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+!

TV Review: King Charles III, BBC2

“I ask no less than power to achieve my will in fair exchange for total service to the state”


Uneasy lies the head that waits for the crown. Mike Barlett’s King Charles III was a deserved award-winning success when it took the Almeida by storm in 2014, transferring into the West End and then Broadway, later touring the UK and Australia too. Its success lay in the conception of a Shakespearean future history play, written in verse but set in a world recognisably our own, where Prince George is nonchalanting eating croissants, Queen Elizabeth II has just passed and before he has even been crowned, Charles finds himself in a constitutional crisis of his own making. A bold but welcome move from the BBC to commission a version then.
Directed as it was onstage by Rupert Goold and adapted by Bartlett (the narrative has been telescoped down by over an hour), it re-emerges as a powerful, pacy drama, a fascinating look into how the relationship between monarchy and government could so easily shift at a time of transition, anchored by an achingly nuanced performance from Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role. The ache is of course deepened by the actor’s death last month but that sadness shouldn’t overshadow the quality of his work here, masterful in his command of the verse, mesmerising as a man trapped by history.
Trimming the play down was clearly a necessity but you can’t help but wish it had stretched out just a little longer than the 90 minutes. The slow burn of the opening third or so is deliberately set to allow the cycling up to intense political thriller territory, but it does mean that the final third ends up feeling a little hurried, the dramatic resolution perhaps a little too easy here. But the journey is fantastic, the co-opting of Shakespearean convention with contemporary reference points (press freedom, the NHS, a junior prince involved in a mixed-race relationship – Bartlett impressively predicting the future there) perfectly encapsulates the contradictions of this Charles and Pigott-Smith mines the role for all its humane tragedy, aided by the Latinate choral beauty of Jocelyn Pook’s compositions. 
Goold also managed to tempt back a large number of the original leading cast for this adaptation. Adam James’ all-too-unlikeable PM, Margot Leicester’s under-used Camilla, Oliver Chris’ uncanny William and Richard Goulding’s “ginger joke” of a Harry all impressing once more. I’d have to check the playtext but I think Harry suffered a little in the edit, though I was most pleased to see Tamara Lawrance as his ‘commoner’ intended, an actress doing vivid work onstage at the moment in Twelfth Night and making the absolute most by shining in her limited screen time here.
But even if even the marvellous Katie Brayben could return to reprise her passing appearances as the ghost of the sainted Diana, and I’d forgotten just how delicious her scenes were, I wonder why Lydia Wilson wasn’t onboard to give her Kate once more. No slight on Charlotte Riley who was very good as the most forcefully ambitious of the younger generation, the allusions to Lady Macbeth an easy one but nonetheless compelling. So a much-welcomed opportunity to revisit this most excellent of plays and hopefully an introduction to the power of theatre for those new to this world.

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot

“Do you know any sci-fi?”
So here we are, the moment that the epic rewatch has been building up to – the start of Doctor Who’s tenth series, notable for being the final one for both Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and showrunner Steven Moffat. And perhaps predictably, Episode One – The Pilot is a cracking piece of TV, a real return to form that hopefully will last across the entire series (I’m not holding my breath…) or at least the majority of it (that I feel more confident about).
Key to this is the arrival of Pearl Mackie’s new companion Bill, a welcome breath of real fresh air into the standard trope but more importantly, a distinct separation from what came just before. No offence to Jenna Coleman’s Clara but the character’s knowingness made it hard to ever warm to her and though on paper, the idea of her being more of an equal to the Doctor has legs, in reality it just became rather self-satisfyingly wearying.
The contrast with a more ‘human’ partner is where the show has often excelled (qv the emotional depth of Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble) and Mackie starts most promisingly here. Moffat’s dialogue keeps her dryly witty whilst being convincingly freaked-out at her introduction to the TARDIS. That she’s a lesbian and a POC is at once important and incidental – it would be magnificent to say that it doesn’t matter but we’re far away from that in this world we live in so it is undoubtedly significant. And what I particularly liked was how casually but firmly Bill’s relationship with the starry-eyed Heather was the defining point of this episode.
Matt Lucas’ Nardole was definitely in the background so it will be interesting to see how he is developed as a second companion, rumours abound about what he might get up to, and the seeds of what might drive this series were laid with the unexplained ‘thing in a vault’ that the Doctor has been protecting whilst working as a university lecturer. 
Looking ahead, the return of John Simm as the Master, alongside Michelle Gomez’s Missy promises something most exciting indeed (possibly around regeneration?), Mike Bartlett’s debut as a Who writer comes with Episode 4 – Knock Knock which will hopefully be amazing, and my theatrically-inclined heart is hugely looking forward to Episode 5 – Oxygen which features Mimi Ndiweni, Kieran Bew, Justin Salinger, Peter Caulfield, and Katie Brayben among its cast members. I can’t help myself, I’m cautiously optimistic that this might be a good one guys!

