TV Review: Black Earth Rising

A cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati make Hugo Blick’s complex Black Earth Rising watchable if not quite essential

“That is why I made a deal like that”

A tricky one this. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Hugo Blick drama (qv The Shadow Line, The Honorable Woman), weighty complex dramas with amazing casts tackling inscrutable global conspiracies. And Black Earth Rising is no different, as it puts the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath under the microscope, examining Western colonial and capitalist attitudes towards Africa along with the role of the Iinternational Criminal Court.

And with a cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, Harriet Walter, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati to name just a few, it is naturally eminently watchable. Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her barrister mother Eve (Walter). Eve adopted Kate from Rwanda years back but her decision to take on a case prosecuting a Tutsi general who, after helping end the genocide, went on to commit war crimes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, outrages Kate who is also Tutsi.
Continue reading “TV Review: Black Earth Rising”

News: National Theatre at Home final phase

The National Theatre has announced a further five productions that will be streamed as a part of the National Theatre at Home series. Established in April to bring culture and entertainment to audiences around the world during this unprecedented period, National Theatre at Home has so far seen 10 productions streamed via the NT’s YouTube channel, with over 12 million views to date. These will be the final titles to be shared for free via YouTube in this period. However, future digital activity to connect with audiences in the UK and beyond is planned, with further details to be announced soon. 

The productions will be broadcast each Thursday at 7pm BST for free and will then be available on demand for seven days. Titles added to the programme today include A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bridge Theatre, alongside Small IslandLes Blancs, The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus from the National Theatre.  Continue reading “News: National Theatre at Home final phase”

TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)

Series 2 of Chewing Gum sees Michaela Coel nail the ‘two series and out’ trajectory of some of the best British sitcoms

“I’m not 17, I’m a grown-up woman. I just…regularly make childlike mistakes”

I belatedly came to Chewing Gum just now and watched both the first series and this second one in a single sitting each, their addictive nature and too-easily bingeable lengths giving me two fine nights in front of the TV.

Writer and creator Michaela Coel rarely let her imagination get in the way of the first six episodes but here, the expansion of Tracey’s world beyond her Tower Hamlets estate is quite simply fucking hilarious. Plus, the marvellous Sinéad Matthews appears in this series too. Continue reading “TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)”

TV Review: Harlots Series 2

Season 2 of Harlots maintains an impressive run for this excellent series

“You let women do this to you?”

I loved the first series of Harlots when I finally got round to catching up with it recently, so I was keen not to let too pass to tackle Series 2. Inspired by Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies, creators Alison Newman and Moira Buffini have done a marvellous job of conjuring and maintaining a richly detailed world that puts women’s experiences front and centre.

The heart of the show has been the burning rivalry between competing madams Lydia Quigley and Margaret Wells, and Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton remain a titanic force as they do battle with each other while simultaneously battling a corrupt patriarchy that would abuse them and their power for a guinea a time. And with its new additions, this second series widens out that focus to incorporate the experiences of other women. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 2”

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”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6”

fosterIAN awards 2016

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayJuliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary StuartUzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The MaidsGemma Arterton Nell Gwynn,
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Harriet Walter, The Tempest
Best Actor in a PlayO-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey's Black BottomLucian Msamati, Ma Rainey's Black BottomPhil Dunster, Pink Mist
Paapa Essiedu, Hamlet
Rhys Isaac-Jones, Jess and Joe Forever
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus
Danny Sapani, Les Blancs
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayJade Anouka, The TempestLizzy Connolly/Amanda Lawrence, Once in a LifetimeNadine Marshall, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Tanya Moodie, Hamlet
Siân Phillips, Les Blancs
Rachael Stirling, The Winter's Tale
Susan Wokoma, A Raisin In The Sun
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPeter Polycarpou, Scenes from 68* YearsAnthony Boyle, Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildRudi Dharmalingham, Mary Stuart
Dex Lee, Father Comes Home From The War (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Nick Fletcher, The Deep Blue Sea
Jonjo O'Neill, Unreachable
Alan Williams, Mary Stuart
Best Actress in a MusicalJenna Russell, Grey GardensClare Burt, Flowers for Mrs HarrisSamantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I'm Getting My Act Together...
Best Actor in a MusicalLouis Maskell, The Grinning ManAko Mitchell, RagtimeDeclan Bennett, Jesus Christ Superstar
Dex Lee, Grease
Hugh Maynard, Sweeney Todd
Charlie Stemp, Half A Sixpence
Mark Umbers, She Loves Me
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJennifer Saayeng, RagtimeVictoria Hamilton-Barritt, Murder BalladJosie Benson, Sweet Charity
Sheila Hancock, Grey Gardens
Rachel John, The Bodyguard
Katherine Kingsley, She Loves Me
Gloria Onitiri, The Grinning Man
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJulian Bleach, The Grinning ManTyrone Huntley, Jesus Christ SuperstarAdam J Bernard, Dreamgirls
Daniel Crossley, Sweet Charity
Stuart Neal, The Grinning Man
Dominic Tighe, She Loves Me
Gary Tushaw, Ragtime

2016 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

O-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Full of potent rage but rendered impotent by the race politics of 1920s America, Fagbenle’s powder-keg of a performance is etched on my mind in all its revolutionary rage and the punch in the stomach of the finale proved one of those moments I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Truly superb.

Honourable mention: Lucian Msamati, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
I ummed and aahed over whether to categorise this as a lead or supporting performance but ultimately there’s no denying how pivotal a role Toledo is. And how powerful Msamati was in it, starting off a superlative year for him in which he’s taken the National by storm.

Phil Dunster, Pink Mist
Paapa Essiedu, Hamlet
Rhys Isaac-Jones, Jess and Joe Forever
Lucian Msamati, Amadeus
Danny Sapani, Les Blancs

8-10
Gregory Ashton, Two Short Plays About Gays; Hans Kesting, Kings of War; Michael Socha, This Is Living


Best Actor in a Musical

Louis Maskell, The Grinning Man
As damaged soul Grinpayne, Maskell had the unenviable task of conveying the deep emotions of his character with much of his face obscured but through his sensitive acting and gorgeous vocal work, he perfectly captured the bittersweetly romantic tone of this Gothic hero. Surely, surely, we haven’t seen the last of this show.

Honourable mention: Ako Mitchell, Ragtime
The fact that Ragtime straddled the US presidential election only heightened the power of its message and at its heart, Mitchell’s Coalhouse Walker Jnr on his journey of aspiration destroyed by intolerance felt like a beacon for so much more than Ahrens and Flaherty could ever have dreamed.

Declan Bennett, Jesus Christ Superstar
Dex Lee, Grease
Hugh Maynard, Sweeney Todd
Charlie Stemp, Half A Sixpence
Mark Umbers, She Loves Me

8-10
Fra Fee. The Wind in the Willows; Ashley Robinson, Floyd Collins; Michael Xavier, Sunset Boulevard

 

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #6

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Dorney Court, Berkshire
I’m becoming less and less tolerant of men taking women’s roles, especially when there’s no reciprocity, and as much as I like Paul Chahidi – I don’t see why he gets to be one  of the titular merry wives here opposite Mel Giedroyc. Rebecca Gatward’s fourth-wall smashing direction is very much in keeping with the Globe’s often broad sense of comedy but for me, it lacks any subtlety at all.


CymbelineAs the world’s newest country, there’s something special about the South Sudan Theatre Company forming especially for the Globe 2 Globe Festival, so it’s a bit harsh that they were then lumbered with CymbelineSam Yates splices their show with his newly-filmed clips in a Welsh forest somewhere near Milford Haven but as talented as Hayley Atwell is and Kevin Harvey too, it’s a rather dull experience – I remain unconvinced about the play.

Henry VIII

There’s no doubting that Henry VIII is one of the less-exciting plays in the canon and though Mark Rosenblatt ventures into the beautiful gardens of Hampton Court Palace with Danny Sapani as his monarch, struggling to come to terms with his longed-for heir being a girl (Pauline McLynn delivering the news well), it’s never that compelling. Even the clips of the 2010 Globe production remind more of its inertia than anything else.

Coriolanus

There have been some pretty sweet gigs on the Complete Walk and Dromgoole’s roadtrip to Rome with Dominic West for Coriolanus has to rank up there. A stylishly shot film that comes close to a perfume ad in its luxuriousness and moody glances, it’s nonetheless most effective.