TV Review: Harlots Series 1

The best TV show you haven’t heard about? Harlots just might be it!

“When the time comes, I hope your quim splits”

I suppose that it is good that we have so many more options for good television to be made these days. The flipside to that is that it can be harder to keep track of it all. Harlots is fricking fantastic, a hugely enjoyable and high quality drama but airing on ITV Encore (and Hulu in the US),  it has languished in the doldrums of the unfairly unheralded.

A glance at the castlist shows you how much of a waste this is. Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville at the head, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hugh Skinner and Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting, Fenella Woolgar, Danny Sapani and Kate Fleetwood popping up now and again too. This is luxury stuff and yet criminally few know about it. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 1”

Review: Circle Mirror Transformation, Home

Director Bijan Sheibani works wonders on Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation at Home in Manchester

“Slow down and start noticing everyone around you”

A cheeky trip up north for this criminally short run of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation at Home in Manchester, for a top-notch cast and a director – Bijan Sheibani – who when on form, is one of the country’s best. And here he really is at home in the unfussy naturalism and quiet intimacy of this deceptively striking play.

My abiding memory of the Royal Court’s 2013 production is not the amazing cast it also assembled – Staunton, Woolgar, Jones… – is that it was absolutely hotter than sin in the Rose Lipman Building where it was hosted. It was also a time when I didn’t really know who Annie Baker was. Or rather, a time before the hype around her wasn’t quite so overwhelming. Continue reading “Review: Circle Mirror Transformation, Home”

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”

TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1

“This is sheep-rustling, north-Halifax style – just the one sheep and three lads off their heads on acid”

One of the televisual highlights of 2014 was Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, anchored by an astonishing central performance from Sarah Lancashire as pragmatic Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. So the return of a second series on BBC One is good news indeed, especially given Wainwright’s decision to also direct considerably more of the episodes this time round.

It’s obvious from the off that she is entirely at the top of her game. Reintroducing the startlingly mordant vein of humour on’t’moor, this opening sequence sees Cawood recounting a day’s work to her sister, namely sheep-rustling gone unfortunately wrong on a housing estate but leading to an even grimmer discovery, one which links directly back to James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, the father of her grandson after raping her daughter (who then committed suicide) and Catherine’s nemesis from the first series. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1”

Short Film Review #55

 

I have a thing about spiral staircases and though the one at the heart of The Last Ten is squared off, it is still freaky as shit. A genuinely disturbing film that is ingeniously conceived and shot by David Higgs with some fantastic cinematography from Nicole Heiniger, it’s all about the perspective as a single camera looking down the middle of a stairwell captures the story of a man returning home to find…well, that would be giving it away. Hitchcock-inspired brilliance, just don’t watch it on your own, or in the dark.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #55”

Short Film Review: #52

 

An achingly beautiful story of two former lovers who meet up again over a pint and rehash some painful personal history. Declan Feenan’s writing is deliberately spare as the pair skirt around the real issues that are on the table and as the tension ratchets up towards the end, there’s still a very powerful use of poetic language, almost hypnotic in its telling. It helps that my newest crush Liz White is the one detailing what was done to her as a bedraggled Con O’Neill hangs his head in shame, and Jonathan Humphrey’s direction ensures a beautiful sense of imagery permeates the film, whether in profile shots or the dream-like reminiscences that can never be forgotten. Highly recommended.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review: #52”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1

“We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world and the jury will get it right”

I do love me a good crime/legal procedural on the television (see North Square, The Jury, Murder One, Damages) but I rarely have the time to watch everything I want to these days and the BBC series Criminal Justice is one of the ones that slipped through the cracks. It has sat on my Lovefilm queue for ages and after a conversation about Ben Whishaw with one of his fans, I decided to finally get round to watching both the series on DVD.

Predictably, I loved it. Written by Peter Moffat (who also penned North Square), it is a five episode trek through one person’s journey through the various stages of the criminal justice system. The 2008 first series starred the aforementioned Whishaw as Ben Coulter, an aspiring footballer who finds himself accused of murder after a drink and drug-fuelled night out with a girl who ends up stabbed to death whilst Ben struggles to remember any of the details of what actually happened. And so from interview rooms in the police station to failed bail appeals and prison cells and then the subsequent court case, Ben’s experience at the hands of the system is thrillingly portrayed.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1”

The 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

OPERA
Albert Herring, Royal Northern College of Music
Gianni Schicchi, English Touring Opera, Buxton Opera House
Lucia di Lammermoor, Clonter Opera
The Portrait, Opera North, The Lowry
Utopia Ltd, Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, Buxton Opera House

DANCE
Carlos Acosta, The Lowry
Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet,The Lowry
Danish Dance Theatre, Triple Bill, The Lowry
Richard Alston Dance Company, Triple Bill, The Lowry Continue reading “The 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: Salome, Richmond Theatre

“You must not look at her. You look too much at her.”

Salome has quite some theatrical pedigree: presented by Rupert Goold’s Headlong company and directed by Donmar Associate Jamie Lloyd, Oscar Wilde’s one act tragedy based on the Biblical story has been radically refashioned into a bold new production currently touring the UK (Oxford, Newcastle and Brighton remain) before settling at the Hampstead Theatre for a month on 22nd June.

Set in a post-apocalyptic futuristic industrial hellhole somewhere in the Middle East, spoiled princess Salome takes a perverse fancy to Iokanaan (John the Baptist) despite or perhaps because of the grim prophecies he has for her mother, Herodias, and stepfather, the Tetrarch King Herod. It seems as if these prophecies, and the detestation both Herod and Herodias have for the prophet, are the reason for Salome’s sudden obsession but when Herod makes her an offer she can’t refuse involving a dance, the opportunistic princess sows the seeds for her own downfall.

After a slightly slow opening 15 minutes or so, Salome soon kicks into gear with a highly visual gore-filled, sexualised take on the well known Biblical story. Not recognisably Wildean it must be said, Jamie Lloyd has stripped it bare of its original idiosyncrasies and reconstructed a savage modern tale of 21st century sexuality which surprises rather than truly shocks but nevertheless develops into an engaging account of what is a largely familiar story.


As the titular Salome, Zawe Ashton is unashamedly shallow and sexual, portraying her as hopped up on something or other, her jittery hands unable to stop themselves from running over her body, alive to her sexuality but not yet fully aware of its power and the consequences of flaunting it so vividly. This awkwardness is perfectly played in the beginning of the infamous dance sequence, thoroughly updated here but imbued with a painful ungainliness exacerbated by the reaction of Herod (which is to masturbate furiously in the open court). Ashton has to deal with much of Wilde’s repetitive text, endlessly repeating two key phrases but she fills them with sufficient petulance to remind us that this is just an oversexualised kid.


As the tyrannical, testosterone-fuelled Herod, Con O’Neill is quite something: sexually hungry for men and women alike and unable to control his urges, leading to his rash promise that leads to the climactic demand. Physically he gave a magnificent portrayal of this rapacious despot and the human frailty beneath the swaggering, but I wasn’t 100% convinced by his vocal delivery, strangely high-pitched and mostly delivered at a bellow. Jaye Griffiths is vocally much stronger as his attention-hungry embittered wife and as a result becomes something of a focal point as probably the strongest performance onstage. Seun Shote’s Iokanaan deserves a special mention though: kept chained under a manhole, his first arrival from his prison kickstarts the show, his muscular presence rising from the deeps and spewing forth prophetic pronouncements with a powerful baritone. The rest of the ensemble is strong but there is little to distinguish them from one another, only Richard Cant’s heartbroken Page of Herodias stands out with his revelations about the true closeness of his friendship with the Young Syrian Sam Donovan.


The design by Soutra Gilmour is impressive, all the more so considering how it reinvents the traditional stage at Richmond and is a touring show, with a large square sandpit strewn with puddles of tar dominating the dungeon-like space, scaffolds and lighting rigs around the walls add to savagery of the landscape. Combined with very effective lighting and pulsing sound design, there is a great sense of atmosphere to this production culminating in the production of an extremely gory and effective severed head, and with a running time of just 90 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. All in all, something really quite different and interesting that you should make the effort to see.


Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £3
Note: smoke, haze and scenes of a sexual nature abound in this production so probably not one for the sensitive.