Review: Pinter Six, Harold Pinter Theatre

A superbly cast double-bill of Party Time and Celebration makes up a sharp Pinter Six at the Harold Pinter Theatre

“My driver had to stop at a….what do you call it…roadblock.”

One of the benefits in producing such a wide-ranging festival as Pinter at the Pinter has been the flexibility in its programming, allowing for thematic evenings to emerge as opposed to a straight chronological trip through the canon. So here, Jamie Lloyd is able to bring together two plays set at gatherings, both conveniently cast for nine people.

The first social occasion is the most effective, 1991’s Party Time begins with the sepulchral chords of Handel’s Sarabande in D Minor processed through an electronic filter and its partygoers sat in a line facing the audience. They’re members of a private club and we slowly learn that as they sip champagne, the world outside has gone to shit. Continue reading “Review: Pinter Six, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

TV Review: Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“What visions have I seen”

When the RSC announced their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, surtitling it ‘A Play for the Nation’ as it tours the UK, working with amateur theatre groups across the land, they probably weren’t expecting it to be a play for the nation because somebody would be putting on another production of it every couple of weeks. Or maybe they were, it is one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays – indeed it is among my favourites as the first I ever read – and so why wouldn’t Filter bring it back to the Lyric Hammersmith, the Reversed Shakespeare Company put their own spin on it, Emma Rice opened her tenure at the Globe with it, and the Southwark Playhouse open their own version of it with Go People early next week…

For those outside of the London theatre bubble though, the opportunity to see a televised version of the play, adapted by Russell T Davies’ gay agenda and directed by David Kerr, won’t have felt like overkill. And there was much to commend in a reimagining of the play which dabbled in just a fair few changes for the most part and then decided to rip up the rulebook in a jubilant final ten minutes that will doubtless seize the headlines and rile the purists among us but regardless, managed to remain unerringly faithful to exactly how you would imagine Davies’ Dream might play out (Flute/soldier fanfic please!). Continue reading “TV Review: Russell T Davies’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me!
Well I didn’t really waste time, I just prioritised. Over the many ways in which Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary was celebrated and fitting in something of a social life, the Globe’s Complete Walk – specially commissioned bitesize films of each of his 37 plays – just felt like a step too far, plus there was always the assumption (or should that be presumption) that the films would resurface in a more accessible way. And so it seems to be coming to pass, with three of them now available on the BBC’s iPlayer.

   

My favourite of these three was Antony & Cleopatra Starting with a plethora of snippets from both Rome and Egypt from Jonathan Munby’s 2014 production starring Eve Best and Clive Wood, leading up to a stunning adaptation of Cleopatra and Iras’ final moments filmed at the Red Pyramid at Dahshur in Egypt. Beautifully shot with real restraint from Mark Rosenblatt and gorgeously spoken by Eleanor Matsuura and Katy Stephens respectively, the superb musical accompaniment written and performed by Norwegian violinist Bjarte Eike with his baroque ensemble Barokksolistene combine to spine-tingling effect.


Another film to combine Globe productions with the new was Richard II, Bill Buckhurst getting to film inside Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament for its added piquancy. There we find uber-present James Norton’s monarch surrendering his crown to Dominic Rowan’s Bolingbroke, spliced with Simon Godwin’s 2015 production at the Globe with Frederick Neilson and Charles Edwards as the monarch at the beginning and end of his reign. I could watch Norton and Rowan for days, this only faded a little in comparison with the wonders from the Pyramids.



Oddly enough, the most formally interesting of the trio – Hamlet – was the one that stirred me the least. Though filmed at the Danish castle at Kronborg, Elsinore itself, the location didn’t actually bring too much to the table for me. And the format from Dominic Dromgoole, passages from the play fragmented into 4 voices, didn’t spark as much as I thought it would, even though those voices belonged to Michelle Terry, Alex Jennings, Nikesh Patel, and Ashley Zhangazha. 


DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3

“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them, they went out and happened to things”

I came to Da Vinci’s Demons late but I really enjoyed working my way through Series 1 and Series 2 of this historical fantasy in order to get up to speed for the arrival of the third series. This turned out to be a bit of a bittersweet exercise as the show was then cancelled and the decision made to release the final series in its entirety online. I reviewed the first two episodes here but it has taken me a while to get to watching the rest though sadly, it wasn’t quite the swansong I’d hoped for.

Now thoroughly uprooted from Florence, the multitudinous locations of the many-stranded narrative leave Da Vinci’s Demons flailing aimlessly a little too often, with a sense of confusion about where and when (and indeed why) things are happening and not enough of a grand design emerging, drawing the pieces together with increasing clarity. The most frustrating part of this is the prominence of the programme’s internal mythology, pitching the Sons of Mithras (now bad) against the Labyrinth (possibly good, I think). Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8

“Are you one of those? They’re everywhere in Brighton aren’t they.
‘Yeah, not so many in Halifax though, cos of the weather’”

I really enjoyed the opening half of new BBC police drama Cuffs and so whacked up a review of those four episodes whilst they were still watchable on the iPlayer. The show has now finished its run, 8 episodes being the default setting for a ‘long’ series here in the UK, and whilst it may have lost a little of the fast-paced energy that characterised its arrival, its bevy of boisterous characters ensured I was fully engaged right through to the end of the last episode.

With such a large ensemble making up the South Sussex team, Cuffs did sometimes struggle in giving each of them a fair crack of the whip. For me, it was Amanda Abbington’s Jo who got the shortest end of the stick, too much of her screen-time, especially early on, being taken up with the fallout of her illicit affair instead of showing her as the more than capable police officer we finally saw in the latter episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8”

Review: Here We Go, National Theatre

“Are those the pearly gates?” 

Almost like buses, you wait for a new Caryl Churchill play and two come along – Escaped Alone will play at the Royal Court in the New Year but up first is Here We Go at the National, directed by Dominic Cooke. Described as “a short play about death”, it clocks in at 45 minutes but depending on how you fare with it, it may seem like longer… 

Churchill has split her musings on mortality into a triptych of distinct but related scenarios. The first scene sees the playwright deploy her characteristic linguistic playfulness on a group of mourners at a funeral, their fragmented chit-chat skirting around the larger issues, their individual asides to the audience riffing beautifully on the coda to Six Feet Under’s magisterial finale (of all things).  Continue reading “Review: Here We Go, National Theatre”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4

“All we can do is hang on”

Rather incredibly, given the number of crime dramas there are, Cuffs is actually the BBC’s first police procedural since 2007’s Holby Blue (according to Wikipedia at least), but a rather good one it is too. Creator Julie Gearey has set the show in Brighton and its environs, the territory of the South Sussex Police service, and the first four episodes (which entertained me on a train journey back from Amsterdam) started Cuffs off so strongly that I wanted to recommend it now whilst you can still catch them all on the iPlayer.

The opening episodes are jam-packed with incident, the first part alone crammed child abduction, stolen JCBs, stabbings and a racist released from prison to give a strong sense of the relentless pace of life in the force but the writing has been particularly strong in demonstrating the peculiar demands of modern policing. Traditional boundaries of respect have been torn down so we see the police punched, spat on, and kicked in the face and also having to deal with rubberneckers filming accident scenes on their phone, and members of the public chancing their arm with harassment claims. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me
I can’t ever die”

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it. Continue reading “Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream”