Review: Twilight Song, Park

 “It’s hard isn’t it”

Completed shortly before his death in 2014, Kevin Elyot’s Twilight Song now belatedly receives its premiere courtesy of the Park Theatre. The play doesn’t emerge as one of his strongest though, the shadow of the excellent My Night With Reg lingers long over the scant 75 minutes here and you’re left wondering just how completed the play was – would it have benefitted from another turn or two in the development mangle after its initial run.

Twilight Song finds itself split between the present day and the 1960s, looking at the relationship between homosexualist Barry, his mother Isabella and his wider family. From his boyhood when decriminalisation was just around the corner but still too late for a closeted uncle, to his present day where sexual liberation hasn’t prevented him from frustrated singledom, we see how individual happiness doesn’t necessarily follow societal change no matter your sexuality or generation. Continue reading “Review: Twilight Song, Park”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

In his first season as artistic director of Theatre N16, Scott Ellis presents a slew of new writing.
 
Olympilads by Andrew Maddock, produced by Lonesome Schoolboy and directed by Niall Phillips, reunites the team that presented He(art) at Theatre N16 earlier this year. Theatre N16 executive director (and former artistic director) Jamie Eastlake will present his new show Deadline Day by John Hickman and Steve Robertson: a bitter sweet tale about football, greed and the North-South divide.
 
Ten emerging artists debut a selection of original and varied works exploring feminism today in Maiden Speech: A festival of fresh feminist voices. Theatre N16 will also produce a new play by Sarah Milton, directed by Scott Ellis.

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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: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

 

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

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Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

Short Film Review #39

WOW 2014 – A Day In Detention

 

Not a short film as such, but utterly essential. The Women of the World Festival took place at the Southbank Centre in early March and A Day In Detention was part of that event. A piece of verbatim theatre pulled together by Nell Leyshon and directed by Jessica Swale, it looks at varying experiences of refugee women in the UK asylum system with an unblinking eye and a near-shocking straightforwardness. The harsh reality of what they are forced to go through, after escaping untold horrors in their own country, is appallingly bleak but there’s a beautiful dignity to the way in which their stories are told, both in the way they have been captured and also in the stunning performances of Juliet Stevenson, Bryony Hannah and an unbearably moving Cush Jumbo.

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Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre

“I’d be surprised if part of the audience didn’t feel alienated”

A dissection of “what it means to be a woman today”, Blurred Lines is a devised piece currently occupying the Shed, created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell and the result of improvisation and experimentation with the cast of eight women. The show utilises text (effectively), poetry (interestingly) and songs (less than successfully) woven together into a patchwork piece of theatre. Naturally, the end result is somewhat uneven and it was hard not to feel that the almost scattershot approach mutes the overall impact of the work as the attention flashes from moment to moment. 

For me, the strongest sequences were the ones bookending the show, which comes in at a snappy 70 minutes straight through. A roll call of the stereotypical depictions of women in the cultural sphere speaks with the unassailable truth that has undoubtedly dogged the careers of everyone here, reinforcing the narrative about the paucity of decent roles for women. And a blistering final segment challenges a patriarchal actor/director relationship, asking searing questions about what we all may have been conditioned to find acceptable.  Continue reading “Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre”

Not-a-Review: Rough Cuts – Searched, Royal Court

“He opened his laptop and didn’t like what he saw”

The second part of the Royal Court’s 2013 Rough Cuts mini-season based around the internet, was a work-in-progress from EV Crowe named Searched. I hadn’t initially intended to see this play as Crowe really provoked my ire with her last play Hero, it still annoys me to think of it now, but once the cast was announced I knew I would be powerless to resist. And whilst I might have preferred a little more cooling off time and a slightly more appropriate environment, I find it is always good to test one’s preconceptions and so I was willing to give a second chance to the young playwright.

Since this was a work-in-progress, workshopped by Crowe, the company and director Carrie Cracknell over the last 10 days, I won’t say too much about it, save to mention that it really is a pleasure to be able to see such great actors up close and personal in such an early stage of a project, even with script in hand there’s a genuine openness to the performances, a freshness to the acting which is great to see.  Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Rough Cuts – Searched, Royal Court”