TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carters rock though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

Review: Quiz, Noël Coward

Whether you get to make your West End debut or not, James Graham’s Quiz is great fun at the Noël Coward Theatre

“It’s a 50:50 – guilty or not-guilty”

It’s taken me a little while to get around to seeing James Graham’s Quiz but it proved more than worth it as this particular matinée was undoubtedly enhanced by the West End debut of…me and my Aunty Jean! Treading the boards of the Noël Coward Theatre was an unexpected bonus to a highly enjoyable afternoon, and I look forward to the next role that Mr Graham creates for me…

But back to the matter at hand. Transferring over from Chichester, Quiz takes a cock-eyed look at the world of light entertainment, and the way in which ‘constructed reality’ has bled into the larger narrative not just of our television, but of our society. Using the ‘coughing major’ scandal of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a jump-off point, we dive into meaty notions of truth and justice in a media-dominated age. Continue reading “Review: Quiz, Noël Coward”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

© Trevor Leighton
Given how she’s doing such amazing work in Follies at the minute, it’s kinda gobsmacking to discover that Janie Dee has not one but two cabaret shows lined up for the beginning of October. Returning to Live at Zédel, fans have the pick of Janie Dee at the BBC – album launch or Janie Dee – Off the Record… or you can do both on the same night for a couple of dates if you’re that way inclined! I’m seriously tempted!


One of the highlights of Bat out of Hell was Sharon Sexton’s pneumatic performance so I’m gutted that I can’t make Sucked, which is trailed as a sitcom-style musical comedy and features Sexton with Riona O’Connor. Move quickly though, one of their two shows has already sold out.


Theatre Royal Bath has announced full casting for Christmas Eve, which today begins rehearsals. Niamh Cusack will play philosophy professor Judith and Patrick Baladi will play police officer Thomas. The new thriller is the latest play from multi-award winning writer Daniel Kehlmann and will be directed by Laurence Boswell, in a translation by Christopher Hampton. The production will run at the Ustinov Studio from Thursday 19 October to Saturday 18 November.


On Christmas Eve 2017, a philosophy professor is on her way to celebrate Christmas when she is bundled into police headquarters and an interrogation room. Opposite her the senior officer is cynical, smart and relentless. Played out in real time, two powerful antagonists are pitted head to head against each other. Both think they are saving their country but only one of them will win…


The London Horror Festival is back for a 7th terrifying year to thrill and chill audiences for 3 jam packed weeks this Halloween season. The UK’s original and largest festival of live horror performance returns to the Old Red Lion Theatre following the great success of 2016.
With official sponsorship from Hobgoblin, ‘the unofficial beer of Halloween’, and horror artist Jessica F. Holt, this annual celebration of the horror genre is going strong and 2017 is their biggest line-up yet with an eclectic programme of 23 different shows on offer.
The London Horror Festival works to promote new and innovative work in the arts, support London fringe theatre and is dedicated to providing a platform for artists and companies working in the horror genre. This year promises a mix of theatre, puppetry, cabaret, spoken word, body horror, clowning and comedy, featuring satanic cults, mummies, zombies, ghosts, vampires and the bodies of Frankenstein!
Shows to look forward to include 5 star horror comedy Curse of the Mummy from Last Chance Saloon, fresh from their Edinburgh triumph, fellow 5 star fringe successes The Twins Macabre, The Underground Clown Club returning with the 5 star Knock Knock followed by their new show Who’s There?, and reworkings of classic tales including a comic adaptation H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth by Hidden Basement Productions and a gender-switched version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven by critically-acclaimed Evcol Entertainment.
For something different after dark, stay up late for an exclusive midnight performance of Felix Le Freak’s Shockbuster Video presented by the folks behind the wildly popular PopHorror cabaret club nights, then party the night away with their very own DJ until 3am.



Not content with taking over two-thirds of the theatres on St Martins Lane (with Ink and Labour of Love), James Graham’s reach is also stretching out to the regions. His new play Quiz, which opens at Chichester Festival Theatre in November, has now had its cast revealed.

Gavin Spokes plays Charles Ingram, the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? fraudster and Stephanie Street joins him as his wife Diana. The company is completed by Nadia Albina, Paul Bazely, Keir Charles, Greg Haiste, Mark Meadows, Henry Pettigrew, Jay Villiers, Lizzie Winkler and Sarah Woodward.

Directed by CFT’s artistic director Daniel Evans, Quiz will have designs by Robert Jones, with lighting by Tim Lutkin, music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham, video by Tim Reid and movement by Naomi Said. Quiz plays in the Minerva Theatre from 10 November to 9 December.

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2

“We underestimated her”

The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.

Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

Review: The Effect, Sheffield Crucible

“I can tell the difference between who I am and a side effect”

Lucy Prebble’s The Effect ranked as my 12th favourite play of 2012, Rupert Goold’s Headlong production for the National Theatre proving to be a quietly devastating piece of theatre exploring notions of self and identity through the prism of depression and drugs. Two willing volunteers take part in a medical trial for a new kind of anti-depressant, despite not suffering from depression themselves, and are monitored for any side effects by a doctor and a medical rep who have their own tangled history which further impacts the study.

