TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch

“Kill her and be free”

Greek tragedies are never a light affair but The Libation Bearers, the second part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is particularly brutal. Following on from the vengeful fury of Clytemnesta slaying her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, the thirst for revenge switches to her other children Electra and Orestes, the latter of whom returning from exile to kill his mother for murdering his father. He’s got his own permission from the gods so it’s ok and urged on by a viciously determined Electra to conquer his nagging doubts, he sets about steeling himself for such a deed.

Ed Hime’s new version is highly atmospheric and swirls effectively on the edge of the mystical. His Chorus of slave women are voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri and Sheila Reid, their cracked voices recalling Macbeth’s Weird Sisters in urging Will Howard’s solid Orestes towards matricide. Lesley Sharp is strong again as Clytemnesta, haunted by her misdeeds and Electra is given a chilling intensity by Joanne Froggatt – I just find it interesting that there is no attempt to understand her mother’s actions, instead Agamemnon is venerated as the greatest leader ever despite the fact he had her sister killed. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch”

Review: small hours, Hampstead Downstairs

“I got two hours last night…”

small hours is a one woman show about post-natal depression conceived as an installation piece in the Michael Frayn Space in the basement of the Hampstead Theatre as part of their Hampstead Downstairs season. Truth be told, this would not normally appeal to me but as it is directed by Katie Mitchell, doyenne of the avant-garde, it felt like a risk worth taking to see what this most innovative of directors had come up with next. It reunites her with Beauty and the Beast counterpart Lucy Kirkwood who wrote this play with Ed Hime, a writer of Skins amongst other things.

Asked to take our shoes off and told to take seats on the furniture around the edges of the room, there’s chairs, sofas, benches, armchairs to take your pick from, we enter a large living/dining room which has been most effectively realised by designer Alex Eales. We become aware of a woman sat at one end of the room, just in from a visit to a corner shop, and we’re soon drawn into her insomniatic world. It is 3am in the morning, her husband is away with work leaving her with the baby and so we watch her trying to while the hours away, phoning her partner, wrestling with voice recognition systems trying to book a cinema ticket, watching late night shopping channels on the TV. Continue reading “Review: small hours, Hampstead Downstairs”