Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Hope Theatre

“There is no God
There are no miracles”

Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle marks its 40th anniversary this year and so it’s as good a time as any to revive this dark drama that was so controversial on its release that the BBC banned it from its original Play For Today slot. It eventually played at Sheffield Crucible a year later and though it received a powerfully acted production (Tessa Peake-Jones, Rupert Friend) at the Arcola in 2012, Matthew Parker’s revival for his Hope Theatre feels perfectly poised to capitalise on its relevance to our fractured society.

Though written and set in the late 70s, Potter’s depiction of far-right politics, racism and homophobia, religious intolerance feels horribly recognisable. The way in which one character rationalises his decision to join the National Front has chilling new currency in this post-Brexit world and the supercilious smile that another character occasionally bares to the audience reflects nothing so much as the arrogance of Nigel Farage. Potter’s dramatic form of evil is naturally much more timeless but you can’t help but draw the parallels here.  Continue reading “Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Hope Theatre”

Film Review: A Smallholding

“You won’t make it”

 
I should probably start this off with a full disclosure notice – I invested in this film! Well, it was peanuts really as sadly I don’t have enough money to be investing here and there but given how much I enjoyed the theatrical productions of Chris Dunkley’s Smallholding (at the Nuffield and then at the Soho), I was intrigued to see how it would turn out as a film and so joined my first ever Kickstarter campaign. And I have to say it was fascinating, I loved the updates that we got, lending a real insight into the lengthy film-making process and the unique pressures it brings with it so if you see a project you like the look of, I’d recommend digging as deep as you can. 

But back to A Smallholding as it has been retitled here, the film adapted by playwright Chris Dunkley and director Chris New who starred in the original productions but has moved behind the camera here (he was a busy boy indeed as he directed, shot, edited, graded and mixed it). and what a beautiful thing it is. I’m well-disposed to the piece already but it really does flourish in the new medium, its location in deepest rural Northamptonshire allowing scenes to be played out in the vast emptiness and quiet, really emphasising the totality of the seclusion that Andy and Jen originally sought for their sanity and seeing how it soon curdles into oppressive isolation. Continue reading “Film Review: A Smallholding”

Not-a-Review: Secret Theatre show 5

“I just called to say I…”

And so Secret Theatre continues, on their fifth production now which has been devised by themselves and has a shorter run than usual as it will apparently be going to Edinburgh. So press reviews have been scrapped for this one, which may also have been motivated by the devised nature of the show, something which the UK mainstream critics automatically seem to react against. That said, I wasn’t much of a fan at all of A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts and its highly experimental structure. 

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 22nd May then going to Edinburgh

Re-review: Smallholding, Soho Theatre

“That’s a turnip for the books”

I’ve enjoyed previous plays by Chris Dunkley so when the invitation to see Smallholding, a co-production between HighTide and the Nuffield, came my way, I took the chance to make my first ever visit to Southampton (via a matinée in Salisbury of course) where I had a great time, ranking the play 22nd out of the 300 odd I saw last year. Spurred on by its success, the production has now resurfaced in the sweltering heat of the Soho Upstairs, where the bruising intimacy of this two-hander has only gained power. 

After a rocky time of it, Andy and Jen have moved back to the East Northamptonshire village of their youth and taken on a small farm, a smallholding where they intend to make a new life, rearing pigs and growing parsnips and garlic. It’s difficult to outrun demons though and the rural isolation presents its own set of challenges – Smallholding is a story about how we sometimes grip so tightly onto the things we deem most precious to us, we don’t notice them shattering in our hands.  Continue reading “Re-review: Smallholding, Soho Theatre”

Review: Override, Watford Palace Theatre

“A bit of augmentation does not make you a flipping robot”

Stacey Gregg’s Override is the only one of the plays in Watford Palace’s Ideal World season, designed to question the impact of the rise of technology on humanity, to venture into the realms of what could be loosely described as sci-fi. Mark and Violet live in a near-future world where ‘augmentation’ is the norm to eradicate human disabilities and imperfections but when she discovers she is pregnant, they opt out of this society and move to a rural backwater in order to have a completely natural birth free from interference.

