TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 4

Monica Dolan swearing and Ned Bennett directing Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni? Episode 4 of Unprecedented knocks it out of the park

“This is not like The Hunger Games”

After the bleakness of the third instalment, Episode 4 of Unprecedented reintroduces the note of variety that makes the enterprise work so well, with its collections of short plays responding to the ways in which society has had to change in response to lockdown and pandemicorama.

Deborah Bruce’s Kat and Zaccy looks at how children of divorced households have had to make huge decisions about who to hunker down with, and the consequences of those decisions. Monica Dolan and Alex Lawther play the fractious mother/son relationship perfectly as she shamelessly emotionally manipulates the situation as best to her advantage as she can. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 4”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3

Episode 3 of Unprecedented proves a bleak and brutal one-two of hard-hitting Covid drama

“I don’t see what good it does to worry, sitting around panicking”

Due to the (presumably intentional) programming, Part 1 and Part 2 of Unprecedented – Headlong and Century Films’ creative response to Coronavirus – found a sense of balance in their collections of short plays, tragicomic probably being the watchword. Episode 3 however goes all in on the tragedy, making it a pretty bleak half hour.

First up is Duncan Macmillan’s Grounded, directed by Jeremy Herrin, which takes aim at the generation gap and how that has dictated people’s response to the crisis. Katherine Parkinson’s event planner is wracked with job worries and concerns over her ability to home-school. But what really drives her over the edge is the casualness with which her retired parents are taking the whole affair, screaming into the ether as they amble on as if life hasn’t changed but at all. Alison Steadman and Michael Elwyn are excellent as the slightly daffy, devoted couple belatedly coming round to the seriousness of it all. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 3”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 2

The use of real-life couples makes Episode 2 of Unprecedented a very strong entry – superb work from Gemma Arterton, Arthur Darvill and Cecilia Noble among others

“I can be there for you, even from here”

Episode 2 of Unprecedented, Headlong and Century FIlm’s creative rapid-response to coronavirus definitely managed to take advantage of acting households, as husbands and wives abounded (Arthur Darvill and Inès De Clercq, Gemma Arterton and Rory Keenan, Olivia Williams and Rhashan Stone), offering up a different texture than just the single person shots that dominated the first episode. 

Tim Price’s Romantic Distancing, directed by Jeremy Herrin, was really rather swooningly lovely. Darvill and De Clercq playing a couple who’ve only been together for a couple of months and trying to work out if staying together, whilst isolating apart, is worth it. The switch into Once-style balladry worked beautifully for me and it’s kinda hard not to root for this pair. Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 2”

TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1

Episode 1 of Unprecedented features strong writing from James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly 

“It’s clear that everything’s going to be different…
and then again, I’m scared that things won’t be different”

It is with an admirable speed with which Headlong and Century Films have pulled together Unprecedented, a theatrical response to the impact of lockdown on society. Conceived, written, filmed and produced in lockdown, and now airing on BBC4, some of our most exciting playwright and a cast of over 50 really have pulled together impressively and this first instalment of three short plays is certainly promising.

Necessity is the mother of invention, or something, and so all three use digital conferencing technology in one way or another and if anything, there’s no bigger marker in the way that our relationships to each other have been altered than this. How many of us even knew what Zoom was in January? And between them, writers James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly deftly sketch some of these changes.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1”

The 2019 Ian Charleson Award nominees announced

The Ian Charleson Award celebrates performances by actors under 30 in a classical role and is dedicated to Scottish actor Ian Charleson, who died in 1990 aged just 40. Whilst I remain unconvinved that this is a category that merits special consideration, especially if it isn’t going to reach out to the fringes, it is still good to see a pleasing range of actors being recognised here.

Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo for Abosede in Three Sisters at the National Theatre

Hammed Animashaun for Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre

Kitty Archer for Mariane in Tartuffe at the National Theatre

Eben Figueiredo for Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac at Jamie Lloyd Company at the Playhouse

Heledd Gwynn for Hedda in Hedda Gabler at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff and Hastings and Ratcliffe in Richard III for Headlong

Isis Hainsworth for Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre

Ebony Jonelle for Rosalind in As You Like It for the National Theatre Public Acts/Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Ioanna Kimbook for Cariola in The Duchess of Malfi at the Almeida

Racheal Ofori for Udo in Three Sisters at the National Theatre

Billy Postlethwaite for Macbeth in Macbeth at the Watermill Theatre

Ekow Quartey for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe

Kit Young for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre

Review: The House They Grew Up In, Minerva

“This is not only your street with only your stories”

It’s always fascinating to get the opportunity to follow a playwright’s development in real time and so it has been with Deborah Bruce. From Godchild downstairs at the Hampstead (yes, a play written by a woman there!) to The Distance at the Orange Tree, later revived by Sheffield, and now to a Headlong co-production with Chichester, this is clearly a writer moving in the right direction.

The House They Grew Up In is a difficult play to watch though, a drama focused on reclusive siblings Daniel and Peppy whose hermit-like existence in their South-East London home sees them surrounded by the accumulated detritus of everything they’ve ever owned. The arrival of the inquisitive boy from next door, seeking refuge from his own problems, threatens the equilibrium they’ve constructed though, exposing it to severe outside scrutiny like never before. Continue reading “Review: The House They Grew Up In, Minerva”

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women’s theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I’m very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2017”

Review: Boys Will Be Boys, Bush Hall

“How do you enter a man’s world when you’ve got a vagina?”

 
The Bush Theatre may have closed its door as it undergoes a year-long renovation project to improve its accessibility and sustainability but in the meantime, it is stretching out its branches locally. And first up is Melissa Bubnic’s Boys Will Be Boys, playing a few minutes further down the Uxbridge Road at Bush Hall, an atmospheric Edwardian dance hall which has served time as a WWII soup kitchen and a bingo hall before transforming into an established music and cabaret venue.

Such an illustrious history seems ideal for this Headlong co-production, which blends in its own elements of cabaret and choreography alongside brilliant pianist Jennifer Whyte’s musical accompaniment. Which makes for a fascinating backdrop for Bubnic’s play about women in the City in which all the roles are played by women. So there’s women playing women, women playing men, and women playing women playing men at their own game. Continue reading “Review: Boys Will Be Boys, Bush Hall”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond

“People are not so dreadful when you know them”

And so to the second of three The Glass Menageries in a month for me. Ellen McDougall’s production for Headlong has already played extensive runs in Leeds and Liverpool before nipping down to Richmond and Warwick for a week each and I was glad of the opportunity to see this most intriguing of directors (Henry the Fifth, Idomeneus, Anna Karenina) take on Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play. With ‘a frustrated mother, a daughter lost in her imagination, and a son intent on rebellion’, all this family needs to tip it right over the edge is an inopportune visit from a gentleman caller.

Whereas Samuel Hodges layered up the Wingfields’ existence with a scrapbook full of video references and visual cues, McDougall goes the opposite way in stripping the play to its bare bones, excavating existence through bodies alone with minimal props. Fly Davis’ design suspends the black box of Tom’s mind above water in which naturally only he can paddle, a space in which his memories play out or are perhaps trapped, like the characters themselves. A staircase at the rear leads only into darkness, there’s no real escape possible from the drudgery of life with all its anecdotes repeated ad nauseam.  Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond”

Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre

“You can’t do karaoke unless you’re part of the group”

Oh expectation, you fickle thing – so easily built up and yet so easily dashed. Headlong’s last visit to the National Theatre saw Lucy Prebble’s The Effect brought to powerfully moving life and recently revived so devastatingly effectively in Sheffield, it was still fresh in my mind. So perhaps foolishly, Duncan MacMillan’s People, Places and Things had a lot to live up in my mind but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re a theatre addict – you just have admit that you’re powerless over theatre and that your life has become unmanageable.

Entering a 12-step program is all well and good but how to identify the exact nature of the wrongs, defects of character and shortcomings that help on the way to recovery? How to make amends to the people who have been harmed? Here’s where this tortured analogy will die a death as I can’t make it work, and it is turning out a little harsh against this production. That said, I really wasn’t a fan despite some sterling work from Denise Gough and spotted at least three people making a run for it before we broke for the interval.  Continue reading “Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre”