TV Review: Fearless, ITV

“I learned a long time ago not to trust what people tell me”

I did want to love Fearless, I really did. Any series with Helen McCrory in its leading role has to be worthy of consideration and ITV have been upping their drama game (qv Unforgotten) recently. But despite an intriguing opener, the six episodes of Fearless increasingly tested the patience as Patrick Harbinson’s script failed to deliver on its twistily complex promise, instead giving us a fairly run-of-the-mill thriller that ultimately proved less than thrilling.
 
With a playbook that threw out major themes with regularity – miscarriages of justice, the Syrian refugee crisis, institutional corruption, the war in Iraq, the ethics of the surveillance state, just to name a few – it was inevitable that some would fall by the wayside. But with the amount of personal backstory for McCrory’s Emma also shoehorned in there, the narrative was both painfully overstuffed and sadly inconsequential – it was increasingly hard to know what we were meant to care about.

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Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

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Review: the first half of Mr Foote’s Other Leg, Hampstead

“Once more unto the breeches”

Such is the power of Simon Russell Beale that Mr Foote’s Other Leg sold out its run at the Hampstead Theatre before it had even opened and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of a West End transfer before too long, given the very good reviews I suspect it will get. So I’m setting out my stall now and saying that whilst it is good, I don’t think it is that good – indeed my companion for the evening found it sufficiently insufferable to demand we leave at the interval.

Beale plays Samuel Foote, an Oscar Wilde or Stephen Fry-like figure in Georgian London whose stock has risen in society to make him quite famous. But as things go up, so too must they come down and Ian Kelly’s play, based on his own biography of Foote, finds a connection with the modern obsession with celebrities and how their downfall is often celebrated as much as their success. From backstage at theatres to the heights of the Royal Society and indeed royal society, Foote soon finds out what happens when the shoe is on the other foot. Continue reading “Review: the first half of Mr Foote’s Other Leg, Hampstead”

DVD Review: The Hours

“I seem to have fallen out of time”

Based on Michael Cunningham’s novel of the same name, I loved 2012 film The Hours from the first time I saw it and still think it a minor masterpiece a three women, each connected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, try to get through the living of a single day. In the present day, Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughan, a NY society hostess planning a party for her AIDS-stricken poet friend; Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, a depressed 1950s housewife, unhappily married and pregnant for the second time; and Nicole Kidman plays Woolf herself, battling her own demons whilst writing the book.

From David Hare’s screenplay, Stephen Daldry creates a hugely elegant sweep across time as echoes ripple across the separate narratives – connections built through the smallest of details recurring as each woman variously deals with repressed longing, the fear of a life not lived to its fullest, the hours that keep on passing. Kidman (and her prosthetic nose) may have won the Academy Award and she is very good but for my money, it is Moore’s anguished housewife who should have won the plaudits, such is the intensity she brings to the role.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Hours”

Re-review: The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury

“I like a man with spunk
‘You like a man period’”

As is often the way, a canny bit of recasting ensured my need to revisit a show I’d already seen and resolved not to revisit. In this case, it was The Pajama Game, which I caught last year in Chichester when Joanna Riding and Hadley Fraser led Richard Eyre’s productions to great acclaim, which now arrives for a summer at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Michael Xavier taking over from Fraser. I am most fond indeed of Xavier’s work, and as I enjoyed the show in all its strangely charming old-fashioned oddity, going back wasn’t too much of a trial.

My original review is here and there really isn’t much more to add. The show fits in well into the Shaftesbury, even if a little of its expansiveness feels lost in the reconfiguration, but Xavier makes a predictably excellent fit into the company, he really is one of our leading exponents of musical theatre, delivering the goods time after time. Jo Riding emerges unscathed from Stephen Ward to return to a role in which she is wonderfully comfortable to watch but the real star ends up being Alexis Owen-Hobbs’ spunky Gladys. Book soon whilst you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th September

Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva

“Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe”

Old Broadway classics seem to flourish in the rarefied air of West Sussex and it is hard to shake the feeling that Chichester has done it again with a revival of The Pajama Game. No stranger to big American musicals, director Richard Eyre demonstrates the surest of touches to keep the improbable subject matter – the trials of working life in a pyjama factory – anchored in a world that we always care about and is aided by the kind of score that feels recognisable even if you think you haven’t heard it before. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score is full of fantastic old school tunes like Hey There (You with the Stars in your Eyes) and Steam Heat and two of the songs were actually written by Frank Loesser, although uncredited. 

George Abbott and Richard Bissel’s book is based on Bissell’s novel 7½ cents set in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Sleep-Tite factory in which new-to-town Superintendent Sid Sorokin finds himself falling head over heels for feisty union rep Babe Williams, whose stubborn initial resistance can’t ignore the mutually fiery passion between them. But trouble brews when the workers are denied a justified 7½ cent pay rise and Sid and Babe find themselves on opposing sides of a heated labour debate.  Continue reading “Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva”

Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva

“Do not rejoice in his defeat”

Despite feeling like I live in a theatre at time, my experience of Brecht has actually been very limited. When I first saw Mother Courage at the National, I hadn’t got a clue what was going on and it was a rather disconcerting experience all told. My subsequent discovery that all the shenanigans were an integral part of the show left me a little nonplussed, but since then I haven’t had the opportunity to revisit his work, or maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough… Even when The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was first announced as part of Chichester’s 50th anniversary season, I can’t say the thought filled me with much anticipation.

But the cast was attractive, led by Henry Goodman, and crucially, the word of mouth from trusted souls was excellent and so I booked myself in on a day when those lovely £5 train tickets were available. And I really enjoyed myself, having one of those great experiences where a complete lack of pre-knowledge about the show really paid off to just fascinating effect. Brecht wrote the play in 1941, a story about a small-time Chicago gangster whose violent seizure and control of the cauliflower trade (I know but bear with) saw him ascend to fearsome heights, but the playwright’s true intentions are revealed through the parallels, which are soon crystal clear, with the rise to power of one Adolf Hitler. Continue reading “Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva”

Review: Gilead, Radio 3

“A man’s behaviour is usually consistent with his nature”

A 2004 novel by Marilynne Robinson, Gilead was adapted for radio by Mike Kenny in 2010 and it was purely by chance that I stumbled across it on the radio section of the BBC iPlayer before it dropped off – it was on on a Sunday rather bizarrely – but it was most serendipitous that I did as it had a lovely cast including Roger Allam, Elizabeth McGovern and *chorus of angels* Elliot Cowan.

The play recounts memories from Reverend John Ames and his early family life as he is aware he may not have much time left due to a dodgy heart. Having remarried and had a son late in life who is still only seven, Ames decides that the best (and only) legacy he can leave his child is this touchingly honest account of his life and in particular, his troubled relationship with his best friend’s son, Jack Boughton. Continue reading “Review: Gilead, Radio 3”

Review: Loyalty, Hampstead Theatre

“The closer you are to the truth, the harder it is talk about it”

Loyalty is the debut play from Sarah Helm, a journalist and author who also happens to be the wife of Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair’s chief of staff. This privileged position made her an intimate witness to the weeks leading up to the 2003 invasion which she opposed and it is that that she has developed into this work – described as ‘a fictionalised memoir’ – of the struggle of a chief of staff Nick to balance the personal and political as he advises a Prime Minister named Tony who is edging closer to invading Iraq with an American President named George whilst ignoring his own conscience and the stridently vocal objections of his wife Laura. But it is fiction remember, at least some of the names are different…

The first half is genuinely excellent. Helm locates it firmly in the Stockwell home of Nick and Laura and we become observers along with Laura and her trusty notepad as Nick is involved with phone calls between the Prime Minister and figures of global importance discussing highly sensitive matters which we overhear. How this refracts back through their daily life is endlessly fascinating: the top secret documents just lying around the house, her frustrations at not being able to write about these things, the tensions caused by her friendship with an ex who just happens to be a journalist, the casualness with which he discusses the PM with their Polish au pair, even the level of security necessary in their home, the level of detailing is just undeniably authentic and convincing. And Maxine Peake as Laura anchors the play with an exceptional performance. Continue reading “Review: Loyalty, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National

Mother Courage and her Children sees Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner reunited once again at the National Theatre as part of the Travelex £10 season. Brecht’s play of a woman who is determined to make a profit from the war that surrounds her, even as that same war takes her children from her one by one, has been freshly translated by Tony Kushner and Warner has utilised the vast space of the Olivier to great effect to create something quite unique.

It is a fairly lengthy beast, the first half alone is two hours long, but neither I nor my companion felt that it dragged at all, I found the songs kept it quite pacey, and felt much the same during the second half (a mere hour long). There wasn’t that high a level of dropout after the interval which was quite nice to see and there was a strong reception for the players at the end. Much has been made of the introduction of Duke Special and his band but I have to say I thought by and large it worked. Personally, I was not as keen on the rockier numbers, despite Shaw gamely rocking out, but was genuinely moved by some of the slower numbers, especially when he was duetting with other characters. Continue reading “Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National”