TV Review: No Offence Series 3

After a brilliantly brutal opening, the third series of No Offence twists into something different as the team face off against the far-right

“We’ve all led each other to each other”

The third series of No Offence started with a real bang as they kept us all on our toes by offing one of its lead characters. And though things calmed down considerably, the ongoing main story of Friday Street’s battle against the rising far-right threat offered an interesting spin for the series.

Paul Abbott’s writing always excels when it puts its characters in the forefront and it’s no different here. Dealing with grief (in their own inimitable way) only added to the portrayals, as Joanna Scanlan, Elaine Cassidy and Will Mellor all rose to the occasion, and it was great to see more of Paul Ritter’s maverick forensics guy. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3”

TV Review: No Offence Series 3 Episode 1

The third series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns to Channel 4 in brilliantly unsentimental form

“What the f*** just happened?”

No Offence makes a welcome return to our television screens but with a quirk of timing, finds itself occupying some of the same space as Bodyguard. Who knows whether Paul Abbott and Jed Mercurio met in a pub to compare storylines and in any case, when they’re both done as compellingly as this, it really doesn’t matter.

We return to Friday Street police station and the big concern for the Manchester Met is currently local politics, a mayoral race potentially being derailed by the efforts of a far right pressure group. And during a hustings event, things go terribly, tragically wrong in a way that seems set to shape the emotional palette for the entire series to come. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3 Episode 1”

Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud

 “The years roll by and nothing changes”

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

Continue reading “Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud”

Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

Continue reading “Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1

“A police presence is non-negotiable”

Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns for a most welcome second season after a quality Series 1 in mid-2015 added to the purple patch for police procedurals that we seem to be in. Abbott’s spin places us with the Manchester Metropolitan Police and in a world that is equally darkly comic and dramatic as the squad deal with the ramifications of the climax of that first series, as well as keeping an eye on the combustible gangland situation that looks set to involve our guys here.

And what guys – Joanna Scanlan’s almost impossibly charismatic DI Viv Deering as comically sharp as she is whip-smart, Elaine Cassidy’s pragmatic DC Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach’s serious-minded DS Joy Freer underneath her, with Sarah Solemani’s ice-cold DCI Christine Lickberg joining them, providing scarcely wanted oversight and some juicy looking tension. The casual female focus (of the series at large) and refreshing body positivity (of this episode in particular) are just marvellous to behold. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: Theatre Uncut 2014, Soho Theatre

“Knock knock,
Who’s there,
The Welfare State…”

The Theatre Uncut initiative was set up in 2010 as a response to the proposed government cuts in arts spending as it invited a number of playwrights to write short plays which would then be available to download and perform “rights-free in a week of mass theatrical action”. An impressive array of writers – Neil LaBute, Mark Ravenhill, Lucy Kirkwood – have gotten involved across the past few years and one of this year’s best new plays – Clara Brennan’s Spine – started life in this format in 2012.

Devised as a way of creating a rapid response to current political concerns, this year’s theme has coalesced around the provovation ‘Knowledge is Power, Knowledge is Change’ and the five writers collaboratively involved are Anders Lustgarten, Clara Brennan, Inua Ellams, Vivienne Franzmann and Hayley Squires. And a motley crew they make up, punching hard with a raw energy that is variable and visceral and vocal and vibrant. Continue reading “Review: Theatre Uncut 2014, Soho Theatre”

Review: The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noël Coward

“If you’re going to talk about sheep deformities, hand me the bottle”

Third up for the Michael Grandage Company is ‘the Daniel Radcliffe one’, the first major revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. But though it is being sold on the strength of its star, it is much more of an ensemble piece than first impressions would allow, as a picture of 1930s rural Irish life in all its brusque humour, unstinting relentlessness and occasional vicious kicks is built up. A break from the old routine is offered when a Hollywood film crew arrives on the neighbouring island of Inishmore and no-one is more excited about the opportunity than Cripple Billy, a young orphan lad blighted by physical disability from birth and who spots an opportunity to escape the blunt cruelty of the daily taunts.

Still in previews, Grandage’s production doesn’t quite seem to have decided how it wants to straddle the line between stereotypical olde Oirish sentimentality and McDonagh’s more brutal sensibilities which might be familiar to those that have seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Part of the problem lies in a vein of comedy that feels somewhat uninspired so it does, relying on the repeated utterances, without malice mind, of words and phrases that ought to jar in our more politically correct times. But this is essentially one gag extended throughout much of the show and it soon wears thin – the over-emphasis on how kookily different  things were back then and over there just isn’t enough to hang a play on, especially when Grandage is playing it as safe as this.

And I also felt that Radcliffe has a way to go before he’s ready to play the part of Cripple Billy. His manifestation of Billy’s affliction is clearly sensitively researched but lacks the raw physicality that should accompany one so bruised by life and one longs for him to submerge entirely into the depths of the character to create something more convincing in his portrayal of someone struggling on the cusp of becoming a young man and establishing some kind of physical and emotional independence – something that could well come as the run progresses. So the focus turns instead to the bustling busybodies of Inishmaan who are mostly very well acted but not a one of them feels like a real person.

Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna hem and haw vividly as Billy’s adopted aunties who point out the shortcomings of the world as they run their shop; Pat Shortt and June Watson pair up effectively as the village gossip and his ailing mother who he keeps topped up with whiskey; and Sarah Greene has an untamed quality as the wild egg-cracking Helen who Billy dreams of kissing one day. But there’s rarely a sense of genuine emotional life behind any of these people, keeping them perilously close to caricature – though possibly as much McDonagh’s fault as Grandage’s – and keeping the audience at arm’s length from the whole affair.

Consequently I really didn’t enjoy this that much – it certainly didn’t move me and I barely laughed. For a tenner though, one can’t complain too much and there did seem to be those in the audience who enjoyed themselves more than us (the reaction throughout was increasingly muted though, I have to say) but this was altogether too polite for my liking.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 31st August

Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse

“Just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean that he hasn’t feelings like the rest of us”

Instincts can be useful and they can also be really annoying, especially when you don’t follow them. After three weeks away from the theatre, most of which has been spent lying by a pool in the South-West of France, my first engagement back was at the Donmar Warehouse to see Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! As with most things at theatres such as these, I automatically book for everything as soon as it is released, sometimes it’s the only way to guarantee getting the cheap seats, and so there is rarely any sense of deciding whether I actually want to see something or not. And because it is then cheap, thus one can argue that it doesn’t really matter if I don’t like it – such excellent self-perpetuating logic is needed to ensure I keep getting up early to join the website-crashing scrum of first day booking.

But my tolerance has lessened somewhat as I’m slowly weaning myself off my addiction to theatre (at least to a more manageable position…) and after having unpacked my holiday things and checked the calendar as to when I was next booked in anywhere, my heart was not particularly singing with joy at the prospect of seeing this play. I allowed myself to be persuaded that I needed to “get back on the horse” and that I was just suffering from post-holiday blues – my companion reckoned I wouldn’t have been enthused about any play that didn’t involve me sitting in a hot tub – but in all honesty, my overall impression of Philadelphia… was one of overwhelming ‘meh’. Continue reading “Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse”