July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
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Review: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse

The ferocious Sweat may not feel festive at the Donmar Warehouse but its message is ultimately one perfect for the season

“You could wake up tomorrow and all your jobs are in Mexico”

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and on the evidence of Lynette Linton’s production for the Donmar Warehouse, deservedly so. Based on interviews with the residents of Reading, Pennsylvania – one of the poorest towns of its size in the USA – it proves an utterly compelling examination of the all-too-personal impact of deindustrialisation. 

Written in 2015, hindsight encourages us to find remarkable prescience in Nottage exploring the kind of economic dissatisfaction that propelled Trump to power but the truth is more layered than that. Set in 2000, with brief forays into 2008, the desperation that poverty inculcates in people is stripped of partisanship as we’re just left to bear witness to those who just believe they have no other choice. Continue reading “Review: Sweat, Donmar Warehouse”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 1

“It’s not a new hotel we need, it’s a bigger morgue”

The publicity for Season 2 of Fortitude, just starting now on Sky Atlantic, reminded me that I had the first series still lying around unwatched and that now would be as good a time as any to get stuck in. Created and written by Simon Donald, it manages the not-inconsiderable feat of being an effective cross-genre show, so much so that it flicks from one to another from scene to scene. It begins life as a murder mystery set in the isolated town of Fortitude in Arctic Norway, the quality of its cast meaning that it can afford to knock off Christopher Eccleston’s scientist within the first couple of episodes.

As it is a community of about 700 in extreme conditions, it also plays out as a small town comedy of the blackest kind, as the quote up top demonstrates, bringing in soap opera-ish twists which also darken as well, pretty much into horror show territory. But where Fortitude is most unexpected is in its ventures into sci-fi, as the strange happenings in the township begin to defy any kind of rational explanation. It’s a disconcerting move but once the paradigm is established, I kinda liked the randomness it brought to the show, especially since I had no idea that that was where we were heading. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 1”

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”

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: Ripper Street Series 2

“You believe in laws but there are only lechers”

For some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it’s taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I’ve managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.

It’s a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid’s wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can’t help but flirt with Reid (he’s played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced.

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TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3

“There’s a line. It’s called right and wrong and I know which side my duty lies”

Well, that’s what you call a series finale! After the brilliant fake-out of Danny Waldron not being the new Tony Gates or Lindsay Denton, Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty took us further than we ever could have dared into the murky world of police corruption, weaving together story strands from all three series into an overarching conspiracy thriller that has to rank as one of the televisual highlights of the year so far.

My Episode 1 review can be found here and I won’t say much more here than to recommend you buy the DVD boxset now.

 

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3 Episode 1

“We’re all in this together. Best way”

 The first two series of Line of Duty have been an unqualified success for BBC2 and Jed Mercurio and so this third series has definitely been much anticipated chez Clowns, even if I’m not Daniel Mays’ biggest fan, he being trailed as the actor to take on the Lennie James/Keeley Hawes role as the Big Bad for this series. I should warn you now that spoilers will abound in this review of the first episode!

First off, I loved it. Resisting the temptation to feckle too much, Mercurio presents a very smart spin on the familiar world of AC-12 and its attempts to snuff out corruption in the police force. This time round, we’re left in no doubt as to whether the cop did it, the taut opening sequence sees May’s Sergeant Danny Waldron lead his armed response unit on an op which ends with him shooting the suspect in the head three times execution-style and then coercing his colleagues into a cover-up. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3 Episode 1”

DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield

“It’s not a question of how it is, it’s a question of how it appears”

Salting the Battlefield is the third and concluding part of the Johnny Worricker trilogy, following on from Page Eight and Turks and Caicos, and sees David Hare wrap up the dramas that he both wrote and directed. Worricker is an ex-MI5 analyst who is on the run from the British authorities after exposing a couple of massive secrets that threaten PM Alec Beasley, a marvelously slimy Ralph Fiennes. From the Caribbean he’s ended up in Germany with former lover and current conspirator Margot but the net is drawing ever closer for an endgame to settle all scores. 

It’s grand to see original players from Page Eight returning. Saskia Reeves’ ambitious Deputy Prime Minister still precarious as ever in her position but finding opportunity in the chaos of her personal and professional life; Judy Davis’ plain-speaking MI5 head still bemoaning the old boys’ club of an institution she appears to have firmly by the balls; and Felicity Jones as Worricker’s under-used daughter. And as stakes are raised in order for scores are settled, there’s a fantastic amount of Machiavellian manipulation by all parties, chillingly conversational confrontation the order of the day here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield”

TV Review: From Darkness, BBC1

“Fat, embittered, heavy-drinking, middle-aged male detective. Do you know how much of a cliché that is”

Part of Anne-Marie Duff’s triple-fronted return to prominence (cf Suffragette and Husbands and Sons), BBC1 drama From Darkness sees her take the lead in the psychological crime drama from Katie Baxendale. Running away from unhappiness, former police constable Claire Church has made a new life for herself on a remote Scottish island with the ruggedly handsome Norrie and his daughter but the revival of a decades-old case inexorably draws her back to the darkness to longs to flee.

Trying to skewer traditional notions of female victimhood in crime dramas, Baxendale curiously opts for a storyline based on the serial killings of prostitutes and never really manages to put enough clear water between From Darkness and others in the genre. And tied up as it is with trying to explore the repercussions of letting fear overwhelm us, the show can’t quite overcome its desire to slot into the fairly conventional strictures of your standard police procedural with all its daft contrivances.

So despite being retired from the force, Duff’s pill-popping Church is soon rattling around as if she owns the place and the investigation, under the instigation of Johnny Harris’ conflicted DCI Hind with his own troubled past intimately connected to Claire’s. Luke Newberry’s green DS Boyce offers a much-needed measure of comic relief, his Oxbridge nature ill-suited to the realities of Greater Manchester policing and Caroline Lee-Johnson’s coldly efficient Superintendent is ace at just getting shit done.

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