Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5

“I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing’s quite as wonderful as the things you see”

So as David Tennant’s Ten regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleven, Doctor Who also changed showrunner/lead writer/executive producer/oddjob man as Steven Moffat took over the reins from Russell T Davies. The pressure was on both to deliver – the relatively unknown Smith had low expectations, Moffat had sky-high ones due to his much-garlanded writing – and I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t. Smith revealed an impossibly ancient soul to his youthful frame with a Doctor unafraid to be as angrily dark as hyper-actively quirky. And Moffat constructed a complex series, introducing the depths of new companion Amy Pond slowly, and building to a multi-stranded timey-wimey finale that makes the head hurt just to think about it.

Elsewhere, the overused Daleks returned in multicoloured format, the Weeping Angels were much more successfully reprised in a stonking double-header, the Silurians also came back, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory grew in stature to become an effective second companion as opposed to a third wheel. Oh, and Helen McCrory stole the show, but then you knew I’d say that didn’t you 😉 Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:3

“Sod ‘name in lights’, you’re an app now my brother”

On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…the always welcome Tobias Menzies

It’s little surprise that Black Mirror returns to the world of politics in The Waldo Moment given how effectively it skewered its contemporary shallowness in The National Anthem. Here, the focus is larger than just the Prime Minister, centring on a protest vote movement that builds up around Waldo, a profane animated bear who interviews celebrities disarmingly in an Ali G-like manner. 

Waldo’s latest victim is Tobias Menzies’ insidious prospective Tory MP Liam Monroe and when an encounter between the pair goes viral, the powers-that-be behind the cartoon decide to enter him into the by-election. But the man who voices and plays Waldo via motion capture technology is far less convinced, failed comedian Jamie (Daniel Rigby) has no confidence in himself and as the public get thoroughly behind this new anti-establishment candidate, he finds it harder and harder to disentangle himself. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:3”

Review: One Night In Miami…, Donmar

“I’m way too pretty not to be in the movies”

Just a quickie for this, as it has now closed. Kemp Powers’ One Night In Miami… takes place on 25th February 1964 in the aftermath of Cassius Clay’s prize-winning fight with Sonny Liston. In a Floridian hotel room, he marks the occasion by hanging out with his friends Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and sports star Jim Brown as they reflect on the momentous point in the US civil rights movement that they variously find themselves involved in. And what could have been a dry debate is brought wonderfully to life by Powers’ script, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction and a great cast.

Sope Dirisu’s Clay is on the cusp of converting to Islam and changing his name but Dirisu finds the man behind the myth most delightfully, David Akala’s Brown is genially laidback, and Arinzé Kene sings wonderfully as Cooke whose integrationist views contrast strongly with Francois Battiste’s Malcolm X who is advocating a more militant course of action. There’s also Dwane Walcott and Josh Williams as the two wary guards from The Nation of Islam, adding tension and unpredictability, and altogether it proved a most fascinating and illuminating piece of drama. 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd December

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

 

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

Continue reading “Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’”

Review: The Witness, Royal Court

“You are going to see things that are going to hurt you”

Vivienne Franzmann’s first, Bruntwood-winning, play Mogadishu was a deserved success last year and so her follow-up work for the Royal Court, The Witness, was something I was most definitely looking forward to. And as one enters the upstairs theatre with one of the cleverest and most ingenious in-the-round designs I’ve seen (has anyone done that before?) from Lizzie Clachan, anticipation was certainly high.

Joseph is a war photographer who is now living a quieter life in Hampstead, still processing the grief of becoming a widower and waiting for the return of his adoptive daughter Alex from her first year at Cambridge. He rescued her from the scene of a war crime in Rwanda and changed her life dramatically, but her time away has raised serious questions of identity for her and so her father decides to reveal a secret he has been keeping for a while… Continue reading “Review: The Witness, Royal Court”

Review: Ruined, Almeida

“People come here to leave behind whatever mess they made out there”

Working in partnership with Amnesty International, the Almeida theatre gives us the European premiere of Ruined, the Pulitzer Prize winning play from Lynn Nottage. It is set at Mama Nadi’s, a bar and brothel in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mama runs her bar with a rod of iron, serving anyone who will pay, no matter what side they are fighting for, along as they leave their weapons and their politics at the bar. As the civil war encroaches ever nearer and two new arrivals who have suffered particularly badly at the hands of soldiers, she is forced to reassess her life of providing women and whiskey without question and decide if it is enough.

As Mama Nadi, Jenny Jules is excellent. She’s rarely off-stage and holds the whole play together with her irrepressible hostessing, able to charm any customer yet possessed of an indomitable spirit, no soldier, no matter how threatening, gets past her with a weapon and she rules over her girls with a rod of iron. Starting off like Brecht’s Mother Courage, a similar profiteer from wartime chaos, her motivations remain mostly ambiguous but as events catch up with her, she becomes much more emotionally engaged. Jules is supported extremely well by Pippa Bennett-Warner as Sophie, bright and beautiful yet ‘ruined’ by a bayonet, Michelle Asante as Salima, gang-raped by soldiers but then even more painfully, shunned by her husband and Kehinde Fadipe as Josephine, the most sexually confident of the three but just as damaged. Together, they form an uncompromising group of women, scarred both inside and out by rebel soldiers, government soldiers, even their own families, and only able to dream of what might be in the (relative) safety of each other’s company. Continue reading “Review: Ruined, Almeida”

TV Review: Hamlet, RSC

“What are thou that usurp’st this time of night”
 

The recent RSC production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant, has been filmed and was broadcast on BBC2 on Boxing Day afternoon, a curious piece of scheduling but thanks to the beauty of iPlayer, I was able to watch it as my leisure this evening. Rather than filming the play as it was performed on stage, the original cast deliver this modern-dress and modern-day adaption on location which gives it a much more filmic feel, especially with some of the camera tricks used, such as observing the action from the CCTV cameras.

David Tennant really is rather good here. His Hamlet is both wiry and wired, constantly moving and shifting, mimicking those around him with a quick wit but all-the-while suffused with a precipitous edge. The sense of danger is never far from this often bare-footed prince, but in my limited Hamlet experience, I did miss a little of the brooding intensity that Jude Law brought to the role. Equally strong though was Patrick Stewart’s coldly calculating Claudius. From his opening scene, there is no doubt that he has Hamlet’s cards marked and employs a chilling restraint throughout which was far scarier than any amount of raging. And Oliver Ford Davies’ Polonius was also good value for money, flirting between the doddery old dear of the court and the canny politician keeping himself in favour. Continue reading “TV Review: Hamlet, RSC”

Review: Nation, National

“If you’re watching grandmama, look away now”

Sometimes I think there’s something to be said for just sitting down at the theatre, especially when it is a family show and just enjoying what’s front of you. I’ll be the first to admit that I have done very little of that this year but for some reason, and it wasn’t even the mulled wine, Nation at the National Theatre warmed my heart in a way I was not expecting.

The fantasy genre is one which is often hard to adapt to the stage, as the books are heavily laden with a rich level of detail, creating new worlds and mythologies, and there inevitably has to some degree of compromise between creating a coherent narrative for the timespan of a play but remaining faithful enough to respect the source material (and please the fans). And if one is being honest, there were elements of Mark Ravenhill’s adaptation of Terry Prachett’s story of two teenagers thrown together by a giant tsunami leaving one shipwrecked and the other without a home, that didn’t bear much scrutiny. But it was so swiftly directed that only the most curmudgeonly of souls would have dwelt on the plotholes. Continue reading “Review: Nation, National”