Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2

“You are a curiosity”

American versions of Shakespeare (whether his plays or the man himself) are always worth looking up, even if only for a chuckle and new TNT TV series Will is certainly no exception. There’s some weight behind it – it was created by Craig Pearce, the longtime writing partner of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and has Shekhar Kapur, who directed the award-winning Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, directing and executive producing and in the role of the Bard himself, there’s a potentially star-making role for British newcomer Laurie Davidson.

I watched the first two episodes and they sure make an arresting introduction. You feel Luhrmann’s influence almost immediately as this is no antiquated version of a sedate Elizabethan London, but rather it is one shot through with bright colours and a punk-filled attitude. Literally so, as they have conceived the burgeoning theatre scene of the time as being akin to the contemporary(ish) world of punk rock – theatres filled with patrons in leather and mohicans, the soundtrack filled with the Clash and drunken singalongs to Lou Reed.  Continue reading “TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2”

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

“Tale as old as time”

It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.

Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis. Continue reading “Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

Re-reviews: Di and Viv and Rose / Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

 

“It was a ball, it was a blast
It was a shame it couldn’t last”

A half-term jaunt down to London for Aunty Jean saw us take in a couple of shows I was happy to revisit. I remain as affectionately inclined towards Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as I ever have done, its traditional bonhomie remains as watchable as ever and there’s just something comfortable about the whole affair which remains hard to resist. Even whilst not being Robert Lindsay’s biggest fan (seriously, is he being paid by the pelvic thrust?!) the shimmering star quality of Kat Kingsley and the affable appeal of Alex Gaumond more than compensate. And the bumbling charms of Ben Fox, the third Chief of Police since the show started – job security in Beaumont-Sur-Mer is clearly not strong 😉 – prove the ideal foil for Bonnie Langford’s knowingly charismatic Muriel.

And we also made a more-timely-than-we-realised trip to Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose which posted closing notices pretty much as we left the matinée. It feels a real shame as it is such a sprightly production of a sparkling play which certainly deserved better audiences but for whatever reason, it just didn’t connect. I’ve written more about the show on my three previous visits (link here) but I’d definitely recommend trying to catch it before it closes, not least for some of the most joyous dancing onstage (which forms the perfect counterbalance to My Night With Reg) and Jenna Russell’s glorious performance as the hugely-generous-of-spirit Rose. 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th March

Di and Viv and Rose
Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 14th March

Review: The Commitments, Palace

“The Irish are the blacks of Europe”

In the ongoing search for the perfect recipe for a West End musical, The Commitments has done better than most since opening last October. Here, a hot-shot director (Jamie Lloyd) has been mixed with material that has already been a book and a film (written by Roddy Doyle, directed by Alan Parker) and tinkers with the jukebox format (using iconic US soul classics) to create an engaging piece of entertainment. The main surprise comes with how little story there actually is – the premise is simply that young gun Jimmy Rabbitte decides to put a band together and that is pretty much it.

So in place of narrative twists and turns, we get the slick movement of Soutra Gilmour’s ingeniously inventive set design; instead of depth of character, there’s a wide-ranging songbook which gives everyone a turn on the mike or a chance to rock out a solo and thus express themselves through music. It’s a curious interpretation which takes a little time to really gel, the opening 20 minutes or so struggles to make its mark as there’s little music and the surprising thinness of Doyle’s writing is at its most exposed – for all the time Jimmy spends in his house, his ma gets an appallingly small amount to say. Continue reading “Review: The Commitments, Palace”

Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s

“Do you want to be part of the group, or do you want to be an individual?”

Telling the ‘origin story’ of the Beatles, how they paid their dues as a rock’n’roll covers band in Hamburg with their original line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe, Backbeat is actually less Beatles-centric than one might expect. The focus of the show, written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys from Softley’s 1994 film of the same name, is actually the relationship between original bassist and visual artist Stuart Sutcliffe and the two main figures in his life: best friend Lennon who teaches him guitar so that he can join the band on their trip and abandon art school, and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who falls passionately for him and recognises his true artistic potential.

It is this conflict that forms the backbone of the show – Sutcliffe struggling to balance his best friend and his lover, the band and his art – all underpinned by the knowledge that his cruel early death from a brain haemorrhage came just as the Beatles were about to hit the big time. And it is clear that these are the only really fully-fleshed characters in the show: Nick Blood’s achingly cool and handsome Sutcliffe strikes a magnetically seductive pose, connecting beautifully with Ruta Gedmintas’ coolly composed Astrid and sparking well with Andrew Knott’s bolshy, hero-worshipping Lennon. They make an intriguing threesome and in some ways it is a shame that the show doesn’t get to delve more deeply into these relationships, particularly between Sutcliffe and Lennon. Continue reading “Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s”

Review: Judgment Day, Almeida

“The train is coming…”

Judgment Day is a play by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth, which has been translated here at the Almeida theatre by Christoper Hampton. One of the first commissions after Michael Attenborough’s arrival as Artistic Director, Hampton has long been a champion of this writer and this is the first full production of this play in this country. Von Horváth wrote much of his anti-Nazi work in Germany in the 1930s, but opted to remain in the country to study the encroaching rise of Nazism, instead of fleeing like many of his compatriots such as Brecht.

It’s the story of Hudetz, a stationmaster of a small village who, distracted one evening by a popular local girl eager for a kiss, fails to make the necessary signal to a passing train causing a devastating fatal crash. The girl Anna then perjures herself to defend Hudetz as he seeks to escape justice, despite his unhappy wife also witnessing the events. We then see the effects of overwhelming grief on this pair as they struggle to carry on with their lives, exacerbated by the ever-changing moods of the townspeople, whose vicious, bigoted anger seems to be refocused with every new piece of gossip that comes their way. Continue reading “Review: Judgment Day, Almeida”