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)”

Film Review: Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)

Arriving on the big screen four years later, Spooks: The Greater Good does little to make the case for its existence

“You can do good, or do well”

Arriving some four years after the end of the TV series, Spooks: The Greater Good was an ill-advised coda to the Spooks experiment, leaving writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent at the helm despite the decidedly mixed results of their ascension to head writers on the show (poor Lucas).

Cinemas are hardly calling out for new spy franchises yet there’s an added sense of ‘what’s the point’ as along with the four year wait, there’s a story with no real connection to the 10 series that preceded it, and a cast sprinkled with the characters who survived but which prioritises brand new ones.  Continue reading “Film Review: Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 10

Spooks comes to an end with a shortened series 10 which, while not perfect, is effective in many ways

“Wait Harry, this can’t be the end”

And so after a decade, it comes to an end. Series 10 of Spooks, a shortened order of six episodes, sees the writers flip from the Lucas North show to the Harry Pearce show. This naturally makes more sense, with Harry being the head of Section D after all, but I’m not 100% sure that it completely works as it goes against the ensemble ethos of the show at its best.

The argument here is that Harry is the heart of the show and given the jib of his recent decision-making at this point, you have to wonder if this is all that wise. Given all that transpires, the final scene of the show hardly inspires confidence. That said, the memorial is a beautiful touch and Lara Pulver’s new chief Erin Watts proved a strong addition to Thames House.

Nicola Walker-ometer
A tough one this, Walker rises brilliantly to the challenge of essentially co-leading the series as a result of the Harry focus. But her treatment in the final moments of the series can’t help but feel a little unnecessary, essentially cheapened by her reduction to nothing but an adjunct to Harry. She only gets killed because of the personal connection rather than a heroic act of Queen and country she deserved (if she had to die at all). Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 10”

Film review: Making Noise Quietly (2019)

Despite an excellent cast, Robert Holman’s Making Noise Quietly gains little in this transfer to the big screen

“I think you’re being very hard on him”

Being asked to review things is always a privilege but when the matter at hand is based on a play I found interminably dull, it can be a tricky business. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, Making Noise Quietly is based on an elliptical triptych of short plays by Robert Holman, all centred on the human effects of war.

From 1944 to 1982 and then on again to 1996, the film examines how the shellshock of major conflict can reverberate all the way back to the home front, and the varying routes it can take. From conscientous objectors to death in service to inescapable cycles of abusive and violence, the scope is huge. Continue reading “Film review: Making Noise Quietly (2019)”

June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Film news: trailer for Making Noise Quietly released

Ahead of the film’s release on 19th July, a new trailer has been released for Making Noise Quietly

“Not with those muddy boots on”

Since his decade at the helm of Shakespeare’s Globe, Dominic Dromgoole has turned his hand to Oscar Wilde seasons with his new theatre company Classic Spring and has also set up the film company Open Palm Films – no resting on his laurels here. Not only that, but he’s also now making his directorial feature film debut with an adaptation of Robert Holman’s Making Noise Quietly. Continue reading “Film news: trailer for Making Noise Quietly released”

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…

 

Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National

“We should show life…as we see it in our dreams.”

The Seagull may be the most ensemble-focused of the three plays that make up Young Chekhov but with the glorious Anna Chancellor appearing as the mercurial Arkadina – her star cachet getting her out of having to do either of the other two – the attention can’t help but be drawn to her and her extraordinary stage presence.

This may be the most well-known of the Chekhov plays being presented here, it certainly deservedly emerges as the strongest, and so David Hare’s freshened-up version has little of the heavy work it had to do with the others. Jonathan Kent’s production places it at the end of the three-show day deliberately, it’s where it sits chronologically and you really do get to see the maturation of the writer, his ability to develop his characters and themes more dramatically effectively. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National”

Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National

“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”

With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov’s professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths – having identified what he wants to say to the world, he’s still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it…), 

I’d be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard’s version to compare and contrast with David Hare’s new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild’s interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and ‘mid-life crisis’ remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there’s a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National”