TV Review: Sticks and Stones

Mike Bartlett adapts his play Bull for the TV in the form of Sticks and Stones, with mixed if enjoyable results

“Maybe it’s banter”

I had clocked that Sticks and Stones that a new TV drama written and created by Mike Bartlett, hence it appearing pretty high on my to-watch list. What I hadn’t realised was that it is an adaptation of his cracking 2013 play Bull, which I have seen a fair few times, dating back to a reading in 2010. Given that the play was less than an hour and this serial was three (ITV) hours, I was intrigued to see how an extended version of this workplace bullying drama would work and I was pleased to see Ken Nwosu leading the cast, which included an alumni of the Young Vic production in Susannah Fielding.

And in line with the way his TV writing has been skewing, the result is something far more melodramatically silly than you’d ever expect from Bartlett in a theatre. I don’t say it as a particularly negative thing, more a statement of fact. The tautness of the play’s running time meant that once teeth were bared, it was one vicious snarl through to the end, heart-racingly menacing in its cruelty. Here, there’s much more time to fill and so it is more of slow build, as nice guy Thomas is essentially gaslit by his cut-throat team of property mangers (“we’re now able to offer a bespoke office solution”). Continue reading “TV Review: Sticks and Stones”

Review: Hand To God, Vaudeville

“You’re so far back in the closet, you’re in Narnia”

For someone who really isn’t a fan of puppets, I do see an awful lot of shows with them in. But I should clarify that I’m OK with more muppety types (hence loving Avenue Q and more recently The Lorax) and so I reckoned I’d be safe with the latest Broadway import to hit the West End – Hand To God. But whether its Avenue Q meets The Book of Mormon or Sesame Street meets The Exorcist, depending on which poster you read, its firmly adult nature is in no doubt.

Harry Melling’s Jason is a young man grieving his father. His religious mother, Janie Dee’s Margery, has pressganged him into joining a church group but when he helps out with their puppet show, the consequences for all concerned are most extreme. As the sock puppet companion he creates, Tyrone, quickly becomes a conduit for all of Jason’s repressed teenage emotions, whether lust for Jemima Rooper’s downbeat Jessica or retaliation towards Kevin Mains’ bullying Timothy, the puppet takes on a manic life of its own. Continue reading “Review: Hand To God, Vaudeville”

Introducing Tyrone – the truth-telling sock puppet –

Hand To God opens at the Vaudeville Theatre next month, hot from a Tony Award-nominated run on Broadway and there’s a little hint of a teaser for you in this video, introducing Tyrone who is, as the title says, a truth-telling sock puppet.

Previews start on 5th February and booking runs until 11th June, Wednesday matinées are priced at a bargainous £25, and the cast includes the excellent Janie Dee, Jemima Rooper and Harry Melling. Also, how could you not want to see a show directed by someone as stupendously named as Moritz von Stuelpnagel?! 

Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake

“Literature doesn’t teach us anything”

Juan Mayorga’s The Boy At The Back turned out to be one of my favourite radio dramas that I’ve listened to this year so far. A canny choice for producer/director Nicolas Jackson as Mayorga is one of Spain’s most highly renowned contemporary writers (which makes me a little sad that this is the first I’ve heard of him) and this play proved to be a most effective psychological drama as a precocious pupil and deluded teacher play out a dangerously voyeuristic pas-de-deux that threatens many people around them.

By comparison, Melissa Murray’s Chiwawa might have felt a little bit tame, but its tale of a self-important author trolling around on the internet, leaving anonymous reviews slagging off his rival’s work and bigging up his own, has a deliciously biting contemporary feel. Michael Bertenshaw’s writer is lots of pompous fun but the real joy comes from Fenella Woolgar as his manipulative wife and current RSC darling Pippa Nixon as the PA she forces to shoulder the blame for the mishaps, with unpredictable consequences. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake”

DVD Review: Clapham Junction

“The whole gay thing, is it still an issue any more?”

Part of Channel 4’s 2007 gay season, Clapham Junction was written by Kevin Elyot showing the lives of a number of separate but interconnected gay men over 36 hours in the Clapham area of London. So we have civil partnership ceremonies with the groom shagging one of the waiters at the party afterwards, dinner party guests meeting inopportunely at the local cottage before a ghastly middle class gathering, a teenage stalker finally meeting the handsome neighbour unaware of his troubled past, and guys prowling round the common for anonymous sex, little aware that a violent psychotic is amongst them.

Phoebe Nicholls’ delightfully overbearing mother with her monstrous prejudices, Samantha Bond’s blithely unaware party guest, Luke Treadaway’s sweatily intense teenager Theo desperate to offer himself up to Joseph Mawle’s lithe mystery man, Rupert Graves’ confident out television maker toying with James Wilby’s closet case (a neat nod back to Maurice), there are undoubtedly performances aplenty to be savoured in here. But the construction of the whole film is just generally too weak, Elyot’s writing uninventive and heavy-handed in the message it thumps home. Continue reading “DVD Review: Clapham Junction”

DVD Review: Frankenstein

Even goddesses sometime make mis-steps and this modern-day rewriting of Frankenstein by Jed Mercurio probably fits closer to that category than anything else I’ve seen her in. A 2007 ITV special, it adapted Mary Shelley’s story into a contemporary world of stem cells and genetic engineering and cast McCrory as the lead, Doctor Victoria Frankenstein if you will. The new take is superficially surprisingly effective as the main thrust of the story is that Victoria is running an organ-growing experiment – the Universal Xenograft project – and is extremely motivated by the fact her young son is suffering from a terminal disease, his only hope being multiple organ transplant… As his condition worsens, so her desperation increases, resulting in her injecting her son William’s blood into the procedure though it is too late to save him. This has unexpected consequences though and in the murky void between bioethics and unscrupulous moneymen, the experiment is allowed to continue though no-one is sure exactly what has been created.

The emotional power of the story is heightened by the simple gender switch, McCrory excels at evoking the earth-shattering grief of a mother nursing her dying child and struggling to come to terms with the reality of his condition. That she channels her energies into her research is unsurprising and it is not by chance that it takes 9 months for the being – the UX – to enter the world. The relationship that then develops between creature and creator is then a most twisted one because of the genetic material contained within, part of her dead son is in the UX and in her grieving state, the lines become blurred. Contrasted against this relationship is the cold calculating mind of Victoria’s boss, Professor Pretorius – a steely turn from Lindsay Duncan – who is alive to the monetary and business potential that has come from this huge scientific breakthough. Victoria’s estranged husband also reappears on the scene though he is not all he seems as he has his own designs on the UX. Continue reading “DVD Review: Frankenstein”

Review: Arcadia, Duke of York’s

Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia first played at the National Theatre in 1993, and this is the first revival of it since then. It takes place in a country house in England, but in two different time periods: the early 1800s and modern-day 1989. It is an extremely difficult play to try and summarise but I will try and give it a shot.

In 1809, a precocious teenager, Thomasina, is studying with her tutor, Septimus Hodge who is a colleague of the poet Lord Byron, and it is apparent that her knowledge is vastly superior to his, especially in the field of mathematics where her musings show her to be well ahead of her time. In 1989, a writer is looking into the life of a hermit who apparently lived in the grounds of the stately home, when a visiting academic stops by looking for help with his investigations into a period of Byron’s life about which little is known. Painstakingly, and with the help of the current residents of the house, including Valentine Coverley who is a student of advanced mathematical biology, pieces of evidence are recovered and we slowly begin to find out what really happened nearly 200 years ago.

Continue reading “Review: Arcadia, Duke of York’s”