TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1

Episode 1 of Unprecedented features strong writing from James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly 

“It’s clear that everything’s going to be different…
and then again, I’m scared that things won’t be different”

It is with an admirable speed with which Headlong and Century Films have pulled together Unprecedented, a theatrical response to the impact of lockdown on society. Conceived, written, filmed and produced in lockdown, and now airing on BBC4, some of our most exciting playwright and a cast of over 50 really have pulled together impressively and this first instalment of three short plays is certainly promising.

Necessity is the mother of invention, or something, and so all three use digital conferencing technology in one way or another and if anything, there’s no bigger marker in the way that our relationships to each other have been altered than this. How many of us even knew what Zoom was in January? And between them, writers James Graham, Charlene James and John Donnelly deftly sketch some of these changes.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 1”

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: Far From The Madding Crowd, Watermill

“I am not morally yours”

Truth be told, after a dodgy time with The Woodlanders in an English Lit elective at uni, I’ve pretty much kept my distance from Thomas Hardy. So it might be a little surprise that I ventured to the wilds of West Berkshire and the Watermill Theatre to see this adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd but Jessica Swale is the kind of delightful director who is worth travelling for, plus she has a predilection for casting Sam Swainsbury in things which means she is my lobster 🙂

This actor-musicianish production is really cleverly staged as Philip Engeheart’s versatile and movable set design evokes an appropriate sense of rural charm with witty and ingenious touches allowing memorable representations of key events such as the harvesting of the wheat and untold business with sheep and lambs (where even this hardened soul had to admire the skill of the puppetry). With Catherine Jayes’ music underscoring much of the action, the pastoral atmosphere feels just right. Continue reading “Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, Watermill”

Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre

“I wonder how I will make the potatoes understand”

Just a quickie to cover the last of Out of Joint’s rehearsed readings to accompany Our Country’s Good at the St James Theatre which was a world premiere of a new play, Jefferson’s Garden. As a work-in-progress, the convention is not to say too much but I have to say that this will be a play to look out for in the future because I found it an incredibly accomplished piece of work, even at this early stage, and it made for a highly enjoyable afternoon. 

Starting in the midst of the American revolution and stretching from a Quaker farm in Maryland to a politicised Philadelphia to the Virginian gardens of Monticello, Jefferson’s Garden looks at the birth of a nation in all its huge political and social upheaval and examines the price paid by people on all levels, from the statesmen pushing through new laws to the slaves praying for emancipation.  Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Jefferson’s Garden, St James Theatre”

Review: The Recruiting Officer rehearsed reading, St James Theatre

“Two and twenty horses killed under me that day”

Accompanying their production of Our Country’s Good, Out of Joint have put together a programme of rehearsed readings of various of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s plays and threw in a bonus reading of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer for good measure. It is a natural choice as it is the play which the convicts of Our Country’s Good are performing and in using the same cast here, the actors are able to play the characters they are ‘rehearsing’ in the other piece which has a lovely neatness about it.

Farquhar’s play is deliciously dry and funny, impressively so for a 1706 Restoration comedy, and even with the limited rehearsal time and the cast having scripts in hand, there was a real sense of the rich comic potential of the material. And having seen it fairly recently at the Donmar Warehouse, it was interesting to see the different choices and dynamics that a new company brought. Ian Redford’s older Kite had a weariness of the soul that felt entirely appropriate, John Hollingworth’s take on Brazen was straighter than Mark Gatiss’ out-and-out fop but no less hilarious for it and the doubling that most of the actors did was impressively done and added to the humour quotient. Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer rehearsed reading, St James Theatre”

Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre

“In my own small way, in just a few hours, I have seen something change”

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good was first produced 25 years ago by Max Stafford-Clark and his Out of Joint company and as it has remained an evergreen success, in no small part due to regular appearances as a set text for students, a revival makes good sense. And with Stafford-Clark taking on directorial duties once again, it makes for a fascinating chance to see an impresario revisiting a work with which he is inextricably linked.

Much of the appeal of Wertenbaker’s work lies in its celebration of theatre as a cultural medium but also as something more, something that can heal and restore the soul. And so as a group of convicts newly transported to Australia are convinced to put on a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – by an officer of reformist tendencies, we see the transformative power of drama and a subtle shift in the way that punishment is viewed as the idea of rehabilitation comes into play. Continue reading “Review: Our Country’s Good, St James Theatre”

Review: Top Girls, Trafalgar Studios

“I couldn’t live a woman’s life, I just don’t understand it”

Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play Top Girls makes the seemingly de rigueur leap from Chichester to London, which so many of their productions seem to achieve, to play a 12 week run at the Trafalgar Studios. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark who also worked on the premiere at the Royal Court, the play looks at the roles that women play and the choices they have to make in order to get there. We were able to take advantage of a preview deal which got us great seats for £15 – thus this is a review of a preview, the show taking nearly 2 weeks to bed into the new venue.

Things open with businesswoman Marlene celebrating her promotion to MD of the Top Girls employment agency by holding a dinner party to which a number of historical figures have been invited. They are women from history, art, literature, who have all achieved great success but at a certain price. We then move to ‘real life’ where we see Marlene’s agency at work, advising women on how to get what jobs they want and the obstacles they will have to overcome. Marlene’s own life is also explored as her own choices are revealed, her relationships with her sister Joyce and the girl Angie whom she looks after. Continue reading “Review: Top Girls, Trafalgar Studios”