TV Review: Life (Series 1)

Mike Bartlett’s new TV show Life is rich in middle-class miseries and stellar performances from Victoria Hamilton and Alison Steadman

“One can’t have blessings without sufferings”

My main feelings about Mike Bartlett’s Life revolve around Rachael Stirling and thus are somewhat spoilerific – consider yourself warned! I was highly excited to see Stirling back on our screens so I was a tad disappointed when it turned out that her character was in fact a ghost and could only be seen by her grieving husband Adrian Lester.

But then when it was revealed that she was in fact a bisexual ghost – a proper shout at the TV moment – and her entanglements drew in at least one other, it was a glorious pay-off which almost, almost made up for her not being a full-on member of the ensemble. And its a hefty ensemble, set in a large house split into four flats in which four sets of tenants are all facing their own trials. Continue reading “TV Review: Life (Series 1)”

TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

Review: Arcadia, Churchill Theatre Bromley

“When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone on the empty shore”

With London audiences pondering The Hard Question and struggling to find the answer (we’re insufficiently classicly-educated apparently, though the journalist getting the name of the play wrong here is hardly a great start to counter that assertion) fans of Tom Stoppard can also catch his more celebrated play Arcadia in this English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton co-production, directed by the ever-interesting Blanche McIntyre. I hesitate to call it a nationwide tour as it doesn’t appear to heading any further north than Birmingham but it is still a healthy enough trek for this pleasingly complex but affecting play.

As is customary with this playwright, it is a play full of weighty ideas – complex mathematics and chaos theory, entropy and existential truths, and takes place in the same country house drawing room in two time periods simultaneously, 1809 and the present day. Along the length of a fine dining table, the past rubs up against the present as the scientific rigour of the intellect goes head to head with the emotional poetry of the soul as Stoppard ultimately explores what it simply means to be human (and also what stirring rice pudding really represents). It is perhaps easy to get caught up in the density of the detail during the play but it would take the hardest of hearts not to be swept up the heart-breaking swing and sway of the final scene. Continue reading “Review: Arcadia, Churchill Theatre Bromley”

Review: In The Next Room, or the vibrator play, St James Theatre

“Your mouth is dry, and you lick your lips, and your face makes an ugly expression…”

Even its very title seems designed to shock – In The Next Room, or the vibrator play – but truth is that Sarah Ruhl’s play, seen in Bath last year, does little to hit the spot or indeed do much to arouse much attention. A lengthy exploration of the arrival of portable electronic devices for the treatment of women’s…hysteria, Ruhl eschews the chance of delving into the ins and outs of medicine of the time, the elusiveness of genuine understanding of female biology, or the quivering anticipation of the explosive social change on the horizon, and plumps instead for a bog-standard sex farce based on marital relations.

And for all that it is filled with the moans and groans of female (and male) “paroxysms” – Flora Montgomery’s Mrs Daldry charged with the thankless tasks of producing the vast majority of them – it is a curiously sexless enterprise. The focus remains instead on the disappointments of the marital bed, as Jason Hughes’ Dr Givings – the inventor of the new-fangled device – finds more satisfaction in treating his increasingly eager patients than connecting with his own wife, Natalie Casey’s pinched Catherine, and Mrs Daldry is happier with her doctor than has ever been with her own husband.

Ruhl takes a long time to say very little and though Laurence Boswell’s production has inspired moments of sprightliness, they are too far between. That said, Ed Bennett is great casting as a liberated artist keen to experience what all the fuss is about, Sarah Woodward is criminally under-employed as a nursing assistant and Madeline Appiah finds the rare moments of genuine insight as the wet-nurse who has to try and keep the wheels on the Givings’ family harmony. But it’s not particularly clever, or sexy or shocking, one should look elsewhere for satisfaction. I like the idea of Tuesday matinees though.


Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 4th January

Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

Review: The Heart of Robin Hood, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“A forest is owned by no man”

I don’t have any memory of booking The Heart of Robin Hood at all! But sometime late in November I did indeed book it and failed to put it in my calendar – I may well have been drunk, I most definitely was tired! – and it was only The Trainline sending me a reminder about the train journey that alerted me to what I should be indeed be doing this Thursday afternoon.

The most impressive thing about the production, that is evident from the off, is Börkur Jonsson’s set design which has to rank as one of the most inventive uses of a thrust stage ever. A huge branch of a tree is suspended above a wide green swathe of astroturf which slopes from on high at the back of the stage, down into the auditorium. Thus the forest of Sherwood is evoked, with platforms and sections peeling back to suggest the castle of the nobles. It really is an ingenious piece of staging, endlessly delightful in the constant little reveals and surprises it came up with and even in the sheer fun of seeing people slide down into view from the top. Continue reading “Review: The Heart of Robin Hood, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”