But in a world where this has become commonplace, it isn’t so easy to fully disconnect and when Violet reveals that she underwent a procedure as a child, the couple are forced to confront what it really means to step off the grid. Gregg explores this with pressing and pertinent questions – what does it mean to be normal? can one be augmented and yet still possess a true sense of self? what level of intervention is acceptable, especially in cases of disability? And pleasingly she doesn’t provide easy answers either. Continue reading “Review: Override, Watford Palace Theatre”

DVD Review: Luther Series 1

“You don’t need to be thinking about Alice Morgan right now”

By the time that the television series Luther started on BBC1, I was already keen on Ruth Wilson as an actress but the first episode of the first series – which now ranks as one of my all-time favourite pieces of television ever – confirmed her as one of the most exciting people we have working in this country. The show is a high-quality detective drama featuring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a member of the Serious Crime Unit, whose unconventional and often controversial methods frequently sets him at odds with his colleagues and his estranged wife who end up paying the price for his uncompromising genius. 

Entirely written and created by Neil Cross, there’s a most pleasing continuous feel to the six-part series which combines a ‘story of the week’ format featuring some extremely gory and plain icky crimes with larger story arcs which build to the shockingly climactic finish of Episode 6. Ruth Wilson stars as research scientist Alice Morgan, who is involved in the former in Episode One but soon turns into the latter as a wonderfully twisted kind of relationship builds between her and Luther. It is hard to say much more without revealing too much for those who haven’t seen it – shame on you if you haven’t, go and watch it now! – but the way in which Wilson slowly subverts our expectations in that first hour is nothing short of superlative, the gradual reveal completely compelling, the way she says the word ‘kooky’ deserves an award category of its own.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 1”

Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

Review: Smallholding, Nuffield

“London and that were just a phase”

Two former junkies break into an abandoned East Northamptonshire farmhouse – such is the opening premise of Chris Dunkley’s new play Smallholding, a co-production between Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre and the HighTide festival. But it soon becomes apparent that this 75 minute two-hander is no stereotypically sunken-cheeked tale of crackheads and crime but rather a brutally frank and insightful exploration of the cruel dynamics of addiction and co-dependency on a young couple trying to make a future for themselves.

Signs look promising at first. Matti Houghton’s well-put-together Jen has a breezy determination to make good on the opportunities offered by her well-intentioned family and fresh out of rehab, Chris New’s edgily wiry Andy is full of positive thinking and enthusiasm for the bio-dynamic farming that is their chosen way forward. The thrill of setting up home together and making a new life soon wears thin though against the privations of rural life and the shadow of temptation that lingers unshakably over their relationship. Continue reading “Review: Smallholding, Nuffield”

2013 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE
Jasper Britton in Mother Adam at Jermyn Street 
Louis Maskell in The Fix at Union Theatre
Thomas Coombes in Barbarians at Tooting Arts Club
William Houston in Uncle Vanya at The Print Room

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE 
Aysha Kala in Khadija is 18 at Finborough Theatre
Eileen Atkins in All That Fall at Jermyn Street
Lucy Ellinson in Oh, The Humanity at Soho Theatre
Matti Houghton in Brimstone and Treacle at Arcola Theatre

BEST NEW PLAY
Lot and his God by Howard Barker at The Print Room 
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan by Paines Plough (Shoreditch Town Hall) 
Shivered by Philip Ridley at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2013 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Arcola

“All I want is the England I used to know”

There was something depressingly predictable about the announcement of the Arcola’s new development plans for the summer which will involve moving the one space I think does work in their new premises – Studio 2 – down one level into the basement. So it was with a sad heart that I took my seat for the final production in its current state, a rare revival of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle which of course played beautifully to the studio’s strengths.

The intimate space becomes the claustrophobic home of the Bates family with parents Tom and Amy struggling to look after their daughter Pattie who was practically paralysed by a hit-and-run accident two years previously and can’t do anything for herself any more. When a devilishly handsome stranger insinuates his way into their household, claiming to have had a close connection with Pattie before she died, he really puts the cat amongst the pigeons and changes their lives irrevocably. Continue reading “Review: Brimstone and Treacle, Arcola”