TV Review: W1A (Series 3)

W1A remains entirely watchable in Series 3 but repetition sets in to blunt its comic edges

“It may be the future but it’s still the BBC”

Returning to W1A has been good fun, though watching its three series back-to-back, it is interesting to see just how much it wears its concept increasingly thin.  Series 1 was a winner, introducing its cast of misfits all trying to navigate the bureauracy of the BBC and avoid doing as much work as possible but even by Series 2, the strains were clear to see.

John Morton’s Twenty Twelve, the show that kicked off this mockumentary mini-universe, had an inbuilt advantage in that it had a clearly defined end-point, the thing that everyone was working towards. By contrast, W1A has a sense of ambling on which, while perfectly pleasant to watch, means that a terminal case of diminishing returns sets in. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 3)”

TV Review: Quiz

James Graham’s Quiz makes a marvellous leap from stage to screen

“People still want to gather as a nation, to experience something big together”

Not a huge amount to say about the TV adaptation of James Graham’s Quiz, a show I enjoyed in the West End, not least because of its interactive elements (even if we lost). It bloomed in the televisual treatment, losing a little of its structural intricacy but gaining a narrative through-line that really worked, the explosive arrival of Helen McCrory’s QC making it worth the while. And the story remains as intriguing as ever, though just as free from doubt for me.

They totally did it, right – the Ingrams may have been stitched up in court by the tinkered-with evidence (and credit to Matthew Mcfadyen and Sian Clifford for two excellent performances) – but they totally did it.  Fun to see cameos like Paul Bazeley’s Lionel from Legal and Maggie Service’s Kerry the Floor Manager, and original cast members like Sarah Woodward and Keir Charle too.

Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic

A brilliant cast shine in this striking revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic

“Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person”

The American dream hasn’t often looked like this. Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman reaffirms the Young Vic as the place to go to shake up these American classics (qv A View from the Bridge) with a startling revival that seems destined to go far.

Elliott has recent form of course in reinterpretations and Cromwell was the Associate Director on Company too. And if Death… might not go quite as far, it still emerges as a thoughtful reconsideration with a decidedly psychological bent, trapping us as much as Willy in his troubled mind. Continue reading “Review: Death of a Salesman, Young Vic”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

“You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8 of Doctor Who, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently! Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Rules for Living, National Theatre

“Let the bedlam begin”

The final play to premiere in Nicholas Hytner’s final season in charge of the National Theatre is Sam Holcroft’s Rules for Living, directed by Marianne Elliott in the Dorfman. Was it a pointed decision to end his reign with a show both written and helmed by a woman, who knows? Either way, it’s always good to see this venue providing such high profile opportunities for the writers it nurtures. Holcroft’s short(ish) Edgar and Annabel played as part of the Double Feature season in 2011 and she was a writer-in-residence here at the NT in 2013, from whence this rather cracking new comedy has emerged. 

And boy is it funny, I don’t think I have laughed this thoroughly and consistently at a play in ages. As someone for whom farcical goings-on too often fall flat, I’m often left bemoaning the fact I’m sitting stony-faced in a sea of hilarity (cf. One Man Two Guvnors et al) but for once I was right with them. Holcroft’s set-up has an extended family coming together for Christmas lunch, an event for which Edith has been preparing since January. She’s looking forward to seeing both her sons, Matthew and Adam, and their partners, and they in turn are keen to see their father who has been in the wars recently.  Continue reading “Review: Rules for Living, National Theatre”

Review: Table, National Theatre

“I have a world map on my door.
‘We’ll see if we can find Lichfield on it later’.”

As the Cottesloe becomes the Dorfman, among other changes, the National Theatre has erected a temporary space called The Shed to keep a third working venue in their complex and opening the programme there, is this original play Table by Tanya Ronder. A family saga that stretches across several generations from 19thcentury Staffordshire to modern day London, taking in trips to hippy communes and East African missions, and with a rather gentle grace, it explores the way in which the actions of our parents impact on the people we become and how easy it is to irrevocably hurt the ones we love.

It’s a densely told story, made more complex by a fracturing of the timeline which sees the focus constantly shifting between time periods, and it may take some getting used to. Rufus Norris marshals his deeply talented cast of nine, who cover thirty characters across six generations of the Best family, with a highly engaging playfulness but it does take a little time for the key pieces to come into focus and for the play to really coalesce into something affecting. But when it does get there, and it was the second half for me, its gentle energy and reflective charm make for a winning combination. Continue reading “Review: Table, National Theatre”

The 2012 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
Justin Moorhouse, Two, Royal Exchange
Christopher Ravenscroft, The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon
Clifford Samuel, Obama the Mamba,
President Of The Slums, Lowry
Ed Gaughan, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Royal Exchange


Best Actress
Victoria Elliott, Two, Royal Exchange
Lucy van Gasse, Wonderful Town, Lowry
Maxine Peake, Miss Julie, Royal Exchange
Lysette Anthony, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Royal Exchange
Imogen Stubbs, Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange

Best supporting actor
John Branwell, Alfie, Bolton Octagon
Antony Eden, Taking Steps, Oldham Coliseum
Russell Dixon, Macbeth, Bolton Octagon
Christopher Villiers, The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon

Best supporting actress
Natalie Grady, The Daughter-in-Law, Library Theatre
Clare Calbraith, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Royal Exchange
Carla Henry, Miss Julie, Royal Exchange
Maggie Service, The Country Wife, Royal Exchange

Best Actor in a Visiting Production
Karl Davies, Henry V and The Winter’s Tale, Lowry
John Owen-Jones, The Phantom of the Opera, Palace
Ray Fearon, Julius Caesar, Lowry
Robert Bathurst, Blue/Orange, Opera House

Best New Play
The Gatekeeper, by Chloe Moss, Royal Exchange Studio
Snookered, by Ishy Din, Oldham Coliseum
Towers Of Babel, by Nick Yardley, 24:7 Theatre Festival
Obama the Mamba, President Of The Slums, by Kevin Fegan, Lowry

Best Actress in a Visiting Production
Josefina Gabrielle, The King and I, Lowry
Elaine C Smith, I Dreamed a Dream, Palace
Sian Phillips, Cabaret, Lowry

Best Performance in a Studio Production
Tricia Kelly, The Gatekeeper, Royal Exchange Studio
Fred Bloom, No Sleep For The Haunted, Lowry Studio
Reuben Johnson, Wrecked, Lowry Studio
Julie Hesmondhalgh, Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio
Rachel Austin, Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio

Best Production
The Winslow Boy, Bolton Octagon
Orpheus Descending, Royal Exchange
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre
Wonderful Town, Royal Exchange/The Halle/
Lowry, at the Lowry


Opera

Giulio Cesare, Opera North, Lowry
Xerxes, Royal Northern College of Music
Hansel and Gretel, Clonter Opera
The Maiden in the Tower/ Kashchei The
Immortal, Buxton Festival
Don Giovanni, Opera North, Lowry


Dance

Hofesh Shechter – Political Mother, Lowry
Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Lowry
Lyric Pieces, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Buxton Opera House
Some Like It Hip Hop, Zoo Nation, Lowry
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, New Adventures Production, Lowry


Best Visiting Production

DNA, Hull Truck, Royal Exchange Studio
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Northern Broadsides/
New Vic Theatre, Buxton Opera House
Our Country’s Good, Out Of Joint/Bolton Octagon, at Bolton Octagon
Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company, Lowry
Blue/Orange, Theatre Royal Brighton production, Opera House


Best Musical
The Phantom of the Opera, Palace
Carousel, Lowry
9 – 5, Opera House
American Idiot, Palace
The Lion King, Palace

Best Special Entertainment
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Radio Show Live!, Opera House
Translunar Paradise, Lowry
Star Cross’d, Oldham Coliseum
Cinderella, Oldham Coliseum

Best Design
Manchester Lines, Library Theatre
Wonderful Town, Lowry
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Oldham Coliseum
Hansel and Gretel, Clonter Opera
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre

Best Studio Production
Days Of Light, Starving Artists, Royal Exchange Studio
Snookered, Tamasha/Oldham Coliseum/Bush
Theatre, Oldham University
Black Roses, Royal Exchange Studio
London, Paines Plough/Live Theatre and Salisbury
Playhouse, Royal Exchange Studio

Best Ensemble
Snookered, Oldham Coliseum
Star Cross’d, Oldham Coliseum
All the Bens, 24:7 Theatre Festival
Arabian Nights, Library Theatre


Best Newcomer
Tamla Kari, Saturday Night And Sunday
Morning, Royal Exchange
Anna Wheatley, Peter Pan, Octagon

Best Fringe
JB Shorts, Real Life Theatre Co,
Joshua Brooks, Manchester
All the Bens, 24:7 Theatre Festival
The Cell, 24:7 Theatre Festival
The Bubbler, Studio Salford

Review: Collaborators, National Theatre

“It’s man versus monster Mikhail, and the monster always wins”

Apparently the play Collaborators was sent to the National Theatre on spec and as it is now opening in the Cottesloe (this was a preview) in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings amongst others, it would perhaps suggest that anyone could be in with a chance of getting a play on the stage. But things are rarely as simple as they seem and although this is the debut play from John Hodge, he is a highly experienced screenwriter whose credits include Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and The Beach. His play riffs on historical fact to portray an imagined relationship between Russian playwright Mikhail Bulgakov and one of his biggest fans, Joseph Stalin, who commissioned him to write a play about his life for his sixtieth birthday.

Set in Moscow 1938 with the repressive regime well established and the secret police encouraging people to inform on dissident neighbours, Bulgakov had been forced into the difficult position of compromising his biggest success – The White Guard (a recent great success here at the NT) – to make it politically palatable for Stalin and accepting the banning of many of his other works due to their subversive message. Thus when he was offered the chance to write the Stalin play, it made both artistic sense – in finally getting his work on the stage again, and economic sense – in that he was able to negotiate a new apartment and a much better standard of living for him and his wife. The play imagines a series of meetings between the two, getting to know each other as the play gets written but whilst Bulgakov seems to get closer to Stalin and his viewpoints, his friends and associates are left living a life of increasing fear and intimidation. Continue reading “Review: Collaborators, National Theatre”

Review: A Flea In Her Ear, Old Vic

“What are you still doing here? Run away…”

A Flea In Her Ear is a classic French farce from 1907 by Georges Feydeau. This production at the Old Vic is using the 1966 translation by John Mortimer that he did for the National Theatre which actually played at this same theatre featuring Albert Finney and Geraldine McEwan. This time round Tom Hollander and Lisa Dillon take up lead duties in running up and down and all around the stage in this tale of frivolous fancy and manic misunderstandings.
 
The play is set in turn-of-the-century Paris at the house of Raymonde and Victor Emmanuel Chandebise: after years of happy marriage, Raymonde begins to suspect her husband of infidelity as they are having problems in the bedroom and plots to catch him out with her friend Lucienne. Inviting him to a rendez-vous at the local Hotel Coq d’Or, an establishment well known for housing many such assignations, they set their trap. But the letter ends up in the wrong hands, leaving Victor Emmanuel’s best friend Tournel under the impression that Raymonde desires him and making Lucienne’s insanely jealous Spanish husband believe she is the one having an affair. So everyone rushes off to the Coq d’Or, including the randy local doctor and Victor Emmanuel’s nephew who is off to have a tryst with the cook whose own husband, the butler, suspects something, so off he sets in pursuit as well. And just in case that wasn’t enough, things are further complicated by a hotel porter who looks suspiciously like Victor Emmanuel.

Continue reading “Review: A Flea In Her Ear, Old Vic”