TV Review: Fleabag Series 2

Flying against the wind with this I know, but the second series of Fleabag leaves me rather cold…

“I think you’ve played with my guinea pig long enough”

I’m not sure why I’ve never succumbed to the Fleabag love that has swept the nation. Whether onstage or on screen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s magnus opus has never quite done it for me but what do I know – the return of the show, to a West End theatre no less, sold out quickly and the column inches about this second series of the TV show have been mounting up.

And ever the contrarian, this follow-up hasn’t really tickled my fancy either. The one thing that I think it did brilliantly was in its use of the fourth wall, particularly how Andrew Scott’s hot vicar was able to see through it for the loneliness avoidance technique it was and for pure storytelling, I thought it worked very well in terms of humanising a character who has always been rather arch. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag Series 2”

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”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”

TV Review: Fleabag

“I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist”

I left it a little while to watch Fleabag on television, for though Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ascension to the ranks of hugely buzzworthy writer has been pleasing to watch, I haven’t – dare I say it – always been the hugest fan of her work. For me, the effectiveness of her writing hasn’t always matched with the audacity of its frankness and so in her plays and TV shows like Crashing, I’ve admired the path she’s taking without hugely enjoying it.

Her breakthrough piece Fleabag equally didn’t hit my buttons in the way that it did for many others, thus my delay in getting round to watching it. And as is often the case with lowered expectations, it actually surprised me by being a very effective adaptation of the play. Its world has been expanded, both physically and personally, a whole cast of supporting characters now appear but crucially, there’s the thing I was missing most at the Soho – direct eye contact.

Fleabag rides on its confessional style and on screen, Waller-Bridge and director Harry Bradbeer nail it, direct asides giving us piecemeal insight into the trials and tribulations of this young woman struggling to make life in London work. Afraid of being a bad feminist and unafraid of her sexuality, desperately damaged by the death of her best friend and unable to connect with her family in a meaningful way, the piece is thoroughly enlivened and enriched by its treatment on screen. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag”

DVD Review: Richard III (1995)

“I am not made of stone”

The boldness of Shakespearean adaptation can be a car crash when it goes wrong but when it is right, as in this 1995 version of Richard III, it is utterly thrilling. From the crashing of a tank through walls and subsequent gory executions into the jaunty sway of 1930s music, Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s idiosyncratic reshaping of the story, first seen at the NT in 1992, is cannily and compellingly done. And because it has been done well, one is far more inclined to grant the liberties that have been taken with the text, because they’re reasoned and reasonable.

Relocated to a parallel version of 1930s Britain in which years of civil war has bred fascism, Richard of York’s rise to power has never seemed quite so chilling as it does here. An ingenious use of British landmarks put to different use cleverly disorients the audience but never so much that it seems too far beyond belief. So Battersea Power Station becomes a coastal military base, St Pancras is substituted for Westminster, and the visuals are just stunning throughout, culminating in a genuinely breath-taking rally.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Richard III (1995)”

TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4

“This after all has been a very careful election” 

A fascinating experiment from James Graham and Josie Rourke, The Vote was a “play for theatre and television” which after two weeks of performances at the Donmar Warehouse – for which you had to enter a ballot for tickets – aired live on More4 at the very moment that it was set, the night of the UK general election. I wasn’t one of the lucky few in the ballot and am rarely inclined to dayseat (though I know several people who managed it) so I’ve only just got around to catching up with it on All4 (formerly 4OD) where it is on for another couple of weeks.

I’m glad I did get to see it as it is very funny and pulled together an extraordinary cast, the vast majority of whom spend mere moments onstage. Graham’s play focuses on the trials and tribulations of a South London polling station in the 90 minutes before voting closes and though there’s a farcical plot that holds the play together in the larger sense, the real joy comes in the microstories of the various voters who come in to exercise their democratic right as best they see fit. Drunks losing their polling cards, giddy lesbians brandishing selfie sticks, teenagers asking Siri who to vote for, all amusing slices of life are represented by a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much as the audience. Continue reading “TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1

“We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world and the jury will get it right”

I do love me a good crime/legal procedural on the television (see North Square, The Jury, Murder One, Damages) but I rarely have the time to watch everything I want to these days and the BBC series Criminal Justice is one of the ones that slipped through the cracks. It has sat on my Lovefilm queue for ages and after a conversation about Ben Whishaw with one of his fans, I decided to finally get round to watching both the series on DVD.

Predictably, I loved it. Written by Peter Moffat (who also penned North Square), it is a five episode trek through one person’s journey through the various stages of the criminal justice system. The 2008 first series starred the aforementioned Whishaw as Ben Coulter, an aspiring footballer who finds himself accused of murder after a drink and drug-fuelled night out with a girl who ends up stabbed to death whilst Ben struggles to remember any of the details of what actually happened. And so from interview rooms in the police station to failed bail appeals and prison cells and then the subsequent court case, Ben’s experience at the hands of the system is thrillingly portrayed.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1”

Review: The Low Road, Royal Court

“You do compete for the good opinion of society, do you not?”

*This review is a bit spoilerific so don’t read on if you don’t want aspects of the play, and others, to be revealed to you* 

When people ask me to describe the plot of a play, I almost always end it with “…and then the aliens arrive” because that’s the way my mind works and generally speaking, it’s a safe assumption that the playwright won’t have gone there. So imagine my surprise when they actually arrived in the second act of Salad Days, it was like all my Christmases at once and because of the daffy silliness of the whole shebang, it was able to pull it off. Working in similarly offbeat surprises into straight drama is perhaps a more difficult job though and one which arguably has to work harder to make a success of it.

The scope of Bruce Norris’ new play The Low Road would seem to preclude the need for such an approach. A sprawlingly epic trawl through the growth of our (western) economic system told through the fable-like tale of Jim, an entrepreneurial young man roaming through an 18th century America whose single-minded financial knowledge and ambition prefigures the capitalist mind-set that is so familiar to us today. A post-interval modern-day interlude draws explicit parallels and connections between the actions and attitudes of now and then to reinforce its main thesis about the triumph of individualism. Oh, and there’s an epilogue. Continue reading “Review: The Low Road, Royal Court”

DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (1)

“If I’d known we were being invited to an orgy, I’d’ve stopped in Burnley”

This set of adaptations of six of The Canterbury Tales from 2003 make an interesting if baffling set of TV films. Taking inspiration from Chaucer’s writings and setting them in modern-day contexts, six different writers were chosen to try and find a happy medium between remaining true to the spirit of the originals and also making them accessible for a modern day audience not necessarily familiar with them. As I fall into that latter category (I’ve seen a theatrical adaptation but have never read them), my observations can only really thus reflect the tales as pieces of television in and of themselves rather than as the adaptations that they also are. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that disc 1 is significantly superior to disc 2.

First up was Peter Bowker’s take on The Miller’s Tale where Dennis Waterman’s publican runs his establishment with his attractive and much younger wife Alison. Played by Billie Piper, she lives for the weekly karaoke nights that she dominates and when a mysterious and charming stranger played by James Nesbitt arrives claiming to be a talent scout, her head is filled with promises of what could be. Nesbitt’s charisma serves him well as the silver-tongued Nick who schemes his way into the affections and purses of many around him, but this is a Piper still growing into her acting style and against Waterman’s dour husband, it never really grabbed me as a story.   Continue reading “DVD Review: The Canterbury Tales (1)”