TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 5

Chloë Moss, Nathaniel Martello-White and Jasmine Lee-Jones make Episode 5 of Unprecedented unmissable 

“I want people not screens”

One of the main strengths, for me, of Unprecedented has been the sheer variety of the writing that has responded to Covid-19 here. Previous episodes (#1, #2, #3, #4) have all impressed but the combination of writers in this fifth instalment really captures that lightning-in-a-bottle potential that makes the best theatre spark.

I watched Chloë Moss’ Everybody’s Talkin’ whilst hungover but not even I can blame the huge weeping tears on that alone, this is a beautifully pitched, gorgeously performed slice of family drama in miniature. Three daughters gather on Zoom to speak with their recently bereaved mother but the trials of finding a new normal, within the context of already having find a new normal is full of unimaginable pain. Moss’ writing and Caitlin McLeod’s direction speaks directly to the challenges that so many faced even before coronavirus hit, and during, and Sue Johnston leads the cast marvellously.

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TV Review: W1A (Series 3)

W1A remains entirely watchable in Series 3 but repetition sets in to blunt its comic edges

“It may be the future but it’s still the BBC”

Returning to W1A has been good fun, though watching its three series back-to-back, it is interesting to see just how much it wears its concept increasingly thin.  Series 1 was a winner, introducing its cast of misfits all trying to navigate the bureauracy of the BBC and avoid doing as much work as possible but even by Series 2, the strains were clear to see.

John Morton’s Twenty Twelve, the show that kicked off this mockumentary mini-universe, had an inbuilt advantage in that it had a clearly defined end-point, the thing that everyone was working towards. By contrast, W1A has a sense of ambling on which, while perfectly pleasant to watch, means that a terminal case of diminishing returns sets in. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 3)”

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

Review: White Pearl, Royal Court

Despite a cracking design, White Pearl doesn’t convince as an effective play at the Royal Court

“It’s just a fun ad. Now the whole world is going crazy”

On the one hand, there’s lots to appreciate about White Pearl, a play about Asian women, written and directed by women of Asian descent and starring them too. Its foregrounding of non-native English voices, subject matter so atypical for the UK, its very programming on a major London stage – this is important stuff.

On the other, it’s not a fantastic piece of writing and as significant as its presence here is – something which should not be left unremarked – nothing is gained by not being frank. Anchuli Felicia King’s play straddles the world of satire and comedy but ultimately satisfies as neither and there’s a reliance on some troubling dramatic tropes. Continue reading “Review: White Pearl, Royal Court”

TV Review: Fleabag Series 2

Flying against the wind with this I know, but the second series of Fleabag leaves me rather cold…

“I think you’ve played with my guinea pig long enough”

I’m not sure why I’ve never succumbed to the Fleabag love that has swept the nation. Whether onstage or on screen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s magnus opus has never quite done it for me but what do I know – the return of the show, to a West End theatre no less, sold out quickly and the column inches about this second series of the TV show have been mounting up.

And ever the contrarian, this follow-up hasn’t really tickled my fancy either. The one thing that I think it did brilliantly was in its use of the fourth wall, particularly how Andrew Scott’s hot vicar was able to see through it for the loneliness avoidance technique it was and for pure storytelling, I thought it worked very well in terms of humanising a character who has always been rather arch. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag Series 2”

Review: The Great Wave, National Theatre

Fascinating but shocking history, and beautiful theatre. Don’t miss The Great Wave at the National Theatre

“It doesn’t mean…It doesn’t mean, that”

Francis Turnly’s new play The Great Wave explores a fascinating but shocking slice of history, severely underexplored in this country. And Indhu Rubasingham’s production thereof is one which puts East Asian experience, and actors, front and centre, a pleasing but too-rare sight to see in any of our theatres, never mind the National.

Its history covers the tense relationship between North Korea and Japan, notably in the late twentieth century when the former carried out a series of abductions of citizens of the latter, but all concerned hushed up the story. Turnly focuses down to the micro through the experience of one family but also amps up the macro, as past Japanese imperialism and the grotesqueries of the North Korean regime are also placed under the microscope. Continue reading “Review: The Great Wave, National Theatre”

Review: Gloria, Hampstead

“She’s like an emotional terrorist”

Truth be told I hadn’t intended to see Gloria, my own little act of protest at the Hampstead’s continuing gender imbalance – six shows straight on their main stage both written and directed by men. But the delights of An Octoroon introduced me to the writing of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and he definitely feels like a playwright with a lot to say so I sucked it up and went to Swiss Cottage for a cheeky preview, ironically the location for the Women Centre Stage festival late last year.

Gloria sets out as a dark office comedy, shady and sharp as it navigates the ruthless ambition of a pool of young(ish) editorial assistants in the Manhattan offices of a national magazine. It’s a scathing satire of the journalism industry and the way it has evolved, or not as the case may be – time was that a foot on the bottom of the ladder meant you could reasonably expect to get to the top but times change, cubicle warfare has intensified, and in this uncertain modern world, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Continue reading “Review: Gloria, Hampstead”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Hollywood and Broadway icon Stockard Channing will return to the London stage this summer, to star in a new production of Olivier Award winner Alexi Kaye Campbell’s acclaimed drama Apologia, directed by the multi-award winning Jamie Lloyd.

Opening at the Trafalgar Studios on 29th July, Apologia will see the Tony and Emmy Award winning actor performing in the West End for the first time in over a decade. Channing’s hugely popular film and TV credits include starring roles in The West Wing, The Good Wife, her Oscar® and Golden Globe nominated role in Six Degrees of Separation, and the iconic role of Rizzo in the film Grease. An acclaimed Broadway and West End star, Channing’s most recent performances on Broadway, It’s Only a Play and Other Desert Cities (a “peerless” performance -NY Times, for which she was nominated for her seventh Tony Award), have affirmed her position as a true theatrical legend.

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a compelling drama about the importance of family and the pressures commitment and principles exert on it. Apologia follows his critical success with The Pride and his acclaimed plays Sunset at The Villa Thalia at the National Theatre and The Faith Machine at the Royal Court Theatre.

Stockard Channing plays Kristin Miller, a firebrand liberal matriarch of a dynamic family, who is presiding over her birthday celebrations. An eminent art historian, Kristin’s almost evangelical dedication to her career and her political activism has resulted in her sons – Peter, a merchant banker, and Simon, a writer – harbouring deeply rooted and barely suppressed resentments towards her. The fissures in her relationship with them are brought to the fore by the recent publication of her memoir.

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TV Review: Fleabag

“I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist”

I left it a little while to watch Fleabag on television, for though Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ascension to the ranks of hugely buzzworthy writer has been pleasing to watch, I haven’t – dare I say it – always been the hugest fan of her work. For me, the effectiveness of her writing hasn’t always matched with the audacity of its frankness and so in her plays and TV shows like Crashing, I’ve admired the path she’s taking without hugely enjoying it.

Her breakthrough piece Fleabag equally didn’t hit my buttons in the way that it did for many others, thus my delay in getting round to watching it. And as is often the case with lowered expectations, it actually surprised me by being a very effective adaptation of the play. Its world has been expanded, both physically and personally, a whole cast of supporting characters now appear but crucially, there’s the thing I was missing most at the Soho – direct eye contact.

Fleabag rides on its confessional style and on screen, Waller-Bridge and director Harry Bradbeer nail it, direct asides giving us piecemeal insight into the trials and tribulations of this young woman struggling to make life in London work. Afraid of being a bad feminist and unafraid of her sexuality, desperately damaged by the death of her best friend and unable to connect with her family in a meaningful way, the piece is thoroughly enlivened and enriched by its treatment on screen. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag”