TV Review: Mum Series 2

A hugely successful return for Stefan Golaszewski’s BBC sitcom Mum, with world-beater Lesley Manville in brilliant form once again

“Three types of potato – are you out of your fucking mind?”

I’m not sure what we’ve done to deserve Stefan Golaszewski’s Mum but I’m sure as hell glad that we have it. The second series of this BBC sitcom has now drawn to a close and it is hard not to think that it isn’t one of the most magnificently perfect bits of television out there, surpassing even the heights of the superlative first season

Starring Lesley Manville and Sam Swainsbury as it does, it could well have been machine-tooled to appeal to my Venn diagram of all Venn diagrams. But Mum is so much more than my varying crushes, it is a supremely well-calibrated piece of heart-breaking and heart-warming writing that finds its humour in that most British of ways, through adversity. Cathy’s husband and Michael’s best friend may have died a year ago but their attempts to move on, to maybe explore their mutual, unspoken attraction are constantly frustrated by the clod-hopping presence of her extended family at every beat.   Continue reading “TV Review: Mum Series 2”

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, Hampstead

“Join the movement for righteous anger”

With over 100 cast, writers, directors and crew, and 25 plays (none of which were by Agatha Christie!) spread over 7 programmes, Sphinx Theatre’s Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was a full-on day indeed for those of us who stayed the course from midday to nearly 10pm, with scarcely time to imbibe yet another coffee as we moved from rehearsal room to studio to main house. But though I was 90% caffeine by the end, the buzz I was experiencing was one of delight at the sheer breadth and quality of the theatre we’d been privileged to witness.

The Women Centre Stage Festival was initiated by Sphinx to bring together artists, venues, commissioners and funders in expanding the range of women’s roles and this it has done in a number of different ways. Workshops ran throughout the week at the Actors Centre, a panel discussion broached the larger question of how to improve gender equality in theatre and the plays that were presented throughout the festival’s performance day ranged from works commissioned and developed from the 2105 festival, to the fruits of Sphinx Writers Group, to rapid responses to this week’s headlines. Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, Hampstead”

Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – PRIDE and Prejudice

 
“Being deaf isn’t being broken”

The middle session of Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival saw our first trip into the Hampstead’s main house for PRIDE and Prejudice. Opening with What I Was Told I Could Be And What I’ve Become, a collection of new worldviews from Graeae’s female writers. Directed by Jenny Sealey, six scenes played out with increasingly intermingled with each other, different experiences of life as disabled women coalescing into a theatrical roar.

Full list of playlets
Boys on Bikes by Karen Featherstone starring Phillipa Cole, 
Klutz by Amy Bethan Evans starring Kellan Frankland, 
Kids by Jackie Hagan starring Ali Briggs, 
Days of Our Lives by Rosaleen McDonagh starring Taharah Azam 
Statuesque by Rebekkah Bowsher starring Nickie Wildin 
Single by Matilda Ibini starring Vilma Jackson

Continue reading “Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival – PRIDE and Prejudice”

Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503

“I’m in a cop car
I got here by accident
I think”

Produced by Mama Quilla and Theatre503, Acts of Defiance is a multidisciplinary festival which is “an explosive examination of female dissidence and a shameless celebration of global female defiance”. Film, spoken word, community-based work sit alongside a programme of six short plays, curated by Kay Adshead, which fold in a world of influences – feminism, diversity, sexuality, race, motherhood – to their tales of defiance, all accompanied to brilliant effect by Rosie Bergonzi’s percussion, evoking both the freeing beauty of dancing in a gay club to the fear of being caught in urban nightmare with the beat of her drum.

Once the cast found their feet, opening playlet The Nightclub by Chloe Todd Fordham proved to be one of the most quietly affecting. Directed with graceful economy by Rachel Valentine Smith, the tales of three disparate American women – an 85 year old recent widow, a middle-aged mother estranged from her daughter, a young Muslim (Marlene Sidaway, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Karlina Grace-Paseda respectively) – all searching for something different yet fatefully entwined together. Continue reading “Review: Acts of Defiance – The Festival, Theatre503”

TV Review: Mum

“I feel as sad as the sisters of Lazarus”

A number of the reviews of the first episode of Mum (here’s mine) were cautiously optimistic but commented that Stefan Golaszewski’s writing wasn’t really funny enough for a sitcom, or up to his previous TV show Him and Her. I hope that people persisted with it though, for it emerged as a simply beautiful piece of television, closer to a drama in the end than an outright comedy, and all the more affecting and effective for it.

In some ways, it’s not that surprising that it wasn’t a canned laughter kind of show – an actor of the stature of Lesley Manville, with her nearly 40 years of collaboration with Mike Leigh, wouldn’t do that, would she (I guess My Family being the exception here…). Instead, what we got was a subtle meditation on how life continues after bereavement, working through the stages of grief and minutiae of life over the course of that tricky first year. Plus Manville ate a large crisp in one go, now you don’t get that kind of quality just anywhere! Continue reading “TV Review: Mum”

Review: Kenny Morgan, Arcola

“Say what you like but there’s been a crime committed. More than one I should say–”

As Helen McCrory scorches the earth beneath her with a transcendental take on Hester Collyer, the lead part in Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the time felt right to then take in Mike Poulton’s Kenny Morgan. In this play, Poulton draws back the veil that society demanded Rattigan draw over his intended original subject, dramatising the real events that inspired the deep tragedy of his writing.

For Rattigan drew directly from his own life – a ten year relationship with a man named Kenny Morgan ended due to his lover’s depression and as he ricocheted into a destructive new relationship, Rattigan had to look on helplessly as Morgan spiralled ever deeper into tragedy. At a time when both suicide and homosexuality were illegal, it is no wonder the playwright opted to code The Deep Blue Sea. Continue reading “Review: Kenny Morgan, Arcola”

TV Review: Mum, Episode 1

“Sorry if this isn’t the sort of thing to say at a funeral”

In terms of the Venn diagram of my favourite things, you really could not get more precise than putting Lesley Manville on screen and then following that up with a shot of Sam Swainsbury in his boxer shorts. No, I’m not recounting a dream, this is the actual opening sequence of the first episode of new BBC2 sitcom Mum, directed by Richard Laxton (who worked with Manville most recently in River) – safe to say I’m hooked.

Written by Stefan Golaszewski, probably best known for Him and Her, Mum looks set to be a gently observational comedy rather than a straight-up sitcom. This first episode focused on Manville’s Cathy preparing for the day of her husband’s funeral, dealing with the influx of visitors to her house including her son’s new girlfriend, her brother and his snobbish wife, her ageing in-laws and an old family friend. Continue reading “TV Review: Mum, Episode 1”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8

“Are you one of those? They’re everywhere in Brighton aren’t they.
‘Yeah, not so many in Halifax though, cos of the weather’”

I really enjoyed the opening half of new BBC police drama Cuffs and so whacked up a review of those four episodes whilst they were still watchable on the iPlayer. The show has now finished its run, 8 episodes being the default setting for a ‘long’ series here in the UK, and whilst it may have lost a little of the fast-paced energy that characterised its arrival, its bevy of boisterous characters ensured I was fully engaged right through to the end of the last episode.

With such a large ensemble making up the South Sussex team, Cuffs did sometimes struggle in giving each of them a fair crack of the whip. For me, it was Amanda Abbington’s Jo who got the shortest end of the stick, too much of her screen-time, especially early on, being taken up with the fallout of her illicit affair instead of showing her as the more than capable police officer we finally saw in the latter episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8”

DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

“Your alliance would be a disgrace”

This six-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has gone down in history as one of the most iconic TV programmes ever, its cultural breakthrough into the mainstream taking everyone by surprise and spearheading something of a revival in period dramas. For me though, my abiding memory remains watching a documentary some years later and hearing adaptor Andrew Davies saying that the stage direction he wrote for Colin Firth, for when Darcy meets Elizabeth after she has rushed over to see her ailing sister, was “Darcy is surprised to get an erection”.

Smut aside, it is a strikingly well done piece of work though, Luxuriating over 6 hour-long instalments, it allows for the slow-burn of the central relationship which makes this version of the story really work, Firth and Jennifer Ehle so incredibly well-matched that their every interaction is scintillatingly drawn as mutual antipathy turns to mutual admiration amidst the various family dramas of the Bennetts, Wickhams, Collins et al. His brooding looks and engagingly smooth voice and her keenly intelligent eyes with her delightful pragmatism are utterly engaging. Continue reading “DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)”

DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)

 “I need to know if he still loves me”

Joe Wright’s film version of Anna Karenina was, for me, a hugely under-rated piece of work, a sumptuous feast for the eyes in his inimitable style. But I can see it might not be to everyone tastes, which is where the 2000 mini-series should step in as an ideal replacement. Stretching out luxuriously over four hours, David Blair’s production of Tolstoy’s classic, adapted by Allan Cubitt, is something quite close to triumphant, not least for a desperately compelling performance from Helen McCrory as Anna but from a detailed realisation of so many aspects of the novel.

For though the tragic love triangle of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is the best known strand of the story, Levin and Kitty’s relationship is just as significant in the grand scheme of things and there’s also room here for a fully-fleshed version of Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. The way in which the multiple lines are followed is expertly done and begins to do some justice to the weight tome that is the piece of literature on which it is based. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)”