News: star-studded Agatha Christie readings to support the Theatre Support Fund and Acting for Others

A pair of star-studded staged readings of Agatha Christie thrillers will support the Theatre Support Fund+ and Acting for Others.

Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web – 9th December, 7.30pm

Clarissa, wife of a diplomat, is adept at spinning tales of adventure but when a murder takes place in her own drawing room she finds live drama much harder to cope with. 

Desperate to dispose of the body before her husband arrives with an important politician, she enlists the help of her guests. Hilarity ensues when they are interrupted by the arrival of wry detective, Inspector Lord. 

Starring: Nari Blair-Mangat | Nick Blakeley | Brian BovellRichard Clifford | Adam Gillen | Jessica Hynes | Sir Derek Jacobi | Matthew Kelley | Gerard McCarthy | Helen Monks | Gloria Onitiri | Stephanie Siadatan


Agatha Christie’s The Hollow – 10th December, 7.30pm

An unhappy game of romantic follow-the-leader explodes into murder one weekend at The Hollow, home of Sir Henry and Lucy Angkatell. Dr. Cristow, the Harley Street lothario, is at the centre of the trouble when, assembled in one place, we find his dull but devoted wife Gerda, his mistress and prominent sculptor Henrietta, and his former lover and Hollywood film star Veronica. As the list of romantic associations grows so does the list of potential suspects when someone is shot dead. 

Nearly everyone has a motive but only one of them did the deed. 

Starring: Samantha Bond | Simon Callow | James Dreyfus | Kathryn Drysdale | Richard Fleeshman | Beth Granville | Angela Griffin | Laura Haddock | Tom Hughes | Adam James | Valentine Olukoga | Nina Sosanya | Nia Towle 

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3

“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them, they went out and happened to things”

I came to Da Vinci’s Demons late but I really enjoyed working my way through Series 1 and Series 2 of this historical fantasy in order to get up to speed for the arrival of the third series. This turned out to be a bit of a bittersweet exercise as the show was then cancelled and the decision made to release the final series in its entirety online. I reviewed the first two episodes here but it has taken me a while to get to watching the rest though sadly, it wasn’t quite the swansong I’d hoped for.

Now thoroughly uprooted from Florence, the multitudinous locations of the many-stranded narrative leave Da Vinci’s Demons flailing aimlessly a little too often, with a sense of confusion about where and when (and indeed why) things are happening and not enough of a grand design emerging, drawing the pieces together with increasing clarity. The most frustrating part of this is the prominence of the programme’s internal mythology, pitching the Sons of Mithras (now bad) against the Labyrinth (possibly good, I think). Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3”

TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 2)

“So, because you can’t believe it’s true, logically it’s false”

So the second and final part of Series 4 of Luther is done and well, it’s hard not to feel a little shortchanged. There’s been chatter about a movie and given that we only got 2 hours of screentime here, it’s hard to see why creator Neil Cross and star Idris Elba opted for a single two-parter split over two weeks as opposed the fiercer energy that a feature-length epic would surely have borne. 

Episode 1 aired last week and did a decent job of pulling us back into the world of DCI John Luther, delving back into the show’s mythology and the tangled web of his own past but also moving forward with the dastardly exploits of a new serial killer, which proved to be the main hook for Luther’s return from semi-retirement. Part Two continues the blend, as John Heffernan’s marvellously malevolent cannabalistic killer continues his rampage and Luther deals with the past impinging severely on his present. Continue reading “TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 2)”

TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 1)

“What do we do with something like this?”

