TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

Review: Dirty Great Love Story, Arts

“Things I can be sure of – I’m in a bed
‘Things I can be sure of – my bloody head…'”

With so much gloomy news dominating the headlines and cinemas filled largely with Oscar bait, two-hander Dirty Great Love Story arrives at the Arts Theatre to offer a well-timed and satisfying slice of lighter entertainment. Written by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna from the experiences of their own lovelife, and previously seen at the Soho Theatre, in Edinburgh and off-Broadway, it’s an energetically modern take on the rom-com and if it doesn’t necessarily have anything earth-shattering to say, it’s probably all the more enjoyable for it.

Richard and Katie’s meet-cute is in a sketchy Bristol nightclub. He’s on a stag night and been single for a while, she’s on a hen do and nursing a broken heart and with friends egging them on, they’re soon sharing shots at the bar, sweat on the dancefloor and shags in a hastily procured hotel room. In the fug of the next morning’s hangover, she beats a hasty retreat but not before she wonders if there isn’t perhaps the spark of something there, and thus the rest of the play covers the next two years in the lives of these 30-something Londoners as they will-they-won’t-they their way to a climax of which even Bridget Jones would be proud.  Continue reading “Review: Dirty Great Love Story, Arts”

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women’s theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I’m very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2017”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

Review: The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace

“We are slowly destroying the long tentacles of the state machine…”

You gotta love a playtext that starts with a communiqué from the author and that’s just what James Graham does with The Angry Brigade. Split into two parts, The Branch, which sees a Special Branch team trying to catch a Baader-Meinhof type group of British terrorists, and The Brigade which sees them their attempts to avoid capture, Graham offers up a world of interpretation in how they might be played, ending with the slyly anarchic note “perhaps just do what you like”.

James Grieve’s production for Paines Plough plays The Branch first – following the police investigation into bombs that have been left in strategic locations like the Royal Albert Hall and the home of a government minister. A special unit is set up to try and get into the minds of what turns out to be a group of homegrown anarchists by following (some of) their example. It’s really rather funny and Harry Melling’s biscuit dunking is something I will cherish for life! Continue reading “Review: The Angry Brigade, Watford Palace”

Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries, Gate

“What have you got, a death wish?”

The first thing to strike you as you enter the Gate for Gruesome Playground Injuries is Lily Arnold’s design. A jagged streak of clinical white bisects the theatre, Mariah Gale and Felix Scott already sit onstage, the traverse staging exposes half of the audience in this already intimate space. Rajiv Joseph’s intimately bruising two-hander initially sustains the premise that is promised by the visual ingenuity and its intriguing concept, but the writing runs out of steam before its 80 minutes are over and so ultimately proves a bit of a frustrating watch.

Kayleen and Doug first meet aged 8 in the nurse’s room of their school – she’s got a sore tummy and he rode his bicycle off the roof of the school and a perverse attraction with each other’s sickness soon grows between the pair. We then trace their (not-)relationship through the next 30 years, jumping back and forth through time as they are repeatedly drawn together at key moments in their lives despite having drifted far apart in the intervening periods. Their encounters are almost always based around a new injury suffered by one but as Doug’s daredevil stunts continue with a horrific disregard for his own safety and Kayleen’s internal demons prevent her own happiness, it is clear that this is a vicious cycle of pain in which they are trapped. Continue reading “Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries, Gate”

Review: The Starry Messenger, Duke of York’s

“Ian, your input is much appreciated”

There’s something deliciously indulgent about rehearsed readings, especially those connected with the Royal Court that I’ve been able to attend. Frequently held during the working day and peopled with fascinating casts, they offer a different, more relaxed take on theatre but one which can be equally interesting. This time round, the Royal Court have put together a programme called Playwrights’ Playwrights, inviting writers who have worked at the Sloane Square venue to direct some of their favourite plays in rehearsed (albeit only for a day) readings at their adopted West End home, the Duke of York’s. First up was Nick Payne, who chose Kenneth Lonergan’s The Starry Messenger, a play which hasn’t been seen in the UK before.

Centred on the rather gloomy astronomy lecturer Mark and the way his life suddenly changes after a chance encounter with a young mother after one of his classes, Lonergan’s play looks at a quietly normal group of people and how the ripples of the ensuing affair affects all their lives. Mark’s marriage to Angela has stagnated, his son barely talks to him, his colleagues are succeeding professionally where he is not, but meeting Angela changes something fundamental in him. She has her own trials, a single mother balancing work with training to become a nurse, but also finds the potential for some answers to the larger questions in her life in her connection with Ben. Lonergan has a beautiful way with the minutiae of everyday life, teasing out beautiful comedy from the simplest of conversations and interactions but never hiding the sadness that lies at the heart of so many of these characters. Consequently, I pretty much loved this play.   Continue reading “Review: The Starry Messenger, Duke of York’s”

Review: Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The reward of sin is death”

The tale of Faust is one which is seemingly never far from our stages in one form or another, whether it is opera, another opera or Icelandic acrobatics. But Christopher Marlowe can lay claim to perhaps being the first to dramatise this story back in Elizabethan times and this production of Doctor Faustus marks the first time it will have been performed at Shakespeare’s Globe.

A strange mixture of dark tragedy and broad comedy, the play looks at the danger of recklessly pursuing the quest for knowledge, power and wealth without due responsibility. Faustus, tired of his life of dusty scholarship, makes a pact with the Devil exchanging his soul after death for 24 years of service from his trusty servant Mephistopheles. Blinded by the material benefits that easy access to the dark arts garners him, the reality of eternal damnation doesn’t hit until far too late. Continue reading “Review: Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Maddening Rain, Old Red Lion Theatre

“You think you can live by your own rules…”

Felix Scott, star of one man show The Maddening Rain, was apparently in Inception. I can’t say I noticed him but then I wasn’t looking out for him, IMDB says he was playing ‘businessman’ and looking back I think he was in the bar in the middle section of the whole dream sequence. But I did however recognise him from his numerous turns in the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics season of plays so was keen to see what move he made next.

The Maddening Rain is a monologue from Nicholas Pierpan, following the fortunes of a man who arrives in London from Leicester and is soon swept up into the cut-throat world of corporate finance with its endless chasing of women and profit. As the financial crisis hits the City though, we then see the impact of the global recession from a different perspective. Continue reading “Review: The Maddening Rain, Old Red Lion Theatre”

Review: The Panel, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle

 

The second play in the Now half of Women, Power and Politics season at the Tricycle Theatre

“What do we know about her circumstances?”

The Panel is the only play in the season which does not feature a woman on stage. It stars all five male members of the ensemble in an interview panel situation, they’ve just spent three days interviewing a woman-only shortlist for a job and need to appoint, but with various deadlines fast approaching and a range of individual agendas at play, it is not a clear-cut decision.

I wasn’t a fan of the gender politics on display here. It felt a little reductive, suggesting no progress in the corporate world, ultimately tarring all men with the same brush and certainly I didn’t feel as if it had anything new to say. It did raise the interesting point though that only one of the women who was interviewed would have made the sift if it hadn’t have been a women-only shortlist, raising the question about the effectiveness of positive discrimination, something Ann Widdecombe’s interjections in the verbatim section focuses on: it has to be on merit, she says. Continue reading “Review: The Panel, Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle”