TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York

There’s always a new or different way to do things, no matter how ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ London-based commentators get, and so the news of Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean Theatre – SHAKESPEARE’S ROSE THEATRE feels like a good thing to me. Taking up residence in York this summer, the Rose looks set to replicate something of the Globe experience, groundlings and all, for a whole new audience.

The 10-week season will consist of four plays, performed in repertory by two companies of actors 

  • A tragedy – Macbeth
  • A comedy – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • A tragic love story – Romeo and Juliet
  • A history – Richard III

Romeo and Juliet and Richard III will be directed by the award-winning Lindsay Posner, while York Theatre Royal’s Olivier Award-winning Artistic Director Damian Cruden will direct Macbeth, and Associate Director Juliet Forster will be putting her stamp on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And particularly pleasing to see is that even in this setting which might be perceived as traditional as it gets, there’s a playfulness to the approach to the plays (from Cruden and Forster at least). Antony Bunsee and Amanda Ryan play Theseus and Hippolyta but in a bit of a switch, will also play Titania and Oberon respectively. There’s a female Puck too, plus Amy Lennox as Hermia which leaves me in no doubt as to which of these will be my priority to see! Continue reading “News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York”

Preview: VAULT 2017

Established now as one of the major arts festivals in London, the VAULT Festival returns from 25th January to 5th March 2017 at its original home beneath Waterloo Station and, for the first time, at satellite venues Network Theatre (just to the side of Waterloo) and Morley College (a little further away past Lambeth North). As ever, the programme features an exciting selection of shows exploring many themes via many more mediums. Full information and tickets are available now via VAULTFestival.com.

I’m still working out exactly what and how much I am going to see but I have got a few selections of the things that have definitely caught my eye.  Continue reading “Preview: VAULT 2017”

Review: Y Gwyll / Hinterland Series 2

“Time to come back, the past is the past”

Our appetite for dark crime dramas is seemingly insatiable but it is helped by the quality of programming that is now being sourced from a wide range of countries. One such drama that is closer to home than most is the Welsh-language police procedural Y Gwyll, which is also broadcast in a bilingual English and Welsh format as Hinterland. The 5 part second series of feature-length episodes has just been released on DVD by Nordic Noir and Beyond.

Labelled as part of the Celtic Noir movement, it is interesting to try and locate Hinterland in the televisual landscape and it does fall naturally somewhere in the North Sea – the influence of the all-conquering Scandi-crimewave is certainly there, as are hints of something more homegrown – as reductive as comparisons are, I’d say this is a cross between the Icelandic Trapped and bleak West Yorkshire of Happy ValleyContinue reading “Review: Y Gwyll / Hinterland Series 2”

Review: Right Now (À Présent), Bush

“It’s exactly like yours, but the other way around”

As any fule kno, purple underwear had its cultural apotheosis in Back to the Future but there’s a scene in Catherine-Anne Toupin’s Right Now (À Présent) that threatens to wrest that title from Michael J Fox and anoint the delicious Maureen Beattie in his place. But lingerie aside, there’s much more in play in this fascinatingly twisty piece of writing from this Québécois playwright, a transfer from Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio which has already toyed extensively with our perceptions in The Father and The Mother which have also been exported down the M4 in recent months.

Here, it’s Alice who has tumbled down the theatrical rabbit-hole into a world of increasing strangeness. Installed in a swanky new apartment with doctor husband Ben, life ought to be swell but there’s clearly something awry – their physical intimacy is severely stilted, a child’s toy left on the floor provokes the tensest of exchanges, her sleeping patterns are wrecked and he’s working all the hours God sends. All the while, a baby’s cries haunt the room… So the arrival of orchid-bearing Juliette from across the hallway, along with son François and husband Gilles and their promises of drinks and dinner parties ought to release the pressure valve – after all everybody needs good neighbours. Continue reading “Review: Right Now (À Présent), Bush”

Film Review: Pride (2014)

“To find out you have a friend you never knew existed, well it’s the best feeling in the world”
 
I kind of knew that I would like the film Pride, I hoped that I would really like it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I loved it – the kind of joyous, timeless film-making that makes you want to trot tired old clichés like Great British Classics. But it’s true, it really is. And it is also factually true – based on the real story of an unlikely alliance between a group of gay activists from London and a small Welsh mining community in the heart of the 1984 strike.
 
Written by Stephen Beresford (whose Last of the Haussmans probably ranks as one of my favourite new plays of recent years), there’s something just straight up lovely about the culture clash that emerges between the two groups, but also in the way that the assortment of odds and sods on both sides who are completely changed by the experience. I don’t think a coda has ever affected me quite so much in the revelation of finding out what actually happened to these people in real life.

Continue reading “Film Review: Pride (2014)”

Review: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Foul-spoken coward, that thund’rest with thy tongue, and with thy weapon nothing dar’st perform!”

The Globe must be loving all the attention that Titus Andronicus has gained as Lucy Bailey’s claustrophobically gory production returns and once again brings with it numerous fainters at every show, that in turn providing an easy hook for feature writers to focus on, garnering the kind of free publicity other theatres could only dream of. That people faint fairly regularly at the Globe is by the by, and far be it from me to get in the way of a good story…

And in some ways, that is kind of the point. It isn’t too far of a stretch to suggest that Titus isn’t one of Shakespeare’s strongest works and so directors have to work hard at making it work and much of what Bailey introduces is excellent. William Dudley’s design manages that all-too-rare thing of actually doing something completely different with the Globe’s space, brilliantly evoking hellish blackness throughout, and Django Bates’ score is superbly eerie. Continue reading “Review: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic

“Oh, my dears…there’s more fun to be had here than at the theatre”

A sense of duty rather than excitement saw me nip into the Old Vic for Fortune’s Fool and to be frank, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Not a play with which I was familiar, I was shocked at how violently it rubbed me up the wrong way, an uneasy blend of Russian country house-driven ennui and farcical shenanigans which sadly felt like an utterly inessential piece of theatre. In retrospect, I can see how it might have appealed as a piece of safe programming but as with much this year at the Old Vic, it is hard to feel artistically enthused there and though this was an early performance in the run and received enthusiastically at the end, I’ve never seen so many newly empty seats post-interval. 


But back to the play. Written in 1848 by Turgenev, Lucy Bailey’s production uses Mike Poulton’s adaptation which was fashioned for Broadway back in 2002 (where it made its debut, though it has been seen in the UK before then). Kuzokvin is a miserable Russian aristocrat who has relied on the kindness of a (long dead) friend for room and board whilst his own property is tied up in legalities. When the newly married heirs to the estate announce they are to arrive, he’s sent into a bit of a tizzy, a situation which is made immeasurably worse when neighbour and fellow aristocrat Tropatchov turns up to join them for a boozy lunch. 


For Tropatchov is also miserable and his ennui manifests itself in an embittered viciousness to his repartee and the first half is taken up with the increasingly drunken antics of these aristocrats and their ever-watchful servants as Richard McCabe’s Tropatchov winds up Iain Glen’s Kuzovkin to excruciating levels of humiliations, but unleashing a shocking revelation which it then takes the second act to resolve. It is hardly ground-breaking stuff but crucially it doesn’t offer up anything much of interest, nothing about it held my attention sufficiently or manage to do much more than try my patience.


McCabe is decent enough but it is a one-note character, something exacerbated by the overused tic he gives his toff of frequently flicking his foppish fringe. Glen has the harder task of marrying tragi- with comedy and doesn’t really pull it off at the moment, the drunkenness a horribly stagy sequence and thoroughly unbelievable. The only pleasure for me came from seeing Alexander Vlahos doing well as the returning heir, nice to see him graduating to larger roles since a great turn in Macbeth earlier this year. So not my cup of tea at all but more than that, it also feels an unsatisfactory (and far-too-female-light) choice of play. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 22nd February

Radio Review: Austerlitz, Radio 3

“We talked about how memory deals or doesn’t deal with what is intolerable”

WG Sebald’s novel Austerlitz is a simply astounding piece of writing so I knew that I would have to make time in the busy Christmas schedule to listen to Michael Butt’s adaptation for Radio 3, even if it isn’t necessarily the most festive of fare. An emotive tale of repressed memories and how the echoes of an unresolved past can ripple out throughout an entire lifetime.

The story is based around a series of meetings between the narrator and a man named Austerlitz. From the waiting room in Antwerp station to London hotels and Parisian cafés, a relationship grows between the two men as the narrator gradually teases out the long-buried story of Austerlitz’s past which, as he was born into a Czechoslovakian Jewish family in the 1930s, is intrinsically entwined with the Holocaust, an event his mother saved him from by having him transported to the UK where he was adopted by a Welsh family and given a whole new identity. Continue reading “Radio Review: Austerlitz, Radio 3”