Review: Macbeth, Big Telly Theatre

Not quite ‘when shall we three Zoom again’, Big Telly Theatre’s imaginative online version of Macbeth has some impressive moments

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings”

With its cast members scattered across Belfast, Deal, Deptford, Dublin and London, it’s a remarkable achievement in and of itself that this production of Macbeth can exist at all in these Covid-19 times. But founder and artistic director of Big Telly Theatre Zoe Seaton has been quick off the mark to explore the creative opportunities of these constraints and this marks her fifth lockdown production.

And you can see how deftly experienced hands are shaping this new kind of experience. An inspired bit of pre-show business brilliantly skewers the government’s daily Covid briefings as it introduces its own version of track and trace which is implemented on some unsuspecting audience members. It also frames the world of this production as a plaything of the weird sisters, the ones who are truly in charge here. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Big Telly Theatre”

Review: The Plough and the Stars, National

“Choke a chicken”

Gruelling Irish dramas seem to pop up with some regularity at the National and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars is just the latest to test my patience. The play is considered O’Casey’s masterpiece but given that I didn’t last past the interval of Juno and the Paycock here a few years ago, I didn’t enter the Lyttelton with the highest of expectations.

And nor did it meet them. Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin’s revival may possess poignant resonance in marking the centenary of the crucial event it builds up to – the Easter Rising of 1916 – but it also feels like it takes a century to get round to it. A large ensemble populate the tenement building at the heart of the community featured here and they all get their chance to have their considerable say. Continue reading “Review: The Plough and the Stars, National”

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 2

“We underestimated her”

The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.

Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”

Review: Shutters, Park Theatre

“Nothing here but kitchen things”

The intentions behind Making Productions’ triple-bill Shutters are certainly well-placed – bringing together 3 short American plays looking at female experience over the last 100 years and using a six-strong female ensemble to cover all roles whether male or female – but in the end, the choice of plays lets them down somewhat. Philip Dawkins’ Cast of Characters is a self-indulgent piece of playwrighting buffoonery which focuses on the production notes for an imagined play of family drama but achieves little. And Brooke Allen’s The Deer tested my patience with its pseudo-tragedy.

Both those plays are contemporary and sure enough, the one that worked best was the 1916 Trifles by award-winning Susan Glaspell. Here the murder of a farmer has taken place and his wife jailed on suspicion thereof but whilst the sheriff and his mates blunder about the property trying to find the answers, the two women left alone in the kitchen (where they belong…) get far closer to the truth. This is by far the most intriguing piece of writing but also of direction, Thorpe Baker introducing a neatly spooky trick to create a thrilling and engrossing atmosphere. One out of three isn’t good enough though.

Running time: 90 minutes
Booking until 3rd August

Review: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre

“There’s no more to be said
For when we are dead
We may understand it all”

Commemorating the start of the First World War has turned into something of a full-time business for the nation’s theatres but in reviving the rarely-seen 1927 Sean O’Casey anti-war piece The Silver Tassie, the National Theatre has hit on something special. The play is structurally extraordinary in the difference of its four acts – a vaudevillian take on an Irish household transforms memorably into the visceral horror of a battlefield haunted by music hall songs, after the interval a hospital-set comedy eventually turns into stark realism, as the shattering effects of war on society are laid bare. Howard Davies’ epic production forges through blood and noise to find a most painful truth.

The cumulative effect may challenge some and is certainly disorientating at times but it also has a form of progression that feels natural, like feeling a way through what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Opening in the Dublin tenement home of the Heegans, the play riffs on Irish stereotypes through the clownish figures of Sylvester and Simon and the neighbourhood archetypes they teasingly mock but soon allows young gun Harry Heegan to take centre stage, boasting the trophy – the Silver Tassie – he and his teammates have won playing soccer, just before they head off to join the British war effort.  Continue reading “Review: The Silver Tassie, National Theatre”