Review: Dessert, Southwark Playhouse

“I need to change what I can accept”

I only booked for Dessert at the Southwark Playhouse because of the extraordinary Alexandra Gilbreath, one of our finest – and somewhat unheralded – actors. I was no real fan of Oliver Cotton’s previous play Daytona and I’m a couple of decades too young to be excited by the prospect of Trevor Nunn directing. And lest you think me harsh, this was borne out by the audience in SE1 being much more like a typical Chichester crowd than I’ve ever seen here before.

And Dessert more than matches up to the billing by taking place during the final course of a dinner party hosted by an uber-wealthy British couple for an uber-wealthy American couple whose main topic of conversation is the number of millions a chance find of a painting can be flogged for. The menu is interrupted by a visitor but as so much of the play hinges on this late arrival, discretion will be deployed here.  Continue reading “Review: Dessert, Southwark Playhouse”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

RSC release new Cymbeline trailer

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s more rarely performed plays and it is a thought that seems to have struck several artistic directors as 2016 has seen three major productions announced. Dominic Dromgoole included it in his outgoing season of late plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (my review here), Emma Rice is transforming it into Imogen at the Globe later this autumn, and Melly Still is currently tackling the play for the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 15th October.

The RSC’s production will then transfer to London’s Barbican for a limited season from 31st October until 17th December 2016 so you have no excuse not to do a compare and contrast exercise between the Globe and the RSC’s approaches to the romance, power, jealousy, love and reconciliation of this surprising play. A trailer for Still’s contemporary adaptation can be found below and all ticket information for both Stratford and London can be found here.

DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1

“We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world and the jury will get it right”

I do love me a good crime/legal procedural on the television (see North Square, The Jury, Murder One, Damages) but I rarely have the time to watch everything I want to these days and the BBC series Criminal Justice is one of the ones that slipped through the cracks. It has sat on my Lovefilm queue for ages and after a conversation about Ben Whishaw with one of his fans, I decided to finally get round to watching both the series on DVD.

Predictably, I loved it. Written by Peter Moffat (who also penned North Square), it is a five episode trek through one person’s journey through the various stages of the criminal justice system. The 2008 first series starred the aforementioned Whishaw as Ben Coulter, an aspiring footballer who finds himself accused of murder after a drink and drug-fuelled night out with a girl who ends up stabbed to death whilst Ben struggles to remember any of the details of what actually happened. And so from interview rooms in the police station to failed bail appeals and prison cells and then the subsequent court case, Ben’s experience at the hands of the system is thrillingly portrayed.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1”

Review: Boris Godunov, Swan

“Everywhere they curse the name of Boris”

The instinctive reaction when one hears of a production of a lesser-known work by a well-known writer tends to be one of healthy scepticism, as one waits to find out whether there was a good reason for its relative obscurity. But sometimes there are mitigating circumstances and Alexander Pushkin’s 1825 play Boris Godunov – receiving its first ever professional production in English here at the Swan Theatre – sufficiently provoked the ire of the state censors so that it was 30 years after his death before it was first approved and even then, continued political pressure ensured its limited impact.

The uncensored version was finally translated by Adrian Mitchell, premiered at Princeton in 2007 and selected now by Michael Boyd to mark his swansong as AD at the RSC, as part of the ensemble-led globetrotting A World Elsewhere season. And one can see why the Russian authorities wouldn’t have taken too kindly to Pushkin’s satire, indeed still to this day, as wrapped up in the tale of men lying, cheating and murdering their way to become Tsar in the late 1590s is an excoriating indictment of the Russian ruling elite. And what Boyd teases out in this fast-moving version, is that such autocratic leadership is seemingly endemic in this country and so its resonances play out right up to the current day.


Lloyd Hutchinson is an exhilarating presence as the titular Boris, whose increasingly wearied Ulster tones show the weight of a wrongfully seized crown as rumours swell that he murdered the old Tsar’s young heir Dmitry to secure his own place on the throne; Gethin Anthony has a striking energy as the monk Grigory who later grasps the chance to imitate Dmitry and manipulate his way into the hearts and mind of the people and thus grab power for himself, his quicksilver shifts in mood revealing a thrilling emotional instability; and there’s great work from Lucy Briggs-Owen’s pragmatically covetous Polish princess and from James Tucker and Joe Dixon as key courtiers who never allow anything as small as significant political differences to their leader to get in the way of their own advancement. 

Boyd keeps his staging to a minimum on the thrust stage of the Swan, which highlighted his main conceit of the various costumes from different Russian ages hanging at the back of the stage, the players slowly working their way through the wardrobe to reach the Putin-inspired suits of the final scene. And this motif of the changing clothes also allowed for the production’s most striking moment in its evocation of battle-scenes through the beating of coats on the floor, surprisingly effective in its stirring simplicity and indicative of the extremely tight ensemble. John Woolf’s music has a similar unfussy quality that keeps it hauntingly moving and fans of stage gore won’t be disappointed with some grisly moments.

I was kindly invited as part of a bloggers’ event which meant I was lucky enough to get a Q+A session at the end of the show which was lots of fun and highly illuminating in a number of areas: the reality of the experience of actors in a rep season, the relationship with the audience in the open space of the Swan (which brought to mind something of the groundling experience at the Globe for me), the Shakespearean connections that many others were able to draw with Pushkin’s work, and the interesting note that this wasn’t intended to be a comedy but rather that the black humour came naturally through the process of putting it together. Boris Godunov is indeed funnier than one might expect but it also contains two powerful studies of the corrosive effects of chasing power which are superbly brought to life by Hutchinson and Anthony. 

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)

Programme cost: £4
Booking until 30th March