TV Review: Liar Series 2

Series 2 of Liar shifts the focus from rape to murder but does little to raise this from bog-standard thriller territory

“Sometimes bad things happen and we just have to deal with them”

Was the world calling out for a second season of Liar? When the first apparently did such great numbers for ITV, it seems the decision was inevitable but it has taken more than two years for it to arrive and I’m not sure that it carries the same level of impetus with it – I don’t imagine ratings will have held up to anywhere near the same degree.

That first series did show much promise, complicating a rape story by presenting a he said/she said narrative that asked some big questions. But midway through, Liar tipped its hand and ended up as a bog-standard thriller and it is in that same spirit that it continues here. A bit of story-telling trickery allows for Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew to return alongside Joanne Froggatt as Laura but I have to say I really wasn’t gripped. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar Series 2”

TV Review: Liar (Series 1)

A strong opening concept makes the first half of series one of Liar a must-see, until convention creeps in to mar the second.

“I feel like I’m in Dawson’s Creek

From the very beginnings of Liar, it is tough to like central character Laura Nielson. She’s the type of person who goes canoeing in the morning before going to work, she’s the kind of secondary school teacher who happily flips the bird to unruly students, heck she even sings to Sam Smith in the shower. But before you can get too annoyed with her for being someone who doesn’t prebook her taxi before going on a date, the hammer blow of date rape lands heavily to reshape our preconceptions.

The cleverness of Harry and Jack Williams’ series, at least for its first few episodes, is how it toys with those expectations. As Laura reels from the aftermath of her dinner with handsome surgeon Andrew Earlham, the shattered narrative structure flits repeatedly from present to past as it also switches perspective. It’s a neatly disorientating device that constantly calls into question the ‘truth’ of what we’re hearing or seeing, really ramping up the ‘he said she said’ format as consequences unravel dramatically for the both of them. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar (Series 1)”

Review: Volcano, Richmond Theatre

“The most beautiful thing about having people to stay is when they leave.”

There’s always a danger, when delving into the realms of rarely-produced works by playwrights in the hope of unearthing of a gem, of forgetting that there are often good reasons why some plays gather dust on a shelf even whilst others are regularly revived. It is currently Noël Coward’s turn to have his back catalogue exhumed, in the form of this touring production of the 1956 play Volcano but though it is an addition to Coward’s oeuvre that might be appreciated by completists, it can hardly be said to be a salutary contribution to his legacy.  

The warning signs are there: the play was never performed in Coward’s lifetime (programme notes suggest it would have been too frank for the censors but the play didn’t even get that far as it was turned down flat by his producer) despite being written nearly 20 years before his death and came at a time when he had just become a tax exile, having moved to Jamaica amidst a cluster of colonial celebrity chums whose intrigues could well have inspired the events of seen here. Continue reading “Review: Volcano, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Verdict, Churchill Bromley

“People matter as much as ideas”

Her off Strictly Come Dancing, him out of Drop the Dead Donkey, her out of Monarch of the Glen, him off Doctors and yes him out of Harry Potter all grown up now: Bill Kenwright’s The Agatha Christie Theatre Company’s production of her 1958 play Verdict is jam-packed with recognisable faces, a canny move for a touring show. But the company’s exploration of the full breadth of her playwriting (last year saw Witness for the Prosecution but the previous one saw A Daughter’s A Daughter, a romance written under her Mary Westmacott pseudonym) means that this is not necessarily the most recognisably ‘Agatha Christie’ of her works. A completely original play, Verdict eschews the mystery thriller format and is more of a melodrama. Yes there’s a murder but it is carried out onstage in front of us and Christie is much more interested in exploring the consequences of following the head and not the heart and the impact that purely intellectual reasoning can have on people.

It is set entirely in the Bloomsbury flat of German émigré Professor Karl Hendryk where he lives with wife Anya, suffering from a progressively debilitating disease, and cousin Lisa who helps to care for her. Anya is bitter about having to flee her contented life in Germany due to Karl’s act of kindness to a persecuted friend and depressed about the state of her own health, so questions of suicide are raised when she dies. But his liberal attitudes to those who do him wrong push his friends to the very limit as it turns out all is not what it seems with his wife’s death and adhering so strictly to his moral code threatens those who are closest to him.

Robert Duncan’s professor was strong with a nice fatherly compassion, though I wasn’t entirely sure I saw what made practically every woman in the play fall for this character. But the relationships with the women in his life were well done and the connections with Dawn Steele’s excellent Lisa, a tower of patient strength, Ali Bastian’s slatternly spoilt student and Cassie Raine’s angsty wife were testament to some strong acting performances. Around them, there’s a flurry of variable supporting performances: I enjoyed Mark Wynter’s kindly Doctor Stoner but Matthew Lewis’ helpful student was too underpowered to make much impact and conversely, Elizabeth Power’s vicious gossip of a housekeeper was too broadly comedic, though most of the audience would probably disagree with me.

However, the strength of the acting cannot really overcome the dated feel to much of the material and the sense of old-fashioned melodrama that permeates. It all feels rather predictable and though director Joe Harmston jolts occasional life into the production by working in a couple of neat tricks with some key revelations, it just serves to remind how good her mystery thrillers are by comparison. Christie’s insights into the relationships between men and women don’t offer much to our contemporary world though the debate on morality and ethics was more effective.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 2nd April, then touring to Derby and Richmond


Originally written for The Public Reviews