Review: The Convert, Young Vic

Danai Gurira’s The Convert is a Christmas treat of a different order at the Young Vic Theatre

“Gracious to goodness”

There’s all sorts of lovely connections here. Danai Gurira’s play The Convert was first seen in the UK at the Gate last year, a theatre where her earlier drama Eclipsed was produced in 2015. That play starred Letitia Wright in an astonishing performance and Wright now appears in this new version of The Convert at the Young Vic – Wright and Gurira having starred in some little arthouse film called Black Panther in the meantime…

It’s a cracking good play too, worth the attention of this second production. Set in 1896 Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), it looks at the ways in which colonial rulers sought to erase African cultural identities through any means they saw fit. Culturally, religiously, linguistically, their tools of ‘progress’ were wielded with considerable force and Gurira counts up the cost with a slow-building dramatic flair. Continue reading “Review: The Convert, Young Vic”

TV Review: Humans Series 3

I can’t help but think Humans might have run its course as a uniquely intelligent and British sci-fi drama

“…the coming together of man and machine. You can change the course of history…”

I’ve enjoyed where Humans has taken us thus far, and the beginning of a third series seemed promising. But as I got to the end of this season and twist after twist pointed at where the story might well continue, it felt like I might have reached my expiration date with the show.

The human/synth baby that Mattie is carrying, Niska’s transformation into ur-Niska, V’s survival…it’s hard not to feel that any of these feel far less interesting than where Humans are trod thus far in its carefully balanced but uniquely British brand of sci-fi. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3”

TV Review: Humans Series 3, Episode 1

All hail the return of nuanced, intelligent sci-fi – series 3 of Humans starts on Channel 4

“Lemonade not included”

I’m not entirely sure why Gemma Chan and Emily Berrington haven’t become hugely famous due to the world-class performances that both have been delivering for two series of Humans, the third of which has just started on Channel 4. As Synths possessed of consciousness, they manage the not-inconsiderable task of translating the world of sci-fi improbability into something deeply, deeply affecting, and this latest series shows no sign of that changing.

Following on from the events of Series 1 and Series 2, this third season takes us a year further into the future. With the consciousness code uploaded to all synths worldwide, the ensuing chaos led to ferocious reprisals from the human population which has left the synths decimated, ghettoised, shut off from the society they longed to join. And its the chill of recognition here that makes Humans works. You can call this near-future or dystopian but the anger and prejudice against the ‘other’ is as current-day as they come. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3, Episode 1”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10

Episodes, in order of preference
World Enough and Time
Extremis
The Doctor Falls
Thin Ice
Knock Knock
Oxygen
The Eaters of Light
Smile
The Pilot
Empress of Mars
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land

Top 5 guest spots
1 David Suchet’s Landlord was as perfectly written a character as befits one of our more superior actors
2 Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Kieran Bew and his astronaut in Oxygen was no exception
3 Nicholas Burns‘ malevolent Sutcliffe was a delightfully Dickensian villain 
4 Another theatrical delight of mine is Anthony Calf, impressive as the pseudo-Victorian Godsacre
5 Rebecca Benson’s young Pict impressively led The Eaters of Light from the front, a perfect vessel for Rona Munro’s vision

Saddest death
Michelle Gomez’s Missy has been a brilliant breath of fresh air and whilst her decision to follow Moffat and Capaldi out the door is understandable, it isn’t any less disappointing. And perhaps the timey-wimeyness of the circumstances around her passing mean that maybe this isn’t the last we see of her…

Most wasted guest actor
I don’t what I expected from the reliably excellent Samantha Spiro in Doctor Who but I didn’t get it from her part in The Doctor Falls.

Gay agenda rating
With Bill onboard, A+!

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3

“I’m a decent bloke really”

On the ninth day of Christmas,Black Mirror gave to me…a skin-crawlingly dark episode

Even now, at the point where I’m trying to second-guess every episode of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker is always two, three, four steps ahead of us. With co-writer William Bridges, Shut Up and Dance manages the trick of repeating the key theme of a previous instalment but twisting it just enough so that you never suspect and that the self-referencing doesn’t feel too cheeky a move. 
 

Alex Lawther’s Kenny is a regular teenager, enjoying jerking off to porn on his laptop and getting enraged when his sister borrows said laptop without asking. When he gets it back with a virus on it, he attempts to clean his system but in doing so, unwittingly lets in a hacker who has secretly recorded Kenny’s exertions on his webcam and is threatening to release the vid unless he does exactly as he’s told. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:3”

TV Review: Humans Series 2

“All we can do is what feels right”

There’s been something really quite moving about the second series of Humans, the Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley Channel 4 drama which has just wound to a close. In a world that started off examining the diametrically opposed differences between humans and synths (series 1 review), the stark black and white palette of the show has moved markedly to a murky shade of grey on both sides, complicating the actions of both parties to make us really appreciate the difficulties in deciding right and wrong.

So where the renegade synth Niska (a brilliant Emily Berrington) has decided to subject herself to human justice in order to try and find some common ground, newly awakened Hester goes fully rogue in defining humans as the absolute enemy, to brutal effect in a chilling performance from Sonya Cassidy. And questions of identity are no less complex on the human side, as the show toys with ideas of humans opting to live life as a synth and experimenting even further with technology. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 2”

TV Review: Humans Series 2 Episode 1

“I don’t deem your remark pertinent”

I came late to Series 1 of Channel 4 drama Humans but I’m making no such mistake this time round. And perhaps conscious of the show’s enormous critical and commercial success, creators Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley have considerably upped the ante on this second series, spreading the reach of the story from the UK to the US, Berlin to Bolivia. And though its scale may be becoming increasingly epic, the writing has thankfully maintained its startling intimacy in its explorations of what it means to be human.

To catch you up, the show centres on the invention, and subsequent evolution, of anthropomorphic robots called synths, designed to serve humans but a certain number of whom have become ‘conscious’. This second series sees that group on the run from the authorities, dealing with the ramifications of Niska’s decision – made early on here – to grant that same life to other synths, uploading code that is gradually deactivating their conditioning worldwide. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 2 Episode 1”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III

“The king’s name is a tower of strength”

The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch’s starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo’s excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she’s the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity – alongside that of so many others – in something most palpable.

Cooke’s direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III’s monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III”

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic

“I have a motion much imports your good”

They say things come in threes and as with Oresteias, so too with Measure for Measures. After Cheek by Jowl’s brutally contemporary Russian interpretation and Dominic Dromgoole’s comic version for the Globe, it is now Joe Hill-Gibbins’ turn to put his inimitable stamp on the play for the Young Vic. And from the industrial techno rave that opens the show to the awkward freeze-frame of the Duke’s happy ending – all done in a smidge under two hours – this is very much a modern take on Shakespeare that is bound to ruffle certain feathers whilst stimulating others.

With the licentiousness of Viennese society being represented by scores of inflatable sex toy dolls, the image of which recur throughout this whole production, and the Duke using live video relays to speak to the city, the modern-day feel is overt but non-specific, the point being we could be in any major city where a conservative regime is free to impose its puritanical fervour. And in this mise-en-scène, curated by dramaturg Zoë Svendsen and artfully framed in Miriam Buether’s box-frame set with hidden rear compartment, the story unfolds. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Young Vic”