TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 5

Chloë Moss, Nathaniel Martello-White and Jasmine Lee-Jones make Episode 5 of Unprecedented unmissable 

“I want people not screens”

One of the main strengths, for me, of Unprecedented has been the sheer variety of the writing that has responded to Covid-19 here. Previous episodes (#1, #2, #3, #4) have all impressed but the combination of writers in this fifth instalment really captures that lightning-in-a-bottle potential that makes the best theatre spark.

I watched Chloë Moss’ Everybody’s Talkin’ whilst hungover but not even I can blame the huge weeping tears on that alone, this is a beautifully pitched, gorgeously performed slice of family drama in miniature. Three daughters gather on Zoom to speak with their recently bereaved mother but the trials of finding a new normal, within the context of already having find a new normal is full of unimaginable pain. Moss’ writing and Caitlin McLeod’s direction speaks directly to the challenges that so many faced even before coronavirus hit, and during, and Sue Johnston leads the cast marvellously.

Continue reading “TV Review: Unprecedented, Episode 5”

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

TV Review: Kiri

With a cast including Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, how could Kiri be anything but good

“Stick a flake in it before you try and sell it to the tabloids will you”

Airing on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year, Jack Thorne’s Kiri was billed as a continuation of his National Treasure brand  (I managed one episode of that first series…). But any fears I had of not liking it were assuaged by a cast led by Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, plus this far down the line, I’d heard enough good things about it to finally get round to watching. 

Set in Bristol, Kiri follows the abduction of a young black girl – Kiri – in the foster care system, as she is allowed a meeting with her birth grandparents in advance of her adoption by a white middle-class family. Her social worker Miriam has arranged this unorthodox meeting and sure enough, the proverbial hits the fan when she gets a phone call to say she has gone missing. Continue reading “TV Review: Kiri”

Review: Torn, Royal Court

“What you don’t know doesn’t harm you”

Not for the first time, Ultz’s design disarms you. You enter the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs to find it done up like a community centre, a circle of functional, grey plastic chairs in the middle of the room, a tea and coffee station off to the side. So begins Nathaniel Martello-White’s new play Torn and as Adelle Leonce’s Angel opens up the family meeting that she has called to work through some particularly pressing issues, you think you’ve got a handle on it.

You haven’t. For though it is stripped back, Torn is a fantastically knotty and complex piece of writing: full of fragmented flashbacks; verbose, overlapping dialogue; actors switching characters, sometimes mid-scene. It’s clear Martello-White has been using his time as a writer on attachment at the Royal Court well, for this is brave and ambitious work, both thoughtfully demanding and thought-provoking, it digs deep into the lengths families will go to to protect their own. Continue reading “Review: Torn, Royal Court”

Re-review: People, Places and Things, Wyndham’s

“I want to live vividly”

There’s something rather apposite about the rush to label Denise Gough’s performance in People, Places and Things as the greatest since Mark Rylance’s in Jerusalem, as as heretical as it may be to say it, I was no real fan of the latter. And whilst there is a huge amount to admire in Gough’s epic efforts in a behemoth of a role, my reaction to the play on seeing it a second time was magnify what I felt were its flaws, leaving me bemused at the number of 5 star notices and hyperbole-filled writing.

My original review can be found here and in its new home at the Wyndham’s, I felt much the same. Duncan Macmillan’s writing lapses towards the painfully poetic far too often when trying to engage with the realities of addiction and it still feels baggy, the group scenes linger past their welcome and the repetitiveness goes too far, a fair bit could be cut and nothing lost. But what do I do know? It fascinates me endlessly when I end up outside the zeitgeist this way and interestingly for me, no-one else’s reviews have convinced me of what I’m apparently missing. Still, I’d recommend you go along to make up your mind and to see what should be, by any rights, the ascendance of Denise Gough to a well-deserved star status. 

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th June

Review: It’s Like the 60s Never Happened, Royal Court

We seek out revolution wherever we can find it”

The Royal Court’s The Big Idea strand of work commissions a range of responses to the plays running there and with Hangmen going great guns in the main house before heading over the Wyndham’s for a well-deserved West End transfer, I headed over this Saturday afternoon for It’s Like the 60s Never Happened. Four short plays, each “imagining a world where one of the major 1960s social political or technological innovations never happened”, performed in unexpected locations on the Royal Court site.

