Review: The Greatest Wealth, Old Vic

Paying tribute to the NHS in its 70th year, the specially-commissioned monologues of The Greatest Wealth made for a great night at the Old Vic

“It’s a wonderful idea
It’s a marvellous idea
It’s such a very good idea”

It’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be here but for the NHS – it changed my life as a young boy, it saved my life as a teenager who didn’t look both ways. A story I imagine which finds resonance with so very many of us in the UK but as this venerable institution marks its 70th birthday, it finds itself under siege more than ever. So what better time to reflect on what has been, what is and what yet might be for our National Health Service.

Curated by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Adrian Lester, The Greatest Wealth took the form of a series of specially-commissioned world-premiere monologues, each responding to a particular decade of the NHS’s existence. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has become an integral part of the social and economic fabric of the nation, it proved a varied and thoughtful evening.

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TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4

“Edmund Reid did this”

As I might have predicted after the soaring heights of Series 3, the fourth season of Ripper Street didn’t quite live up to its forerunner. Then again, how could it after the epic sweep of the storytelling had so much of the finale about it in terms of where it left its key characters – Matthew Macfadyen’s Reid, Jerome Flynn’s Drake, Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Susan – picking up the pieces to carry on was always going to be difficult.

To recap, Reid had given up the police force after being reunited with his previously-thought-dead daughter Mathilda, and Susan’s momentous struggle against the patriarchal strictures of society (and also the nefarious entanglements of her actual father) saw her and Jackson end up behind bars, having also drawn Reid and the promoted Drake into the exacting of an individual kind of justice.  Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4”

Review: Don Quixote, Swan

“We are all gathering dust here, none of us have much to do”

It’s a tough job being an actor junkie. Even whilst trying to cut down on the amount of theatre I see, I find it immensely hard to turn down the opportunity to watch long-admired actors in the flesh, hence dragging myself to see A Christmas Carol for Jim Broadbent, overriding my Pinter-averse instincts to book for Timothy Spall in The Caretaker, and heading to Stratford-upon-Avon to see David Threlfall return to the RSC, over 35 years since he was last there.

Drawing him back is a new adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote by poet James Fenton (pulling the focus a bit in marking the 400th anniversary of someone else’s death) that is filled with mayhem and music and madness and melancholy. Determined to translate the world of chivalry of which he has read so much, Don Quixote sets out on his own quest to become a wandering knight, carrying out acts of derring-do with his hapless squire but finding that fictional romantic ideal increasingly hard to come by. Continue reading “Review: Don Quixote, Swan”

Shakespeare Solos – Part 2

“Are you meditating on virginity?”

The Guardian’s Shakespeare Solos series continues apace with its second suite of videos now released on their website and this time they’re much more of a mixed bag. There’s strong work from a duffle coat-clad David Threlfall as The Tempest’s Prospero , mightily bearded and bedraggled but achingly eloquent too with all the heaving sorrow of revels ending. And Samuel West is an excellent Henry V, pacing the South Bank with the Houses of Parliament in full view as he experiences a restless night before launching into war. 

An unexpected delight is Sacha Dhawan taking on the role of a would-be pickup artist in a King’s Cross cocktail bar to deliver Parolles’ speech about virginity from All’s Well That Ends Well. Dhawan is a highly charismatic performer but inhabits this role perfectly, not bad for a Shakespearean screen debut. And there’s striking work from Camille O’Sullivan as King John’s grief-stricken Constance, director Dan Susman capturing much of the intensity that made her Rape of Lucrece so memorable. Continue reading “Shakespeare Solos – Part 2”

TV Review: What Remains

“Something bad always happens when you go upstairs”

Something is in the water of British crime drama that is making it more interesting than it has been for quite some time. Tony Basgallop’s What Remains, directed by Coky Giedroyc, has thrilled across four weeks on BBC1 making the kind of whodunnit that genuinely had one guessing right till the very end with its carousel of hugely unlikeable personalities remarkably all remaining in the mix for the crime for a very long time. Set in an inner-city townhouse split into flats, it plays on the anonymity of metropolitan life – the fact that we can live next door to people and remain strangers, dissociated from their lives entirely. Such is the fate of Melissa Young, whose decaying body is found in the loft of a building yet whose absence for two years has gone unnoticed. 

She owned the top flat but as soon we get to know the rest of the inhabitants, we soon see why this wasn’t the happiest of houses. A cranky maths teacher lives in the basement with something of a dirty secret, on the ground floor is a recovering alcoholic journalist whose romance with a colleague is under threat from his self-possessed teenage son, above them are lesbian graphic designers gripped in a psychotically abusive relationship and above them are a newly-arrived and heavily pregnant young couple. Throw in a widower detective on the brink of retirement and no life outside of work and the scene is set for cracking four-parter What Remains. Continue reading “TV Review: What Remains”

DVD Review: The Queen’s Sister

 “You will not menace the House of Windsor”

Lucy Cohu has the dubious pleasure of being one of the few women I would probably turn for,  she radiates an old-school glamour and sensuality that I find near-irresistable and I’ve loved the few stage performances of hers I have been able to catch (Speaking in Tongues, Broken Glass and A Delicate Balance). So I was quite happy to take in the Channel 4 television movie The Queen’s Sister, in which she took the lead role of Princess Margaret, in the name of the Jubilee Weekend 😉

It’s a semi-fictionalised account of her life by Craig Warner (although knowing so little of the reality, I couldn’t have told you what was real and what wasn’t) which focuses on her struggles against the establishment as she followed a life of largely wanton hedonism and leaving a trail of paramours behind her. Whether her previously married lover whom she was forbidden from wedding, the long-suffering husband prone to infidelity, the young pop singer who offers a faint hope of redemption, her relentless partying, fondness of always having a drink in her hand and general spoiltness consistently makes life difficult for herself.
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DVD Review: Housewife, 49

“What actually is mass observation?”

I have no earthly idea how this passed me by first time round containing as it does, two of my favourite things: the experience of everyday people in the Second World War and national treasure Victoria Wood. That Housewife, 49 was also written by Wood makes it even more remarkable I missed it, but catching it on the tv was one of those experiences that simply filled me with warmth, joy and a fair few tears as I utterly loved it.

It is based on the real-life wartime diaries of Nella Last (played here by Wood herself) , a Barrow-in-Furness housewife recovering from a nervous breakdown who participates in a national scheme to document the lives of normal people – Mass Observation – as a way of helping her recovery. Society is rather unforgiving of her inability to ‘cope’ especially as war starts, her marriage to the taciturn ’Daddy’ is constrictive and it is only when she is persuaded to give voluntary work a try by her younger son, that she finds the opportunity to slowly flourish as her confidence is built and she becomes an integral and vital part of the community. Continue reading “DVD Review: Housewife, 49”