TV Review: Humans Series 3

I can’t help but think Humans might have run its course as a uniquely intelligent and British sci-fi drama

“…the coming together of man and machine. You can change the course of history…”

I’ve enjoyed where Humans has taken us thus far, and the beginning of a third series seemed promising. But as I got to the end of this season and twist after twist pointed at where the story might well continue, it felt like I might have reached my expiration date with the show.

The human/synth baby that Mattie is carrying, Niska’s transformation into ur-Niska, V’s survival…it’s hard not to feel that any of these feel far less interesting than where Humans are trod thus far in its carefully balanced but uniquely British brand of sci-fi. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3”

Review: Machinal, Almeida

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 expressionist play Machinal receives an extraordinary production from Natalie Abrahami at the Almeida Theate

Your skin oughtn’t to curl – ought it – when he just comes near you- ought it? That’s wrong, ain’t it? You don’t get over that, do you – ever, do you or do you?

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal may be the story of one woman battling societal pressure but Natalie Abrahami’s production for the Almeida Theatre teases out a more elemental struggle, one which stretches over the majority of the twentieth century and by extension, even further.

The story is rooted in its ordinariness. Emily Berrington’s Young Woman gets by at a job she doesn’t like, marries the first guy who shows an interest, gives birth to a child she scarcely wants – expectations check check checked. But as she learns that she wants more, can want more, the weight of societal pressure comes to bear. Continue reading “Review: Machinal, Almeida”

Not-a-TV-Review: The Miniaturist

It’s a no for me for The Miniaturist

“Cornelia will fetch you a herring”

I haven’t read Jessie Burton’s 2014 novel The Miniaturist so I came into watching it with zero expectations. But even then, I wasn’t expecting that…!

To steal from the Guardian, the plot was “an everyday tale of girl marries man, moves from the sticks to old Amsterdam, discovers he’s gay, husband’s boyfriend stabs the dog, girl gets spooky doll’s house in which the miniature replicas begin changing to reflect real life, hubby is thrown into the sea while lashed to a stone wheel after suicidal courtroom speech denouncing Hanseatic cant, girl sells loaf/cones of sugar, and almost all, um, live happily ever after”.

But much as I love a story from Amsterdam, I found this a real challenge. The 90 minute episodes didn’t help, nor the heavy-handed shifts in tone which were a constant jolt. Maybe I should read the book instead…

 

TV Review: Humans Series 2

“All we can do is what feels right”

There’s been something really quite moving about the second series of Humans, the Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley Channel 4 drama which has just wound to a close. In a world that started off examining the diametrically opposed differences between humans and synths (series 1 review), the stark black and white palette of the show has moved markedly to a murky shade of grey on both sides, complicating the actions of both parties to make us really appreciate the difficulties in deciding right and wrong.

So where the renegade synth Niska (a brilliant Emily Berrington) has decided to subject herself to human justice in order to try and find some common ground, newly awakened Hester goes fully rogue in defining humans as the absolute enemy, to brutal effect in a chilling performance from Sonya Cassidy. And questions of identity are no less complex on the human side, as the show toys with ideas of humans opting to live life as a synth and experimenting even further with technology. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 2”

Review: Dead Funny, Vaudeville

“Benny Hill? Oh, for fuck’s sake…”
I started off Terry Johnson’s production of Dead Funny concerned that the comedy references on the pre-show curtain – Eric and Ernie, Carry On, Benny Hill – were outwith those to which my tastes naturally incline. Turns out what I should have been on the lookout for was an Alan Ayckbourn play in sheep’s clothing. And if that’s the way your preferences go, as it seems with the majority of the print critics, then this is the play for you.
Dead Funny was written in 1994 but is set two years earlier in the couple of days when both Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd shuffled off this mortal coil. At a time before the death of celebrities, particularly comedians, is marked with the sharing of YouTube clips and gifs of favourite jokes and comic scenes, ‘The Dead Funny Society’ marks the passing of their faves by reenacting their work. That’s all well and good for chairman Richard but his increasingly frustrated wife Eleanor who is desperate for a child.
Thus a play about the legacy of bygone television comedians is spliced with one about marriages in crisis, the link found being people seeking refuge in the celebration of the former as a way of escaping troubles in the latter. Johnson – directing his own play – finds himself in the curious position of working on an entirely period piece. Not in terms of the actual comedy material, nostalgia will always be current to fans, but as far as the specificity of its setting goes, not to mention the questionable gender politics. it’s just thoroughly dated.
Fortunately, it has been cast extremely well. Katherine Parkinson imbues Ellie with real conviction in all her marital angst, the eye-opening first scene gets down to the naked truth of her problems with Rufus Jones’ Richard in bravely full-frontal style. And her position on the outside of the group allows her to scathingly mock their antics – Steve Pemberton, Ralf Little and Emily Berrington all bringing their own quirks and issues to bear, before the whole thing collapses in farce. So you could well find Dead Funny dead funny if it ticks your particular boxes.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Alistair Muir
Booking until 4th February

Ticket provided by the lovely Theatre Bloggers with the Stagedoor app too

TV Review: Humans Series 2 Episode 1

“I don’t deem your remark pertinent”

I came late to Series 1 of Channel 4 drama Humans but I’m making no such mistake this time round. And perhaps conscious of the show’s enormous critical and commercial success, creators Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley have considerably upped the ante on this second series, spreading the reach of the story from the UK to the US, Berlin to Bolivia. And though its scale may be becoming increasingly epic, the writing has thankfully maintained its startling intimacy in its explorations of what it means to be human.

To catch you up, the show centres on the invention, and subsequent evolution, of anthropomorphic robots called synths, designed to serve humans but a certain number of whom have become ‘conscious’. This second series sees that group on the run from the authorities, dealing with the ramifications of Niska’s decision – made early on here – to grant that same life to other synths, uploading code that is gradually deactivating their conditioning worldwide. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 1”