10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: A Kind of People, Royal Court

Not much festive cheer around at the Royal Court, but plenty of grimly insightful writing in Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s A Kind of People

“This will bleed and bleed”

Opening with the kind of house party you’d be quite happy to end up at after a few drinks down the pub, you can kinda see where the Royal Court is coming from in programming Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s A Kind of People over Christmas. But as in the tradition of all good parties – and most good plays – something goes wrong, conflict must arise, and any sense of festive cheer is soon Scrooged away.

Bhatti’s play is set in the bosom of a tight-knit multicultural, working class community, with mixed-race couple Gary and Nicky at its heart. With friends and family forever knocking on their door, their home doesn’t lack for conviviality but it is lacking space – they’re bursting out of the seams of their council flat. But Gary’s up for a promotion at work, with a serious pay rise, so things could be looking up. Continue reading “Review: A Kind of People, Royal Court”

TV Review: Bodyguard Series 1

Bodyguard reaches a thrilling climax that is sure to disappoint some but left me on the edge of my seat

“I wanted to know who did it, I don’t know who did it”

Except we do finally know who did it. Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard – an unexpected massive hit and a reminder that the appointment-to-view model is far from over – reached its climax tonight in typically high-tension style, confounding expectations to the end and dashing the dreams of many a conspiracy theorist to boot. Seriously, so glad that Julia Montague remained dead (at least until a sequel is announced and we have to go through this whole farrago again). 

And though it is bound to have its detractors, I have to say I found it all hugely entertaining. If it just wasn’t realistic enough for you, then WTF are you doing watching dramas? If you’re getting swept up in locations in this fictionalised version of London not being where they are in real life, turn the damn thing off! Its not for everyone, that’s absolutely fine, but you don’t have to drag everyone else down with your misery. Continue reading “TV Review: Bodyguard Series 1”

TV Review: Bodyguard, BBC1

Jed Mercurio hits the mark once again with new drama Bodyguard, led by two excellent performances from Kelley Hawes and Richard Madden

“Looks like the Home Secretary couldn’t be in safer hands”

The weather taking a turn for the blessedly British feels like a most appropriate herald for the return of proper drama to our tellyboxes and first out of the gate for this year’s slate of autumn dramas is Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard with a properly nail-biting opening 20 minutes which serve as a remarkable statement of intent for this series.

In an expertly tense sequence, Afghan vet turned special protection officer David Budd (Richard Madden) negotiates the peaceful surrender of a suicide bomber of a train in Euston. The perpetrator(s) (as it turns out) may be Islamists but its the gung-ho approach of the police that emerges as much as a threat to a peaceful resolution. Continue reading “TV Review: Bodyguard, BBC1”

TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, Hampstead

“Join the movement for righteous anger”

With over 100 cast, writers, directors and crew, and 25 plays (none of which were by Agatha Christie!) spread over 7 programmes, Sphinx Theatre’s Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was a full-on day indeed for those of us who stayed the course from midday to nearly 10pm, with scarcely time to imbibe yet another coffee as we moved from rehearsal room to studio to main house. But though I was 90% caffeine by the end, the buzz I was experiencing was one of delight at the sheer breadth and quality of the theatre we’d been privileged to witness.

The Women Centre Stage Festival was initiated by Sphinx to bring together artists, venues, commissioners and funders in expanding the range of women’s roles and this it has done in a number of different ways. Workshops ran throughout the week at the Actors Centre, a panel discussion broached the larger question of how to improve gender equality in theatre and the plays that were presented throughout the festival’s performance day ranged from works commissioned and developed from the 2105 festival, to the fruits of Sphinx Writers Group, to rapid responses to this week’s headlines. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, Hampstead”

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – Women on the Edge

“It’s something about my appearance that I can control”

The Women on the Edge session of the Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival featured three works that were commissioned and developed from the 2015 festival held at the National Theatre. This just happened to include one of my favourite pieces from across the entire day – Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair’s Man Up! Deceptively simple in its format yet deliciously complex in its subject matter, the pair give the lie to conventional gender norms and make a fabulously compelling case for the importance of recognising gender fluidity in society.

Their stagecraft is ingenious too, transformations subtly worked so that they were halfway complete before you clock exactly what’s going on. Judith Jones and Beatrix Campbell’s Justice has no such ambiguity about it, an emotionally bruising look at the lasting impact of the Cleveland child abuse scandal and the trials its victims face in trying to escape its shadow, in search of a truth, a resolution that might somehow set them free. Directed by Ros Philips, Claire-Louise Cordwell’s damaged warrior of justice is a brilliantly thorny part and contrasted well with Kathryn O’Reilly’s softer but no less fierce budding campaigner. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – Women on the Edge”

Review: Imogen, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Is there no way for men to be, but women must be half-workers?”

Whichever way you cut it, I still find that Cymbeline is a tough play to love and it’s not for a lack of trying on my part. I struggled with it at the Sam Wanamaker earlier this year and I’ll be trying out the RSC’s version once it hits the Barbican later this month. As for now, it’s Matthew Dunster’s turn to have a go at the play, this time outside at the Globe and in keeping with the new regime, the play has been “renamed and reclaimed” as Imogen, as befits the part of Cymbeline’s daughter who has in fact twice as many lines.

Even with Maddy Hill (an unexpectedly moving Titania, among others, in Go People’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in the title role and a wonderfully diverse ensemble incorporating a signing deaf actor among others, Imogen remained difficult. For all the contemporary gangland setting (Jonathan McGuinness’ king is now a drug lord), Imogen’s o’er-hasty marriage to the feckless Posthumus (a good Ira Mandela Siobhan) and subsequent devotion to him even as he proves himself to be a righteous cock doesn’t quite fly. That said, the energy in the show is one that proves largely irresistible as sexy shenanigans, modern sounds, and kick-ass choreo combine to memorable effect. Continue reading “Review: Imogen, Shakespeare’s Globe”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2

“We underestimated her”

The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.

Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”

Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre

“Thanks for all the pies and adventures”

The big family-oriented show at the National Theatre this winter is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (though as it runs in rep right through to April, one hopes Spring will have sprung by then) which has been adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery. But whilst Polly Findlay’s production has some very definite plus points, not least in an inspired design by Lizzie Clachan which utilises so much of the Olivier’s potential, it doesn’t quite have the full shiver-me-timbers factor to make it an undoubted success.

Clachan frames the theatre’s large revolving drum with a set of lowering curved ribs which suggest all kinds of mystical maritime adventures – the frame of a trusty ship, the ribcage of a giant whale, the quivering trees of a strange island. Deep in the revolve is where the real treasure is though, a warren of cabins that reflect the social hierarchy of the time and later on the maze of tunnels in which the gold can be found. Combined with the sensational starry skyscape up above, Bruno Poet’s lighting looking stunning, this is the National doing what it does so well. Continue reading “Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre”