TV Review: Doctor Foster, BBC1

“It’s just once you have the thought…”

I was late to my appointment with Doctor Foster, only getting round to watching episode 1 on Monday but I loved it so much (how could I not when the opening subtitle is “belt buckle being undone” and Bertie Carvel soon strips to his boxers) that I mainlined the next three so that I could watch the finale with the rest of the world. Written by noted playwright Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Cock, Love Love Love amongst many others), it’s a fierce revenge drama anchored by a cracking performance from Suranne Jones as the titular medic with the errant husband.

From the moment she discovers a long blonde hair on her husband’s scarf, the scene is set for an almighty showdown but Bartlett’s skill is in stretching that moment tantalisingly over the entire series. Secret after secret tumbles out of the closet as she pulls at the thread but almost as destructive as his conduct (and Carvel is brilliantly craven as the slippery Simon) is the behaviour it unleashes in Gemma, her forthright determination cutting swathes through her employment prospects, her friends and neighbours and even her relationship with their 11-year-old son Tom. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Foster, BBC1”

Review: Wildefire, Hampstead

“To them, we are nothing but a bunch of racist, sexist, overpaid thugs in uniform”

In what turned out to be my second Maria Aberg production in quick succession, I got something of a crash course in just why people talk about this director so excitedly. Here, she takes Roy Williams’ urban police thriller Wildefire and elides its scenes into a single downwards spiral as policewoman Gail Wilde takes on a South London posting but finds herself unprepared for the intense trials and tribulations of life in the Met.

Aberg and Williams do a magnificent job at conjuring a world that is at once innately distrustful of the police yet also guilty of inculcating that distrust. Out of the shadows of James Farncombe’s lighting and the nooks and crannies of Naomi Dawson’s open yet functional design, urban nightmares spill forth whether fighting football fans, council estate domestic abusers or the suffocating menace of disaffected hoodies with nothing to lose. Continue reading “Review: Wildefire, Hampstead”

Review: Translations, Rose Kingston

“What the hell, it’s only a name. It’s the same isn’t it. Well, isn’t it?”

In something of an anniversary year for them, English Touring Theatre are having themselves quite the 21st birthday. Howard Brenton’s Eternal Love has been revived to great effect, Blanche McIntyre’s take on Noël Coward looks set to be an exciting highlight of the summer and their production of Brian Friel’s Translations, co-produced with the Rose Kingston and Sheffield Theatres, turned out to be an absolute cracker in a month that has already seen a lot of great theatre that is sure to figure heavily on all our year-end lists.

Set in 1833 in a Gaelic-speaking hedge school in Donegal, the lives of those in this quiet rural teaching establishment are set for massive upheaval with the arrival of a British Army platoon who have the job of redrawing territorial boundaries and translating all of the local Gaelic place names into English. Ageing school master Hugh’s two sons embody the conflict – the one having stayed on to become an apprentice at the school, the other becoming an interpreter in Dublin and only returning to turn his home from Baile Beag to Ballybeg.  Continue reading “Review: Translations, Rose Kingston”

Review: The Love Girl and the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse

“Keep working, keep working, keep working, keep working…poor bastards”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Love Girl and the Innocent hasn’t been seen in London for over 30 years and with a cast of over 50 characters, one can see the challenges facing anyone willing to take it on. It’s taken Matthew Dunster nearly 10 years but with Jagged Edge Productions and a multi-tasking cast of 16, he now brings his own adaptation to the Southwark Playhouse in an atmospheric if sprawling production that evokes the horrors and absurdities of life in the gulag.

Based on the playwright’s own experiences in the Soviet labour camps, the play is at its best in capturing the insane swirl of the prisoners as they jostle for position and privilege in the microcosm of Russian society that develops. Most have been sentenced to 10 years hard labour and so are in it for the long haul as they become part of a never-ending production line, but where they end up on it depends on their willingness to collude, corrupt and conspire to make their lives even just a smidgen better as the relentless demand for greater productivity comes from on high. Continue reading “Review: The Love Girl and the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre

“The army is not a game”

Director David Grindley’s first London job was as an ASM on the original 1993 award-winning production of Jonathan Lewis’ army hospital-based Our Boys so there is a pleasing circularity to him being the director of the play’s first West End revival. It is set in Ward 9 Bay 4 of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich, with five soldiers at various stages in their recovery from injuries suffered in the line of duty who have their easy dynamic changed by the arrival of Potential Officer Menzies into the mix. 

His presence shakes things up initially but he is soon assimilated into the group which kills the endless stretches of time with the recreation of barracks humour – strident banter that is close to the bone, searching for female company in want ads, illicit drinking games based on The Deer Hunter. But try as they might, they can’t escape from the ugly reality of their situation as their various torments rear their heads and it becomes apparent that this is a place where mental recovery is just as vital as physical recuperation. Continue reading “Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre”

Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse

“If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!”

Taking up residence at the Southwark Playhouse is this new production of Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, mixing music and dance with a very high calibre cast to create a fresh new look at this well-known comedy. Set in eighteenth century Bath, it follows the efforts of the meddlesome Mrs Malaprop to marry off her niece Lydia Languish, who has romantic designs of her own, but with an array of suitors, some of whom are not all who they seem, the scene is set for a plethora of romantic capers.
I loved the opening: the cast trickle onto the stage and chat away to the audience as if we’re all here for a ball, then up strikes the music and there’s a wickedly subversive choice of songs for an opening dance number which set the tone for this mischievous little production. There’s a real convivial atmosphere throughout, with plenty of fourth-wall-breaking going on (be warned if you’re on the front row!) and the cast play up to the intimacy of the venue with a strong conversational style.

It’s led by a trio of high-profile female performances. The stunningly beautiful Charity Wakefield as a playful Lydia is spritely good fun and charmingly engaging and Ella Smith as Julia does well with the lightest of touches on some very wordy scenes and showing off a melodious voice and some flute-playing thrown in for good measure. But it is Celia Imrie as Mrs Malaprop who is the star of the show: this being my first viewing of The Rivals, I can hardly imagine anyone else doing better in the role, it seems tailor-made for her. She endows her with such warmth and humour that one tended to find oneself laughing with and not really at her, and it is genuinely distressing to see her discover the truth about who has written the letters mocking her. Imrie seizes every opportunity to display her comic chops too, the incredible misjudged verbosity is always well-delivered, the constant shooing away of the recorder-playing heralds was a nice touch and her seductive swaying is just a sight to behold. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse”