TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1

I turn to a rewatch of Jonathan Creek to get me through Week 2 of Lockdown #2 and enjoy the freshness of the first series

“No one could have killed your husband and then left this room”

Starting in 1997 and memorably co-opting Saint-Saëns’ renowned ‘Danse Macabre’ for its theme tune, mystery crime thriller Jonathan Creek occupies a happy place in my TV memories, so I was a little hesitant at first in case it didn’t match up to how I remembered.

From cracking seemingly impenetrable alibis, to working out how to escape a nuclear bunker, to locked room mysteries of all sorts, it turns out David Renwick’s writing holds up rather well. The plotting is sufficiently twisty that it is nigh on impossible to figure out who and certainly howdunnit and I remembered none of the important details so it was like watching it anew. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3

It’s all change at Thames House as Series 3 of Spooks sees the original core team leave the security service one way or another 

“We cannot have another Tom Quinn”

I’d forgotten just monumental this series of Spooks was, as first Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom took his leave after getting a conscience, then Keeley Hawes’ Zoe was shunted off to Chile to evade justice and then David Oyelowo’s Danny shuffled off this mortal coil thanks to bloody Fiona and an annoyed Iraqi terrorist. Rupert Penry-Jones was drafted in as Adam, a friendly MI6 type who fits the Tom mould perfectly, though we could have done without his wife (more of that anon).

But even besides all the personnel shifting, the writing is shit-hot in this season, especially when the focus is on the morality of security service actions. Targeted assassinations on North Sea ferries, honeytrapping members of the Turkish mafia, these are meaty issues with some real consequences for all concerned. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Now firmly established in the team, attention turns to her trying to get some, in the most Ruth-like possible way, ie stalking someone illegally and sharing a carbonara with a traitorous ex-colleague, this is prime Ruth territory. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3”

Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre

Katharine Parkinson is simply superb in Laura Wade’s excellent new play Home, I’m Darling at the National Theatre

“That’s what a feminist looks like?”

What price a domestic goddess? When the chance of voluntary redundancy came up, finance worker Judy took it and with her husband Johnny, chose to indulge their mutual passion for all things 1950s by becoming a period-perfect housewife. She’s soon whipping up devilled eggs and chocolate chiffon cakes to have dinner on the table when he gets in, running his baths, pouring his drinks, getting his slippers, an idyllic picture of what marriage used to be like.

But pictures can conceal the truth and as Judy decants supermarket-bought milk into glass bottles, shoves letters into the cupboard under the sink and fixes a rictus grin on her face, it isn’t clear that picture-perfect doesn’t exist. Such is the world of Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling, a co-production between Theatr Clywd and the National Theatre, which probes incisively away at domestic politics, female choice and the wisdom of gin and lime. Continue reading “Review: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love

“Theatre is the handmaiden of the devil”

With a theatrical version of Shakespeare in Love about to open in the West End, I thought I’d revisit the 1998 film as I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen it since it was first released. It is still surprising to see that it managed to win seven Academy Awards and whilst I like both Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench, looking at their competition it is a little galling to think that they were recognised for these roles. And in the light of the huge authorship furore that erupted around Anonymous, it is interesting to see how little comparable fuss the level of invention here caused.

 
To be fair, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s film makes no pretence to be literarily or historically accurate (given the paucity of source material, it’s hardly surprising) but because the approach here is a hugely affectionate one towards the Bard, rather than challenging popular notions about him, it is clear something of a free pass has been given here. So we see Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare working on a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and being inspired by the everyday chatter and the tumult of his personal life to amend the play and write his famous words.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love”

Review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre

“He’s such an insensitive git. Loves having a go at you lefties.”

What price a laugh? How far should the boundaries of taste be pushed to achieve comic objectives? And how complicit are we in wanting to find things funny? Simon Paisley Day’s play Raving sets out its unreconstructed stall early on from its first dubious gay jokes to the co-opting of the phrase ‘batty boy’ which garnered a disturbing number of titters from the Hampstead Theatre audience. But putting the tastes of the audience to one side, this actor-turned-playwright hits on the nose across the spectrum – post-natal depression and something perilously close to sexual abuse are used as joke-filled hooks on which to hang his farcical machinations and for a play with pretensions of being a contemporary comedy, it just doesn’t fly.

Paisley Day’s premise is the stuff of a many a sitcom. Three middle class London couples rock up at a cottage for a weekend away in deepest Wales but instead of leaving their troubles behind, chaos erupts on a near-hourly basis. Briony and Keith are having their first break away from son Finn, their first three years of parenthood not having proved easy; über-perfect Ross and Rosy live what appears to be a charmed life, only a constant stream of au pairs causing a minor wrinkle; and last minute additions Charles and Serena are the embodiment of blithe hooray-Henryness, in possession of an anarchically raucous teenage niece who further stirs the pot once a drug and alcohol-fuelled rave is discovered in a neighbouring field. Continue reading “Review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: The Captain of Köpenick, National Theatre

“Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made”

‘Released after fifteen years in prison, trapped in a bureaucratic maze, petty criminal Wilhelm Voigt wanders 1910 Berlin in desperate, hazardous pursuit of identity papers. Luck changes when he picks up an abandoned military uniform in a fancy-dress shop and finds the city ready to obey his every command. At the head of six soldiers, he marches to the Mayor’s office, cites corruption and confiscates the treasury with ease. But still what he craves is official recognition that he exists.’

It is probably cheating to use the official synopsis of a play wholesale like this but to be honest, I couldn’t care less after suffering the bloated self-satisfaction of The Captain of Köpenick at the National Theatre. An adaptation by Ron Hutchinson of a 1930s German satire by Carl Zuckmayer, it is a heavy-handed, ploddingly-laboured, fatally-misjudged confection which throws everything plus the kitchen sink into the Olivier but for shockingly low returns. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th April 

Review: Publish and Be Damn’d – The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson / Philip and Sydney, Radio 4

“What next, dear reader?”

Every time I think I won’t bother listening to any more radio productions, something irresistible pops up and so it was last week when the first part of Publish and Be Damn’d – The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson was on Radio 4, with Nancy Carroll in the leading role and Charles Edwards and Anna Francolini among the supporting cast. A real life memoir of a scandalous courtesan from the early 19thcentury, Wilson’s was probably one of the first tell-all books which laid bare the shenanigans and proclivities of much of the ruling patriarchal elite and proved to be a bestselling hit with a public who lapped up its details voraciously.

Adapted most effectively here by Ellen Dryden, Carroll takes on the role of Wilson as both narrator and agent within the stories she tells which means we get huge amounts of her mellifluously beautiful voice and acres of gorgeous characterisation as Harriette negotiates the step from lover to lover, adroitly managing the simultaneous social climb but not always able to keep her emotions from being bruised. She’s also an excellently charismatic narrator, her matter-of-fact-ness about her lack of writing experience deliciously conversational. Continue reading “Review: Publish and Be Damn’d – The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson / Philip and Sydney, Radio 4”

Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre

“I’m sick of this rigmarole”

Danton’s Death, the 1835 play about the French Revolution by Georg Büchner, marks an impressive brace of debuts: Toby Stephens making his first bow on the stage here in the title role and Michael Grandage, Artistic Director of the Donmar, making his directorial debut here on the South Bank. Setting up in the Olivier theatre for the summer, it is part of the Travelex season so there’s been plenty of £10 seats available. This was the first preview that I saw, I acknowledge this freely but stand by everything I say here.

The story is set in 1794, a period between the first and the second terrors during the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety has been set up in the name of the revolutionary new order and is summarily executing people whether the accusations against them are true or not. Its creator, Georges Danton, has come to regret his part in the genesis of something responsible for the killings of so many people and has been shocked at the way in which the revolution has been increasingly radicalised. His former friend and colleague Robespierre is at the head of this new faction leading the way and when Danton makes a stand for what he sees as too much, the stage is set for an almighty power struggle between the two political rivals. Continue reading “Review: Danton’s Death, National Theatre”

Review: The Real Thing, Old Vic

“There’s something scary about stupidity made coherent”
 

Consistency or stuck in a rut? Once again, the Old Vic presents a play set firmly in the 80s and advertised by posters featuring giant up-close portraits of its leading stars. Not knowing anything about The Real Thing did not prevent me from eagerly booking tickets when it was announced though, especially since I had loved Arcadia last year and the early casting news of Toby Stephens and Hattie Morahan filled me with joy. Described on the promotional material as an examination of the complex nature of love, art and reality and also as a modern classic, you’d think you couldn’t go wrong here, but how wrong I was to think that this would be the real thing for me though.

Set in London in the (early?) 80s, Henry is a successful playwright, married to his current leading lady but having an affair with another actress for whom he leaves his wife. He then ends up questioning whether this new marriage is indeed the ‘real thing’ but these issues extend to his professional life too as the question is continually posed about what is the most real, experiencing it for oneself or being able to write beautifully about it, even if it is happening to other people, ‘it’ ultimately being interchangeable for both art and love. It’s a bit tricksy in its format as one might expect from Mr Stoppard so you do need to pay attention from the outset. Continue reading “Review: The Real Thing, Old Vic”