TV Review: The Royals Season 1

“When a mother loses her first-born son, I believe she’s allowed to grieve…
‘Not when she’s the Queen'”

If The Crown isn’t quite your thing, or perhaps you have a real yearning for more monarchical drama, then you could do a little worse that watching The Royals. Showing on US TV station E! as its first ever scripted series, it is wonderfully, monumentally, trashy beyond belief – I mean it has Liz Hurley as the Queen in it for Gawd’s sake – and so quite easily falls into the category of guilty pleasure.

It is essentially Sunset Beach levels of realness, through the lens of Hello Magazine, as it follows a fictional but contemporary version of the British royal family through the trials of modern life. Liz Hurley’s Queen Helena is aghast when her husband, Vincent Regan’s King Simon, announces not only does he want to abdicate the throne, but he also wants to abolish the monarchy. Dun dun duh. Continue reading “TV Review: The Royals Season 1”

Review: Boy, Almeida

“I want to go to Sports Direct”

The august surroundings and let’s face it, the regular clientele of the Almeida wouldn’t immediately make you think it but Islington – the London borough in which it is situated – has the second highest level of child poverty in the nation. The wealth of somewhere like Barnsbury is barely a stone’s throw from deprived areas like the Bemerton Estate and its an issue which simply isn’t getting any better as evidenced by the horrendously out-of-touch approach to wealth of the current administration – “I obviously can’t point to the source of every bit of money…”

Someone who has no choice but to know exactly where every penny is coming from is Liam, the protagonist in Leo Butler’s Boy. Aged 17, he’s got no job, no cash, no motivation and worst of all in this digital age, no smartphone. Emotionally constrained by his teenage inarticulacy, he opts to wander out from his native South London to set off on a journey to try and connect with an old schoolfriend and en meandering route, he encounters a city at its coldest, finding painful isolation even in the most crowded of streets. Continue reading “Review: Boy, Almeida”

TV Review: Unforgotten

“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”

The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.

Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”

Review: Merchant of Vembley, Cockpit

“The ghee that cook your dhal is as clarified as that which cooks our lamb”

Shakespeare via South Asia, why not. Shishir Kurup’s Merchant of Vembley transports Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to North West London but not only that, transposes it into the South Asian community there, pitting a Muslim minority against the Hindi majority so turning the original’s anti-Semitism into an Islamophobia that is far too recognisable in today’s society. Directed by Ajay Chowdhury for Rented Space Theatre Company, the play has been rewritten into a strikingly modern vernacular “complete with profanities, prejudices and pentameter”. 

Jeetendra (Bassanio) is a matinée idol-handsome Bollywood star whose star is fading and he’s identified marriage to heiress Pushpa (Portia) as the way to revive his flagging career. In order to avoid accusations of gold-digging, he approaches his besotted businessman friend Devendra (Antonio) in order to be able to flash the cash in wooing her but a short-term cashflow issue leads Devendra to his lender of last resort, the Muslim Sharuk (Shylock), a father struggling to deal with the wilfully independent streak of his daughter Noorani (Jessica). Continue reading “Review: Merchant of Vembley, Cockpit”

Review: Dara, National Theatre

“I am Muslim, but my humanness is shared with anyone and everyone. If we choose to love one special person, does it mean that they are the only person worth loving? ‘To you, your religion, to me, mine’. ‘There is no obligation in religion’ – straight from the Quran. We cannot force our religion upon others.”

For all the gnashing of teeth about how ‘national’ Rufus Norris’ newly announced debut season as AD at the NT is or isn’t, there’s actually something much more significant happening right now as part of Nicholas Hytner’s finale. The press attention may be on Tom Stoppard’s return to the stage but over in the Lyttelton, the first South Asian play to run at this South Bank venue is doing that most idealised of theatrical practices – reaching out and engaging with new audiences.

I saw a late preview of Shahid Nadeem’s Dara and I was blown away at how mixed a crowd I was taking my seat with – there’s undoubtedly a more sophisticated debate to be had about people wanting to see stories they can directly connect with rather than being more adventurous but still, it felt like a significant enough matter that I wanted to make mention of. And as critics will be seeing the show with a more than likely traditional press night audience, it isn’t something they’ll necessarily pick up on. Continue reading “Review: Dara, National Theatre”

Review: The Kite Runner, Theatre Royal Brighton

“There is a way to be good again”


The final moments of this rendering of Khaled Hosseini’s epic 2003 novel The Kite Runner are really something special indeed, capturing the quiet ecstasy of redemptive hope with the subtlest of performances and a theatrical elegance that is gently breath-taking. But Giles Croft’s production, first seen in Nottingham and making its way next to Liverpool, takes a long time to get there, hobbled by a pedestrian adaptation by Matthew Spangler which exploits little of the storytelling possibilities within and lacks the excitement to really make it soar into the sky alongside the multi-coloured kites that play such a vital role in this tale of two young Afghan boys, Amir and Hassan, and their unlikely friendship.

It’s improbable because Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s servant and belongs to a different ethnic group yet despite their differences, a strong bond exists between the pair, typified by the way they work together in the kite flying competitions that enliven their Kabul childhood. A brutal incident involving Hassan sets in chain a tragic turn of events though and as the heavy tide of history starts to turn, forcing Amir and his father to flee the war that erupts as the incoming Taliban take over Afghanistan, not even decades and continents can prevent the need for Amir to seek redemption.

The sweep of the story is certainly grand but Spangler’s script is mired in the prosaic and banal, overly focused on the descriptive and rarely delving into the rich emotion beneath the surface. Ben Turner’s Amir perfectly epitomises this dilemma, only intermittently able to bring the necessary depth of character to this conflicted young man as he constantly has to duck in and out of scenes to give us the next segment of narration, but he is good at showing us the boyish cowardice that Amir struggles to grow out of. For those able to stay in the scenes though, there’s much more compelling work, especially from Farshid Rokey as the fiercely loyal Hassan and latterly as Hassan’s son, he of the enigmatic smile, Nicholas Karimi as the sociopathic Assef who finds his spiritual home in the harsh regime of the invaders and from Emilio Doorgasingh as Amir’s father, who never loses his pride even as he is forced into menial work when they start their new, very different life on the west coast of the USA.

But though the cast are effective, the sense of unused potential pervades this production, exacerbated by the moments that do flare into gorgeous life. The kite flying scenes are mesmerising in their simplicity, the moonlit escape across the mountains most effective, the first meeting with the attractive daughter of a fellow ex-pat. Hanif Khan’s onstage table-playing adds an authentic rhythm to many of the scenes, but Barney George’s design is largely too polite to ever suggest heat and dirt and real life, whether in Kabul’s back streets or San Francisco’s flea markets. What it does provide is cool elegance and a chimerical ability to quickly shift, aided by William Simpson’s projections, ensuring a fluid journey throughout.

Whilst the story will move you – surely only the hardest of hearts could remain unaffected – this production rarely transports you. It is undoubtedly somewhat entertaining and the near-complete standing ovation is testament to that, but The Kite Runner is seldom exciting enough to fully exploit its theatrical potential and really involve us with the grandly epic emotion of its storytelling in a presentation that invents and inspires such as in that glorious final scene. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 25th May, then playing Liverpool

Originally written for The Public Reviews