TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1

“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. I’m sure it’s just another false alarm”

Oh The Halcyon – shafted by the overwhelming desire for it to be the new Downton, or maybe the unfriendly Monday evening slot, or maybe the fact that Charlotte Jones’ serial never quite honed in on what it wanted to be. Following the fortunes of a luxury London hotel during the first couple of years of the Second World War, it took all possible opportunities to explore a society on the cusp of major change. But between the aristocrats who owned it, the aristocrats who stayed there, the lower classes who work there, and the multitudes of people affiliated to all these lives, the canvas was far too wide.

The hints were there right from the off in episode 1 which struggled to introduce even just its leading players in its running time, whilst still proving most tantalising, due to its cracking cast and its sumptuous design (those costumes!). At the heart of The Halycon lay the antagonistic relationship between Olivia Williams’ Lady Hamilton and Steven Mackintosh’s Mr Garland, owner versus manager as they butted heads over practicalities in the face of an ensuing Blitz but though their scenes were electric, they were given too little too late together to exploit this to its fullest.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1

“Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”

To mark Series 10 of Doctor Who starting on BBC1 next week, I’ve been counting down the weeks with a rewatch of all 9 of the previous series of new Who. And now we’re within touching distance, I’m counting down the days talking about each one. For once though, I’m going to keep these posts (relatively) short and sweet, following the below format.

With just the one series to judge him on, and that series being the very first when everyone was still finding their feet, Christopher Eccleston’s Nine often gets a bit of a raw deal. And some of his zany moments are undoubtedly really quite awkward to watch but for me, they’re easily outweighed by the emotional weight of his more serious work, especially when hinting at the considerable darkness of the events of his recent past that had left him so haunted. A solid re-entry back into the televisual world. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1”

TV Review: The Halcyon Episode 1

“Gin please.
‘Of course.'”

Billing something as the new Downton Abbey is all well and good but for someone who only ever watched the Christmas specials because his parents commandeered the telly on Christmas Day, it’s not actually that much of a pull. What I can’t resist however is Olivia Williams, and Olivia Williams in a period drama in particular, and so I put on ITV for what feels like the first time in ages for The Halcyon.

Set in a swish London hotel of the same name in 1940, The Halcyon looks to be your regular upstairs-downstairs as the aristocratic residents lounge about talking about Nazi sympathisers and swigging gin, while the honest-guv staff scurry around being decent and hard-working and dull and thoroughly unbelievable in the way that they chat so easily with their employers and clientele (just one of the things that bugged me about the little of Downton that I saw). Continue reading “TV Review: The Halcyon Episode 1”

Review: As You Like It, National Theatre

“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad”

For regular theatregoers, it can sometimes feel a bit hard to get excited about the umpteenth production of a play, so much so that I almost didn’t see the winning combination of the much-loved Blanche McIntyre and Michelle Terry until the very end of their run at the Globe this summer. So the news that Polly Findlay was also tackling As You Like It for the National was tempered a little (though it is the first time in 30 years it has played there) but as Rosalind was announced (Rosalie Craig poached from the cast of wonder.land to replace an indisposed Andrea Riseborough), the excitement began to build and the inevitable ticket was purchased and boy am I glad that I did. 

For the transformation of the set into the Forest of Arden is a moment of genuinely breath-taking theatre, Lizzie Clachan pulling the rug from under us and her design to create a most singular vision. And it is one in which enchantment slowly grows with sylvan sound effects created by company members onstage and a choir singing Orlando Gough’s contemporary and complex score (akin if alike to the one he composed for Bakkhai). There’s a lovely conceit in which Alan Williams’ Corins, nominally a shepherd but here more like a forest deity, summons the music every time love is needed to cast its spell, enhancing the magical feel. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, National Theatre”

Review: Hobson’s Choice, Open Air Theatre

“There’s another man with claims on me”

Harold Brighouse’s 1916 play Hobson’s Choice is regarded a good old-fashioned British classic and features on the NT2000 Top 100 plays list so when a production was announced at the Bolton Octagon earlier this year, I was keen to see it for the first time. Sure enough, having made that trip the Open Air Theatre then announced their own revival at the distinctly more convenient location of Regents Park but hey ho, you can’t win ‘em all.

And in all honesty, I did prefer the bona fide Northern version. Nadia Fall’s production here feckles the show a little too much, moving it into the 60s which undoubtedly gives it a brighter sense of modernity but one which also flies in the face of many of the gender relationships of the play – the huge social change of the time is quietly forgotten for the most part, an inconvenient truth when so much of the writing is about specific notions of parental obedience and the bestowing of dowries.  Continue reading “Review: Hobson’s Choice, Open Air Theatre”

DVD Review: Crime and Punishment (2002)

“Oh we’ll make him suffer, but will he make himself?”

This 2002 BBC2 adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Tony Marchant is a rather good bit of television – it may be a goodly while since I read Dostoevsky’s novel but it struck me as a respectful interpretation of the story, though not overly so, and one which makes the most of the televisual approach. Directed by Julian Jarrold, it employs a vivid array of camerawork – from jerky handheld work to epic sweeps of the St Petersburg location – to really capture the idiosyncrasies of the story. 

Jarrold really takes us into the mind of impoverished student Raskolnikov, a man who makes a virtue of his immorality in coming up with a plan to murder an unscrupulous pawnbroker as a justifiable good deed to the world at large. Fevered dream sequences, intensely visceral interactions, we delve right into his highly disorientated state of being as he struggles to ratify his choices in the face of their impact on his friends and family and as the law encroaches in on him. Continue reading “DVD Review: Crime and Punishment (2002)”

DVD Review: Personal Affairs

“It’s always going to be someone else’s lipstick”

A completely random discovery, via an excellent bundle of birthday presents, was this BBC3 series from 2009, Personal Affairs. In its easy mixture of comedy and drama of 4 City PAs trying to discover what happened to one of their friends who has disappeared, it was rather enjoyable if hardly ground-breaking over its six episodes. But where it was huge amounts of fun was in the sheer number of theatrical spots it contained which made it a highly entertaining watch for me.

Whether it was Annabel Scholey as Scouse X-Factor wannabe Midge or Ruth Negga’s strident temp Sid amongst the leads, Al Weaver as a plotting boyfriend or a gorgeously bearded Kieran Bew (correctly assessed as the main attraction for me!)  as a potential love interest and Mark Benton and Emily Bruni amongst the bosses, the regular cast held much delight. Combined with a supporting guest cast which featured the likes of Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Mark Bonnar and Annette Badland, the acting was predictably of a high quality which ensured it was always extremely watchable. Continue reading “DVD Review: Personal Affairs”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“I’m going to do an abstract version”

With the best will in the world, it is hard not to carry opinions with you and this is particularly true in the theatre. In the name of attempting to be open-minded, I have continued to plug away at Ibsen in the hope that one day his work might click with me, but truth be told my heart sinks when productions of his work are mentioned. And despite their sterling reputation and rave reviews, Filter’s work has previously left me a little cold, moving the head rather than the heart, so as I filled in at the last minute for a reviewer who dropped out, there was a little reluctance as I waited for the curtain to rise on their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Filter are a company whose reinterpretations of classic texts, as well as the creation of new work, burst with creativity and great imagination as they explore the theatrical potential offered by a radical approach to sound. But for me, that hasn’t always been matched with a similiar attention to story-telling – so SilenceWater and Twelfth Night were not my favourite moments in a theatre. Suffice to say though that in this case, whilst purists may baulk at this treatment of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Filter succeeded in smashing my preconceptions and entertaining me most thoroughly indeed. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”