Review: Albion, Almeida

“The fantasy that brings the reality into being”

 As Mike Bartlett’s profile grows and grows, one can’t help but fear that his TV successes will lead to movie commissions but for the moment, he’s not forgotten where he started and with Albion, there’s a ferocious reminder of how theatrically skilled he is. Additionally, there’s one of the performances of the year from Victoria Hamilton so I’d hotfoot it to the Almeida now, there’s no guarantee this one will transfer.

Successful businesswoman Audrey has her world rocked when her son is killed on duty in the Middle East and so she decides to retreat to the countryside, rural Oxfordshire to be precise, where she buys the neglected home of her uncle, along with its once-impressive garden. But what first seems like a fun restoration project snowballs into chaos as her increasingly ambitious plans threaten to push everyone close to her away. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Almeida”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2

“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”

The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.

Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

DVD Review: Delicious

“A lot of testosterone flying about but that’s kitchens for you”

Louise Brealey really does seem like she’d be a brilliant friend, having navigated the potential pitfalls of starring in a hit TV show to forge a fascinating career as an actor and playwright and being a wonderfully, refreshingly honest presence on Twitter. So I was more than happy to take in her recent film role in Delicious, an indie Brit-flick from 2013 written and directed by Tammy Riley-Smith, available on DVD and also on iTunes.

It’s an admirably spiky little thing, diverging from its apparent rom-com/family reunion beginnings into something altogether darker, a contrasting layer of sharp lemon under the sweet meringue if you will. So handsome Gallic chef Jacques arrives in London looking for a job and his biological father, conveniently finds both in the same restaurant and when he’s offered a flat-sitting arrangement, meets an intriguing young woman Stella who is living one floor down. Continue reading “DVD Review: Delicious”

Review: King Charles III, Almeida

“Like I saw on television when 
I was a younger man, I’m Charles no more 
The human being, but transformed into 
A Spitting Image puppet”

Fans of Mike Bartlett, and quite frankly if you like theatre then you ought to be one, will be used to the way in which his writing swings from the epic to the intimate, from sprawling ‘big issue’ plays like Earthquakes in London and 13 to the charged intensity of Contractions, Cock and Bull with crackers like Love Love Love inbetween. So it is good news indeed that he is delivering from the both ends of the pendulum this month – Paines Plough have two-hander An Intervention up at the Watford Palace about to open next week and Rupert Goold’s Almeida has the ambitious and adventurous King Charles III.

And it is no exaggeration to use those words. King Charles III takes the form of a future history play, using Shakespearean language and conventions to tell a story of a constitutional crisis that take place in the aftermath of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. It shouldn’t work, and it shouldn’t work this well, but it really does, with an extraordinary confidence of vision. The great unwashed become “the man who travels day by day upon the Clapham omnibus”, x-rated text messages are described as “a token of my love”, the ceremonial role of the Royals thus “a monarchy reduced to smiling dolls, like waitresses in diners themed” – the use of language is a constant delight.  Continue reading “Review: King Charles III, Almeida”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

DVD Review: Anton Chekhov’s The Duel

 
“You sap the foundations of civilisation”

Based on one of Chekhov’s novellas, The Duel is set in a seaside town in the Caucasus which could be somewhere like Sochi (if I’ve got my geography right). But the Winter Olympics are far from the subject here, unless they’re giving out medals for passive-aggressiveness, pretentious moping and hopelessly futile inaction. These of course are the hallmarks of Chekhovian drama and they’re all present and correct in this 2010 film by Dover Kosashvili which boasts an excellent Anglo-Irish cast including Andrew Scott, Tobias Menzies and Michelle Fairley. 

The plot focuses on Scott’s Laevsky, a Russian aristocrat whose sense of entitlement has abdicated any form of responsibility from his life. So he’s hugely in debt, he’s careless in his work at the civil service, and he’s engaged in an affair with a married woman, Nadya, whom he has coaxed away from Moscow. But he doesn’t love her and when the news comes that her husband has died, thereby freeing her to marry her lover, Laevsky withholds the information from her. All the while, he stands in pernicious moral judgement of all those around him, truly a product of the decaying society of this Mother Russia.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Anton Chekhov’s The Duel”

Review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre

“He’s such an insensitive git. Loves having a go at you lefties.”

What price a laugh? How far should the boundaries of taste be pushed to achieve comic objectives? And how complicit are we in wanting to find things funny? Simon Paisley Day’s play Raving sets out its unreconstructed stall early on from its first dubious gay jokes to the co-opting of the phrase ‘batty boy’ which garnered a disturbing number of titters from the Hampstead Theatre audience. But putting the tastes of the audience to one side, this actor-turned-playwright hits on the nose across the spectrum – post-natal depression and something perilously close to sexual abuse are used as joke-filled hooks on which to hang his farcical machinations and for a play with pretensions of being a contemporary comedy, it just doesn’t fly.

Paisley Day’s premise is the stuff of a many a sitcom. Three middle class London couples rock up at a cottage for a weekend away in deepest Wales but instead of leaving their troubles behind, chaos erupts on a near-hourly basis. Briony and Keith are having their first break away from son Finn, their first three years of parenthood not having proved easy; über-perfect Ross and Rosy live what appears to be a charmed life, only a constant stream of au pairs causing a minor wrinkle; and last minute additions Charles and Serena are the embodiment of blithe hooray-Henryness, in possession of an anarchically raucous teenage niece who further stirs the pot once a drug and alcohol-fuelled rave is discovered in a neighbouring field. Continue reading “Review: Raving, Hampstead Theatre”