TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1

Gentleman Jack proves a huge success, for Sally Wainwight, for Suranne Jones, for lesbian storytelling, for everyone

“So much drama, always, with Anne”

Even with as reliably assured hands as Sally Wainwright’s at the tiller, I was a little nervous for Gentleman Jack in the pride-of-place Sunday evening TV slot. But I should have been surer of my faith, for it has been a stonkingly good 8 hours of drama, with an epically romantic lesbian relationship at its heart.

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) is a wealthy Yorkshire heiress whose uncompromising nature about any and every aspect of her life rubs any number of people up the wrong way. Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) is most definitely not one of them though, she wants to be rubbed the right way and so we follow the path of true love as it winds through the prejudices of the Yorkshire Pennines and Anne’s attempts to break into the coal mining world. Continue reading “TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4

“No Lib Dem leader has ever had this kind of exposure and opportunity”

James Graham definitely seems to be having a moment – the noted playwright has been branching out into film and TV and with some serendipitous timing, is showcasing his talent in all three avenues. The Vote will soon be hitting the Donmar, X&Y is in cinemas as we speak, and his television film Coalition aired on Channel 4 last night. I’ve yet to catch X&Y but if Coalition is anything to go by, then there’s absolutely no fear that he is overstretching himself as it was a cracking bit of telly.

One of the reasons it worked so well for me was its basis in more-or-less contemporary events. His play This House was a sterling piece of political theatre but for someone who had no knowledge of the 1970s politicking it portrayed, there was always a sense of catch-up whereas the more august members of the audience could enjoy the nuances of Graham’s skilful writing and observations without the niggle of also trying to work out just what was going on.  Continue reading “TV Review: Coalition, Channel 4”

Review: King Lear, Minerva

“I am even the natural fool of fortune”

 
Poly over at The Other Bridge Project asks the question “can you have too many King Lears” and though she’s adamant that you can’t, I have to say my heart sinks a little every time a new production is announced, whether here in Chichester with Frank Langella or Simon Russell Beale’s forthcoming turn for the National Theatre early next year. But the enduring reputation of Shakespeare’s late classic attracts the kind of casts that are irresistible to a theatrical junkie like me and so I find myself a glutton for punishment going back again time after time.

And though I’d love to say that Angus Jackson’s production, running just a short while in the Minerva before transferring to New York, was worth the effort, it didn’t really do it for me. It is a hugely Lear-centric version of the play, placing Langella’s titanic monarch even more at the heart of the play than usual, and recalibrating the journey he takes as madness seizes him after a bit of a rum do with his three daughters. It’s a striking move, and one which showcases Langella well, but it does come at the expense of the richness of the ensemble.

Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Minerva”

Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre

“We have seen better days”

Relevance. From the moment that Timon of Athens was announced as part of the upcoming season at the National Theatre with its look-alike poster image, it was clear that this would be a production straining for resonance in the modern world. This is nothing new of course – the recent Antigone opened with an evocation of the capture of Bin Laden, the RSC have relocated Julius Caesar in a modern-day African dictatorship, numerous Comedies of Errors have touched on people-trafficking – but in his quest to update this neglected Shakespeare problem play for our times, Nicholas Hytner seems to have suffered very much from square peg round hole syndrome. Aspects of this production may well improve as the preview period progresses, my problems with it ran much deeper.

Timon starts the play as a major player on the London social scene, showering the city and his acolytes with his financial largesse and a dubious open door policy. But such cultural and personal philanthropism comes at a serious price when it emerges that Timon is in fact bankrupt and when he turns to those who he has lavished with money and gifts, they turn their back on him and offer no help. He exacts a stinking revenge on them during a feast and then retires from society to become a bag lady. Even then, an unexpected discovery means that he cannot truly escape his former life but his influence is channelled into a darker stream of action as civil unrest is steadily growing. Continue reading “Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre”

Review: Three Days in May, Richmond Theatre

“It is refreshing to work with somebody who refuses to be depressed even by the most formidable danger that has ever threatened this country”

Set predominantly in the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street between 26th and 28th May 1940, at a point when Hitler’s lightning sweep through Europe had pushed Belgium and France to the point of surrender and trapped large numbers of British troops, Ben Brown’s new play Three Days in May looks at the weight of responsibility that fell on Churchill and his War Cabinet. Behind closed doors, the prospect of going it alone against the Nazis was weighed up against the possibility of suing for some kind of peace terms at a pivotal point in British history, played here in a Bill Kenwright production at Richmond Theatre, part of a UK tour.

There is little drama in Brown’s play – given that much of the history is well-trodden territory and the ‘action’ revolves around a series of Cabinet meetings and the politicking inbetween, this is hardly surprising. But there’s little attempt by Brown, or by director Alan Strachan to really address this through an alternative approach and so what we are presented with is curiously flat and weighed down through overuse of silences. Imposing a narrator – Churchill’s young private secretary Jock Colville – to frame the play and loading him with exposition and historical detail makes for a difficult opening, more akin to a history lesson, and the first act – perhaps even the entire play – never really escapes this to kick into life. Continue reading “Review: Three Days in May, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Hamlet, National Theatre

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

It is apparently a truth universally acknowledged that any actor aiming for greatness needs to tackle Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most revered epic, and it is now the turn of Rory Kinnear, under the directorial baton of Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre to make his entry into the canon (this was the second preview). Recently we’ve had David Tennant and Jude Law, John Simm is currently performing it in Sheffield (I’ll be there on Wednesday) and Michael Sheen will be making his mark at the Young Vic next year. I don’t have a problem with this so much as just wish that there was a similar epic role for women which was restaged and revived as often to allow a comparable ticket to magnitude.

This is very much a modern-day Elsinore. Suited security guards with earpieces are ever-present, state of the art bugging technology is used, a briefcase of tools of torture is brandished and high-definition television cameras record political and battlefield broadcasts. Thus the familial quarrel at the heart of this play is firmly located in the wider political sphere of this dangerous Denmark and it is a mostly highly effective updating. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, National Theatre”