TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4

“Edmund Reid did this”

As I might have predicted after the soaring heights of Series 3, the fourth season of Ripper Street didn’t quite live up to its forerunner. Then again, how could it after the epic sweep of the storytelling had so much of the finale about it in terms of where it left its key characters – Matthew Macfadyen’s Reid, Jerome Flynn’s Drake, Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Susan – picking up the pieces to carry on was always going to be difficult.

To recap, Reid had given up the police force after being reunited with his previously-thought-dead daughter Mathilda, and Susan’s momentous struggle against the patriarchal strictures of society (and also the nefarious entanglements of her actual father) saw her and Jackson end up behind bars, having also drawn Reid and the promoted Drake into the exacting of an individual kind of justice.  Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4”

Review: Unfaithful, Found111

“We need to talk about this”

As interesting as Found111 is as a pop-up venue, and an intriguingly programmed one too, attracting a strong calibre of actor thus far, it remains extremely problematic to me that a new venue – the issue of whether London is lacking in theatres aside – can be opened without any access to wheelchair users, as there’s no way to get to the auditorium without climbing 71 steps. For me, accessibility isn’t something you get to pick and choose and so no matter how atmospheric this old Central St Martins building may be, just shrugging that it is “regrettably inaccessible” feels an inadequate response.

It’s more of a shame given that the latest production is arguably the best of the three that Emily Dobbs Productions has mounted here – Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful blisters its way through the world of relationships with his unmistakable gift for excruciatingly sharp dialogue and the messy way in which we so often end up treating the ones we love. Middle-aged Tom and Joan have hit something of a rut, their uni-going daughter isn’t talking to them and they’re not talking to each other. And the substantially younger Peter and Tara are in the midst of their own crisis, suffering their own communication difficulties. Continue reading “Review: Unfaithful, Found111”

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”

TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1

“This is sheep-rustling, north-Halifax style – just the one sheep and three lads off their heads on acid”

One of the televisual highlights of 2014 was Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, anchored by an astonishing central performance from Sarah Lancashire as pragmatic Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. So the return of a second series on BBC One is good news indeed, especially given Wainwright’s decision to also direct considerably more of the episodes this time round.

It’s obvious from the off that she is entirely at the top of her game. Reintroducing the startlingly mordant vein of humour on’t’moor, this opening sequence sees Cawood recounting a day’s work to her sister, namely sheep-rustling gone unfortunately wrong on a housing estate but leading to an even grimmer discovery, one which links directly back to James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, the father of her grandson after raping her daughter (who then committed suicide) and Catherine’s nemesis from the first series. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre

“The army is not a game”

Director David Grindley’s first London job was as an ASM on the original 1993 award-winning production of Jonathan Lewis’ army hospital-based Our Boys so there is a pleasing circularity to him being the director of the play’s first West End revival. It is set in Ward 9 Bay 4 of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich, with five soldiers at various stages in their recovery from injuries suffered in the line of duty who have their easy dynamic changed by the arrival of Potential Officer Menzies into the mix. 

His presence shakes things up initially but he is soon assimilated into the group which kills the endless stretches of time with the recreation of barracks humour – strident banter that is close to the bone, searching for female company in want ads, illicit drinking games based on The Deer Hunter. But try as they might, they can’t escape from the ugly reality of their situation as their various torments rear their heads and it becomes apparent that this is a place where mental recovery is just as vital as physical recuperation. Continue reading “Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre”

Review: Verdict, Churchill Bromley

“People matter as much as ideas”

Her off Strictly Come Dancing, him out of Drop the Dead Donkey, her out of Monarch of the Glen, him off Doctors and yes him out of Harry Potter all grown up now: Bill Kenwright’s The Agatha Christie Theatre Company’s production of her 1958 play Verdict is jam-packed with recognisable faces, a canny move for a touring show. But the company’s exploration of the full breadth of her playwriting (last year saw Witness for the Prosecution but the previous one saw A Daughter’s A Daughter, a romance written under her Mary Westmacott pseudonym) means that this is not necessarily the most recognisably ‘Agatha Christie’ of her works. A completely original play, Verdict eschews the mystery thriller format and is more of a melodrama. Yes there’s a murder but it is carried out onstage in front of us and Christie is much more interested in exploring the consequences of following the head and not the heart and the impact that purely intellectual reasoning can have on people.

It is set entirely in the Bloomsbury flat of German émigré Professor Karl Hendryk where he lives with wife Anya, suffering from a progressively debilitating disease, and cousin Lisa who helps to care for her. Anya is bitter about having to flee her contented life in Germany due to Karl’s act of kindness to a persecuted friend and depressed about the state of her own health, so questions of suicide are raised when she dies. But his liberal attitudes to those who do him wrong push his friends to the very limit as it turns out all is not what it seems with his wife’s death and adhering so strictly to his moral code threatens those who are closest to him.

Robert Duncan’s professor was strong with a nice fatherly compassion, though I wasn’t entirely sure I saw what made practically every woman in the play fall for this character. But the relationships with the women in his life were well done and the connections with Dawn Steele’s excellent Lisa, a tower of patient strength, Ali Bastian’s slatternly spoilt student and Cassie Raine’s angsty wife were testament to some strong acting performances. Around them, there’s a flurry of variable supporting performances: I enjoyed Mark Wynter’s kindly Doctor Stoner but Matthew Lewis’ helpful student was too underpowered to make much impact and conversely, Elizabeth Power’s vicious gossip of a housekeeper was too broadly comedic, though most of the audience would probably disagree with me.

However, the strength of the acting cannot really overcome the dated feel to much of the material and the sense of old-fashioned melodrama that permeates. It all feels rather predictable and though director Joe Harmston jolts occasional life into the production by working in a couple of neat tricks with some key revelations, it just serves to remind how good her mystery thrillers are by comparison. Christie’s insights into the relationships between men and women don’t offer much to our contemporary world though the debate on morality and ethics was more effective.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 2nd April, then touring to Derby and Richmond


Originally written for The Public Reviews