Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8

With major fluctuations in the force, Series 8 maintains a strong level for Spooks – you could argue it should have stopped here

“They think you’ve got Harry Pearce in the palm of you hand and you’re making moves”

 

Finally, after too many years of yoyo-ing between good series bad series, Spooks finally put together two strong instalments back to back. I think the shorter run (8 episodes) really does focus the writing which now goes all-in on the serial plot line running through the whole series, yet still finding time to blend in self-contained storylines here and there.

Big betrayals cut deep, harsh on a team barely recovered from Connie’s recent deception. Personnel changes rock the team equally hard, as Malcolm is (metaphorically) sacrificed to bring back Ruth, Jo is (literally) sacrificed for big business and Ros (understandably) goes in hard for Tobias Menzies. And Richard Armitage’s Lucas North gets his arse out – quality TV all round. Should Spooks have gone out all guns blazing here?

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She’s back! There’s a measure of contrivance in Ruth’s return to the show, necessary to undo the finality of her previous departure and to extricate her from the cushy life in Cyprus which she’d established forself. So cheerio to handsome new partner (they weren’t married so it’s OK he got killed), sayonara to her step-child in all but name, and welcome back to sweet emotional lrepression with Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

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I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4

With the loss of its original core cast and the destabilising presence of Martine McCutcheon, Series 4 of Spooks struggles to find its feet

“You’re up against the British state…who do you think is going to win that particular battle?”

This season of Spooks struggles quite badly amidst all the upheaval of Series 3 in which in the entire original team departed Thames House. Tom’s identikit replacement Adam does well enough but somehow, something goes terribly wrong with the introduction of his wife and fellow spy Fiona (Olga Sosnovska). They sadly lack chemistry and their domestic drama just doesn’t translate well into the business of saving the country on a weekly basis.

The tone is set by the randomly chaotic energy of Martine McCutcheon’s guest spot in the opener two-parter and from then on, as we cover people smuggling, the rise of far right political movements, cultists and the ethics of releasing terrorist suspects, the series jerks along rather, Raza Jaffrey’s Danny-a-like isn’t given anywhere near enough to do and the snaffling of Miranda Raison’s Jo off the street is as bizarre an advert for recruitment as any.

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It’s a pretty low-key series for Ruth – hints of her passion for Harry come through whether in romantic feeling or rebelling against him a bit. She comes into her own in the final episode with the revelation of a step-brother who killed himself but has never been mentioned before putting her in the line of fire but all in all she deserves better. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3

It’s all change at Thames House as Series 3 of Spooks sees the original core team leave the security service one way or another 

“We cannot have another Tom Quinn”

I’d forgotten just monumental this series of Spooks was, as first Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom took his leave after getting a conscience, then Keeley Hawes’ Zoe was shunted off to Chile to evade justice and then David Oyelowo’s Danny shuffled off this mortal coil thanks to bloody Fiona and an annoyed Iraqi terrorist. Rupert Penry-Jones was drafted in as Adam, a friendly MI6 type who fits the Tom mould perfectly, though we could have done without his wife (more of that anon).

But even besides all the personnel shifting, the writing is shit-hot in this season, especially when the focus is on the morality of security service actions. Targeted assassinations on North Sea ferries, honeytrapping members of the Turkish mafia, these are meaty issues with some real consequences for all concerned. 

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Now firmly established in the team, attention turns to her trying to get some, in the most Ruth-like possible way, ie stalking someone illegally and sharing a carbonara with a traitorous ex-colleague, this is prime Ruth territory. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

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Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5

The short and sweet fifth series of Sally Wainwright’s excellent Last Tango in Halifax is a much-needed shot of the warm and fuzzies 

“I’m not deluded. Nice things do make me happy”

With an almost unerring sense of timing, Sally Wainwright gave the nation a shot of the warm and fuzzies with the perfectly short and sweet fifth series of Last Tango in Halifax. Having to wait for three years for it certainly built anticipation but it also had a powerful effect on the storytelling. In a series that has long been rooted in everyday life, allowing so much of that life to happen before revisiting them (as opposed to the laziness of a time jump) really deepens the context. Also, the official confirmation of the Wainwright shared universe was a real delight, how I would watch these avengers assemble!

So the ‘opposites attract’ element of Alan and Celia’s late-blooming relationship is now manifested in deeper ideological differences on subjects such as Brexit. And Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid play this sense of shifting priorities beautifully as his attention turns to his new job at the supermarket and hers is swallowed up the potential of a new kitchen. And as their families look on slightly aghast, there’s a real sense over the four episodes that this core marriage might actually be in peril. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1

Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax returns in fine form for its fifth series, making Sunday nights great again

“Some people like getting on a bus”

The churlish among us might have grumbled that they felt a little short-changed by the fourth series of Last Tango in Halifax only consisting of two episodes. Having had to wait over three years for the arrival of a fifth, I’m now just ecstatic it is back (with four episodes this time around).

And in the best way, it feels like it has never been away. Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid’s bickering married couple, Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire searching for self-sufficiency as their daughters, and associated friends and family members dipping in and out with their varied capers. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1”

News: the National Theatre announces 9 new productions for 2020-21

Lots of exciting news coming out of the National Theatre today, including actors Nicola Walker, Giles Terera and Kristin Scott Thomas, directors Simon Stone, Lynette Linton and Nicole Charles, and returns for Small Island, Beginning and The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The National Theatre has today announced nine productions that will play on the South Bank in 2020-2021 alongside previously announced shows. These run alongside their international touring productions, three plays that will tour to multiple venues across the UK and a West End transfer. The NT also announces today that it will increase the quantity of low-price tickets on the South Bank by 25%, with 250,000 available across the year at £20 or less.

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In the Olivier Theatre the critically acclaimed production of Andrea Levy’s epic novel Small Island directed by Rufus Norris returns following a sold-out run in 2019. Adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson, the revival will run from late October 2020 with casting to be announced. Continue reading “News: the National Theatre announces 9 new productions for 2020-21”

Review: The Cane, Royal Court

Powerfully acted by Nicola Walker, Alun Armstrong anf Maggie Steed, Mark Ravenhill’s cleverly written The Cane is bracing stuff at the Royal Court

“These children now can hunt out anybody’s grievance and claim it as their own…they want to be offended”

Inspired by Mark Ravenhill’s realisation that some teachers retiring now would have been active when corporal punishment was outlawed in 1986, The Cane is his first new play for a goodly while. And directed by Vicky Featherstone, it is a strikingly intriguing piece of drama which has as much to say about contemporary outrage culture as it does the abuses of the past.

Edward is marking 45 years as a teacher and preparations for his retirement do are in full swing. A mob has trapped him and his wife Maureen in their own home though, inflamed by his past use of the cane, and the arrival of their daughter Anna is little comfort as she is long-estranged. And as it turns out she has both a personal and professional interest here, the atmosphere within proves no less febrile than without. Continue reading “Review: The Cane, Royal Court”

Friday feeling – news aplenty

All hail the return of Nicola Walker to the stage! Get your tickets for Camelot! Discover the Heart of Darkness! Get your exam in musical theatre singing with ABRSM!


London Musical Theatre Orchestra has announced casting for Saturday’s concert version of Camelot at the London Palladium and there’s still a few tickets going. Packed with some of musical theatre’s best songs, LMTO’s concert version with full orchestra will celebrate the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner’s birth.

The role of Arthur will be played by Olivier Award-winner David Thaxton (Passion / Les Misérables / Jesus Christ Superstar), Guenevere will be played by Savannah Stevenson (Wicked / Aspects of Love / Follies), and Lancelot will be played by internationally renowned opera star Charles Rice (Mozart’s Requiem The Barber of Seville / Candide). Continue reading “Friday feeling – news aplenty”