It doesn’t quite seem right, calling this a new series of Luther when it is just two episodes, but the return of Idris Elba’s maverick DCI is something to be celebrated nonetheless. Neil Cross’ two-parter finds John Luther on a leave of absence from the Met (as opposed to having jacked it all in as we might have thought), sequestered in a coastal cottage hideaway and still reckoning with the loss of his cop partner DS Ripley after the events of the last series. Almost straightaway though, the show runs into the problems that mark the whole episode.

the first ever episode way back when). They’re both new to the franchise (though weirdly not unfamiliar to Luther) but as there’s so little time, we have to assume an instant familiarity with them, and with the circumstances of Alice’s death and a new serial killer who is eating his way through East London.  Continue reading “TV Review: Luther (Series 4, Episode 1)”

TV Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3, episodes 1 + 2

“This chemistry sounds much too sophisticated for a horde of heathens”

In this world of Netflix and Amazon dramas, the rules of getting your televisual content out there have changed for everyone and following suit, the entirety of the third series of Starz’ Da Vinci’s Demons has been released for people to go for a binge-watch or bite-site chunks as they see fit. I haven’t got a huge amount of time this week so I thought I’d sample the opening two episodes of this final (for now) season of this highly enjoyable historical fantasy romp, not least to get the cliff-hanger ending of Series 2 out of the way.

And perhaps acknowledging the forthcoming ending (although the series was filmed before the cancellation was announced), the tone of the show has darkened, increasingly bloody and brutal as ritual and warcraft take a more vicious turn with the stakes rising for pretty much every concerned. The Turks’ sacking of Naples gives us the best battle the show has done with fearsome consequences for several characters, Riario’s dealings with The Labyrinth become ever more sinister and even Gregg Chillin’s Zoroaster gets a decent plot for once. Continue reading “TV Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3, episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2

“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”

The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.

Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

Review: When We Are Married, Garrick Theatre

“Marriage isn’t perfect”
J.B. Priestley’s farcical comedy When We Are Married arrives at the Garrick Theatre in London for a limited season with a substantially star-studded cast donning their finest Edwardian gear. Set in 1908, three middle-class couples in Cleckleywyke, Yorkshire have their world turned upside-down when, in preparing to celebrate their silver wedding anniversaries, the validity of their marriages is called into question and they face certain social ruin but also huge personal issues as the very nature of their relationships is called into question.

There’s no doubt that it is extremely strongly cast with stalwarts of screen and stage forming the ensemble, especially in its six leads. I enjoyed Susie Blake and David Horovitch as the Helliwells with a particularly believable partnership, but the most fun is had by Maureen Lipman as the redoubtable Clara and Sam Kelly’s hen-pecked Herbert who have great fun playing out the role reversal when he is freed from the shackles of her imperious gaze and withering put-downs. Michele Dotrice does well as the long-suffering Annie who revels in her freedom from her dour councillor husband as played by Simon Rouse with some delicious comic timing, but is then slightly compromised by the need for a neat happy ending to the play.

There are constant hints of something more: the beginnings of revolution in the serving classes; the potential for female emancipation; even domestic violence, but none are explored for this is indeed a comedy, a rambunctious farce which is fine for the most part but a little frustrating for me and I personally struggled find the humour in a man slapping his wife. As for the rest of the play, I found there were just too many extraneous characters: the presence of Helliwell’s young niece is completely unnecessary and her relationship with Forbes is not used to counterpoint any of the marriages so I struggled to see why they were there and others like the Reverend and the reporter simply cluttered the stage. And I wasn’t really a fan of the broad comedy essayed by Roy Hudd’s drunken photographer with his end-of-the-pier routine and Rosemary Ashe’s brash, vulgar Lottie, but this is thoroughly old-school stuff.

It is uncomplicated fun and at times quite amusing, but ultimately it does have to be said that this is aimed at the upper age bracket. Whereas it was a entertaining diversion for me, it was rapturously received with rounds of applause coming at the end of every flourish by an actor, even the set got a good clap as the curtain rose at the beginning but to be honest, I was by far the youngest person in the stalls as far as I could see. All in all, if you appreciated 1970s sitcoms, or indeed enjoy watching re-runs of them these days, then this will be the perfect show for you.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 26th February 2011
Note: some smoking of cigars and cigarettes onstage

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews