Review: Pinter Five, Harold Pinter Theatre

Jane Horrocks and Rupert Graves shine in Pinter Five, featuring The Room, Victoria Station and Family Voices at the Harold Pinter Theatre

“You know where you are here”

Pinter Five sees Patrick Marber, someone who could call Harold Pinter a friend and colleague, take the directorial wheel as he presents a triple-bill of The Room, Victoria Station and Family Voices, delving further into the wealth of short plays left behind by the playwright.

The first half is taken up by Pinter’s first play, 1957’s The Room, a prototype for so much of what was to come as he settled into his distinctive voice. The air of menacing strangeness looming over seemingly everyday situations, visitors who disrupt and disturb, relationships that can never be quite pinned down… Continue reading “Review: Pinter Five, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

TV Review: Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“What visions have I seen”

When the RSC announced their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, surtitling it ‘A Play for the Nation’ as it tours the UK, working with amateur theatre groups across the land, they probably weren’t expecting it to be a play for the nation because somebody would be putting on another production of it every couple of weeks. Or maybe they were, it is one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays – indeed it is among my favourites as the first I ever read – and so why wouldn’t Filter bring it back to the Lyric Hammersmith, the Reversed Shakespeare Company put their own spin on it, Emma Rice opened her tenure at the Globe with it, and the Southwark Playhouse open their own version of it with Go People early next week…

For those outside of the London theatre bubble though, the opportunity to see a televised version of the play, adapted by Russell T Davies’ gay agenda and directed by David Kerr, won’t have felt like overkill. And there was much to commend in a reimagining of the play which dabbled in just a fair few changes for the most part and then decided to rip up the rulebook in a jubilant final ten minutes that will doubtless seize the headlines and rile the purists among us but regardless, managed to remain unerringly faithful to exactly how you would imagine Davies’ Dream might play out (Flute/soldier fanfic please!). Continue reading “TV Review: Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Review: Fences, Duchess

 “Don’t try and go through life worrying about if somebody like you or not.”

The role of the anti-hero is a curious one – featuring a protagonist who sours and curdles as the play progresses is a bold move, especially when presented with such a lack of sentimentality as in Paulette Randall’s production of August Wilson’s Fences. There’s no doubting the horrendous circumstances that black people found themselves in even after the abolition of slavery, in a world that had emancipated them yet still considered them way less than equal. This is given visceral life in the lead character of Troy Maxson, whose own promising baseball career was stymied by the enduring racism he faced and an inopportune trip to prison and so as life has progressed and a family built up around him, he has ended up providing for them by becoming a garbage collector.

But Troy is a hugely proud man and the scars of his experience linger on perniciously, affecting the lives of all of those around him even as the opportunities for his sons become greater than anything he was ever granted. Lyons is a great musician but his father refuses to go and see him but the younger Cory bears the brunt of his father’s frustrations as his talent for American football puts him in line for a scholarship, a chance Troy decides to sabotage. Even his marriage to the ever-faithful Rose comes under threat in his search for the satisfaction that constantly eludes him. Continue reading “Review: Fences, Duchess”

DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth

“It’s the children…”

Well I don’t think anyone saw that coming. A darker spin-off from Doctor Who that took a little while to find its feet in its first couple of years, the third series of Torchwood – sub-titled Children of Earth – saw the show graduate to BBC1 (all the more impressive given its original BBC3 origins) with a 5-parter of some considerable drama that pushed the boundaries of anything previously shown in the Whoniverse (apologies for that word!) And though it is here due to being one of the first times that Lucy Cohu entered my consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised to find it populated with actors that I have latterly come to admire – Ian Gelder and Cush Jumbo in particular.

Children of Earth was so successful for me because although its main premise is rooted in the sci-fi world – a mysterious alien presence arrives on Earth, seizing control of the minds of all its children and demanding their sacrifice – so much of the conflict comes from the human drama, the moral ambiguities that arise as times of crisis require difficult decision making. And having established a Spooks-like level of turnover with its cast with the Series 2 finale, it added another, even crueller, twist of the screw, made all the more distressing for its unassuming nature. Continue reading “DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth”