12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror Christmas

“So thanks to you, some dork meets a girl, not much of a Christmas story…”

On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror also gave to me…only bloody Jon Hamm!

Well this was a White Christmas but necessarily like the ones you used to know. Black Mirror’s 2014 Christmas special saw writer Charlie Brooker go feature length and director Carl Tibbetts get crazy fortuitous as Jon Hamm just declared his love for the series and his interest in appearing in it one way or another, the result being this interlinked triptych of stories, combining as ever to chilling effect.

Hamm plays Matt, a man working in some unspecified remote location and sharing a cabin with Rafe Spall’s Joe. They’ve been living together for five years without really communicating but this particular morning, Joe wakes up to Matt making Christmas dinner, determined to get the story of how he ended up in this isolated place. And sure enough, it is a tale of human exploitation of technological advancement. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror Christmas”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

Review: Our Town, Almeida

“The morning star always get wonderful bright the minute before it has to go”

Some images sear themselves into the mind, never to be forgotten and for me, the staging of the third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was such a one – something so simply done yet achingly powerful in effect, all the more so given it isn’t immediately apparent. And after Mr Burns, it is the second time in three plays that the Almeida has delivered a doozy of a third act – one can’t help but feel sorry (or laugh) at the doofuses that left at any of the intervals.

It is interesting to see the strength of the reactions to David Cromer’s version of this show – in the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford decries it as glib, desultory and that final act as smug(!) and Jake Orr dismissed it thus Continue reading “Review: Our Town, Almeida”

Review: If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep, Royal Court

“Do you see a rise in social harmony on the horizon?”

Between this interview for the Evening Standard and the three pages of programme notes that accompany the playtext, Anders Lustgarten clearly sees conventional theatre as a challenge to be met and his play for the Royal Court – If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep – certainly aims to be different. Fitting into Dominic Cooke’s brief to shake up the archetypal middle class audiences at the Sloane Square venue, it offers a illuminating deconstruction of the politics and economics of austerity and promises an alternative but where the first point is definitely delivered, the second remains somewhat unrealised.

Lustgarten has imagined a world not at all dissimilar to our own with the impact of a financial system in meltdown unfurling insidiously throughout society. With traditional avenues closed to them, City financiers plot new ways of making money and alight on the idea of Unity Bonds, wherein “problem families can now be monetised” by the bankers betting on social disorder increasing whilst officially being incentivised by it going down. But this is just the start of a series of short scenes, the rest of which focus on a society which is fast unravelling. Prisons, hospitals, schools all feel the shockwaves of this approach, as services become depersonalised in the endless rush to meet targets and frustrations boil over into violence. Continue reading “Review: If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep, Royal Court”

Review: Ding Dong the Wicked, Royal Court

“What’s happening out there?”

At just 20 minutes long, Ding Dong the Wicked is a new Caryl Churchill playlet that can be seen at various afternoon and late evening slots as it fits around her other show downstairs at the Royal Court, Love and Information. The two are not connected so do not need to be seen in tandem, just consider it a Brucie bonus for Churchill fans, a cadeau de Caryl if you will.

In a living room, a family prepares for the sending of one of its sons to war. They drink vodka, too much; patriotic jingoism is spouted blindly as battles rage on television screens; troubled familial dynamics are hinted at with squabbling aplenty and furtive affairs emerging. Then ten minutes later, we move to another country where things seem the same, but different. Continue reading “Review: Ding Dong the Wicked, Royal Court”

Review: Vera Vera Vera, Royal Court

“I don’t know where you came from or who you belong to, but I do know that no-one wants to claim you, no-one wants you to belong to them”

‘As above, so below’ so the saying goes, but in this case the opposite is true as the Royal Court upstairs follows the Hampstead Theatre downstairs in putting on a play which deals with the death of a young British soldier and its impact on the family left behind. But where Nick Payne’s Lay Down Your Cross focused on the parent-child dynamic, Hayley Squires’ Vera Vera Vera looks at how contemporaries are affected – the siblings and cousins left to mourn their loved ones and reassess their own lives in the light of tragedy. This play continues the Young Writers Festival which started with Goodbye to all That and as she originally trained as an actor, this is Squires’ first full-length play.

She moves forward and back between two scenarios in present-day Kent: a pair of schoolkids make tentative steps to progressing their friendship into something more and three months later, a brother and sister prepare for the funeral of their younger brother, killed in combat in Afghanistan. Tom Piper’s design utilises the same central structure from Goodbye to all That which he also did, but this time around the edges are covered in grass and the Kentish countryside is suggested on the walls. Jo McInnes’ direction also harks back to that first production in keeping the cast visible on the staging area even when not involved in the scenes, but pushes it a little further by having some spiky non-verbal interactions between them during the scene changes – a little thing but most effective. Continue reading “Review: Vera Vera Vera, Royal Court”

Review: Chapel Street, Old Red Lion

“If someone wanted to take me to the theatre, I’d go…if they paid”

Chapel Street is the debut play from Luke Barnes, a sharply written two-hander about Kirsty and Joe who tell their separate, but increasingly intertwining, accounts of a highly drunken night out with their respective friends. He’s getting hammered with his friends down the pub, she’s knocking back vodka at her friend’s house but when everyone goes into town to continue the evening, fate smashes them together.

Daniel Kendrick’s Joe, brimming with swaggering self-confidence, was a terrific performance – recalling Trystan Gravelle’s electrifying turn in DC Moore’s fantastic Honest in the way he totally engaged with the audience, I have never felt more like one of the lads as when he was talking to me! He also portrays the quiet desperation of a young man still living at home, barely able to get casual labouring work, his frustrations not quite driving him to action though. Ria Zmitrowicz has the slightly more difficult job with Kirsty, a 15 year old girl becoming aware of her burgeoning sexuality but not quite yet fully aware of the consequences of exploiting it in the way she does. She does find a nice likeability in among her naïve dreams and Barnes captures the brutal honesty of teenage speak well. Continue reading “Review: Chapel Street, Old Red Lion”