TV Review: Cilla

“The Black bird has landed”

It’s only taken me, ooh, a couple of years to get round to watching Cilla, a 2014 ITV miniseries written by Jeff Pope, in which time the small matter of Cilla Black’s passing has made it a more poignant piece. My main reason for watching though, its arrival on Netflix aside, was to finally catch up with Sheridan Smith’s portrayal of the Liverpudlian light entertainment behemoth, back in the days when she was just a Scouse lass called Priscilla White.

Pope’s script definitely has a touch of the rose-tinted about it but there’s no denying the amazing energy of Liverpool’s music scene in the 1960s that comes across in the first two episodes. Though she has a job as a typist – her mother proudly proclaims “the first in the family to be considered suitable for office work” – Cilla dreams of being a singer and is making quite the name for herself on the club circuit, building a following through club performances with upcoming bands such as a quartet called The Beatles. Continue reading “TV Review: Cilla”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2

“You believe in laws but there are only lechers”

For some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it’s taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I’ve managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.

It’s a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid’s wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can’t help but flirt with Reid (he’s played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced.

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Review: Right Now (À Présent), Bush

“It’s exactly like yours, but the other way around”

As any fule kno, purple underwear had its cultural apotheosis in Back to the Future but there’s a scene in Catherine-Anne Toupin’s Right Now (À Présent) that threatens to wrest that title from Michael J Fox and anoint the delicious Maureen Beattie in his place. But lingerie aside, there’s much more in play in this fascinatingly twisty piece of writing from this Québécois playwright, a transfer from Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio which has already toyed extensively with our perceptions in The Father and The Mother which have also been exported down the M4 in recent months.

Here, it’s Alice who has tumbled down the theatrical rabbit-hole into a world of increasing strangeness. Installed in a swanky new apartment with doctor husband Ben, life ought to be swell but there’s clearly something awry – their physical intimacy is severely stilted, a child’s toy left on the floor provokes the tensest of exchanges, her sleeping patterns are wrecked and he’s working all the hours God sends. All the while, a baby’s cries haunt the room… So the arrival of orchid-bearing Juliette from across the hallway, along with son François and husband Gilles and their promises of drinks and dinner parties ought to release the pressure valve – after all everybody needs good neighbours. Continue reading “Review: Right Now (À Présent), Bush”

DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear

“Who is it that can tell me who I am”

Transferring stage productions onto film is something fraught with difficulties as the magic of live performance never really survives the change of medium, so something else, something slightly different has to be striven for. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear for the RSC – originated in Stratford in 2007 then toured the world before a West End season in rep with The Seagull – which stars Ian McKellen in the title role is not a filmed performance on stage, but nor is it a reconceived enhanced film version. Instead, it was filmed rather simply at Pinewood Studios, at the end of the tour, so it has the feel of a piece of theatre rather than of film, with the added bonus of being able to see the acting up close.

And what a bonus it is. McKellen is simply outstanding here. Jacobi’s Lear for the Donmar was my first ever and I couldn’t imagine it ever being bettered, Greg Hicks’ recent RSC one was just different, but this is such an incredibly visceral performance, full of anger and rage and bewilderment that is highly affecting even on screen – what it must have been like live I can’t imagine, but the camera captures every single nervy tic and nuanced touch that must have been missed in some of the larger theatres. And facing up against him is Frances Barber as Goneril in what must be one of the performances of her lifetime. She is just astounding, all kinds of manipulative, Machiavellian evil as she plots her way through the play, but almost justifiably so as the fierce tragedy carved on her face as her father curses her indicates the troubled history between father and daughter. This is the type of performance that makes you wish the sisters were featured much more in the play. Monica Dolan’s Regan is also tremendously strong, a more nervous, unhinged energy that plays out maliciously as she caresses the text languorously and Romola Garai’s Cordelia is beautifully spoken and extremely moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear”

Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola

“Vengeance is mine. Ay, heaven will revenged of every ill”

The Spanish Tragedy was written by Thomas Kyd in the 16th century and is regarded as one of the first ever examples of the revenge tragedy. Kyd’s play proved to be highly influential on other Elizabethan writers such as Marlowe, Jonson and indeed Shakespeare, Hamlet in particular takes much inspiration from several key elements of this play. It is presented here at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney, one of the most interesting fringe venues in London, with a great cafe and bar for pre/post-show interactions.

In the aftermath of a bloody war, the royal leaders of war-torn Spain and Portugal plan a marriage between their families in the hope of forging peace. But the bride already has a secret lover. When he is murdered to make way for the new groom, his father Hieronimo is forced down a brutal path of vengeance from which there is no return. Watched throughout by the ghost of a soldier and Revenge, personified here by a chillingly played, creepy little girl, there seems no doubt about the inexorable path of vengeance that Hieronimo takes, the implication being that their supernatural influence is guiding the grieving father. Yet the heart of the play is more about the human reaction to being wronged, and the pervasive need for retribution, no matter the consequences. Continue reading “Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola”