but at such an enormous personal cost to himself and the lives of those he loves. He is left with nothing. He is nothing. I literally felt empty as he said that.

I know for many it is hard to afford what I am about to write! Thanks to the lower prices of some of London's theatres, such as The National, this can be possible. I LOVE the experience of seeing a play several times during its run. I have seen a progression and development. I've also enjoyed the different choices the actors have made. And I have come to increasingly understand and appreciate the messages of Antigone. Over time The play and characters have come to life and debated with me and the rest of the audience, making me think about many different issues, which the play triggers. And that's how the theatrical experience ought to be. Thanks to all involved!

Antigone – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Christopher Eccleston: from superheroes to Sophocles.

For Christopher Eccleston, small is always beautiful, whether it be TV thriller Blackout or Greek tragedy Antigone on the stage. He reveals why making films just doesn't compare

Christopher Eccleston in Blackout

A haunted, devestated place ... MyAnna Buring and Christopher Eccleston in Blackout. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Red Productions

He strides across the polished tiled floor, past imposing columns and heavy, intricately carved doors. Outside, the Manchester winds are furiously buffeting the redbrick walls of this grand, turn-of-the-last-century university hall. There seems nowhere more appropriate to meet Christopher Eccleston: he has a face to fit buildings like this, an on-screen intensity that is the match of the architecture. But even so, his latest TV role looks set to stretch him: an unflinching, uncomfortable, three-hour examination of addiction and corruption, in which Eccleston goes from rock bottom to hero, as Manchester politician Daniel Demoys.

Written by Bill Gallagher, who adapted Lark Rise to Candleford for the small screen, Blackout puts alcoholism under the microscope in the course of its three episodes. The title refers to the lost hours after a particularly heavy night for Demoys – and his gradual, horrifying realisation of what might have happened during them. "He's an idealist," says Eccleston. "But something got stalled along the way and that's curdled in him. He's disappointed about where he is and what he does. There's an element of Macbeth in there."

Muddled in with the politics is a portrait of family life soaked in booze, as those around Demoys – including Dervla Kirwan as his wife – try to negotiate his drinking and attempt to square his destructive behaviour with his once good intentions. "We take him to a haunted, devastated place," says Tom Green, the show's young director, who has brought a highly distinct visual language to Blackout. Although the accents are northern, the setting is never specified: Green has instead taken the great Victorian architecture of Liverpool and Manchester and turned it into a place that seems to have fallen out of a graphic novel: buildings loom from the gloom, huge monuments dwarf the humans scurrying about below. This is definitely not the stuff of recent BBC primetime thrillers.

"The idea has been to create a modern British Gotham city," says Green, who created a similar world for Misfits, the award-winning E4 drama about young offenders with supernatural powers; this he directed just six weeks out of film school. "It's not that the piece is comic-book," he says. "But for me, Demoys felt like a comic-book hero: what happens to him is like the birth of a superhero."

British dramas about local politicians do not tend to look as if they were set in the US; but that's what we get with Blackout through the locations and the carefully un-British details scattered throughout the plot and visuals. The police, for instance, have American-style uniforms; Demoys's flat is dark and industrial; we see rows of parked cars, all black, all the same model; and the rain sheets down with even more force than is usual for the north-west. I'm not at all sure what audiences will make of it, or even if it entirely makes sense, but it's great to see a BBC1 drama that looks so different.

"We could do a social-realism version of these three hours set in Manchester," says Eccleston. "But I don't think that would work, because the politics of the piece are very much the politics of a graphic novel: very broad-stroke, very black and white."

On the long, dark afternoon of my visit, Eccleston is rarely off camera: clattering up and down echoey stone staircases, delivering impassioned political speeches. It is unrelenting and very un-local politics (although, brilliantly, the issue of bin collections is central to the plot). Blackout, says Eccleston, is more a morality tale than a political one, however. "We certainly went into the production with the idea of politicians as loathsome, self-serving animals. We are as a culture preoccupied with politicians' motivation, so he's very much part of the 21st century."

A little later, we meet again. Away from the demands of playing Demoys, Eccleston arrives with a broad grin and a charm that sometimes gets lost behind his brooding screen presence. He is rehearsing for Antigone on the National's main stage, for which he has since received enviable reviews. At 48, the boy from Salford is finally realising a lifelong ambition. "I was an usher at the National," he says. "I ushered Ian McKellen doing Coriolanus, Anthony Hopkins in Pravda. In my dreams, I would one day play a classical role in the Olivier." What's the allure of theatre? "It's what I trained for. Everything we did was for the stage. As a kid growing up on that council estate, I read Gielgud's biography, Olivier's biography, Richardson's biography. And when I read these stories as a 17-year-old, they were amazing figures. They seemed like rock stars to me."

Eccleston didn't grow up watching them, however. The first professional Shakespeare he saw was The Tempest at the Barbican in 1983, with Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi. "Not bad, is it?" he jokes, still struck by their performances. For three years after drama school, he couldn't get an acting job. He was on the bottom rung, playing understudies with one line, he says, when he was cast in Let Him Have It, the 1991 film about British teenager Derek Bentley, who was hanged for the murder of a police officer. "Fluke!" he says now of the film that launched him. "It was a fluke. They needed someone unknown, without any baggage, so that when I appeared the audience would just go, 'It's Derek Bentley', not, 'That's the bloke out of Casualty.' The more you do this job, the more you realise luck is a huge factor."

Last year, Eccleston appeared in The Shadow Line, by Hugo Blick, an almost defiantly challenging BBC2 conspiracy thriller that rather split critics and viewers (many abandoned the show mid-run). "I remember Hugo saying to me as he was in the edit, 'This piece really has its own pace.' And I think that was one of the problems." Eccleston is quite frank about his own on-screen shortcomings, too, later alluding to criticism that he can sometimes semaphore his characters' development.

"I think we're used to kinetic pacing now. If you look at 70s American films that were a huge influence on The Shadow Line, things like All the

President's Men, they take their time. We used to take our time and savour atmosphere. I think that's why it got up peoples' noses, because they're used to –" He clicks his fingers sharply.

Eccleston hopes to do more theatre, having had a career that has been mainly film and TV, most memorably in 1996's Our Friends in the North. He even has plans for a one-man show: a version of Nikolai Gogol's Diary of a Madman that he's hoping writer Frank McGuinness might get involved with. He is so obsessed with the story, at one point typing a section of it out and emailing it to friends.

Despite his current focus on theatre, he still loves the small screen. "There's a snobbishness about TV," he says. "Some film actors, thank God, won't do television. Which is great! I've done feature films, but the best scripts I've ever had have been in television. When you're writing for film, you've got a wider canvas and you can concentrate on the visuals. With television, you really can't get away with that much."

• Blackout starts on BBC1 on 2 July.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Interview with Christopher Eccleston for Blackout.

Christopher Eccleston

Interview with Christopher Eccleston

Date: 15.06.2012Last updated: 15.06.2012 at 12.19

Category: BBC One; Drama

Interview with Christopher Eccleston, who stars in new BBC One drama Blackout.

Can you tell us about Daniel Demoys and his role in Blackout?

Daniel Demoys is an interesting figure in that he was once a very idealistic young man who got drawn into local politics and slowly allowed himself to become cynical and disillusioned, and he lost his ideals. He has an addictive personality and started to indulge himself personally, being addicted to alcohol and drugs.

At the beginning of episode one he meets a man (Henry Pulis played by David Hayman) who holds a mirror up to him, and he sees his reflection of who he really is and tries to destroy it. The drama then becomes a why-dunnit rather than a whodunit.

Daniel’s a contradictory character because he has a deep love for his wife and for his children, but he has pure hatred for himself. So consequently he ends up treating his family disrespectfully because he has no self-respect in the way he indulges himself. He’s probably got more in common with Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment, or Macbeth, in terms of what he’s done and his battle with his conscious and imagination, which is used stylistically by flashbacks in the film itself.

What is Daniel’s home life and relationship with his wife (played by Dervla Kirwan) and children like?

Daniel and his wife, before the children came along, were probably a very successful, hedonistic couple of the Nineties. There was a great deal of hedonism and they were very much part of that, while being bright, shining political lights. The kids have come along and he’s carried on. There’s an element of mid-life crisis with Daniel, as well as everything else. He’s carried on that hedonistic path but it has stopped being enjoyable. It’s probably fair to say that his wife has been in denial about his addictions. It’s the only way she can deal with it, particularly while attempting to raise children.

What we’ve got within the film and with the three characters (Daniel’s two sons and a daughter), you see the differing impact on children if a parent is an addict, and it manifests itself in different ways in the children. The impact of the addict on the family is a very major strand in the drama which sits alongside the thriller element. It is very much a thriller, and not just about the politics. The politics are the politics of a graphic novel, quite simplistic. If you examine what Daniel is expounding it’s probably communism but what’s foregrounded is the thriller element and the family element. Those are the two things that are primarily the motors of the three episodes.

Daniel finds himself opening up to a nurse, Donna (played by Branka Katic). Would you say she acts as his subconscious?

She definitely serves as a conscience figure. You can say that she’s possibly taking him through the 12 steps, if you analyse it, looking at responsibility and humility. Donna allows him to confess to everything that he’s done. She is his friend more than anything. She gives him tough love and it’s an interesting relationship. She’s brilliantly played by Branka because it’s very easy to make a character like that purely a mouthpiece. Branka has humanised and grounded Donna, and given her humour, delicacy and subtlety.

Can you tell us about Daniel’s relationship with Sylvie (played by MyAnna Buring)?

MyAnna’s character and Daniel are both playing roles when they meet. It’s role play. He’s in an altered state because of the alcohol and drugs, and she, like him, is an addict and is addicted to danger and sexual danger. It’s very clear. You see her as a mum and then you see her in a noir-ish wig, and then there is her husband (played by Andrew Scott) who is also an addict and an obsessive. This theme of addiction is shot throughout all of the characters. What is interesting about Sylvie is that Daniel instinctively, in his alcoholic state, understands what she needs to fulfil her fantasies. So psychologically they’re wired up for each other in a very dangerous way. Two addicts together, bringing hell down on themselves.

You have worked with Andrew Scott before (Lennon Naked, BBC Four). What was it like working with him again?

It was great working with Andrew, he played McCartney when I played John Lennon and I think he’s an excellent actor. I was really pleased when I heard he was going to join us on Blackout. He’s an actor I really love working with and admire. It’s a fantastic performance and his character (Detective Bevan) is similarly an addict. There’s a kind of brilliance to that character’s detection of what is going on and a brilliance to his doggedness. Bevan’s after the truth like a holy grail and he’s very decent in that way, but his obsession with his wife is the flip side of it. It’s the shadow side of him and his doggedness with finding who she is or isn’t sleeping with is very damaging to her and her children. So he, like Daniel, has a shadow side.

What made you want to be involved with this drama?

It’s always very interesting to be asked to play a character who on paper is unsympathetic. Characters who do the kind of things that Daniel does don’t scare the audience. Audiences are very bright, and those of us who make great television continually underestimate the audience. They’re always ahead of us and they’re always willing to take difficult characters into their hearts because they know how difficult their own lives are. For example, Raskolnikov fascinates people because he does something that we all have nightmares and fears about doing. Macbeth does the same and that’s why go and watch those people and why we follow those characters, and Daniel does a similar thing. There’s a fascination in watching somebody trying to wriggle out of what they have done and that’s what we do with Daniel.

Can you relate to Daniel?

It’s that Dennis Potter quote that I’ve used before and I love. When he writes his characters he used to write them as half ape and as half angel, which is probably what you could say about human beings generally. So I can tell you that I’ve never been an addict and I’ve never murdered anybody but I can still relate to Daniel Demoys.


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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Restricted Review: ‘Antigone’ - National Olivier Theatre - Sunday 10...

A more positive review from the Restricted Reviewer.
The Restricted Review: ‘Antigone’ - National Olivier Theatre - Sunday 10...: (Rated 4/5 ) And now I can genuinely give this production a higher score J (Please see my previous review of opening preview night.) ...

Friday, 1 June 2012