Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5

“I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing’s quite as wonderful as the things you see”

So as David Tennant’s Ten regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleven, Doctor Who also changed showrunner/lead writer/executive producer/oddjob man as Steven Moffat took over the reins from Russell T Davies. The pressure was on both to deliver – the relatively unknown Smith had low expectations, Moffat had sky-high ones due to his much-garlanded writing – and I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t. Smith revealed an impossibly ancient soul to his youthful frame with a Doctor unafraid to be as angrily dark as hyper-actively quirky. And Moffat constructed a complex series, introducing the depths of new companion Amy Pond slowly, and building to a multi-stranded timey-wimey finale that makes the head hurt just to think about it.

Elsewhere, the overused Daleks returned in multicoloured format, the Weeping Angels were much more successfully reprised in a stonking double-header, the Silurians also came back, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory grew in stature to become an effective second companion as opposed to a third wheel. Oh, and Helen McCrory stole the show, but then you knew I’d say that didn’t you 😉 Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5”

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!

“It’s because you love him too much”

So a slightly odd position to be in, as we saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 nearly 7 weeks ago at their first previews. And with the #keepthesecrets campaign already in full force then, I didn’t write up a review, opting instead for this preview of sorts. And even now, I’m loathe to write too much about it, for it really is the kind of play, and production, that benefits from the multiple elements of surprise contained within.

And it really is packed full of them, from all aspects. Based on an original new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Thorne’s play revels in the richness and full depth of the Harry Potter universe to the point where the named cast are described as playing “roles include…” so as not to spoil what’s to come. This does have the knock-on effect of making this a play not really suitable for newcomers but I can’t imagine too many of them will have booked! Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!”

Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace

“How is that even possible?!”

Well it’s finally here, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 have landed at the Palace Theatre in a blaze of insane publicity and media coverage desperate for a touch of that JK Rowling magic to drive web traffic. In some ways, I’m no different (hence this post!) but in one crucial way I do have the advantage – I’m one of the lucky audience members who has now seen both shows, along with the one and only scene-stealing appearance of Sprocket the owl.

It’s no secret that Rowling is asking people to #KeepTheSecrets and there’s always an interesting tension about whether or not one should observe an embargo when you’ve paid for your ticket (a whole £10 per show too, we weren’t going crazy!). So for now, I’m leaving you with this little collection of teasers about some of my favourite things from the show and be warned, they do increase in mild spoilerishness (mostly about staging, the final E is the one to avoid if you’re not sure…forgive me JK!). Continue reading “Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace”

TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1

“Some people say that heroes are born and some that they’re made” 

As Da Vinci’s Demons draws to a close and Game of Thrones fans have to wait until the end of April for Season 6 to start, ITV step into the big-budget historical fantasy genre with their 12-part serialisation of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. Created by James Dormer, Tim Haines and Katie Newman, Beowulf is based on the epic Old English poem set in the Dark Ages in Northumbria but spins its own fantasy world out of the source material, something that looks promising on the evidence of this first episode. 

With any new series, there’s a certain amount of setting up to be done in the first episode and Dormer’s writing does well to weave plenty of exposition into the story without weighing it down too much. After seeing his father killed by a fearsome beast which he then slaughters, the young Beowulf is adopted by the local thane Hrothgar. This is shown in a brief prologue as as the show starts proper, we’ve skipped a couple of decades ahead where Beowulf, long estranged from his family, returns to the frontier town of Herot to mourn Hrothgar’s passing.  Continue reading “TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2

“We are bound on a wheel on pain”

The first series of Penny Dreadful may not have been perfect but I really rather liked it and was glad to hear a second season had been commissioned. And when I discovered the triple whammy of Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale being promoted to series regulars, Billie Piper’s distracting Oirish brogue being excised and Patti LuPone appearing as a guest star, I was in heaven. Saving up the 10 episodes to binge-watch on holiday also worked well for me, ain’t technology grand!

Having established its world of gothic Victoriana, John Logan’s writing picks up some of the strands of the first series’ finale – the consequences of sometime-werewolf Ethan’s bloodbath being chased up by a tenacious policeman and Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation inspiring an unlikely love triangle. But it succeeds most by re-introducing McCrory’s Evelyn Poole as a series-long villain as the head of a witches coven and maker of some of the creepiest puppet dolls you have ever seen – it’s no secret I love her but this really is a career highlight for this most superb of actresses. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2”

Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre

“Governments fall, wars break out – there’ll be nothing left of this country”

Recent Croatian history forms the fascinating backdrop to Tena Štivičić’s 3 Winters, a multi-generational family drama that stretches across nearly 70 years and endless drama, both political and personal. From the 1945 establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that replaced the monarchy and promised a bright future, to its collapse in 1990 presaging both independence and the bitterly fought Balkan conflicts of that decade, and then on again to a 2011 that heralds another form of confederacy as Croatia enters into EU accession talks. Štivičić’s focus remains on a single household throughout but it can’t help but be influenced by the turbulence of the times.

That household is the Zagreb home of the Kos family, a plush place passed into their hands during the nationalisation of property at the end of the Second World War. So the residence that Monika previously served in becomes the house her daughter Rose moves into with her daughter Masha. Masha grows up to be a forthright wife and mother of two and as the clan gathers to celebrate the wedding of one of those daughters Lucia, years of frustrations and secrets and history and lies begin to uncoil as past events catch up with present actions. Štivičić takes her time to set up the play in a languorous first half but the pay off is intensely wielded after the interval. Continue reading “Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

 
Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).
 

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)”

Review: Birdland, Royal Court

“I literally have enough money to buy anything”

It was Scarlett Johansson wot did it. My over-riding thought as Simon Stephens’ Birdland built to its destructive climax was that the alien for Jonathan Glazer’s recent film Under The Skin had somehow infiltrated affairs. The viscous black liquid that surrounds Ian MacNeil’s set slowly rises to encroach on the ever-twisted world of tortured rockstar Paul, threatening to swallow him in its total embrace, an oblivion the man might truly welcome. But it is just a coincidence, although perhaps rooted in some conceptual similarity, there are no aliens here. Or Hollywood superstars.

Instead, Irish legend-in-the-making Andrew Scott plays a hugely successful musician who is on top of the world and coming to the end of going round the world on a huge tour. Whipped into a constant fervour by the corrosive side of celebrity, his personality has become so warped that he can, and does, demand anything he wants, and by and large gets it. Aside from making him a total f*cktard, especially where his best friend and bandmate’s girlfriend is concerned, it also symptomizes the deeper societal malaise of a corrupted capitalist mindset in all its exploitative ugliness. Continue reading “Review: Birdland, Royal Court”