Re-review: The Distance, Orange Tree

“I’ve just had a text from Lewisham council”

I hadn’t intended to revisit Deborah Bruce’s The Distance but a quick re-read of my review from its original production at the Orange Tree last year reminded me how much I enjoyed it (even beyond the thrill of seeing Helen Baxendale on stage for the first time). This new co-production between the Richmond venue and Sheffield Theatres sees director Charlotte Gwinner remount the show with a largely new cast but still a keen sense for the darkly comic edge of the writing.

It remains as freshly sharp in its views on modern parenthood as ever, pointing up the hypocrisy of a society that blithely looks on by if a man leaves his family but is aghast should a mother do the same. And as a shell-shocked Bea returns alone from her adoptive Australia to the bosom of her best friends Kate and Alex , both parents themselves, back in Blighty, everyone’s preconceptions, personalities and peccadilloes are challenged. Continue reading “Re-review: The Distance, Orange Tree”

TV Review: From Darkness, BBC1

“Fat, embittered, heavy-drinking, middle-aged male detective. Do you know how much of a cliché that is”

Part of Anne-Marie Duff’s triple-fronted return to prominence (cf Suffragette and Husbands and Sons), BBC1 drama From Darkness sees her take the lead in the psychological crime drama from Katie Baxendale. Running away from unhappiness, former police constable Claire Church has made a new life for herself on a remote Scottish island with the ruggedly handsome Norrie and his daughter but the revival of a decades-old case inexorably draws her back to the darkness to longs to flee.

Trying to skewer traditional notions of female victimhood in crime dramas, Baxendale curiously opts for a storyline based on the serial killings of prostitutes and never really manages to put enough clear water between From Darkness and others in the genre. And tied up as it is with trying to explore the repercussions of letting fear overwhelm us, the show can’t quite overcome its desire to slot into the fairly conventional strictures of your standard police procedural with all its daft contrivances.

So despite being retired from the force, Duff’s pill-popping Church is soon rattling around as if she owns the place and the investigation, under the instigation of Johnny Harris’ conflicted DCI Hind with his own troubled past intimately connected to Claire’s. Luke Newberry’s green DS Boyce offers a much-needed measure of comic relief, his Oxbridge nature ill-suited to the realities of Greater Manchester policing and Caroline Lee-Johnson’s coldly efficient Superintendent is ace at just getting shit done.

Continue reading “TV Review: From Darkness, BBC1”

Review: Sunspots, Hampstead Downstairs

“Am I supposed to take abuse from people who don’t know how to fasten a herring?”

I hadn’t clocked I’d seen one of David Lewis’ plays before – Seven Year Twitch at the Orange Tree back in 2013 – and to be honest, if I had, I might not have gone to see his latest one. His writing is very much in the style of television sitcoms that I don’t watch and so whilst they have a definite appeal for some, his plays don’t instinctively rock my world. And so it was with this trip to the Hampstead’s downstairs theatre to see Sunspots.

Described as an offbeat romantic comedy (with the emphasis on ‘off’), there’s actually as much of a family drama here too as adult siblings are reunited in the family home after their father’s death. Recently out Joe has come back from California, Clare only ever moved a short distance away whilst the youngest, Tom, had already moved back due to crises of employment and passing the time watching attractive neighbour Lola through his dad’s telescope. Continue reading “Review: Sunspots, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room

“My life no longer has any shape to it”

It was perhaps a little bit of a surprise when the Print Room announced their latest show to be Chekhov’s classic Uncle Vanya, the relatively new theatre having previously concentrated on lesser-known works by playwrights. But any doubts should be seriously allayed by this intimately atmospheric production which utilises a new version by Mike Poulton to lend a fresh dynamic to this tale of corrosive inaction.

Vanya has spent much of his life attending to the affairs of his former brother-in-law Professor Serebryakov, sequestered in a household of misfits in the Russian countryside. But when the professor turns up with his new much younger wife, Vanya is provoked into a period of gloomy self-reflexiveness as he faces up to how much of his life he has wasted. The new arrivals also cause havoc for other residents of the estate as ultimately everyone is forced to confront what might have been. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room”

Review: Serenading Louie, Donmar Warehouse

“I don’t think I was in love with him then, but I’m in love with him then…now”

Serenading Louie by American writer Lanford Wilson is the latest play to hit the Donmar Warehouse. Set in 1970s Chicago, it’s a tale of two college friends who are now in their 30s, struggling to maintain their dreams in the face of marriages and jobs that haven’t necessarily lived up to their expectations.

As one would expect from the Donmar, the acting is first-rate. I particularly loved Geraldine Somerville’s sparky Mary, possessed of the best lines in the show (careful if you attend a dinner party with her!) the most poignant of all being the one at the top of the review, the delivery of which is almost worth the entry price alone. And Jason O’Mara as her husband Alex was a minefield of emotion just bubbling under in a tightly restrained performance which also impressed. Jason Butler Harner and Charlotte Emerson have less interesting (and more annoying) parts but both did well. Continue reading “Review: Serenading Louie, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Thérèse Raquin, National Theatre

Thérèse Raquin was originally a novel by Emile Zola but he adapted it into a play himself, though the version that is being put on here by Marianne Elliott at the National Theatre is one by Nicholas Wright, who worked absolute wonders translating Philip Pullman’s epic His Dark Materials trilogy into one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. The story follows the doomed antics of a couple embroiled in an adulterous affair and the devastating consequences of not being able to live with what they’ve done.

Maybe it was a consequence of not knowing the novel rather than it being a weakness of the play, but I didn’t like the fact that we entered the story at the mid-point, so that the love triangle had already mostly played out with Thérèse already tumbled for Laurent and Grivet cuckolded. I wanted to see more of this build-up to get a better sense of the characters and their motivations: as it was, I didn’t really believe in the erotic drive between the lovers, nor saw the side to the husband that forced such a dark decision as the one they carried out. Having to accept all this as a fait accompli and making the focus of the play the moral reaction to their dastardly deed felt slightly skewiff to me and this I didn’t much care for it, or them. Continue reading “Review: Thérèse Raquin, National Theatre”