TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

Review: Incognito, HighTide

“Imagine how liberating it would be not to remember who you were”

If you saw the mega-hit that was Nick Payne’s Constellations, then the fragmented structure of his new play Incognito will come as little surprise. Here, he has deconstructed three stories loosely connected around the theme of neurology and woven them back together in a searching meditation on the vital importance memory plays in our lives and also in the construction of our very selves and touching on how little we truly understand about it.

Payne riffs off historical events for two of the three strands – the bizarre theft of Albert Einstein’s brain by the man who performed the autopsy on him, and the pioneering experiences of Henry Maison who underwent experimental brain surgery and thus helped shape the future of neuroscience. Along with extended and embellished versions of both stories is the tale of Martha, a present-day clinical neuropsychologist also caught in a moment of mental fragility. Continue reading “Review: Incognito, HighTide”

Review: Purple Heart, Gate Theatre

“Why would I need to hurt myself?”

The scabrous humour of Bruce Norris’ last play Clybourne Park was a huge success seeing a West End transfer from the Royal Court and a clean sweep of drama awards on both sides of the Atlantic. He returns to the Royal Court very soon with The Low Road but the Gate Theatre has mounted a revival of his 2002 play Purple Heart. Set in an anonymous Midwestern city, a family struggles to rebuild their lives after the death of Gene, a soldier in the Vietnam War, the impact of such a terrible loss affecting his mother, his wife and his son in different ways.

Norris dissects the complexity of grief on the different members of this family with his customary excoriating insight, challenging what society deems to be the correct emotional responses with the unconventional Carla. Rejecting the conventional tropes of mourning, the generic platitudes and proffered casseroles from oppressively well-meaning neighbours, she lounges in her dressing gown, swigging as much booze as she can. But there’s little escape at home – her son Thor is acting out on his increasingly violent imagination and mother-in-law Grace is relentless with her forced good cheer barely masking a concern or propriety. It is takes the arrival of a stranger at the door, a veteran with his own agenda and a box of doughnuts, to really shake up the broken dynamic of this family. Continue reading “Review: Purple Heart, Gate Theatre”

Review: Medea, Watford Palace

“I am a modern woman, exploring my options, making a decision”

Mike Bartlett’s Medea initially seems a world away from Euripides’ original. With a new version written for Headlong and directed by himself, Bartlett transplants Rachael Stirling’s Medea into stultifying Home Counties suburbia, vibrantly captured by Ruari Murchison’s set. In this small town where her husband Jason grew up, she has long been viewed as a too proud outsider and when he leaves her for the much younger daughter of their landlord, she sinks into a deep and angry depression. Her wrath is all-consuming, pushing even her maternal instincts aside as she barely engages with her son Tom, left mute since his father departed, in her relentless pursuit for vengeance.

Even before she arrives onstage, Stirling’s presence dominates proceedings like a threatening storm cloud. Her eyes flashing with coruscating wit and scarcely concealed contempt for those around her, even the making of cups of tea feels like a declaration of war as she seethes with rage at what her life has become. There’s a brutally blunt humour to her, especially in her interactions with those neighbours – Lu Corfield’s compassionate Sarah and Amelia Lowdell’s sharper Pam – but there’s also traumatic emotional damage, eye-wateringly evinced in a highly disturbing kitchen scene. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Watford Palace”