Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1

“A police presence is non-negotiable”

Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns for a most welcome second season after a quality Series 1 in mid-2015 added to the purple patch for police procedurals that we seem to be in. Abbott’s spin places us with the Manchester Metropolitan Police and in a world that is equally darkly comic and dramatic as the squad deal with the ramifications of the climax of that first series, as well as keeping an eye on the combustible gangland situation that looks set to involve our guys here.

And what guys – Joanna Scanlan’s almost impossibly charismatic DI Viv Deering as comically sharp as she is whip-smart, Elaine Cassidy’s pragmatic DC Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach’s serious-minded DS Joy Freer underneath her, with Sarah Solemani’s ice-cold DCI Christine Lickberg joining them, providing scarcely wanted oversight and some juicy looking tension. The casual female focus (of the series at large) and refreshing body positivity (of this episode in particular) are just marvellous to behold. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1”

TV review: Line of Duty Series 1

“Do you want me to recrime it sir?”

With Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty about to start its third series on BBC2, I thought I’d go back to the first two series as they have to rank as some of the best police dramas out there. Centred on the world of AC-12, an anti-corruption unit charged with investigating suspected police wrongdoing, we’ve been so far blessed with two extraordinary stories, hanging on superb performances from the people under suspicion – Keeley Hawes (whose series we’ll get to next) and Lennie James.

James plays DCI Tony Gates, a decorated officer with an amazing clear-up rate that seems too good to be true, and so when he comes to the attention of AC-12, initially for something completely unrelated, the wheels are set in motion for a fast-degenerating state of affairs. Money laundering, drug running, cover-ups, and gruesome murders intertwine and intersect with Gates at the heart of it all, but his true connections to events always in question, right until the end. Continue reading “TV review: Line of Duty Series 1”

TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4

“Calm, methodical, Sunday fucking best”

There’s no two ways about it, Paul Abbott’s latest TV series has been an absolute triumph. Channel 4’s No Offence has kept me properly gripped over the last eight weeks and I’m delighted that a second series has already been commissioned as its enthralling mixture of comedy drama and police procedural has been irresistible from its opening five minutes with all its squashed-head shenanigans through to its thrilling finale which kept us on tenterhooks right til its final minutes.

Whence such success? A perfect storm of inspired casting and pin-sharp writing from Abbott and his team. Joanna Scanlan’s DI Viv Deering reinvigorates the stereotypical police boss to create a career-best character for Scanlan, her fierce loyalty played straight but her dry one-liners making the most of her comic genius. Elaine Cassidy’s DC Dinah Kowalska, the eager young copper on whom the focus settles most often, Alexandra Roach’s earnest but quick-learning DS Joy Freer completing the leads. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4”

Short Film Review #47

Eclipse Theatre’s 10by10 project was a series of short films “exploding the myth of a homogenised Black British culture”, all directed by Dawn Walton but written by and starring a wide range of some of our most exciting writers and performers. Filmed in 10 different cities across the UK, the hometowns of the playwrights in fact, and each shot in a single day, these make a fascinating insight into a wider cross-section of British society that perhaps is normally seen. Part 1 of 2.

Parking Wars

Representing for South London is Bola Agbaje’s Parking Wars, a short, sharp and ultimately sweet tale of the thing most likely to test religious harmony on a Sunday morning – parking spaces. Richard Pepple’s pastor and Danny Sapani’s imam preach in neighbouring rooms and are united by their annoyance as the sound of car horns and shouting from outside. And out there, is a challenge that would faze any man, no matter his religion – good fun.

  

Brown Widow

Leah Chillery’s entry for Nottingham is blessed with an exceptionally good performance from Vinette Robinson as the titular Brown Widow, Gee. Beautiful, and she knows it, opinionated, and she isn’t afraid to show it; naturally, she’s not quite everything she seems.

Black Magic

Best known for his enduring role in Holby City, Hugh Quarshie is rather good fun as an avuncular protector who stumbles on a young boy being chased by some bullies down a Leeds back street. Sprinkling some of his voodoo on them to scare ‘em off, he takes the lad home and introduces him to a side of his heritage he’s never known before. Ben Tagoe’s Black Magic may be one of the more slight pieces in this series, it is nevertheless still entertaining.

Rage

Written by Akala in verse, North London’s Rage toys cleverly with perceptions of black men in prison as Jimmy Akingbola’s poetic narration from his cell leads us up the wrong path and only slowly do we get to see the full picture as life from the outside – featuring Pippa Bennett-Warner and Michael Maloney – fill in the blanks and hit home hard.