Review: The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios

“Any movie that is commercialised is necessarily a piece of shit”

Having had my fingers burned by Zach Braff, I steered clear of Matthew Perry, but the lure of Olivier-award-winning (for Beautiful) and 3-time fosterIAN award nominee Katie Brayben suckered me in for Jesse Eisenberg (combined with not having to pay for the ticket hehe, hurrah for other people’s poor planning). The West End clearly has a tradition of proving a (too-welcoming) home for US actors with self-penned plays to put on and the latest to try their luck here is Eisenberg with The Spoils.
In some ways it’s an unfair comparison, Braff and Perry were first-time playwrights and the air of vanity project was thus hard to shake off; The Spoils is Eisenberg’s third play so he’s at least a bit more committed to the cause. That said, for me, on this evidence I’d rate him much more as a actor than as a writer. At the heart of the play is the anti-heroic Ben (played by himself, natch), a gift of a role in terms of its compelling awfulness but ultimately a frustrating character to watch as there’s little more to him than this one note.
Ben is a soi-disant filmmaker who spends most of his time in his swanky NY apartment, paid for by his father, being awful. He lives with Kalyan (a good Kunal Nayyar, star of The Big Bang Theory), a Nepalese student who he treats like shit yet still somehow inspiring puppyish loyalty, and when he bumps into a former schoolfriend Ted (Game of Thrones’ Theon Greyjoy) who is now engaged to his first crush Sarah (Brayben), he invites them over for a dinner party and treats them like shit too. So on, and so forth, and so wearing.
As charismatic an actor as Eisenberg is, and he really is – it’s a cracking performance of psychological intensity that fills the breadth of Derek McLane’s set – without the depth of character to give Ben some kind of rationale, some kind of essential humanity, it’s hard to really care that much. Annapurna Sriram’s Reshma – Kalyan’s other half – completes the company with some considered work but for a play stretching towards 3 hours, too little happens dramatically and Scott Elliott’s direction veers uncomfortably towards the horrific with some strange choices.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th August

Review: My Mother Said I Never Should, St James

“I don’t know if you’ll ever love me as much as I love you but one day you’ll understand why I’ve done this to you”

It’s perhaps rather telling that a play that can claim the sobriquet “the most performed play by a female playwright” yet still be receiving its first London revival since its premiere here at the Royal Court in 1989. Fortunately, newly formed production company Tiny Fires are here to rectify that by mounting My Mother Said I Never Should at the St James Theatre (in its self-acknowledged first all-female production since opening three and half years ago – the clues are there…).

The fractured narrative of Charlotte Keatley’s play may not confound modern audiences more used to such theatrical playfulness but it was a novel enough concept that it was rejected several times by key theatres when first written. Which makes it all the more impressive that its structure still holds up beautifully today, complex without being confusing, as it takes its time to lay out all random pieces of a jigsaw which ultimately combine to tell the story of four generations of women from a single family from the North-West. 
  

From Doris born illegitimately in 1900 to a 16-year-old Rosie becoming politically active in the mid 80s, with Margaret and Jackie inbetween, Keatley explores not only the relationships between mothers and daughters but how our memories work, throwing up unexpected connections to the past and behaviour patterns that we never knew we’d retained, still less ever believed we’d repeat. And as the power of Paul Robinson’s production builds up, so too does its emotionally potent charge.

Signe Beckmann’s abstracted design instills a real elegance, even if Timothy Bird’s period video work may seem a little superfluous, in which the fluidity of time – indeed its complete removal in a set of ephemeral interludes of childhood play between young incarnations of all four characters – sits well under the cool gaze and sculpted shadows of Johanna Town’s lighting. And so we see the choices that these women have to make, about motherhood and careers, marriage and sacrifices, the insecurities that play on their minds, and the consequences of those decisions not just on themselves but on their loved ones, for the rest of their lives.

Maureen Lipman may seem an obvious choice for a cantankerous matriarch but she really is excellent here, whipping out withering remarks worthy of the Dowager herself but deeply empathetic when the time comes. Whilst Katie Brayben’s artistically-inclined Jackie grabs strongly at the liberation of the 70s with Serena Manteghi’s Rosie paying the price in a brace of powerfully moving performances. For me though, it was the raw angst of Caroline Faber’s Margaret that I found most affecting, touchingly but vainly fighting to keep an embittered soul at bay, even in the midst of such tangled familial love.

I don’t know about your mother, but my mother said London theatregoers should never have to wait this long again to see this powerful play revived, especially in as lucid and sensitive a production as this – from Tiny Fires comes big results.  

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Alex Harvey-Brown (Savannah Photographic)
Booking until 21st May

CD Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)

“Let’s be clear, there’s nothing ironic

About our love of Manolo Blahnik”

So in a slightly odd turn of events, as Rupert Goold’s American Psycho opens for previews on Broadway, the London Cast Recording of the Almeida’s Winter 2013/14 production is finally released. That London run was well-received by me, so much so that I went back (not just to post the pics of one of its nifty ad campaigns) twice and Duncan Sheik’s music was a big part of that, very much appealing to the 80s kid in me.
Sheik’s score is bathed in a glossy sheen of electronica, predominantly made up of original songs but also featuring covers of some 80s classics – Human League, Tears for Fears, even Phil Collins in radically reharmonised version of ‘In The Air Tonight’. And it’s the ideal partner for this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel and surprisingly, it holds up really well, even without the vivid visuals (not least of Matt Smith’s abs).

The prevalence of 80s influences in music today means that it often sounds as contemporary as it does retro. It’s not a massive stretch to imagine Brandon Flowers singing ‘Killing Time’ or ‘Not A Common Man’ and if Matt Smith doesn’t have the greatest range, his slightly flat delivery perfectly reflects the detached nature of Patrick Bateman’s absolute amorality, something of which we’re constantly reminded by the welcome inclusion of several spoken passages. 


Workout anthem ‘Hardbody’ loses none of its lascivious gaze (just listen to the glee with which the boys sing the word body), the ode to fashion ‘You Are What We Wear’ remains as sharp and tuneful as I remember, led by a wonderfully dry Susannah Fielding and Katie Brayben (I still chuckle every time I hear crème de menthe and Oscar de la Renta being rhymed) and Cassie Compton’s heartfelt contributions as the one halfway empathetic character as PA Jean sound beautiful. 

Even though I enjoyed the show, the glacial synthesised sound of Sheik’s orchestrations on record make this score much more musically enjoyable to listen to than I ever imagined it would be. The addition of a couple of bonus tracks sung by Sheik, plus ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ (which I think has been cut from the US production) just adds to the package of what is an unexpectedly successful cast recording. And now I want to see it again, if only I had a trip to Broadway coming up soon…

2015 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Lia Williams, Oresteia
Could it have been anyone else? Finally given the opportunity to present Klytemnestra’s story from the beginning, from the advent of her ferocious rage that is too often taken for granted, Williams gave us a strikingly modern politician’s wife and mother who couldn’t sit idly by if she tried. With live video giving her nowhere to hide, it was us to shrank away from the intensity of her emotions.

Honourable mention: Letitia Wright, Eclipsed
I’m not one to play favourites but short of inventing a new category of Best Ensemble, there was little else I could do for this most favourite drama. The expression on Wright’s face at the end still haunts me to this very day, clearly an actress to watch for the great things she’s bound to deliver.

Thusitha Jayasundera, My Eyes Went Dark
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, hang
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn
Lara Rossi, Octagon

7-10
Kate Fleetwood, Medea (Almeida); Ophelia Lovibond, The Effect; Chris Nietvelt, Glazen Speelgoed; Gemma Whelan, Radiant Vermin

Best Actress in a Musical

Natalie Dew, Bend It Like Beckham
Redefining the triple threat to singing, acting and scoring, Dew proved to be an effortlessly charming leading player in this film adaptation. Guileless, appealing and wonderfully warm, her performance was quite the surprise and a welcome anchor for a show that is still holding on to its place in the West End.

Honourable mention: Katie Brayben, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Cassidy Janson may have stepped into her shoes now but there was real joy for me in watching Brayben graduate to this leading role, having admired her work for a long time. And if the show itself isn’t the strongest in the West End, the sheer conviction of her performance level ensured it worked.

Tracie Bennett, Mrs Henderson Presents
Jennifer Harding, The Clockmaker’s Daughter
Debbie Kurup, Anything Goes
Kelly Price, Little Shop of Horrors

7-10
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; Jenna Russell, Songs For A New World; Zizi Strallen, Mary Poppins; Lauren Ward, Bat Boy

2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King
Alex Hassell, Henry V

Best Actress In A Play Sponsored By The Umbrella Rooms:
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things
Lia Williams, Oresteia
Rosalie Craig, As You Like It
Harriet Walter, Death of a Salesman Continue reading “2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

The 2015 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

Best Actor

WINNER James McAvoy, The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios
Simon Russell Beale
, Temple, Donmar Warehouse
Kenneth Cranham, The Father, Ustinov Bath, Tricycle Theatre & Wyndham’s Theatre
Ralph Fiennes, Man And Superman, National Theatre’s Lyttelton

Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress

WINNER Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 , Noël Coward Theatre
Denise Gough
, People, Places and Things, National Theatre’s Dorfman
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare’s Globe
Lia Williams, Oresteia, Almeida Theatre & Trafalgar Studios

Best Play

WINNER The Motherfucker With The Hat (Stephen Adly Guirgis), National Theatre’s Lyttelton
Hangmen
(Martin McDonagh), Royal Court Theatre
The Father (Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton), Ustinov Bath, Tricycle Theatre & Wyndham’s Theatre


Milton Shulman Award for Best Director

WINNER Robert Icke, Oresteia, Almeida Theatre & Trafalgar Studios
Jamie Lloyd
, Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory
Indhu Rubasingham, The Motherfucker With The Hat, National Theatre’s Lyttelton

Best Design

WINNER Anna Fleischle, Hangmen, Royal Court Theatre
Tim Hatley
, Temple, Donmar Warehouse
Robert Jones, City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse

Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright

WINNER Molly Davies, God Bless The Child, Royal Court Upstairs
Alistair McDowall
, Pomona, Orange Tree Theatre & National Theatre’s Temporary Space
Diana Nneka Atuona, Liberian Girl, Royal Court Upstairs (Peckham & Tottenham pop-up venues)

Emerging Talent Award in Partnership with Burberry

WINNER David Moorst, Violence And Son, Royal Court Upstairs
Calvin Demba
, The Red Lion, National Theatre’s Dorfman
Patsy Ferran, Treasure Island, National Theatre’s Olivier

Best Musical Performance

WINNER Imelda Staunton, Gypsy, Savoy Theatre
Katie Brayben, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre
Rosalie Craig, City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse
Killian Donnelly, Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre

Newcomer in a Musical

WINNER Gemma Arterton, Made in Dagenham, Adelphi Theatre
Ellie Bamber
, High Society, Old Vic
Natalie Dew, Bend It Like Beckham the Musical, Phoenix Theatre

Evening Standard Radio 2 Audience Award for Best Musical (voted for by the public)

WINNER Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre
Assassins
, Menier Chocolate Factory
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre
Bend It Like Beckham the Musical, Phoenix Theatre
Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

Beyond Theatre Award

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty Exhibition


Editor’s Award in partnership with The Ivy

Vanessa Redgrave


Lebedev Award

Stephen Sondheim

Review: The Iliad Online, Almeida/Live-stream

“You can’t kill me

 

I can’t ever die”

 

After three weeks away, all my initial thoughts were on a cosy night in catching up on the first two episodes of The Great British Bake-off and I couldn’t imagine anything changing my mind – how wrong could I be! When the Almeida first announced their durational performance of Homer’s Iliad, it sounded like a madcap plan, a morning ‘til night affair in association with the British Museum and featuring over 60 actors – the only thing stopping me from booking was it being the last day of my holiday!

 

 

But fortunately, the good folk of the Almeida decided to livestream the whole shebang – all 16 hours and 18,255 lines of it – so that people could dip in and out to their heart’s content as well as attending at the British Museum for free during the daytime. I switched on at about 8pm as Bertie Carvel started his section, intending just to sample its wares but sure enough, I was there until the bitter end around 1am, having been sucked into its unique brilliance and unable to miss a minute more of it.
 

Directed by Rupert Goold and Robert Icke, it has to rank as one of the theatrical highlights of the year, even though I missed hours thereof and was just watching on my laptop. As the baton passed from actor to actor, reciting their way through one of the keystones not just of Greek but of modern drama, it was a mesmerising experience to revel in the different performance styles and the wonderfully hypnotic storytelling courtesy of Robert Fagles’ translation.

 

Of the section I was able to witness, Carvel was strong but Hattie Morahan and Lia Williams were early stand-outs, their sonorous voice utterly compelling, Caroline Faber was an unexpected but unforgettable tour-de-force as striking as the divine intervention she was detailing, and closing the whole thing in understated and unparalleled style, the awesome hush of Lesley Manville and Tim Pigott-Smith’s brought the Trojan War to its heart-breaking end, their focus and restraint a salutary lesson for some who had preceded (a distractedly line-flubbing Ben Whishaw something of a disappointment here).

 

 

A series of podcasts and a making-of film are promised to arrive in the coming days and who knows if we’ll ever get a chance to see any of it again (finger crossed, for the list of people I missed is gutting), but work of this quality has to be highly commended and congratulated.