June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3

The third series of Chris Lang’s Unforgotten is another corker, and not just because of Nicola Walker, honest!

“We’ve all done things of which we are ashamed”

The cold cases of Unforgotten have rightly proved a success for their alternative tale on crime drama, putting a real focus on the victims rather than the crimes, a neat corrective to the sometimes exploitative gaze that can characterise this genre. And this third series maintained that strong record (quick review of episodes 1 and 2 here)

A measure of the regard in which Unforgotten is held is the sheer quality of its cast. With James Fleet, Alex Jennings, Kevin McNally and Neil Morrissey as its lead quartet, it added Sasha Behar, Emma Fielding, Indra Ové and Amanda Root as their partners, and then threw in Siobhan Redmond and Sara Stewart as exes as well.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3 Episodes 1+2

The third series of Unforgotten starts and once again, Nicola Walker fails to disappoint

“Who buries a body in the central reservation of the M1”

They’re back! Nicola Walker’s DCI Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Khan sit at the heart of Chris Lang’s cold case thriller Unforgotten and for the previous two series, have been extremely impressive. Carving out a niche in the crowded police procedural TV market is enough of a job but doing it this well is noteworthy.

So it is little surprise that they have returned for a third series and though the format might be creaking ever so slightly as the same model is recycled once again, there’s enough here to point out the differences between so many of the other programmes who long to be recommissioned and respected this much. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3 Episodes 1+2”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

TV Review: Unforgotten

“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”

The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.

Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”

Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo

“I sometimes think I’d rather be fancied than liked”

The Donmar Warehouse’s production of My Night With Reg opened last year under a cloud of some sadness as playwright Kevin Elyot passed away just as rehearsals were starting. As it transfers to the West End into the Apollo Theatre, it finds itself surrounded by a different kind of cloud, one of prurient controversy as TfL banned the publicity image for the show (two variations of which I have kindly provided for you here) forcing them to reissue a picture sans arsecheek. (That this Bulk Powders advert somehow passed muster seems baffling – I’d love to know the full reasoning behind both decisions.)

That it provided a sneaky bit of extra guerilla advertising can’t have hurt, as when a similar thing happened to the Globe’s recent production of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, and it is a play that thoroughly deserves it. I ranked it in my top 25 of last year (out of over 380 shows) and my original review can be read here. And thanks to the lovely people at Official Theatre and Seat Plan, I was glad to have the opportunity to spend another Night With Reg and get my heart gently but surely broken all over again. Continue reading “Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo”

Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse

“If you get him pissed enough, he might let you blow him off behind the yucca”

There’s a definite tinge of sadness about Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg even before the play starts as the playwright died this summer aged 62, just as rehearsals for this Donmar Warehouse production – the play’s first major revival – were to start. It is also a deeply melancholy piece of work, elegantly capturing the yearning ache of unrequited love, the pain of remembering those who’ve been loved and lost, and the vast complexity that can arise from simply wanting to be loved.

The play could be pigeon-holed as a gay play, an AIDS play, an 80s period piece, but the beauty of Robert Hastie’s production is that it transcends all these labels, elevating Elyot’s writing to a minor-key classic. That the play focuses on a group of gay friends throughout the 80s living under the (never-mentioned) shadow of HIV/AIDS is never in doubt but the main theme, the driving force behind so much of what – the fear of ending up alone – is utterly, completely universal. Continue reading “Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre

“The army is not a game”

Director David Grindley’s first London job was as an ASM on the original 1993 award-winning production of Jonathan Lewis’ army hospital-based Our Boys so there is a pleasing circularity to him being the director of the play’s first West End revival. It is set in Ward 9 Bay 4 of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich, with five soldiers at various stages in their recovery from injuries suffered in the line of duty who have their easy dynamic changed by the arrival of Potential Officer Menzies into the mix. 

His presence shakes things up initially but he is soon assimilated into the group which kills the endless stretches of time with the recreation of barracks humour – strident banter that is close to the bone, searching for female company in want ads, illicit drinking games based on The Deer Hunter. But try as they might, they can’t escape from the ugly reality of their situation as their various torments rear their heads and it becomes apparent that this is a place where mental recovery is just as vital as physical recuperation. Continue reading “Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre”