Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9

Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications

“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”

It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.

Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

TV Review: No Offence Series 3

After a brilliantly brutal opening, the third series of No Offence twists into something different as the team face off against the far-right

“We’ve all led each other to each other”

The third series of No Offence started with a real bang as they kept us all on our toes by offing one of its lead characters. And though things calmed down considerably, the ongoing main story of Friday Street’s battle against the rising far-right threat offered an interesting spin for the series.

Paul Abbott’s writing always excels when it puts its characters in the forefront and it’s no different here. Dealing with grief (in their own inimitable way) only added to the portrayals, as Joanna Scanlan, Elaine Cassidy and Will Mellor all rose to the occasion, and it was great to see more of Paul Ritter’s maverick forensics guy. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3”

Review: God of Carnage, Theatre Royal Bath

Too short a run and too short a play? I just about make it to God of Carnage at the Theatre Royal Bath

“Are we ever interested in anything but ourselves?” 

A criminally short run for Theatre Royal Bath’s production of God of Carnage, especially since it has er’ from Downton and ‘im from The Royle Family and ‘her from Sherlock and *swoon* Nigel Lindsay in it. I was barely able to fit it into the diary but a sweeping trip to the West Country at the weekend meant I got in just before the final show.

Yasmine Reza’s ferociously savage take on middle class mores was seen in the West End a decade ago and appears to have lost none of its bite. As two well-to-do families come together to discuss a playground incident between their children, the thin veneer of respectability as they tiptoe around the delicacy of the situation is soon ripped away and a real ugliness revealed. Continue reading “Review: God of Carnage, Theatre Royal Bath”

TV Review: No Offence Series 3 Episode 1

The third series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns to Channel 4 in brilliantly unsentimental form

“What the f*** just happened?”

No Offence makes a welcome return to our television screens but with a quirk of timing, finds itself occupying some of the same space as Bodyguard. Who knows whether Paul Abbott and Jed Mercurio met in a pub to compare storylines and in any case, when they’re both done as compellingly as this, it really doesn’t matter.

We return to Friday Street police station and the big concern for the Manchester Met is currently local politics, a mayoral race potentially being derailed by the efforts of a far right pressure group. And during a hustings event, things go terribly, tragically wrong in a way that seems set to shape the emotional palette for the entire series to come. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3 Episode 1”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: Harrogate, Royal Court

“We grow out of the things we love”

Only a short run upstairs at the Royal Court for this Al Smith play, which premiered at HighTide last year and heads out on a whistlestop UK tour in November. Which is a bit of a shame as Richard Twyman’s production of Harrogate proves to be rather unsettlingly brilliant, anchored by two expertly slippery performance from Sarah Ridgeway and Nigel Lindsay, the latter a geniously counter-intuitive move considering how much I like him.

For as we meet the father and daughter combo enigmatically named Him and Her, it becomes increasingly clear that all is not what it seems. She’s 15 so he’s been letting her have a ‘drink’ drink but he’s also been stalking her and her boyfriend. And she needs prompting on some of the details of her life, like her GCSE subjects… With the ground ever unsteady, this relationship between man and woman, or should that be girl, is replayed twice more to really twist things up. Continue reading “Review: Harrogate, Royal Court”

Re-review: Bull, Young Vic

“Don’t you feel any guilt?”

So having succumbed to the temptation to see Jim Broadbent in A Christmas Carol despite vowing not to do Christmas shows this year, I also went back to see the vicious Bull at the Young Vic for my fourth time in seeing Mike Bartlett’s drama. Recast since its first run at this theatre, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see actors as fine as Max Bennett, Susannah Fielding, Nigel Lindsay (in a suit!), and Marc Wootton and at just £10 for the ringside standing spots (which is the only way to see the show), I’d recommend catching it before it closes. See more about the show in this post.

Running time: 55 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 16th January