I’ve been on a couple of similar theatrical trips here before and there’s something irresistible about getting to see the backstage nooks and crannies which are so inventively used. This time, we got to visit a rehearsal room, a little terraced garden, a stairwell and the office that sits behind those iconic red letters out front and though they may not sound the most inspirational of places, the way in which each of the directors used them really did cultivate the sense of something special. Continue reading “Review: It’s Like the 60s Never Happened, Royal Court”

Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre

“You can’t do karaoke unless you’re part of the group”

Oh expectation, you fickle thing – so easily built up and yet so easily dashed. Headlong’s last visit to the National Theatre saw Lucy Prebble’s The Effect brought to powerfully moving life and recently revived so devastatingly effectively in Sheffield, it was still fresh in my mind. So perhaps foolishly, Duncan MacMillan’s People, Places and Things had a lot to live up in my mind but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re a theatre addict – you just have admit that you’re powerless over theatre and that your life has become unmanageable.

Entering a 12-step program is all well and good but how to identify the exact nature of the wrongs, defects of character and shortcomings that help on the way to recovery? How to make amends to the people who have been harmed? Here’s where this tortured analogy will die a death as I can’t make it work, and it is turning out a little harsh against this production. That said, I really wasn’t a fan despite some sterling work from Denise Gough and spotted at least three people making a run for it before we broke for the interval.  Continue reading “Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre”

Review: Who Cares, Royal Court

“Is our emotional attachment to the NHS gonna stop it changing in the way that it needs to, to continue to thrive and survive?”

The product of eighteen months of interviews with people working in and around the National Health Service, Michael Wynne’s verbatim play Who Cares is an impassioned but clear-sighted cri de coeur for this venerable British institution but one free from too much rose-tinted sentimentality, as it performs an uncompromising health check on that which is meant to check our own health. And the prognosis? The NHS may possibly be screwed but theatre’s in great shape. 

Starting off in the rehearsal rooms next to the theatre and eventually ending up in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Who Cares is a promenade production that weaves its way inside and out, up stairs and down, backstage and on, as the audience – split into small groups – take in a multitude of vignettes of the interviewees’ experiences, presented in imaginative and inventive ways by the show’s three directors, Debbie Hannan, Lucy Morrison and Hamish Pirie, plus designer Andrew D Edwards, Natasha Chivers’ lighting and Daniel Krass’ sound. Continue reading “Review: Who Cares, Royal Court”

Review: Teh Internet is Serious Business, Royal Court

“Confused people may need some help”
I’m pretty sure that somebody has already reached this blog before by googling “sexy Peter Pan takes a load in the face” – such is the way that these search algorithms work (don’t talk to me about how my search results were skewed by seeing a play called Reclining N*de With Black St*ckings) – so there’s at least one person who will be inordinately excited by the anarchic spirit that rules the first half of Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, directed with some astonishing brio by Hamish Pirie.
A fictionalised story, albeit inspired by events that happened to the members of hacker groups like Lulzsec and Anonymous, the show’s real strength comes from the playfully imaginative ways in which the online world is represented. There’s not a screen or a graphic to be found anywhere; instead, the company take on multiple roles, playing websites, online avatars and memes as well as giving us glimpses of the IRL personae involved too, the real people in front of the computer screens.

Chloe Lamford’s design facilitates this brilliantly – trapdoors allow websites to pop-up, sidedoors open up like windows to let coding be explained through the medium of interpretative dance, and a brightly coloured ball pool serves as that strange end of the internet from whence so much random crap expounds. It’s a dizzying array for which a glossary is usefully provided with the castsheet and if some of the detail will be lost on many of us, the roller-coaster exuberance of the theatrical language is significant recompense.
Ultimately, too much is forced in here though, meaning the flabbiness of the running time is scarcely justified. And perversely, as the play moves from the freewheeling fun of hacking into any and every site they want (Scientology, Westboro Baptist Church, and the CIA are amongst their victims) to more of a thriller as the authorities start to close in on the group, one can’t help but long for a little more examining depth.

The casualness with which the hackers equally treat the personal data of regular people with their more prominent targets hints at the abdication of responsibility that the anonymity of the internet can engender, the impact of online activity on real life activity (leading to one of the show’s best gags about McFlurrys and Egypt) is only just touched on (and would have partnered nicely with the Royal Court’s last main stage show The Nether). Even a final shocking betrayal doesn’t quite possess the power it ought to wield.

But the energy that courses through the cast and company, and indeed the Royal Court as a whole, is genuinely thrilling. Across the company of 15, Eileen Walsh, Sargon Yelda and Ferdinand Kingsley all stand out in their multi-rolling, whilst Kevin Guthrie and Hamza Jeetooa both impress as the story’s main leads, teenage misfits both, who mask their IRL difficulties with extraordinary online personalities. There’s lots of fun to be had here but underneath it all, the daring, fruitful shaking up of a venerable institution is serious business indeed.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: not currently available
Booking until 25th October