Stuck in isolation together, guinea pigs Tristan and Connie swiftly fall head over heels – Henry Pettigrew and Ophelia Lovibond giving two stunning performances of a palpable chemistry – and Prebble raises the question of whether love is the drug or is their connection is due to the actual drugs in their veins. From that, she also probes into perceptions of depression – Stuart Bunce’s trial director believes his pill can cure or do anything but sinking into her own bleak mental morass, Priyanga Burford’s achingly fragile Dr James isn’t so sure. 

Daniel Evans’ production is beautifully cast – all four actors play the twists of character astutely and assuredly as priorities shift and relative truths come to light to shattering effect. Without giving anything away, it is a stunningly powerful ending in all its hushed beauty as science and sympathy battle and heartstrings tugged mercilessly. Amanda Studley’s design for the Crucible’s Studio space plays effectively on hospital waiting room and clinical atmospherics to suggest we could well be a part of this or the next trial, David Plater’s lighting adding to this unremitting feel.

The Effect might even be better now than it was 3 years ago, about 30 minutes or so has been junked from the running time which certainly helps, but it also really benefits from the intimacy here. Whether the anguish of Burford’s increasing inability to cope or Pettigrew and Lovibond showing us just how mysterious the human mind is with or without chemical alteration, this is an exceptional revival.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th July

Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe

“It is as if we find ourselves at the beginning of time…”

It may be Shakespeare’s Globe but it is Richard Bean’s when it comes to new writing at this venue and he returns once again with a Globe, Out of Joint and Chichester Festival Theatre co-production about the island colony of Pitcairn which was set up by Fletcher Christian in the wake of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. Playing with the ideas of revolutionary freedom that were burning so fiercely on the other side of the globe, Christian dreamed of creating an Utopian ideal out of the sailors who left with him and a group of Polynesian men and women but perhaps unsurprisingly, little that was ideal came out of it.

Little that is ideal comes out of this play either. Bean throws in a number of interesting ideas into his Pitcairn – the power struggles between comrades, the jealousies that come out of the supposed liberation of sexual freedom, the culture clash that arises out of the enduring adherence to the Tahitian tradition of utmost respect for hierarchy. But it all adds up to very little and Bean has also incorporated some dodgier elements especially when it comes to the cringe-worthy expression of that sexual freedom, the constant reliance of embarrassingly dated notions of the ‘natives’ (let’s dance!) and audience participation that doesn’t really fly. Continue reading “Review: Pitcairn, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Leading Man of the Year 2012

With perhaps some predictability, the two most popular posts ever on this blog are the Leading Men of the Year from 2010 and 2011 – clearly if blog hits are what makes you happy, just post pics of hot shirtless men 🙂 – heaven knows I won’t judge you! Also Mark Lawson says “critics…should be wary of parading their crushes in print” and the day I start taking his advice…

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And so sure enough, here we have 2012’s entry in the canon of gentlemen who I’ve seen on the stage and who are somewhat easy on the eye. They’re not ranked in any way – I’m sharing their degrees of hotness so step inside with me and Nathan…
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Continue reading “Leading Man of the Year 2012”

Review: Straight, Bush Theatre

“We just have to position ourselves right”

Though Nick Payne is the name on most people’s lips when it comes to exciting new male playwrights thanks to his award-winning Constellations, for my money DC Moore is as equally deserving of such attention. He is probably one of the most talented composers of dialogue working at the moment and his clear-sighted writing has definitely marked him out as one to watch. Directed by Richard Wilson, his latest play Straight opened in Sheffield earlier this month but now arrives in London at the Bush Theatre to present a picture of male friendship unlike most others.

Based on Lynn Shelton’s film Humpday, Straight starts off in a moment of apparent marital bliss. Lewis and Morgan are making the best of a bad lot in their property situation but are so into each other that they are discussing babies. But when Lewis’ old university friend Waldorf arrives, through the letter box first, to collect on a promise of a bed after he finished his gap year travels, he threatens to upset their dynamic by reminding Lewis of the freedom he is midway through relinquishing. A drunken night out ensues with much taunting about their comparative sexual adventures and ends up with them daring each other to have sex on camera, as you do.  Continue reading “Review: Straight, Bush Theatre”

Review: The Master and Margarita, Complicite at the Barbican

“It’s just words, it’s just another story”

As I left the Barbican after seeing Complicite’s take on The Master and Margarita, I thought to myself that was simply extraordinary but I have no idea why and tweeted something to that effect. I couldn’t really explain it in any kind of meaningful way and in some ways even if I could, it still wouldn’t do it justice. Adapted from the novel written in secret by Mikhail Bulgakov during Stalin’s repressive regime that has long been considered an unstageable piece of literature, it therefore seems an apt choice for Simon McBurney and the highly imaginative and ambitious Complicite company to take on as their latest challenge.

Visually, it is a completely stunning piece of work with some of the best incorporation of projections I’ve ever seen. Their scale is massive, filling the expanse of the back wall of the Barbican’s main stage, yet there’s an intimacy to them as well as the actors interact with them in clever ways and they continually draw the audience in. McBurney wisely keeps much of the rest of the staging on a minimalist level, utilising an almost balletic physicality of considerable grace and beauty. And the production needs this pared-back simplicity as the story it is telling is a complex, multi-layered one. Continue reading “Review: The Master and Margarita, Complicite at the Barbican”