12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:2

“It’s more like…layers on top of reality”

On the eighth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…proof that video games are evil

Not being a fan of video games at all, the second episode of Black Mirror’s third series Playtest properly creeped me out with its vision of experimental augmented reality games gone wrong. Wyatt Russell’s US tourist Cooper is stranded in London when his credit card details are stolen and to earn a quick buck to pay for his flight home, he signs up to a video game trial thinking nothing could go wrong…

But though the technology that the company SaitoGemu uses initially seems innocuous as in a 3D version of Whack-A-Mole, the non-disclosure agreement and rights’ waiver that he signed come into play with the new game they want to test. Using a small device that has been drilled into his head, this technology is designed to probe the brain for the specific things that make you scared and convert them into a personalised haunted house-type experience. What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:2”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2

“Everything’s just a bit wider apart”

On the second day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…two lovelorn kids

Fifteen Million Merits takes place in a fiercely satirical version of our entertainment culture, where appearing on reality TV is king and everyone else is trapped in a factory-like environment where they must cycle for hours on end to generate all the electricity needed. Forced to watch inane crap on the screens that constantly surround them, their activities are frequently interrupted by adverts, just like on the Channel 4 player!

Daniel Kaluuya’s Bing has inherited 15 million merits from his brother on his passing and decides to use them to enter Jessica Brown Findlay’s Abi into Hot Shots, the X Factor-like show with a scarily vacuous Julia Davis and a sinister Cowell-a-like Rupert Everett. This is the only route out of their slave-like existence but sure enough, nothing is as simple as it seems and as ever, you have to be careful what you wish for. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:2”

TV Review: Happy Valley

 
“Why would he do something like that? We’ve got caravans, we’ve got a games room that caters for people in wheelchairs”

My favourite thing about Happy Valley is actually the association the title has for me and my family – it was the name of the Chinese takeaway opposite my Aunty Jean’s house where we’d often get our Saturday tea. It’s a lovely fond memory that sits rather at odds with the realities of this recent TV series which I finally caught up with and which reunites what looks like becoming one of the best creative partnerships we have in the country – writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. Baftas all around I shouldn’t wonder.

The location may be similar to the rather more bucolic Last Tango in HalifaxHappy Valley is set in nearby Hebden Bridge – but we’re in a much grittier world of suburban disillusionment as this police drama takes in kidnap, rape and murder, all underscored by the pervasive influence of a spiralling drugs problem throughout the town. Wainwright being a more sophisticated writer than most though, ensures that her drama takes in the full breadth of the experience, examining the aftermath of the crimes just as much as the deeds themselves. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley”

Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”