TV Review: Quiz

James Graham’s Quiz makes a marvellous leap from stage to screen

“People still want to gather as a nation, to experience something big together”

Not a huge amount to say about the TV adaptation of James Graham’s Quiz, a show I enjoyed in the West End, not least because of its interactive elements (even if we lost). It bloomed in the televisual treatment, losing a little of its structural intricacy but gaining a narrative through-line that really worked, the explosive arrival of Helen McCrory’s QC making it worth the while. And the story remains as intriguing as ever, though just as free from doubt for me.

They totally did it, right – the Ingrams may have been stitched up in court by the tinkered-with evidence (and credit to Matthew Mcfadyen and Sian Clifford for two excellent performances) – but they totally did it.  Fun to see cameos like Paul Bazeley’s Lionel from Legal and Maggie Service’s Kerry the Floor Manager, and original cast members like Sarah Woodward and Keir Charle too.

Review: Abigail’s Party / Abi, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Atiha Sen Gupta’s response piece Abi make for a stirring double bill at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

“Of all the decades to stuck in, the 1970s, really?!”

Yes sir, she can boogie. Rights issues may mean that Donna Summer has been replaced with Baccara but as Melanie Gutteridge’s Beverly shimmies around her front room, there’s a beautiful lightness and freedom to her that we never get to see again. For the neighbours are coming round, and her husband’s running late, and she’s no lagers in – the lot of a suburban social-climbing hostess sure ain’t an easy one, but not even she could predict how this evening will turn out.

Mike Leigh’s 1977 play Abigail’s Party is surely to be considered a British classic. And as it is set in Romford, it makes great sense for Douglas Rintoul to stage it at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch (in co-production with Derby Theatre, Wiltshire Creative and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg). And if there is a slight sense of reverence to this production – there are no great departures from the original – there’s something extremely satisfying in seeing it receive such loving treatment as here.  Continue reading “Review: Abigail’s Party / Abi, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: Our Town, Almeida

“The morning star always get wonderful bright the minute before it has to go”

Some images sear themselves into the mind, never to be forgotten and for me, the staging of the third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was such a one – something so simply done yet achingly powerful in effect, all the more so given it isn’t immediately apparent. And after Mr Burns, it is the second time in three plays that the Almeida has delivered a doozy of a third act – one can’t help but feel sorry (or laugh) at the doofuses that left at any of the intervals.

It is interesting to see the strength of the reactions to David Cromer’s version of this show – in the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford decries it as glib, desultory and that final act as smug(!) and Jake Orr dismissed it thus Continue reading “Review: Our Town, Almeida”

DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

“Your alliance would be a disgrace”

This six-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has gone down in history as one of the most iconic TV programmes ever, its cultural breakthrough into the mainstream taking everyone by surprise and spearheading something of a revival in period dramas. For me though, my abiding memory remains watching a documentary some years later and hearing adaptor Andrew Davies saying that the stage direction he wrote for Colin Firth, for when Darcy meets Elizabeth after she has rushed over to see her ailing sister, was “Darcy is surprised to get an erection”.

Smut aside, it is a strikingly well done piece of work though, Luxuriating over 6 hour-long instalments, it allows for the slow-burn of the central relationship which makes this version of the story really work, Firth and Jennifer Ehle so incredibly well-matched that their every interaction is scintillatingly drawn as mutual antipathy turns to mutual admiration amidst the various family dramas of the Bennetts, Wickhams, Collins et al. His brooding looks and engagingly smooth voice and her keenly intelligent eyes with her delightful pragmatism are utterly engaging. Continue reading “DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)”

Review: The Hired Man, Mercury

“You take yourself with you, wherever you go”

Sampling the best musical theatre that this country has to offer can prove to be a time-consuming business as it is increasingly the case that some of the best work is being done by theatres outside of London. Sheffield, Chichester and Leicester have all made it onto my theatres that I regularly visit now and after this stellar in-house production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man (in a co-production with Leicester’s Curve), it seems that Colchester’s Mercury Theatre might be joining that list.

It helps that the show can lay claim to being one of the best new British musicals of recent decades – Goodall’s sweeping, folk-tinged score marries strikingly with Melvyn Bragg’s book, based on his own novel inspired by the tough life of his grandfather in the Cumbrian hills, and what results is a work of hugely elegiac beauty. Stretching from 1989 through to 1921, The Hired Man covers a definitive period of British history in depicting the often grim realities of life in the more rural areas of the country at a time of great social and economic upheaval.  Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Mercury”

DVD Review: She Stoops to Conquer, Out of Joint/NT

“My chief aim is to take my gentleman off his guard”

This DVD of the 2003 Out of Joint/National Theatre co-production of She Stoops to Conquer has lingered in my to-watch pile for a wee while now, as the memory of the current Jamie Lloyd production at the National has remained strong. I got round to watching it, primarily due to the thrill of finally getting to see Monica Dolan on stage in Chalet Lines at the Bush Theatre, but truth be told I should have waited, a lot longer. 

Filmed at the Theatre Royal Bath, Max Stafford-Clark’s production is far from unwatchable and is really quite good at times. But it it just felt quite tamely traditional for the most part – entirely by comparison it must be said – and misguided in the few attempts at updating it did try. Things get off to a sticky start as Jason Watkins’ manservant is lumbered with an awkward prologue which tries, and fails, to work in modern-day references effectively. Fortunately this was the only really obvious tinkering and once the play proper had started, the actors were mainly left to get about their business. Continue reading “DVD Review: She Stoops to Conquer, Out of Joint/NT”