Two-Tone

Arzhang Pezhman’s Two-Tone represents Wolverhampton in this enterprise and for the shallow part of me, is one of my favourites featuring as it does both Shane Zaza and Neet Mohan. But it is also one of the better films as it combines comedy and the serious, highly topical subject matter and dramatically-satisfying mystery. Recommended.

Re-review: Handbagged, Vaudeville

 “One had to laugh”

Definitely something of a luxury revisit this one, my third time seeing it. But as Moira Buffini’s Handbagged has grown from a sketch as part of the Tricycle’s 2010 Women, Power and Politics season through to an Olivier-winning full length play which has now transferred into the West End, the chance to see its third incarnation was one I couldn’t resist. Not just seeing it on a larger stage, the one change to the cast from last year’s Tricycle production was what sold it to me. 

Lucy Robinson may not be the most recognisable name out there but she played the first Lady Macbeth I ever saw on stage (at the Bolton Octagon) and she also starred in the most amazing schlocky late-night soap called Revelations back in the 90s which I was obsessed with at the time. She replaces Clare Holman as the younger version of the Queen (Liz) who locks horns regularly with Fenella Woolgar’s awesomely impressive Thatcher (Mags), in a hugely entertaining manner.  Continue reading “Re-review: Handbagged, Vaudeville”

Review: Handbagged, Tricycle

“We are both Britain”

Moira Buffini’s Handbagged started life as a short play as part of the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics season back in 2010 and now, in a fully fleshed out version, it returns to Kilburn to imagine the relationship that might have existed between two of the most significant British women of the last century – the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. But much has happened in the meantime, not least Peter Morgan having a huge success with a play that also depicted the relationship between monarch and Prime Minister(s) and the small matter of the death of the UK’s first female head of government.

Perhaps conscious of the impossibility of trying to envisage what was really said between the pair,  Buffini opts instead for a meta-theatrical fantasia and huge fun it is. Older incarnations of the women (Q and T) interact with their younger selves (Liz and Mags), each giving us their own take on Thatcher’s reign through the weekly meetings held with the Queen, whilst two actors play any number of supporting characters – Reagans Ronald and Nancy, Rupert Murdoch, Neil Kinnock, a simple palace footman, the list goes on… As one of them recounts an event, the others pass comment, challenge memories, offer explanatory excuses, even break entirely out of character sometimes.

Continue reading “Review: Handbagged, Tricycle”

Review: Disconnect, Royal Court

“What you do in your cubicle is of utmost importance to the world economy”

Currently playing upstairs at the Royal Court is Disconnect by Anupama Chandrasekhar. It follows a team of 3 call centre operatives in Chennai, India as they chase debtors in Illinois, USA in the vain hope of meeting their sky-high targets. They take on American identities to try and collect credit card payments from unwilling debtors, but harassed by their new supervisor, himself suffering from a demotion, they are forced to play more by the rules, resulting in poorer performances, in turn forcing severe consequences for the team.

It’s clever, fast-paced, comic and very much of our time. It juxtaposes the role played by the developing world in picking up the pieces of the global recession, of course mainly caused by the Western world, with the continued aspiration for this way of life, despite it being exposed as unsustainable on a constant basis with every call that is made. But it is also an office drama, and its strength lie here in the depictions of the highly-competitive, target-driven environment in which camaraderies are forged and dreams chased. Continue reading “Review: Disconnect, Royal Court”

Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Hampstead

“Fuck the milk of human kindness…welcome to the abattoir”

It’s a wonder anyone still lives in East London given the treatment it gets in our cultural life, and Philip Ridley’s play The Fastest Clock in the Universe is no exception to characterising it as a place of danger, despair and delusion. The play was very well received on its 1992 debut, where it starred a little known actor called Jude Law…, and Ridley’s writing is very much his own unique style, combining a raw sense of the ugliness of the world with a fantastical, almost child-like playfulness that makes for a disarming combination. This was also a first trip (I think) to the Hampstead Theatre for me, incidentally also the venue where the show premiered.

Here, the 30 year old Cougar Glass is preparing for his birthday party with older flatmate Captain Tock in the same way he’s done for years – everyone pretends it is his 19th birthday, Tock provides cards and presents from imaginary friends and Cougar procures his own favourite gift in the shape of a nubile teenage boy. But this year, the target he has groomed, Foxtrot Darling, has brought along his rather pregnant girlfriend, Sherbet Gravel, (one assumes these names are picked by some kind of random generator…) and so the party doesn’t anywhere near as smoothly as planned. Continue reading “Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Hampstead”